202. Returning to the classroom

As we move into the fall semester, most institutions had planned on return to primarily face-to-face classroom instruction. However, the growth of the delta variant has cast some doubt on that and it’s likely that we’re going to be seeing some disruptions as infections spread on our campuses. In this episode, we discuss some things that faculty may want to keep in mind as we move into the fall semester.


  • Sathy, V., & Hogan, K. A. (2020). “Structured for Inclusion.Tea for Teaching podcast. September 16.
  • Sathy, V., & Hogan, K. A. (2019). Want to reach all of your students? Here’s how to make your teaching more inclusive. The Chronicle of Higher Education.
  • Eddy, S. L., & Hogan, K. A. (2017). Getting under the hood: How and for whom does increasing course structure work?. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 13(3), 453-468.
  • Hogan, K.A. and Sathy, V. (forthcoming, 2022). Embracing Diversity: A Guide to Teaching Inclusively. WVU Press.
  • Hogan, Kelly A, and Sathy, Viji (2020). “Optimizing Student Learning and Inclusion in Quantitative Courses.” in Rodgers, Joseph Lee, ed. (2020). Teaching Statistics and Quantitative Methods in the 21st Century. Routledge.
  • Panter, A.T.,; Sathy, Viji; and Hogan, Kelly A (2020). “8 Ways to Be More Inclusive in Your Zoom Teaching.” Chronicle of Higher Education. April 7.


John: As we move into the fall semester, most institutions had planned on a return to primarily face-to-face classroom instruction. However, the growth of the Delta variant has cast some doubt on that and it’s likely that we’re going to be seeing some disruptions as infections spread on our campuses. We may have students going into quarantine, we may have temporary closures, and faculty themselves may end up in quarantine because of their own or family exposure to COVID. So we thought it would be helpful if we talked a little bit about some things that faculty may want to keep in mind as we move into the fall semester.


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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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


Rebecca: One of the things that I think many faculty were looking forward to over the summer was maybe a fall that looked a lot more like the ways that they had teached previously, unmasked, perhaps because of vaccination mandates. And there’s still a lot of uncertainty on many campuses around that and vaccination rates of students. So many faculty are finding themselves in situations where they’re going to be masked and their students are masked as well. Although we had some faculty certainly teach that way in the spring, it’s new to many faculty across the country. And so we thought today, we could do some tips about things to think about in the classroom or other face-to-face situations where masks are involved. Our teas today are…John, what are you drinking?

John: Ginger peach green tea. And Rebecca?

Rebecca: I have a decaf Irish breakfast today. And why is it decaf? Because I ran out of the caffeinated tea. [LAUGHTER]

John: I know in office where there is a lot of tea, although I did throw some of the older tea out that had been sitting there for a while. Because our campus has moved at least mostly back to face-to-face instruction. We just had an academic affairs retreat with quite a few faculty present in person, but also quite a few faculty present remotely. And I suspect we’ll be seeing many such events as we move through the fall semester. So you mentioned the issue of masks. And for those of us who set out last year because of health conditions or other concerns. We were not used to teaching with mass. So maybe we could talk a little bit about something that faculty who are teaching with masks for the first time should take into account.

Rebecca: I know that John and I have recently done some campus events. And the first thing I noticed being masked all day was that I couldn’t breathe. I ran out of air, you might get more winded than you’re used to, which might slow you down. But you want to think about how to pace yourself and maybe even making sure you have water. And then it’s also awkward to take your mask off and get a drink of water. So you may want to think about that maybe even practice ahead of time so that you don’t feel like an idiot, trying to figure out how to get a drink.

John: I had to give a really short presentation to our new faculty in person. And I very quickly ran out of breath because I was in a room where it was a very big room and there were no microphones, which was probably not ideal. Which brings us to one of the first things we’d recommend, which is that in the classroom, you should use a microphone. That’s always a good idea because there may be distractions and having clear audio would always be helpful, but it’s especially important if your voice is going to be muffled behind a mask.

Rebecca: And we may think typically of this being something only for a big lecture hall. But I would argue that even in smaller classrooms, it could be incredibly helpful. Another thing to consider too is students in the class not only need to be able to hear you but each other. So if there’s not a microphone to pass around to students, for example, then you want to make sure that you’re repeating questions or comments that students are making so that everyone has the benefit of conversation. This can also be true if you happen to have students who are Zooming in because they’re in quarantine or something else to make sure that they can hear what’s going on in the class as well.

John: Because it’s going to be harder for everyone to hear each other you should be prepared to speak a little more slowly than you might normally to make it easier for students. And also you may want to minimize the amount of time you spend talking in class. If you have not already cut back on lecturing, this would probably be a great time to replace a lecture-based class with the use of more active learning activities where there’s more small local discussions taking place, rather than one person having a voice at trying to fill the whole classroom.

Rebecca: I think those more intimate settings can be helpful to deal with volume and things, you may need more space between groups because they may actually be louder than you’re accustomed to, because of the masks and people needing to try to speak up. So you might want to plan with that and be flexible and ready to adjust. And making sure you’re supplementing with videos and other things for clarifications. You’re noticing a lot of issues that are arising, you know, just-in-time teaching techniques, maybe those need to be a little bit of video follow up too, just to make sure that everyone got that information. You may also want to think about using slides or other digital materials to supplement what’s happening in the classroom to reinforce terms, concepts, ideas, etc., just to make sure that everyone can get that information, especially if anyone’s having trouble hearing.

John: And in general, the use of videos is something that many of us have been recommending anyway, because students can listen to them at their own pace. When you record them, you’re recording them typically at a computer without a mask on, so your voice will be much clearer. And it will make it much easier for students to understand what you’re trying to say. And they can listen to it at their own pace and as often as they need to. So there’s a lot of good reasons to do that, in general. And once you’ve created them, many of them can be used multiple times in multiple years. So if you haven’t done it, that can be helpful.

Rebecca: What we hope that you’re hearing is this idea of multimodal ways of engagement. We mentioned having slides or text-based materials, video materials and activities that might all address some of the same concepts and ideas so that there’s many ways that students can dip in and engage with the material and the content of the class.

John: And when you have students engage in activities in the classroom, don’t just give them instructions early, provide the instructions in writing with a shared document, perhaps a Google Drive document, or put them up on a slide on the screen, if that works better in your environment. But because students may have trouble understanding instructions because of the mask and your muffled voice, giving them other ways to see the instructions and refer back to them is going to reduce uncertainty. And it tends to be a very effective tool in any case, as Viji Sathi and Kelly Hogan have noted, giving students more structure tends to be really effective in reducing achievement gaps for students as well.

Rebecca: This is a really great time to mention the use of polling, as well, to collect information from students. Usually when we’re doing polls, you might present something both in text and orally, so there’s a couple of different ways to get that information. But one of the things you could poll on is how well students are able to hear and the general happenings in the class and what people need. So I would highly encourage doing some polling around those kinds of needs early on in the semester, because we’re all learning and adapting and trying to figure it out together. And the more you can collaboratively do that with students to meet the needs that they’re identifying, the better.

John: With polling, you’ve got a variety of questions you can use. But you can also use things like Jamboard and other whiteboard activities, or even Google Forms where students are submitting things in text rather than verbally. The more communications that take place in a nonverbal format, the more clear that communications will tend to be while we still have mass requirements in effect.

Rebecca: So you’ll notice these digital things that you started adopting, maybe when you were teaching online, can still have a really important place in a physical classroom, we can have those small group conversations and really enjoy the presence of other humans, but also supplement with some of this technology that can help fill in some gaps that we might still have. One of those gaps that we might have is the expressions we’re used to seeing. Even if you were using Zoom, for example, you got to see at least some expressions from students who might have had cameras on, but things can be lost in translation behind a mask, facial expressions might be hidden. So you may need to feel like you’re overexplaining. If you have a lot of emotion embedded in what you’re saying, you might need to actually say what that emotion is: “I’m really excited about this,” or, “I’m really happy to see this.” Rather than just expecting students to hear that change and inflection in your voice because it may be a lot harder to detect than it would be otherwise. One of the things that we mentioned at the top of this episode is really thinking about the many different circumstances that can arise and being prepared this semester. That means backup plans and probably backup plans for your backup plans. We can’t be too prepared. So some things that I know that I faced as a faculty member is, I have a daughter who’s four who’s been quarantined three times from daycare because of exposure to COVID-19. So you may be exposed, your family members might be exposed, so you may not be able to be in person. But the same thing can be true of your students and your students’ families, they might have kids too. So there’s a big complex web of people that may be not able to be or may not be able to participate in person and figuring out a way to make things go on or continue in their absence or in your absence is important. So maybe that means switching to Zoom. If you have to go into quarantine, maybe that means recording your classes and providing that to students who are out. It could be a lot of different things. How will I accommodate this circumstance? is a key question to ask without getting too overwhelmed with trying to do too many things.

John: I already had a situation where I’m teaching a relatively small intro class this time, I only have 189 students in person. And I already received an email from one of those students saying that they will be in quarantine for the first week or so of the term. It’s an international student who just arrived and has to go into quarantine for two weeks before they’re allowed to participate in classes. So you should expect that there’s a good chance that some of your students, even in small classes like mine, might end up having to go into quarantine. And you do want to provide ways for those students to be successful in the class. So I will be live streaming my class in Zoom for those who can’t participate in person.

Rebecca: And like John is mentioning, you probably won’t have a big heads up. Things are going to happen rapidly, and we need to be able to respond rapidly. So think about what works for you and your workflow and the kind of classes you teach. Maybe that means live streaming with Zoom. But if that’s not going to work for you, for whatever reason, then maybe that means recording a class session, or providing an asynchronous equivalent that you’ve developed in previous semesters that can just be made available to students if they need to be out, for example.

John: And we should remember that the last year has been extremely difficult for everybody and some people have been much more heavily affected. And we will be dealing with lots of cases of trauma for both faculty and for students. And we should be prepared for that by, at the very least, having mental health resources available to share with your students could be really helpful. And I suspect many faculty may benefit from that as well.

Rebecca: I think one of the key things is demonstrating care. We talked a lot about this on the podcast over the past year, demonstrating care, caring for students, what does it mean to be in a community of care and acknowledging that the people in your classes, including yourself, are humans who have emotions, can be really helpful. And affirming that people may be experiencing all kinds of trauma from a wide variety of things, not just COVID-19 related, but they might have family members in Afghanistan, they may be a student of color, they may be a student who survived sexual assault, there’s a wide variety of things. And people have been faced or traumatized by that we need to just be aware of and sensitive to. And doing those occasional check ins with students over the course of the semester just saying like, “Hey, how’s it going? Remember, these resources are available,” can go a long way. I remember that last semester, I had students say that no one else had asked them. And it’s not, I think, because our faculty don’t care, because I actually think we have a really deeply caring faculty. So just making sure you’re actually asking the question and making a little space for that is really important.

John: And also consider being more flexible, if possible, with some of your assignments, perhaps not being as rigid with deadlines as you might normally be. Because when students are dealing with issues that may involve life and death of family members, or with family members losing jobs because of economic disruptions, just being more flexible, in general, can be helpful.

Rebecca: Some of that flexibility comes in just providing some grace, like low stakes assignments, or the ability to drop low quiz grades, the ability to make mistakes and learn from it. These are things that aren’t just COVID related or kind of a transitioning back to the classroom related these are really good practices, so that students can develop a growth mindset and really improve over time and we give them the space to improve and the space to learn from mistakes, the space to have life happen, and just let it go and move on.

John: There are so many sources of trauma, we don’t need to make our classes an additional source for our students. We want to provide an environment that’s supportive and nurturing so that students can be successful in our classes. Many faculty have traditionally been very rigid about their deadlines and about the course requirements. But now is an especially good time to reconsider some of those policies.

Rebecca: Along those same lines, we want to be making sure that our students have access in all kinds of ways. So digital materials should meet digital accessibility standards. But we also want to think about cost of books, equipment, etc. and making sure that students have access to what they need no matter where they are. So keeping equipment needs down, software down, book costs down so that students can have access using OERs are all things that we can be thinking about. Digital resources might be particularly helpful at this time, especially if students have to rapidly move into quarantine, it might give them more possibility to have access to things.

John: We’re talking about the need perhaps to keep costs as low as possible in the context of COVID. But in general, we’re seeing a much more diverse mix of students entering our colleges with a much larger proportion of first generation students than at any time before, and many of those students are coming from very low-income households. And in general, I think we need to focus more heavily on the needs of those students, because students who come in with fewer resources tend to be much less successful. And we want to increase the chances of success by keeping costs as low as possible.

Rebecca: As we’re thinking about these same students, many of them are working at part time or even full time or have families that they’re caring for. So doing things like continuing to offer office hours virtually through Zoom or other techniques can be really helpful in meeting students at times that would have been more inconvenient for you, but now are more convenient if you can Zoom in quickly, because you don’t have to be in your office. The same is true for students. So maybe consider continuing that option if it was something that you were offering before in order to accommodate students more.

John: And we’re also in a somewhat unique circumstance this time in that many students have not been in a classroom regularly for over a year. That varies geographically quite a bit but many students have been taking classes from home and the quality of that instruction has varied dramatically across school districts and across households. Given the way we fund schools, primarily through local school property taxes, wealthy school districts have lots of resources for professional development for their teachers. And the students tend to have much better internet connections and have more resources to allow them to be successful in school remotely. In low-income school districts, though, students will often have very poor internet connections, they’ll be using shared devices. And in general, the quality of instruction in those schools and the preparation of the teachers is often quite a bit less. And it’s very likely that we’re going to see a much greater variability in the prior learning of students entering our colleges.

Rebecca: And part of that was our own as a teaching universe],like either higher ed or K12, shifting to modalities that many of us were unfamiliar with. The quality of instruction may just not have been as good and certainly not any of our intentions as instructors. But there’s a learning curve. And some of us took some time to figure out how to do things. And we’re still learning, we’re still trying to get it right. And so students may really need additional structure, more structure than you’re used to providing to help guide them through the materials, to guide them through the semester, to guide them through in person experiences, because they haven’t really interacted with peers that they don’t know, in quite a long time. So the more we can provide guidance, structure, specific roles, even saying, “Hey, we’re going to get into small groups, the first thing you want to do is introduce yourself to one another.” We might need to provide those little extra prompts just to make sure that everyone has equal footing when they start an activity.

John: We’ve mentioned this a little bit before but providing more support or resources, providing videos, practice tests, online tutorials, links to YouTube videos. In almost any discipline, you’ll find someone out there has created some resources that could be helpful for your students. Finding and sharing those with students can take a little bit of time, but it can yield some really dramatic benefits for students who are coming in with very diverse backgrounds.

Rebecca: You can also encourage students to share those materials with each other by providing a platform to do that, you can use discussion boards in your learning management system, you could use tools like Slack or chat capabilities. There’s many ways that we could do this. But the workload doesn’t need to be all on you because there are students who are going to find and be willing to share materials as well.

John: And it’s also really important that we give students early and frequent feedback so that they don’t get to a high-stakes exam and discover that they weren’t quite as ready as they thought they would be. Giving students a chance to practice, to try things, and to see how they’re doing when there’s time to improve can be really useful. So give students feedback as quickly as you can and as often as you can.

Rebecca: And for some of us, that might really mean putting some time in your calendar the first couple of weeks of school to make sure that you grade some things and actually putting it in like it’s an appointment, to make sure it gets done so that students are getting what they need.

John: And you can also, though in a learning management system, create some self-graded quizzes. So it doesn’t have to be something that requires more grading work, but it gives students that immediate feedback. Giving personalized feedback would generally be better, but in larger classes using some automated self-grading quizzes can at least help with that process.

Rebecca: One of the things that I had been thinking about over the summer is how many students that I had that were transfer students or first-year students who never actually stepped foot on campus yet. So we have sophomores and juniors and seniors who may really be unfamiliar with the campus but are physically there. So one of the things that we want to do is think about orienting our students to physical resources that are available. Like, where is the health center? Where are the computer labs? Where are there really nice spaces to sit outside where you have an internet connection? Right? Where are some nice places to socialize? All of these things we might just expect students to know. But in many cases, students have been away or remote for periods of time and they really need to be oriented to these spaces. So I know that I had brainstormed ideas of things that we could do in class that might actually take us to some of those physical spaces, either outside of class or during class. And so I’d encourage you all to think about ways to incorporate some of the physicality of in-person experiences if you’re teaching in person. One of the things that I’ve been really excited about, having taught synchronously online over the past semester, are some of these really great collaborative virtual tools that allow for all kinds of participation. I’m sure you’ve heard me mention things about virtual whiteboards, I think I’m a fanatic or something now. I should be, like, an advertisement for all of them. But I really enjoy the ability to collaborate with students, have them provide their opinions, get their questions, get their brainstorms, whatever it might be that we’re doing in class through sticky notes or whiteboard activities, which can be set up to be anonymous, or with names attached, depending on what platform you’re using. And there are some real benefits to having some opportunities for some anonymous participation so that you can get a real pulse on what’s going on in the class without people being concerned about being judged or being afraid to speak up.

John: In general, students who are first-generation students often don’t have the same level of confidence in their success. They haven’t seen as many of their peers going to college and being successful. And the more we can do to help students build confidence that they belong there, and simply telling them that “You belong here,” could be a good starting point. But working towards building a growth mindset, let them know that it’s okay to make mistakes and learn from their mistakes, we want to make sure that they don’t see struggle as being a sign of failure. To make sure that they understand and to reinforce that struggling to learn things is an essential part of learning.

