333. High Structure STEM Classes

Multiple studies have found that increasing course structure reduces equity gaps and provides benefits to all students. In this episode, Justin Shaffer joins us to discuss several ways to increase structure in STEM classes.

Justin is the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies and a Teaching Professor in Chemical and Biological Engineering and in Quantitative Biosciences and Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. He has taught a variety of both small and large STEM classes in multiple modalities using evidence-based approaches and has won multiple teaching awards as a result of this work. Justin is also an active researcher with 16 peer-reviewed publications and serves as the editor for four STEM education journals. He is the author of a forthcoming book on high-structure course design coming in late 2024 or early 2025 from Macmillan.

Show Notes


John: Multiple studies have found that increasing course structure reduces equity gaps and provides benefits to all students. In this episode, we examine several ways to increase structure in STEM classes.


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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

Rebecca: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.


Rebecca:Our guest today is Justin Shaffer. Justin is the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies and a Teaching Professor in Chemical and Biological Engineering and in Quantitative Biosciences and Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. He has taught a variety of both small and large STEM classes in multiple modalities using evidence-based approaches and has won multiple teaching awards as a result of this work. Justin is also an active researcher with 16 peer-reviewed publications and serves as the editor for four STEM education journals. He is the author of a forthcoming book on high-structure course design coming in late 2024 or early 2025 from Macmillan. Welcome, Justin.

Justin: Thanks for having me. I’m really excited to talk to you today.

John: We met at the POD conference back in November, and we talked about doing this but we finally got around to actually scheduling it. So thank you for joining us.

Justin: Thank you, John. Yeah, I saw you sitting there at a table by yourself. I knew your face from LinkedIn and I built up the courage to introduce myself and I’m glad I did.

John: Today’s teas are:… Justin, are you drinking any tea?

Justin: I am drinking some tea. I got prepared. It’s from a small little coffee/tea shop in West Middlesex, Pennsylvania. I’m from the near that area in western Pennsylvania. We call it the Shenango Valley and it’s called O’Neill’s and they make lovely Western PA coffees and teas and I just have some nice black tea here. It is that time of day for me that I need some.

Rebecca: Today I have a jasmine green tea, John.

John: Very good, and today I have a Prince of Wales tea, and a peppermint tea because I didn’t have very much to drink today, and my throat was getting really dry in my econometrics class. So I wanted to be well hydrated. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Lots of variety, too. So we’ve invited you here today, Justin, to talk about how you’ve implemented high-structure course design. And for listeners who might be new to the concept, can you talk a little bit about what you mean by high-structure course design?

Justin: Yeah, so just like I’ll tell you all like I tell my students, I didn’t come up with this term. I wish I did. But I’m building off the work of other giants in the field. So as far as I know, the term really came out in the mid-2000s, 5-, 6-, 7-ish range from the University of Washington in Seattle. There’s some pioneering folks, Scott Freeman and Mary Pat Wenderoth in biology and they use this term structure to think about, “Well, how do we scaffold student learning before class, during class, after class, and we’re continuously building as we go up through the three levels.” So pre-class involves some kind of content acquisition, that can be reading your textbook, reading journal articles, watching Khan Academy videos, other sources like that. And then some kind of formative assessment before class because we all know students need a little bit of a carrot there to get some of that work done sometimes, which is totally great, because you give them a lot of chances, sometimes even unlimited attempts… again, formative assessment before class, make sure everyone has the same solid foundation, then you come to class, high-structure course design, just like any good class nowadays should be really rooted in active learning. So we got a lot of activities going on: group work, problem solving, case studies, real-world connections, any kind of flavor you want to do there with your active learning as long as students are engaged. And the big thing here though, is that you’re aligned to what happens before a class. We’re building off what happens before a class, I’m not in class just repeating what happens ahead of time. Rather, I’m using the foundational material students acquire before class, we build that up with another level in class, and then we keep going. And then after class, there’s a bucket there, where students are going to be practicing those skill sets they’ve been developing through the before class and in-class buckets, applying their skills to new contexts, solving new problems, doing projects, essays, more authentic assignments, whatever you want it to be. And then there’s typically a frequent assessment piece with a high-structure course design too, whether that’s a multiple midterm model, weekly quizzes, every other weekly quizzes, things like that, in addition to some more authentic assessments, which is something I’ve tried to get more into this past year, by adding more realistic projects and course assignments in my high-structure courses.

John: Could you give us some examples of some of the authentic assessments that you use in your classes?

Justin: Yeah, thanks, John. So this is really new to me still, this past year. I know I’m behind the curve. I know this is a term has been around there for a while. I always like to think I’ve had some authenticity in my classes for a long time. I integrate news stories, I use case studies, I have this new thing I called pod cases where I take podcasts and combine them with case studies and we use those in the classroom. But I thought I could try to be a little bit more authentic, even still… getting that advice from my wife for my personal life. She always says that can be more authentic. So, maybe I can make my courses and my assessments more authentic too. One example I’m doing right now. I’m teaching introduction to biomedical engineering, and I’m having the students write the actual legit National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship proposal. Those of you familiar with that, there’s a personal statement part and there’s a technical kind of research proposal part. So we’re just doing that. It’s a two-page proposal, and we’re working on this in a structured way throughout the entire semester. Last week, students had to turn in the research topic and research question. This week, they’re turning in their hypothesis, in a couple weeks they’re turning in the literature review and experimental plan. We’re gonna have two rounds of a formal peer review of the entire proposal. And then we’re going to conclude with a mock panel discussion, just like you might have in the real NSF or the real NIH where students are going to be reviewing each other’s proposals and basically pitching them to each other and seeing if they should get, quote, unquote, funded or not. I don’t have any funds for them. Maybe we’ll bring candy on the last couple of days. But that’s kind of the idea of having a real thing that students could actually use some day if they’re going to graduate school. But even if they’re not, being able to write technically and persuasively in two pages on a proposal is a really important skill that they should be working on, in my opinion.

Rebecca: Sounds like you’re going to need some chocolate coins for that day.

Justin: That’s a great idea. I will get chocolate coins. [LAUGHTER] I didn’t think of that. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about what motivated you to attempt and move in the direction of high-structured course design.

Justin: I kind of started out this way, I kind of started in the deep end, if you will. So my postdoctoral program was called spire, S-P-I-R-E, and it’s one of these bigger programs called IRACDA through the NIH. They’re postdocs where you still do research. So I was a molecular biologist, biochemist at the time. I have a weird background in chemical engineering, bioengineering, molecular biology, but at the time, I was studying muscle proteins in squid, super fun stuff. And then I also got training, though, on how to teach evidence-based college science and engineering courses. In my postdoc, through great people like Ed Neil, Brian Ray Bozic, Leslie Lauria, and then also Kelly Hogan was someone that took me under her wing at the time, she was able to, along with the rest of the SPIRE team, helped me be introduced to using evidence-based course design practices, which included with high structure. So this was around 2010-11, right when these papers are starting to come out from Scott Freeman and Mary Pat Wenderoth. I started with high structure because the evidence shows it works. And that’s as a trained scientist, as a trained engineer, we like to go with evidence ideally to guide our decisions. And it’s no different with course design and teaching as it would be with thermodynamics or reactor design or anything else. The literature on high structure is really strong, even then it’s been growing over the years, some of my own data and a lot of other papers. The main gist, though, is that by having the scaffolding before class, in class, after class, students are able to really monitor their learning, develop self-regulated learning skills, be more metacognitive. And the data in a lot of papers shows all students are doing better in the class. But it’s not just everyone, using high structure and moving up in structure will start to close or reduce achievement gaps or performance gaps between historically underperforming students and their majority counterparts. So for example, female students and male students in physics, there has traditionally been a gap there, add some more structure to the class, those gaps tend to get smaller. And I’ve been participating in that kind of research here over the last many years with undergraduate students and my research team. And we found some similar results across different STEM disciplines. It’s really the evidence guiding me in these decisions to do it. I also think it’s a lot more fun. Once I have in mind one of my very first faculty interviews, oh a long time ago, now, I had an interviewer say to me, “Well, hey, I’ve looked at all the papers on active learning, and they’re all wrong. [LAUGHTER] All the statistics are wrong. What do you have to say about that?” And I paused for a second I said, “Well, even if that’s true, it’s a heck of a lot more fun to teach actively with active learning than not, I think the high-structure design model is more of a fun way to teach. And again, you’re helping the students with those study skills and metacognitive skills that they can then take forward to their future classes.”

John: There was a recent paper that did argue that many of the studies on active learning were flawed in some way in terms of a very strict methodological approach. However, there are so many of them, and the results are so remarkably consistent. I don’t really buy that argument in terms of the questions about methodology.

Justin: You’re right, it was a big deal, I think it was either Beckie Supiano or Beth McMurtrie in the Chronicle had articles on this going around for sure. And that’s the thing though, with us, as DBER folks… I want to introduce a new term, DBER – discipline-based education researchers… which I consider myself to be in. So I’m in the discipline. I’m in chemical engineering, I’m in biology, I’m in Biomedical Engineering, and I do the education research from that lens, but also from that training background. I’ve never been formally trained in education research methods in psychology or social sciences or psychometrics. I am, totally honest, I fake it. I do what I can. I know my boundaries. I know when I need a collaborator in the true social science disciplines that helped me with my studies. And so I think that paper was getting some of that. Sometimes the folks like us that are doing this work, whether we call ourselves DBER people, or Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL) people, we might not have that true background, and therefore the rigor of the paper, the methodologies, aren’t as advanced as maybe they should be. But like you said, there’s so many studies showing benefits of this, whether it’s simple correlational studies… sometimes they get to the mixed methods, even quasi-experimental studies, but the evidence just keeps mounting and mounting and mounting. And that key paper there was the 2014 one from Scott Freeman that PNAS meta-analysis showing that hundreds of papers, hundreds of studies… again, they have their flaws, don’t get me wrong… but you start to see these themes everywhere and you think, well, there must be an effect, something’s going on.

John: And we will include a link to that paper in the show notes, if anyone would like to follow up. But the fact that there may be these flaws in some of the research methodology suggests that maybe we need to see more people doing work in this area, and that there’s a lot of areas where there’s potential growth.

Justin: Totally agree.

John: And you’ve done quite a bit of research already.

Justin: I’ve tried, as a teaching faculty member now for this is going on year 12-ish, but I’ve always made that a part of my career. Before I was at Mines, I was at University of California, Irvine, where we did have a scholarship expectation or to earn tenure as teaching faculty. The UC system is one of the few in the country where you have actually tenure-stream teaching faculty, which was really cool. So I earned that, but I only had tenure about a month because then I left and came to Colorado, which… no regrets, I love it here at Mines… but I don’t have tenure here. But there’s still some expectations for scholarship, but not as high as it was in the California system. But I continue to make that part of my career, because, again, as a scientist and engineer, I think going based on data, based on evidence to guide your decisions, moving forward is a really important thing to improve what you have, because that’s all it comes down to really whether you call it SOTL or DBER or whatever, we’re trying to improve our courses, we’re trying to improve our students’ experiences. And yeah, so I’ve tried to do what I can over the years. And now I’m at the point where I want to help other people too. So I work with faculty individually, I do workshops via my side business, and even at Mines this semester, starting next week, I have a three-part getting started in DBER series kicking off for about 25 faculty on campus. I’m going to help them get started, get their feet wet in this field, and then we’ll see where it goes. Because I think a lot of folks, like you said, John, want to do this work, they’re interested in it, they might not have the time, they might not know how to, but you kind of give them the start, hold their hand a little bit and then see where it goes, and we’ll get even more evidence to support these claims.

Rebecca: I think a lot of faculty have an inclination to have a reflective practice and continuous improvement. They’re wanting to do SOTL work, but just don’t know how to formalize that practice. And we can certainly lean into helping people move in that direction.

Justin: 100% Rebecca, even when I started, I didn’t know what I was doing. If it wasn’t for Kelly Hogan and a few other folks at Carolina and then moving on from there at UC Irvine folks like Brian Sato, Diane O’Dowd, Adrianne Williams, they really helped me understand the field more. And then you start going to conferences and going to meetings and learning more about the tricks of the trades.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about ways that a high-structure synchronous course might be different from a high-structure asynchronous course?

Justin: So I think the high structure while what I described earlier, you might be thinking of okay, a Monday, Wednesday, Friday class meeting at two o’clock in a lecture hall works great. I think it works even better in online for some cases, because you think about an online situation, whether again, it’s synchronous or asynchronous, your students you’re not really seeing and there’s that human connection of having eyeball to eyeball being able to understand, “Okay, I’m here I’m motivated, I’m ready to learn.” But whether it’s the recording, that’s the worst case scenario, when it’s totally up to you, or if it’s going to be on that live Zoom remote, where you can make your screen black, and who knows what else you’re doing. I’m guilty of that in meetings for sure. But having the structure though, having that scaffolding, having the clear deliverables of what is due when and seeing that step up from pre-class, in-class, after class, whether it’s the in-class is out again, synchronous Zoom session, or the recorded video you do on your own time, there’s that scaffolding helps students stay more connected with material, they understand more of what’s going on, when it’s due, what is due, how I’m being assessed, because that’s the nice thing about with structure. And just to be clear, I’m from the STEM disciplines, but you could do this any field. The research on high structure, as far as I know, is only been published in the STEM fields. I bet it’s being done in art history, I bet it’s being done in the languages, I just don’t know about it. So if anyone listening does this kind of teaching or research, I’d love to hear from you. But you can use that scaffolding again to help students be more transparent with the course. And that’s a word that I think comes through with high structure and is really true in that online environment, especially as transparency. I always tell my students, I want to know what you know, not what you think I want you to know. And by being uber clear with the learning objectives, starting with backwards design, just a clear Canvas website for the online cases can be really helpful for that. One distinction, though, with the async online versus synchronous online, is that kind of active learning piece, because we’re not there together. So one tip I like to share with faculty is that okay, if you’re recording a video for the in class, mimic, because you’re not actually meeting in class. What I always say is “okay, well make the video, but if there’s a point where you’d want them to answer a clicker question… I’m a big clicker guy… or if you want them to do an activity, just say, Okay, everyone, pause the video here. Take a couple minutes, think about this problem, what’s the answer or work on this, whatever it might be. When you’re ready, unpause the video and keep going. That’s a way that you can add the active learning to an online asynchronous class as part of the bigger high-structure model. I find when I have to record an online video, if I have traveling for a conference because I have to miss a day of class. I’ll have a 50 minute in-person class, when I make the video recording it’s only about 20 to 25 minutes, because all the active learning I don’t do in the video recording, but I give that tip… I tell my students, hey, pause the video here, answer this quick clicker question, solve this problem, come back when you’re ready. And so that’s a way to build the active learning into the asynchronous part, which again, is part of the overall high-structure piece.

John: And also, if you want to take it a little bit beyond that, you could use one of the tools where you can embed the questions directly in the video, and have them auto graded. I use PlayPosit for that, and it’s possible in Panopto, and EdPuzzle is another alternative that many people use. PlayPosit works really well. And I’ve been using it for a couple of years.

Justin: I just learned about PlayPosit maybe three weeks ago, I was doing a workshop at CU Boulder on clickers. And I kept hearing PlayPosit, it does seem like a very powerful tool to automate that active learning in the video piece, which I really like. I just haven’t had a chance to play with it.

Rebecca: So you did just mention that you’re a clicker guy, I believe. So do you use a flipped classroom approach in all of your synchronous classes? And how are you using clickers in your classes?

Justin: Yeah, I think that’s the technical term these days, clicker guy. So, I’ll go with that. I’ve been using them for as long as I’ve been teaching in various platforms. You name the platform, I’ve used it. I’ve primarily been using iClicker, just because that was the platform we had at UC Irvine and the platform we have here at Mines as well. Yes, I love using them. I think it’s really important. And you mentioned the flipped classroom design there, too, Rebecca. So when you think of high structure, you might think, “Oh, it sounds like a flipped classroom.” And it kind of is because we’re having students do stuff ahead of time. In class, they’re very active, but there’s still that structure piece even within class. I guess maybe I haven’t seen a truly flipped class because I think flipped classes, I think in class is like purely work time, purely activities, purely worksheets, homework type assignments, whereas I do a series of clicker questions, discussions before or after numerical problem solving, if it’s more of my engineering classes that I teach in thermodynamics, or material and energy balances, more conceptual sometimes if it’s biology or anatomy and physiology, but I’m breaking up a lot of activities and any talking with clickers. And so the clickers… I love all the modern bells and whistles that they have as that’s the another technical term I use, moving beyond multiple choice. And when I do workshops for faculty with clickers, that’s what I triy to get them to do. Okay, yes, you know, you can do A B C D E, but can you do multiple answers? Can you do target questions or hotspot where you touch the screen? Can you do ranking or ordering? numerical answers? …and I’m trying to get this traction on my own campus too. So even this semester, my first five questions of the semester, which I didn’t do intentionally, but after I wrote them, I realized, oh, I should do this every class now… my first five questions in my introduction to biomedical engineering class, each one was a different question type. So we did multiple choice, we did multiple answers, we did short answer, text entry, we did numerical, and we did target or touch the screen. And when I was done, I asked my students, “Hey, who’s ever used those other question types before?” And maybe four hands went up, I said, “Cool. What class did you do them in?” and they said, “Oh, your class last semester.” I seem to be the one and only that I know of on my campus that’s trying out these other tools, although like I said, I’m trying to change that. So yeah, if you’re using any kind of device like this, any type of ed tech, for that matter, make sure you justify it, justify the cost, and you make use of those bells and whistles in class. Or if it’s out of class, courseware, whatever it might be, just make good use of the tool, and you’ll find your students that are going to be able to buy into it and use it more effectively, and hopefully learn more from it.

John: And one option that we have here is a campus license, which actually is much less costly per student. And that reduces that barrier of students having to pay for it, which has led to a pretty rapid expansion in the use of it on campus.

Rebecca: One of the things that I really like about your example of the five questions is that extra level of scaffolding, of introducing all of the question types right away, and giving everybody an opportunity to practice those question types that you’re going to be using all semester. And so I just wanted to make explicit that other layer of scaffolding that you have built in there.

Justin: Yes, teaching students how to use the tools is very important. Thanks, Rebecca, for mentioning that, because whether it’s the app now on your phone for these clicker devices, or if it was the old physical device, there’s a learning curve with them. And same thing, even if it’s computational tool, or like Desmos, or something for a calc class. Yeah, you got to be able to teach students how to use the technology properly first, before you expect them to use it well. I will say though, with the learning curve of the clickers, when I was at Irvine, the app wasn’t really there yet. So everyone had the physical iClicker remote, and this was the iClicker w, so you could do text entry, and you could do number entry, but you had these up and down arrows, which you had to click to go through the alphabet. So I do the type of clicker question where I like to give four statements on the screen, and I say, “Okay, well tell me if they’re true or false, and you have to click in all four.” So you would click in a string of T’s and F, so it’s like TTFT, or FFFT, whatever it might be. And so when I would do this in intro bio there with 440 students, it sounds like a swarm of locusts, all the clicking to get to the T’s and then someone says, oh, you should change it. Just make A be true and B be false? I said “Great idea, I’ll do that.” But now with the app, we lose the sound effects and iyou can just type in T’s and F’s and it’s a little bit easier to use.

John: One thing I haven’t tried with iClicker, and I do plan to do it this semester is allowing students to rate their confidence in their answers. Have you tried that yet?

Justin: I did just last week. So I just found out that was available this semester, and I gave it a shot. And it was kind of fun. Like the first day I turned it on, they’re like, Oh, look at this, this question was 80% confident, and now it’s down to 40% confident and it kinda reflected the percent answers that were correct. So like the one that was 80% confident it was a single multiple choice answer. And it was pretty much most people got it right. The one that was lower confidence, like 40%, was a multiple select answer. So they had five options, but two or three could have been correct. And so the confidence goes way down through a different question types even. So, I think it was really fun for a day or two, and then kind of the novelty wore off, unfortunately. [LAUGHTER] So I’m going to try to revisit it maybe more in targeted times and targeted questions rather than doing it for every single one. But it was fun to try it. I’d encourage you to do it, too.

John: One of the reasons I was considering it is that it might help students improve their metacognition a little bit by reflecting on how well they thought they knew something and then getting fairly immediate feedback on whether their expectations about how well they knew it actually matched the response, [LAUGHTER] or the feedback to the response.

Justin: Absolutely.

Rebecca: When you’re using clickers, are you also using strategies like think-pair-share as part of your implementation?

Justin: Yeah, absolutely. And there’s that sweet spot of clicker responses that lead to that. So the best practices, I’d say, and a lot of this work came from Carl Wieman Science Education Institute, which I believe is still housed through Vancouver, British Columbia, but he’s at Stanford now. But there’s this great flyer they made like this trifold flyer that kind of walks you through how to use clickers properly, or best practices suggested, and then what are the possible outcomes? Typically, you’d start off with that silence. Okay, click in on your own at first, I tell them I want to hear crickets, just click in by yourself, and then I’m able to see on the app the distribution and so at that point, there’s typically kind of three outcomes. So one is maybe 80-90% have the correct answer. At that point I’ll say “Okay, let’s move on.” But I make sure to take time to have students respond and say, “Okay, well, why is it C?” or to have a little discussion about why it’s not the other answers. Because even though you get 90% correct, there’s still 10% of students who got it wrong. So we want to make sure that everyone’s on the same board. The next option is usually that kind of random distribution. Let’s say if it’s a multiple choice question, you get ABCD each are in the 20 to 30% range. At that point, I call that Hmmm, what’s going on? Was it a really hard question? Did I goof the question? Is there a chemistry exam this evening, so there’s some reason why maybe it didn’t click? And then what I call the Goldilocks case is when you get the kind of 50-50. So maybe you’re split between two answers. And I love actually, when it’s exactly 50-50, I’ll show that on the screen. But sometimes I don’t, and I’ll say “Okay, at this point, now, you’ve all had a chance to try on your own, now talk to each other.” So that’s kind of the think-pair-share that’s built into the clicker there. So this is peer instruction at its best. This was pioneered by Eric Mazur at Harvard, people like Jenny Knight at CU Boulder have studied this. And she actually has a Science paper with Carl and a few others that showed when students are doing this… So you give them some quick information on their own. Don’t show them the answer, have them talk to each other. They put a bunch of microphones around the lecture halls at CU Boulder, and they listened into their conversations. And they actually found students are legitimately teaching each other and debriefing the topic, discussing it, tearing it apart. It’s not just the one student says, “Oh, it’s A ,everyone else, click A.” They’re actually debating it and talking about it, so that you get that true peer teaching and peer instruction going on. And then typically, you see everyone moving more towards the positive correct response that you’re looking for, at which point you can say, “Hey, look, you don’t need me as your instructor, you’re teaching each other. You’re doing great. Kudos, keep up the good work.” Yeah, there’s so many ways to riff on clickers and use them in different respects. Whether it’s the more traditional question types, or now the more advanced question types, and no matter how you do it, you’re getting students more engaged, they’re having more fun with it. And fun actually is a word they use with clickers. I have a paper a few years ago from the HABS educator where I looked at clickers vs. Kahoot!s, and students rated Kahoot! and clickers both equally fun, where Kahoot! being the more gamified version with trophies and a podium and music and sound and stuff like that.

John: And both Eric Mazur and Carl Wieman and some co-authors had done some experiments on the use of clickers with that methodology with answering it individually and then discussing it and voting again. And they found some really substantial learning gains in both of those studies. And we’ll include links to those in the show notes. In all areas, we’ve been seeing some significant equity gaps, but I think since COVID, we’ve been seeing much worse equity gaps in terms of students because learning losses were pretty pronounced everywhere. And that’s especially in math and in the STEM fields, but they were especially large in lower-income communities where schools were not as well funded and where students did not have the equipment and so forth, needed to thrive as effectively in remote instruction. One of the things that some institutions have been using increasingly is co-requisites in place of prerequisites to help students who want to pursue a major in a STEM field, but who would otherwise fall way behind or take many years just to get up to the basic level of math needed for the entry level courses in the discipline. In 2021, though, you had done a study that did a comparison between the effects of prerequisites and co-requisites. Could you talk a little bit about that study and what you found?

Justin: Yeah, absolutely. We saw the same thing probably everyone else did with students struggling, returning from online instruction in high school and having online instruction here. I taught remote synchronous for three full semesters, even though at Mines we stayed open for business pretty much the whole time with in-person classes, just lower capacity. I had prior online instructional experience in my career, so I volunteered to do those online sections for our department. But with the co-rec/prereq issue, I think that’s really important to consider for a lot of reasons. And this work really started when I was at Irvine with Brian Sato and Pavan Kadandale and a few others, looking more in the biological sciences and “do prereqs matter?” It was kind of our big research question. And then I carried that over to Mines and applied that to chemical engineering too. The short answer is: it depends. So first of all, and kind of why do we even have prereqs or co-reqs? A lot of it seems to be more of a management thing. So if we want to control class sizes, moving from first year to second year, and so on, and so forth. But there’s definitely an idea of well conceptual understanding and carry forward for if you have Bio I, well, those skills you develop could be used and count for something when you get to Bio II or same thing with the calc series or whatever it might be. However, we don’t know. It’s unfortunate that I think programs don’t sometimes look at those connections, that vertical alignment, if you will, between courses in terms of prereq to the following class, or with the co-req issues. At Mines, what I did with the paper you’re referencing, John, in chemical engineering, we have these two courses. One is called material and energy balances, MEB, I’ll call it for short. And that’s kind of like our intro bio version for chemical engineering. It’s kind of like a survey course that covers a lot of different topics, gives you some foundational skills that you’re going to need as a chemical engineer. We also have introductory thermodynamics, and an intro thermo, it’s related to MEB, covers some same conceptual understanding and problem-solving skill development, but it’s more on the nature of energy, and that transformation understanding. So typically in chemical engineering curricula, and I’m getting in the weeds here, so apologies for anyone who’s tuning out cuz you’re not a chemie, but MEB comes first, that’s typically either the fall of sophomore or spring of sophomore, you take that. First, it’s kind of like your gateway class, and then that’s a prereq to intro thermo and everything else you take. At Mines though, we do a little bit different. Mines, we do intro thermo first, fall of sophomore year, and then in the spring of sophomore year, you take MEB and coming from that background myself as a student at Penn State, I wish I would have had that way because intro thermo is the more… I use the word gentle… it’s a gentler introduction to chemical engineering than material energy balances is. But the idea here is that you can take thermo as a prereq in the fall or as a co-req in the spring with MEB. So the natural question came up… it’s a nicely well organic experiment to test is, well, if you have the thermo as the prereq do you do better than if you take thermo as a co-req with MEB. And this has implications for advising and its implications for progression through our major through repeating classes, all sorts of things. So it’s a really worthy study and my student, Jordan Lopez, at the time, he was an undergraduate student in mechanical engineering, and I love working with undergraduates on these SOTL and DBER projects. Jordan came along with me for this we did a quantitative assessment to figure out okay, well if students in MEB, did you have thermo as a prereq or co-req? How’d you do in MEB? And then we also asked the students qualitatively “Okay, well, do you think having thermo as a prereq or co-req matters? And if so, what do you think? And what we found was there was actually a big deal. Students who took thermo as the prereq did significantly better in their overall course performance in MEB than if they took thermo as a co-req, and that’s using linear regression models controlling for incoming GPA and things like that. Students also felt the same way. They felt that if you have thermo as a prereq, you would do better than having thermo as the co-req with MEB, and again, the quantitative data bore that out. The reasons they gave for that was because they get some opportunity to get more familiar with the discipline, with how we approach chemical engineering, how we do problem-solving skills, and having that foundation in the prior class allows them to do better in the follow up MEB course. In this case, it mattered, prereq vs. co-req. However, in our studies at Irvine, with Brian and Pavan and others, we found it didn’t really matter so much whether you took for example, microbiology lecture before after microbiology lab, you would think those two would be highly correlated one as a prereq to the other, it didn’t really matter in the result. Same thing with anatomy and physiology sequences, it didn’t seem to matter too much, in other papers in which we cite in these studies looking at organic chemistry sequences, economic sequences, it’s kind of hit or miss with whether prereqs matter or not. Long-winded segment here, but I think we as programs should be taking careful look at our prereq sequences and core sequences in general to see what, if anything, our students carrying over from one course to the other, and maybe we should loosen that up a little bit, because if they don’t matter, that can help students be a little bit more flexible with their degree planning, and time to graduation and things like that.

Rebecca: Speaking of prerequisites, faculty are often complaining that students don’t necessarily recall [LAUGHTER] information from prerequisites as they go into a sequence like we might expect. In 2018, you conducted a study that investigated the effect of physiology prerequisites on the future anatomy and physiology courses. Can you talk a little bit about that study and what you found there?

Justin: Yeah, so that was what I was alluding to there, Rebecca, with some of the work I did with Brian and Pavan. And in those cases, there wasn’t too strong of an effect, if anything, with the sequencing and the ordering that students took these classes. At Irvine, we did have human physiology as a prereq to human anatomy. I know that sounds a little funny to those of you in the A&P space. But the reason we did that was because of kind of a controlling the size of things. Our physiology course there was a lecture-based course, it would have 3-4 hundred students in it every quarter… talking about over 1000 students a year taking this class, versus the anatomy class, which had a lab, we can only handle about 144 per quarter, so availability of seats in the human anatomy was much, much lower than physiology, and also not as many students wanted to take anatomy versus physiology. So that’s kind of why that ordering existed. And so we tested that, though, looking at with what Brian and Pavan and I came up with, we call it a familiarity scale. How do you do on questions that are based on how familiar you are with the content based on the prereq? What we did was we had the prereq instructors look at the follow up course exam questions and write them as very familiar or not familiar based on basically whether it was covered or not. And then we looked at student performance on those questions based on having the prereq or not, and we didn’t see much of a difference based on the very familiar versus not familiar questions. The way we designed those studies, we didn’t come up with any strong conclusions, again, on the biological sciences side saying that, yeah, these prereq sequences matter. But on the chemical engineering side, which I just described, that seemed to totally make a difference, the ordering of the classes.

Rebecca: It seems like it’s really important to think about why we’re structuring the curriculum in the way that we are. And is it just traffic control? Or is there actually a legitimate reason why we’re hoping that they are scaffolded in the discipline?

Justin: Yeah, I think it’s reality, a little bit of both that happens, which makes sense, kind of have that traffic control, but also making sure that that alignment occurs through our new programs or existing programs, and just taking the time as a program or department every so often to say, hey, let’s look back at this and see, why are we doing it this way? Things need to change in this modern day.

John: One thing I wonder a little bit, though, when instructors are complaining about how little students remember from the prerequisite courses that they’ve taken earlier, is how much of that may be due to the incentives provided to students. The way many courses are structured, not in the sense of the structure you were talking about, encourages students to do a lot of cramming before the high-stakes exams. And we know that that results in very little long-term recall. Might some of these issues be resolved if we could encourage students to adopt better learning strategies, and if we could design some of our courses at the lower level, perhaps, to build that in, using the type of structure that you’ve been talking about? Because at least from what I’ve seen, that’s not so common? You picked up this stuff fairly early, but I don’t think that’s part of the training of most of the faculty in STEM fields or in most disciplines.

Justin: Yeah, I agree with that. And there was even in 2018, I believe, in Science, a paper, I think they call it “The Anatomy of STEM Education in North America,” it was something along those lines, where they looked at a big survey a big swath of courses and trying to see who’s using Active Learning who’s not, they use the COPUS protocol, the observation tool to characterize what’s happening in the classroom, and they broke it down in these seven different buckets. And even at that time, a very small percentage of the courses surveyed in STEM were taught using these student-centered strategies, not necessarily high structure, but the active learning, student-centered ideas. But I completely agree with you, John, if we can get more faculty on board with using these types of evidence-based practices, which yes, it takes some time, takes some energy, takes some foresight to develop these courses. But you do the same thing with your research, it takes your time and energy and careful thought to put in your research experiments. We should put the same energy into our classes too. And if we can do that at the early stage, which again, there’s such a huge issue with loss of learning. Not only that, but also lots of students from the early stage. There’s a paper after paper for these bigger courses, taking them as quote unquote gateway classes, we get a lot of attrition at these levels especially of students who might not be as well represented in STEM. We can add high structure. We know that works. We know that helps students do better and succeed. It might not work the first time, don’t get frustrated everyone. There’s a great paper from Anne Casper and Scott Freeman about having True Grit with being able to try and try again. So in her case, she tried adopting high structure at a smaller school in Michigan, it took her about three tries to get the right formula for it to work for her students to see success. And that paper documents that trial and error over a few semesters. But if we can use these types of methods in our classes, ideally, our students are going to be better prepared then for future classes. I do these things called Reading guides, which again, another shout out to Kelly, I got a lot of inspiration from her at Carolina for these, these are just Word documents that I make. And I have a bunch of these on my professional website. If anyone’s interested to download them for free, go for it. They’re just Word documents that help students read the textbook and again be more transparent with what I want them to know. So it has them define terms, fill out tables, make little drawings, they answer checkpoint questions in the text, summarizing things in their own words. And with the reading guides, we’re able to help students again acquire that content and then use it in the class as needed. I’ve had students in follow-up classes say to their instructor, “Well, where the reading guides at?” And they’ll come to me like, “Hey, what are these things? What are they talking about?” So the point being with that story, though, is that I tell students that “Hey, even if you go to a follow-up class, where it’s not highly structured, you’ve developed so many great metacognitive skills, you’ve developed so many great self-regulated learning skills through this class that you can then apply it and add your own structure to follow-up classes, if needed. And these are the kinds of tips that I love working with faculty about to try to help them transform their classes when I visit a campus and do a workshop or work with faculty one on one or on Zoom or whatever, trying to take these practices, which again, are rooted in the evidence, they’re rooted in the literature, but we have to tweak them to your own personal situation, your own student body, your own courses and demographics and everything. You all know your students way better than I do. What I try to do is combine what I know from the literature and the evidence. And that says a lot of this is in the book I’m writing on high structure, it’s going to guide you through the course-design process, a lot of practical outcomes and deliverables. But you got to tweak it and match it with again, your unique circumstances to achieve those positive outcomes.