Rebecca: And I think along those same lines, I know, I see this a lot with students, is that they’re afraid to ask for help. Because asking for help is a sign of failure or a sign of weakness or lack of expertise. So making it comfortable and having them have the ability to ask for help and get help is really important and encouraging that early is incredibly important for student success. So if someone’s really struggling with an early concept in that class where the concepts build on one another, and they don’t understand a really foundational idea early on in the semester, and they don’t get the help they need early on, then they’re not going to do any better over the course of the semester. So we need to find ways to welcome those kinds of questions and make it safe to ask those questions and also to get the extra help that some students might actually need.

John: And also to help students feel more comfortable using more small group discussions more think-pair-share type of activities that do not put the same implicit pressure on students to take a stand in front of the whole class, and that anonymous participation that you mentioned, can also be helpful through polls or virtual whiteboards to help students become a little bit more confident and be willing to share their voices more frequently.

Rebecca: I know one tip that I’ve taken away from Viji Sathy and Kelly Hogan is the idea of when you’re doing small group work, having an assigned reporter to just speak on behalf of the group. And so it’s not an individual’s response but it’s the response on behalf of the group. So there’s not so much pressure to be right, because it’s reflective of a collaborative effort and that allows more voices to be heard. And maybe opportunities for others to speak out that might not normally be comfortable speaking out, or seen as experts, or seen as people who are able to speak out or allowed to speak out.

John: So we’d like to wish you all a happy and successful semester and we hope everything goes smoothly but we also hope that you’re prepared for times that may not go as smoothly as you’d like.

Rebecca: I know one thing that I’m wishing for everyone is the collegiality that I’ve seen across our institution and across institutions of sharing resources supporting one another. And I hope that we’ll keep up this spirit collectively to improve the student experience for all students moving forward.


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.


201. Beyond Trigger Warnings

Many of us have been told to provide trigger warnings to protect students who have been harassed, sexually assaulted, or abused. In this episode, Nicole Bedera joins us to discuss a survivor-centered approach that includes and supports rather than excludes those who have been traumatized. Nicole is a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Michigan. Her research focuses on gender and sexuality with an emphasis on college sexual violence.



John: Many of us have been told to provide trigger warnings to protect students who have been harassed, sexually assaulted, or abused. In this episode, we’ll discuss a survivor-centered approach that includes and supports rather than excludes those who have been traumatized.


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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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


Rebecca: Our guest today is Nicole Bedera. Nicole is a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Michigan. Her research focuses on gender and sexuality with an emphasis on college sexual violence. Welcome, Nicole.

Nicole: Thank you. I’m excited to be here.

John: We’re really happy to have you here. Our teas today are…

Nicole: I’m not drinking tea. I just have water.

Rebecca: Right, being hydrated is good.

Nicole: Yeah, boring but useful, right?

Rebecca: Yeah, definitely. Speaking of boring, I have English afternoon.

John: Well, we’re back to a new normal, at least. [LAUGHTER] ??Normal. In this way, at least everything else may be different, but that’s still the same. And I have T forte blackcurrant tea today.

Rebecca: Ah, an old favorite.

John: It is. It’s a wonderful tea.

Rebecca: We invited you here today to discuss “Beyond Trigger Warnings: A Survivor-Centered Approach to Teaching on Sexual Violence and Avoiding Institutional Betrayal,“ an article you published in Teaching Sociology. In this article, you voiced concerns about the use of trigger warnings. Could you describe these concerns to our listeners?

Nicole: Yes. So my critique of trigger warnings is pretty different from the one that you hear most of the time because it’s very survivor focused. So instead of saying things like we often hear, “Well, trigger warnings are making people weak. If you’re strong enough or tough enough, the world is hard and we shouldn’t be sheltering our students so much.” If anything, I’m probably pro sheltering them a little bit more. A very different way, a very different way. My biggest concern about trigger warnings is they treat survivors like they’re the problem in a classroom. And the biggest problem about that is that it actually undermines the very spirit of Title IX. So what Title IX is about, it doesn’t actually say anything about sexual assault, it’s an issue of gender equity, it’s a sentence long, and the law says that regardless of sex, you should be able to have an equal education. And the reason that sexual assault and harassment comes into it is because it so commonly impacts women specifically, that was what they were arguing at the time. Now we know more, that it also affects a lot of trans, gender nonbinary folks, basically people who are not cisgender men are disadvantaged in their educations, because trauma makes it more difficult to interact. So trauma does things, like it affects the way that you form memories. And that’s why we see on college campuses that it’s so important for survivors to have access to stuff like academic accommodations, to be able to take that midterm a little later, because they actually just might need more time to study because of how trauma brain works. So the whole point of the way that we enact Title IX on college campuses is to make sure that having a history of trauma doesn’t get in the way of your ability to get good grades to get into graduate school, whatever else might be happening, to just pay attention to materials that are important to know. When we use trigger warnings in conversations about sexual assault, the way that usually happens is we tell survivors, “Hey, we’re going to be talking about sexual assault today, if that makes you uncomfortable, you are welcome to leave, you don’t have to come to class today.” Which means we’re asking them to forfeit their education for the comfort of all the other students in class. And so the centerpiece of this argument, that I’m making, is just we shouldn’t do that anymore. It doesn’t make any sense to tell survivors, “Hey, this issue that really affects you, and it’s really important, we don’t think you should be part of the conversation.” That’s not fair from an educational standpoint, or just an equity standpoint.

Rebecca: So what are some of the strategies we can use to include survivors and make them a central part of the conversation and dialogues that are happening in class rather than skirting them or brushing them away?

Nicole: Well, one of the most important things to recognize is that a lot of the things that make survivors upset in our classrooms have nothing to do with triggers. They’re better described as something called institutional betrayal. Institutional betrayal is when you go to someone who works for an institution for help. And instead of helping you they hurt you more. So often these things that are so upsetting for survivors are actually new traumas caused by their professors or other students in class. So when we’re talking about what to do to make survivors more comfortable, rather than saying, “Hey, leave the room, because I’m going to say things that upset you,” we could just stop saying things that will be upsetting, and instead take an approach to talking about sexual violence that is more inclusive of what survivors need to know, where we’re not saying things like, for example, rape myths, or other damaging stereotypes about sexual assault. And I’m a social scientist, I’m a sociologist, and a lot of this stuff just means telling the truth about sexual assault instead of propagating myths and lies that are throughout our society about sexual violence. And so for instructors, step one is knowing your stuff, is knowing what’s really true in these cases,

John: What specific things should instructors know to be prepared to address such issues?

Nicole: Oh, one of the things that a lot of instructors don’t seem to know, and I don’t even get into this in the article, so people listening to the podcast are really getting something special here. But, one of the things that instructors don’t seem to know is that false allegations are pretty rare. And so something that I’ve seen repeatedly happening in classrooms that can be really harmful is for example, setting up a debate where one person is going to take a pro-victim side and another person is going to take a pro-accused side. And these debates often turn into people saying, “But, I was falsely accused, or, “What if I was falsely accused? Don’t I deserve more protections? Don’t I deserve to be…” I don’t know, whatever it is that people are saying the accused students deserve in these cases. And that can be really traumatizing for survivors, because they’re not lying, false allegations are not common. And the entire classroom is being taught that you shouldn’t believe survivors when they come forward, that you should question them. And that instead of saying, our ideal response to sexual assault would be when a survivor comes forward and says, “Hey, something isn’t working for me in this classroom, something isn’t working for me on campus, I can’t sleep in my dorm because my perpetrator lives down the hall,” whatever it is, instead of everybody saying, “Hmm, but what if that’s a lie?” it would be better to just say, “Do you need to move dorms? Do you need help in your classes?” And so when survivors have to sit through things like the damaging myth of false allegations that’s going to inherently be harmful, especially coming from professors. Because professors are supposed to be the ones that are holding knowledge and sharing knowledge with other groups, we’re in quite a position of power in our classrooms, we’re often the one standing in front of maybe hundreds of students at a large university, telling them what the truth is. And so the ripple effect is not only on that victim, who’s saying, “Oh, wow, I didn’t realize that maybe a lot of people lie. And maybe I should feel guilty or ashamed and I shouldn’t tell people and they’re right to question me.” That’s something a survivor might feel. But also all of the other students in class are thinking, like, wow, victims lie, or these people call themselves victims lie, maybe I should be more suspicious. So it has a really big ripple effect across society. And this is something that I think is really central to college sexual assault in particular, because it’s not just that what happens in our classroom stays in our classrooms. We’re teaching young people, and sometimes not so young people, what to expect in the workplace, what is normal, and we can sort of see that ripple effect across society.

John: So the focus should be on providing support for the victims, and listening to them, and trying to make them more comfortable in the classroom.

Nicole: Yeah, that’s exactly it. And there are a lot of things that you can do to make survivors feel more comfortable. The first recommendation in the article is just, know your stuff. Stop telling lies about sexual violence in your classroom, it’s a really straightforward one. But survivors also have some other needs that can make them feel more comfortable when talking about difficult topics. And so things like letting everyone know in advance that it’s okay to have an emotional response to the material, and that people who are not survivors may also have an emotional response to the material. That can make survivors feel a lot more comfortable staying in the classroom. Because if you don’t set something like that up, survivors are going to feel like, if I cry, or if I get upset, everyone’s going to know that I’m a victim. And I don’t want everyone to know, I’m a victim. So maybe I should skip class today to keep that secret, especially if, say, the perpetrator is in their friend group, the perpetrator is in the class, which happens as much as we don’t like to think about. It’s better if they can just say, “You know what, it’s okay, if I’m emotional, and I can just fit in. And it doesn’t necessarily mean anything.” That can also help too, I mean, other students who aren’t survivors do feel uncomfortable if they get emotional about this stuff, as well. And one of the ways that they can sometimes, unintentionally, create a kind of difficult dynamic in the classroom is by them wanting to process their feelings as being, “Oh, it’s so hard for me, my friend was sexually assaulted.” And people who don’t have those experiences are often a lot more open with those stories than people who are victims themselves. And so they might, for example, tell the story of another student sitting in class and tell their story of sexual assault that maybe that student didn’t want to hear. And so when instead of saying, “All right, we’re not going to address the emotional component, we’re not going to set standards around how people feel in this classroom, anything can happen,” as opposed to saying, “It’s okay if you get upset, and we can talk about some of the things that made you upset. Also, while we’re on it, let’s be really cautious about not sharing people’s personal stories, because we want to make sure everybody gets to choose whether or not we know their stories and whether or not we talk about them as an educational exercise.” So things like that can just be really helpful, really, really helpful.

John: In the article, you also noted that just talking about the issue is not always a trigger, that there are many things that could serve as triggers, you mentioned, it could be the smell of certain gum that the perpetrator had been chewing or a song that was playing at the time of the attack. So it sounds as if triggers could happen at any time and we should be prepared for that possibility.

Nicole: Right. A lot of the way we talk about triggers is, again, using this pretty conservative logic that victims are so sensitive and so fragile. And so if you even mention sexual assault around them, they can’t handle it. So first of all, that’s not true. Lots of victims talk a lot about sexual assault, there’s a reason that therapy, for example, is healing instead of necessarily hurtful. If just the mention of sexual assault, the reminder it exists was hurtful, therapy would not be helpful, right? But on the other hand, there are lots of things that trigger a traumatic response that have nothing to do with sexual assault. And some of them are really unpredictable. I trained as a victim advocate and worked as a victim advocate before I came to graduate school. And in my training, one of the things that they told us was about the story of a survivor who thought she was making a lot of progress and healing from her trauma but then had this setback and she couldn’t identify why she was so upset all the time. And the reason was really simple: something had changed in her life. I don’t remember if she’d gotten a new apartment or a new job, what it was doesn’t matter. But she now had to walk by a KFC every day. And she’d been sexually assaulted behind a KFC. And so that smell of fried chicken was triggering a panicked response in her. And ironically enough, the rape crisis center I worked at was also next to a KFC. So coming into her sessions, she was also getting triggered. And that’s something that nobody ever could have guessed. So when choosing where the rape crisis center should be, they probably weren’t thinking, oh, but what if KFC moves in next door that can be triggering for victims, right? It’s not something you think about. And so instructors really should be prepared for if a survivor gets triggered in the classroom, if they get really upset, you don’t need to know why, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to make a huge adjustment. If it’s something that random, right, if it’s not your fault, if it’s something totally random, then that makes sense. But you do need to have ways to help survivors know what to do in that situation to say, “Hey, you know, if you do need to step out for a minute, that’s okay, you don’t owe me any information, you don’t have to apologize, you don’t have to explain your behavior if you are in a place where you are reliving your trauma, and you cannot pay attention, but it is fine to step away for a moment. And you can also rejoin class five minutes later, if you feel better,” which I think is something a lot of survivors don’t hear enough from their professors. They hear a lot of how to leave but not how to come back, or they worry that it’s too disruptive to come back. I want to add, too, that some of these triggers are a little bit more predictable. So for example, if the perpetrator is in the classroom, and the perpetrator is engaging in ways that are scary, or they’re even maybe whispering while the victim is trying to make a comment in class. That isn’t posing a direct threat in the moment, but it’s going to be a trigger of the assault. Or if the perpetrator’s friends are present or anything that’s going to be a constant reminder of the assault. And these are things that, again, to the instructor look totally random. Because you have no idea what the relationship is between your students, you have no idea why one student is uncomfortable or afraid in the presence of another. And so we do have to think about triggers. Instead of trying to say we’re going to control it and make sure they never happen in our classroom saying okay, we actually do need to know what to do when they happen to make sure that victims can still continue to learn in this classroom space.

Rebecca: In your article, you talk a lot about ways to set the tone at the beginning of class and in the syllabus. Can you talk a little bit about how to set that tone for the class so that students do know what to do if they are triggered, if there’s something that they want to reveal to you, ways that we can continue to support them and know that we’ll support them throughout the semester?

Nicole: Yeah, I have a couple of different things that I do at the beginning of the semester, depending on what the class is. I am a sexual violence researcher. I teach classes that are just on sexual violence every day, we talk about sexual violence in class. So in a class like that, I set the tone in a pretty different way, in a pretty intentional way where we start from the very beginning. I have them read a chapter about how difficult it is to do sexual violence research and hear these stories all the time. And it’s their first day’s homework, just in case they don’t have time to read it, I set aside some time in class to at least skim it and to talk through, not so much this is going to be a terrible experience, even though the chapter is a little hard to read, but just say: What makes you anxious? What are you nervous about? Let’s talk about it from the very beginning of the term. And then that turns into a class of, “Okay, so what do you need? When you feel those things, you’re afraid that you’re going to get overwhelmingly emotional in class, what would make you feel like you could stay in the classroom? What can we do as a community to make you feel comfortable?” Because if you don’t have a conversation, most people when someone starts crying next to them just feel awkward, especially if they don’t know them that well. And I will say that one of the things that happens in my classes, the students tend to get to know each other a lot better than they do in other classes, because these are really vulnerable conversations. And that can be nice for even just basic things like working on group projects, or studying for exams, so it’s kind of an unintended and positive consequence of this kind of conversation. We also watch a video where we talk about the importance of vulnerability and how to be able to address these feelings. We need to talk about vulnerability, it’s a Brené Brown video, many of the listeners have probably already seen it, it’s gone very, very viral very, very many times. But after that we talk about this idea of communal vulnerability. So instead of saying, “Okay, like, I need to think about what I do for myself,” which is something that I think we all tend to do when we think about some things can be overwhelming, we think about, okay, what about when it’s hard for me? And I try to turn the conversation to say, “What about when it’s hard for the person next to you?” So what do you need and what can you give? And that’s the conversation on day one in the classes where we’re talking about violence all the time. In classes like, intro to sociology, where we’re talking about sexual assault maybe one week out of the term, I still, on the first day of class, I don’t necessarily talk about sexual assault very much I do point it out on the syllabus to let people know, “Hey, there’s some stuff coming up in the class.” But I don’t just bring that up in sexual violence. We talk about a lot of different kinds of violence in my classes in general. So I’ll have the same conversation about something like police brutality to be like, “Hey, heads up, it’s coming.” And then, knowing that these tough topics are coming up, I will ask students, “All right, this stuff can be pretty controversial,” which is sort of a weird way of putting it, but, “this stuff can be controversial or hurtful or personal. And so what do you want to happen when conflict arises?” And I use that question to open the same conversation about, what do we do when we need someone to step in, because something bad happens? That’s really what it’s code for. And so even though we’re not explicitly talking about violence on the first day, which I try to avoid a little bit, because the students weren’t prepared, they didn’t know that was going to happen. So that can be pretty shocking. Instead, we still get to flesh out some of those norms around, what do we do if someone gets upset? When do you want me to intervene, as an instructor and say, “All right, actually, that wasn’t okay. And we’re not going to tolerate that kind of statement, or whatever it is in the classroom.” And yeah, it’s worked pretty well. Even distance learning, during the pandemic, I was surprised by how well it worked in some of my classes.

Rebecca: One of the questions that I think often comes up where we’re talking about any sorts of inclusive pedagogy or trauma informed pedagogy are kind of two things. One is, I don’t teach a class where these are topics. So how do I set the stage in a class like that? And then the other thing that comes up is, I’m not a counselor. So how am I supposed to deal with this? So can you address those two common concerns that people have?

Nicole: Yeah, so one thing we know about sexual violence and trauma is it doesn’t turn off just because you’re in math class, like, it doesn’t just go away. And so regardless of what topic you’re teaching, a lot of professors are going to hear this stuff. And a lot of the stuff that I cover in the article about things like students coming to you and telling you they’re a survivor in office hours. That happens, especially to women faculty, regardless of discipline, and so you do need to still be prepared for it. And that’s going to be the same case for like graduate student instructors, they come to you, they find you more comfortable than their professors a lot of the time. And so some things that you can do is just include some syllabus statements that have resources covered. A lot of schools do require a syllabus statement already talking about what Title IX is and your Title IX rights. And I remember being a student when this stuff was introduced on college campuses. The first year it was in my alma mater’s syllabus statement requirement, I was in my senior year. And so many of the professors complained about it, or they dismissed it and they said, “We’re not going to cover this because it’s not important to the class.” And for a survivor sitting there, that sends a pretty clear message that they can’t come to you when they need help, that you don’t know what to do, that maybe what happened to them isn’t important. And so one thing you can do is just actually talk about the syllabus statements. And you know, you don’t have to like them, either, I’ll say that. And I’m going to say specifically, you don’t have to like them and think that they’re sufficient. I don’t. And so when I talk to students about them, I actually explicitly say, “So this statement is here. And I’m not going to read it, because I don’t think that it covers everything that you need to know. But I’ve included these other resources that I think are important. So we’re going to talk about when you need this stuff, if anyone in this class needs the stuff, here’s what’s in the syllabus. And do you have any questions?” And that’s something I ask a lot. Has anybody ever actually read the Title IX statement? And if they did, do you know what Title IX is? Do you know what the office offers? Do you know where the victim advocacy office is? So anybody, regardless of discipline, can have that conversation on the first day. The other thing you can do, again, you don’t have to couch all of this in discussing sexual violence, like you can just do this to be a compassionate instructor, but to tell students how you can handle whatever concerns might come up. Whether it’s something like a family member getting sick, or you needing to be hospitalized for a period of time, or, yeah, sexual assault to set a standard of this is how you can come to me with these questions, this is how you can talk to me if you need something, if there’s a problem. And to set some expectations around, you don’t have to tell me what happened to you. This is just how you can get help if you need it. You don’t owe me your traumatic story to get help. And so that’s one thing I would recommend, as well as just being aware that if you’re seeing a dynamic between students that seems disruptive or uncomfortable, being prepared to check in, say, “Hey, what’s going on,” and knowing that, for example, if you have a victim and perpetrator in the same class, the perpetrator is going to lie to you. And they’re going to make it sound like the victim is the one who has the problem. So being prepared to sort of parse out some of those difficulties, which might mean bringing in someone more qualified than you. Which brings me to the second half of your question: If I’m not a counselor, I don’t want to talk about this stuff. So what do I do? I actually think that’s perfectly fine. I think it’s perfectly fine when a student comes to you, and they’re looking for help to say, “Hey, I support you. And I want you to get everything you need. And also the things that you’re asking for do require the help of someone who knows what they’re doing. And that’s not me.” And there’s absolutely nothing wrong in saying, “I will help you find the resources available on campus.” And this is a conversation that I just don’t think you should have to have with a professor. And a lot of the victims, so in my research, I interview victims about their experiences seeking help on campus. And one of the things they bring up the most is they’re just really, really nervous that their professors will think differently of them and they’re nervous they’re going to have to tell the story of their sexual assault. A lot of them do not want to tell you, they’re telling you because they feel like they have to to get you to give them help. And so if you make really clear, I don’t need to hear the story, I do want to help you. And you can even say things like, “I’m not a counselor, but here is what I can offer.” Because it’s really dismissive, if you just say, “I’m not a counselor, I’m not helping you.” But if instead you say, “I am not a counselor, but I can connect you to a counselor, I can tell you where they are on campus, or in the community, or wherever. And also, if you need anything in my class, here’s a template, for example, for how you can email me. You can be like, hey, Professor Bedera, I really need an extension, I’m having a hard time with this assignment. And we can set up in advance how much information you need to share, or whatever it is.” So make sure when you’re saying, “I’m not a counselor, and I can’t help you with the emotional help that you need,” to make sure you offer something too.

Rebecca: One of the things that you also mentioned, Nicole, is that that labor is a little more heavy on female faculty. Can you talk a little bit about managing that labor and the emotional toll that might take on faculty and maybe what faculty members who are experiencing hearing a lot of these stories can do?

Nicole: Yeah, you need to take care of yourselves, especially because we know that a lot of faculty are survivors themselves of campus sexual assault, or perhaps are being sexually harassed right now. They have survivors coming to them for help and they are experiencing the betrayals of the institution themselves as faculty. That’s a really difficult position to be in. So it’s really important to take care of yourself. And so one of the things that’s actually came from an R&R, so thank you reviewers for pushing me to include this in the article. But one of the things that I talk about is my own sort of ritual for self care, because I share these stories all the time. I also, because I cover these issues of violence pretty explicitly, hear about lots of other types of violence my students are experiencing all the time. And it does, it takes a toll you get exhausted and just sad. It just feels heavy. And then it does start to get into your head of like, okay, so how do I come back to class and pile on? Especially in a discipline like sociology, where we’re not really known for bringing good news to our students. And so some of the things that I do, is just in general I sort of have some supports in place, I have other faculty, graduate students, friends, who I can chat with about these things. I think it’s a good idea to keep these conversations pretty power neutral. So if you’re a faculty, go to other faculty, don’t go to your graduate students, if you’re a graduate student, maybe your advisor can help you but also, you’ll probably be able to speak more openly to other graduate students. So make sure that you’re thinking about the power dynamics involved there, too. And so for me, studying sexual violence, I mostly hang out with other sexual violence researchers when talking about this kind of stuff, because it’s really easy to talk to each other. You don’t have to back up and explain something, which is another thing to think about when you’re choosing who you’re using as your support system. Maybe somebody who is a good friend doesn’t know very much about this stuff. And so you find yourself having to educate them the whole way and that’s pretty tiring. So if your support system isn’t working for you, and it’s more tiring than it is useful, find someone else. But that support is really, really helpful for me, just as a regular thing that exists. And then I also have some stuff where when I’m sort of in an emergency, when something particularly bad happened, I have my short term measures to see if it’ll fix it, which are a lot of traditional self care, kind of things. Like I eat mac and cheese after a bad day, just always, that goes back to my victim advocacy days. But I also do things like, dating back to my victim advocacy days, they talked about the importance of having a ritual, especially when one of the things that victim advocates will do is they’ll manage crisis lines. So if you’ve ever seen those numbers, maybe you put them on your syllabus to say, “This is who you call, if you need to talk to someone.” That’s something that I did as a victim advocate, and you’re doing that often in your home. And so just like we’re teaching in our homes, a lot of us still are right now, it can be hard to get that separation at the end of the day. So they taught us about the importance of a ritual. And it sounded so hokey to me, because the person who I was talking to said, “Oh, I wash my hands after every call to tell myself it’s over and I can relax.” Oh my God, that would not work. I’m not doing that. But then I started working in the hospitals where, yeah, I washed my hands after every time I left the hospital because of germs. And the one night that I forgot to wash my hands was the one night I couldn’t sleep, it makes such a huge difference. So my research assistants, the people I talk about this the most with and they’ve come up with a bunch of different things that they do, as just sort of that, wow, that was kind of heavy. And I need to give myself a mental break. So some of them will get a cup of tea, is actually on the list.

Rebecca: It’s a good choice.

Nicole: Yeah, exactly. It’s a good choice, or a glass of water, or take a walk around the block, or text a specific friend, or pet an animal, whatever it might be. Just something that will tell you, “Okay, this is fine.” But sometimes that won’t be enough. Sometimes these little rituals that we have these things that we do for self care will not be adequate. And so in those cases, it’s important to do the harder hitting stuff, like speaking to a therapist, maybe calling one of these crisis lines and asking for some assistance, getting some validation, and they’ll have some ideas of people who you can talk to. And then the stuff that’s really boring about self care too, like, maybe there’s just a lot on your plate right now and that’s why you don’t have time or emotional energy to think about this stuff. And so, that to-do list of things that we all don’t get through like making a doctor’s appointment, or paying your bills, or whatever, like doing some of that stuff so that you have mental space to think through those things. That stuff is really, really important. And then also just to be honest with yourself and check in with yourself. If you are a survivor, about: How do I feel about this? Am I projecting onto the student? Am I doing a good job caring for them? Or am I actually making it a little bit worse? And so that’s actually where the boundary setting becomes important again, because as much as you might want to be there for your students, if you yourself are triggered, you can’t be, you’re going to end up hurting them instead. And so instead of just forcing yourself to get through that meeting, saying, “Hey,” you don’t have to tell them why, but just, “I don’t think I’m the best person for this conversation, and I want to support you, but can I help you find someone who will be able to support you better?” And it’s so important to take care of yourself as much as you’re taking care of your students.

John: One of the things that comes up in your article is the issue of institutional betrayal. Could you talk a little bit about some of the ways in which that shows up in practice, and perhaps what faculty could do to encourage the institution to move in a better direction on these issues?

Nicole: Yeah, that’s a really good question to ask right now. Because actually, the Biden administration is making huge changes to the way Title IX and campus sexual assault are managed. So far, it’s been kind of a quiet process, there have been some survivor listening sessions, but not a whole lot else is happening, at least that the public can see. So they’re doing a lot of things behind closed doors, making conversations about what to do next. But it’s something you should keep an ear to the ground for. Because if there are things you really care about, policy is being made. And so, for example, a lot of sexual assault researchers, including myself, have signed on to petitions to try to get rid of the mandatory reporting requirement, because it doesn’t serve survivors, it hurts them. Survivors need to be in control of what happens when they tell their stories, not be forced into an investigation or talking to the police or whatever else is happening on college campuses. They need the right to choose. And so this is a really good moment to think about things like contacting your legislators, sending a little email to the Department of Education, as well as the Title IX staff at your school because a lot of them are involved in these conversations. And they have the connections to people who are really involved in these conversations. So if you care about this stuff, speak up. So that’s thing number one, to address institutional betrayal, but I mentioned at the beginning that institutional betrayals are new traumas, they are similar in severity to a sexual assault itself. So if you’re wondering how important or bad this is, it’s really bad, it’s really, really bad. Before we had the term institutional betrayal, a lot of people got at the same idea by calling it the second rape. And there they were talking specifically about the criminal justice system, and the way that it defiled survivors and institutional betrayals a little bit broader. But yeah, the idea is that a university, which is where this comes from, but really any institution’s action, or inaction, can be just as traumatizing as the assault itself. And so some of the things that come up are things, like, survivors being punished for telling their stories. So if we put this in the context of a classroom, if a survivor discloses to you, say in an essay, that they were sexually assaulted, and then you call the police, which they didn’t want, that can feel like a punishment. Or if you get awkward around them, and you don’t call on them in class anymore, you treat them like they’re super fragile, and they can’t handle anything, that’s going to feel like a punishment for disclosing. Some survivors, also, I can think of cases from my research, where if a survivor was accusing another faculty member of sexual assault, the faculty in that department would retaliate against them and treat them poorly. So that’s a form of punishment, too. And so there are a lot of things that we are doing as faculty that are hurting survivors in a new way. And so a really important thing is to think about things from the perspective of that student, think about what they need, put yourself back in the shoes of being a student. And about maybe you look at them, and you say, “Well, they’re not handling my policies right. My syllabus says that they need to contact me in this way. And the way that they ask for accommodations was wrong.” Instead of thinking that way, remember how overwhelming it is to be a college student, remember that the norms of academia are foreign to you and might be a little bit harder to learn if you were dealing with trauma at the same time, and to be gentle about it. But yeah, when I think about institutional betrayals that happened in classrooms, a lot of them really are around mandatory reporting, which is part of why I bring it up. And it’s one of the questions that I get most often is: I want to help survivors, but I’m a mandatory reporter. So what can I do aside from just report them? And in these cases, in the article I do not pull any punches here, I just say: don’t do it, defy your campus policies. Sometimes the policies are unjust, and you shouldn’t follow them just because it’s the rules. If you know that it’s hurting someone, use your better judgment. But this is also again, a really important time to think about these things that your survivor activists on campus, every campus has them, every single one across the country, including some of the more conservative religious schools, you wouldn’t expect. I went to undergrad in Utah and I’m going to tell you that BYU has survivor activists making a lot of noise on their campus, and they can tell you what they need. And so listen to them and support them, especially in these moments. It’s so weird to talk about this stuff right now, from a federal policy standpoint, because campus sexual violence is in this strange gray area where the Biden administration hasn’t completely repealed what the Trump administration did, but they’re not enforcing all of it, but they kind of are. And the Trump administration’s rules were really, really vague. And so there were a lot of things that schools could do, but they could also choose not to. So right now universities have a huge amount of latitude in how they want to handle this stuff, they don’t really have the excuse of saying, “Oh, the federal government says that we can’t do X, Y, or Z for survivors.” In most cases, they can probably give survivors exactly what they’re looking for. And so as faculty, we can really support survivor activists in doing things. One of my favorite ways that survivors can get help from faculty, is we understand the complex web of bureaucracy on college campuses. So if you have a student in your class, who is really excited about survivor advocacy, they’ve been doing activism on campus, and they just can’t seem to find the right person to direct their concerns at, you can probably identify, “Actually, it’s this person in the dean of students office that needs to hear what you’re saying,” or, “This is the email for the Title IX coordinator,” or whatever it is, really small things. But one thing we all need to be doing right now is just holding our universities accountable. Because as much as they say that they take sexual violence seriously, I think anyone who spent time on a campus for very long knows that they would really prefer to not have to deal with these cases, to not have to discuss these things, to just be able to go back to ignoring sexual violence like they did 15 years ago. And the best thing we can do is just make that hard on them and say, “No, we’re not, we’re not going to ignore survivors, we’re going to do the right thing and support them.” Especially because a lot of the survivors never would have met their assailants unless we looked the other way at fraternity parties, unless we looked the other way for whatever the football team decides to do, we’re all sort of complicit in this. And that’s why the institutional betrayals run so deep. And that’s the other thing about institutional betrayal is whether or not it’s fair, survivors don’t understand these bureaucracies. They don’t know who is responsible for these decisions. And I can’t tell you how many survivors I’ve interviewed who said that they distrusted their professors because of decisions made by Title IX, or the Dean of students office, or whatever other organization on campus. And so a lot of your students are coming to your classroom already from a place of distrust, not knowing who will take care of them and who will not. And so making really clear that if you’re going to make those promises to be there for survivors, you really do need to get up for them, even when it can be difficult. And you have to earn that trust from the very beginning.

Rebecca: One thing that we haven’t covered, but seems very important to cover is how common sexual assault is on campuses.

Nicole: It is very, very common. There are so many different types of numbers that I can throw your way. But I’m going to give you three statistics that I just think everybody should know. One, everybody on a college campus should know at least, and one of them is just the number you’ve probably heard before, which is that one in five women on college campuses will be sexually assaulted. And one in five is actually one of the more conservative estimates coming from the research world. It uses, we’re going to get a little technical, and so we’re going to go for it, it uses cross sectional data. So for anybody who’s not a social scientist, that is when researcher comes in, and they give a survey out to every student, it doesn’t matter if they’ve been on campus for four years or one week, and they ask them about their sexual assault experiences. So it would stand to reason that those students who’ve been on campus for a year or less still might be sexually assaulted if we were to follow them all the way through. In the most harrowing studies, they do follow students all the way through their sexual assault experiences all the way through college. And that captures not only students who otherwise, they would have gotten that questionnaire before they were assaulted maybe a year later, but also students who at the end might have downplayed or minimized something that happened to them because people on campus suggested they should. And so that wasn’t captured in the data either. So when we look at this type of data, when we look at asking students across all of their time in college about sexual assault, and asking them every year, we find that the number might be closer to one in three. So it’s a lot more common than even your campus sexual assault prevention trainings are probably telling you. The other number that I think is really important to know, and I guess as an addition, on to that number, we don’t have a ton of great data about the experiences of people who are not cisgender women. But we do know that sexual assault is more common among trans students. It is more common among queer women in particular. And even among cisgender men, estimates say that it’s happening pretty often not as often as the other groups, but it’s still happening pretty often. There’s some difficulties in defining it, the studies are a little messy. But yeah, it’s happening across campus. If you look across a lecture hall, a lot of students and you picture, on average, about a third of your students have been sexually assaulted while in school. This does not include childhood sexual abuse, this does not happen to them in high school before they got to college. You’re talking about a lot of survivors in your classroom. It’s not one challenging student, it’s not one difficult student. And so if you really are telling students, “Hey, if you’re a sexual assault survivor, and you can’t handle it, leave,” it’s surprising we don’t often see a third of students getting up and walking out. But the other number that I want to comment on and again, I keep bringing this up, because it’s something we don’t like to think about is the perpetration rate. And the best study that we have so far finds that 1 in 10 men on college campuses committed sexual assault before they graduate. So the perpetrators are very much in the midst as well. Everybody involved in sexual assaults will be in your classroom at one point or another. Statistically speaking, you can’t avoid it. And I’ll add one more thing too, which is that all of this research is on undergraduates, and the little bit of research we have now about graduate students finds that graduate students are the most likely to be sexually harassed or assaulted on campus.

Rebecca: With those disturbing facts in mind, what is the psychological and academic consequences of victims being triggered again and again, or being victims of institutional betrayal throughout their college education?