Rebecca: I think one of the nice things about introducing students to some strategies for high-structured learning and retaining information is that if you have things like your reading guide, and they show it to another instructor, now they might request that of their instructor and the other instructor might decide, “Hey, this is a good idea. This is a strategy I want to adopt too.” And that’s some of the best ways to get some of these techniques to spread.

Justin: It really is. It’s that camaraderie building through seeing each other’s practices, seeing what’s going on. I’ve been part of a project here at Mines since I got here almost six years ago now where we’ve been working on kind of revising how we evaluate, and what we consider effective instruction to be. So we’re trying to take a more holistic review of how we take into account the best practices of teaching and student learning. And one of the big pieces there is peer observation. So we’re actually rolling that out, as of this week and last week with doing departmental trainings and helping faculty see how we can do peer observation to learn from each other. I learned so much from going into another person’s classroom or looking at their Canvas site, or their syllabi or their materials. And I really got this from Malcolm Campbell, who was at Davidson College in North Carolina, when I was a postdoc, this is going back 14 years or so. And Malcolm told me once on the phone, he said, “Find someone who you consider to be a master teacher, and go watch him teach.” But he said “don’t go just once, go a lot. Once a week, if you can for several weeks, and you’ll get to see them handle different situations, you get to see the ups and downs of the semester, you get to see what it’s like on the day where the midterm gets passed back. Or you get to see what it’s like when they’re getting to a really difficult topic or there’s some kind of disruption that class and how they handle it.” That’s the one great thing about peer observation is that if I go to your classes, sure, I’ll be able to give you some comments or feedback on what I saw, but I’m going to learn probably more from seeing you two teach than whatever I could give you and then I’m able to incorporate that into some of my lessons and my teaching style. If we can just change that culture, make it a little bit more okay sometimes to talk about teaching, share teaching strategies, see each other teach and have fun with it really and learn from each other, I think that can go a long ways towards, again, improving student outcomes and helping them do better in all aspects of college and life.

Rebecca: I found one of the most fun opportunities for observations is doing observations outside of your own discipline. It’s really informative to see how people in wildly different disciplines approach teaching and the way that they operate their classroom. I remember visiting a dance instruction classroom when I was at Marymount, at my prior institution, and it was really interesting, it was fascinating to me about how specific and transparent every little move was and how to correct things and the anatomy that was being discussed and just the level of depth that you might not realize how something transpires in a classroom unless you’ve actually had the opportunity to observe it.

Justin: I’m going to play that some for my faculty Rebecca. I thank you, because that’s what we’re trying to do at Mines is not intra-departmental, but rather inter-departmental observation. So getting across the disciplines for sure. Because yeah, you learn so many different things. And even if you’re just going from mechanical to electrical engineering, there’s still a lot of differences between those types of courses, you might see what’s going on. And I’ve learned that myself, I’ve watched some economics instructors teach at Mines, no idea. I feel like I maybe should know this stuff to be a better financially literate person myself, but I learned so many cool ways about how they’re teaching, but I also learned some cool concepts.

John: We do have an open classroom project here on our campus, we keep hoping more people will open their classes and more people will attend. But the people who have participated have found it universally to be valuable. So we’re going to keep doing it, and we just hope to see it become more a part of the culture.

Rebecca: Sometimes just indicating to a faculty member that you’re interested in their content, and you just want to sit in because you’re curious is a great way to learn new content, and maybe get an opportunity to observe someone teaching. [LAUGHTER]

Justin: And yeah, I definitely pitch it that way. Like I want to learn from you. And you get some new ideas. And I feel like in that case, faculty are more than willing to have you in. Well, yeah, Best of luck with that open classroom project. I’ve seen those types of programs in the country kind of sometimes hit sometimes miss. But best of luck with that.

John: One of the things you’ve done is just some research or some experiments involving two-stage exams. Could you talk a little bit about how you implement them, and what you found in general? And how did students react to the two-stage exams?

Justin: Yes, so I’ll try to be brief on these because I could spend probably 45 minutes on these myself. But yeah, two-stage collaborative exams, or more affectionately called group quizzes or group exams for short. There’s been a ton of literature on this Jim Cook, UC San Diego, he really helped me get started in this about five years or so now. But it’s all disciplines. You look it up, and the one paper I have, you mentioned in the intro, there’s a lot of references to different STEM disciplines that use them and some non-STEM too. The idea, though, is that we push active learning, we push group work, we push collaboration, but then we assess you by yourself with a pencil and paper and a calculator on a piece of paper, so why not change the dynamic there a little bit. And the two-stage idea is that first you have students take an individual quiz or individual exam, and I personally have gone to a weekly quiz model with my high-structure courses. I don’t do midterms anymore, I don’t do finals sometimes even. I know that’s taboo sometimes, but it depends on the class and I might not even do that. My colleague in Irvine Adrienne Williams says with high structure by going to the weekly quiz model, instead of having these giant peaks of anxiety with the two or three midterms, we just have a smooth level of anxiety the entire semester, and spread it out a little bit. But, for me, group quizzes then, what they look like is students take the individual quiz, turn it in, then they get in a group, this is a predetermined group, they know who their group is going to be. And then I give them a group quiz. That group quiz in the paper that you referenced was an identical one. So they took the identical two problems. And this was a MEB material energy balance class. So it was just two numerical problems, problem solving. They did that again as a group. However, my other courses now I do a different quiz. It’s either an isomorphic question, so slightly similar, but a little bit different, maybe in intro thermo or if it’s biology or anatomy and physiology, completely different set of questions. Then they do it as a group. The reason we do this, again, was trying to get this collaborative piece in the group setting. But also, when do you find students are most excited to talk about a quiz or an exam? It’s as soon as it’s over, they go walk out, the hallways abuzz, everyone’s all excited, good or bad excited, but they’re talking. So let’s capture that energy and do it in the classroom through that group assignment. Now, the group quiz is usually a fraction of the weight. In the literature, you’ll see, it’s usually let’s say you call the whole experience 100%, the individual quiz, maybe 80%, the group quiz is 20%. But that can vary from 75 up to 95, however you want to do it. And again, they’re covering the same kind of concepts just in that group dynamic. And so when I did this the first time, I got some consultations from my co-instructors, Rachel Morrish, Dave Marr at Mines, and I was a little bit nervous to see how it would go. But it was a hit. It was an absolute blast. The energy in the room is one thing I cannot describe it strongly enough here through audio, it’s just you got to see it. The students are energized, they’re talking, they’re debating. They’re working through the problems together. They’re trying to figure out, I will use the F word here. It is fun. It is a very fun experience to see. I’ve had students tell me that after the quiz is over, like that was a lot of fun. Talking about spreading things on campus. This is one thing that has spread a little bit at least within my department of chemical engineering, a few other classes have been using them now. And I collected some data on this, which I published, showing that… which makes sense, there was no shock… but the group quiz score is higher than the individual score because you’re tackling this together right away. And then also though, students strongly preferred it. The affect, the positive attitude response was through the roof. Both of those results, these are replicated from other disciplines, they see the same kind of things. I think it’s a really nice way to promote that community in the class, show that you’re working together, add that active part to the assessment. However, I’ll end with saying there can be some resistance to this, especially from students who might feel like “hey, I can do it all on my own, I’m fine.” And then they have to work together with maybe some students, they don’t know as well. You might get some resistance from students saying that I don’t want to work with someone else, I wanted this on my own. So be prepared for that. Also, accommodations with testing, if you have students who get extra time, that can be difficult to manage. I will say though, from doing this now about five years and four different classes at Mines, I’ve never had a single issue with students and extra time. What I typically do is I’ll have students get the extra time for the individual part, then they come join us for the group part and have the normal amount of time because in that group setting the students with extra time, they’ve always told me and I always ask them, I say, “are you okay with this?” And they’re like, “Yeah, it’s fine to have the normal time because I’m in a group.” So just some things to be aware of, if you’re going to try them out. And again, I could go on and on with these, so if anyone wants to learn more, hit me up. I’m happy to chat with ya.

Rebecca: Sounds like a good day to visit a classroom, huh?

Justin: It’s an energetic day for sure. Although you might not see much teaching going on if it’s just the assessment part. But it’s fun to drop in and see what’s happening.

John: There is a lot of teaching going on in their second stage, though.

Justin: Absolutely.

John: In fact, when I first did it, I was so excited about it, I made a short video recording and sent it to Rebecca, so she could see the dynamics of that interaction.

Rebecca: And hear it.

John: It was just really, really different than going over a quiz, where some of them would be really happy, but not that focused. And the students who did poorly were generally pretty disengaged when we went over a quiz ift they didn’t do so well. But when they were explaining it to each other, it was so much more positive.

Justin: Yeah. And you’re right, the teaching is happening. It’s coming from the students to each other. Not for me necessarily, but it’s coming from them. And it’s so powerful to see… absolutely to hear that live.

Rebecca: But you’ve set up the structure to facilitate it. So therefore, you’ve done the teaching.

Justin: [LAUGHTER] Thank you. Yeah.

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

Justin: Yeah. So for me, what’s next? You mentioned at the top, John, I have this new position, I’m Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies. And I mentioned in passing, I have a side business I called Recombinant Education. I do workshops for faculty. I’m writing a book. For me, I don’t know what happened, but last year, I had a birthday the ends in zero. Things have been a little wonky in my brain lately. And I listened to Taylor Swift now, sometimes. I never used to, but I think a lot of people do that. So it’s not just me turning that age. But the point being is that I’ve been doing this enough time now that I feel like I have things to share. And I’m trying to do more of that. So I’m trying to, and I’m still nervous to do things like this kind of stick my neck out and even talk to folks like yourselves, but I want to share best practices with teaching and learning, specifically with STEM education, because I still hear from students and I still see it from time to time, students are just not getting the best classroom experience they should be getting. College keeps getting more and more expensive. Students don’t deserve to have less than excellent experiences, in my opinion. I’m doing what I can on my own to share these best practices. Someone called me a one man teaching and learning center, it’s probably a fair way to say it. One of my students said, “Oh, you’re teaching teachers how to teach,” and that’s, I guess, another fair way to say it. But again, I got the energy for it now. I kinda have this midlife crisis going on too where I want to make some bigger impacts on the world outside of my own bubble, whether it’s at the administrative level at Mines now or across the country, or even the world. So I love working with other faculty on all these different areas. And that’s what I’m trying to make a big part of my day-to-day life now. But I’m still in the trenches. I’m still teaching classes every semester, because that really keeps me rooted, lets me try some new things out, still doing the DBER work and the SOTL work, working with students and just trying to have a blast and do what I can here in the time I have left.

John: Well, thank you for joining us. And we’re really looking forward to that book. And I hope you’ll come back and talk to us again when the book is close to coming out. Or sooner.

Justin: I would be honored to come back anytime John and Rebecca and if both of you are ever in the Denver golden area, please let me know. I’d be happy to show you around out here.

Rebecca: Well, thank you so much for joining us. It was fun to talk to you and to hear about the fun happening in your class.

John: More F words.

Rebecca: Yeah, [LAUGHTER] a lot of F words.

Justin: Yes. [LAUGHTER] Thank you both. I appreciate it. It was fun.


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.

GANESH: Editing assistance by Ganesh.


332. Challenges and Opportunities

Faculty and administrators have been faced with new challenges and opportunities as higher education adapts to a rapidly changing environment. In this episode, SUNY Chancellor John B. King Jr. joins us to discuss strategies that colleges and universities can adopt to navigate a successful path forward.

After graduating from Harvard, Dr. King acquired a Master’s degree from Teacher’s College, Columbia University, and taught high school social studies. He later co-founded Roxbury Preparatory Charter School and served as a co-Director for five years. Under his leadership, students in this school attained the highest scores of any urban middle school in the state and closed the racial achievement gap. After acquiring his doctoral degree from Columbia and a law degree from Yale, he served as New York State’s Education Commissioner from 2011 to 2014. Dr. King left NY for a while to work in the Obama administration as Deputy Secretary of Education from 2015 to 2016 and joined Obama’s Cabinet as Secretary of Education from 2015 to 2016. Following his work in the Obama Administration, Dr. King continued to advocate for increased educational equity and access as President and CEO of the Education Trust.


John: Faculty and administrators have been faced with new challenges and opportunities as higher education adapts to a rapidly changing environment. In this episode, we discuss strategies that colleges and universities can adopt to navigate a successful path forward.


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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

Rebecca: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.


John: Our guest today is the State University of New York Chancellor John B. King Jr. He has a long history of involvement with education. After graduating from Harvard, Dr. King acquired a Master’s degree from Teacher’s College, Columbia University, and taught high school social studies. He later co-founded Roxbury Preparatory Charter School and served as a co-Director for five years. Under his leadership, students in this school attained the highest scores of any urban middle school in the state and closed the racial achievement gap. After acquiring his doctoral degree from Columbia and a law degree from Yale, he served as New York State’s Education Commissioner from 2011 to 2014. Dr. King left NY for a while to work in the Obama administration as Deputy Secretary of Education from 2015 to 2016 and joined Obama’s Cabinet as Secretary of Education from 2015 to 2016. Following his work in the Obama Administration, Dr. King continued to advocate for increased educational equity and access as President and CEO of the Education Trust. Welcome, Chancellor King.

Chancellor King: Thanks so much, excited to talk with you all.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are: Chancellor King, are you drinking any tea with us today?

Chancellor King: I am, sweet ginger citrus tea. And this is part of my New Year’s resolution. I’ve always been a tea drinker, but I also am a longtime coffee drinker. [LAUGHTER] But a New Year’s resolution this year was to put the coffee aside and switch only to herbal no-caffeine tea. So that’s what I’m working on.

Rebecca: Well, I’m glad that you decided to record this podcast then as part of your New Year’s resolution.[LAUGHTER]

Chancellor King: It fits in perfectly. [LAUGHTER]

John: And following that theme. I am drinking a spearmint and peppermint blend tea, as another herbal tea.

Rebecca: I may have noted that I was trying to cut down on caffeine in an earlier podcast, but I happen to have a Scottish afternoon tea today. [LAUGHTER]

Chancellor King: No…

John: Which is a bit more caffeine than breakfast teas.

Rebecca: Yeah, my accountability isn’t working well. [LAUGHTER]

John: There’s so many things we’d like to discuss with you. But given the time limitations of the podcast, we’d like to focus on your views of the challenges and opportunities facing higher education today. What do you see as the major opportunities in higher ed today?

Chancellor King: I think higher ed is foundational to the long-term success of both our economy and our democracy. We have vital roles to play in both. Certainly, we have tremendous opportunities in the state to prepare students for success in the semiconductor industry which is rapidly growing in the state, for success in healthcare where we have tremendous needs, success in green jobs, and some of the resilience work that we’re going to need to do as a society because of climate change, tremendous opportunity to prepare students for every conceivable profession, from teachers to writers to actors to artists. And, we have a crucial role to play in the health of our democracy. We’ve got to make sure that we are preparing all of our students with a rich liberal arts education so that they can be critical thinkers, so they can be critical consumers of modern media, so that they can be discerning, so that they can make decisions as voters, as neighbors, as citizens. And we’ve got to make sure that our institutions are able to meet both of those missions across degree programs.

Rebecca: What are some of the ways that we can move forward on some of those opportunities?

Chancellor King: Well, look, we were very fortunate that last year, Governor Hochul and the legislature made such a significant investment in SUNY, $163 million, the largest operating aid increase SUNY has received in 20 plus years. It allowed us to make double digit percentage increases in state support at all of our state operated campuses as well as to invest funds in mental health services, services for students with disabilities, internships, which is critical to preparing students for those transitions to career. We were able to put $10 million towards the expansion of research, which is another critical role of the higher ed sector in the health of our society. And we’re able to dedicate consistent funds for supporting our food pantries across our institutions, because we worry about our students are struggling with food insecurity. So one way we move forward is through continuing to invest in the strength of our institutions. Another important way that we can move forward on that agenda is continuing to adapt our offerings, our programs, creating new paths for students, very excited about the Governor’s announcement around AI and the creation of Empire AI and what will be a significant investment in SUNY’s ability to prepare students for research and careers and ethical use of AI, very excited about the new Stony Brook Climate Resilience Campus, $700 million campus that will be built on Governors Island, just off the coast of Manhattan. So we’ve got to continue to evolve as we respond to the opportunities and challenges for our economy and for our democracy.

John: Speaking of challenges, what do you see as the major challenges facing higher ed today?

Chancellor King: There are, unfortunately, a number of major challenges. Many of our institutions, certainly at SUNY, but private institutions in the state, higher ed institutions across the country, have seen significant declines in enrollment. And that was all exacerbated by COVID. That said, I’m a glass half full, tea cup half full, kind of guy. [LAUGHTER] And I look at that and I say, part of what we need to do is evolve our thinking about who our students are. We’ve got to make sure that we’re reaching out to every New Yorker to let them know there’s a place at SUNY. We’ve got to do more work to make sure that we are recruiting low-income students, first-gen students, Black and Latino students, indigenous students, immigrant students, that more of our veterans know that they can come back after their service and find opportunity on our campuses, that folks who are involved in AmeriCorps service programs know that there’s a place for them at SUNY, that our working adults know that they can come back to SUNY, whether it’s one of our community colleges or one of our four-year institutions, to complete a degree that maybe they started and didn’t finish. We’ve got 2 million New Yorkers with some credits, no degree, or maybe that they’re coming to a campus for a microcredential or a certificate, but we’re gonna then help them leverage that into a degree program over time. So there’s the challenge of declining enrollment, but there’s also the opportunity. We are already seeing progress at SUNY, this is the first year in 10 years that we had an enrollment increase across all sectors. But another major challenge is the attacks that we’re seeing on academic freedom, on teaching the truth about our history, the attacks trying to undermine our ability to talk about the hard parts of our history, the times we fallen short of the promise of American democracy, slavery, the horrific treatment of Native Americans in the way land was taken from them. That’s a part of our history. It’s just the truth, and we’ve got to grapple with those hard truths. But there are folks all over the country, unfortunately, who are trying to prevent discussion of those topics, even states where they’re saying they don’t want any higher end institution to mention the word diversity or the word equity. So that I think is very dangerous, and very proud that in New York, we are standing up for those values. We’re gonna be the opposite of Florida, and we’re gonna stand up for diversity, equity, and inclusion, but I worry a lot about that attack.

John: One of the concerns that many people have are these attacks on higher ed, that are convincing more parents and many students that college is no longer needed. Because, for political reasons, perhaps, a lot of people are arguing that a college degree is no longer useful. What can we do to help push back against some of those attacks that we’re seeing nationwide?

Chancellor King: Yeah, you know, there are a few things. And certainly, we have to make the value proposition clear. It’s important that students understand and families understand that over your lifetime, if you have a bachelor’s degree, it will translate into a million dollars more of earnings. So there is this very clear value proposition. We’ve got to take on the affordability question, which a lot of families worry about. You hear so much about the student debt crisis. So we’ve got to really help folks understand how affordable SUNY is. 53% of our students across our institutions go tuition free because of the Pell program and the New York state tuition assistance program as well as the Excelsior program. And our tuition, as you know, just over $7,000, is significantly less than many of our peer institutions in neighboring states. It really is possible to get an incredibly high quality education affordably at SUNY, and we have to make sure that parents and students understand that. We’ve also got to, I think, go back to first principles around what is the purpose and the vision of higher education. The fact of the matter is, you look at almost every indicator, life expectancy, health outcomes, you name it, they’re better for folks who have higher education. And what we’re aspiring to, is to say come to our institutions for an education that will help you lead a healthier, more fulfilling life. I want you to come to our institution and maybe take art history, and so your life is enriched because when you travel, when you go to a new city, you go to a museum and you discover insights around art that you otherwise wouldn’t have had. That’s the part of the beauty of higher education. So we’ve got to make the value proposition argument, the dollars and cents argument, but I don’t want us to forget about also making the richness quality of education argument as well.

Rebecca: As we think about broader access, and our student bodies becoming increasingly diverse in a variety of ways, we do see a number of historically minoritized students having lower retention and DFW rates. What can educational institutions do to reduce some of these equity gaps in degree attainment and not just starting?

Chancellor King: So important, and at the Education Trust, this was really a major area of focus for us, trying to make the case that institutions have a responsibility to not only recruit first-year students, but to provide the supports necessary for students to complete and go on to success after graduation. One of the things we’re working on at SUNY, as I think you know, because Oswego’s very much part of this, we are replicating across 25 of our campuses a program called ASAP for community colleges or ACE for our four-year institutions. And the idea behind ASAP and ACE which has been shown to be successful in doubling completion rates in randomized controlled trials, so it has a tremendous evidence base. The core strategy around ASAP and ACE is to provide supports that make it more possible for students to be successful: more intensive advising, cohort experience, help with just-in-,time financial assistance for the student who, the car breaks down and so then they can’t get to their job, they can’t get to class and for want of $250 for the auto mechanic, they end up dropping out of school. ASAP and ACE have shown that if you provide that just-in-time financial support, it can make all the difference. There’s also an effort to support transportation, so that you try to take that out of the way as an obstacle for students. And I’m very hopeful about the impact that ASAP and ACE can have across our 25 campuses. But, more broadly, there’s really a cultural commitment we have to make as a community of institutions, that we are going to be laser focused on helping our students complete with a meaningful degree or credential. And so when we see those high DFW rates in a class, we’ve got to ask, “Well, is there more we could do in terms of academic intervention? Is there more support that we can provide? Are we seeing patterns for students with disabilities where they’re not getting the accommodations they need? Are there opportunities to maybe have those classes structured differently, so that students are able to get some of the foundational support they need at the same time as they are tackling new rigorous challenges, what sometimes people will refer to as co-requisite classes that integrate the remedial work with actual credit-earning college-level work.” So we’ve got to just be disciplined about this. And we’ve got to invest in the programs that we know will make a difference. EOP has been fabulously successful in New York for decades. Again, a set of wraparound supports, a sense of community for students, and importantly, financial assistance.

John: Are there any specific types of interventions in the classroom that seem to be particularly effective in terms of reducing some of the equity gaps by race, by first-gen status, and by Pell eligibility.

Chancellor King: It certainly varies by discipline, but a couple observations, one is relationship building is critically important. Students need to know that you care, and they need to know that they can come for help. When I was teaching at University of Maryland College Park before I came to SUNY, one of the things I would do every year on my syllabus, I would include basically a basic needs statement to say, here’s where you can go on campus if you are struggling with food insecurity, or housing insecurity, or if you need additional academic support, or you need additional mental health support. And here’s my contact information and my TAs contact information, and I want you to reach out if you need help in these areas outside of our class. Of course reach out if you need help with the work in our class, but if you need help in these other areas, please let us know. And just that step of communicating to students, here’s where the resources are and I want you to reach out for help, can be quite powerful. So relationships are critical. A second one I would point out is, again, it varies by discipline, but opportunities for students to do projects, hands-on learning, we’ve seen oftentimes that when classes are only lectures and exams, that students may not get as engaged. And it may not be as accessible to students as it could be. It takes more time. It’s more complicated to design courses that build in project-based or experiential learning. But we certainly need to be thoughtful about that, as we design courses.

Rebecca: I love the examples that you’re sharing because they really underscore that sense of belonging a student might gain and really feel seen, acknowledging that, you know, students may be housing insecure means you belong here, we know that you might be housing insecure.

Chancellor King: That’s right. That’s exactly right.

John: One of the things that’s had a pretty profound impact on higher ed, or at least it’s raised a lot of questions in higher ed, is the rapid development of AI tools ever since the introduction of ChatGPT last year. And we’re seeing new tools coming out almost every week or modifications on the existing tools. How do you see this affecting how we teach students and how students learn? And how can we prepare students better for a world in which they’ll be working with AI tools that’ll be increasingly better developed.

Chancellor King: It’s a fascinating set of questions. And this, I think, is going to be an important area of discussion for faculties across all of our SUNY institutions for many years to come. I’m very excited that the governor committed to the Empire AI initiative, because that will invest real resources in our institutions to do some of the research to unlock the potential power of AI to advance the public good. You think about some of the opportunities where AI could help with medical diagnosis and the development of treatment plans in medicine… early days, but we see some opportunities there. We’ve got an NSF grant at UB, University at Buffalo, to focus on the use of AI as a tool for improving instruction for students with disabilities, and there’s tremendous potential there. We know that AI can be leveraged for advances in manufacturing and robotics, so tremendous opportunities to leverage AI. There are also tremendous risks. We have a set of scholars at UB as well, who are working on the issue of deep fakes, and the risks that deep fakes pose to our democracy and the good functioning of our society. We have a faculty member at UAlbany, who is a philosophy professor whose focus through the early part of his career was on trust between people, and now he is writing about and studying trust between people and machines, as we think about how AI is reshaping elements of our society. So lots of opportunity here for us on the research side, and also some very real implications for thinking about teaching and learning. Some hopeful things like how can AI be used to power personalized tutoring for students who may be struggling? How can AI be used to create adaptive learning experiences where the level of challenges match to how students are responding to questions, but also, I think, a very real fear. Will students be doing their own work? Or will they be using chatGPT to write their paper? And so it’s going to challenge us to think differently about the kinds of assignments we give and where students take those assignments. So lots of questions that I think all of our faculty have to begin to think about, but we can’t pretend it’s not happening, that it’s not changing how students approach their work. And so we’ve got to be responsive.

John: I’m going to put in a plug for an event that SUNY will be sponsoring. There’s going to be an AI symposium taking place in Buffalo on May 21st. We’re working on a schedule for that, and we will include a link to any information about that in the show notes for anyone who might be interested in joining a discussion with many people from around SUNY about the implications of AI.

Chancellor King: There’s so much excitement around this. We had an AI task force this past semester that is now ongoing, and we had probably 80 faculty members across SUNY institutions participating in that and that was thinking about lots of different questions about the implications of AI. But I think this is a great chance for us to deepen collaboration across the SUNY system.

Rebecca: You really highlighted a wide range of both opportunities and challenges that institutions face as a whole. How do faculty see themselves in moving forward in facing some of the challenges in helping students achieve meaningful credentials or really meet meeting some of the demands of our very near future.

Chancellor King: The faculty are the heart and soul of SUNY. I visited all 64 campuses, as I mentioned, last year. I’m about halfway through visiting them all again. And I’m just continually inspired by the work I see happening across our campuses, just faculty members who are inspiring students, who are equipping students with critical skills that will help them in their professions and in their lives. So I’m very grateful for that. A couple of places where I think there are some real leadership opportunities, one is for faculty to play a role in supporting our recruitment efforts to make sure that when students of color, low-income students, first-gen students, are coming to campus, they are hearing a clear message from faculty that they are wanted. One of the worries I have about the Supreme Court decision last year ending race-conscious admissions, is that it sent a message to black, Latino, Indigenous students, you are not welcome in higher education. And we want to send the opposite message, we want to say there’s a place for every New Yorker at SUNY. Our classrooms are stronger when our student body is diverse; our faculties are stronger when they’re diverse; our research is better when diverse researchers are engaged in solving problems together. So recruitment is one opportunity. Second opportunity, I think, is to continually ask how do we evolve our instruction and our course content to align with our evolving students in our evolving society? Now, we’re always going to want students to engage with the great conversation about what is the good life, we’re always gonna read Plato and Aristotle. But at the same time, we got to think about how are the questions we’re asking maybe different given what our students face today. So I think about when I was at one of our campuses, speaking with a botany professor, who was saying that he’d really never had full enrollment in his course, he always had empty seats. But this past year, he was teaching a course in the horticulture of cannabis and waitlists. And it wasn’t to say that every student in that class is going to get a job in the cannabis industry, though certainly the cannabis industry is going to grow in New York. But that course will be a gateway to getting excited about agriculture and an interest in careers in agriculture, which are plentiful as a whole generation of folks in the agriculture industry retire. We have lots of need for folks with expertise in agriculture, sustainable agriculture, in particular. So maybe being in that course on the horticulture of cannabis will bring them into this new field. So it’s not that he’s teaching something entirely different, it’s kind of tapping into the intersection of his discipline and what students are curious about. Similarly, you think about health care, and the challenges we have in the healthcare sector, students are really interested in learning about racial health disparities, and understanding how we’re going to tackle those. And I’m not saying diverse students are interested in those questions, because they see the horrific maternal health disparities by race that we have, and they want to make it better. So we should talk about that in our nursing classes, in our public health classes, in our medical schools. So this evolution of our teaching and our content to meet the moment, I think, is hugely important. And then I would add, we are stronger together. And so collaboration across disciplines, collaboration across institutions, strengthening transfer pathways, for example. 80% of the students who start community college, say they want to earn a bachelor’s degree, but less than 20%, do. We can do better, we have to do better. And so those partnerships, not only institutional partnerships, so that credits transfer and those things, but also faculty collaboration. What do we advise students about which courses to take if they’re interested in a particular degree when they come to the four-year institution? How do we improve advising at the two-year institution? Those kinds of things are an important place where faculty can engage.

John: As you mentioned, SUNY has done quite a bit of work in easing transfer credit across institutions, between community colleges and four-year colleges. But we have those really poor success rates for students who plan to go on for a bachelor’s. Are there any other strategies that could be used to help ease that transition from community college into four-year programs?

Chancellor King: Absolutely. You know, we have a transfer task force with folks from across our two- and four-year institutions working on this set of questions. Some of the things that we’re seeing that are promising around the country: advising… crucial, particularly as you’re picking classes, as you’re thinking about your major and how it will translate into what you want to ultimately do in your career, improving advising at the community college level, particularly if, and we have some folks who are using transformation funds, some of the funding we got last year from Governor Hochul and the legislature to do this, particularly if you can get the four-year institution to either place their staff as the advisors on a two-year campus, or to work in very close partnership with the advisors on the two-year campus to help ease that navigation. Another issue is what I might describe as friction reduction. One of the things we started this past year, which we will continue to grow is a SUNY match process where we reach out directly to students in our two-year programs and saying, “You are directly admitted to these four-year institutions based on your academic record at the two-year institution,” because for a lot of students, especially first-gen students, it’s that feeling of “Well, college, it it really for me, is a four-year institution really for me, am I ready for a four-year institution.” But it can be transformative to get that letter, that personalized letter that says there is a place for you at the four-year institution. And then look, there’s lowering financial barriers. That’s critical. One of the things I’m excited about that the governor announced in her State of the State and included in her budget is Universal FAFSA, making sure that students complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, because that’s how they know what resources are available to them. And some of our community college students, unfortunately, they don’t realize the aid they could have and so they’re struggling to afford the two-year institution and making the choice not to pursue a four-year degree because they don’t know the Pell dollars, the TAP dollars that could be there for them. That’s why we need them to do the FAFSA. Last year in New York, students left $200 million in federal aid unclaimed because of not completing the FAFSA. And so Governor Hochul wants to require K-12 to work with us in higher ed, to make sure that every student either completes the FAFSA, completes the DREAM Act application if they’re undocumented, or they and their family would complete a waiver that says “I realize there are billions of dollars available for post-secondary education, and I don’t want any. I’m not gonna fill out the form.” But at least we’ll know that every student and family understood the options available to them.

Rebecca: Sounds like some really great opportunities. I’m watching our time and knowing that we’re nearing our end of our time. But I’m really curious, before we get to our last question, what you’re most excited about working on in the next year?

Chancellor King: I love that question. I’ll tell you one of the things that I’m very passionate about. I first worked on when I was at the U.S. Education Department, President Obama had an initiative called My Brother’s Keeper, which was about trying to improve outcomes for boys and young men of color. And as part of that initiative, I was very involved in kind of leading the agency work on that initiative when I was Deputy Secretary then continued that as Secretary. And one of the initiatives that we launched was something called Second Chance Pell. And the history there is that in 94 in the crime bill, there are many problematic provisions, but one that was especially dumb was a provision that banned access to Pell grants for folks who are incarcerated. Now, of course, the evidence is any educational experience while incarcerated reduces the likelihood of recidivism. And completing a degree while incarcerated dramatically reduces the likelihood of returning to prison. So shamefully, this was part of the tough on crime punishment first kind of focus of the mid 90s. They banned access to Pell Grants, as a result programs in prisons all over the country closed. Some remained open through philanthropy, but many many closed. We wanted to change that, and so we used our experimental authority under the Higher Education Act to create a pilot program called Second Chance Pell that would allow, at that time, 65 colleges and universities to use Pell grants with students who are incarcerated. We launched that while I was Secretary. And then, when I was at Ed Trust, a coalition of civil rights groups, criminal justice reform organizations, education equity focused organizations worked together to get folks to visit those programs, members of Congress, Governors to highlight the incredible stories of the students who graduated from higher ed in prison programs. And we were able to persuade Congress to change the law and restore Pell access generally. So today, Pell Grants are available for incarcerated students. SUNY is already the largest provider of higher education in the state’s prisons with over 700 students, but we are trying to grow that effort. I want there to be a higher education program in every correctional facility in New York State. I want to make sure that we grow the number of bachelor’s programs. We have a lot of associate’s degree programs, but I want to make sure that students have the opportunity to go on to their bachelor’s degree. I was at graduation last week, mid-State Correctional Facility, five students graduating from Herkimer Community College. It was so beautiful and inspiring to see the transformative power of education, to hear students talk about how the access to higher education had changed them, changed their lives, changed their prospects for when they come home, but changed them as people. The faculty members were crying, the family members were crying, the folks in the correctional facility were so excited for the students who were graduating. It was truly, truly inspiring. So I’m very excited about that work. I’m looking forward to growing that work. But then more broadly, I’m excited that SUNY is on the move. SUNY is delivering high quality, affordable public higher education, driving economic opportunity for New York State. We are working to improve recruitment, retention, and completion. We are advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion. We are doing the things that we ought to be to better serve New Yorkers. So I’m super excited about our work together.