Nicole: Anybody who’s really interested in this question should go to Know Your IX’s website and read their new report that came out just a month ago, maybe two months ago, called “The Cost of Reporting.” And it gets into the experience of institutional betrayal specifically. And what we find is that survivors who have been betrayed in comparison to other survivors are more likely to drop out, they are more likely to have a lower GPA. I actually read a paper that if the findings, we’ll see if they’re replicated, but if they hold would suggests that a woman experiencing sexual assault is the best predictor of her college GPA. Because whether or not she experienced sexual assault, that’s a better predictor than the SAT, it’s a better predictor than high school GPA. So we know that the impact on education is really, really significant. And that’s a big part of why professors should care about it. Survivors are having a really hard time in all of our classes. I’m really glad you asked this question because everybody sort of assumes, oh, sexual assault is bad. We know rape is bad. But if you ask people why they often can’t put a finger on it. And so I’m going to do that for you. I’m going to tell you exactly why sexual assault is wrong. And so I’m going to start with the stuff you know, which is, it is psychologically distressing, survivors are more likely to have difficulties with things like sleep, they’re more likely to have anxiety, depression, PTSD symptoms, like flashbacks, uncontrollable sort of psychological reactions and distress, and they have a hard time with things like feeling comfortable with sex as well. But there are also a lot of other impacts of sexual violence we don’t talk about as much. One is chronic health problems. Survivors are a lot more likely to have chronic headaches and chronic back aches than other populations. I also know of survivors, some of these things are a little bit more difficult to tease out, but who they know individually, that their sexual assault led them to have other chronic health problems. I knew one survivor, one of the ways that she managed the trauma for sexual assault was through controlling her eating, which is pretty common is for survivors to develop eating disorders. But hers was so severe that she had created lesions on her throat that were precancerous. And so she’s having conversations with oncologists about how likely she is to develop cancer in her early 20s. And this is directly related to the way that she was managing the stress of her sexual assault and the trauma of her sexual assault. So chronic health conditions play a really big role as well. There is a huge financial impact for being sexually assaulted. It’s going to affect your career trajectory, especially if you are on a college campus. This is research I want to do but have not done yet, is to describe a little more about how that happens. We know that it affects things like lifetime earnings, but we don’t know for example, if sexual assault makes survivors want to change their majors to get away from their perpetrators or to get to places that are more friendly to survivors, which will probably, if you’re a woman, going to end up to be more feminine majors on campus, the ones where they’re a lot more women in the room might feel more comfortable. And so anecdotally, I’ve heard a lot of that kind of stuff in my research, but jury’s still out on whether or not it’s a really huge issue, but even if it’s one survivor that matters. And then the other thing I’ll say is that sexual assault, once you’ve been victimized, you’re at a higher risk of being victimized again, especially if you are hearing blaming comments, especially if you come to think that it is your responsibility to prevent sexual assault. In my research I’ve heard so many stories of survivors who when they were in a dangerous situation recognized it but thought it was their responsibility to change their perpetrators behavior, felt like they kind of had to freeze and just sit through it because of those blaming comments. And this is a really important thing to pull out too, is that this is a scary list. But access to supportive resources, to a supportive community can make it less likely that survivors have to experience all of these impacts, they are not a given, they’re not part of the trauma, they’re part of the institutional betrayal, they’re part of the response to trauma. And then the last one that we talk a lot, interestingly enough, about how being accused of sexual assault, anecdotally has led to suicidal ideation. There’s no research to support that, necessarily, the two are connected, but it’s the phrase that we hear a lot in our society, is accusing someone of sexual assault could end their life. But in reality, we do know that survivors are at a very high risk of suicide in the aftermath of sexual assault. And that intensifies after institutional betrayal. This feeling of not only did my perpetrator hurt me, but other people are going to continue to hurt me and no one cares, and if this happens again no one will do anything about it. That’s a really heavy burden to be on survivors. And that kind of thinking, that kind of nobody cares, nobody at my university is going to do anything to support me, that is something that professors contribute to so it’s a really important one for us to think about. It’s a heavy list.

John: It is.

Rebecca: I’m feeling the weight of it.

Nicole: Yeah, it’s sort of worse than we even usually hear about. And it does come up in really small ways too. So I used to work with a program that taught fraternity men around campus sexual violence and it was intended to prevent campus sexual violence. And I was having the hardest time getting through to them, as you can imagine, and I was working with a really challenging fraternity. This fraternity was the reason the prevention program was implemented because they used to use gang rape as a hazing ritual. And it had been long enough, since that was happening, that the current brothers and the fraternity wasn’t that long ago, it was less than10 years, but none of them were students at the time. And so they were really angry that they still had to sit through these prevention trainings, and they just didn’t get why this stuff mattered. And in one particularly tense encounter, one of them said to me, “Nobody even cares about this anymore. Everyone has moved on.” And I was just thinking, the victims of your fraternity have not moved on. They’re not done feeling this, they probably will never fully escape what this fraternity did to them. And I went home, and I got on Facebook, and I wrote, just to my friends, “Hey, I’m working with this fraternity,” sort of explained the situation, said they’re not getting it, “Would any of you record a message for them if you were sexually assaulted at least five years ago?” which is how long it had been since the last gang rape, “If you were sexually assaulted five years ago, will you record a message saying how it still affects you today.” So a few of my friends sent in recordings for them, I actually still use these in classes with the consent of the survivors. Some of them, some have withdrawn consent, I don’t use those anymore. But they listened to the first one and they felt really uncomfortable, but nobody’s really saying anything, like one guy was kind of pushing back and being, like, “Well that’s just one story.” And they listened to the second one. And it was the third one that kind of broke them. And one of the men who was getting really emotional, the detail that stood out to him was that the victim had described how in the aftermath of her sexual assault, one of the ways that she coped, I forgot to mention this one, was through alcohol and drug abuse. And that had really impacted her grades. We kind of know this, that our students are going to parties on a regular basis, some of them are going to be good students, and some of them you know, if you’re hungover in class, you’re not getting the material. And so that’s sort of how she framed it. She was like, I was not a great student, because I was abusing substances, not the language she would use. But she said that she wanted to go to law school, and that studying for the LSAT was so stressful, because to be able to get in now, because her grades were so bad, she needed a near perfect score. And this man who was getting emotional said, “I’m studying for the LSAT. And I used to go to class hungover because I was partying in this fraternity and people like my brothers from a few years ago, were the ones who put her in the situation. And I know how stressful it is. I know how hard this is. And it is so unfair that I made the decision to blow off my academics and she didn’t.” Those little details, I think, really helped us understand what exactly the stakes are for survivors. Usually we talk about this stuff sort of in the abstract because it’s more comfortable, it’s so personal, it’s so scary. But hearing the weight of all of this is really important. I’m glad you asked.

Rebecca: I think those personal stories are what really helps people connect to the data, the data is really easy to ignore, if it feels really abstract.

Nicole: Yeah, I mean, it’s one of the reasons the Me Too movement has been so powerful, because when you hear about sexual assault survivors, maybe watch a True Crime documentary here and there. These are not people you know. It’s not the same experience as getting onto your own social media profile and seeing someone who you thought you were really close to, and realizing that they had the secret that they were holding to themselves, and that they were sexually assaulted and realizing, oh, wow, maybe I actually said some things in front of them that were not supportive because I didn’t realize there was a survivor in the room. And that’s something that I really just think we should all be thinking about more often is most of the time there is a survivor in the room. The problem is so widespread, it is so everywhere, that even when we’re talking about just campus sexual assault, if that was the only time sexual assault happened in anyone’s lifetimes, chances are, if there are 10 people in a room, there’re going to be some survivors, multiple, present. And yeah, we don’t really think about the personal stories very much. And we don’t really think about how, the other thing, maybe the gem that comes out of all of my classes, my students say this thing that resonates with them the most, is that we’re all really comfortable supporting survivors in the abstract. Maybe we don’t do it because we don’t realize how important it is but we’re willing to do it. The messiness, and it’s why I keep bringing it up, is when there’s a perpetrator, who you also know. That’s when people start to turn because the uncomfortable reality is that we all do know and love a rapist. They are in our inner circle just as much. Again, assuming all sexual violence happens on college campuses, which it does not, it’s 1 in 10 men. And so the idea that we only have survivors around and we don’t have any perpetrators, and that what they want will not come into conflict is the difficult part. And this is something that I’ve seen play out in the classroom over and over and over again, is this idea of, well, I have both students in my class. And I want to be fair equally to both students. And that’s not really a fair position to take, because there’s such a big power disparity between the two of them. What a rapist wants, which may be also to use your class to control and humiliate and harm their victim, that does happen, if that’s what they want you can’t really put that in comparison to a victim who just wants to get their degree and get out of there, which is what most of them really do want to do. And so yeah, it’s messy. It’s messy, and it’s personal, and parsing out all of the difficulties of, really the hard stuff that you have to do when a survivor comes to you and says, “I need something.” It’s not always an easy decision, especially if you haven’t thought in advance about what you’re going to do in a situation like that one.

Rebecca: That’s a lot of things for us to be thinking about as we prepare for the fall and get ready for this semester, what resources we might want to have bookmarked on our computers, things that we want to put in our syllabus how we might want to handle setting the stage the first day.

Nicole: Yeah, definitely. I’m glad that this podcast is dropping when it is, because thinking about this stuff from the beginning of the semester is a lot easier than if something comes up in the middle and you’ve never thought about it. It can be so stressful and overwhelming, I get lots of panicked emails from people that are, like, “Oh my God, I’ve never thought about this, what do I do?” And it’s in those moments that we don’t know what to do that we sort of fall back on what’s culturally normative. And in our society, that’s usually the side of the perpetrator. We don’t like to think about it but that’s true, that’s the way our society operates. Or, to just say, “This is too difficult and I’m not going to do anything.” Inaction is what we’ve all been trained to do in these cases. And so thinking through in advance some of the things that you can do, resources you can draw upon. And even just the way that if you need a minute, what sentence you’re going to say, to tell someone that you need some time to think this through, and that you’re going to go explore some options. And to know in advance, who am I going to ask? It should not be your school Title IX coordinator, it should not be the people who you’ve been taught on your campus are the ones that can answer these questions. And the reason for that is because they have conflicting roles, it’s a conflict of interest. All of these organizations on campus are also trying to protect the university. And so they’re going to be thinking about things, like, what causes liability in the classroom? which isn’t necessarily what’s best for survivors. And so if you’re thinking about who you should ask on campus, the people you should ask are the victim advocates. It really is, if you have campus victim advocates, or even community victim advocates that you can reach out to, that is where I would start because they’re the true experts on sexual violence, as are the survivors themselves. When you’re sort of in a lurch you can turn to your students and say, “You don’t have to have an answer to this question. But in case you do, do you know what you need? Do you know what exactly what you’re looking for? And again, if you don’t know, we can figure it out together. And I can come to you with a lot of options.” One thing that campus victim advocates do all the time is they create options where survivors didn’t think there were any and so it’s normal for survivors to not know what they want, and to not know what’s available, especially if most of the time when they’ve been asking for help, they haven’t been getting it, that lowers their expectations over and over. This is the subject of my dissertation. But to be able to say, “I know where I’m going to go. And I’m going to take your input because I recognize who the true experts on sexual violence are on this campus,” is a really good place to start. Most professors are not experts on issues of sexual violence. And it can be really uncomfortable for us when we’re supposed to be the keepers of knowledge to say to our students, “I don’t know something,” or, “I’ve made a mistake.” But those are things you should get really, really comfortable with. Because to do anything else, to try to maintain your power in the classroom, to try to make yourself look like the all-knower or whatever it is, can be really damaging. And so practice, get comfortable in your head with how you’re going to say to a survivor, “I really messed up,” and “I am so sorry.” Or if something happens in your classroom, we haven’t talked about this very much, but sometimes the problem is not you. The problem is other students were making victim-blaming comments or something like that in a class discussion. And professors often say, “I didn’t know how to handle that situation.” That’s an okay response. It is okay, when that’s happening, to interrupt and say, “I don’t know how to handle this. I do not know how to handle this. And I’m worried that if this conversation continues, it could be really harmful. We’re going to take a break. I’m going to take a few minutes to collect my thoughts.” And maybe in some cases, even ending class early and then addressing it when you come back. You do have to address it if you do that, you can’t just move on and pretend it never happened that is so awkward, and it does send the message that you’re not comfortable talking about sexual violence, you’re not comfortable supporting survivors. But if you don’t know what to do, instead of just sort of making it up as you go, sometimes it is better to just say, “Actually, I’m going to seek an expert here.” And that’s really, really important. We are pretty lucky as professors, because on a lot of campuses, there are experts who are available and trained to help you again, it’s not going to be your Title IX coordinator, they are going to give you the basic legalistic spiel about the mandatory reporting policy and what is available. But if you reach out to the campus victim advocate and say, “This happened in my classroom, what do I do,” a lot of victim advocates will come to your next class, they will facilitate that discussion, you can have the expert in the room, you don’t have to be the one to do it if it’s making you uncomfortable. Victim advocates often can be requested to come into some of these spaces, if you’re holding an event or something that’s on campus sexual violence. They’re very busy, and they’re very under-resourced across the board, across the university. So you might not want to make a habit of bringing them into every discussion because that’s taking something away from survivors on the other end, but even to say, “Hey, for the last five minutes of class, we’re going to have a victim advocate come by and pass out some flyers and they’ll be here if you need to talk.” That’s something that a lot of them are very happy to do. And so we’re very, very lucky. We don’t have to do this on our own.

Rebecca: That’s a really good reminder, Nicole, for sure.

Nicole: It’s funny, right before this, I was working on my book manuscript and I was writing about how under-resourced victim advocates are. And one thing that was striking me is that they get kind of hidden away, that as much as faculty on a regular basis saying, “Hey, we want information about what to do,” very rarely do the victim advocates, especially without somebody there to, like, keep them in line, very rarely do we get to talk to them as faculty. We might get an email from them saying, “Hey, a student needs something,” and you’re very polite and professional back, one would hope. But we don’t actually think of them as experts on sexual violence who could come into our classroom or answer our questions, and they really are. And that actually is another thing you can do that every single one of us listening can do to support survivors on our campuses, every victim advocacy office in the country is under-resourced. And it’s not because universities lack the resources, but because there isn’t enough pressure to allocate them to victim advocacy. So something you could do now is say, “Hey, we really want another victim advocate, doesn’t matter how many you have, let’s add one more.” Or, “Let’s make sure that they have a space that works for them. Let’s make sure they’re in a place that’s comfortable that students can go to.” But think about ways that you can support the people who support victims.

Rebecca: So that’s a lot to think about.

Nicole: Yes. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: There’s a lot here. But we always wrap up by asking, what’s next?

Nicole: I hope that everybody goes and makes some changes to their syllabus, looks up some crisis lines and things like that in your local area to add. That’s a really simple thing you can do today and it does not take a lot of energy or effort. So at least do that. I also hope that everybody thinks about, okay, as I was listening to the podcast, some things were a little close to home, or maybe that could be useful and think about integrating it into your classes. So that’s obvious, thinking about, how can I change my first day activities? How can I prepare for discussions that go awry? things like that. If you’re looking for some more specific examples, there are a lot more in the article that I wrote too, so you can go take a look at that as the thing that’s next. And actually, the entire issue of Teaching Sociology that it came out in, is about teaching issues of sex and sexuality. So the whole thing is great, and you can read the whole thing. But in terms of supporting survivors themselves, I’m going to harp again, on that now is a really politically important moment to change the federal policy, to change the rules about how survivors are supported. And under the Trump administration, a lot of support for survivors were rolled back. And a lot of things happened that made it more difficult for people to support survivors in the way that they need. And so this is a really, really great time to, again, contact your representatives. Title IX is great. It’s what we have. And so it’s better than nothing to have the federal government coming in and saying, “We want you to take care of sexual assault survivors in this way.” But it’s not very specific. It’s a federal regulation so the guidance is more of recommendations rather than laws, it all gets adjudicated in the courts, it’s not a very strong piece of legislation, the way that it’s being enacted. So something that a lot of advocates are pushing for right now is to get Congress to pass a more comprehensive set of rules and regulations about how to protect survivors on campus. And that would be really nice because it can also sidestep some of these uncomfortable conversations that have come up in the past year, some things that the Trump administration did that were huge steps backward and are moving us in the wrong direction. So for example, you probably haven’t heard of this one, but under the Trump administration, there is a way for perpetrators of sexual assault to remove their confessions from evidence and Title IX cases. That is currently the regulation, even if a perpetrator has confessed to what they have done, there are ways for them to take that confession back. And so stuff like that is really difficult to walk around to some degree, the Biden administration could just say, “We’re not going to keep it,” but then the next president could put it right back in place. It’s very unstable and survivors are really depending on elections for support. So one thing you can do is go to your legislators and say, “It’s really past time to pass reforms for campus sexual assault, and here’s some organizations you should look to, like End Rape on Campus and Know Your IX.” Make some noise on your campus, go to your campus offices and say that you care. If you talk about this with other faculty, the more names that are on the petition saying that you want a space at the table that you want to change something specific, the better. And, yeah, it’s a reminder, a lot of the things that your school is doing and saying is the law, like mandatory reporting, is not the law. You don’t have to be on a campus that does mandatory reporting. It’s not required. And so if stuff like that bothers you, let your campus know.

Rebecca: Well, thank you, Nicole, for a really informative conversation. And I hope that many faculty start thinking about these things in a different way than they have in the past.

Nicole: Yeah, thank you for having me and I hope this was useful.


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.


200. Teaching for the Public Good

When designing a course, faculty and instructional designers often focus on the course as a discrete entity without considering its role in the institution and society. In this episode, Robin DeRosa joins us to discuss how our classes and institutions can help to support broader social objectives.  Robin is the Director of the Open Learning and Teaching Collaborative at Plymouth State University, Robin had long been an editor of Hybrid Pedagogy and is a co-founder of the Open Pedagogy Notebook. She has also published on a wide variety of topics related to higher education, including open pedagogy, remote learning, and value-centered instruction planning.

Show Notes


John: When designing a course, faculty and instructional designers often focus on the course as a discrete entity without considering its role in the institution and society. In this episode, we examine how our classes and institutions can help to support broader social objectives.