John: Those are really important programs. And we’re so glad to hear all of this. We always end with the question: “What’s next?” I know you’ve already addressed a lot of this, but there’s so much more.

Chancellor King: Well, you know, we try to organize our work around the aspiration that SUNY has to be the best public statewide system of higher education in the United States. And we’re the largest comprehensive system, but it’s very important that we work to be the best system. To me that means we’ve got to deliver on student success. We’ve got to deliver on research and scholarship, the Governor’s asked us to double research and scholarship across the system. We’ve got to deliver on diversity, equity, and inclusion, that means diversity of our students, our faculty, our leadership, across our institutions. It means implementing the diversity, equity and inclusion, general education requirement, which is really nation leading to say every student is going to be exposed to diversity, equity, inclusion content across all of our institutions. And we’ve got to deliver on economic development and upward mobility, which has been the SUNY tradition for 75 years. So I organize how I think about the work. And certainly our board is organizing its work around those four pillars in order to achieve that goal of being the best statewide public higher education system. In the short term, we got a state budget that hopefully will be enacted on April1. So we got a lot of work to do to make sure we are making the case for investment in SUNY and helping people to see there’s a nine to one return on each state dollar invested in SUNY in terms of the economic impact. We need legislators to know that and we need to work with them to make sure that they are investing in the great work that our faculty are doing.

Rebecca: Well thank you so much for your insight on the current state of higher ed and all the opportunities that we have to improve our society.

Chancellor King: Thank you. Thanks for the opportunity to join you and thanks for fostering dialogue on important issues.

John: And thank you for giving up your time so generously and all the work that you’ve done and are continuing to do.

Chancellor King: Thanks so much.


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

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


329. Admission to Highly Selective Colleges

Graduates from a small number of elite private colleges account for a disproportionate share of America’s business and political leaders. In this episode, John Friedman joins us to discuss his recent study with Raj Chetty and David Deming that examines how admissions criteria at these institutions privilege students from high-income families.

John is the Briger Family Distinguished Professor of Economics and International Public Affairs at Brown University, where he is the chair of the Economics Department. He is a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research and has served in the White House as Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy at the National Economic Council. John is also a member of the U.S. Treasury Council on Racial Equity, a co-Editor of the American Economic Review, and a founding Co-Director of Opportunity Insights.

Show Notes


John K: Graduates from a small number of elite private colleges account for a disproportionate share of America’s business and political leaders. In this episode, we discuss a recent study that looks at how admissions criteria at these institutions privilege students from high-income families.


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 K:, an economist…

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

Rebecca: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.


John K: Our guest today is John Friedman. John is the Briger Family Distinguished Professor of Economics and International Public Affairs at Brown University, where he is the chair of the Economics Department. He is a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research and has served in the White House as Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy at the National Economic Council. John is also a member of the U.S. Treasury Council on Racial Equity, a co-Editor of the American Economic Review, and a founding Co-Director of Opportunity Insights. Welcome.

John F: Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be with you.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are: … John, are you drinking any tea with us today?

John F: So, I’m a big tea drinker…

Rebecca: Yay!

John F: …but, I drink tea in the morning. And so I had a delightful Hunan tea this morning, which I will draw on the reserves of that energy throughout this conversation.

Rebecca: Well played. [LAUGHTER]

John K: And I am drinking a ginger peach black tea from the Republic of Tea. Not so fancy, but I enjoy it.

Rebecca: I have an Awake tea because I also need some energy. [LAUGHTER]

John K: We’ve invited you here today to discuss your 2023 working paper with Raj Chetty and David Deming, “Diversifying Societies leaders: The Determinants and Causal Effects of Admission to Highly Selective Private Colleges.” This paper created a big stir in higher ed and other circles as well. You note in this study that less than one half of 1% of college students attend Ivy plus institutions. While most of our listeners will be familiar with Ivy League colleges, what are the other colleges that are included in the Ivy plus designation?

John F: Thanks. And it’s helpful to clarify up front, the colleges that we’re directly studying are the eight Ivy League schools: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, Brown, Columbia, Princeton, Penn, and four close peers which are Stanford, MIT, Duke, and Chicago. The important thing to know here, you’re right, that there’s a pretty small share of students, it’s not that something changes discreetly, when you move out of that group of 12 schools, and you go to another outstanding private institution like Northwestern or Johns Hopkins or something like that. We have some data, it seems like there’s some pretty similar things going on across a lot of these very highly selective private institutions. Where you do see things being quite different, where we have some data as well, is at the most elective public institutions, places like UC-Berkeley, University of Michigan, UT-Austin, places like that.

John K: You still have to draw the line somewhere when you have prestigious institutions.

John F: That’s right.

Rebecca: So you noted that these institutions enroll a small share of our students, why are they so important? Why do we need to study them?

John F: That’s right, less than 1% of college students in the country go to one of these schools. And, of course, college students themselves are just a small share of students born in any given cohort. What we found, though, was that students from these institutions are really highly over represented in leadership positions in society. You see that if you look at who’s at the top of the income distribution, or who’s a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. More than 10% of those individuals are from these Ivy plus institutions. But it even gets higher when you look at who’s in the U.S. Senate. About three-quarters of the Supreme Court justices over the past 50 years have come from the schools. And so for sure, the schools themselves are not going to be making broad scale changes in upward mobility in our society. They’re just too small. But in terms of creating both a diverse group of leaders and a broad set of pathways, where children from any background have the chance to be a Senator or Supreme Court Justice, whatever, these schools are incredibly important.

John K: One of the things that your study did is it investigated questions that couldn’t be investigated before because of the data that you were able to assemble. Could you tell us a little bit about the data set that you use?

John F: Sure, our study, like so many others, has been the beneficiary of the big data revolution. It’s affected so many aspects of society, and this is the academic part of it. We’re merging together datasets from three different places. The starting point for this paper and for many of my other research is the universe of U.S. tax and census records, which have been merged together at the US Census Bureau. And what that allows us to do is to identify individuals when they’re kids and then actually follow them through to not just project what we think their outcomes might be, but really actually observe them after they get out of college and they’ve entered the labor force. Those data are incredibly important in terms of measuring upward mobility directly. Then, on top of that, in order to study really in depth what’s going on at these institutions, we have internal admissions data from several Ivy plus colleges as well as a bunch of these most selective public universities and university systems. And we see where children are coming from, or where they grew up in the tax data, we see where they end up in the tax data, the college data are really filling in this in between, how do they go through the college application process. We both learn a lot of other information about them, like where they applied, there’s a lot of detail about the evaluations of their applications, as well as of course, whether they eventually get in and matriculate. The final data that we’re using is a set of standardized test scores from the two main testing companies: College Board that runs the SAT, and then ACT, which runs the eponymous test. And the way we use those data are to start from a baseline of academic achievement at the point when these students are applying to university. And we can talk about how that works, and of course, it’s not a perfect proxy for where students are. But when we think about the role that universities are going to be able to play, we just have to be realistic about the fact that they are starting to interact with students when they’re 17 or 18, and there’s a whole lot of inequality in our country that’s going to affect students long before that. And so we talk, of course, as a policy matter about how to deal with all that inequality. But the reality of the situation, especially at this highly selective level, there are going to be some students that just aren’t academically prepared. So that’s going to shape the set of students that these colleges can recruit or admit.

Rebecca: One of the main questions that you address in the paper is: “Do highly selective colleges amplify the persistence of privilege across generations by taking students from high income families and helping them obtain high-status. high-paying, leadership positions?” What do your results suggest?

John F: So that’s exactly the kind of broad goal of our paper, to answer that question. And I think, unfortunately, the answer is that on average, yes, they do amplify the persistence of privilege. That comes from two different parts. So first of all, the students who attend these colleges, we measure a pretty large causal effect on their outcomes, specifically in these leadership positions as adults. Of course, the students are very highly selected when they come in. And so even if the college’s weren’t doing anything, you’d expect these set of students to be doing some impressive things afterwards. But what we find when we talk about more of the details of how we do this later, there’s a very large causal effect. And so these universities, it’s not just that a large share of senators come from them, they do seem to be a very important pipeline effect, where it’s really propelling students up into these leadership positions. Now, on the admission side, who are the students that are coming into this set of institutions that are benefiting from this really positive effect? The problem here is that even relative to the distribution of test scores for high school graduating seniors, which as we talked about before, exhibit a whole amount of inequality due to differences in education and neighborhoods that different students from different backgrounds have been exposed to before they’re applying to college. Even just looking at students that have the very same test scores, high-income students are substantially more likely to be admitted to and attend these institutions, relative to lower-income students, and especially middle-income students. The gaps are largest when comparing students from very high-income families to students from middle-class, upper-middle class families.

John K: And in your study, you tie some of this selection process to athletic scholarships, to legacy students, as well as attendance at private high schools. Could you talk a little bit about how those factors influenced the decisions?

John F: Sure. So the approach that we take is a decomposition of this pipeline, we see that students are coming in with, let’s just say everybody has the same test score, a group of students at the beginning, we see that the students from high-income families are more likely to end up attending this set of schools at the end of the day, and we’re going to try to decompose where in the pipeline these disparities are emerging. And so the way we first start is actually at a somewhat higher level than you asked the question, which is just to decompose these differences between the application phase, which of the set of students with a given test score applies to these institutions, the admissions phase of those students with that given set of test scores that applied which are admitted, and then the matriculation or the yield phase of those that are admitted whose actually going to choose to come at the end of the day? And what I found interesting coming into this project is that there are many different analyses or ideas about how each of those three phases could be affecting it. There’s concerns about who has the information or the resources to apply. There’s concerns about potential biases in the admissions process from some of the factors that you mentioned, legacy preferences or private schools. And there’s a concern that maybe schools aren’t offering financial aid that’s sufficient in order for students from less affluent families to attend. In our data, we see that about two-thirds of that entire disparity is coming from the admissions part of that alone. So that’s not all of it. But I mean, just to give some numbers, there are about 250 students from the top 1% of the parental income distribution who are in an average starting first-year class, that’s about 1650 students. So right there, about 15% of the class is coming from the top 1% of families. Of those 250, we find that about 160 of them are extra in the sense that if everyone attended at the same rate, when they have the same test score, there would only be about 90 students from the top 1% of families. And so then of that 160, about 100 are coming from the fact that high-income students are more likely to be admitted. There are smaller effects coming from differences in application rates, even smaller effects coming from differences in matriculation rates. But primarily, the differences are coming through the admissions process. And even before we get into specific policies, I think that that decomposition is incredibly important, because the admissions process is the one part of this that schools entirely control themselves. If you want more people to apply to your school, that’s hard, because applications are the students’ decision, you have to go out and convince a bunch of students to apply. If you want to get more students to yield, to matriculate, you have to convince those students, it’s their decision. The choice about who to admit, it’s just the school’s choice. This is the one lever that the schools entirely control. And so the fact that most of the disparities are explained by this set of policies, on the one hand, maybe that’s a good thing that they control, and maybe can directly fix what is the source of the problem. On the other hand, it’s a little bit discouraging that it’s in the choice of these own universities that these disparities are being created, despite what are typically loudly voiced concerns for upward mobility. So it’s really the admissions process that matters. Now, we then go down to the next level. and this gets to the factors that you mentioned. Why is it that a high-income student with a 1400 test score is going to be admitted at a higher rate than a middle-income student or a low-income student with a 1400 test score. And even just to start with, in some sense, the dog that didn’t bark here, you might have thought that students with a 1400 from low-income families, they might even be more impressive that they got to that level despite facing all of these barriers, but we see that admissions rates are in fact much higher for high-income students. And we trace that back to three factors. The first and most important factor up 40% of what’s going on is the preference for legacy students. Those are students who are children of alumni of the institution. Now, legacy students affect the admissions rate of high-income individuals for two reasons. One is pretty obvious, the alumni of these institutions themselves are just much more likely to be high income. That’s kind of the generation before, we’re getting the same positive effect of attendance. But the second reason, I think, was a little bit more surprising to me. It turns out that legacy students from high-income families receive a substantially larger admissions boost, even then, legacies from lower-income families. So there’s kind of a preference for high-income students, even within the legacy pool. And you put those two things together, and that accounts for about 40% of the admissions difference. The second factor is the fact that all of these schools designate about somewhere between 12 and 15% of their class for athletic recruits. Now, there’s nothing inherent in athletics, that means that it has to be students from high-income families. And in fact, if you look at the distribution of athletic recruits at public universities, those students mirror the income distribution of most of the other students at the school, in the sense that there’s not a tilt towards high-income families. But at private institutions, the share of admitted students that are athletic recruits among high-income families is significantly higher… more like 13-14%… than It is among admitted students from low-income families where only 5 or 6% of those students are athletes. Now, why is this the case? I was an athlete in college myself, and I don’t think that it’s just because kids from higher-income families are more athletically talented. I think it has to do first with the resources that are available to these kids. Becoming a college baseball player isn’t just about having good hand-eye coordination, it’s about being able to attend clinics, being part of a travel team, there’s like a lot of stuff that goes along with being able to get to that level. And then I think the second factor is that the set of sports that are offered by many of these institutions go well beyond the canonical football, basketball, baseball, which may be a little bit more broad base, but they also include sports like water polo, or sailing or equestrian. And these are sports where I’m sure that there are examples of athletes from all across the income distribution, but think they tend to skew towards more high-income families. So athletic recruits are the second major chunk. And then the third is what my friend David Leonhardt at the New York Times likes to call private school polish. A lot of what the schools focus on in the admissions process goes beyond just how academically prepared people are, and they really like to see somebody who’s doing interesting things that could be as part of extracurriculars, that could be the way they spend their summer, could be the way that teachers write about the students or the guidance counselors write about the students. And all of this gets channeled through a student’s evaluation on non-academic factors. And what we see there is that not only are students from high-income families much more likely to get very strong non-academic ratings, that seems to flow through through things like recommendation letters that are really centered at the school level. And just more generally, you find if you compare high- and low-income students who are attending the same school, you no longer see this disparity in non academic ratings. And so our sense is that these other broader factors that kind of seep into the admissions process are accounting for the third leg of this tripod that’s giving high-income students an advantage in the admissions process.

John K: And some parents are probably sending their students to more elite private schools in the hope that that will enhance their prospects. And the schools that accept them recognize that one of the reasons students are going there is because they prepare them better for selection in a more prestigious institution.

John F: I think that’s exactly right. I think it’s not just parents and schools, the thought that colleges place a substantial weight on these non-academic factors, which then can be kind of trained for and developed over the years, I think this is really a major force that shapes the way that parents and kids and lots of organizations in society direct their resources. So let me just give you an example here. I was presenting this paper at UC Berkeley in the economics department and a friend of mine who lives in San Francisco, who’s a professor there sent me a picture of an advertisement on the side of the road, like kind of billboard on the side of the road, for a fencing academy. It’s called the Saber School. And it says “a safe, fun sport that will help: what are the things that doing saber will help?” Well, number one, it will enhance performance at work and school. Okay, that sounds plausible. Number two, it will enhance speed, coordination, and decisiveness. Number three, it will help you get accepted at top US colleges, just like right there on the billboard. And so if you want to fence as a kid, that’s totally fine, and some people are gonna really enjoy it. But the fact that colleges value this and so now all sorts of people are spending their time fencing simply because they think it will help their college application, I find that to be a little bit silly.

Rebecca: I don’t think we would have found that billboard in my neighborhood. [LAUGHTER]

John K: Although if you brought a saber to work, [LAUGHTER] you might get more attention.

John F: That raises a host of other issues. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: In your study, you also examined admission rates at highly selective public colleges. Do their admissions also favor students from high-income households over lowincome households when other student characteristics are held constant?

John F: Yeah, so the public most selective institutions, they provide a really interesting contrast to the private schools, and there are really two differences. The first difference is that it’s still true that students from high-income families with the same test score are more likely to be attending these places like UC Berkeley or Michigan than students from lower-income families. But it’s not the super concentration in the top 1%, the top 1% are about 20% more likely to attend, but so are the top 5% And roughly top 10%. It’s more kind of a broad top of the income distribution than kid of the uber rich that are benefiting from this. Then second, when you do the decomposition that we do at the private schools, you find that, in fact, it’s not the admissions process, the chances of admission for students with a given test score are almost identical across the income distribution, if anything slightly higher for lower-income students. The big differences come in the fraction of students who apply to these schools. You see almost all of the over attendance is explained by higher application rates of high-income students. And so that really points to a very different part of pipeline. And I think there’s a whole other set of issues that in kind of policy concerns that that brings up, just to cite some fantastic work in this space by my colleague at Harvard, Sue Dynarski, she and a number of co-authors have worked with the University of Michigan over the past 10 years, on something called the Hail scholarship. And this program is really focused on this application phase where they reach out to students who are doing very well in Michigan Public Schools, and who are not from high-income families. And they not just inform the students about the University of Michigan, but they provide a simplified form of financial aid, that’s a tiny bit more generous, but just mostly clearer, that’s basically guaranteed zero for four years. And that seems to have really large effects, big increases in the share of students who are applying who receive these types of fliers, that then carries through to those that are admitted and those that end up matriculating. And so, first of all, it’s really interesting that there are sometimes different problems at these different schools. But also, I think it’s a nice lesson that even among two different schools, which are objectively at the very top of the U.S. higher educational sector, there are really important differences in terms of how these different institutions operate, and what types of policies are going to be most appropriate for increasing diversity of students and social mobility at those places.

John K: Is the rate of return to education significantly different between the Ivy plus institutions and elite public institutions?

John F: The answer is yes. But it’s different in a very particular way. So in our data, what we find, using a bunch of different empirical approaches, is that students that attend these Ivy plus institutions are significantly more likely to be at the very top of the income distribution to attend an elite graduate school, to hold a very prestigious job. They’re much more likely to do that than students who attend the very most selective of the public institutions. Those public institutions, in turn, are significantly better at propelling students to these leadership positions than lower rated less selective public institutions. And so it is both true that those public institutions are very good, and also true that these Ivy plus schools are really quite a bit better. That’s focusing on these top end leadership positions. If you look instead at something like what’s the chance that you’ll be in the top 20% of the income distribution, so for kids in their early 30s, that’s earning more than about $60,000. So that’s a good solid, professional job, you don’t have to be a hedge fund manager, there, attending these Ivy plus schools is not really going to make that much of a difference. And the reason is that at that point in the income distribution, that’s just not what the schools are designed for. You’re quite likely to get a job that’s going to pay more than that from an Ivy League school, you’re also quite likely to get a job that pays more from that at one of these elite public institutions. There are differences in average income, but it’s really driven by this kind of a lottery ticket that you’re getting on maybe you’re going to be really just an extreme leader, again, either very top of the income distribution, very prestigious firm. So the answer is yes, these schools differ, but they primarily differ in this particular way, which is why we’ve placed the emphasis on leadership rather than just kind of broad economic security. It’s not clear that students from Ivy plus schools are just broadly more economically secure in that middle of the income distribution than those from public schools.

John K: You also examine in this paper what would be the effects if the admission process at the more elite institutions were similar to that at highly selective public institutions? What do you find there in terms of the income diversity of students in the Ivy plus institutions if those preferences were eliminated?

John F: Yeah. So we’re able to simulate, exactly as you say, what would these classes look like at least probabilistically, if the admissions office were to place less weight on some of these factors, and it makes a meaningful difference. So just to give you one statistic, currently, on average, there are a bit less than 60% of students at these schools that come from the bottom 95% of the income distribution. Those are families making less than call it $250,000 A year. If you were to get rid of all these three preferences that I’ve talked about, if you were to remove preferences for legacy students, just to be clear on what that means, we’re just going to admit them based on all the other characteristics, oftentimes they’re great students, but we’re just not going to give them an extra boost for being a legacy student. If we were to remove this seeming bias that arises in the process where higher-income students are getting stronger non-academic ratings, and if you were to not necessarily remove athletics, but just make the athletes look like all the other students, so there’s not this tilt towards high-income students among athletes, you would increase the share of students from the bottom 95%, from a bit less than 60 up to about 70%, a bit less than 70. And so what does that mean in practice, again, there are about 1600, 1650 students in the average entering first-year class, we’re talking about another 150 to 160 students from more modest backgrounds. And, of course, this is not an enormous change. But it’s on the same order, as people are talking about when we think about what’s the difference in student bodies that might come from changes in racial preferences in admissions flowing from the Supreme Court decision. It’s on a similar magnitude. We’re gonna have 100, maybe 150, fewer students of color on campus. And I think it not only affects the diversity on campus, I think it also meaningfully affects the role that these schools are playing in upward mobility, particularly to these leadership positions. You make some admittedly heroic assumptions and kind of flow things through, this type of change is going to make another two or three US senators from the middle class instead of from very high-income backgrounds. And let’s not overstate this, like it’s only two or three senators, but for a set of decisions that literally 12 People can decide to make if they want to. I think that’s pretty impressive. And that doesn’t even think about well, what if the Northwesterns and the NYUs of the world decided to make some of these changes as well. So my sense is that we’re not going to remake society by doing this, but it’s a pretty low-hanging fruit. And the thing to say is it just from a policy perspective, you can achieve the same differences in the admissions pool, either by getting rid of the preferences that are afforded to high-income students, or by introducing new preferences that benefit students from low- and middle-income families that are particularly academically strong. And what we show in the paper, we kind of calibrated, we say like, if you were to introduce a new preference, specifically designed to get exactly the same mix of students that you would get from eliminating these preferences, what you would need is a preference for low- and middle-income students that’s is weaker than the preference even that current admissions offices put in place for legacy students. So legacy students, on average, are about three or four times more likely to be admitted, you’d need really strong academic students from low- and middle-income backgrounds to be, on average, about twice as likely to be admitted. And that would be a big change. But it’s not like these are changes that go well beyond the type of preferences that are already in place in the admissions process,

Rebecca: …and seemingly pretty actionable. [LAUGHTER]

John F: Yeah, and look, I think that this is a particular moment of fluidity in higher education admissions. Because of the Supreme Court decision, people are not just reconsidering how to think about diversity. That’s kind of the direct effect. But once you open up the gearbox, I think it then becomes natural to rethink a lot of different things when it comes to admissions, both because once there’s a process, it’s easier to think about other stuff. And also because I think that having a preference for students from overwhelmingly high-income families becomes increasingly awkward when you’re no longer allowed to give preferences for students who are clearly experiencing very large disparities in the run up to college. So I think almost all colleges are really strongly considering a bunch of this stuff. Some of them are doing so in publicly announced committees. Here at Brown University, I serve on a committee, including both faculty and trustees that are thinking about a bunch of these issues. Other universities are doing it more internally, only trustees, maybe it includes students. All the universities are doing this in a different set of ways. And I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more change in the way college admissions works over the next year or two than we’ve seen in a long time. And so yeah, hard to know what will happen, but these are an incredibly important set of issues to consider and I hope we’ve been able to contribute to that debate. As an academic, all you can ask for is that people will listen, policies, it’s up to them. There’s a lot of factors that go into that go beyond the research. But we’ve been really, both in public and had a lot of conversations with university leaders about how to think about these issues. So whatever the decision is, I’m confident it will be made on the basis of what I hope is a better set of analyses and understanding for what’s going on than we had before.

John K: Before, I think everyone expected that these types of results were occurring, but I don’t think it was really clear how large the magnitude was. And your study certainly contributes to that knowledge. Having data like this, and these results, I think, will put more pressure on institutions to change than just the general suspicion that they were privileging a very elite group of students. One of the things you note in the study is that making these changes will lead to a more diverse leadership pool, but it may not have as much of an effect on intergenerational income mobility. Could you talk a little bit about that?

John F: That’s exactly right. And I think that stems from some of the themes we’ve been talking about, where the role that these schools play in intergenerational mobility to leadership positions, that’s potentially very large. But they’re just too small to play a role in addressing some of the very broad differences in equality of opportunity that we see in this country, other than through kind of the indirect channel, which is that I think when you have individuals in these leadership positions that come from a broader range of backgrounds, you’re more likely to get policy that’s made in a way that takes into account some of these effects. And so that actually leads to some of the research that we’re really now focusing on, which is that, when you think about intergenerational mobility and higher education, an initial paper that I wrote on this, decomposed the problem into what we called access, that’s who’s attending and the success, what happens to the students that attend, you need both of them to be working together to have intergenerational mobility. If either of them is absent, then you have less mobility. And what we found was that different types of institutions seem to have problems in different areas. So institutions that were highly selective, not only the Ivy plus institutions, but honestly also some of the public institutions in the country, their lack of effect on mobility, in large part, was coming from the relatively un-diverse set of students on an income dimension that were attending their school. Many of these schools, again, both public and private, the share of students come from the bottom 20% of the income distribution is really just 3 or 4%. Really not large at all. So we really wanted to separate the question for these institutions of how do you improve mobility through increasing access with the situation for what is a very different set of institutions, not just the elite public institutions, but some of the open-access institutions, the community colleges where there, not that access can’t be improved, but I think much more the problem is that, in many cases, students are attending these institutions and not being propelled upwards in the income distribution in the way that we would hope. And so that’s really now what we’re focusing on: How can we first measure, in a very broad way, what these different institutions and programs are doing in order to propel students up the income ladder, to really give them the skills, the human capital, the social capital, in order to get good paying jobs and move upwards after that in their career? And then what are the policy levers that you would pull in order to improve that? The way I like to think about this is suppose that you gave the governor of California $10 billion to improve upward mobility in education in his state. Would you want to get more people going to Cal State instead of the California Community Colleges? Is it important that you not only go to all Cal State, is it important that you go to a particular Cal State? Is it important that you have a particular program? Are some programs much more effective than others? Should we be encouraging more people to go to community colleges, even if that costs and has fewer people going to Cal State? Do we want more people to start at community colleges and transfer up to Cal State? Do we want more people to not start at community colleges, because it’s better if you start directly at Cal State? There’s all these different questions. And there’s been some great research on different aspects of it, but I think with the data that we have, we’re hoping to provide a more unifying framework to think about what are the particular places where there’s more or less success for students, again, defined as like the causal effect of attending these places. And how can we expose more students to high success environments, either by moving them around or by changing what the programs are?

John K: In your intro, we mentioned that you were a member of the U.S. Treasury Council on Racial Equity, and the Co-Director of Opportunity Insights. Could you talk a little bit about what these organizations do?

John F: So Opportunity Insights is a research and policy organization that I run jointly with my co-authors Nathan Hendren and Raj Chetty. And what we’re doing there is trying to put together a research agenda to understand upward mobility, both from an academic and a policy perspective. Research that involves this kind of big data has evolved over the last decades to almost look more like a science lab where it’s very team oriented. It’s not a professor and her keyboard or chalkboard just kind of plugging away in isolation anymore. And Opportunity Insights is a way for us to organize all of that team in terms of there are other faculty that we collaborate with, there are graduate students we collaborate with, there are research assistants we collaborate with, there are visitors at all different levels that we collaborate with. And so Opportunity Insights is really the organization through which we just do a lot of this research and try to translate it to help policymakers and whatever that means, depending on the research. The Treasury Advisory Council on Racial Equity is very, very different. Treasury is one of the largest agencies in the federal government. And it has many different policies that directly or indirectly affect racial equity in ways that are obvious or not obvious. And the purpose of this Advisory Council is to bring together people from many different aspects of society that are relevant to Treasury’s financial policymaking. So there are a couple of academics on the committee like me, but there are also people who run financial institutions, there are people who run nonprofits that deal with financial institutions, people who run non-financial institutions, more businesses. And the idea is to be a group that can both proactively offer suggestions to Treasury in terms of how they can change things either out of blue sky or on particular policies that are undergoing after policymaking, as well as a resource for them to turn to when they say look like we’re trying to figure out… an example is a lot of the focus of Treasury over the last two years has been the implementation of the IRA bill, which includes a lot of tax incentives for green investment. How can they implement all of those tax credits? How can they write all those regulations in a way that really does so to support racial equity, and to make sure that black and Hispanic and native individuals are not left behind in a way that, unfortunately, has been too often the case in our nation’s history. So that’s far from a full-time role. We meet once a quarter in public meetings and try to offer our suggestions. And even again, this suggestions span how Treasury should implement different regulations from even how Treasury can make research on racial equity more accessible, or make data more accessible to support more research so that there’s more broad knowledge when it comes time for policymaking.

Rebecca: You’re doing some really exciting and interesting things.

John F: Thank you.

Rebecca: Thanks so much for your work and sharing it with us today. But we always wrap up by asking: “What’s next?”

John F: So I talked about some of the work in the college space. But I’m trying to think about other parts of upward mobility as well, to understand how environments or policies contribute to these disparities or what policies can help alleviate them. And a big theme in some of my recent work is to try to broaden our measure of mobility to go beyond these purely economic measures. It’s a natural place to start, both because having a higher income is something that is kind of meaningfully related to the quality of one’s life and also because it’s pretty consistent data to measure income. But I think even economists will admit to you that income is not the end of it. And we’re trying to think about other ways, not only to measure people’s wellbeing thinking about health, thinking about social capital, for instance, but also to measure or folks influence on broader society. So there are positions like entrepreneurs or scientists, inventors, that if we generate more innovation in society, that’s not something that just benefits the individual inventor, it’s something that benefits society much more broadly. And so I think that’s not only very important as kind of an alternative economic outcome, but it’s important to thinking about why something like social mobility goes beyond merely thinking about well, each individual should have their fair chance of success. These are ways in which just society as a whole is better, more innovative, more engaged, when there’s more upward mobility. And in that way, I think it’s really a rising tide that can lift all boats. So that’s a little bit of what I’ve been thinking about recently.

John K: Well, thank you for taking the time to join us. We really enjoyed this conversation. And we really, as Rebecca said, appreciate all the work that you’ve been doing.

John F: Thank you so much. It’s really been a pleasure to talk with you about all this work over the last hour and I appreciate that.


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.

Ganesh: Editing assistance by Ganesh.


327. Attacks on Education

In the last few years, a growing number of state and local governments have attempted to limit diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and to place restrictions on what students are allowed to learn. In this episode, Kevin Gannon and Cyndi Kernahan join us to discuss strategies that can be used to resist these attacks on education.

Kevin is a history professor and the Director of the Center for the Advancement of Faculty Excellence at Queen’s University of Charlotte. He is the author of Radical Hope: a Teaching Manifesto, which is available from West Virginia University Press. Kevin also appeared in 13th, the Netflix documentary on the 13th amendment. Cyndi is a Psychology Professor and the Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at the University of Wisconsin at River Falls. She is also the author of Teaching about Race and Racism in the College Classroom: Notes from a White Professor.

Show Notes


John: In the last few years, a growing number of state and local governments have attempted to limit diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and to place restrictions on what students are allowed to learn. In this episode, we discuss strategies that can be used to resist these attacks on education.


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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

Rebecca: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.


Rebecca: Our guests today are Kevin Gannon and Cyndi Kernahan. Kevin is a history professor and the Director of the Center for the Advancement of Faculty Excellence at Queen’s University of Charlotte. He is the author of Radical Hope: a Teaching Manifesto, which is available from West Virginia University Press. Kevin also appeared in 13th, the Netflix documentary on the 13th amendment. Cyndi is a Psychology Professor and the Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at the University of Wisconsin at River Falls. She is also the author of Teaching about Race and Racism in the College Classroom: Notes from a White Professor. Welcome back, Kevin and Cindy.

Cyndi: Thank you.

Kevin: Thanks. Great to be here.

John: Today’s teas are:… Kevin, are you drinking tea?

Kevin: I am not drinking tea, I have moved on to cold carbonated bubbles. And I’ve got a big vat of Diet Pepsi. [LAUGHTER]

Cyndi: I love the word vat. [LAUGHTER]

John: …and Cyndi?

Cyndi: British Breakfast.

Rebecca: Perfect. I have blue sapphire today.

John: And I have some Christmas tea, left over from a reception we had in the teaching center here about a week or so ago.

Kevin: Isn’t it cold by now? [LAUGHTER]

John: It is freshly made today, but we had a lot of leftover tea from there… with a cinnamon stick sitting in it.

Kevin: Ah, very festive.

Cyndi: Fancy, yeah.

John: We’ve invited you here today to discuss the restrictions that some state legislatures have been imposing, or attempting to impose, recently on what can be discussed in college campuses. Many of these restrictions seem to be focused on imposing alternative versions of history and on banning discussions of diversity, equity, and inclusion issues. Before we discuss these, though, is this something that’s entirely new, or have we seen this at some points in the past as well, with state intervention in academic freedom and issues of what students should be allowed to learn?