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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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


John: Our guest today is Robin DeRosa, the Director of the Open Learning and Teaching Collaborative at Plymouth State University. Robin had long been an editor of Hybrid Pedagogy and is a co-founder of the Open Pedagogy notebook. She has also published on a wide variety of topics related to higher education, including open pedagogy, remote learning, and value-centered instruction planning. Welcome back, Robin.

Robin: Thanks, you guys. I’m so happy to be here.

Rebecca: We’re excited to talk to you again.

John: The last time it was one of our early podcasts and it was in person and that was so much nicer. But we’re happy to see you here.

Robin: It was amazing too, because you guys have really fancy equipment, headphones, microphones. And I still periodically take out those photos of myself recording that podcast because I felt like such a big cheese.

Rebecca: We had such good time.

John: We’ve used that in several presentations, because we don’t have that many pictures of people doing it and it was because you suggested “Let’s get a photo.” You mean most people aren’t like, “Oh, take a picture of me with my fancy headphones on.” And shortly after that, if you remember when we recorded it, it was next to a cafe where there was a cart moving by that sounded like a train going by. And it was a blender, and it was a coffee grinder, and it was a toilet flushing. We moved to a new location, which was an old recording studio, shortly after that, which is really confined and crowded and cramped. So it wasn’t really the most conducive place to take photos. And for some reason, since March, we haven’t actually talked to anybody in person, including each other.

Robin: I wonder why. I, just, who knows?

Rebecca: It’s a weird thing, it’s just a weird thing. But today’s teas are…

Robin: My tea is a very standard and reliable honey chamomile. So if I do doze off in the middle of the podcast, it will be because I’m so relaxed from this very sleepy tea.

Rebecca: We all need a little relaxation these days.

Robin: That’s right.

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

Rebecca: Oh, a standard. I’ve got golden monkey today, because I was looking forward to talking to Robin. So, brought out the fancy stuff.

John: And that is her favorite tea for some of our most favorite guests.

Rebecca: So we invited you here today to talk a little bit about your recent article, “Never forget: your course is not only yours.” And in this article, you talk about course and curriculum development, often starting with course content or course structure without really the consideration of the larger role the course plays in the institution and the larger role the institution plays in society. So, can you first start by sharing the role institutions do play in doing the work of the public good?

Robin: Yeah, that’s a nut of a question because I feel like if we could do a better job in public higher ed, of answering that question, just even internally, we would be in a much stronger position to advocate for our needs in sustaining our institutions. So I’ve really been spending time recently trying to think about not taking the definition of an institution for granted and not thinking about it, I mean, certainly not now post COVID, as a collection of buildings. But what is the work of the institution? We know maybe what the work is of a course. What is exactly the work of an institution? Is it just to graduate and credential people? I think probably not. There’s cheaper and easier ways to get a credential, that’s for sure. So I’m really thinking that the way we understand publics, it’s hard to understand publics without thinking about institutions. Because you have to, in some ways, imagine a collective. A public has to have some kind of shape or structure to it. It’s different than just a mess or swarm of people. It’s got some kind of architecture. And the only way for me to imagine that is to think about public institutions. I think that is where our public’s in here. That’s what a public is. It’s the collection of public institutions that are created to serve. So if that’s the case, I think, as a public institution, I might think about something like public health care, for example. I think, “Okay, not only what do we need to serve the individual student, who we sometimes call the consumer now.” I was in a situation earlier where I heard somebody using that name interchangeably with students. And that is because we do think of college in many ways as a consumer good. Are you going to get your value out of college? And here’s the ROI that college will deliver through the college earnings premium, you’ll make 145% more money. And that’s all true, and it’s fine. But I’m interested in that other corollary question, which is, “What value do institutions deliver to publics beyond the individual consumers or students who attend?” It was interesting to me to think about this during a public health crisis because lots of colleges were involved in vaccinations. And then lots of colleges weren’t. The question to me about, like, “Does a college play a role in public health?” So we know from some of the economic research about colleges, that public colleges, and John, you were actually just sort of, I knew the body of literature you were citing offhand as we were chatting before the show, we’re talking about folks like Philip Trostel, and others who have done studies to kind of demonstrate the value of public institutions to the public good. And that includes things like public colleges delivering longevity, happier marriages, better cognitive functioning to children, regional wage increases whether or not a person goes to college. So I started thinking, like, we can talk about the value of public institutions. But how often do faculty and instructional designers think about any of those things when they’re on the ground doing their actual work? And could we get a more powerful amplification of these contributions we’re making to the public good if we actually design intentionally for that piece of the work? So we’re not just serving our students with their particular learning outcomes. But we’re trying to think about building a course on organic chemistry that also pays attention to these larger ways that the institution is serving, whether it be the region, the state, the nation, or globally. So it’s really a question of how we shift instructional design, to ask about institutional mission and incorporate that into design practices.

Rebecca: One of the ideas that you brought up in your article was this idea of sites of practice, which I really latched on to. Because it moved away from thinking about an institution as something that’s just completely not touchable to something that we help create and participate in and help evolve. So can you talk a little bit about what you mean by sites of practice?

Robin: Yeah, and Lord knows, I often feel like my own institution is untouchable, and I direct faculty development, so to a certain degree, I have a fairly significant administrative job. But I still often feel like it doesn’t matter what I do, the institution is a behemoth that is fully disconnected from anything I do on the ground. That may actually be the case. But I’m trying to think of a new model for defining institutions that come less from some nebulous stratosphere, or some board of trustees or administrative board. And instead, to think, this actually comes from some of my work in English in the early days with critical theory, and God knows, probably even some critical race theory. So feel free to just shut me down now, just cancel me right now. But I think that it’s in the practice, it’s in the being and the doing that we actually create the shape of who we are as an institution. And sometimes you can see this because you’ll, for example, look at some web PR, or hear a tour guide for your institution and realize, like, “Gosh, that really doesn’t, doesn’t seem to be what we really are.” So you can recognize that the thing you really are is a thing and you know it and you know it because you’re working in it. And I guess the hope I have is that, if we can get faculty and staff to talk more in a meta way, or intentionally, actually, about the practices that we’re using, and how we think they set the tone for who we are as an institution, that will be the institution, like it or not. Nobody has the power to make the institution what it isn’t. And so if through the work, if you can make the work visible, and you can talk about the work in intelligent ways, I think that does have the ability to shape what the institution is actually capable of. I think one of the larger problems, though, is like, except maybe in, like, committee work. In general, we don’t have these conversations as academics, and we’re very content focused, and we’re very focused on our majors, perhaps. And then I think staff have an even harder problem, which is they are generally really required to stay in their swim lanes, they don’t enjoy the freedom to ask questions about how their daily work and their tasks could be shifted to create a different shape. They’re just sort of told, “Here’s what needs to be accomplished.” And I think we’re really kind of failing to get the impact that we could be getting out of our public institutions by not letting faculty and staff have more conversations about how their daily work could do more for how the institution serves its publics.

John: What are some specific things that individual faculty members might be able to do to help shift the institution a little bit, sort of like shifting an ocean liner, perhaps, but shifting it in a direction that may be more positive? What are some individual tasks, perhaps, or individual activities that you can think of that faculty might be able to undertake?

Robin: Well, I think first, and this is some work that is really heavily influenced by my colleague, Martha Bertus. And then our colleagues, Sean Michael Morris, and Jesse Stommel, particularly Sean Michael Morris, who’s done a lot of writing recently about what he calls critical instructional design, which comes out of the world of critical digital pedagogy. But really, where they started in asking questions about how to rethink instructional design was to ask questions, instead of a sort of classic, say, backwards design model where you’re starting with learning outcomes and mapping those two activities, and then mapping those activities to assessments, and it’s all very predetermined. There’s a lot more co-learning happening, where students are welcomed into the process of learning design, and they’re encouraged to critically notice the learning environment that they are part of, so that when you talk about, “We teach our students learn how to learn,” it gives some teeth to that, because you’re making the learning process visible, you’re engaging them in conversations about the learning process. And that design just becomes something that you can now also discuss and focus on. So I think, similarly here, I’m suggesting that we take kind of a critical stance, and sometimes that word can be a little bit intimidating, but I think it really means intentional or thoughtful in this regard. So that instead of just jumping to your content, you’re instead asking questions about, “What kind of scholar do I want my students to emerge from this class like? What are the qualities of scholarship that I hope that they’re invested with?” It’s about asking, “What role you hope the work that they do in your course will do in the wider world? And therefore, what role you think the academy is playing?” Is it just job training for the future? Which is certainly one valid possibility. But they’re also, for example, if you teach, we have a very significant number of health majors. It’s a very popular field right now, especially in regional colleges and community colleges. We’re seeing lots of people interested in healthcare, because it’s a growing field. And there’s jobs and there’s need, but also to see that during a global pandemic, there’s lots of students interested in studying health. I think part of the question is, “Okay, what do we think the role is of a public university during a global pandemic? How should it be behaving? What messaging should it be putting out? How should it be related to public health messages?” Our local hospital was putting out lots of public health messages, they did a video every week. And I wondered, why wouldn’t that be the kind of thing that a university health program or nursing program wouldn’t also be involved in? So public health, I think, is a really interesting place to start. But we can think about other things that have been in the news lately, things like housing and food insecurity with social work majors or people who are studying economics, for example, or even studying nutrition. There are some very rich things going on in the world that historians can contribute to at the moment, if you have been watching the news. So I think one of the questions I have is, I’m concerned when I see our public institutions shrinking from those responsibilities to be leaders in opening public debate and amplifying public knowledge in issues that are really important for sustainable healthy communities. And right now, in New Hampshire, we’ve got legislation, it just became law, that says educators can no longer discuss divisive concepts in the classroom. And there are a whole series of examples that come out of this fear mongering around critical race theory. It took me at least three years of graduate school to be able to really explain critical race theory, like I’m pretty sure these people do not mean critical race theory when they say critical race theory. But I’m concerned about public institutions that aren’t stepping up to explain why that legislation is so problematic. So I guess what I’m interested in is, how can faculty and staff in their daily work, start moving the institution into more public relationships on issues the public clearly needs education about? And I don’t mean explaining to uneducated people what’s right, I mean, education in its best sense, which is informed debate, civil discourse, history, science, right. Like the kinds of things that we can bring into the marketplace of ideas and share. But I see now a shrinking of public institutions from those responsibilities, fear that legislators are going to rescind even more public funding if you get perceived as partisan or ideological and those things concern me. I think there’s a, just like public healthcare and public transportation have roles in societies, so do public institutions of higher education. But my question for most people now is, “What role does the public university in your town play?” I don’t know that people could tell you beyond, “Oh, that’s where kids go to college.” That’s important. But, “What else are you there for?” is the question I would ask.

John: Would a starting point be expanding community based service learning type activities, where students directly engage with some of the problems of the community by working with community members?

Robin: I think so. I think service learning is a great example of that. Service learning, of course, is like, you know, flawed and difficult for a whole bunch of reasons as well. But really, what in general, you’re getting out there, I think, is the idea of just a more porous boundary between the public and the academy. And in its best sense, a public academy would really be interested in not just educating the public, but educating the public for the public. So I get a little bit concerned when I see all of our interest being in how to create students who are more marketable for competing against each other for jobs. Like I get that, our students need jobs. I mean, many of my students are Pell-eligible poor students, and they, especially with the debt load they’re carrying in New Hampshire, highest in the nation, they need jobs after they graduate. But on the other hand, there’s other ways to be thinking about creating economically sustainable communities, besides just, “You will be better than everybody else in this field. And so you’ll kick their asses and get the job.” I’m thinking more about, “Can public institutions in areas also be creating programs and things that ultimately, like, are the jobs that the students are going to be inhabiting?” And it’s one of the reasons I like the community college model. An example of this, I think, is, I can’t remember what state it was, but they were allowing people to register to vote at their primary care physician’s office when they went in for their yearly physicals. So one of the questions they were asked is, “Are you registered to vote? No. Would you like us to do that for you right now, like, we can do it.” This idea of, like, integrated care for the public good creating voting citizens and make sure they’re healthy and that they’re educated and they have childcare. My dream of a true community college would be a place where all those services existed together. But those aren’t just like welfare, social services, right? These are social services that give back, there’s return. So I think there’s a lot more potential if institutions could, public institutions in particular, could say, “You know what, we’re okay saying that we have a stake in the public good.” Like, “We are okay saying, it’s on us to make this region/state stronger, healthier, economically viable, equitable.” Right now, I don’t know that I’m seeing our institutions take those positions, we’re very focused on individual consumer success.

Rebecca: Seems like one of the key pieces to that puzzle is treating the local community that you’re situated in, as an expert on the local community, so that there’s some contributions to the conversations and some seeds to what those conversations should even be. Rather than making those decisions and plopping them on to a community because that tends not to work. That’s why we have institutions on hills and things, right, and there’s that divide.

Robin: College on a hill. That’s exactly right. And obviously, none of what I’m saying here is new in terms of pedagogy, and to think about in terms of somebody like Freire, a sort of talking about the revolution cannot be taught by someone external to the revolutionary community. So you are growing things from inside. And I think that’s absolutely true. And I think a piece of that, that hit me with instructional design during COVID, particularly, is as people were moving remote and moving online, you’re seeing much more outsourcing to things like edtech products to assure quality and remote delivery, for example. And there are a million problems with this, for example, like lots of people will tell you that they don’t believe in for-profit, higher education. Even middle-of-the-road people will say, “Yeah, institutions should not be for profit, and they do scam students.” But we have no problem with massive for-profit industries, right in the center of our public institutions, right? And I’m talking about things like the textbook conglomerates, I’m talking about things like edtech corporations that run Canvas or whatever, I’m talking about our dining services ancillaries that keep our public institutions running. And I think we saw in times of crisis, a real falling into the pitch, that some external thing could save us. You can hire a consultant, like Huron, and pay them $700,000 and they’ll tell you what’s wrong with your institution. And you can get an OPM to manage your new online thing and that’ll be great. But I just don’t think this is how publics get built. You cannot serve the public good, unless the public is somehow in that sustainability loop. So it really is about building an institution that’s much more integrated with the world outside. The thing is, faculty are pretty good at this, like faculty now are starting to get really interested in this kind of work. They’re doing project-based work. They’re doing open education, they’re interested in connected learning. But we don’t talk about that institutionally. And we don’t necessarily integrate it with our strategic plans. We don’t necessarily have coherence from one class or section to another. My question is, we might need to start making sure faculty have the vocabulary and education to think more intentionally about what they’re doing in their classes, and how it really is affecting what their institution could be. And if they can talk to each other and we can develop some synergies around that I think we could potentially be, I’m still fairly cynical at this point because so many things are going in the wrong direction in public higher ed, but I do think we actually have the skill in our faculty, staff, particularly staff, I’ll say, but our designers, to do this work. But coordinating it is hard. And we throw a lot of bad ideas after bad ideas that keep us away from what I think is a pure mission, which is really to focus on how we work with students in our communities.

Rebecca: One of the things that we often think about is that power sits with administration. And you’re really talking about the idea that an institution is really about the work that’s being done and who’s doing it. And so we’ve talked a bit about faculty, but I’m wondering if we can talk a little bit about both staff and students and their role in creating an institution and also steering an institution. Students are actually a key to all of this. And it certainly has been woven into our conversation here, but not maybe pulled out explicitly. But we often don’t think of that because we think of them as being consumers, or that’s how the conversation goes, rather than they are the community that we’re hoping to serve, because they’re the ones that bring the community forward. They are the ones who will be leading our community.

Robin: And we so undo ourselves by basically training students into a compliance model, which is so much of K12, and higher education. And so when you do open up learning opportunities that are really co-developed with students, or that are very learner driven, you do get pushback from students who are like, “That’s not what I’m paying you for, I’m paying for you to teach me something and I need to get a job.” And I understand that, like, what other response would there be given how we’ve set up the system? But I think that that’s not about blaming students, that’s about understanding. We get what we paid for, so to speak. We designed that. And that’s a designed response. And so it’s going to take some intentional design to create a students-as-partners model. Five years ago, or whatever, we’d say, “Oh, I’m so student-centered.” And we would mean like, “We have class discussion, right? I don’t just lecture the whole time.” I think now we’ve graduated past that where people understand running a classroom where students have agency to speak and ask critical questions and stuff. But now it’s probably time, at least in some of their classes, to say, “You really need to learn to curate materials, you can’t just study what I give you, you also have to learn to figure out what we need to study to get where we need to go.” I also believe that if I’m trying to diversify my curriculum, part of the way I need to do that is to understand that new voices and new perspectives are going to have more to offer than I can offer all on my own so I’m going to need to involve those students. So we need to start thinking about our instructional design as a way of creating the kinds of citizens/members of the knowledge commons that we hope will take our culture to its next iteration. And I think we’re, lots of teaching and learning centers are really good now at helping people figure out activities. I mean, this is kind of what we built open pedagogy.org for, it’s really a website about activities that see students as contributors to the knowledge commons, not just consumers. Staff is another question. I actually think we’re further behind on staff than we are with students because again, that kind of student-centered thing propelled us into the beginnings of some of those critical questions about students and their agency and learner-centered classrooms. But staff, I think, we do a pretty lousy job of understanding the role that staff play in academia. And I don’t just mean in, like, the university operations, but I mean in, like, building a world of knowledge, I just think we could do a lot more. So for example, in the office that I run now, and it makes it sound like such a busy center, there’s four of us, I should specify, we could easily have 40 of us, and it would be amazing. But the four people are here, we have very different jobs. And this sort of faculty development director, someone else directs the student major that lives in our program. Another person is basically a lead instructional designer, and somebody else is more of an administrative assistant and advisor. We are all cross trained on every piece of that puzzle. Every single one of us participates in teaching, like actually teaching, we all do advising, we all do some admin, we all know every aspect. And it doesn’t mean we don’t have our expertise and we definitely have our jobs. But we talked so much about treating the student holistically, but we still really insist on staff staying in their place. I know that sounds awful but I really think that’s how many staff are treated. I don’t think you can have a holistic approach to students without relaxing the boundaries between people, especially people in team-based settings. So I think faculty have contributed to kind of rarifying the academic space a little bit. And I just don’t think, as somebody who comes out of interdisciplinary studies, we’re very interested in transdisciplinarity, the outside world does not have disciplines, right, they just have things. And I think staff can really help us translate some of the academic work of the academy, because staff work often looks more like the community work that we’re doing outside of the college. So there’s some really rich opportunities there to merge teaching with staff operations, and get students partnering more with staff, and staff working more on projects, and staff helping more in classrooms, and faculty, for God’s sake, understanding more about financial aid, for example, the Bursar’s office, the Registrar, it’s just a win-win. So I think a lot of what I’m talking about when I’m trying to think about instructional design is just, let’s be more intentional about designing an integrated university, wherever you are. So if what you do is make courses, it’s time to think about how your course functions with the student life office and the diversity and equity office and the food pantry. And the same thing for staff to be invited in, I think, to those academic experiences.