Kevin: I think this has some resonances with what we’ve seen in the past. And in particular, I’m thinking of the sort of anti-PC hysteria that emerged from so-called conservative thought circles in the 1990s. And so there’s the big curriculum debate over the National History standards that occurs in the early 90s. But what we’re seeing now with the mobilization of actual state power, I think, is an important difference of degree even if it does resemble some of the same sorts of rhetorical devices and button pushing that we might have seen in the past.

Cyndi: Yeah, the 1990s are what also popped into my mind, and it seems like attacks on higher education and on education generally, they come around in different ways, and for different reasons, it’s always an institution that is under attack.

Rebecca: So critical race theory has been the focus of many attempts to limit academic discussions of this topic. Can we start first by maybe defining what that is?

Kevin: What it is or what it has been made out to be?

Rebecca: How ‘bout both?

Kevin: I’ll actually take the second part of that first. What it’s been made out to be, is the sort of malleable boogeyman concept in the hands of pretty cynical right-wing actors, like Chris Ruffo, from the Manhattan Institute, for example, is probably the most prominent of these, who have basically admitted that this has become a stand-in for all of the things that are, quote unquote, wrong with higher education. It’s a concept that in its true sort of accurate provenance comes out of the critical legal studies movement. Critical race theory starts in law schools, and moves into areas like education, and then other areas of the humanities and social sciences to talk about how what we see as racism and, in particular, racist outcomes are not the product of individual bad actors so much as they are systemic features. It’s a counterpoint to the sort of feel-good narrative of civil rights, where people might say, “Oh, things were bad, and then Martin Luther King came along and segregation ended and then now everything’s great” and critical race theory says: “Not so fast, my friends, we need to talk about structures and systems.” And because it comes out of a discipline, Legal Studies, and is a largely academic conversation in many ways, it becomes easy to paint it with this brush of critical race theory is communism, critical race theory is reverse racism, critical race theory is anti white, because it’s such an unfamiliar concept to the general reading public that it becomes a blank slate for bad actors like Ruffo and others to inscribe whatever they wish on it.

Cyndi: I think, too, it’s important to keep in mind that that word system is a word that I think about a lot because I do think that there is a divide and a difference there around the folks who really don’t want to accept the idea that racism, along with other isms, is a systemic problem. And so I do think that, in that way, it’s really interesting to watch. One of the things that really caught my attention… I’m sure you all probably are familiar with the AP African-American Studies controversy in Florida, whether or not Floridian students would be allowed to take AP African-American Studies. As I was sort of watching, and it’s continuing with the evolution of that course, as the AP sort of responded to criticism, one of the things they did… I think they’ve since reversed this… is they took the word systemic out of the course, there was a report in The Washington Post about that and I thought, that’s really interesting, because that really is a divide where you see on the right folks saying, “we don’t want to think about this or talk about this, this is not a systemic problem;” whereas that’s not the scholarly understanding. And so that, to me, has become a really telling default line. I saw it echoed across the executive order in Oklahoma that was just handed down, I think, last week or a couple of days ago. And it was very interesting, the language around, “we want to guarantee access, but not equal outcomes” is an interesting phrasing that, to me, again, signified there’s an unwillingness to think about it as a systemic thing, which is where a lot of the fight of this becomes, and Kevin’s absolutely correct, that it does become this huge catch all. And even Ruffo himself says that in the interviews I’ve read, when they think of anything sort of bad in higher ed or education, it’s going to be critical race theory.

John: One thing that’s really struck me about this is how extensive it is, reaching from the federal level to stage to even local K through 12 school districts. We even saw some board candidates locally, who were part of one of these groups trying to restrict what students are allowed to learn. How extensive is this problem?

Kevin: Very. The Chronicle of Higher Education, for example, has a DEI legislation tracker that I urge anybody listening to this to consult regularly, because it is a fairly quick moving landscape. And I think one of the dangers for those of us in higher ed is, if you live in a state, so called blue states, you can say, “Oh, well, this is a Florida problem or a Texas problem or a North Carolina problem. But it’s not. It’s a national problem. There are states that are further down that path. But this is not something that’s just going to stay over there. And because it is a movement that is national in scope, it’s funded nationally, it is heavily bankrolled, they’re using the same sort of legislative and PR templates. Those measures have been successful quicker in some places. But wherever they’re being used, they have been successful to a degree. And so I think that’s the thing to keep in mind here is that this isn’t just some sort of localized phenomenon. It is a truly nationally oriented thing that we’re wrestling with. And I think that not seeing that is to really put yourself in danger iIf you care about the fundamental values of what we’re supposed to be doing in higher ed.

Cyndi: I want to add another resource too to the Chronicle one that I like, I think, even better. It’s the CRT Forward Project from UCLA. They have a map. I like their map a lot, because you can filter between higher ed and K -12, local versus state level. My read of that most recently is that there are 10 states that have passed legislation and at the higher ed level that is restrictive around what we teach and what we can do. And then there are lots of other states that have things in the works. So it just gives you a sense of what Kevin’s saying of just how extensive this is. And I would argue further, I would add, I think another way I’ve started to really think about this, just based on what I’m reading, what I’m seeing in my own experience, is that this is so connected to the politics of austerity. And I think we don’t think about, that we don’t connect it. But a lot of the reason why these problems are cropping up, it’s also tied to the lack of funding for higher education, which makes it more difficult in multiple ways. But it weakens us politically, it weakens what we can do in the classroom. I won’t go into but there’s a whole bunch of analyses that really connect the adjunctification of our campuses to these attacks on DEI, to the cutting of DEI positions. There really are a lot of connections there that I think you’ll recognize. And that way, it makes it even more extensive, because I would argue it’s not just the laws, it’s also that cutting our funding and not allowing us to do the work that we need to do. I think it’s connected to all of this as well. It feels like a very bought this attack on higher education and education generally.

Kevin: Yerah, yhat’s a crucial point. Look at what’s happened recently in Wisconsin, where the state boards… I don’t need to tell Cyndi about any of this, because that’s her system… but, there’s a surrender in advance to the Republican-controlled state legislature sort of diktats against DEI work. You don’t need to pass laws that abolish DEI if you make funding contingent on presidents and individual institutions doing that for you. And those things work because austerity and the sort of neoliberal approach to higher ed has created an extremely resource scarce environment where those who shepherd institutions are predisposed to sort of comply in advance, as scholars of fascism warned us not to do. And if you look at the history of the austerity movement in higher education, one of the real touch points of this process is when Reagan becomes governor of California, and Reagan and the California Republicans stick it to the University of California system as a sort of revenge for the upheavals, in particular Berkeley in the 1960s. And so a state that offered free tuition for California residents, to this sort of crown jewel university system, Reagan gets rid of it, the Republicans in California get rid of that. And that becomes a blueprint for this process that Cindy’s just talked about. We’ve seen that go national, and it’s only taken a few short decades to accomplish.

Cyndi: Yeah, one last point on that, too, that your comments made me think of, Kevin, there was a paper in economics several years ago that showed that the states that have diversified the most, if they have Republican controlled legislatures, the funding in those states goes down, and it’s connected to the diversity of the institutions. So, that’s another way in which we see this connection between austerity and diversity and politics. That’s really troubling and challenging to work with. I feel like we don’t connect these things enough, but we really do need to.

Kevin: Yeah, it is no coincidence that as the proportion of faculty and students of color have increased in higher education, that funding has decreased in almost direct variation, and that is absolutely intentional.

Rebecca: So, you both talked about many contributing factors to the growth. Can you talk a little bit about why it’s happened so quickly? And maybe, [LAUGHTER] how do we make it slow down? [LAUGHTER]

Kevin: Well, higher ed doesn’t exist in a vacuum. And we’re in the middle of an authoritarian turn, to say the least, in both international and national politics. So you have a globally connected right-wing movement. And if you look at the way that fascist and authoritarian movements have developed with the late 19th, and early 20th century, higher education and the sort of intellectual landscape are fields of play for these movements to establish power. Practitioners and students in higher education have made convenient boogie men for those who aspire to building support for authoritarianism and fascism. And so what we’re seeing, I think, is this process has accelerated so much so intensely in recent years, because we have a fascist movement in this country, and it has accelerated so much and so intently in the past few years.

Cyndi: I think there are phases where we can see effective ways to push back against this. I really do. There’s not enough of them. But there are ways to get to the second part of Rebecca’s question around like, “What do we do?” I think we have no choice but to act collectively and to work to push back together. I mean, that’s why Kevin’s point about this isn’t a Florida and Texas thing. It’s not. like I said, 10 states from my count, when I was at that CRT tracking math, and it’s on a lot of other places, and through lots of actions. So the collective action that’s inspiring to me… I think a lot about the state of Ohio… they had a bill that was quite restrictive, it would have restricted what could be discussed in general education, very similar to Florida. It had a lot of restrictions around what can be taught. And there was a strong movement against it. And what was crucial, in my reading of that, was not that it was just faculty and students pushing back, which they did, there were protests. But, more importantly, there was no compliance in advance, as Kevin mentioned a minute ago. So the regents or the board, I forget what they call it in Ohio, but those presidents of those institutions, they banded together, and they sent a letter pushing back against that. And it was the university leadership, faculty, and staff and students all pushing together against that. And that bill’s effectively dead now. It did pass the Senate, but it did not pass their assembly or else it did not become law. And this year, it has not been taken back up. There was just a word on that recently. That to me is very inspiring. That tells me that you don’t have to do this, we can push back in states that have systems. Those Chancellors, those Presidents can stand together against this. They do not have to comply in advance. They don’t have to argue with folks who don’t believe in what we do. I think that we can do that by getting everybody on board with that challenge.

Kevin: And Cyndi’s point here is essential, that institutional leadership has a really crucial role to play here. And this is where we’re seeing what I would term as a failure in so much of the leadership across higher education. You know, we’ve been told for decades that the increasing salaries of upper level administrators are because we’re bringing in bold, innovative leaders who aren’t afraid to make tough choices and hard decisions. And yet we’re seeing a vast silence from most of them as this last several years has unfolded. It’s not like the leaders of Ohio State institutions are like a Marxist collective. These are university presidents. [LAUGHTER] These are not wild-eyed radicals, but they led and the results were tangible. So if you look at things like Florida or Texas, one legal test case, pushing back against these curricular mandates as a violation of speech rights, for example. What would be the result of that? What message would that said to one’s own faculty, staff, and students? But we haven’t seen that we saw the community colleges in Florida, the presidents of those institutions issue a sort of collective statement, at least most of them, where they basically said, “Okay, fine, we’ll do all these things…” again, get this sort of comply in advance, and what message does that send to the people at your institution, because clearly, what you’ve done is you’ve abandoned your mission. That mission statement on your website needs absolutely nothing if you’re not willing to defend it against strong political headwinds. And so the main obstacle to this collective action is a leadership vacuum brought about by either moral cowardice or by leaders who actually agree with what’s happening and are willing to let these things happen to their institution because they personally sympathize with them. I don’t know which one of those is worse.

Cyndi: I think, too, there’s a little bit of an assumption that while it won’t be that bad, it can’t be that bad. They won’t really do that. And we’ve seen that a lot, too, I think. And that also is a fundamental mystery.

Kevin: It will be that bad. I’m a historian, and I can give you a reasonably expert opinion that it will indeed, if you let it get that bad.

John: Could some of this be caused by perhaps the fact that we tend to see people who have more education tend to be more liberal and perhaps might be less likely to vote for Republican candidates?

Kevin: I think there is that partisan element to it. I think that’s at the root somewhat of why this trope as universities of hotbeds of leftist radicalism is so effective, which again, takes one small slice of the intellectual and political climate at a particular institution of higher education and reads it across the entire sector, as if engineering and economics departments and business schools don’t exist. But I think that partisan element, this perception that well, here are the places where all the people who vote for Democrats live and work, is an effective one. But it’s also again, if you look at who’s wielding power and making decisions at universities, these are not hotbeds of leftism, by any means. And it’s just remarkable how successful that trope has become. It’s also, I think, an effective trope because we, and higher education, ourselves… back to Cyndi’s point about the necessity of solidarity and collective action… we have not been able to tell our story as effectively as we might. I’m not intending to get into blame the victim discourse here, but I do think that there are ways that we can advocate for ourselves and what we’re doing that have been more effective than what has usually been the case.

Cyndi: Yeah, I would agree. I think related to that point, it reminds me actually, of something you talked about in Radical Hope, Kevin, around the idea of sort of accepting this framing of what we do is we’re just only about workforce development, and we’re only about developing these sort of skills. And that’s not all of what we do. And we need to be able to talk more broadly about what we do and why it matters, and why it matters for everyone.

Kevin: Yeah, one example of this disconnect, if you look at all the surveys of prospective employers, and they say, “What are the skills that you’re looking for, for college graduates that you would want to hire into your company or your firm?” They all talk about things like critical thinking, ability to work in diverse teams, understanding people with viewpoints and backgrounds who are different than your own. This is the business community basically saying here are the things that are important. While you have right-wing politicians on the other side of the coin, saying these are the very things that we want to outlaw [LAUGHTER] in higher ed. And so I think it testifies to the power of this narrative that higher education is a hotbed of sedition, when, in actuality, most of what is in the crosshairs of these legislative and political efforts are actually things that are, on the broad face of it, not controversial, and generally agreed upon by almost all of society as good things to have.

Rebecca: I think to make collective action work effectively, folks need to be somewhat on the same page. And so if people are supporters of diversity, equity, and inclusion, but aren’t aware of counter arguments against that, it might be hard to take action. Can you talk a little bit about why folks are so opposed to these efforts?

Cyndi: My read of part of it goes back to that idea of racism as a systematic problem. There’s a lot of research on K-12 education around race that shows that, particularly for white Americans, but really across races as well, you see it as sort of a fundamental misunderstanding of what racism is, how it operates, how systemic it actually is. Part of that is because we’re in the United States, which is a very individualistic place and so we tend to think in terms of those problems, even the way often that DEI is framed, it’s very individualistic. And so we don’t think of it as a broader systemic thing. And that keeps us from acting collectively as well, because we’re not really thinking about it in that terms. I see that a lot. That is my main teaching and learning goal, when I teach about racism or other systems of oppression, is just to make that shift, sort of the individual acts of meanness over to this more systemic understanding, and understanding that really the most important things like, I constantly get the question from a lot of my students: “Well, okay, so what do I do about these problems? What should I learn more about?” and then like, “If you can learn more, that’s great. Like, I want you individually to learn as much as you want. But if you really care about this, you have to think about policies and voting, and what broader policies are being enacted.” And I try to give them examples just to help them start to think more broadly about these things. And I think that disconnect is part of it. Because if you believe that it’s just individualistic, it’s just about being a good, colorblind person, which is also often tied into one’s morality, like “I’m a good person, so that’s all I need to do. I don’t necessarily need to think beyond that.” And so then it makes sense if you are told over and over again, that there are these DEIi administrators trying to force you to have particular thoughts. It kind of makes sense from that perspective that you would want those thoughts, and that you would think they were going too far on the college campuses. But if you understand instead, that it’s not about color blindness, and it is this broader systemic thing and there are broader problems of not just access but opportunity and outcome, then that changes. But until people start to understand those broader things, I think it’s always going to be a struggle.

Kevin: Yeah, I think Cyndi’s point about us living in this overwhelmingly individualist sort of society and culture is a key foundation, a key part of the answer here, because one of the things that surprises me a little bit is that arguments like the one that Heather McGee makes in her book, The Sum of Us, that those haven’t gotten more traction, where she talks about the famous anecdote she uses is during desegregation, states in the South would close their swimming pools rather than integrate them. And what happens is, all these communities now don’t have a swimming pool at all. And so part of that is to the white folks of that community, rather than the swimming pool complexes racially integrated they went without. Is that really a good outcome? Taking the moral element out of it, it’s like, here’s a public good that is no longer available for the public. And so what racism does, McGee argues, is it hurts everybody to varying degrees and in different ways, but it’s actually something that is poisonous to the very roots of any sort of people that would claim to live in community or society with one another. And I remain discouraged that that argument has not gotten more traction, because I think we need to appeal beyond this sort of sense of individualism. Like Cyndi said, like, “Well, I’m a good person, so racism doesn’t exist. These other racists are bad, but we can quote unquote, educate our way out of it, or a magical black person like Martin Luther King, Jr. will come and absolve everyone from their sins,” right? And of course, that’s not how it works. But this tide of individualism, this conditioning that we have, is so powerful that it makes systemic critiques into a sort of existential threat for folks who are not ready to make that journey, because it becomes a threat to an individual to say, if you live in a system that is fundamentally racist and inequitable, for example, if you subscribe to this sort of inherent individualism as the core of your identity, that a systemic critique says, “You live in this system, and it’s your fault, at least partially that the system is like this.” And if you can’t separate those two out, and if you can’t make those distinctions, you’re not going to have a very useful conversation about what we would term as DEI. And instead, what you get is you get anecdotes of, let’s say, unskillful students making an argument in some inelegant way that is an easy thing to lift out of context and present as here’s what DEI is, these lefty kids running amok protesting food in the dining hall at Oberlin, for example, and turning it into a kind of theater of the absurd. And so we’re swimming against such a powerful cultural tide when we try to do this work because it is asking people at least to set aside this fundamentally individual centered ethos. And that is a really heavy lift for all of us, I think.

Cyndi: Although I have some good news, if you guys want to hear it.

Rebecca: I’ll take it, I’ll take it. [LAUGHTER]

Kevin: I would love to hear good news.

Cyndi: This just comes from my own individual teaching experience, because what Kevin’s talking about is a powerful argument, the sort of Heather McGee’s and there are others too. And what I’ve started doing, and I’ve found that post-2020 It’s become a little bit easier for this to get purchase in terms of teaching. I really do think that there is a lot of hope in our teaching. One of the ways that I’ve started to help my students cross that bridge, that divide from the individualistic to systemic is to have think in terms of their own lives. And one of the most clear examples to go all the way back to like sort of where we started, it’s like they pay more for college tuition as a result, I would argue, of racism, and sometimes some forms classism, too. And there are several ways to get at this. Heather McGee, in that great book, The Sum of Us, that Kevin mentioned a minute ago, she has a whole chapter on college funding and how it’s gone down. I mentioned the economics research that shows that. So these austerity policies that are related to diversity and racism and fear, frankly, cost a lot of white students, particularly students that I work with, tend to be first generation, a little bit lower income, and I know you all do too, as well, at your institutions. Public regional institutions, and not private, we serve a lot of students who are directly affected by these austerity policies, they’re directly connected to race. So again, I mentioned Heatherr McGee. I also have another great resource that I’ve been reading, it was written by a couple of sociologists about the racial consequences of underfunding public universities, they look at two schools in the California system. You don’t have to give all of these to students. But it turns out that it’s very easy when you work with students to sort of talk about, let’s think about what systemic racism means. Here’s a way it impacts you directly. My classes are overwhelmingly white, but speaking with white students about that, and helping them connect those dots, they can do it. And part of what I think has helped us, that’s a strange way to say it, but post-2020, is that after 2020, people started using the word systemic racism a lot more like in social media. So I have more students that will come into my courses, saying that word, I don’t think they fully appreciate what it means. But it’s more of an opening. And so then we can start to think about all those ways in which it is harmful to everyone. Racism is harmful to everyone, it costs all of us more than it should in lots of ways. And not just in terms of like sort of the moralistic framing that we often use, but real material differences. So that’s one way that I found hope, I guess, it’s to go back and to think about how to teach about these issues in a way that feels good. And I think there’s a lot of things instructors can do, no matter what they teach, to sort of start to get out these issues and help students to think about it.

John: I’ve seen some similar things. And one thing I’ve noticed is that as our classrooms become more diversified, as we have more first-gen students, as we have more students from historically minoritized groups, we’re seeing people in general becoming much more aware of some of these issues. But one of the challenges, as you both have mentioned, is the issue of austerity that colleges have moved to a more contingent labor force, there’s a larger proportion of adjuncts. And while it’s important to be able to push back, many of the people doing the labor of classroom instruction are in a position where their jobs are very much at risk. And if their administration is not going to be supportive of DEI efforts, they face losing their very limited incomes that they’re receiving from these positions. Is there anything we can do to address that challenge?

Kevin: Again, I think part of the answer to this goes back to the idea of leadership of institutions. What is the mission of your university or college? What are you saying that you’re going to be doing? Why are you there? Our mission statements as institutions are promises that we make to all of the stakeholders of that community, whether they currently are part of the community or external groups in the town in which we’re situated in the area, for example, potential students and their families, we don’t put Terms and Conditions on our mission statements, we say that X University will provide a powerful educational transformative experience to all of our students. We don’t say all of our students who meet a certain income level or all of our students who come from certain demographic groups. We mean all of our students. And so if we’re going to do this mission driven work, and we’ve got study after study after study that talks about having a diverse student body and a diverse faculty and staff, not just racially and ethnically, but diversity and all of the ways that matter lead to better learning outcomes. In other words, we do this education thing better when we do it in diverse places with diverse people. And if that’s what you want, which I would argue we do, then that’s what we need to lean into. And so if you’ve got folks who are doing that work, who are not supportive, who are contingent and precarious faculty and feel that they cannot do what is, I would argue, inherently mission aligned work, that as an institution, that is a problem. And you need to do something about that. And so if you’re a department chair, how are you supporting your part-time colleagues? If you’re a professor with tenure, how are you supporting your part-time colleagues or your junior colleagues who aren’t tenured yet? How are you providing cover? How are you modeling things as a secure person in a secure position? How are you advocating in governance? How are you advocating in Provost’s Council or a senior leadership’s cabinet? How are you looking at getting rid of just semester-based contracts and moving towards annual- or several-year contracts? You can’t wipe out precarity at a single swoop. But what you can do is fix some of the sharpest edges of it, to blunt those. That’s the work in front of us in the short term. And if you’re not supporting your colleagues doing that, that none of this works… Again back to Cyndi’s central point, we either do this collectively or we don’t do it at all.

Cyndi: Yeah, I think anybody with any power in any sort of safety, and I use safety in quotes, but like anybody who can has to push back, and this pops up in really small places that you might not recognize. I was reading too about the southern accreditor, I forget what their official thing is. But you know, they’re talking about changing the accreditation, that is absolutely compliance in advance. That is the wrong way to go. Our accreditors, that’s part of what worked in Ohio, where the arguments about it were going to be out of compliance with accreditation. If the accreditors are complying in advance, and watering all this stuff down and not sticking to the mission, that’s a problem. So there are a lot of people who have a lot of power and the ability to push against this, but you have to push against it. All of us do, in all those spaces that Kevin just mentioned, because reducing the harm and softening those edges as much as we can, it’s our responsibility to do that, particularly for people who are adjuncts and semester-to-semester contracts, because that precarity is real, and it is a problem. And I’m sure you’ve all seen it, I have seen it too. And we can work with our students, because our students will work with us. They believe in these things. The ideas we have about students are so often wrong in terms of that. So working with our students and not believing in caricatures about students.

Kevin: Yeah, that’s an essential point, Cyndi, and thank you for raising that, because I think one of the things that we haven’t touched on here, but is a vital thing to bear in mind, is that these legislative efforts are profoundly anti-student. They’re not just anti-higher education, they are profoundly anti-student, anti-young person. They make the assumption that learning only happens through indoctrination. They are based on the premise that students will learn only what is sort of rammed down their throat, basically, pedagogically. They make the assumption that students cannot handle certain truths. They make the assumption that some things just aren’t worth knowing, and they take that decision process out of the students’ hands. They are profoundly anti-student. Among all of the other things they are, this is the essential truth at its core, that these laws, this legislative effort, this broader cultural political campaign is based on a profound contempt for students, for young people, and by extension their families. And so we need to understand that our students want the same thing for them that we want for our institutions. And if we’re able to see our students as allies in this and get our students to see themselves as allies in this, nobody wants a crap education. Nobody wants an indoctrination, force-fed prefabricated chunks of content. We know that doesn’t work. And so to engage the student voice in this in a systematic and supportive way, I think, is a really important part of the equation and a great untapped opportunity across our institutions. But that needs to be, I think, one of the ways in which we push back against these efforts is to really call the fact out that y’all just hate kids. Y’all hate learners, you don’t just hate schools and instructors, you hate the people that these institutions are ostensibly trying to serve. You may say that these are pro-children and pro-family, but they’re not. They hold children and students in profound contempt. And we need to hammer and hammer and hammer on that point, because that’s the reality.

Rebecca: Change is only likely to happen when the whole community’s engaged. So you’ve outlined today: administrators, faculty, staff, students, the whole community working together,

Cyndi: We have a lot more power than we do.

Kevin: Yeah. Scholars of fascism and authoritarianism will point out the fact that the one thing that successful movements of this stripe do is they get you to give up your agency and oftentimes without a fight. So that’s why complying in advance, the phrase that we’ve used several times, it’s so dangerous, because we give up our agency, we forget that we have it, and then it becomes much easier for these movements, which are not representative of the majority, not representative of our community or it’s aspirational values, but it allows them to be successful because the great majority of folks have given up agency. And so as long as we not just recognize the agency we have, but deploy it effectively, then, and only then, can we push back successfully.

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

Cyndi: What’s next is I have a final tomorrow. So that’s probably like what’s most salient in my mind. So, you know, wrapping up this semester, but definitely more seriously, I want to think more about these questions and how to get people collectively to think about these larger points, about just what Kevin was saying about the real paternalism and contempt for students that is evident in the laws, helping students to understand what this is and why it matters for them, figuring out how to write and speak and work with people more to get people to see the power that they have. We don’t have to do this. We don’t. We can keep our education systems and classes free from this interference, and we should.

Kevin: And I think, for me, as someone who works in Educational Development at a private institution. I think that those of us who have a little more latitude, we’re not immune from any of this, but we do have some affordances that public institutions don’t. And so it’s part of my job to help my colleagues and to build a model of what this looks like to do well. What does it look like to do this work in solidarity and community? What does it look like to do meaningful, as opposed to just performative, work along equity and justice oriented teaching and learning, because it’s so much easier to advocate for these things if we could point to concrete examples of what they look like, how they can sustain themselves, and what the benefits are. And so I think as an educational developer, that’s kind of my responsibility, what I feel bound to continue. And I’m fortunate to be in an institution that values those things. And so I need to take advantage of the climate I’m in to advance that work.

Rebecca: Well, thank you so much for joining us and giving us plenty to think about and ways that we can perhaps act by modeling and coaching and working to have collective action.

John: It’s always great talking to you. Thank you again for joining us, and we’re looking forward to more conversations in the future.

Kevin: Thank you for having us.

Cyndi: Yeah, thank you.


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.


326. UDL in Action

Universal design for learning, or UDL, is a framework to help us design more equitable learning experiences. In this episode, Lillian Nave joins us to discuss how she has implemented a UDL approach in her first-year seminar course. Lillian is the Coordinator of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning for Student Success at the Appalachian State University Hickory Campus and a senior lecturer in a first-year seminar course at Appalachian State University. She is also the host of the ThinkUDL podcast. She is the recipient of several teaching awards and often serves as an invited speaker on UDL issues.

Show Notes


John: Universal design for learning, or UDL, is a framework to help us design more equitable learning experiences. In this episode, we discuss how one faculty member has implemented a UDL approach in a first-year course.


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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

Rebecca: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.


John: Our guest today is Lilian Nave. Lillian is the Coordinator of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning for Student Success at the Appalachian State University Hickory Campus and a senior lecturer in a first-year seminar course at Appalachian State University. She is also the host of the ThinkUDL podcast. She is the recipient of several teaching awards and often serves as an invited speaker on UDL issues. Welcome, Lillian.

Lillian: Thank you very much. And I applaud you on all of the monikers that I currently have attached to my name that often don’t make sense. So, very good. And of course you said Appalachian in the way we say it down here in North Carolina and I don’t have to throw an apple at you. [LAUGHTER]

John: Well, I’ve heard it so many times on your podcast that I wanted to be sure we got that down.

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

Lillian: I am and I brewed it specially for our interview today, it is Bengal spice, which is a Celestial Seasoning herbal tea that is caffeine free. I went caffeine free a while ago, and it’s fantastic and I don’t have to put sugar or honey or anything in it. It has cinnamon sticks and it’s delicious and my best friend in the world got me hooked on it. And it always just makes me feel warm inside and makes me think of the lovely conversations I have with the people who I’ve drank tea with in the past. And I also have iced tea because I continuously drink iced tea and this one happens to be actually just a Crystal Light [LAUGHTER] iced tea as well.

Rebecca: And I did notice, of course, and must state that there was a Tea for Teaching mug involved.

Lillian: Yes, exactly, and I appreciate that. John saw me at a conference and I was so happy to get my Tea for teaching mug that I made sure I was drinking from it today.

John: And I am drinking a peppermint spearmint blend today… also caffeine free today.

Rebecca: I am drinking a highly caffeinated afternoon tea [LAUGHTER] to make up for everybody’s caffeine deficits.

Lillian: Well, I have plenty of chocolate throughout the day that is not caffeine free.

John: So we’ve invited you here today to discuss your work on Universal Design for Learning. We probably don’t have many listeners who aren’t familiar with UDL, but for those who are not as familiar, could you provide an overview of Universal Design for Learning.

Lillian: Of course, and I’d be glad to. Universal Design for Learning is a way of thinking, I would say, about teaching and learning that relies on three main concepts that include: engaging your students, providing accessible materials for your students, and varying the ways that your students can explain to you that they’ve learned something. And it is all based on neuroscience and also a lot of research that tells us that all of our students are different. Variability is the norm. And so we have students in higher ed that come from all different backgrounds, different cultures, different preparedness levels, different abilities and disabilities. And in order to reach all of our students, it’s important to think about that variability and universal design for learning gives us some really specific things to look out for. And three areas or categories: the engagement, the representation, and providing multiple means for those and multiple means of the student to express their knowledge. And so that’s like the general overview, but there are like so many weeds, that I can have a podcast [LAUGHTER] and talk to people about all of the different intricacies of UDL. But in general, that’s it in a nutshell.

Rebecca: I know we’ve talked about it a bit on our podcast before in terms of the difference between UDL and accessibility. But for those who haven’t heard those previous episodes, can you talk a little bit about the difference between those two ideas?

Lillian: Yes. So, accessibility is a part of Universal Design for Learning. You cannot have universal design for learning without attention to accessibility. But accessibility alone is not universal design for learning, it’s a part of it. And I like to think of UDL as like a three-legged stool. If you take out one of those legs, the stool doesn’t function anymore, it will fall over. And one of those legs is multiple means of representation. It’s typically the center column that’s purple if you look at the UDL guidelines at UDLguidelines.org. CAST puts those out. And that middle column about representation is about providing multiple forms of representation, so different texts or audio files, or making sure your font is readable too, especially for dyslexic students. So accessibility is about making sure that all students can access materials, that they have the ability to make sure they can actually get at that information. And this is less common now, but there used to be like those PDFs that a professor copied out of their book when they were a student and it has all their like markings and stuff in it. And then they would just like make a read really bad copy of it, and hand it out when everybody still used paper all the time, or maybe it’s on a screen. And those oftentimes were not accessible. And that means if a student needed a screen reader to read it, or even if they just needed to make the font bigger, they couldn’t because it wasn’t an accessible document, a screen reader couldn’t read it, meaning if a student was dyslexic or even blind, they had really no way to get at that information. So when you make your documents accessible, and you make your class accessible, you are making sure that everybody really just is on an even playing field, and they can get at that information. But in addition to accessibility, you want to make sure you’re also giving lots of opportunities for students to express what they know in different ways. And you’re also engaging with the students. And those two other things are not included in accessibility. That’s what makes up UDL.

John: How did you become interested in UDL?

Lillian: Well, I started working with our Center for Teaching and Learning in 2016 as a faculty fellow and I started doing faculty development as a one-course release for quite a while. And in doing that, we became part of a grant that was in three North Carolina institutions that was called College STAR. And STAR stands for supporting transition, access, and retention. And it was a two-pronged approach where there was a lot of student development, so tutoring centers and things like that. And then there was this other side, and that’s the part I got interested in and got pulled along with and that was supporting faculty. And to do that we used Universal Design for Learning. And I was just part of that grant. And that ended up me being the Universal Design for Learning Coordinator at Appalachian State. And I started going to different departments and introducing that at workshops and that sort of thing. So I became kind of the UDL girl or UDL lady for App state, which I think is about 2016 when that started, and then I saw it, like I’d never heard of it before, and I’d been teaching since 1997. And then I thought, oh, boy, this is really good, this makes a lot of sense. And so I started implementing it as well in all my classes.

Rebecca: So we’ve talked a little bit about UDL principles broadly. So can we dig into maybe a specific example, like your first-year seminar course? That sounds pretty interesting.