Rebecca: One of the things that struck me about the subtitle of your article, “The course is not only yours,” is part of what we’ve been talking about is this bigger kind of public knowledge, which is completely tied to all our earlier work about OER’s and open pedagogy. And I was just hoping you might talk a little bit about how those ideas of access tied to this bigger idea that you’re describing here.

Robin: When I first started my work in Open, I was obviously interested in the access issues about the high cost of textbooks and the really significant social justice issue that inheres in what seems like a really stupid issue. But I moved from that to being much more interested in the pedagogy just because I was teaching English and having after 15, 20 years in the classroom, having amazing experiences once I started working with students on creating learning materials and doing non-disposable assignments, and it just really energized students to work more authentically. But I think the next phase of my development at Open was really about thinking like, “Okay, so what about this is public work?” Because there’s a difference, I think, between open and public, and I think open is kind of a neutral word in the sense that I don’t know that it’s always good. I mean, I definitely know it’s not always good. I always think, open is not the opposite of private, private things can be great. And sometimes open things can be really abusive. Tara Robertson has written about this. And it really was like an epiphany for me when I read her piece on this, but it was about a lesbian, and maybe this is, like, not good for your G-rated podcast, so you could edit me out, but a lesbian porn magazine from the whatever 70’s, I think 80’s, called On Our Backs, and it was a print magazine, very feminist magazine. For very obvious reasons, women’s studies scholars are really interested in that work, and they digitized the collection and made it open. What’s interesting, though, is a lot of those women are alive and they were taking those photographs for a very select group of subscribers in a print journal. And there’s some really interesting questions I think about power and consent and what it means. And obviously there’s scholarly value to having those resources open, I don’t dispute that. But I would not argue that it’s a particularly feminist move or a move with social justice at its core. It’s not enough to just make things free and open all the time, we have to really think about what makes our public life healthier for all of us, and I don’t mean physically healthier, but better for all of us. And when I think about better, I think I’ve kind of landed mostly on the question of equity. Because it’s not really about incredible quality of life for certain people, it’s really about, how can we get the best outcomes for the widest and most diverse group of people? And for that, you can’t just think about openly licensing materials, you have to think about the values that are pushing you and you have to think about what the role is of the institution that you’re working in. And that became my next iteration. I still think open pedagogy and OER and open licenses are really big tools for doing a lot of this work, but I think the work is bigger.

John: So it involves taking, not just creating things for public consumption, but creating things that actually are useful for society as a whole. Would that be a good way of thinking about it?

Robin: I think so. My friend, Jim Grimm is an economist, and he describes it in a way that I find very, very helpful. He’s talking about a concept that you probably know the tragedy of the commons, and the sort of debunked idea at this point that you can never have common pool resources, because the second you open the pasture for anybody to graze, it’s going to get overgrazed and destroyed by the richest guy with the biggest cows or whatever, and then you’re done. So don’t even try. But Jim’s point is that commons is not a set of resources. A commons is not a meadow, it’s not a place. The way he says it is that the commons is a verb. It’s a series of agreements that people make about decisions that they’re going to make collectively, in order to get outcomes that work for everybody. I would say that verb, the verb of commons-ing is what we should do in public institutions. That’s the place for that kind of verbing, where we don’t overgraze our meadows, just because that guy’s going to get a good job out of it. We’re thinking more broadly about preserving an ecosystem where we can continue to learn and grow and increase our quality of life. So the idea of commons being a verb has been very helpful to me in moving from the focus in OER, the artifacts, to focusing instead on the practices that, and the collaborations that, keep us working together in sync.

Rebecca: Speaking of tools, we just talked about OER and open licensing as a tool to do some of this work. You’ve also worked on the ACE framework, that also seems like a really important tool for this work. Can you talk just a little bit about that and introduce folks to that tool?

Robin: Yeah, the ACE framework was sort of the first step that Martha and I took into rethinking instructional design. And it was a COVID designed tool, but more broadly than COVID, it’s really for teaching during a time of crisis. So I’ve talked about ACE, sometimes with faculty in California who are dealing with wildfires that have displaced their whole student body from working on campus, for example, or other issues like that. So I think it’s kind of adaptable. But ACE stands for adaptability, connection, and equity. And basically, we designed it to suggest that during a highly misnamed COVID pivot, which makes it sound like it was so delicate and beautiful when we all pirouetted into remote learning…

Rebecca: …and there were definitely jazz hands involved.

Robin: Oh, yeah. Meanwhile, authentically, people were dying, and people’s families were not having enough to eat, just, really. So what we wanted to do was to say, okay, it’s not going to be about Zoom. If this is about Zoom, it is really impossible to imagine that you would not completely alienate your student body. So we designed a framework to basically say, of course, you’re going to probably use some Zoom, and we will definitely support you in learning whatever new tools and technologies you need. But before that, let’s think intentionally about the realities that our students are going to be encountering, and the realities that we are going to be encountering, as we teach.

Rebecca: Yeah!

Robin: Exactly. With our babies on our laps, and whatever else, Rebecca. So the key to the ACE is really that very idea. It has practices, lots of practices, we get very concrete and specific, you know, we’re not just like, “You should care about people,” like, they’ll tell you what to try and how to do it. And it has activities and it has examples, but it’s really saying, start with your values. Start with a framework. Don’t just jump to the tech tool as particularly one that’s sold to you by a for profit company that’s going to give it to you for free for a year, so that you will build up a dependence on it and need it later. Like, there’s nefarious stuff going on. Let’s start by asking, “What do your students need during this time of crisis? What do your courses need in order to adapt?” And then we’ll figure out that other stuff once we’ve asked using our expertise as humans and faculty, not just listening to vendors, and then we can make better decisions. And that pivot had to happen so quickly that it was an obvious pitfall that we were just going to take the first thing that was put in front of us, and that that was going to be considered a solution. The reality is there was going to be no solution to teaching and learning during COVID. So you better have a robust framework, so that you can keep coping for the 18 months that you’re going to be doing this. And let’s hope it’s not, you know, another 18 months.

Rebecca: And there will continue to be crises that follow us. It’s not the same, but we have students who have been traumatized, we have faculty and staff who have been traumatized.

Robin: And so many students who had the worst parts of COVID, especially where I was, a quarter of our students got COVID at Plymouth State. But we didn’t have a ton of illness but we had huge economic fallout, poverty immediately in much of our student body. But what I heard from my most vulnerable students was, “Yeah, this is bad, but it’s been this bad for a long time, I actually feel better, because now people are paying attention. The fact that people care now that I can’t afford my meals, the fact that people see that I don’t have Wifi at home, the fact that you’re thinking about how to loan me a laptop.” So I think the wake up call was really less for the people who are suffering the worst and it was more for the people who had been lucky enough not to be suffering all along.

John: And to be able to ignore the suffering that was going on because it was hidden on our institutions.

Robin: Exactly. And to think, “Hey, I’m an early americanist, it’s not really my gig, housing insecurity is not really my gig.” You know what? It is your gig because 10% of your class is housing insecure, or even homeless right now. So how do you expect them to care about the Haitian Revolution or whatever? So there’s no silver lining to COVID. But it was a helpful wake up call. And I think most people who use the ACE framework both at Plymouth State and in other places, by the time they really had engaged with the framework, they realized, “Oh, yeah, I mean, this is for COVID, but it’s also for anybody who might teach human beings.” Because human beings tend to have challenges and traumas, you’re not going to go through 18 years of schooling, and not have significant challenges and traumas somewhere along the way, almost everybody. So I think it’s good if we build that into how we approach our design.

Rebecca: Although there’s still a lot of challenges, I still feel very hopeful. And I think a lot of the things that you’ve been talking about Robin, although maybe come out of some frustration, I think are a hopeful look at the way that the future can be and the way that we can all contribute to that.

Robin: We had a pretty rich last three weeks in faculty development at Plymouth, we’re running a bunch of different cohorts. And, I mean, I come out of these things and I’m like, “These people are amazing!” We have a staff learning community, and then a mixed faculty and staff learning community. And we, just like you guys, we have a beautiful, beautiful campus, and our students are fantastic. So there isn’t anything here that shouldn’t be working. It’s the same thing we were talking about earlier too. The return on investment and public higher ed, like it’s a no brainer. So it makes it more frustrating, on the one hand, because you do see how much potential there is. But on the other hand, it doesn’t seem like a pipe dream. Just like it doesn’t seem like a pipe dream to vaccinate with a vaccine that’s almost 100% effective. Like, “Hey, guys, you really could make this go away if you wanted to.” So there’s a lot of political will that we’ve got to work on. But the tools are within our reach for sure.

John: So we always end with the question, what’s next?

Robin: So two things are next. The first is I’m going to take a vacation to Monhegan Island, and it’s an island off the coast of Maine and my favorite place on earth. And I had to learn how to put my vacation days requests into the online system that we have. I had never done it before. Even though I’ve had this job for two and a half years. So I was like okay, that’s a sign I need a vacation. So the next thing that’s happening is a break. And I do just want to say to all my colleagues, like, you’ve got to find some rest, because I’ve never seen people pushed to the breaking point like we all have been over the last bunch of months. I’m thankful for my dogs during the pandemic. I have one on my lap right now and she just woke up for the tail end of the podcast so what great timing. But I think after that my interest is probably in working on a new initiative with Martha, she’s calling it now is really in some ways her baby, but it’s called Design Forward. We’re working on it in relationship with John and Jesse and some of the hybrid ped folks. And we’re really interested in seeing where critical instructional design could go in terms of, I think, building a more hopeful and sustainable vision for the future of higher ed. So we’re going to be working on that, particularly internally at Plymouth State but I think maybe some of these partnerships with the hybrid ped folks will allow us to do some nice sharing more broadly as well, with those materials that we’re working on.

Rebecca: Enjoy your rest, well deserved rest.

Robin: Thank you. I definitely intend to even though I have to leave my dogs at home, which just seems terrible. But other than that, I’m really looking forward to it.

Rebecca: We’ll be looking forward to seeing your next adventure come out as it starts being shared out as well.

John: Thank you. It’s always great talking to you. And you’ve inspired a lot of us to try a lot of new things with open education, open pedagogy, and so much more.

Robin: Well, thanks for having me and a shout out to, not just you guys, but really all my SUNY friends because there’s many of your campuses that have been partners with me in a lot of the work especially in OER, so it’s great to see you guys


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.


199. Revisiting Diverse Classrooms

As diversity and inclusion initiatives mature, evaluation and improvement are prioritized. In this episode, Melina Ivanchikova and Matt Ouelett join us to discuss how one such program has evolved. Matt is the Founding Executive Director at Cornell University’s Center for Teaching Innovation. Melina is the Associate Director for inclusive Teaching in the Center. They developed Cornell’s EdX MOOC on Teaching and Learning in the Diverse Classroom.



As diversity and inclusion initiatives mature, evaluation and improvement are prioritized. In this episode, we discuss how one such program has evolved.


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

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

…and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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


Our guests today are Melina Ivanchikova and Matt Ouelett. Matt is the Founding Executive Director at Cornell University’s Center for Teaching Innovation. Melina is the Associate Director for inclusive Teaching in the center. Welcome back.

Thank you. Delighted to join you again.

It’s great to be here.

It’s good to talk to you again. This is overdue. We had planned to talk to you after we had taken a group of people through the Inclusive Teaching MOOC that we’ll be talking about, and then this pandemic intervened, and we didn’t quite get to that. So I’m glad we’re finally able to schedule this. Our teas today are:

I’m personally not drinking anything right now. But if I was, I’d be drinking something in the family of Earl Grey. I like a black tea.

It’s definitely the Earl Grey time of day,.I’m just drinking water, because of the heat.

90 degree weather.

I want to hold up a tea that Matt occasionally brings for us at staff meetings, which is a gift. You put this little bulb into hot water and it opens up slowly into a flower and has this beautiful aroma to it, and everybody delights in it. So it just causes this moment of group joy. But Matt will know what the name of that tea is.

It’s a green tea, I think it’s sometimes referred to as a lotus bloom. So, thank you, Melina, that’s really kind of you to mention that.

And I have sa easonally inappropriate Christmas tea. [LAUGHTER]

That sounds good.

I was looking for a little spice.

Spices are cooling.

I also have a seasonally inappropriate spring cherry green tea.

They both sound delicious.

MELIN: I wish we could be in the same room together.

and tea testing. [LAUGHTER]


We have all the teas. [LAUGHTER]

In our conference room, we have hundreds of teas. If you’re ever up on campus, we’re happy to share some with you. In an earlier podcast, we talked to you about the Teaching and Learning in the Diverse Classroom MOOC that you were developing at Cornell and were to release shortly. We had agreed to discuss this after we had a cohort of our faculty go through it. But we had a few other things intervene, including a global pandemic, and we’ve actually had three cohorts go through it. And we’d like to talk to you about the MOOC, and, in general, how it’s gone and where it’s going. But because it’s been a while since we’ve talked about this, could you provide a little bit of background on the origin of this MOOC?

in 2017, when the Center for Teaching innovation was first formed, we were trying to discern strategic projects that were of interest to our selves, but also serve the common good sort of attach themselves to initiatives that were campus wide. And Melina and I gained the support of senior academic leaders to do a course for faculty on campus related to teaching inclusively. So initially, the genesis of this idea was a professional faculty development experience on campus. And then the more that we got sort of embedded in the project, it became really clear to us that it could also answer another strong desire that we had, which was to contribute something broader, something that other institutions could take advantage of, as well. So that’s where the genesis of the idea have moved from an on campus resource to something on a platform like EdX. They’ve been great colleagues, and really wonderful to work with. But it galvanized us, I think, to think both more broadly, but also more specifically, and by more broadly, I mean, we were trying to think about what in the US context stands up to an international conversation around social justice, equity and diversity, and what is uniquely American, and also, for u,s what was uniquely Cornell’s context versus what might have resonance more broadly. So the process of putting it together was really driven locally. But our eye was always on trying to deliver something that might be of use to our colleagues more broadly. Melina, does that resonate for you?

Yes, I think we were doing our best at the beginning, floating ideas, and pleasantly surprised when we got the confirmation from our senior leadership. They really thought it would be a good way, and a different way to provide an opportunity for people to engage with this kind of a course, either in groups together or asynchronously by oneself to have a private learning experience. But what appealed was an online asynchronous experience, that wasn’t going to be hours and hours. Early on, we had a lot of conversations about how to keep this to four or five weeks, something reasonable, for professional busy people.

That length was one of the things I really appreciated about it in that it was a really nice concise, but very specific and detailed, all at the same time. So it really felt manageable. I know we had like three cohorts go through on our campus and I was unable to follow along during the first ones but I was following along right when the pandemic hit and found taking the course at that particular moment really poignant.

This was our experience on our campus too. I’ll be just very honest with you and say I felt honor would be served if Melina and I offered the course one time on campus and we had anybody take at it. It’s sort of like we delivered and after that it’s sort of up to the universe to find footing. But we have consistently had really excellent participation on campus. And I’ll let Melina speak more to the facts and figures. But even this spring, we’re literally just now completing a spring version of it on campus. And we’ve had a really lovely distribution between faculty, graduate students and staff… almost a third, a third, a third, again, and the interest doesn’t seem to be diminishing. And so, Rebecca, I can’t wait to hear more from you and John about what your experiences were with your cohorts. Because part of the joy of doing this is hearing back from campuses. Did it help? Did it galvanize and help facilitate some conversations that were context specific? And we really hope that we could provide the general introductory sort of framework, provide some useful resources in terms of exercises, but then really trust the process would unfold at a campus level in the way that it needed to. So that’s not a rhetorical question, I would love to hear more.

To be honest, I was really hoping we could turn the conversation there, too. I really wanted to hear how your local learning communities went three is a significant number.

It’s fantastic. Yeah, that’s serious dedication, and a sign of positive response. So we’d love to hear more.