Lillian: Absolutely. So my course right now, I teach one called intercultural dialogues, and I get first-year students, and so I love it that they’re small, under 24 students. This past year, I was at our new campus in Hickory, and I only had 18 students there. And we get to work on intercultural competence, which is one of those major things that colleges want our students to know. It’s a 21st-century skill, and it is about understanding our own cultures, and then understanding that other people have different cultures. And then how can you mindfully act and interact with somebody from a different culture. And I have heard some students, at the end of the term, say “this is something everybody should know, like, this is really, really important.” They’ve seen how important it is. But at the beginning of the class, like nobody wants to be there. Nobody wants to take a first-year seminar course. They’re usually there because it’s Tuesday morning and they have an open slot. I’m in that unenviable position of teaching first-year seminar, and it’s that Gen Ed requirement that nobody wants to take. So I want to make it interesting, and I want to make it worthwhile for them, and so we learn about our own culture and then I also match students up with students abroad. We’ve worked with students in Doha, Qatar, in China, in Morocco, in Germany, Thailand, and Japan in the past year, and they work on intercultural competency skills and talk about things like power distance in the classroom, or some of the UN Sustainability Development Goals, like gender equality by 2030. And so they’ve done some things with students in China about that. So the class itself is about intercultural competence. And I have infused a bunch of UDL into this class over the years. And so it wasn’t all at once, but it took a while. And so that means I have multiple ways for the students to get at that information. So there is never just one way to do the reading. It’s either accessible or I’ve recorded a voice audio file for students. So we have a lot of commuter students at this campus, and so actually, we have zero students who live on campus in our new campus in Hickory. It is a new campus, it just started and so there are no dorms, there’s only one building and we’re all in that one building. And so students come in, they have jobs, and so UDL is very helpful for me to think about those students who have various commitments of their time. So they could listen to the audio file rather than read the book, because they’ve got a 40-minute commute to come into campus or something like that. So they’ll have an audio or video. I’ve used H5P, which is on our learning management system, which is like an interactive video, there’s VoiceThread, which is another way to be kind of interactive for students to participate. And so there’s always multiple ways for them to get at that information. And then there’s multiple ways that I ask them to tell me what they know. And they’ve done concept maps, so we have very little like, “write me a paper,” there’s very little of that my class. And that’s also a culturally competent type of teaching thing, because we often in an individuated, Western academic model, we prioritize reading and writing, reading and writing, reading and writing. That’s always what it is. And yes, we need to have very good readers and writers. But there are lots of other ways to learn and express your learning that might be more prevalent in other countries and in other cultures. And so they’ve had to draw some of their answers, they’ve had to give me a visual representation, they’ve written a poem, drawn a cartoon, and tell a story. One of their first assignments is to bring in something that expresses who they are, a cultural artifact. And then the last class that we just had recently, I asked everyone to name everybody else’s cultural artifact, so they learned about each other that way. And it was things like a keychain or one student brought in the T-top of his T-top convertible car. [LAUGHTER] Because the car was really important to get him around and all that stuff. And engagement is the last part. But it’s really the first part that gets students interested in the activities and in the learning and why they should learn. So I start off with a liquid syllabus, which is a syllabus that students can access outside of our learning management system, and they can see what we’re doing, and they get a video of me talking to them. And that’s supposed to be engaging. And then they have a lot of authentic assignments working with students overseas. And this year, because I was finally back in an actual classroom and not doing remote teaching, as I have been since 2020, I took students up to New York City. And Appalachian has this amazing loft that actually anybody can go stay at so all of your listeners could go and stay at Appalachian’s loft, and it’s very inexpensive. It’s like $70 a night per bed, and it’s these two rooms of 10 beds each. And we took students up there to actually learn a lot about culture. We went to the Tenement Museum, they looked around, and it was very cool. So experiential type of education as well. So that took like years before I got to that rendition of how I teach that course. But those are all UDL principles that guided me.

John: You mentioned collaboration with students in other countries, what types of collaborative work did those students do in your classes?

Lillian: They had specific zoom meetings that they had to do personally one on one. So one of them is that students got matched one on one with fellow students in Morocco. And they were supposed to talk about the difference in power distance in an educational setting. So power distance is the amount of power that people in a group expect and believe should be shared or held by the people in that group. So in an educational setting, if you’ve got a first-year student who comes into a large lecture hall on a college campus, there is a larger power distance for that instructor who will pretty much lecture to those students, students don’t raise their hand all that often, there’s not a lot of back and forth, there’s not a lot of flexibility, they probably don’t even know the students’ names. And so that would be an example of a larger power distance. A smaller power distance might be in a classroom, like in my classroom, I say, “You can call me by my first name, you can address me in this very informal way. We’re not going to have a lecture, we’re going to be in small groups, and then we’re going to share our ideas.” And that way, there’s a lot more voices, there’s a lot more talking. And that can happen in various times throughout the semester. I may do a lecture, I may not. And so my students were talking with students in Morocco to find out about their understanding of what power distance was. And do you call your professor Dr. Smith? Or what do you address them by? Are there rules about when you can address your professor and those sorts of things. So that was one of them. And then we worked with students in China, and this one was a series of three Zoom conversations. And all of our students had to set all these up. They were all in English because our partner students wanted to do this in English, and most of them had never spoken to a native English speaker. So this was a really good goal for them. And in China, they can’t have Zoom, not allowed. And so the students had to receive our invite from our students, and their first session was kind of an introduction: who they are, what they’re doing, for about an hour. The second was a second list of questions, which was about: Who takes care of children? Who goes to work? Who do you live with? Do you live with an extended family? Do you live with a nuclear family? And it was really about gender roles. And one of those things that’s a national cultural dimension is something called achievement versus nurturance. And that continuum has also been called in the past: masculinity versus femininity. And it’s how much a culture believes that men and women should adhere to somewhat stereotypical gender roles. So are there women CEOs, and stay-at-home dads? In some countries, that happens in some cities. That happens a lot more than in other countries. Do you put more emphasis on earning a higher wage? Or on having the flexibility to work from home? Like, where are you on that? And so the students talked about that. And then in the last session, they talked about: if you could change anything, what would you see that might improve your country from where it is now and that sort of thing. So they got to do some really authentic conversations with people around the world, and the students in China were 12 hours ahead. So my students were meeting sometimes at two in the morning, but they were up, [LAUGHTER] it didn’t matter.

Rebecca: So it sounds like there was a lot of coordination with counterparts around the world to make sure that you designed experiences for both sets of students that met, maybe not the same learning objectives, but learning objectives that were relevant for each population.

Lillian: That is exactly it. And it was my colleague in China, who said she wanted to do something about the sustainable development goals from the UN. I said, “Okay, well, let’s try and look at that.” And it worked for each one. And it is a lot of coordination for the faculty. And so I would meet with my fellow faculty member several times throughout the semester. And so we got the dates right for when we’d have Thanksgiving, nobody else had Thanksgiving break, and we have holidays, and they started a month early or a month late, and so there was a lot of coordination. And then they had to give me the list of all the students and I needed gender, too, because some students wanted to stay within their own gender, women, especially, in Morocco where some were less likely to speak to male students, who wanted to stay with female students. So we wanted to be culturally sensitive to those types of things. So there was a lot of beginning coordination to set those things up.

Rebecca: I wanted to circle back to one other thing you said too, in that you mentioned your classes developed with all these UDL principles over a significant period of time.


Rebecca: I want to know how you got started, what was the first thing you implemented? And how did that set a trajectory for the others?

Lillian: The first thing, way back when, probably 2016, 2017, like the big aha moment for me, was not doing the same thing all the time, and not having to grade everything, meaning maybe we were just going to do some honestly experimental assessments in class that were kind of fun and authentic. And I didn’t have to grade everything. And when I kind of let go of that, it opened me up to some more ideas. And then I thought, well, I don’t need them to write a paper, because I really have a specific goal in mind. And the goal doesn’t necessarily need to be a paper that then I’d have to read, [LAUGHTER] it made my life easier too. Maybe they just needed to demonstrate their understanding of these concepts. And so like one of the first things we do is draw an iceberg, and talk about how the culture that we see here, taste, feel, smell, all those five senses, that’s about 10% of what makes a culture. And when we think about culture, it’s usually just those things, it’s like, “Oh, you eat this special meal on Lunar New Year, and you have these special foods, and the kitchen always smells this way, or we dress up in cultural clothing, or whatever.” But that’s really only 10%, the tip of the iceberg. And then we have to get really deep into what our values and beliefs and assumptions we make. And that’s typically the hard part of the class. And so I just had students either draw an onion or an iceberg. And then they had to kind of point to where this was, what are your deeply held beliefs and assumptions, and that culture is so much more. And it’s a lot easier, I think, to conceptualize it as a drawing than it is to write me a paper about what your deeply held beliefs are, [LAUGHTER] and where they align with the things that I can see on the outside.

John: You mentioned that the first thing you had done was reducing grading and doing more formative assessments, which is beneficial for students too because it takes some of the pressure off and gives them the opportunity to try something, make mistakes, and learn from that without any penalty. Is that something that you’d recommend for someone who’s interested in exploring UDL, as a first step, if they’re not already doing that?

Lillian: Absolutely, I think it frees up both the student and the faculty member to kind of see what works. And so much of Universal Design for Learning is about feedback, feedback from the students. And that is a major portion of UDL. And I should have said that at the very beginning, that you really want to be figuring out what works for the students and what works for you. So I do think that’s a great way to think about it. And also, the flip side of that coin, to me as well, was whoever is doing the work is doing the learning. So if you are always lecturing to your students, it’s hard, like, you got to put together this great lecture, I always felt like I had a top hat and a cane, you know, walking into my lecture, and yadda-dat-dah, I’m gonna, like dazzle you with my art historical knowledge, and make it interesting. And I was doing a lot of work to do that. And I have slowly moved into kind of the other end of this continuum, from lecturer into facilitator. And if I can facilitate the students working together, or a lot of feedback back and forth with me or with each other, then they’re actually risking some things like “talk to your neighbor about this,” and they don’t have to raise their hand in front of the large class, they’re actually trying and risking and doing these smaller things. And that’s where I see the learning happening. If they’re just listening, that’s fine, that’s great too, but the more they can participate in their own learning, the better it is, that I’ve seen, certainly in my classes, the more they can do, the more they’re learning. But it doesn’t mean I have to evaluate every single thing that they hand in, or that they produce. And I can certainly, on the spot, kind of tweak things and say, “Okay, let’s turn it into this direction,” or something like that. But it was the: “I don’t have to grade everything they do” and “The person who’s doing the work is doing the learning.” And it was like freedom for me to try all of these things that were totally not what I had done as a student, or had valued as a student or an instructor because I was very much in that: “Alright, you’ve got a 15-page research paper, a midterm, and a final, and that’s the art history course.” And I don’t do that anymore.

Rebecca: Well, it sounds like not only is there a benefit to the faculty, in terms of workload, joy, [LAUGHTER] etc, but also an emphasis on self efficacy for students and building confidence.

Lillian: Oh, yeah. Exactly. And they’re trying things out, and they’re seeing what works. And that feedback is really important, a big part of UDL.

John: And you mentioned that it took you time to build to where your courses currently are. Is that an approach you’d also recommend to faculty who are beginning to introduce UDL principles, because it can be a lot of work completely redesigning or transforming your teaching?

Lillian: Absolutely. I don’t know if I could have done this stuff early on in my career, because I was worried about how I looked and was perceived. I was very young, and so I think I needed to feel like I was in charge. And that power sharing was too difficult for me as a young instructor. So I understand that. And now I feel much more comfortable in the classroom. And I feel that being a facilitator is really helpful for the students. And sometimes they just want to sit and listen, but that happens too. But it took a long time to get there. And the course has evolved over a long time. And you try new things. Tom Tobin and Kristen Behling talk about the plus one mentality, just trying one new thing. And that’s what happened, is when I started this course, we weren’t speaking with students in other countries. That just sort of happened when I went to a conference and made some friends in other countries and said, “Oh, I bet this would make a lot of sense to add this in.” It’d be really authentic, which is one of the engagement principles is having really authentic learning experiences. And I used to be like, “Oh, you’ve got to plan everything out, and it has to be perfect.” And now I see that I fumble through a lot of things. And every once in a while something sticks, and it’s good. It’s a practice. They say being a doctor is more of a practice. I think being a teacher is very much a practice to see what works and what worked in my class five years ago, doesn’t necessarily work now. Things that were really fun and hot at some point, you know, like making memes is pretty fun right now, but we didn’t do that 10 years ago, and we probably won’t do it in another five years, like, what did you learn? Let’s make a meme out of it. It’s evolving.

Rebecca: It’s interesting that we’re talking about a course about culture. And you’re describing how the culture of higher ed or institutions or our classrooms also evolve. And that evolution requires risk both on the part of the instructor as well as on the part of the students, and that the UDL principles are really allowing that risk to happen on both ends.

Lillian: Yes, and sometimes there are forces outside of our control that make that more difficult, and it’s not an enviable position. So things like I wish I didn’t have to grade, but we still have to have grades in the end. And so how does that fit into your course. And so I know a lot of folks are using ungrading. I know you’ve talked with Susan Blum and Josh Eyler about various different kinds of grading, which I think is like a later on kind of thing for UDL. Start with accessibility, make sure your stuff is readable and devourable by all of your students, and then start kind of playing around with it. And then maybe I think that ungrading or different kinds of grading structures might be the last step on that process. But to each their own.

John: One of the issues involving student variability is that some students might be resistant to some of the approaches that you’re using, because there have been a number of studies that show that students often prefer to be lectured at. And it seems like they’re learning more that way, despite the evidence that that’s less effective. How do you persuade students to be open to trying new approaches to learning?

Lillian: Great question, I know exactly what you’re talking about, like students, they’re like, “this is how we learn best,” and then you actually poll their knowledge. And students in an active learning situation who kind of hated it are much more knowledgeable than the students that were just in a lecture where they really liked it, because that was kind of safe. And in the last year or so I’ve heard myself saying this a lot when I do speaking, and when I’m talking to folks, is I think everybody needs to be uncomfortable in the classroom, some of the time. We don’t want the same students to be uncomfortable all of the time. So that means varying those different ways that we assess students, so it’s not the “alright, every week, you’re writing a paper,” oh, that also gets boring. But for your great writers, it’s fantastic. But are we really finding out what that student knows? Are we finding out that they’re a good writer. And so maybe that’s a poem, or maybe it’s a concept map, or there are other ways to assess that info. And so I tell my students, like, I’m really conscious about that, like, you probably aren’t going to like some of these things, but your neighbor isn’t going to like the next thing. And so having those opportunities that you have to step out of your comfort zone, to get into the learning zone, but not all the way out to that outer edge of the target, which is the panic zone. And that’s actually an intercultural competence idea that I learned in that field. When you study abroad, the only way you’re really learning is if you’re in that learning mode, like if you go to Germany, but you’re living with a bunch of Americans, and you never speak German, and you go to McDonald’s, and you’re at an English speaking school, then have you really learned much about German culture? So you should go outside of that comfort zone. Maybe you’re living with a local family, and you have to speak German, but you don’t want to go and you are in like a chaotic household and they don’t speak English, and they haven’t made sure that you have any food, and you don’t feel safe, and all the classes you are way ahead of you in your German speaking. And so you’re not learning much either, you’re kind of panicking. So it’s that learning zone we have to be in and so I think in our classrooms, we need to do that too, have multiple different ways for students to express what they know, which is one of our UDL guidelines. And I am very overt when I tell students that. And I found that with student evaluations, like I would get student evaluations where they asked like, “Did you practice critical thinking skills?” And they’d be like, “No, like, I totally didn’t at all.” [LAUGHTER] And then the next year… and I think I learned this at like an academic conference… the next year, throughout the course, I’d be like, Okay, we’re gonna do this critical thinking exercise, this thing that we’re doing right now, this is about critical thinking, you’re going to use your critical thinking skills because this thing that we’ve done, that’s a critical thinking skill. Guess what? The evaluations… way up. [LAUGHTER] Exactly like you’re pulling back the curtain and you’re saying, like, here’s actually why we’re doing it, and this is what you’re doing. And so I think explaining that is really helpful. And then the students know why they need to do something like what I’ve asked them to do, why am I writing a poem or why am I drawing an iceberg? And I think we do need to tell students that and not just have them guessing, because then they’re going to be in the panic zone and not learn so much.

Rebecca: That’s a really good point to remind students that being uncomfortable and taking risks is actually part of the learning process. Can’t remind them too much.

Lillian: Yeah, exactly. It’s necessary. And they do want to just sit and doodle. And not that doodling is bad. But they just want to sit and listen and have us do all of the work. But it’s like, I know this stuff, so why do I need to explain it? You could just watch a video of me talking. We need to get you into grappling with this and doing the stuff that I know you don’t want to do and you don’t want to be here because it’s a first-year seminar and you’re a first-year student. So my heart is with all of those folks that teach Gen Ed [LAUGHTER] to the students who don’t really want to be there.

Rebecca: Switching gears a bit now, can you talk a little bit about how you started the ThinkUDL podcast?

Lillian: Yes, it’s going back to that College STAR grant. We were getting into doing like workshops, and so I was working with other universities in North Carolina. And we had a PI, the head of it was at our East Carolina school. And I said, “Do we have any multiple ways to do this. They were doing research and then some workshops. And it just made sense to me like, we need a podcast, like this would be so off brand for UDL not to have multiple means for us to get this information out. And a podcast has the added bonus of being asynchronous, so people can listen to it whenever they want. I’ve always had transcripts, too. So if you don’t want to listen to my voice, which is totally fine, you could read the transcript and you can get that information, you can see the resources. So there are multiple ways to get it. But there was money from that original grant that sent me and my shout out to Tanner, who was my first sound engineer, and we went to a podcast convention in 2018 in the summer in Philadelphia. And seriously, I didn’t know a thing at all. I didn’t even listen to podcasts then. The only one I’d heard of was the Teaching in Higher Ed with Bonni Stachowiak, and then like, “Okay, we’re gonna try it.” And the very early episodes are, I think, awful. But luckily, Tanner kind of cleaned them up. But there was a Chris Farley on Saturday, live long, long time ago, so I’m showing my age here. But he would interview, in these sketches. He’d interview people that were amazing, like Paul McCartney from The Beatles, right? And he would just fumble the whole time. Like, “Wow, so you were in the Beatles? Wow. Yeah. That’s great. So can you tell me like, what’s it like being a Beatle?” And that’s what I felt like the whole time, [LAUGHTER] like “Wow. Okay. All right.” So it took a while. But the grant helped it and for about three or four years it was grant funded. And now I’ve turned it into its own nonprofit. And Texthelp is now a sponsor. And so they do the editing for me because the grant ended. And Tanner, he was part of that grant. So i had to kind of move on. That’s how it started.

John: So you’ve been doing this for a while now with the podcast, and we’ve been listeners since the very beginning. What do you enjoy most about podcasting?

Lillian: Well, ours came out around the same time. So the nice Tea for Teaching, right? It’s like 2018. And so I enjoy talking to people. If you’re still doing it, you have to enjoy talking to people. But that’s the best thing. I talk to people just all around the world because I do want it to have a worldwide focus. And so I have listeners, the top five are in the US, Canada, Australia, Ireland, and the UK, and so English speaking countries, yay. But you can see like, all over the world on six continents that people are listening, and I had a listener in Australia say, you know, I was walking on the beach, near my home, on the coast of Australia. And that just blows my mind that people are actually listening. But mostly it’s like, I get to just learn about new ideas all the time. And you would think UDL like it’s so focused on UDL, like, there would not be enough, like I should be done with this, but there’s so much.There are 31 of these checkpoints in Universal Design for Learning, and as you mentioned, it’s really overwhelming. Like if you were to go and just look at the guidelines, it’s like a whole bunch. And it’s like, how am I going to do that? You can’t, you can’t do it all. You can’t just redesign your course right away. And so there’s just all these little conversations I can have to help people understand what you can do. And then I get to talk to really interesting, witty, awesome, brilliant people all over the world. And that’s the best part. If I could just do that, like that was just my job, I would love that.

Rebecca: Definitely something that John and I enjoy too. It’s kind of an introvert’s dream to talk to [LAUGHTER] a lot of individuals one on one rather than having to network through a conference or something like that. It’s a good opportunity to have really in-depth conversations with folks that might not have the opportunity to have otherwise.

Lillian: Yeah, my brain is always seeking out the new. And so I love like, “Oh, that’s a neat idea.” And then I’ll send them an email, and sometimes they write back, and “oh, I really love to talk about this, it’s cool.” And so I’ll read their article or their book or whatever. And then there’s something else shiny that I get to go talk to other people about. And it’s just been helpful for folks. And honestly, I just didn’t expect there’d be listeners, and there are listeners. And so that’s just really fantastic.

John: We started out as primarily to meet our campus audience needs for commuting faculty, and so forth. And then we were amazed at how it caught on and spread. And it’s given us that opportunity that you both mentioned, to talk to some really interesting people doing some really interesting work. Before that in the teaching center, we talked to people at a workshop, and we might hear from one faculty member for three or four minutes, maybe 10 or maybe they’d come in for a consultation. But usually that was about a problem or an issue they were facing, but it just provides a wonderful chance to connect to people that we normally wouldn’t be able to talk to. And we see an interesting article, and then reading through it and getting to talk to the people doing the research in depth, it’s really a valuable experience.

Lillian: Yeah, everybody should be a podcaster just to have these conversations. You don’t even have to record them. It’s just really neat. And so it’s given me that like, “Hey, I have a podcast,” like a reason for me to be intrusive in somebody’s email. Like, I really want to talk to you about this. This is really cool. Would you talk to little old me? If so I have a podcast. [LAUGHTER]

John: And I’m amazed at the number of people who say yes.

Lillian: Absolutely, me too, like, “Wow, you’re actually going to talk to me. That’s so fantastic. I appreciate that.”

Rebecca: We’re definitely a part of a really wonderful community of practitioners.

Lillian: Yeah, it makes a very thankful and it’s so cool, because I have listened to Tea for Teaching for a long time. That’s actually my most listened to podcast for teaching and learning. I enjoy the fact that there’s two of you, and you kind of go back and forth and just interesting topics. So I’ve enjoyed yours, ever since the birth of our podcasts in 2018. They’re siblings. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: They are.

John: So we always end with the question. What’s next?

Lillian: I am so excited about what Appalachian State is doing. About two years ago, they bought a building in a town called Hickory, North Carolina. And our main campus is in Boone. And it’s a beautiful campus up in the mountains. And I happen to live halfway between these two cities. And so I was going up to Boone to teach and it is about 42 minutes to get up. And you have to go over the eastern Continental Divide, over the Appalachian Trail, over the Blue Ridge Parkway in order to get from my house into Boone to teach. And that’s great. And it’s the most beautiful commute I think in the world. But it also gets foggy and icy and weather and I was enjoying it, and it was where I would listen to podcasts. But Appalachian State is now the first university in the North Carolina system that now has two campuses. And so we’ve opened this campus in Hickory, it is a commuter campus, and some brave students, we have about 250 to 300 that have started this past fall of 2023. It has birthed this campus. And so I get to teach there, and I get to do some faculty development. And it’s really exciting to be on the ground floor of a new campus. And it’s the only one in the North Carolina system. We’ll have other campuses, but there’s no multi-campus university for us. It’s like being in a startup, except I don’t think I get stock options. That’s the only bad thing. [LAUGHTER] And so meeting new faculty, some faculty are teaching for the very first time. And so there’s no like institutional culture that they’re jumping into at this new campus, although we are very much a part of the Boone campus. It’s new. And there’s only a very small number of faculty there. So it’s like being at a small liberal arts college in a state system. And it’s just really cool. And I’m loving meeting the faculty there and helping with teaching and learning and UDL and all that stuff. So that’s like the next big thing is Appstate Hickory, and it’s really exciting.

Rebecca: Well, I hope you have a wonderful adventure. [LAUGHTER] It sounds like a really fun opportunity.

Lillian: Yeah, in fact, I’m in a group of faculty, we have like a community of practice, a peer mentoring circle we call it, and we’re calling ourselves the Hickory Adventurers, because like, we don’t know what’s going on, [LAUGHTER] and we’re trying to figure it out together.

John: You get to help shape what’s going on, which is a really nice place to be.

Lillian: Yeah, it’s fantastic. I’m excited. And I think I’m just that kind of person. It’s new and shiny. And I’m there.

John: I think we’re both that way a bit. And that is one of the risks of having a podcast, you get to hear about all these great things that people are doing, and there’s always a tendency to try to do many of them. And that can be a bit overwhelming, not just for us, but also for our students.

Lillian: Yes I know I have to peel it back [LAUGHTER] just a bit, don’t go overboard.

Rebecca: Well, thanks so much for joining us, Lillian. I know we’ve wanted to talk to you for a while.

Lillian: Absolutely. I’m so glad and when you contacted me, I was super excited. So thank you so much for having me on Tea for Teaching. I’m gonna show my mug that nobody can see ‘cause it’s a podcast, but I love my Tea for Teaching mug, and thank you for having me.

John: Well, thank you for joining us. It was great talking to you and we’ll look forward to more conversations in the future.

Lillian: Great.


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.


323. Explore First Study Abroad Program

Compared to continuing-generation students, first-gen students experience a higher risk of not completing a college degree. In this episode, Sue Roberts, Marianne Young, and Beth Hanneman join us discuss a study-abroad program for first-gen students that is designed to build their confidence, sense of belonging, and help them understand the connection between their education and their career goals. Sue is the Associate Provost for Internationalization at the University of Kentucky. Marianne is the Assistant Vice President for Smart Campus Initiatives at the University of Kentucky. And Beth Hanneman is the Associate Director of Career Advising and Career Education, also at the University of Kentucky.

Show Notes


John: Compared to continuing-generation students, first-gen students experience a higher risk of not completing a college degree. In this episode, we discuss a study abroad program for first-gen students that is designed to build their confidence, sense of belonging, and help them understand the connection between their education and their career goals.


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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

Rebecca: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.


John: Our guests today are Sue Roberts, Marianne Young, and Beth Hanneman. Sue is the Associate Provost for Internationalization at the University of Kentucky. Marianne is the Assistant Vice President for Smart Campus Initiatives at the University of Kentucky. And Beth Hanneman is the Associate Director of Career Advising and Career Education, also at the University of Kentucky. Welcome, Sue, Marianne, and Beth.

Sue: Thank you, we’re glad to be here.

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

Sue: I am not drinking tea right now. But if I were in my normal space, I would be drinking tea. Yes.

Rebecca: Do you have a favorite kind?

Sue: I do. It’s a rooibos tea, a red bush tea.

Rebecca: Wonderful. Marianme, how about you?

Marianne: I’m not currently drinking too, but I have one on the ready. It is a lovely wild sweet orange.

Rebecca: Nice. What about you Beth?

Beth: So I went to Montana this past summer for a yoga retreat and fell in love with Huckleberry. So I now drink a wild Huckleberry tea at least once a week. And that’s what I’m having this morning.

Rebecca: I have never had that. I think it’s a first on the podcast.

John: It is. I am drinking an Irish Breakfast tea.

Rebecca: And I have a Jasmine Dragon Pearl this morning.

John: Dragon pearls?

Rebecca: Dragon pearls. [LAUGHTER]

John: Ok, so we have a mythical tea. [LAUGHTER] We read about the Explore First Study Abroad program in an article in the Chronicle recently. And so we invited you here to talk about that. Could you give us an overview of this program?

Sue: Sure. It’s a new program for the University of Kentucky, run for the first time in summer 2023. We took 60 students, 60 undergraduate students, all of them first-generation students to either London or Dublin for a three- week Education Abroad program focused on career readiness.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about this program came about?

Sue: It came about in many different ways, actually. There were conversations happening on our campus for probably two or three years before COVID, even, among different colleagues, some in the Career Center wondering how they could produce really good career readiness, education abroad programming. So I’m in the office of first-generation student success thinking about how we could do a better job in introducing first-generation students to education abroad. And then in the International Center, in the Education Abroad office itself, there were lots of conversations about how we could partner with colleagues across campus to develop programs that would reach this demographic.

John: One of the things we were really intrigued about was a program that was designed to benefit first-gen students as well as providing those career readiness skills. Could you describe a little bit how this program integrates that career focus?

Beth: Yeah, I’ll take that one. So over in the Career Center, we have the national association called NACE and they have NACE Competencies. And so when you start thinking about any major that a student has, you want them to make sure that they have those skill sets. So when they actually get into the workforce, they’re able to be analytical, they’re able to have communication skills. And what I love about the first-gen program and Explore fFrst within that, is the idea of how do you do that in a global setting. And so when you start thinking about designing this curriculum, and me and Marianne had the privilege of helping to work on that. It was this idea of, we had at least find out what the foundation is that the students had. And so sort of thinking about block scheduling, where a lot of times professors may say we’re going to do one topic and then go to another, I did more of what we call spiral curriculum, where you introduce a topic, and we brought it in here in the United States before we left, so maybe it was resumes where they had to create a resume and work on a resume ahead of time. And then when we’re overseas, we re-introduced resumes to say, “How would you put this Explore First experience on your actual resume? …kind of the same when it came to networking. What does it look like to navigate, to connect with people? Okay, great. We do that here in the United States. But then how do you do that in a global setting. So it was one of those things where you can actually see that reinforced. I also thought that was really cool when it came to interviewing as well, of having that prep for the students within that area.

Rebecca: We have a couple of other episodes of tea for teaching that also talk about the NACE competencies that we’ll link in our show notes for folks that are interested in that particular detail. So we just talked about NACE. Can you talk a little bit about the benefits that students get from it being a study abroad experience?

Beth: Yeah, at least for myself, the world is definitely interconnected. And so what I loved about how we interacted with employers is that we first looked at those that were connected here to Kentucky, and then we reached out with those that would be overseas. So for example, we have a company named Alltech that’s located here in Lexington. And so our students on the Dublin trip was able to actually go see their location. So it wasn’t one of those things that “Oh, hey, we’re just randomly seeing a company.” We’re very methodical about how that connection is. Another company, Compass, for example, does food services for our University of Kentucky health care system. So it wasn’t one of those things of just like, “Oh, we’re just gonna go see a company.” It was one of those elements of not only is making this connection abroad, but how does this actually impact me back home. And we would actually talk about that. Students would be like, “Alright, yes, you see this in another country, how does cultural awareness make a difference? How does being able to navigate and learn about yourself influence who you’re going to be back at UK?” And one of my favorite questions we asked in the interviews that they had to do for one of the assignments was: “If you’re back on the college campus, and you run into the university president, what are two things you tell them about the program?” And it was really cool to hear from the students that like, “I didn’t think I could learn so much about myself in three weeks, let alone three months about a career,” and others have never been on a plane before to navigate what that looks like. So even if you go into the job market, most likely somewhere along the line, you’re probably going to have to travel somewhere and do connections, but to have that support to have other people with them, when they did it for the first time was really impactful.

Rebecca: I love that reflection question. [LAUGHTER] So many benefits to that.

Marianne: I think the global stage also provides a really unique opportunity to just boost confidence with these students, as Beth was talking about, some of our students had never been on a plane. And not only did they navigate getting on a plane, they navigated getting into and past customs and immigration and all of that. And then the most surprising piece to me, in terms of what this looked like in terms of that confidence boost is at the beginning of our core sessions with the students, they put together kind of a: “these are what my goals are currently.” And by the end of the program, not only physically the confidence that you saw as they stood in front of the class, and they were presenting what their new goals were, for some of the students it expanded the opportunities that they were considering. They had never considered what it might be like to be in a leadership position in a global organization, or for the other students, it solidified what it was that they were wanting to do. And that confidence that they had of “Yes, I’m on the right path,” I think came from them navigating situations that they hadn’t been in before. And then being able to connect with different companies and different leadership individuals within the company, who they could see like, “Oh, my gosh, they were first generation as well, and now they’ve moved abroad, and they have this position in the company,” and the confidence that came from being able to navigate an international city as well as “I have confidence in how I’m going to navigate my career pathway,” that was so amazing to see in the sestudents.

Sue: I will agree with that. I visited, I think, three of the four programs. The program was split into four different groups, two went to Dublin two to London. So there were 15 students in each and I think I’ve visited three of them over the course of the summer, and to see that confidence grow, almost hourly, was incredible. And I will say that I think it translates, we’re hoping anyway, that it will translate, into greater understanding and kind of sense of purpose as a student. So you can see the point of your degree, you can see the point of why you’re struggling through this or that course to make it through to graduation. And of course, we want to see good results in terms of retention rates and graduation rates.

Rebecca: I’ve had the opportunity to teach a couple of travel courses where I’ve had students who had never traveled before, some within the US and some travel abroad. And I agree that seeing the confidence growth in students is such a rewarding experience for the instructors as well as for the students. It’s a really powerful experience. But one of the things that I really love that you’re describing is this connection to alumni, and those really specific intentional connections between the businesses locally as well as abroad. That’s a really beautiful component of your program.

John: And one of the challenges that all colleges face is the relatively high DFW rates generally experienced by first-gen students. And by making clear to the students the salience and the relevance of the material that they’re learning, and how this can open up these possibilities to them in a very obvious manner that they may not naturally see, I can imagine this could be really transformative.

Marianne: I think one of the great moments we had as we were visiting one of our employer partners, as Beth was talking about the spiral curriculum, he had talked about LinkedIn profiles and been helping them and then we get to this employer visit. And they start talking about LinkedIn profiles. And it is almost the exact lecture we had given that morning. And students are turning around and saying, “Oh, my gosh, you told us that this morning, and here’s this employer saying this exact same stuff. You were right.” And so we revisited again, and then the next employer, and so it was the aha moment of “Oh my gosh, this is actually something that I’m going to need and I’m going to use as I navigate my career.”

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about what a typical day for a student looks like in this program.

Marianne: There was no typical day, but this will kind of give you some activities they may have been shuffled around a bit. We’d start off with maybe some class time reviewing the visit. Maybe we’d have the day before talking about the experiences that the students had, answering any questions they may have had, how they navigated a challenge, just really taking time to connect and then help them build on the information that we were presenting. Once we kind of move through class time, we might have visited an employer in the afternoon and done a site visit where we not only learned about the company but also some of our employers took us through exercises like design thinking at some of our tech companies, or walking us through interviews and resume reviews in terms of a mock opportunity if you’re applying to their company. And then we may also have a cultural visit in the afternoon, visiting a significant landmark in the area or learning about the history and the culture of the particular space that the students were in. And then in the evenings, our students would maybe get together and cook in the residence hall, or they might go out to dinner together. And so generally we had class time and some cultural visits or an employer visit.

Beth: Yeah, exactly what Marianne said, and when you think about over the three weeks, because we were there for three weeks with these students, the beginning part of the classes were more kind of prep and foundation to get them to know what to expect. And so we broke teams of three, and so we would have one person would be the person who was in charge of introducing the group, we had one person that was the photographer, one person that was in charge of the “Thank you” at the end for each site visit. And that was really cool to see him learn collaboration, but also kind of change up and like, “Oh, well, this person is really interested in architecture, so we’re gonna have him be the speaker for this one, and then I’ll do the photography. And this one over here, we as a group, we actually wrote the thank you note together of what that means to follow up within it, kind of expectations within it.” So that was really cool in terms of curriculum, and kind of how we set that beginning. And then closer to the end like Marianne said, was more like review: “What did you learn from it and reflection?”

John: Do students travel with faculty or staff from the University of Kentucky?

Sue: We structured this program so that each group of students was accompanied and led by two professional staff members from the campus. Typically, it was a person from the Career Center, and a person from the Office of First-Generation Student Support. So it gave the students oftentimes very familiar people who understood where they’re coming from, and the skills they brought to the table, but also a person with the career advice ready for them kind of as needed. So it worked really well, I think, to have those program leaders on the ground with the students. And we weren’t hosted by a university, although we did visit universities in both locations. But we worked with a education abroad partner provider called AIFS. And they have provided the classrooms, they assisted us find student accommodation, and they worked on us with the cultural visits.

Rebecca: I think I remember also reading that you did some work prior to going abroad and some coursework there. Can you talk a little bit about what that looked like?

Marianne: We had an opportunity and clusters with the students, we broke them into smaller groups to help prepare them for what to expect as they were preparing for their education abroad experience. And so we covered a variety of topics of what about your luggage? What is a carry on? What is it checked bag? How do you move through security? What can you expect in an airport? What can you expect in terms of customs and immigration? We talked about how to prepare for the weather, how to think about budgeting, and being prepared for different costs of things, or how you might be able to consider all of the different pieces and parts of preparing for souvenirs that you want to get… all those different things, a variety of cluster topics to make sure that our students not only had a connection with the person that they were going to be traveling with, but also the other students. And then it gave us space for any of the questions that students may have had, as they were preparing for this experience.

Beth: It’s just a great way, because a lot of times when I’ve done education abroad, you might meet at the airport for the first time. But what I loved about this program is that we literally got to know each other prior, to at least kind of understand maybe some of the things that they were concerned about as a student. And so then as a staff member, we can be like, “Okay, let me give you some extra resources.” I remember one particular student, I ended up calling her mom and her was on the phone, because she’s like, “Okay, Beth, I know you went through the whole situation of what we need to do for the airport, but my mom has questions.” And I was like, “Sure, no problem. Let’s talk.” And so her mom was like, “Oh, nice to meet you Beth. Her mom dropped her off at the airport, gave me the biggest hug. When her mom picked us up. She was like giving everybody in the group a hug, because we were extended family for them for three weeks.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about the timing of the program?

Sue: So last year, it was the first time through, so I think we had to do things very quickly. We had to assemble a team, we had to get these clusters stood up. We had to recruit students, we had to find the scholarships for them and all the rest of it in kind of a hurry. So this year, we’re spacing it out a bit more. So we’re recruiting for summer 24 right now. And we’re going to repeat the program, we’re going to take 30 students in two groups to London and 30 to Dublin in two groups. So we’re excited about that. And then their travel occurs during the summer vacation, early in the summer vacation, so May and June this year.

Marianne: The interesting piece of the timing as well was I was on the first group that went to Dublin, and we were actually able to connect with the group that was coming after us in the airport as they were preparing to go out, so my students were able to pass along some words of wisdom and some thoughts to the group that was coming after them. And so that was a really fun piece with the timing to be able to catch up with each other in the airport.

Beth: In terms of curriculum, the way it was set up, there was one class that everybody was part of. So we actually met as a group virtually, with all 60 students ahead time. So everyone had that basic foundation. And then when we’re actually over there, that was when we did the actual classes for the individual pieces. So I did Dublin two and London one. And so at the same time, we’re having curriculum in terms of giving feedback for the next group coming over.

John: Now, you mentioned that there was some time spent acquiring funding, could you talk a little bit about the funding that was used for this program?

Sue: Sure. And this is a little unusual, I think. It was a surprise to us when the Kentucky State legislature or general assembly awarded some funding to all Kentucky institutions of higher education to support displaced students, so refugee students primarily. As part of that program, they allocated a certain amount of funding also to support education abroad and exchanges. So when we realized that, which was only in the summer before, so summer 22, we thought, “Aha, we could finally make this happen. This thing we’ve all been talking about in different ways about connecting careers, connecting first-generation students with education abroad, and making a real difference for those students, and we could do it at a actually a quite a big scale for education abroad, 60 students is quite significant.” So we seized the opportunity. The trick, then, of course, was to find matching money, because it didn’t cover everything. So we found some money internally at the university, we used education abroad scholarships, our administration at the very highest levels awarded us some funding to kind of back us up if we needed it. So it was a team effort. And this upcoming year, we don’t have the state money. That was a one time deal, so we’re funding it all from our university funds.

Rebecca: So cost is always a concern, I think, for first-gen students, and may be one of the reasons why they don’t even think they might ever go abroad. I know that was the case for me, as a student. I didn’t think I was ever going to get a chance to go abroad, but I got to when I was in graduate school. So can you talk a little bit about what this meant to the first-gen students or if you had trouble initially even getting them to think that they could really actually participate in this program?

Beth: Yes, one of our students on Dublin two got the email about applying and that the program was going to be there when we started doing the recruitment. And he was like, “Is this a scam? Is this true?” We went over to the first-gen office to verify because he’s like, “it sounded too good to be true.” And so once we got the word out that it was, of course, students applied and said, “Okay, let’s do this.”

Sue: You’re absolutely right that it’s the number one barrier of first-generation students is finances. And I think it was the majority of our students on this program are Pell recipients. So first-gen is a very big category. But we did try and make a difference, particularly for students whose financial means were limited. So it was a tremendous opportunity for them. And as Beth said, some of them were very disbelieving at first of the opportunity, they couldn’t understand how this was happening, because they hadn’t thought that this was something that they could ever achieve. And that was another reason why we kept it to three weeks, because many of these students… well, in fact, I would say all of them… were working during the summer. So three weeks away from your summer job and earning is a big deal, and others had family obligations as caregivers, and so on. So that’s the reason why we ended up with a three-week timeframe was partly to be sensitive to those needs. And then in terms of the financing, London is an expensive city, and Dublin is an expensive city. And these are young people, these are primarily first- and second-year university undergraduates. So budgeting to shop, to eat, to go out is difficult, and especially when it’s a different currency and options are different, and the prices are different. So that was a big element that we’ve reflected on since this first time through, and I think we’ll be maybe just a little bit more supportive. We were supportive, but maybe just a little bit more supportive of how to budget when overseas because they were responsible for their own spending money on this program.

Rebecca: What about things like food or other personal costs for travel, was that included in the program?

Sue: So there were a few meals included. There were a few like welcome dinners and things like that included, but by and large students were responsible for their own catering as it were for their own food. And it turned out that was kind of an issue because it takes a bit of knowledge of the stores and what’s available and what’s affordable. It takes a bit of knowledge of how to cook in a budget conscious way and not just grab the processed thing. And of course these supermarkets are unfamiliar and I would say one thing we did think a lot about upon return and when we debriefed this was giving the students a bit more time to adjust to that situation and to learn their options and to cook because sometimes we were so busy with all these things we were doing every day that they didn’t have much time to plan their suppers, or to go shopping and cook so I’ll let Beth and Marianne chime in because they were on the ground, they know more, but that was the kind of impression I got.

Marianne: So, we had some bargain shoppers in my group that found meal deals at like close Tescos, things like that. And so it was always kind of a competition of “Did you know that the sandwich was included in the meal deal?” And so it was a pretty inexpensive breakfast and lunch and sometimes dinner opportunity for students that became somewhat of a game, to figure out, like, what are you going to put in your meal deal this time? And so a lot of our students were supportive in terms of sharing different deals that restaurants were doing. Did you know that on Tuesday, they have a student special where you can get this, this, and this. And so they were really great about sharing some of the tips and tricks and things that they picked up along the way. And then also sharing meals. So going to the grocery, and he brought me to purchase something, while I may not eat this whole thing, but if you split it with me, then I’ll get the next one. And so they were really great, that was really fun to see them kind of helping and sharing deals that they found along the way.

Beth: And one of the things that we did is we actually offered a time if someone wanted to come with me to the grocery store. We did a local one so they could see how close something was if they by chance needed something quick to eat. But then we actually went with them, which was one was a little bit farther away have more of the discount kind of larger what they would think of a supermarket type of thing here in the United States, just because, over there, you kind of buy more what you need, versus “I’m going to have lots in the refrigerator and freezer within it.” And we actually had a couple of times where we had meals together because it was someone’s birthday and we wanted to celebrate. And very similar to what Marianne said that they would be like, “here’s a deal,” or “hey, I’m going to make soup anybody else want?” And we had one student who loved to cook, and others are like, hey, awesome, I will help clean up, or pitch in for some money if you would be willing to be the person that actually wanted to make the meal, and they actually collaborated teamwork that way too. So it was really cool to see.

Beth: One thing I wanted to share is the fact I think people think that education abroad is three weeks, and then you’re done. For us, this is a lifetime connection for these students. So we actually had dinner with both groups separately, so they could get together and meet each other and see each other, I’ll get messages being like “Guess who I saw on campus?” and they have a competition of how many times they see a certain student, be like “I saw them three times this week, Beth, I saw this one four,” but even moreso is this confidence coming back to have to go after the dreams that they want. We had a student who, I’ll be very honest, had a really rough home life and had a lot of confidence issues and got over there had a chance to start talking, had a really good conversation with a couple employers. And we did a networking night where we invited all the employers back and they could come and network with the students. And she had a really good conversation with some of our staff that we actually had come over from UK to kind of see the program as well. And she followed up, wrote a note back to say thank you for this conversation, I appreciate it. This is what I’m looking for in terms of career or job, and that person connected her with to somebody back here in Lexington, she then goes and reached out to that person, met with them, interviewed, and now has an IT position that she never thought possible a year ago. So that’s really cool to actually see them do this steps, it’s one thing for us to say go do, it’s another for them to actually gain the confidence to go and actually obtain it.

Rebecca: What a great story.

John: One of the things that I think you’ve all mentioned is that this creates a really tight bond among the students as well as the connections to the staff members they traveled with. And that sense of belonging has been shown in a lot of studies to be a major factor in student retention. And I think programs like this can create really strong bonds that can help students be more likely to succeed.

Sue: I will agree with that. There were two young women on one of the programs who became fast friends. And I assumed they had been friends forever, and I just was chatting with them, and I said, “You know, you must have known each other a long time.” They said “no, we just met.” And one of them said that she was so excited to come back to UK in the fall… so this semester… and I said “well, weren’t you excited anyway?” And she said, No, she wasn’t, that her freshman year had been a little lonely, and she had not made a good connection with her roommate and was struggling a little bit to fit in. And she said “Now I have a best friend on campus, and we’re gonna have fun the next few years together. And I thought that was awesome.

Marianne: And I’ll brag on our students. They were phenomenal. I mean, when I told people that I was going to go to a foreign country with 15 college students, and we were going to travel the city and we were going to do all of the things they looked at me like, “Why would you take college students to an international city?” They were fantastic. They were supportive. They were curious. They were beyond what you could even imagine in terms of the questions that they were asking and the way that they engaged with the curriculum. We have phenomenal students here at the University of Kentucky and I was lucky to get to take 15 and I have them running across campus yelling my name saying “Oh my gosh, this is the first time that I’ve seen you since you’ve been back on campus” or seeing each other on campus is such an honor to be a part of just that family that we now have. And, like I said, they were the best students you could ever imagine traveling with. I do it again in a heartbeat.

Sue: So one thing that really impressed me about these students, actually taught me a lot about this category “first-generation” which is kind of thrown around is that these students are really amazing. I mean to get to the University of Kentucky, to be studying their majors, to be making good academic progress is an accomplishment for these students and they have the resilience, they have the resourcefulness, they have the curiosity, as Marianne said, to make the most out of education abroad. So these are not students who took this for granted. When they were in London or Dublin, their eyes and ears were open all the time. And they were busy taking it all in, reflecting on it, and they absolutely were some of the very best students I’ve ever seen on an education abroad program.

Rebecca: So do you have plans to evaluate the success of this program?

Sue: So yes, we built assessment into this program from the beginning. So we had a researcher from the College of Education who helped us and administered pre- and then during, and then post-surveys of each student. So she collected information about their responses and reflections to the assignments and to their learning, and also something about their intercultural learning as it were. So we’re going to also track these students and see how they do compared to the peers who didn’t get the opportunity to study abroad in terms of their academic progress and their graduation.

John: Excellent. We look forward to hearing more about how well this program works. We always end by asking, what’s next?

Sue: Well, we want to do this again. [LAUGHTER] So we think it’s working. We’ve got good results so far, assuming that the next summer is also successful. We hope to just keep tweaking it, making it better and better for the students and maybe building it in as kind of a signature program for first-generation students here at the University of Kentucky.

Rebecca: An incredible thing to invest in and offer first-gen students. Thanks so much for sharing the details of your program.

Sue: Thank you for having us. And thanks for your interest in this endeavor.

John: It sounds like a wonderful program.

Sue: Yeah, it’s been a blast to develop and to be part of I must say. It’s been fantastic. And I don’t think we mentioned but perhaps we should that over one quarter of our undergraduate students identify as first generation. So this is a significant population at our university which serves students of all sorts from the state of Kentucky and outside.

John: Excellent.

Sue: Thank you both.

Marianne: Thank you all

John: Thank you for taking the time to join us and to share this wonderful program.

Sue: Yeah, appreciate it.


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.


322. Accessibility Challenge

Digital accessibility can be intimidating for faculty and staff. In this episode, Michele Thornton, Laura Harris, and Kate DeForest join us to examine one example of a gamified approach to professional development. Michele is an Associate Professor of Management at SUNY Oswego, Laura is the Web Services and Distance Learning Librarian at SUNY Oswego. and Kate is the Digital Content Coordinator at SUNY Oswego.

Show Notes


John: Digital accessibility can be intimidating for faculty and staff. In this episode, we examine one example of a gamified approach to professional development.


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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

Rebecca: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.


Rebecca: Our guests today are Michele Thornton, Laura Harris, and Kate DeForest. Michele is an Associate Professor of Management at SUNY Oswego, Laura is the Web Services and Distance Learning Librarian at SUNY Oswego. and Kate is the Digital Content Coordinator at SUNY Oswego. Welcome Michele, Laura, and Kate.

Kate: Hello. Thank you.

Michele: Thanks for having us.

Laura: Thank you.

John: Our teas today are:… Michele, are you drinking tea?

Michele: I am. I’m having a London fog. It felt like a good choice given the kind of rainy day.

John: … and Laura?

Laura: I am drinking the Comfort and Joy tea by Republic of Tea.

Rebecca: Sounds nice for a chilly day.

John: …and Kate?

Kate: I’m enjoying a nice chai tea.

Rebecca: Look at the variety in this group. [LAUGHTER] I have Harsha today, which is a black tea.

John: That sounds rather harsh and a bit different than the comfort and joy. [LAUGHTER] And I have, in the spirit of the season, a Christmas tea today.

Rebecca: So we invited you here today to talk about the article that we co-authored, titled “10-Day Campus aAccessibility Challenge” in a recent special issue of the Journal for Post Secondary Education and Disability. The accessibility challenge was an initiative developed by the workgroup on accessibility practices at SUNY, which you’ve all been an active member of. So first, Can each of you briefly describe how you got involved with accessibility work at SUNY Oswego and some of the specific projects that you’ve worked on? And we’ll start with Michele.

Michele: Thanks, Rebecca. My first introduction was by being part of our initial cohort of faculty accessibility fellows in 2019. So that was a year-long fellowship, where myself and a handful of other faculty members from across the campus were able to learn the importance of things like Universal Design for Learning, build skills and capacity around principles of digital accessibility, and become part of the growing community on campus that was really advocating for a more accessible and inclusive campus.

John: And we do have an earlier podcast episode on the origins of that project, and we’ll share a link to that in the show notes.

Rebecca: Kate?

Kate: Okay, I was hired as the digital accessibility analyst and remediation specialist in 2018. I was primarily focused on assessing and remediating online course materials at that time. When I was hired, I was invited to be in the work group, and quickly became one of the main resources for remediation and accessibility at that time. I’ve been involved with creating our digital accessibility website, many of the written and video tutorials, launching the 10-day accessibility pilot program and other subsequent programs, and currently involved with creating accessibility course modules.

Rebecca: Laura?

Laura: One aspect of my job is to support online learning and teaching. And in that role, Rebecca and a former colleague invited me to be part of the workgroup focused on facilitating the creation of accessible materials for online courses. Over the years, the scope of that workgroup has broadened, and now we focus on accessible practices in general. One of the projects I’ve really enjoyed is providing training on different models of disability.

John: Rebecca, you’re one of the people who put together the accessibility challenge. So could you explain your role in it?

Rebecca: Sure. I am one of the two founding members of our workgroup on accessibility practices at SUNY Oswego, and was the first facilitator of our Faculty Accessibility Fellows Program that Michele was in. So Kate, before we jump in too far with our accessibility challenge discussion, can you first help our audience understand what we mean on our campus by accessibility?

Kate: Sure. So the bare bones basic definition, as paraphrased, would be allowing a person with a disability and a person without a disability, the same or similar experience in the same or similar manner. And we are speaking of it in the digital capacity, so using websites and digital content, digital documents, and allowing people to basically experience them in a very similar way.

John: And before we go any further, could someone tell us what the accessibility challenge is? Michele, can you set the stage for us by providing an overview of the accessibility landscape at SUNY Oswego and the circumstances that led to the development of the accessibility challenge, and also, what exactly that accessibility challenge was?

Michele: For me, it’s hard to separate out the genesis of the accessibility challenge from two other important existing factors. The idea came to us in fall of 2020. And so if we can all put ourselves back there, we had just come out of the first spring of the onset of the COVID19 pandemic. That took our campus, like many others out there, into this rapid switch to online learning, and one that really brought the harsh light on many accessibility barriers that parts of our campus had previously not really observed or had much experience with. We’ve already talked about and highlighted a couple of different ways that our campus has been thinking about accessibility with the workgroup, our Fellows Program, and so we have this long tradition of campus leadership and support around promoting accessibility. But the unprecedented need that the pandemic really illuminated revealed that we needed to move even quicker to build a more robust, more skilled, more engaged community that would be prepared to meet the challenges that our students and faculty were facing. We had historically been offering a lot of different trainings and one-on-one faculty support, but we felt like we needed something much more concentrated, quick, that would be fun and enjoyable for folks to participate in. The pandemic was just in its first 12 months, and people were stressed and feeling isolated, nervous or afraid. We wanted to create an opportunity to connect as well as learn from each other. So we’ve talked about this as a 10-day challenge. It was essentially two weeks of an online community engaged learning experience, where folks signed up and took different asynchronous and sometimes synchronous online courses to build their skills and capacity around accessibility.

Rebecca: So Laura, can you talk a little bit about some of the design considerations that went into the challenge?

Laura: Sure, Rebecca. The workgroup often discusses training and professional development opportunities we can provide to faculty, staff, and students. And as Michele indicated, when we had those discussions in late 2020, we knew that many people were feeling overburdened, disconnected, and disenfranchised. And we didn’t want to add to people’s mental loads, we wanted to craft something that was fun and supportive. So one of the theories underlying our thinking is self-determination theory, which suggests that experiences that support individuals’ experiences of autonomy, competence, and relatedness, or connectedness, will provide the best kinds of motivation. I want to talk about competence first. I think promoting competence around accessibility practices has always been at the core of what we do. However, the increase in online instruction caused by the pandemic made fostering this competence a necessity. We just didn’t have, and we do not have now, the staffing to remediate every course. Moving on to relatedness, I feel that offering a challenge instead of regular professional development opportunities really allowed us to foster that sense of connection. With challenges, there’s a shared goal, and when it comes to pulling people together, a shared goal can be more powerful than a shared interest. I also think that, with challenges, there’s often a more intentional effort at providing support and encouragement to participants. For example, the organizers behind National Novel Writing Month host live Q&As and have collected pep talk letters addressed to their participants written by well-known authors. So while competence and relatedness were things we considered early in the process at the macro level, the ability to foster autonomy and agency came through when we were planning the details. One of the other theories we incorporated into the design of the challenge is Universal Design for Learning (or UDL). I would argue that agency and choice are at the core of UDL, which focuses on providing learners with multiple ways of achieving a learning objective. So we made a point to offer multiple ways for Challenge participants to learn about and apply various accessibility concepts.

Rebecca: So Kate, can you describe the challenge and how it worked?

Kate: Sure, we wanted to basically simplify accessibility and allow all content creators to understand basic accessibility principles. So this challenge was centered around creating accessible Word documents through Microsoft Word and Google Docs. We broke it down, broke down accessibility into bite-sized pieces, and we focused on one topic each day. So we started off by introducing accessibility, we covered what it is, why it’s important, and who it benefits, because that’s sometimes lost in translation, depending on the definition that people think of accessibility. Then we went in and we focused on specific skills. So some of the topics included properly structuring content such as how to semantically make headings and lists. We covered writing alternative text for images, captioning videos, effectively using color, and providing descriptive hyperlinks as some of the basic principles. And then the last couple of days of the challenge ended with some self reflections, sort of what did the participants learn? Did the program help boost their competence around accessibility? …that type of feeling. So we send daily emails to the participants, and these emails give a brief background of today’s topic, again, who it benefits and why it’s important. We provided written and video tutorials that explained how to do the task, and then asked the participants to incorporate that principle into the documents of their choice. We also provided other related articles and sources of information, as well as links to live zoom sessions that were being offered that same day around that particular topic.

John: Laura, can you talk a little bit about the timing of the challenge and how participants were recruited to participate in it?

Laura: So for many years, the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching has provided a series of professional development opportunities that are offered for faculty and staff, and are usually led by faculty and staff. These usually are about two weeks before and after the spring semester. The ones that we have in January we refer to as the winter breakout sessions, we have been offering professional development on accessibility practices during the winter and spring breakout sessions for the last few years. So it really just made sense for us to offer the sessions related to the challenge at the same time. As far as recruitment goes, we worked with the Office of Communications and Marketing, they did a news story that was shared with the entire campus, they emailed all faculty, staff, and students. And we also communicated through some smaller communication channels, like the email list for the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching.

Michele: If I could just build on a couple of things that Laura said, I think that we really credit the success of our first challenge to the timing of it and the relationship with the Winter Breakout sessions. I think there’s two important reasons for that, is that this period of time is between semesters. So we know that while faculty certainly are anticipating professional development at that time, they also tend to have kind of allocated some time and space to work on it. Secondly, I do think that if we had tried to replicate this at another time during the year, and rebuilt the structure and rebuilt the marketing around it all separately, that would have been just an even heavier lift for our committee that was working on it. So that connection to our existing structure mattered for sure.

Rebecca: We also had students participating. So, previous professional development had focused primarily on faculty and staff. And this particular initiative really invited students into the scope as well. And most students aren’t taking classes at that time. So there was a little more flexibility for students to take on the challenge as well.

John: One of the things we should note is that the timing of doing this in the early stages of COVID probably helped because faculty were using much more digital content, and were aware of how much they didn’t know, in some cases, about using digital content effectively. So I think all those things came together to help make the program remarkably successful. Laura mentioned that we had been doing workshops for a while, but we should probably credit Rebecca with that, because that was one of the first tasks she took on, actually even before she became associate director of the teaching center. We asked her to do a number of workshops, I think, in your very first year here actually on accessibility.

Rebecca: Yeah.

John: …and that hasn’t stopped since then.

Rebecca: No, it hasn’t. [LAUGHTER] I think one of the other things that we might want to also point out about the success is not just the timing in terms of the January sessions, but also that our involvement in accessibility on campus was starting to mature. We already had campus-wide initiatives leading up to this particular one. And the first cohort of faculty accessibility fellows had completed in 2019. So we also had those fellows to support this initiative during COVID. So Michele, you spearheaded the evaluation of the challenge, can you talk a little bit about the methods used and the results of the challenge?

Michele: I think when we first came up with this idea, the first thing we did was tried to see if there were other models out there that we could pull from. And while I think there’s other examples of challenges, we knew early on, we had a hunch, that what we were doing was kind of novel and unique. And because of that, it was important for us not just to document what we were doing, but to have some attempt to gauge the impact that it was having, I think this would be helpful for us for a couple of reasons. One, just our ability to improve on future iterations or efforts that we would do in this space. But also, I think that you might start getting a sense that all of us feel really passionate and strongly about this. And so the ability for us to advocate beyond our own campus and share what we were doing and help others understand the impacts of it was important for us in terms of documenting and gathering data. So we took all sorts of approaches to gathering data, everything from monitoring the open rates on the emails that went out across campus, to looking at our website traffic through Google Analytics, but the majority of the data came from a pre- and post-set of survey questions. So we did everything from ask folks when they first started to reflect a little bit around their motivation. This gets at some of the things that Laura was sharing about our initial design, about why people were participating and what they were looking for from the challenge, all the way up to then in the post-survey asking folks, as Kate mentioned, to reflect on their experiences. From those surveys, we were really able to pull out key qualitative and quantitative data to get a sense of what motivated folks to join, really understand how their confidence changed and increased in their ability to do things like define accessibility, to be able to make a Word document digitally accessible, but also just understand what they enjoyed most. And over and over again, I think the thing that we learned that probably was maybe most surprising and really nice kind of unexpected benefit was folks reporting that they really enjoyed being part of the learning community together. and the sense of being part of something that was bigger than just “Hey, I’m learning some new skills to teach my class or to send out more accessible emails,” but understanding that they were sort of joining and connecting into this broader movement that was happening on campus was, I think, one of our most surprising and also exciting takeaways.

Rebecca: I think one thing that we didn’t mention that might be worth noting here, especially after you were talking about the surveys is that we did prime our audience at the academic affairs retreat in August, leading up to the fall 2020 semester, by having a few minutes on the agenda to talk about accessibility and to get the academic community aware of digital accessibility. And then the challenge followed up only a few months later.

John: Kate, can you talk briefly about some of the iterations of the project that follow that initial 10-Day Challenge.

Kate: So the initial challenge was held in January of 2021, as we mentioned, and March of 21, we held a presentations challenge, which focused on creating accessible presentations using PowerPoint and Google Slides. This was a weekly challenge, meaning that participants received one email each week for four weeks that focused on one topic. We also provided them with background information, written and video tutorials, and additional resources in the same manner that we did for the initial 10-Day Challenge. And then in January of 22, we ran a five-day accessibility challenge. This was formatted in a very similar manner to the 10-Day Challenge, but we basically split the content into two and created two tracks: we had a beginner level and an intermediate level. Each day, again, highlighted one topic, we provided participants with background information, the tutorials, and additional resources. But this time, participants could choose what content to work on for each day, whether they wanted to stick with the beginner track or go to the more advanced track or do a combination of both.

Rebecca: So Michele, can you talk a little bit about the newest iteration of the project that’s currently in progress?

Michele: I am so excited [LAUGHTER] to talk about the newest iteration of it, because really, this new version has given us a way to massively scale up what we started as kind of this idea of doing a 10-day challenge. Last fall, the entire SUNY system migrated to a new common learning management system. And when that happened, members of our team started imagining a way that we could use that common system to develop an asynchronous customizable version of our challenge that could be deployed across the 60+ universities, schools, campuses across SUNY. We applied for and got a nice grant to support the development of this idea. And there is a really fantastic team, committed faculty, staff, and even students here at Oswego now working to bring this to fruition. And our goal is to pilot it broadly this coming spring, but here at Oswego, we’re going to come back to our roots with the winter breakout session, and we’ll launch the first iteration of it and be able to get some feedback in the next couple of weeks here.

John: And the grant that funded it was a SUNY Innovative Instructional Technology Grant. We should credit SUNY for providing this competitive grant program. Could each of you provide a bit of advice for anyone thinking of doing this at their own institution?

Michele: I’ll start, and I think that we used a pretty big variety of resources. So we didn’t just kind of create material from scratch, we also linked out to things like existing resources from Deque, we pulled in literature and other articles that folks have read. So I think that the biggest takeaway, I would suggest, is that you can do this as big of a scale or as small, you could have a three-day challenge, it doesn’t need to be 10. But starting anywhere, and recognizing your capacity and reaching out to use other existing resources is a good way to supplement if you perhaps don’t have as big of a pool to draw from in terms of internally on your own campus.

Laura: I would add to that just starting wherever you are with whatever resources or personnel you have, it doesn’t have to be a fancy initiative. It can be sort of a grassroots within your own department or as small as you want it to be. But just getting started and sharing out whatever information you have is something, it’s movement in the right direction.

John: Following up on Kate’s comment, this is very consistent with Tom Tobin’s plus one strategy, start with some small changes, and then build on those every semester as you move forward.

Rebecca: In the show notes, we’ll link out to an overview of our challenge as well as the article that we wrote on the challenge.

Michele: You know, the only other thing that I would say is that it’s important to find support and partners and maybe places that you might not expect on campus. So thinking about how to connect this with your campus DEI efforts more broadly, or working with your accessibility resources. Again, we talked about so many different areas where we got support, even the communications and marketing team really helped us, but our CTS team, I think finding those collaborators is a big part of how to ensure something like this can be successful.

John: And CTS is Campus Technology Services.

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

Laura: So something that I’m working on right now is creating a guide that talks about the accessibility features that are available from each of our major database vendors like EBSCO, and ProQuest, just to make those features a little bit more discoverable… accessible… [LAUGHTER] to our users. We try to talk about those in our instruction that we do, but they’re not always obvious.

Kate: So I’ve presented at a number of different conferences, and I’ve talked about the accessibility initiative at Oswego, and this particular challenge and some of our iterations. So I hope to continue that and just kind of share the good word about what Oswego is doing and some of our projects that we’ve been working on and how we can help other campuses or help other departments or people implement similar types of projects.

Rebecca: And how about you, Michele?

Michele: Well, I think I gave it a little bit away, that most of my accessibility work right now is focused on making sure that our new iteration of the Challenge gets off the ground, and we’ve got everybody all hands on deck with that. Beyond that, though, Rebecca, you and I are working on a fun project when we find ourselves with time to take a similar approach in terms of documenting the impacts of accessibility work on our campus. And we interviewed all of the first few cohorts of our campus accessibility fellows, and we’re in the process of trying to figure out what we’ve got there and how that I think shares the story about how Oswego is maturing in its process of working to achieve accessibility, and a more inclusive environment.

Rebecca: Well, thank you all for your work in accessibility, and for sharing that today.

Michele: Thanks for having us.

Kate: Thanks for having us.

Laura: Thank you for having us.

John: Thank you. It’s great talking to all of you and we’ll be seeing you during the winter breakouts very shortly.


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.


321. College Students with Disabilities

Sharing student narratives about their experiences can help us to understand how our instructional and policy decisions impact the student experience. In this episode, Amy Fisk joins us discuss to discuss her research project with Rebecca on the perceptions that students with disabilities have of their learning experiences.

Amy is the Assistant Dean for Accessibility at the State University of New York at Geneseo. Amy oversees the Office of Accessibility Services, which coordinates accommodations and support services for students with disabilities. Prior to her role at Geneseo, Amy coordinated a support program for students on the autism spectrum at SUNY Purchase.

Show Notes


John: Sharing student narratives about their experiences can help us to understand how our instructional and policy decisions impact the student experience. In this episode, we discuss the perceptions students with disabilities have of their learning experiences.


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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

Rebecca: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.


John: Our guest today is Amy Fisk. Amy is the Assistant Dean for Accessibility at the State University of New York at Geneseo. Amy oversees the Office of Accessibility Services, which coordinates accommodations and support services for students with disabilities. Prior to her role at Geneseo, Amy coordinated a support program for students on the autism spectrum at SUNY Purchase. Welcome, Amy.

Amy: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.

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

Amy: I drink tea every morning. So I have Bigelow French Vanilla black tea.

Rebecca: It’s a good way to start the day. How about you, John?

John: In honor of the holiday season, I have Christmas tea today.

Rebecca: I’m drinking Blue Sapphire from my favorite tea shop in Canandaigua.

Amy: Where’s that?

Rebecca: It’s right on Main Street. You should go there.