Each time, I think, we had between 30 and 45 people attending, somewhere in that range. They were mostly faculty, but we did have a few administrators. And one thing that was really effective is one of the faculty members, in the third iteration of that, brought in a couple of her students. And that made it much more powerful. Because while the stories that are provided in the MOOC, in the videos from Cornell students and Cornell faculty are very well done and very moving, when a student gets up and talks about their own experiences and the challenges they face, as a local example of that it’s even more powerful. A number of people signed up for it on their own. But most of the people actually met every week, where we provided three or four times to let people come in at times that were convenient. We’d watch most or all of the videos, and then we discuss each of them. Sometimes we didn’t get through all of them, because the discussions went for a long time. Other times, we were able to get through most of them, and then people did the rest of the work on their own outside. But the discussions were really effective. And having people talk about it in person worked really well. And I think it helped ensure that everyone finished the MOOC, or that nearly everyone finished the MOOC. I know we had some people who didn’t do all the written work, but they at least attended most or all the sessions. And for us, at least, I think having the weekly meeting served as a nice commitment device, which tended to help maintain persistence. And it worked really well. And people have been asking about when we’re going to take another cohort through. And we’ll be planning to do that this fall. I think overall it was a tremendous success on campus. And we did have a few administrators attend, but not quite as many as you received. And we did have some staff members too. But it was mostly faculty.

I think it was a really nice complement to some of the other work that we had already started doing, but just didn’t have the capacity to roll out the equivalent of that course on our own. And so it was really, really helpful to us. We had done a couple of reading groups related to racism previous to that. We have a really robust accessibility program on our campus and have been doing a lot of professional development around disability and accessibility. And so leveling up to inclusive pedagogy is really where we wanted to be going. [LAUGHTER] And this was a really nice structured way for us to get there. So we’ve been really thrilled with how many people have participated. And I think it really informed a lot of the work that folks did over the past year during the pandemic as well, people became really aware of some of the inequities that weren’t as visible previously.

Thank you so much for sharing some details. It’s delightful, even just to picture briefly how you chose to facilitate those and the responses. I love the searching for authentic stories from your own campus, with having students present. That seems really exciting. This might be a good time to mention a couple of things. One is that we made the decision in January to move from a instructor-paced model to having it be a self-paced model, which means now that the course is open all year round. And the reason for that was to give campuses and facilitators more flexibility to run the course on the schedule that worked for them, because we kept trying to guess and get it right, but sometimes we’d get right in the middle of the busiest part of the semester, which some people loved but other people… it didn’t work so well for them. So I think that’s a good decision. We started to wonder more about how are people facilitating the course we’re doing and trying to reach out to them and have conversations or looking for a little bit of feedback, even informally, just like this, to see how things were going. So, we heard similar things from a few others like they got inspired to look for the stories that were from their own community, in their own students. And there’s many places to look for stories like that: the student newspapers, conversations with faculty, as you’ve described,

I love your strategy of a faculty member bringing their own students and that there’s no substitute for that. So I love that…that’s a great idea. Can I say too, Melina, this is a little bit of the inside part. But it was a big moment for us to let go of the instructor-led version of the MOOC and partially, we just needed to have a reassurance that we had done a good job, that the quality of the work was substantial enough that it could just sort of go forth. And we were always confident that our colleagues could facilitate it well. I think, John and Rebecca, it’s such a compliment to your on campus facilitation, because we know the number one thing here is not the advertising, it’s word of mouth. And if colleagues are saying to their friends and associates, “Oh, yeah, it wasn’t a terrible thing, you know, it was an okay use of my time” …then we know that’s so much more persuasive than any kind of blitz you could do through email or anything else. And if you’re continuing to get this large group, and that’s a significant proportion of your faculty continuing to find this a good use of their time, then Melina, we can take a deep breath now. We can sort of say, “It’s okay, we let our baby go out into the world, and it’s gonna be okay.”

But last year was a very unique year. So we had a giant boost. As soon as the pandemic started, people enrolled in the course. We decided to run the course again, earlier than we had planned in response to the street movement and fighting for racial justice. And we had a giant leap in attendance here at Cornell as a result of that. And then we run another learning community series in October. And then Matt mentioned, we ran one in the spring too. We do have some fun things to report out on in terms of patterns of what people are saying about what they’re learning. We have a pre-post survey that gives us a sense of how people feel at the beginning, and then matches to their experience of how they feel at the end. And so I was surprised by the things that floated to the top. So I can share what the top four things were. The number one thing that they moved the most on… so this was things that they’ve collectively they move the most on… So the first one was, “I’m aware of campus resources to support colleagues and students in sustaining inclusive learning environments.” I don’t know why that one’s surprised me. But I think even though our course is sort of the Cornell example, most college campuses in the US have all sorts of support and offices in place. And so this might have been the place where they finally got to hear the list of all the different offices that support student learning and accessibility. The second one was “I feel prepared to address controversial comments that may arise in class.” But that was one worry that we had initially, was that an asynchronous online course would never take the place of a face-to-face learning experience. This shows me and Matt’s bias also, because we’ve been strongly face-to-face instructors for most of our teaching careers. So we had to learn, ourselves, how to be online instructors, and what that meant… how to have a stronger presence in the course itself. So between our pilot version of the course and the second iteration, we added more videos of ourselves. And so we were very gratified by seeing this number of people feel more competent around this. The other one is “I’m informed about specific strategies for creating more inclusive classrooms.” And the fourth one is “I feel confident I can evaluate my course structure and materials for inclusivity.” So that’s where things are trending very strongly. We’re hoping to publish some findings pretty soon about that. And then the other response that we hear over and over again, is how moving the videos were, which to me is personally gratifying, because from the moment when I was a little girl, my father used to read to me every night before bed and, tried and true, I do the same with my kids. Stories were just my way into learning about the world and continue to be so. So it’s just the thing that moves us, our emotions, it’s the thing that makes us open to caring about systemic change, because the door opens to us through individuals… the stories and experiences of discrimination. When we share in community about our own experiences of discrimination and bias, and even our own mistakes that we’ve made with others. I think that kind of learning is so powerful. And so I think that we were able, through the videos, to lift that experience of storytelling,

The narratives in there are extremely powerful, and people reacted really positively to them.

…especially because there were such a wide variety of disciplines reflected, which I think is really important and sometimes can be challenging for an individual campus to do a small workshop series or something and get that broad of representation at each little event. You might have representation throughout a whole semester or a whole academic year, but maybe difficult to have that much representation in a single sitting of something

Absolutely. Even like the tried and true method of a panel, It doesn’t really necessarily lend itself for people to really do a deep dive or really share. The other thing that I’ve come to appreciate even more deeply is the power of getting out ahead of a crisis and providing an opportunity for folks to just talk, to grapple with ideas, provide them some frameworks. They may not like Melina and I had this very interesting conversation with one of our colleagues who was going through the reading list saying, “too aggressive,” “not deep enough,” and was just sort of a typical faculty critique of the reading list. I was like, “Super engaged, I love it.” Absolutely. Bring it on. I’m not changing any of the readings, but I loved having that conversation, because I thought, that’s someone who’s really gotten engaged and is trying to figure out how to apply this in the context of her work and her discipline and her students. And for me, that’s the best that it gets. But it is this capacity building or resilience building. So all of your cohorts, all those folks who sat together, that’s a transformative human experience. It sort of harkens back to the sitting around the campfire. They’ve had this moment together that… I don’t know when or how, but I’m positive it will do good. It will do good for the campus. And it will do good for students. And nothing else, like Melina was suggesting, it gives you a small cohort of colleagues to rely on and to say, “I’m not really sure about this, what do you think? What would you do in this situation?” And the other thing that we came to learn, which I have to say, Melina and I were both very slow to want to do anything online. But we also were very suspicious of lurkers. And we were sort of like, “Well, where are these people? They’ve signed up, but they’re here, but they’re not posting anything in the discussion board. But I’ve now come to really embrace lurking as a form of learning. I’m not dismissive of it at all. I think some people want to be in the conversation. They’re taking it in, they’re absorbing it, but they just don’t feel like they have a lot they want to say yet. Or someone else has already said it, or they’re waiting to see what other people have to say. So Melina and I have, a number of times, come back around to this conversation about what does it mean to really be engaged. And I think our growth edge, our learning, has been to really expand that definition of what it means to be engaged. So if you sign up for the course, but you never log in, that’s not engaged, that’s wishful thinking. But if you sign in and you tap through any of the videos, or even look at the resources, like I had to smile when you said your colleague maybe didn’t do all of the writing. Not a problem. What we’re finding is that people will circle back around. Like we’ve had a number of people who’ve taken the course twice. I think that’s a phenomenal commitment on a faculty member’s part, I mean, just given how stretched everybody is for time.

Yeah, I have a faculty member who emailed me today saying I can’t wait for next spring, when will offer learning community opportunities again, so that I can take it for the third time. [LAUGHTER] And she was trying to remember where she could find the references to active learning strategies. So I’m like, “those are in Module Three.” “Oh, great.” That’s what she was really looking for. There was a new faculty member at the University of Pittsburgh who contacted me what seems like ages ago, it turns out, it was only last December, but it feels like three years ago, and she wanted to talk about how we made the videos because she wanted to make videos on her own campus. And so that was really inspiring. And she recently reached out again, and I met with her this morning, and she’s gotten all her academic leadership on board, they’re going to make their own asynchronous class, they have a video team in place to make it. This is inspiring, because our action plans are always inspiring. And sometimes a person’s action plan is this is a draft of my syllabus diversity statement, or this is my plan for TAs or graduate students. Sometimes they’re thinking of a plan that will be years down the road, or they’re thinking how to bring in diversified speakers. All of those are strategies that we took all of the action plans that people had submitted locally and made word clouds with them, and the word student is the thing. It just stood out as the most giant thing. And so I thought, wow, this is telling me that student centered learning strategies are the thing that people are walking away with. It was a litmus test, but this person took it over and above. And so I just thought, it’s a ripple effect. It’s her project. And she’ll go on to inspire others. We’ve had people come back and say, “Can you do one for librarians? Can you do one for teaching graduate students? Can you do one for the law profession or medical profession?” She’s making one that’s anchored in the medical profession. So I just celebrated her and said, “I hope you can make it a MOOC and not just for your own campus.” Maybe the same thing will happen to them that happened to us, which is they’ll start small and then dive out.

It’s amazing how projects sometimes balloon like that.[LAUGHTER] Like, wow, that’s not quite what I had in mind and now I have this giant thing that I’m doing. We’re glad that it happened. I wanted to comment a little bit, Matt, on lurking. As a lurker, I thought I might just confess, like what lurkers do. So I followed along twice, the first time I was an active lurker, in part because I was doing a lot of self reflection, and I didn’t want to communicate with other people while I was processing. I had to have some of that time and space to process for myself and how that related to other diversity, equity and inclusion things that I was engaged in, and so that I could then articulate to other people how that fit in with what I was doing, because I needed that time and space to process. And then the second time, I was an active, engaged participant, but I definitely lurked the first time and it was really to have that self-reflection time.

I’m so glad you did. You have to do that. Otherwise, the tension between making ourselves vulnerable and protecting ourselves can be immobilizing. I’m delighted to hear that. I actually think, Milena, that might be something interesting. We figured out early on that people needed us to normalize posting to a discussion list is not academic writing, just post your thought and let things evolve. And we sort of struggled with that and figured out some language on that. But now I’m wondering… Rebecca, do you think it would be helpful if we posted a little something about the benefit of being a lurker, to just sort of normalize that and say, “This is really emotional, and it’s deep And maybe you just want to slide through and focus on yourself, and that’s perfectly fine.”

Yeah, maybe we don’t call it lurking. But really, it’s more like a journaling


Like a self reflection kind of activity. Like I did a lot of the activities a first time just kind of in my notebook and was thinking through things.

See, I think you’ve put your finger on one of the attributes of life in academia and higher ed that stymies this kind of work, which is we leap to action, and we don’t provide enough opportunity for ourselves to just do the kind of internal work we need to to feel some sense of groundedness. What do I think? What have my experiences been? What has worked for me and what am I still working on? …kind of things. And to be quite honest, you would have been my favorite student. If that was what you got in round one, I would have been totally happy, but moving it into the campus or into a discussion with your colleagues. That for me is icing on the cake, because you as a teacher will be transformed by that, where you’ll never approach any of this stuff the same way again.

I have a friend who’s an internet scholar, so she actually researches lurking. I read a draft of an article that she wrote where she actually talked about the importance of lurking for learning about different others… like basically, it was making an argument that lurking is a really good way to learn how to be an ally, to learn about groups that you’re not a member of, to learn what new vocabulary is out there, in terms of how to talk about certain topics. I know, there’s a lot of anxiety about offending people and getting the terms right. And I’m at the point now where I’m likely to make mistakes, because things have changed enough within my own lifetime that the vocabulary is constantly really being updated. I think that anything we can do to reduce anxiety and help people feel more connected to each other, to the course, to have opportunities to just reflect on their own experiences. And you’re not the only one who engaged with the course that way, Rebecca. The woman I talked to this morning did the same. She posted, but she would only post at the end of reading every other person’s reflections. And I’ll say, just in case somebody goes to the course and says, “Well, where are the discussion boards?” …that was one of the things that we ended up giving up in moving to the self-paced modality. And that’s because we couldn’t staff moderators 24/7. Before we were able to have a robust and temporary staff in place that would help us moderate the discussion boards. We just know that sometimes there are bad actors who aren’t there for learning. We never had trouble in our discussion boards, they were lovely, so that was such a difficult decision to make. But we revised the guide that we wrote for facilitators to just encourage thinking about and talking about alternative means to supplement those, whether it’s a closed Facebook group or a discussion board in Canvas, or leaving extra time during the face-to-face opportunities. But it sounds like, in your structure, your face-to-face opportunities are giving people plenty of opportunity for discussion.

Can you talk a little bit about how you facilitated at Cornell?

Sure, I’d be delighted to. It’s complicated because it’s not the same every time. So just to give you a sense, I co-facilitated with another staff member from our center, we did a faculty interdisciplinary learning community, same person with addition two other staff, one person from the graduate school. We did the one for graduate students and postdocs together with a slightly different curriculum. I partnered with a faculty member from the school for integrative Plant Sciences and we anchored that one in the department this last time. This is like the story of my life. I used to team teach as a community college professor, but I was the one that had to be the team teacher with everybody. So every year I had two or three new teaching partners for the same course. So I’d be basically begging them to use my course syllabus so that we could have a little bit of sanity for me. So I love this because people have different facilitation styles, they bring different skills to the table. So it’s very inspiring, and they’re very different. So the interdisciplinary faculty cohort is one kind of experience. The faculty there basically love hearing about similarities and differences, like they’re so relieved to find colleagues who care just as much as they do about inclusion. And they’re delighted to hear about strategies that maybe they can try and they’re also relieved to share the knotty points of difficulty that others may not be facing that are discipline specific to them. And then, in the cohorts that we’ve led that are anchored in the department, those conversations are just as rich because you can focus on things that are important to that group. So in the School For Integrative Plant Sciences, we asked the chair to provide a scenario for a difficult conversation so that we could have a little practice around that. And they’re remodeling their entranceway. So they’re having these discussions about how to portray their discipline. And so the argument is about the history of the discipline and all the white male people versus wanting to diversify the discipline nowadays and what they want to do. So we had a pretty amazing sort of hot topics dialogue that I think left them feeling more empowered and more ready. And the person who’s actually truly leading that initiative was also relieved to hear all the different opinions. And it was really important to hear the different perspectives. I don’t know if that completely answers your question. I’m just right, fresh out of doing those. So I kept a journal where I just kept writing down little ideas. Matt and I keep talking about writing a book about this. Like, I want to make sure I write about this and write about that and write about this. So it was a deeply reflective process for me. I keep learning a tremendous amount. And sometimes, to go back to Matt’s earlier comment, we’re not going to change the readings, but sometimes we do go and make updates or add references. we weren’t able to touch on every single identity category. And sometimes people don’t find themselves and they say, “Why didn’t you talk about this or that?” And so then we make an effort to do that. And I have a running list of edits that are ready to be worked on for the next version of the course that gets posted.

If I could tailgate, Melina, there are two points that you made that I just think are so evocative of our approach to this. One is we really wait to see who’s registered and how they fall out. Are there cohorts? Are there natural cohorts that emerge from that, and that was your point, Melina, about it being complicated, and sort of last minute, because we sort of wait to see who’s on board. And then your second point that I just want to reiterate is, it’s organic. And I think we’re both learning both about the DEI issues, but also about teaching and teaching in an online environment. And what does it mean to have a global perspective in a MOOC? This is new to both of us still. And so it’s always really interesting. And we’re trying to still… like Melina has revised the handbook for facilitators every single semester, because we keep getting really good ideas from folks across the spectrum who have tried some things out and said, “This really worked, and this didn’t.” And our goal always is to make it as useful as possible. So it also keeps it really interesting. So it’s the same course. But it’s never the same course, you know that, you’re both deeply embedded in teaching as well.

Yeah, the discussions vary dramatically depending on the specific composition. And when we were meeting three times a week, or four times a week one time, each discussion with a little different depending on who happened to show up that day. And it worked well, though. I appreciated the fact that I got to participate in many of those discussions.

In the ideal world, that’s exactly what it would be, you would sort of have a flipped classroom, you would do the online course. But you would always have a cohort of people to talk through your ideas with and I think that’s, for me, the ideal scenario. And I have to ask, are you assessing this? Obviously, people being there is one key assessment, that’s a huge vote of confidence. So clearly, you’re doing really well. The fact that they come back, that’s even better evidence.

We have not done any formal assessments. We’d like to, but we’re somewhat understaffed. We’d like to assess many more of the things that we’re doing at the teaching center, and certainly the effectiveness of this would be useful. I wish we had a good answer for you on that.