Amy: I should.

John: We’ve invited you to talk about the article: “Perspectives among college students with disabilities on access and inclusion,” which you co-authored with someone else… Rebecca, I think it was.

Amy: That name sounds familiar.

John: …which was published in College Teaching earlier this year. Before we talk about the article, could you tell us a little bit about your role at SUNY Geneseo.

Amy: So I oversee our Office of Accessibility Services, or OAS. I meet with students to coordinate accommodations and other kinds of support services for our students with disabilities. I monitor policies and procedures within our office. And I often work with faculty and staff on issues related to accessibility and inclusion. So for example, I might do trainings across campus, work with administrators on various committees, and having a voice on issues related to disability, education, awareness, and accessibility.

Rebecca: So prior to this project, Amy, and I didn’t actually know each other. Do you want to share the origin story?

Amy: I started my position here a month before COVID became a thing. So I was kind of thrown into some challenges I did not anticipate. But one of the things I had been thinking about, many of my colleagues were thinking about, was: How are we going to support our students with disabilities? We’re really kind of concerned about their trajectory during this challenging time. We wanted to just get some more information about students’ experiences during COVID. I started talking to Nazely about this, and she says, “You know, I know someone who does research who also might be interested in a potential collaboration.” So that’s how I got connected to Rebecca. And ultimately, we shared an interest in learning more about the impact of COVID on our students within our respective roles on our campuses. We knew that this was a really challenging time for all of us, but especially for our students with disabilities who had already been experiencing barriers pre pandemic. And so we really wanted to hear from our students about their experiences, and what can we learn about access and inclusion moving forward, even when the dust settles and we talk about things post COVID?

John: A lot of the studies that have been done have been quantitative studies. And your study is a qualitative study. Could you talk a little bit about how this qualitative research complements the quantitative research that’s been done?

Amy: Sure. So ultimately, we wanted to gather students’ stories, and many of our findings from our studies are reflective of findings from past studies on challenges and barriers students with disabilities face compared to students without disabilities. But we wanted to identify these specifically within the context of remote learning. And also within the context of navigating this challenging time just in life, we really wanted that student narrative. And we also wanted to assess the positive things that were happening, the practices that were helping our students feel successful, to really help inform tangible takeaways and recommendations to our readers. And we hoped for this information to be relevant, like I said, when the dust settles and regardless of teaching modality. And I think it’s important to highlight that despite the obvious challenges that COVID brought, it has highlighted the importance of accessibility in higher education and really gave us an opportunity to reassess what we’ve been doing, our everyday policies and practices, and we really wanted to highlight that from the student perspective. Beyond that, we also wanted to talk about the needs of our students with disabilities within the context of access and inclusion. So, often disabilities and identities, that tends to be left out of conversations related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. So it wasn’t just about how we need to provide appropriate classroom accommodations, but what are the ways that we can be more inclusive, promote a sense of belonging, proactively provide equal access? So those were the things that we had in mind as we were designing our study.

Rebecca: One of the things that comes up in a lot of conversations, at least more recently in higher ed., is this growing number of students who are registering for accommodations and also the mental health crisis. Can you talk a little bit about that to provide some context for our discussion today?

Amy: Sure. So the mental health needs of college students with disabilities was becoming really apparent before COVID hit, really significant needs related to depression, anxiety, other severe psychiatric impairments. And the studies that had been done around the time of COVID really highlighted those issues of more and more students connecting to their disability services offices, self-identifying as a student with a disability where they have a clinical levels of depression, anxiety, other debilitating mental health needs. And that theme came out in our study as well.

John: Did all the discussions of the challenges of COVID help encourage students to become more willing to declare their mental health challenges or their other needs that perhaps they might have been more reluctant to state prior to this time?

Amy: I think so. I think there is a shift in our culture, and it being okay to talk about mental health and mental illness, for students to say, “I’m having a really hard time, I’m struggling,” because mental health is a spectrum. We all experience a variety of emotions throughout the day, throughout an hour, and throughout our lifetime. And I think it’s becoming slowly de-stigmatized in talking about mental illness and the importance of promoting mental health, especially among our college-age population. A lot of college campuses are really taking seriously the wellness of their students on campus just because of the rise in numbers of students needing that extra support, because colleges across our country are noticing a pretty significant increase. And I do think COVID has propelled that de-stigmatization of talking about mental health.

Rebecca: We’ve talked in the past on this podcast with Kat MacFarlane about some of the barriers that students face in just even approaching and asking for accommodations, having to register with an office of disability services, or whatever the equivalent is on the campus, and having to self identify. And then a lot of students don’t actually choose to do that for a wide variety of reasons, some associated with stigma, but we are seeing increased registrations. So does that mean that there’s increased disability?

Amy: Yes, I think there are a variety of factors and more students connecting with disability services offices. One, I think high schools are better preparing students with disabilities to enter the post-secondary environment. Two, I think our offices are becoming more visible on campus. Again, I think there’s also a de-stigmatization of disability and accessibility services offices, and we’re becoming more visible and relevant on college campuses. And third, I think colleges are starting to talk about disability as an important facet of diversity more and more, I think there’s certainly room for improvement, but I think that conversation is starting to happen. So more students are finding their way into our offices.

Rebecca: So three key themes emerged in our research about the perceptions of students with disabilities, of our institutions, and their experience, and of belonging. And so those three themes are accommodations and accessibility, building relationships, and community, and then course structure and design. Perhaps we can take them one at a time here. Let’s start with accommodations and accessibility. Can you first start with what’s the difference between accommodations and accessibility? Because we know that this is often something that’s confusing to folks.

Amy: Sure. So an a ccommodation, by definition, is designed to remove some sort of barrier that an individual with a disability is experiencing. So an academic accommodation, for example, might be having extra time to take an exam, because timed tests can be a barrier for some students. Maybe it’s a notetaking accommodation because they need assistance accessing that lecture material. Sometimes it’s ensuring that the course materials themselves are accessible, that they can be read through a screen reader. Sometimes the accommodation is related to a course policy such as attendance for a student with a more severe chronic medical condition. So it is an individualized process to assess what an appropriate accommodation would look like. But the purpose of it is to remove some sort of barrier so that this person has equal access to their environment. And so accommodations, though necessary, is something that we’re legally required to provide for the ADA. It’s really a reactive way of ensuring equal access. It’s a floor, it’s a minimum. Accessibility, on the other hand, is about inclusion from the start, so that individual accommodation may not even be needed. And something I like to highlight is that accessibility is not about lowering standards. It’s sending a message that everyone belongs in this space and that inclusion matters.

John: What were some of the most common barriers that students reported facing related to accommodations and accessibility in your study.

Amy: Some of those barriers for students just not receiving their approved accommodations during remote learning, including extended time on tests, for example, or online course materials just not being accessible, or having to continually remind instructors about their accommodations, explain why they needed the accommodation in the first place, negotiating terms of pre-approved accommodations. And this was particularly true among students with what we might call an invisible or non-appearance disabilities such as learning disabilities, ADHD, mental health disabilities, these students are less likely to be believed and questioned about the validity of their disability or their need for accommodation. So those were some pretty significant barriers for students and just not receiving the accommodations that they were approved for.

Rebecca: I think one of the things that was also highlighted as a result of our study taking place, whilst COVID was in full force is how many campus resources students with disabilities and other students depend upon every day. So we had students reporting things like” I didn’t have access to a printer to pull up text when it was more of an image instead of an accessible text that could have been expanded digitally, or having access to a quiet space, like the library.”

Amy: Yeah, that was really significant. And then that is where you also saw some other equity disparities. So there were some students who live down near New York City in very populated areas, there was a lot going down there at the time. COVID, if we recall, some students did not have quiet spaces at home, whereas other students had quiet home offices and their parents may have been at home with them, helping to support them. And then other students who didn’t have a quiet space whatsoever took on more caretaking responsibilities, didn’t have access to WiFi. So those equity disparities continued to widen during COVID beyond the disability barrier, so that was something significant, I think that needed to be highlighted,

Rebecca: What are some of the factors related to accessibility and accommodations that actually resulted in positive perceptions?

Amy: So our students actually reported some very positive interactions with their instructors. So when receiving a student’s letter of accommodation, or like an accommodation notification that would come through our office, some would reach out and ask the student “How can I support you? How can I help provide this accommodation?” One student even noted how they appreciated that the instructor didn’t call them out in class, because that had happened before. So I think just preserving the students’ dignity, reaching out to the student, those were the kinds of things that our students reported as making a significant difference.

John: I know you’re study focused on the status of students during COVID, but in your role addressing these issues now, have the changes in faculty behavior persisted? Have faculty continued to become more sensitive to some of the accessibility and accommodation needs of students as we move back to more classroom instruction?

Amy: So in conversation with colleagues, other disability service providers across SUNY, but also across the country, I think we’ve seen a mix. I think there are some who just wanted to go back to normal, and didn’t we all. I think COVID, again, was a very challenging time and faculty too didn’t have a ton of support, and also really struggled with having that emergency shift to a remote learning modality and some didn’t have the skills or support to really deliver courses in the way that would have facilitated student success. So they were really looking forward to getting back to that in-person modality, back to the pedagogy that we’re used to, and that may have posed some new barriers for students coming back to college campuses. Conversely, we also saw instructors taking some of those learned lessons from the remote learning period and applying them when we did come back to campus. So I do know a number of instructors who, for example, are still utilizing the lecture videos they created during COVID and post them on their learning management system for students who may not have been able to attend class that day, for example, so they can still get the lecture material or recreating their course materials and documents so that they are accessible, creating videos, captioning their videos, modifying some course policies to be a bit more inclusive for students. So I think there has been a change in realizing we can still have students be successful and meet the learning objectives, but in a different and more inclusive way.

Rebecca: I think one of the things that we can highlight that also came out in the student experience, and students reported this in our study, is that some of them actually experienced better access during COVID. Not all but some, in part because some of the technology caught up. And when we first went remote, Zoom didn’t have captions available by default and now it does. And so a lot of these things have become norms that people with disabilities have fought for for a long time and never got.

Amy: And I would say that’s true as well with regard to course policies that may have been amended as well, introducing more self paced work, which is also something that students really appreciated during the remote learning period.

John: I just recently returned from the POD conference where there were many, many discussions of this very issue. And in general, the results there were pretty much the same as what you’ve described, that a lot of the changes that faculty made to better accommodate students needs persisted, but some faculty have moved back to old practices and the results are a little bit mixed. But on average, there seemed to be, in a number of studies, some substantial improvement in faculty responses to student needs.

Rebecca: Based on what students have reported, what recommendations do you have for faculty related to accommodations and accessibility to continue the forward movement as opposed to regressing?

Amy: So, actually I did a talk with faculty of one of our academic departments at the start of the semester, reviewing our office, some of the logistical pieces of implementing accommodations, that sort of thing. But before I started really getting into that, we had a discussion about how accommodations, and the dialogue about accommodations with students are approached, how it’s discussed, how it’s communicated, something as simple as taking time to actually review the portion in your course syllabus related to an accommodation, so maybe an accessibility statement. That tells students that this is important, making sure that your online materials are accessible from the start, that tells students that accessibility and inclusion is important. And students are more likely to engage in a reciprocal dialogue with you about their needs when they feel like they’re heard, when they feel like they’re a valued member of the class, that their accommodations are important and not burdensome. That’s a term we heard a lot in our study, that they’re not a burden, or it’s some sort of requirement that the faculty has to fulfill. And so I think this is probably true for most students, regardless of disability. But students in our study specifically noted how they appreciated when the instructor showed empathy and understanding and flexibility, recognizing that students have significant issues outside of the classroom. We all do, between family, finances, things that are happening in our world today. And I think this is important to acknowledge as well, given that we’re seeing an increase in students from various diverse backgrounds coming into the college environment.

Rebecca: And as we’ve talked about many times on the podcast, flexible doesn’t mean not having standards. [LAUGHTER] And it doesn’t mean a free for all. In fact, a lot of our students benefit from structure, which we’ll talk about, I think, in a few minutes, because that ties to one of our other themes. You talked a little bit about faculty workload related to this, and sometimes the perception that faculty put off is that it’s a burden to provide these accommodations. And the reality is that a lot of our students need very similar things. And so if we think about the common requests for accommodations, or digital accessibility strategies, from the start, we often don’t have a lot of one off things that we do need to accommodate, because we’ve already built it into our courses. That’s not to say that there aren’t accommodations that we need to provide additionally, but it may result in less work, ultimately, to really think about these accessibility principles upfront.

Amy: Right. And I think something as simple as making your course lecture materials available on the learning management system available to students. That can help reduce a lot of barriers for many students who might struggle with keeping up with the pace of the lecture and they end up missing material. A student who may have missed class that one day and just needs that material, other students who need to kind of re-teach themselves the material because, perhaps, they had challenges with staying focused during class. I think there’s a variety of reasons why students would benefit from that, but something as simple as that. Often, when students come to see me, there are maybe students who hadn’t needed accommodations previously, but they encountered a particular course where the policies were such that there were new barriers that arose and if the policy was different, perhaps they wouldn’t need that accommodation. That’s a concrete example of the difference between accommodation and accessibility. Some of our course policies and course design may be inadvertently barriers to students with or without disability. So this might include use of pop quizzes, not making lecture materials available to students, not permitting use of technology, not allowing students to even take breaks in class. And so although the purpose of these policies is probably to make students engaged and have accountability in the course, which these are things, of course, we want… again, we’re not lowering standards… students still need to go to class and do the work. But I think some of these policies actually might be having the opposite effect, and it does for students who request accommodations, rather than focus on learning in the course.

John: I think that many faculty who had only taught in a face-to-face modality before COVID, were able to avoid issues of accessibility by not creating digital content. When they moved to remote teaching, though, they were forced to begin developing digital materials and often received some training in creating accessible digital content. Do you think that that training received during COVID helped encourage more accessible practices by faculty in general?

Amy: I think so again, I think some of these practices have shifted over time, and I think COVID has shed light on the benefits of accessibility, not just for people with disabilities, but for all people. I mean, again, use of captions and subtitles can be beneficial for a lot of folks, whether you’re sitting in a busy Starbucks, whether you have a lot going on in the background, maybe you’re trying to juggle work and family, maybe, again, you’re hard of hearing, and so you need access to those captions. Again, accessibility is for all, not just about or for people with disabilities.

Rebecca: The second theme that kind of emerged in our research was building relationships and community, can you share some insights with faculty about the role that they can play in helping students with disabilities feel connected and included? And you highlighted some of those already: providing accommodations and showing students some dignity and respecting their dignity.

Amy: So again, I think engaging with a student and even something as simple as taking the student aside and asking, “How can I make this course more accessible to you?” speaks volumes to the student, that they are valued, they belong, that their needs aren’t burdensome, and they’re more likely to engage in a reciprocal dialogue with the faculty member when they feel like “Oh, they care about me and my success in this course.” I actually knew about a professor who did an anonymous Google form, asking students “How can I make this course more accessible to you? Are there barriers? In reviewing the syllabus, do you have concerns about something within the course?” One of my students actually told me about this, and said how it really made them feel seen and valued. And they were more likely to reach out to the instructor when they needed help, because some students fail to do so out of shame. They’re in a very vulnerable position to talk about their disability related needs to a faculty member, to an authority figure. And so when you do something as simple as asking a student, “How can I make this accessible to you? Are you experiencing barriers right now?” really opens that line of communication with the student and helps them build a positive relationship with that instructor and for maybe other instructors. It also helps to build a sense of community so that other students know that this is really important, and that inclusion matters. And that’s also sending a message to all their students within the classroom that we appreciate and respect diverse learners here in this classroom. I think that’s a teachable moment for our students as well.

Rebecca: So one of the other things that I think emerged is a desire to be connected with peers, but that faculty can play a really important role in facilitating that connection. So I think oftentimes, we just assume in a classroom that at the beginning of class students are socializing and getting to know other folks and have those contacts, but students really reported that having more structured ways of connecting with peers was really beneficial to them outside of class. And that’s something that I think we might take for granted as instructors in the classroom, that it would just kind of organically happen. But that structure, that scaffolding around that really bubbled up as being pretty important to our students,

Amy: Yeah, that peer-to-peer interaction for an even if it was virtual. One of our students said, “Our instructor had a virtual whiteboard that we could all do group work even when it was asynchronous, which is pretty neat.” So that helps set the stage for positive peer interactions, for peers to ask peers for help and mentorship, which is important. Often, students just feel that going to office hours is the only way that they can receive help. And when you provide opportunities to work together, learn together, that really helps, again, open up a line of communication among peers as well, which is a skill that we’re trying to teach our students.

John: And that was especially severe during COVID. But also, when we returned to the classroom, and students were asked to sit at least six feet away from any other student, it certainly reduced the amount of interaction and it has made it a little more challenging for all students to interact with others. That’s been improving, but I think, perhaps, that experience may remind faculty of the importance of building those types of connections. Because even before COVID, there were always some students who may not have felt as much a part of the class community. But I think we’ve all learned the importance of community during that time.

Rebecca: I think that’s just another example of something that students with disabilities have pointed out as being really important to them. But it’s also important to many other students, too.

John: The third theme that emerged from your research was course structure and design. And most of your findings in that particular category align with many other studies involving inclusive pedagogy and Universal Design for Learning. Can you highlight some of the common barriers that students with disabilities faced in terms of course structure and design.

Amy: So one of our students in the study commonly referred to one of their course LMS pages as a scavenger hunt, where they spent more time trying to find the materials and the information on the course rather than on the assignments themselves. So students in general benefit from an organized LMS and an organized syllabus for deadlines, instructions, policies are very clear and concise, but for students with disabilities, this is particularly important. Many of my students with ADHD, health or chronic medical conditions, or a learning disability, they need to plan ahead, because it might take the students double or triple the time to finish a task. So if students don’t know when their next test is, or if instructions aren’t posted a few days before something is due, we’re really not setting them up for success. And I also talked about some of those other policies and course design that might be inadvertent barriers to our students. And so some of our students reported that they did benefit from self-paced tasks, or on untimed learning assessments, having some autonomy and options for completing assignments in a different format, such as doing a presentation or a podcast, instead of a paper, working in groups or choosing to work individually on a project. Those are some of the specific practices our students highlighted as being really helpful. And again, we’re not lowering standards, they have to meet the same standards and learning objectives, as every other student, just perhaps meeting those same standards in a different way. And that’s what Universal Design for learning is all about.

John: One time in a workshop, a faculty member mentioned that they have students do a scavenger hunt in the LMS, to find various course policies, or to find materials. And I cringed at that and I suggested that it might be better to design your course in a way where the students don’t have to struggle to find things so they can focus their cognitive efforts on learning materials, rather than engaging in scavenger hunts, trying to navigate the course. Has that improved recently?

Amy: I think it has, again, in conversations with some of my colleagues who do this work and talking with faculty, I think it’s a mixed bag as it relates to how instructors are approaching course design in their policies. But other faculty are seeing that changing their pedagogy, changing their policies, changing the way they interact and see students and helping to meet those student needs have evolved, because perhaps they themselves have experienced accessibility barriers during COVID as well. And so it’s become more relevant, because they have that lived experience. And they’re seeing that adopting some of these inclusive practices are actually helping to keep their students engaged, that the students, even if they’re struggling, are more likely to tell their faculty member “I’m struggling and I need help, but I want to stay in this course, what kind of flexibility could be provided?”… rather than, we’ll use a college student term, ghosting [LAUGHTER] the class. So I think things are changing in a direction that speaks to some degree of flexibility and helping students meet those same standards, where the focus is more on learning, rather than adherence to an arbitrary policy.

Rebecca: I think the students really underscored maybe without realizing things like the transparency and learning and teaching or TILT, where being really clear and explicit about what the expectation is and how to get there and how you’re going to be assessed really helps and supports students… that structure and those guardrails is what all of us need. How many times have we worked on a paper the second before a deadline? We work on deadlines, and so if we help students with intermediary deadlines, we’re actually helping them and that doesn’t mean that we’re not flexible,and flexibility doesn’t mean not having those.

Amy: It’s about scaffolding. It’s about recognizing that not all students are coming from the same background and experiences and privilege. They’re not on the same playing field, and so providing those scaffolded learning opportunities… that can really help even the playing field, just providing those scaffolded learning opportunities.

Rebecca: And it’s really some of this scaffolded accountability, so it’s not all due at once, It’s helpful to faculty to remind them that there’s feedback throughout a process on a larger assignment, but also it’s helpful for students to hit individual deadlines to evolve their work as well.

John: And that’s something that is found, as you noted earlier, by Mary-Ann Winklemes in her research on Transparency in Learning and Teaching, and also by Viji Sathy and Kelly Hogan in their research on the importance of structure in reducing equity gaps. While transparency and structure benefits all students, it especially benefits the students who have equity gaps of some form, and it sounds as if that’s also true for students with disabilities.

Rebecca: Yeah, I think none of this is really new, but oftentimes students with disabilities aren’t necessarily included in those studies about equity always, it’s not always one of the groups that’s pulled out separately.

Amy: Part of what’s next is also hearing about the experiences of students with disabilities from other diverse backgrounds, including students of color, students from lower SES backgrounds, students in the LGBTQ+ community, that those experiences are different and that intersectionality is really key in understanding students’ experiences in the classroom and how we can be more accessible and inclusive because, again, accessibility is not just related to are we providing a legally required accommodation, but are we creating a sense of belonging in that space, and giving students an equal opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and be successful, which is ultimately why we’re all here, I would hope.

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

Amy: I think it’s important to not just put a focus on what individual faculty can be doing in their classrooms to support students with disabilities. But how are we promoting access and inclusion at the institutional level, supporting students with disabilities and students from other diverse backgrounds is a whole campus responsibility and faculty needs support in doing that work as well. So I’m hoping what’s next is working with administration, other campus leaders and identifying ways we can really help move that needle in a meaningful way. Making accessibility into larger DEIB (or diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging) campus initiatives, our campus-wide policy, strategic planning, campus-wide faculty and staff training, and other professional development opportunities, hiring diverse faculty and staff on our campus. So not just about talking the talk, but walking the walk when it comes to access and inclusion in higher education.

Rebecca: I think that’s definitely a theme that we’ll see throughout all of higher ed. I hope that we’ll all go home and arm and move in this direction collaboratively.

John: Well, thank you for joining us. It’s been great talking to you and we’re looking forward to hearing more of your future work on this topic.

Amy: Well, thank you so much for having me today. I appreciate it.


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.


320. Gender Differences in Faculty Retention

Women and men leave academic positions at different rates and for different reasons. In this episode, Aaron Clauset and Katie Spoon join us to discuss their research on the magnitude of and differential causes of gender differences in faculty attrition.

Aaron is a Professor of Computer Science at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He is a nationally recognized expert on network science, data science, and complex systems and he is the recipient of the 2016 Erdos-Renyi Prize in Network Science. Katie is a computational social scientist and a 4th-year PhD candidate, also at the University of Colorado, Boulder.  Aaron and Katie are two of the authors of a paper on “Gender and retention patterns among U.S. faculty,” which has received a great deal of attention and has been discussed in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Times Higher Education, Science Careers, and Nature News.

Show Notes


John: Women and men leave academic positions at different rates and for different reasons. In this episode, we examine the magnitude of and differential causes of gender differences in faculty attrition.


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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

Rebecca: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.


John: Our guests today are Aaron Clauset and Katie Spoon. Aaron is a Professor of Computer Science at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He is a nationally recognized expert on network science, data science, and complex systems and he is the recipient of the 2016 Erdos-Renyi Prize in Network Science. Katie is a computational social scientist and a 4th-year PhD candidate, also at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Aaron and Katie are two of the authors of a paper on “Gender and retention patterns among U.S. faculty,” which has received a great deal of attention and has been discussed in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Times Higher Education, Science Careers, and Nature News. Welcome, Aaron and Katie.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are:… Aaron, are you drinking any tea today?

Aaron: I am drinking coffee.

Rebecca: Always a popular tea choice. How about you, Katie?

Katie: I made tea specifically for this. And it’s

Rebecca: Yay!

Katie: …and it’s Trader Joe’s Ginger Tumeric herbal tea?

Rebecca: That sounds yummy.

John: That’s really good. I’ve had that. And I have Prince of Wales today.

Rebecca: And I have some Christmas tea, a little ahead of schedule.

John: We’ve invited you here today to discuss your paper on “Gender and retention patterns among U.S. faculty.” Could you give us a general overview, of the focus of the study?

Katie: Yeah, so we were interested in this topic of gender retention in academia, because it’s really hard to identify faculty who have left academia. So a lot of studies have had to look at a very narrow or specific population of faculty. And so while there’s a lot of studies on this topic, the majority seem to focus on assistant professors, STEM fields, and higher prestige institutions. And so we were really interested in doing a systematic study across career age, institution, and field.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about what data you used for this study.

Katie: So we have a data use contract with Academic Analytics Research Center, which is a company that contracts their data with research teams, and it’s a census for all of the tenure-track and tenured professors at US PhD-granting institutions across, I think, over 100 fields that we grouped into broader domains. And we have data from 2011 to 2020, for all faculty within that period, so we can see if anybody left their job during that decade, then we have that information. And then our study has two parts, we first look at just the rates women and men faculty are leaving their jobs using that employment census. And then we emailed a frame of around 70,000 of those professors from 29 fields, and got about 10,000 responses to a survey looking at the underlying reasons why faculty were leaving.

John: So that’s a remarkably large sample. How did you measure faculty attrition in a sample,

Katie: We calculated attrition risk as just the number of people who left divided by the number of people who could have left in a given year. And then we calculated that across career age. So that’s the year since a faculty member received their PhD. That was kind of our simplest calculation of attrition risk. And then, from that analysis, you could kind of see broadly that women were leaving their jobs at higher rates than men at every career age and the gap seems to grow over time. And so then we did a logistic regression analysis, looking at the odds of leaving a position where we adjusted for other factors.

John: What other factors did you hold constant in the logit regression?

Katie: So we were adjusting for career age, employer prestige, so the institutional prestige, and whether they were trained for their PhD in the US or abroad, and adjusting for those factors, we found women were more likely to leave than men. And that varied a lot across career age, field, and institution.

John: We’ve long known that women are not very well represented in the upper ranks of faculty, but many people would try to attribute that to the fact that we’ve seen a general increase in the number of women entering disciplines. But what you’ve demonstrated is that we’re losing a lot of people along the way, that we don’t see as many women full professors, not just because there weren’t that many women entering that stream a decade or more ago, but also because we’re losing so many people, which I think is a really important result, which I don’t believe had been measured as carefully before. Is that a correct interpretation?

Katie: Yeah, I think definitely both hiring and retention are important for overall gender equity in academia. If you hold the right It’s of attrition constant from our study, then even if you start with a 50-50 cohort of men and women as assistant professors at career age one, then even after a whole career, that falls to about 40% women, and a lot of people leave during that time, like a lot of men too. The majority actually have left over that time, but women are leaving faster, which I think is important to keep in mind.

Aaron: So the gender representation in the U.S. academy is complicated, in part because the academy is really big and diverse. I mean, there’s lots of different fields and lots of different institutions. And this is partly why the literature on this topic is really messy, is because many of the studies look at one institution, they may look at R2 institutions, or fancy R1institutions, or only this field or that field. And so it’s been sort of hard to get a sense of what’s going on. And there’s lots of sort of claims about why it is that you don’t see as many women in the most senior ranks in academia. So the idea that it’s a sort of a demographic inertia thing that in order to be provost at a university, well, you got your PhD probably 20-30 years ago. And so the gender ratio at 20-30 years ago is what sort of sets the maximum gender ratio 20-30 years in the future for those senior people, and of course, that’s a part of the explanation. That’s certainly not wrong. But we were very interested in understanding this attrition aspect of people who are leaving academia. And not just like changing universities, I think that’s a critical piece of the way we measured attrition is that if you went from Princeton to Yale, we don’t count that as an attrition event, you have to leave the entire set of PhD-granting universities in the US in order for us to count you as an attrition event. So these are people who are not just leaving one academic job for another, but like they’re leaving the American academy entirely. And so the results of looking at the data, because this sort of broad census lets us see that the rates, overall, women are leaving at higher rates than men. But it gets really messy when you start looking at individual disciplines. Some disciplines have higher rates than others, some places, it doesn’t seem like there is a gender difference in the rate. And when you drill down to individual fields, it gets even messier because fields have different norms and different sizes and things. So the real power of the study is in part because it has this just enormous view, a quarter million faculty in the data set, which lets us look at differences in these small rates in a really powerful way.

Rebecca: You’re just mentioning that there’s messiness across disciplines and fields. Can you talk about whether or not there was any similarities in STEM and non-STEM fields?

Katie: I think, maybe surprisingly, we found the gender gaps in retention were actually larger in non-STEM fields than in STEM fields. And that was especially true at the full professor level, the gender gaps overall grow with rank. And so that kind of surprised us, I think, because it’s a little counter to what the literature has mostly focused on, which is assistant professors, and especially in STEM. So we actually find that full professors in non-STEM fields are the group with the largest gender gap in retention.

Aaron: This is an important finding, in part because there’s a narrative that sort of underlies a lot of discussion about faculty attrition and gendered attrition, in particular, that once you get tenure, it’s fine. You can’t get fired, tenure is the goal you’re looking for. Everybody wants it. And once you get it, somehow, everything gets better. And so this finding in the paper, that it’s actually tenured women who are leaving at higher rates than anyone else, it kind of inverts that narrative and shows that we’ve been maybe looking in the wrong place for the real effects of this thing.

Katie: And I think, yeah, more on that point, for us seeing that the effect was larger for full professors kind of points to maybe something else going on besides professional things, or work-life balance in the early career, which is what led us to do the survey and check out what was happening underneath the rates.

Rebecca: There’s often a stereotype that women maybe earlier on in their career leave because of childbirth or raising children and things like that. But that’s definitely counter to what you’re suggesting.

Aaron: Women certainly still leave the Academy for work life-balance reasons. So the observation that the rates sort of run counter to the narrative that has been explored very thoroughly in the literature, Katie was saying it really points to there being more to the story, not that the previous story was necessarily wrong, but like there’s just more going on. And also, things have certainly changed in the past 30 or 40 years. Gender norms change. Men are much more involved in child rearing now than they were 40 years ago, and so our study is at a particular decade of time. So we aren’t able to say things as much about what was going on in the 1980s. But today in the 2010s, when the census data on attrition was collected, we can see that there’s more going on and, as Katie was saying, that’s where the survey really helps us go beyond just looking at the rates of things to try to look at the reasons for these rates.

John: To investigate the causes of attrition, you then did a survey. Could you talk a little bit about the sample that you used, how large it was, how you determined it, and what you found?

Katie: So we took the larger census employment data and we selected 29 fields that we considered broadly representative. We wanted a mix of fields across different sizes, different domains of study, as well as fields that had commonly been studied in the literature, like engineering or computer science versus fields that were less commonly studied, like education. And we then attempted to get emails for all of those people, and then ended up with a frame of about 70,000 people who we then contacted. We got roughly 10,000 responses from both current faculty members, as well as former faculty members who either left academia or retired. And then we also looked at faculty who switched institutions. I think the survey really showed us that while there were no visible gender gaps in certain fields, or at certain ranks, in the first part of our study, where we were looking at the rates that women and men leave, we found that the reasons women and men leave are still very gendered, even in those cases. So for example, I think early career STEM faculty, there was no visible difference in the rates that women and men left. But in the survey, we did find that women were more likely to feel pushed out of their jobs and less likely to feel pulled towards better opportunities. And that, while there was a lot of variation across domains in the retention rates, that there wasn’t much variation in that pattern of feeling pushed or pulled, it was like varied more universally, I guess, across domains.

Aaron: That push-pull dynamic is really key, and it was something that had been studied previously in the literature. And so we wanted to incorporate that into the survey. And I’m just going to read to you so that your listeners can hear what we meant by a push and a pull. So the question we asked for the push was,:”I am unhappy, stressed or otherwise less than satisfied in my current position,” and the pull was “I am drawn to, excited by, or otherwise attracted to a different position.” And so the idea of those pushes and pulls is really about whether the person wants to stay in their current position or not. Are they drawn to something else? Is it an opportunity that they’re pursuing to leave their current position? Or do they feel like they’re being forced out, that they’d rather stay where they are, but they feel like they cannot stay. And so that push and pull really sort of illustrates the idea that it’s up to that person to decide whether they feel like they can stay or want to stay in their current job, or whether they are choosing to move to a different opportunity. And people could choose both. I mean, leaving an academic job is a big decision. Sometimes you might feel unhappy, and you start looking for an opportunity and then you find something that looks more exciting. And so survey respondents could check both. They said, “I could feel pushed and pulled at the same time.” And so our results on the push-pulls were just focused on the ones who said either push or pull.

Rebecca: Given these findings, what are some things that colleges and universities might do to reduce the gender differences in attrition rates and maybe make it more attractive to stay in academia?

Katie: Yeah, so I think a key finding of our study is that, even where the rates may look the same, looks like there’s gender equity, the reasons could be very different. So I think the first thing would be to also investigate: are the reasons people are leaving gendered, even if doesn’t look like they’re leaving at different rates? And then I think, as far as the particular reasons, we did kind of look into what pushes people were experiencing specifically. And while professional reasons like productivity and funding, as well, so work-life balance, which is things like caring responsibilities and the workload. While both of those categories are definitely still important, especially for faculty at different career stages, we found that climate, the workplace climate, so how someone feels when they go to work around their colleagues, they feel that they don’t belong or fit, if there’s dysfunctional leadership, that those workplace climate reasons were the most gendered, both for former faculty who actually left a position, as well as for current faculty who were considering a hypothetical decision to leave your job. And so I think focusing on the climate reasons, especially as a first step, would be a good way to reduce the gendered impact, specifically, but for retention overall, I think that all the reasons are probably important and listening to faculty, taking people seriously when they say this is why I left, is good.

Aaron: One of the workplace climate findings from the survey that was, I think, most striking is that climate was listed as a very important reason by women at all career ages, whereas the work-life balance issues were most salient early in the career and then it sort of tails off for everyone, men and women. And then professional reasons are sort of high but they also just sort of tail off over time, but the climate reasons are high for young women professors and also senior women professors. So this suggests that this is a place where universities are really not moving the ball forward and trying to improve things because you have both the young faculty and the senior faculty all saying consistently this is a huge issue for their stress. And they’re feeling like they belong, and they feel pushed or pulled out of their academic positions. So figuring out how to move that needle is critical. And there are some efforts. So for instance, Harvard has this CAOCHE survey that many universities do on climate, but it’s typically done at the institutional level, but climate is typically a departmental thing. So if you look at like the computer science department versus the sociology department, they’re very different social sort of contexts. And one department could have a good climate, one is very supportive and inclusive of women, and the other could have a very dysfunctional one. And so these sort of large scale institutional instruments for measuring climate, they may not really be up to the task of allowing an institution to improve in this way. So figuring out how to get down to the level at which climate is actually operationalized, which is the department level, I think, is a key need for institutions of higher education.

John: One of the results that we haven’t yet talked about is, when you were looking at the initial study of attrition rates, when you included a control for the major field, you found that there was no significant gender difference, holding academic field constant, for people at the more junior levels. But at the associate and full professor level, there was a significant gender effect. That result I thought was kind of surprising. I would have guessed that there would have been more women leaving earlier in the career. And I think that’s what many people would suspect because of issues such as work-life balance, and so forth. But I thought that result was really surprising. It certainly has to do with climate, I think, as you’re suggesting, but why would it be more severe at the associate and full professor level than at the more junior level? Or is it just the cumulative effect, perhaps, [LAUGHTER] building up and getting worse over time.

Katie: We added fixed effects for fields to try to get at if you have a woman and a man at the same institution and in the same field, so they’re probably in the same department then or very similar departments. We were trying to get at that average field effect. Our main results are like, if you were to just select someone in the natural sciences, what is their odds of leaving if they’re a woman compared to a man? And women are distributed across fields unevenly. And so basically, adding fixed effects for field lets us adjust for that variation in gender ratio, or other kind of field norms. And so I think the fact that the effect goes away at the assistant professor level, like the effect is not very large to begin with, for assistant professors. And so it’s possible that like, adding that field effect just reduces the gendered effect for assistant professors, whereas the effects are larger for tenured faculty. So really, it’s just saying that even when you adjust for someone’s field and all of these gender ratio, and other field level variables, we do still see something going on. We can’t say for sure why that is, but I think the survey really suggests very strongly, that is pointing to the climate.

Aaron: Our study was not designed to get at the causality of any of the differences in the rates from like a causal inference perspective. And so we can speculate about why senior women might feel like climate is a larger issue in terms of wanting to leave, and then many more of them are leaving, etc., and we can speculate about that. And certainly, if we all have experience in academia, we know women who fall into this category, we probably heard some of their stories. And those stories are real, and probably many more women have those stories than we might imagine. And so we can speculate about that, but the study itself was specifically aimed at looking at the rates for leaving for attrition and then asking in the survey, the reasons that people felt like they could or would or did leave their academic positions. When I was visiting UMass-Amherst last week, and I was talking with some of the folks in their NSF funded ADVANCE grant program. We had a very nice comment session about this specific question, about what it is that the senior women are experiencing. And several of the members of the ADVANCE team there sort of talked about the idea that… it makes a lot of sense… that over the course of a 20- or 30-year career, you might experience sort of the accumulation of these sort of devaluation experiences, and that might slowly sort of erode your belief in the system and your belief in a sense of belonging, even though you are tenured, or you are a full professor, or maybe even distinguished professor… you know, you’re at the top of your career, and yet 20 to 30 years of being devalued by your institution and your male colleagues. I mean, who wouldn’t consider moving on to something else, maybe considering early retirement, for instance. And so it’s not hard to imagine what’s going on with the senior women. But I think that it’s really important that future work really dig into that specific question. Because there is this sort of narrative that once you make it as a full professor, you get to be the boss and everybody else who’s more junior than you. But that’s not what we’re seeing in the data, we’re seeing that the senior women are saying that climate is as much of an issue for them, as it is for the junior professors who have been there for three or four years.

Rebecca: Your point earlier too isn’t lost on me that there’s fewer women in administrative roles. And this is the pipeline for those roles [LAUGHTER] too, that you have to be more senior often to be in those roles. And it’s really concerning about the future of the academy when we’re thinking about how few women are continuing on.

John: So, your study focuses only on PhD granting institutions. One source of attrition, though, that could occur, potentially at least, is faculty may be leaving for comprehensive or four-year institutions and so forth, which wouldn’t be picked up in the data. And that might be a nice thing for someone to explore as a future area of study, to see if some of this might be a shift in institution types. I suspect it’s not, but we do know that there’s a much larger proportion of women in community colleges and a much larger proportion of women in four-year colleges than in PhD granting institution. So it’s possible some of it could be attrition in that form. But that still doesn’t explain why there is such a gender difference in the climate, which seems to have a much larger cumulative effect than immediate effect.

Aaron: This makes me think of our results on prestige. Because nothing makes sense in academia, except in the light of prestige. And one of the things that our research group here has been very active in is in looking at how prestige structures academic careers, and the production of science and so on. So we really wanted to know, like, is prestige lurking on here as well. And we found some really interesting things.

Katie: Yeah, I think the main effect for prestige… it’s gendered slightly… but the main thing is that faculty at lower procedure institutions overall, regardless of gender, are much more likely to leave, then faculty at higher prestige institutions. And again, our analysis is looking at all-cause attrition, so we don’t know if they are leaving to go to a different type of institution or leaving academia altogether, but it’s definitely a huge effect. And then we do find a small gendered effect on top of that, where women are even more likely than men to leave low-prestige institutions, especially full professors.

Aaron: And if we think about how many professors are at those elite institutions, I mean, the Ivy League or the Ivy League plus, it’s a really small number of institutions that receive a huge fraction of our attention in academia. And that’s the prestige game right there. And so if you think about the number of people who are at the elite institutions where the attrition is lowest, it’s not many, most tenure-track faculty are at these less elite institutions. And so they’re experiencing these higher attrition rates. And we don’t have an explanation for why. But we’re very curious to know what is it about these lower-prestige institutions that makes attrition overall higher and more gendered?

Rebecca: Many questions to continue exploring, for sure. [LAUGHTER]

Aaron: Yeah, it’s a mystery.

Rebecca: So why do we care about attrition, anyways? We talk about it with students all the time, we talk about keeping students and retaining students. Why is it important to think about retaining faculty and keeping them in the pipeline in higher ed.?

Katie: I think there are a lot of practical reasons why it’s good to retain women. Studies have shown that people tend to ask different types of scientific questions based on their identity, such as their gender or race. We also know that having women in leadership roles, there’s been some studies showing that that can influence younger women’s perceptions of being a scientist and things like that. But personally, I think the most important reason for doing this is that scientific talent is not inherently gendered, and so there shouldn’t be differences in how women experience their workplaces. This is what I think.

John: And if people are going to invest in acquiring a PhD, that’s a pretty large investment for them as an individual. And it’s really unfortunate to have that wasted, especially if they’re feeling pushed out. If they were moving on to some other position where their skills could be better used, that would be an improvement in efficiency for them and for society, but if they’re leaving because of a chilly climate, that’s probably not the best use of society’s resources.

Rebecca: It’s a lot more resources to bring on new people over and over again too.

Aaron: Every faculty search is a big lift. And if you hire a bunch of talented women, and then they don’t feel like they belong in the academy, and they leave, then not only do you have to hire new people because you have the faculty leave, but every one of those incredibly talented, highly trained, highly productive women, their contributions to science have now been lost in some sense. And that seems like a moral tragedy for all of us.

Rebecca: I think a lot of our institutions focus a lot on having policies and strategies that are supposed to be equity minded. This is an equity gap that isn’t always attended to.

John: And also there’s a lot of research that suggests that when faculty are happy and excited about their work, that enthusiasm tends to get conveyed to students. And we’re losing that we have a lot of people who are unhappy being in the positions they’re in.

Rebecca: Wait, is that why we’re in higher ed, just teach students and get them excited about our fields. [LAUGHTER] Sometimes we lose track of that. [LAUGHTER]

Aaron: In some ways, that’s like the only reason to be in higher ed.

Rebecca: Exactly.

Aaron: As a tenure-track professor, our job is teach the next generation of students and then also make discoveries about the world and so on. And if we didn’t want to do the teaching part, then we would go be a research scientist somewhere. And there’s plenty of people who can do that. But it’s that combination of the teaching and the research that makes being a tenure-track professor in the American academy really special and sort of the envy of the world. In fact, the American system, to a large extent, is being copied and has been copied by the rest of the world’s higher education systems, because it’s such a powerful synergy. And you’re right. If your faculty are happy, the students will feel that and they’ll be excited about continuing on, and they’ll get infected with the excitement of science and discovery and so on. And in some ways, it’s kind of confusing that institutions are so behind the curve on faculty attrition, and especially gendered attrition, because it’s not like this is a new phenomenon. I mean, our paper is the latest in a long history, you know, 40 plus years of studies looking at gendered attrition at different places in the pipeline. And the fact that it’s still something to study is kind of an indictment of all of higher education.

John: And on that happy note…. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: I was going to say, on that powerful note.

John: …we’ll move to our final question, which is: “What’s next? “

Katie: Well, we actually have a follow up study that we’re working on right now. Aaron had kind of mentioned a little bit earlier about this accumulation of feeling devalued across a career. We asked our survey respondents what needs to be different about their positions to reduce their stress, or what needed to be different for them to stay in their positions. And we got over 6000 free-text responses to that question. We then read them all and we’re working on writing up the results. But it’s very powerful reading these stories from people and really narrowing in on like, what exactly is going on in the climate? What is going on for older women? for women of color? for mothers? …and so we’re excited to get that out.

John: Excellent. Well, thank you. It’s been great talking to you. And we’re looking forward to seeing that next study.

Aaron: Thank you.

Rebecca: Yeah, this is important information. I’m glad that we’re able to share it in this space.


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.

Ganesh: Editing assistance by Ganesh.


318. Reducing Equity Gaps

Gender and racial equity gaps exist in economics and other STEM fields. In this episode, Tisha Emerson joins us to discuss research on strategies to reduce these inequities. Tisha is the chair of the economics department and the James E. and Constance Paul Distinguished Professor at East Carolina University and is the incoming Chair of the American Economic Association’s Committee on Economic Education.

Show Notes


John: Gender and racial equity gaps exist in economics and other STEM fields. In this episode, we discuss research on strategies to reduce these inequities.


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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

Rebecca: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.


Rebecca: Our guest today is Tisha Emerson. Tisha is the chair of the economics department and the James E. and Constance Paul Distinguished Professor at East Carolina University and is the incoming Chair of the American Economic Association’s Committee on Economic Education. Welcome, Tisha.

Tisha: Thanks for having me. I’m so glad to be here.

John: I’m very happy to be talking to you. And our teas today are:… Tisha, are you drinking any tea?

Tisha: Yes, my favorite tea, I found a couple years ago, it’s a Golden Moon brand of Tippy Earl Grey.

Rebecca: That sounds nice.

Tisha: It’s delicious.

Rebecca:I have Harvest Memories today.

John: I don’t remember that one.

Rebecca: Well, it is from my little favorite tea shop in Canandaigua, New York, and it’s autumn flavors.

John: Autumn flavor?

Rebecca: Autumn flavors.

John: Do they have leaves dumped in there?

Rebecca: I mean, it almost looks like that. [LAUGHTER]

John: Ok. [LAUGHTER] Well, that’s one way of getting rid of all the leaves that have been falling. And I have English breakfast tea today. So we’ve invited you here today to talk about some of the research you’ve done, and also your new role and your past role with the AEA’s Committee on Economic Education. One of the things that we’ve observed is that there’s some significant equity gaps in economics and in STEM disciplines in general in terms of race and gender. And in one of the studies that you’ve done with this, in a 2023 paper in the Southern Economic Journal, you and KimMarie McGoldrick examined retake behavior for students who are not successful in their initial attempt at completing an introductory microeconomics class. Could you give us just a general overview of this study?

Tisha: First, let me say that this started a long time ago. And we got access to this great data, the MIDFIELD dataset, that was actually originally funded by the NSF to study the gap in engineering education, but it’s student transcript data. So we said, well, you could use that for economics too. And we have. And so this particular study looked at almost 180,000 students who take Principles of Microeconomics for the first time. And what we ultimately wanted to do is to think about the likelihood of success, and actually more so, failure, because a lot of papers already look at success and they stop there, because you have too small of a sample, fortunately, of the failures to continue on to look at them. But when you start with 180,000, you have enough to continue. So we find, as many others do, that, of course, aptitude matters, but that, unfortunately, females tend to be much more likely to be unsuccessful in their Principles of Microeconomics class, as are underrepresented minorities, or URM. And then we follow those students and we say, okay, so if you were, in fact, unsuccessful, and we define that as a grade of a D or an F, so grades that wouldn’t really let you continue in your study of economics, or you withdraw. And we say, if you’re in that category, what do students tend to do?… or first of all, for those students that are unsuccessful, what helps predict that? So given that you are in the unsuccessful category, what is more likely to cause that? And we saw that students who were carrying more concurrent credit hours were more likely to withdraw. Which makes sense, because if you have constraints that lead you to want to be full time, if you start with 12 hours, and the course is not going well… any of them… and you were to drop, then you would not be full time anymore. And so it gives them sort of this flexibility, they have more concurrent credit hours. But we found that students who got D or Fs, given that they were unsuccessful, they tended to have taken more related courses. So things like accounting (financial accounting in particular), calculus, and macro principles. And so we didn’t actually see a lot of gender or racial differences there. But then those students who were unsuccessful (D, F, or W), on retake decisions, we found that women were much less likely to retake if they were unsuccessful. But we did find that women who were of higher aptitude, who were unsuccessful initially, they were more likely to retake. So that was a positive. And we did find that underrepresented minorities were more likely to retake the course, but then more likely to be unsuccessful again, on their second attempt. So there’s some good news, but also, a lot of not so good news.

John: So you were able to follow students over time, how long a time period was there in the data set that you were analyzing?

Tisha: We had over 20 year period of data, but that doesn’t mean we followed any particular student for that length of time. Once we saw that they were unsuccessful, we made sure that they had at least one more semester at the institution so they did in fact have a chance to choose to retake the course or not and then we gave them three years post their initial unsuccessful attempt. And if they didn’t retake it in that period, then we said they chose not to retake.

Rebecca: In a 2019 study in the Journal of Economic Education, you and KimMarie McGoldrick use the same dataset to examine the decision to switch into an out of the economic major. In this study, you find that very few students selected economics as a major when entering college and that 83% of economics majors actually selected the major after taking their first economics course. What did you find in terms of the gender and racial composition of those that selected the economic major?

Tisha: So what we found was that, for the few students who started out as economics majors, so going into their principles class they already had said they were majoring in economics, we found that females were as likely to persist or not. That’s good. And we found something similar for underrepresented minorities, that is the females and URM students who went into the principles class planning to major in economics, they were as likely to persist as not.

John: What happened to those students who were not majoring in economics.

Tisha: Well, unfortunately, females were not as likely to persist and decide to major in economics. There was a larger proportion of females who opted to remain in their original major. So, they come into the principles class, they have some major other than economics, they were much more likely to stay in their other major and not switch to economics. Men were considerably more likely to switch, on average, than females were. But on a more positive note, we did find that students from traditionally underrepresented racial and ethnic minorities and Asian students were more likely to switch to economics.

John: And one thing we should note, and you mentioned this in your study, is that because this datset was focused on engineering, the schools in this sample have relatively large engineering programs and some students switched to economics because economics was perceived as being easier than their original major. So some of this may not apply as broadly to liberal arts institutions that do not have engineering programs.

Tisha: That’s possibly true. And in fact, business majors were even more likely to switch to econ. So it was about 10% of those switching in were switching from engineering and 27% were switching from business. So at the liberal arts schools, to the extent that they don’t have business or engineering, there wouldn’t be that source of majors coming in.

Rebecca: Both of these studies are really interesting. But, how do we think about some strategies to create a more inclusive environment in economics and STEM classes? So what did these studies tell us? What should we be doing?

Tisha: Well, I don’t know that they tell us what we should be doing. They tell us that what we’re doing is not really working.

Rebecca: Fair.

Tisha: …which is unfortunate, because that’s what we’ve been doing for a really long time and we’ve been really unsuccessful at attracting women and underrepresented minorities. So there’s a new sort of strain in the literature that’s really trying to address some of this. And there’s a study, for example, by Porter and Serra, and that was published in 2020. They did a randomized control trial at Southern Methodist University, where they, just by happenstance, picked a couple of very charismatic female alums and they randomly selected which principles classes they would speak to. And this was just like a 15- or 20-minute exposure, where they talked about majoring in economics, and how that helped them in their career. And they found that this significantly increased the number of women from those courses who decided to major in economics and additionally, not necessarily just major, but take more economics courses. And I thought it was really fascinating that there was no effect on men in those treated classes, it was just the women. So that suggests possibly that there’s some room for role models. Other work that looks at role models from other directions, like some of my own work with KimMarie and John Siegfried, didn’t find any evidence that supports the idea of role models. So I think, still mixed, and the exact sort of interaction that students may or may not have with these people I think is going to be important.

John: You’ve done a number of studies on these types of issues, and one of them was looking at the effect of classroom experiments. Could you talk a little bit about what types of classroom experiments have you looked at and what’s the impact of those on students?

Tisha: Sure, I talk about that a lot, because I really love the classroom experiments. I think that they’re a great pedagogical technique. And so since your audience is more general, maybe I’ll explain just what we mean by classroom experiments. And that’s basically the idea that we’re going, in some cases, simulate markets or other decision environments for the students that will mirror the types of environments that we’re talking about in class. So for example, if we’re talking about a market, then we will have students participate in an experiment where some are buyers and some are sellers and they negotiate and trade. In my classes, we always do the experiment first, I don’t talk about any of the concepts. And then we collect the data as we’re going through the experiment on the decisions that they’re making: prices, quantities that are traded, then I’m able to talk to the students about “Well, look, this is what actually happened, this is your actual data that you generated, and now let’s talk about the theory.” And this is what the theory would predict the outcome to be. And they can see how well they match up. And they are able to discuss in class, this is why I chose to behave in this way. And they see how it fits in to the economic theory. And I did a study back in 2001, which was published in ‘04 in the Southern Economic Journal, where we were looking just at the effect of experiments and we looked to see if there was a differential gender effect. And in fact, there was. So you often see that women underperform men in these principles classes. But what the experiment did is it closed that gender performance gap. So it raised sort of everybody’s performance, but it raised the females disproportionately, so that they were closer to the same outcome as the men if they were in a classroom with experiments. So I do think that there is definitely room through pedagogy to improve women’s outcomes, and make them more attracted to economics, but also make economics more attractive to them. There’s a large literature that suggests that women are much more grade sensitive than are men, various people have gone about showing this in different ways. And if you can bring up their performance so that it’s on par with men. And it’s not really even that comparison, but you’re bringing up the females’ performance, then they’re getting better grades, and they’re going to be less likely to want to leave the study of economics.

John: And we’ll throw in a reference to an earlier podcast we did with Peter Arcidiacono, who had looked at that very impact in STEM fields in terms of the decisions of people to move from one major to another. And in particular, in that study, they found that women did better on many of the tests but still left because the grades were relatively lower than in other classes. So one issue I think might be worth addressing is the issue of grade differentials, that if we’re going to continue to assign grades that are lower than most other departments, there’s a good chance we’re going to lose majors in general, but disproportionately more female majors, based on what the research literature tells us.

Tisha: There’s this really cool study, McEwan, Rogers, and Weerapana, 2021. They’re at Wellesley, and so it’s all females, but they were trying to address grade inflation. And what that meant was, of course, there are some disciplines that have higher grades, they had to bring their average grades down, and economics is treated in the opposite direction, and that it actually drew more students into these harder grading disciplines, like economics and the other STEM fields. And so yeah, that’s certainly an issue. I don’t think we’re gonna across the board be trying to treat grade inflation. I don’t think this is published yet. But I was reading another study out of Wellesley, where they were allowing students… I think it was maybe for their gen ed classes… to take them all pass fail. And again, you saw students flowing into these harder grading disciplines.

John: I know a number of schools during a pandemic made all of their first-year classes pass fail, which is a good way of letting students get into a discipline without worrying so much about the grades so they can explore things without worrying about the impact on their GPAs. That might be another useful strategy.

Tisha: Yes, I agree, and then this is really anecdotal, but I’ve heard other people observe the same thing, that women, they’ll be in your principles class, and they’re doing well, but maybe they’re going to get a B plus. And they say, “Oh, either I’m not gonna take another economics class,” or I’ve even had students withdraw at that point, and I’m like, “but you’re getting a B plus, I don’t understand,” but they’re so sensitive to grades. And then there will be male students who are getting a C, barely, and they’ll say, “I’m going to major in economics.” and I say, “Okay, are you sure?” It’s hard to understand sometimes.

Rebecca: It’s interesting to think about withdrawal policies that have really kind of loosened up due to COVID. So our institution changed the policy more recently so that students can withdraw through the last day of classes without documentation. And so students who are doing really poorly might take that option, but as you’re discussing students with higher grades withdrawing, that sounds really concerning that policies like that could be kind of counterintuitive, or really have some other negative impacts. Classes all cost money, [LAUGHTER] and there’s financial impacts to withdrawing.

Tisha: It’s hard to really predict how this is all going to play out. And I have to say, I’ve never heard of such a generous withdrawal policy. At my previous institution, I think they could withdraw up to sort of two weeks out and not even have a W necessarily on their transcript. So this all seems like a lot. There’s a lot of moving parts. But on the positive side, so let me just say, first of all, part of me feels like it’s a little bit too generous. But part of me also thinks back to the work that KimMarie and I did. And if you don’t have that D or F, that you have to overcome, it’s a lot easier to persist, not just in your major, but towards graduation, whether you switch majors or stay. And part of me feels like that’s helpful to the student. So in some ways, I like a generous withdrawal policy, I definitely want students to know what the withdrawal policy is, what the deadlines are, so that they can make a good decision.

John: Yeah, the only concern I have with the policy is that it can lead to students making slow progress towards a degree and they could run out of funding before they complete their degrees. But on the other hand, it does provide a bit of a safety net for students who are adjusting. And as our student body has become more diverse, and we have more first-gen students, and we have more students coming from schools that did not prepare people particularly well for a college environment, it provides a safety net, which has allowed students to take some chances early on and not be harmed. And I’ve seen some students struggle in their first year or so, drop classes, and come back and be very successful, when before they might have been deterred from further study in the discipline.

Tisha: I agree, I can see that.

Rebecca: So, definitely one of the things that I’m always thinking about when students are talking about withdrawing is making sure that they know all of the ramifications. So what does it do to your GPA? What does it look like on a transcript? What are the financial implications? …so they can make a well informed decision. And depending on who they’re talking to, they are not necessarily always getting all of the information, and that can be problematic, too.

Tisha: Yes. So I think that points us to the issue of how important advising is, so that there are well informed advisors and that students have access to them, not just at the end when it’s time to register for next semester, but they have a relationship with their advisor, and feel that they can go in and ask those questions, because as John said, a lot of those students can’t go to their parents, they’re first gen, their parents don’t have advice for them. And even if your parents went to college, they don’t necessarily know all of the rules and regulations of the institution that you’re at. It’s really hard, I think, for students to have all the information that’s necessary.

John: I’ve had trouble keeping up to all the changing information [LAUGHTER] over the last few years. In terms of those requirements. You’ve done some work with cooperative learning. Could you talk a little bit about that?

Tisha: Sure. So that really came out of the fact that I had done a lot of efficacy work around classroom experiments. And KimMarie and I are really good friends. She is a cooperative learning expert. So I should say that she is the expert on CL. And she wanted to do an efficacy study, so we decided to team up and do that. So what we did is unlike a lot of some of the other work in efficacy, is that a lot of the work is comparing lecture. So you don’t do anything to this active learning technique. And with cooperative learning, the students are working on exercises. And when we talked about it, we said you know, it’s really not fair, and not even interesting to compare a student who is in a lecture-based class where they don’t get to see any of these problems to students in a cooperative learning class that are working on these problems in class in teams. So we thought a lot about the collaborative learning approach. And we’re trying to isolate what we thought could be the mechanism that might be driving different outcomes. And what we decided was we were going to compare the active team-based learning to individual learning, working on problems. So in our control, the students were exposed to the same problems, they had the same amount of time in class to work the problems as in the treatment, which was the collaborative learning. It’s just that in the treatment, they were working in teams in this think-pair-share share framework, and we didn’t find a significant difference. So at the end, we said that the cooperative component didn’t seem to be driving any difference. Although there are other people who’ve done work comparing collaborative learning to lecture based and they did find significant positive effects from cooperative learning.

John: One type of thing that I’ve done that seems to have been fairly successful is using clicker questions. Following the methodology of Eric Mazur, students are given a challenging question where typically half or so them will get it right the first time when they’re asked individually. But then they get to talk it over with the people around them, preferably someone with a different answer, they get to debate and argue it and I normally see between a 10 and 20 percentage point increase in the correct answer. And the really absurd answers tend to disappear down to about nothing. So that’s not a very formal study, but that second stage of that process where students are engaged in some peer instruction seems to have had a pretty significant impact. And I point that out to students, that when they talk to each other about it and explain it to each other, they do much better than when they’re working on their own. And I encourage them to try doing that outside of class, to work with other students, because there are a variety of studies… I haven’t seen too many in economics, but there are quite a few studies that find that that type of peer instruction, either in the classroom or outside, can be fairly effective.

Tisha: Yeah, so I’ve observed that too. I haven’t used clicker questions, but just going in and observing my colleagues when they teach, and they are using clicker questions. And I have to say, I’m stunned, because I don’t know how the right answer bubbles up as opposed to the person who had the wrong answer convincing the other of the wrong answer. I don’t know how that doesn’t happen. It’s like magic to me, almost. So part of me wants to think a bit more about what is the mechanism and how is that working? That’d be really cool to do a study on that.

Rebecca: One of the things that’s always curious to me about that particular dynamic is sometimes students discover, as they try to explain something to someone else, [LAUGHTER] that they really don’t know what they’re talking about. [LAUGHTER] They realize, huh, I can’t actually explain this concept, so maybe I’m the one that’s not correct. [LAUGHTER]

Tisha: Maybe that is what’s happening. Because everyone always says, “You have to really know your stuff to teach it,” and so if you are trying to explain it to your partner, you do have to know the material.

John: And when they’re raising objections and you don’t have a counter argument, that can help break down your misconceptions, because getting rid of those incorrect perceptions can be as important as trying to build new ones.

Tisha: Yeah, I could see that and maybe the people who are initially giving the wrong answe are just guessing. So maybe they’re not trying to explain and convince their partner of their answer, I guess. I don’t know. So maybe it’s not magic.

Rebecca: [LAUGHTER] Feels like magic.

John: It does. And it works.

Tisha: When I see it happen, it does seem like magic. In general, I think that active learning is helpful, because I think that women are going to be more interested when you show them the applications, and that when you have active learning, there’s some community building that happens. So you’re illustrating relevance, you’re building this community, giving them a sense of belonging in the classroom, which is a lot of what I think actually happens with the experiments. And then actually also with the experiments, they’re kind of discovering some of the theory for themselves, which is a growth mindset. And there is research that shows that if you can show relevance, belonging, and growth mindset, and develop these in your classroom, that students are going to do better, but that it also is more appealing to females and underrepresented minorities.

Rebecca: There’s lots of things for all of us to think about, even if we’re not necessarily in economics classrooms. Definitely good food for thought. Switching gears a little bit. Can you tell us a little bit about your work on the Committee on Economic Education?

Tisha: So I’m not officially on it at the moment, I’m the incoming chair. But I have served on it in the past. And I’ve been shadowing KimMarie McGoldrick, who is the current chair for the last year. So the committee is doing a lot of really great work. I think. When I first served on the committee, we basically just organized sessions for the American Economic Association meetings. And when I say “just” I don’t mean “just…” Compared to now, it’s just but we have, I think, seven sessions that we organize for the meetings every January. But while I was first on the committee, then chair Mike Watts, who was at Purdue, he said,”I have an idea. We should have a conference, so an all economic education conference,” and we started it while he was chair, and it’s CTREE, so the Conference on Teaching and Research in Economic Education. So the committee is in charge of that. It’s every end of May, beginning of June, depending how the calendar falls. So our next CTREE will be in Atlanta, not that far. It’s on the East Coast, maybe you can join us. And it will be May 29 through the 31st of 2024. We have many other things that we also are overseeing: an educate program, which is professional development for college faculty, and that includes two-year college faculty, in course design, different active learning pedagogies, and we talk about how to bring diversity and inclusion into the classroom. KimMarie actually started this this year, we have a newsletter called EconEdNews. And that features different pedagogies, it features the winner of the AEA Distinguished Economic Educator Award, which the committee also oversees, and some centers that we have for Econ Ed across the country… just a lot of information that’s in there, we have two issues a year. So we’ve had our first two, and our next one will come out in March of ‘24. So just a lot of great work, I think, that the committee is doing and I think really thanks to Mike who started us with our own conference. And then Sam Allgood succeeded Mike and added and then KimMarie is an overachiever. And she added a lot more in her six years as the chair.

John: And going back earlier, early surveys of economic instruction suggested that economists were using much more chalk and talk than many other disciplines were using. So these efforts have been fairly important in shifting people away from that. It’s a somewhat overdue change, but it’s nice to see that happening. And I would love to go to CTREE. But there’s two barriers that I’ve run into one is we run a series of workshops here, right around the same time, and the other is I teach at Duke in the summers. So I either am doing workshops here, or I am in North Carolina teaching econometrics now down there, so I haven’t been able to get there. I would love to go to a CTREE meeting.

Rebecca: I think I would have no clue what’s going on if I went. [LAUGHTER]

John: Oh I think you would.

Tisha: I think you would, I think you’d have a nice time. Everyone there is just so lovely and very engaged in teaching, and just really cares about the enterprise.

Rebecca: It’s nice to see education groups out of these professional organizations to really formulate communities of practice around teaching.

Tisha: Yes, I agree. I think economics, unfortunately, was late to the game. But we’re increasingly appreciating the importance and the importance not just of focusing on four-year colleges, but two-year colleges. So going back to the point of diversity, and the lack thereof in the discipline, the students in four-year colleges that I’ve worked with have predominantly still been very much what economists already looked like. And if we really want to improve the diversity in economics, I think we need to reach down to the high schools to the two-year colleges, and make economics more interesting and accessible.

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

Tisha: There’s lots of things. I guess, with regard to the committee, I’m hoping to just kind of not start anything new in my first term, and keep everything running as well as KimMarie has it now. But then for my own research, I am really interested now in looking at comparing pedagogies. So it’s been a lot of efficacy work looking at a particular pedagogy compared to sort of the standard chalk and talk. But now, how do they compare to each other? Is there a better pedagogy for students? And my first study, and I have the data, so I just have to start working on it will compare experiments to cooperative learning. And I told KimMarie, if experiments lose, then she won’t hear any more about this. I won’t write it up. I won’t talk about it. Because I don’t want to say that experiments lose, but no, I mean, seriously, that’s the next thing that’s first on the agenda. But also, I have a deep interest in diversity questions. KimMarie and I with Scott Simkins have a paper looking at HBCUs compared to PWIs and the study of economics there. And that was inspired by some work that showed that HBCUs contributed disproportionately to the STEM pipeline. And since economics is part of STEM, we thought, “Well, that should be true for economics as well.” So we did some work in that area. And we show that there are some positive contributions from HBCUs to the economic pipeline. But I think there’s a lot more to do there. So I would like to dig down in that. I’ve heard a lot of people at HBCUs talk about secret sauce, and I want to learn what that is. And not just at HBCUs but look at MSIs as well, more generally. And I do want to look at some questions at two-year colleges, so that’s for the next five to 10 years…

Rebecca: You’re going to be busy. [LAUGHTER]

John: For those who aren’t familiar with the terms PWI are predominantly white institutions and MSI are minority serving institutions.

Tisha: That’s correct.

John: Those terms are becoming more and more common, but just to make sure all of our listeners are familiar. Okay, well, thank you. It’s great talking to you, and it’s nice meeting you. And we will keep trying to get KimMarie McGoldrick on the podcast. I’ve been asking her for about four years. She’s been a little resistant, but we’ll see if we can get her here in the future. Well, thank you.

Tisha: Thank you so much. I hope you have a good afternoon.


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.

Ganesh: Editing assistance by Ganesh.