Actually, that’s a really good answer, John, because it’s sort of provoking me to think, together with Melina. We’ve got the protocol that we use, the pre-post, and Melina and our other colleague, Amy Cardace Ardays are working on publishing that protocol. But that might be something that if we can move that process along, that would give you something at the campus level, easy to administer, and really, really interesting. So it’s all self report, of course, but it at least gives you a sense of over time, in general, and an aggregated level, what our faculty finding useful about the experience in terms of their own learning and development. I hadn’t thought of that. Yeah,

I did a presentation at the IUPUI conference, and, as a result of that, I have started collaborating with a couple of other institutions who are in particular interested in how to assess their inclusive teaching interventions. And so, in one case, they started by wanting to use our protocol, but embed the protocol in the other part of their plan that they had in place. So we’ll be presenting together as a team this year at IUPUI, which I’m excited about. And I also think that assessing the learning communities is its own sticky wicket. The learning goals are both the same ones that are in the course and you also want to know whether the learning community itself went as well as it could have or what you might do differently because I still have a goal here locally at Cornell to have more of these department level immersions because those are the ones that have been pretty exciting because colleagues suddenly see each other with new eyes, like they see their colleagues as co-agents for change and social justice work instead of having the experience in the interdisciplinary group that I mentioned where they’re like, “Thank goodness, there’s someone over across campus who cares as much as I do.” So part of assessment is being able to tell your story persuasively about what you’re doing and why people should participate.

I think also, part of what assessment can do is reflect on what’s next. What’s the growth edge here? What would help people in the next step and so as Melina said, departments are our big go-to next step. We’re really interested in working with a coherent subset of people we’ll never get an entire department. And we don’t need that. We don’t need unanimity. We just need a core of consensus that this is a worthwhile use of their time. And what Melina hasn’t mentioned, is this other project she’s working on with another colleague of ours that I think is super interesting, which is curriculum mapping through a DEI lens. And so really, when we think about systemic change, in building more multicultural, inclusive institutions, the department is really the unit of analysis. That’s where the work happens. And it’s also where the chief stakeholders stay the longest. And so, Provosts rollover, Chancellors rollover, presidents come and go, but departments mostly stay intact. And so, if they choose to invest in this sort of critical analyses of DEI issues, there’s great possibility for really changing long term the experiences of undergrads and grads and also the people who are part of the department. It goes to recruitment and retention at every level, from undergrads,to grad students to new and junior faculty. So we’ve been sort of building, socializing the course on campus, building a sense that this is a good use of your time globally. And then Melina has… how many departments have you’ve worked with now? Four? Three?

We have three on deck for the fall, and had those initial conversations about getting things started and meeting them specifically where they are at in their process. People have expressed different beginning points or interests for where they want to get started. But this is what my colleague Kathleen Landy, who is really helping us to visualize difficult concepts in a very simple way. She’s basically created some tools that we can use to lead people through this process. And we’re socializing… it might not be the right word… but we’re basically getting the word out that this is a program and a service that we offer, and having some initial conversations with folks to just let them know what this is and how the resource works. And, so far, the reception has been really positive. And I think there’s just a different set of needs. We sometimes just talk about different entry points, maybe people want to think about curriculum, maybe they really want to think about pedagogy. I met with a group today that really wanted to help getting a discussion started about social identities and implicit bias. And so that’s really about instructor self reflection, and what our lived experiences have been, and then how we translate those into our teaching practices. So, one fantasy that I have is that our portfolio basically runs the gamut around that framework, so that people who want to work on curriculum have a rich tool for curriculum mapping, and then they also get the benefit of the facilitated dialogue and deeper conversations.

Yeah, I’m a big follower of the sort of John Dewey approach, start where the learner wants to start. And in many cases, all roads lead to Rome. It doesn’t really matter where we start if we have a holistic systems perspective.

… and the desire to start.

Absolutely. [LAUGHTER] That’s the critical piece. Exactly.

Which is an important threshold to cross over… the desire to start. People come to us because they want to, as opposed to this is now a university requirement or something like that, because that threshold is so important and meaningful.

I think a lot of campuses have reached that threshold now because the pandemic, as Rebecca had mentioned earlier, has revealed a lot of the inequities and challenges that our students face in ways that were always there, but that faculty may not have been as fully aware of. It’s much harder to ignore some of the challenges our students face when you had to deal with them in class every day, when you can see them struggling with things that would be hidden when they were on campus. Many people are ready for addressing these issues and these challenges.

I couldn’t agree more. I think timing is everything. And our hope is to build a port of entry. That, like Melina mentioned very early on, we do everything we can to bring people’s anxiety down so they can relax and be in a mode that allows the learning to take place. If it’s okay, I’d love to hear from the two of you about what would you like to see in Teaching and Learning in the Diverse Classroom? What would you see as a next step?

We were thinking of maybe starting a podcast. [LAUGHTER] Just kidding, just kidding.

We’d be happy to help.

We love your podcast.


That was one of those projects that started small that blew up big as well. [LAUGHTER]

I do have an answer. One of the things that I think that we struggle with… limited resources… and also, the complexity of timing is always a challenge being able to bring people together at a specific time, so we offer things at multiple times. One of the things that we always have trouble measuring or reporting out Is what do people do with this information? And so some of the pre- and post-testing that you were mentioning before, I think, gets at that a little bit. But what’s the reflection that happens a specific period of time afterward, is something that we haven’t done yet. We haven’t engaged. I think we both have this inclination to want to do some of that stuff, but like, not always the capacity to do it. And then also, we’ve tried a couple of things like badges if you want to tell your story. And sometimes it’s hard to collect that information in a way that’s useful, that doesn’t take ages for someone to produce to submit it to us. And then also to like, analyze it. [LAUGHTER]

That’s a great point, we’ve bandied about this idea of sort of a retrospective survey, like a semester out, a year out, two years out, what remains important or salient? or what have you done differently? And we’re still, I think, in discussion. Is that a way to say it, Melina? We haven’t really resolved yet how to do that. And for us, it’s the same issue. It’s bandwidth.

I appreciated the fact that Matt was writing down your idea, Rebecca, [LAUGHTER] because sometimes it’s a matter of timing, getting us at the right flow of the creative curve, and also the amount of times that we get the same ask. So if somebody else had asked for more videos that had faculty talking about successful strategies and how to implement them. So we might be able to talk to your point and meet that person’s invitation. And the other requests that we’ve had, which we haven’t had bandwidth for, was to present a wider variety of different types of institutions, especially in module five when we’re talking about institutional change efforts. So that was one idea. We would love to explore these if we had the capacity.

On that issue, though, I do have to say that the people you chose to speak, I think, speak to all institutions. I think some people may have been concerned that this was coming out of Cornell, and we’re four-year public institution. But no one really left with any concerns about that. I think the issues that are addressed are pretty universal. I think that part works really well. One thing though, that I know a number of faculty were looking for is more specific guidance on what techniques could work to make their discussions a little more inclusive in class and what other techniques could be used to help improve the success of students who are struggling. And there’s so many things there that the issue gets really wide. And I think the topics you chose are really good and universal and apply to everyone. But I know a lot of people would like some things specifically, that could help narrow some of the challenges in STEM classes, where the success rates vary very dramatically. And a lot of faculty were raising questions about that, particularly in math and in the sciences, and so forth. There’s a lot that’s already there. There’s just so much you can do in a five-week class. And I think what you have there is wonderful.

What you’re saying, John, actually makes me think about a need to send a reminder to people that have participated in a cohort about all the resources that were available there, because now you’ve had time and space to reflect, maybe have tried some things in classes, and it might be worth revisiting some of the material again.

One thing that I wished we could do, which we just couldn’t quite figure out a way to do this, but in the MOOC, we had people post what their action plans were on the discussion board. So now we’ve lost access to being able to see those, but the ones that we get through our Cornell cohorts are pretty incredible. And the quality of those jumps up significantly when we have a learning community, like the learning community action plans. I think John said this earlier, like it just helps people finish the course and actually get through it just to be part of a learning community. But then also the quality of the action plans, I think because they’re presenting them to each other… our last session in our learning community is them presenting their plan… and then hearing their colleagues questions and feedback. And those have been really impressive. And I like, John, what you’re saying. I think people want to see some examples of this in action. Like sometimes I wish we could get sort of live footage of a classroom where someone’s doing a really great job and have the camera be… people know it’s there, but they can forget about it.

Melina and I’ve talked at length about sort of what’s missing in this experience is the experiential aspect. And there’s a certain component in the dialogue, the discussion that you host or facilitate that helps with that, that’s super helpful. Because even though you may not be having people do psychodrama, or acting out role plays or stuff like that, but just the act of talking through these moments can be enormously helpful. But we’ve been really trying to think about how the next step might be something that’s more experiential, because oftentimes, people just need literally the physicality of a practice, of a walk through. He says this, she says that, what do I do? Then something else gets said, then what do I do to that? And that sort of is part and parcel to building a sense of efficacy, like you don’t need to have all the answers but you do need to have some strategies that you feel are useful in the moment and don’t dig you into a deeper hole. So that’s one of the other things… I don’t have an answer for that yet, but we’ve been thinking.

Our DEI officer, Rodman King, has ran sessions on our campus that are like that,like little scenarios, and did small groups where people were talking through it and those are some really popular sessions, they always needed more time. People got really engaged and really wanted to talk through the details and really process. So we often didn’t get through more than one or two examples in a session, but it was a incredibly popular sessions when we’ve offered those.

Yeah, I love that idea. And people feel like there’s an expert in the room who can help them. And it’s theoretical, it’s a scenario, so they can risk making a mistake, but the practice is real, that level of physicalities It’s a wonderful idea.

Can I circle back to something John said earlier about the people being worried about the Cornelll voices being like too Cornell or something like that? I think that the reason that that doesn’t happen is because people were willing to make themselves vulnerable during the interview process. So they really come across as three dimensional complicated human beings who are willing to tell their stories of struggle and the background. And I actually think that we have a situation at Cornell, where the name of the institution itself basically has almost everybody suffering under some kind of horrible imposter [LAUGHTER] syndrome, which makes us maybe nicer people, I don’t know. But my experience here has been that my colleagues are incredibly kind and welcoming and eager to support their students’ learning… that always is shared among faculty everywhere, but they’re also eager to support each other’s learning in adult spaces. And that has continued to be a delightful point of engagement. I used to teach undergraduates and now all of my work is through our teaching center. And I really far prefer working with adults thinking about social identity in a different way, like maybe they arrived already. Oh, no, wait, there’s new things to learn.

I think that authenticity really comes through, which is really powerful. And I think you’re right. On camera, everyone feels really authentic. It doesn’t feel scripted. And I think that’s what’s important about it.

I totally agree, Rebecca, I’m really happy to hear that that’s your perception. Obviously, we picked the people. And part of it also was people relish the invitation to be honest, and to tell what their stories are as they are unfolding. And so I think, Melina, this is where you started, the power of the story, but it’s also the power of inviting people to share their story, that indication that “Yeah, we really want to hear it.” And I do want to do a little bit of a shout out for Melina, she was our… I don’t even know what to call her… executive producer. She was our talent manager. And so she did a lovely job of engaging everybody and getting them centered and made sure they had coffee or water, just sort of genuinely set the stage for a real dialogue, much like you and John do in this podcast. You just make it really easy to be present and say what’s on your mind.

Thanks. Speaking of invitations, we always invite people to tell us what’s going to happen next. So what’s next? [LAUGHTER]

Next is action plans, Melina and I still have to wrap up the class so… which is actually, even though it’s July, it’s our favorite part of the class. We love reading and responding. So we’ve chosen to do the responses to the action plans by brief recorded videos, mostly because it warms up the classroom. And also we start talking about it, and I think our feedback is far more robust. And we read for different things. So it’s always so interesting to me to hear what resonated for Melina and why. And so I’m really looking forward to that. And then, Melina…

What’s next… I want to do a deeper dive on the importance of storytelling. So this isn’t next on our MOOC, but just on what we’re thinking of offering next year through our center to support inclusive teaching, but just really enlivening and bringing to bear this idea that storytelling is an inclusive pedagogy, how to do it, when to do it, when it’s appropriate. It goes back to John’s question about how do you facilitate lively discussions? How do you bring in the personal and the individual when you’re wrestling with difficult scholarly ideas? Sometimes we get folks from STEM saying, “Oh, this is Social Sciences, like the humanities and social sciences should deal with this. So making it relevant, making a case for why who we are as people really matters to the way we learn, how we learn, how we feel in the classroom about affect. So we have a few projects related to that new avenue.

And there was also a brief mention of the possibility of a book. Is that something planned in the near term? Or is this a longer time horizon project?

Well, we have an outline. I think…

…that’s a start.

Yes, it’s a big start. We have the will, and we have the way, we just now need to do the work. But I think we could help people. I think we have some things to say about how campuses can galvanize around teaching and learning inclusively, as a modality for systemic change. People want to, like you were saying earlier, John, there’s a great interest in these issues now. The salience is higher than it’s ever been before. People I think are just not really sure how to get started. And I think that the Teaching and Learning in the Diverse Classroom course tries to break it down and say there are multiple points of entry, any one of which is useful. We could sort of do that at the department level. Teaching in a course is one point of entry but also curriculum mapping and sort of the other things that we do with folks could work as well.

I love the idea of the ports of entry.

Thank you. It’s great talking to you again. And next time I do hope we can get together and have some tea in person, either on our campus or on yours or at some conference somewhere.

I would love that. And good luck to everybody who’s still teaching. Thank you all so much. It’s a pleasure.

Thank you.

Thank you.


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.

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


197. Humanized Teaching

Looking to the future as an instructor in higher education can seem daunting, especially as we plan for a more equitable future.  In this episode, Jesse Stommel joins us to discuss some of those challenges, search for hope, and discuss ways forward that are ethical, humane and flexible. Jesse is the Executive Director of the Hybrid Pedagogy nonprofit organization, and organization he founded in 2011. He is also the founder of the Digital Pedagogy Lab. Jesse recently served as the Executive Director of the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies at the University of Mary Washington. He is the co-author,  with Sean Michael Morris, of An Urgency of Teachers: The Work of Critical Digital Pedagogy, and, with Dorothy Kim, co-editor of Disrupting the Digital Humanities.



John: Looking to the future as an instructor in higher education can seem daunting, especially as we plan for a more equitable future. In this episode, we discuss some of those challenges, search for hope, and discuss ways forward that are ethical, humane and flexible.


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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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


John: Our guest today is Jesse Stommel. Jesse is the Executive Director of the Hybrid Pedagogy nonprofit organization, an organization he founded in 2011. He is also the founder of the Digital Pedagogy Lab. Jesse recently served as the Executive Director of the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies at the University of Mary Washington. He is a co-author, with Sean Michael Morris of An Urgency of Teachers: the Work of Critical Digital Pedagogy, and with Dorothy Kim, the co-editor of Disrupting the Digital Humanities. Welcome, Jesse.

Jesse: Hi, it’s good to be with you all. Looking forward to our chat.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are:

Jesse: I’m actually drinking peach honey sparkling water. It’s sort of tea infused.

Rebecca: Okay, that’s good. That counts. Also, it sounds really good. [LAUGHTER]

John: I have ginger peach black tea.

Rebecca: …and I have a decaf Assam.

Jesse: I feel jealous of both of your teas.

Rebecca: It’s sad that we don’t have you in person in our office where we have a giant selection that you could choose from, we’ll send you a picture so you know what you missed out on. [LAUGHTER]

Jesse: Well, we’ll have to do that in the future.

Rebecca: Yeah, definitely.

John: They’re slightly aged teas compared to when we last saw them about a year and a few months back, but they are there and some of them we’ll probably have to dispose of. [LAUGHTER] You’ve been a really important voice on behalf of inclusive teaching and very vocal on topics like trauma-infused pedagogy, designing with care in mind, ungrading, and equity more generally. What does it mean to be an ethical instructor as we approach the fall, still amidst the last stages of a pandemic?

Jesse: I wrote a piece with Sara Goldrick-Rab a few years ago, and for folks who don’t know, Sara Goldrick-Rab is an expert in higher education policy, particularly focusing on food and housing insecurity. And she and I wrote a piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education called “Teaching the Students We Have, Not the Students We Wish We Had.” And ultimately, the thing that that piece charged me to do, and I’ve been working with Sara for, I think, close to eight years now and her work and the research that she’s done has really put a kind of specificity to my work on inclusive pedagogies and critical pedagogies that has charged me to think really carefully about how the material circumstances of our students affect their learning experience, and also how the material circumstances of teachers affect their teaching experience. And so if I think about how we begin to move back into classrooms, to find our way back to our institutions, to find our way back to the collaborations and colleagues we may have worked really closely with, I think that the key is for us to do really deep work thinking about who are our students? What do they need to be successful? How have they been affected by the last 18 months? And to do that same work with ourselves and our colleagues. Ask ourselves: who are we as teachers? What do we need to be successful? And I think institutions have a charge that they have to be really careful about how they quote unquote, pivot back to business as usual. I don’t think there’s a neat and tidy pivot back. And I don’t think business as usual is the appropriate place for us to turn to at this moment. So for institutions to ask hard questions of themselves, interrogate the things that they may have done to exclude many of the people who found themselves struggling during the pandemic, the things they did to exclude those students and faculty members well before the pandemic, to assure that they don’t continue the kind of exclusive practices that I’ve seen so many institutions coming to grips with in the last 18 months.

Rebecca: I really appreciate the focus that you’ve put on both students and also caring about colleagues and making sure that we’re being reciprocal in thinking about each other as humans and not just robots that we work with or something. In this conversation of getting back to campuses in the fall, what can we do to continue to humanize this practice with our colleagues too, that you just kind of focused a little bit on students, but what does this mean when we’re thinking about our colleagues and our relationships with our colleagues,

Jesse: I’ve been at several institutions that were struggling. So many of the people listening have found themselves at institutions that were struggling, I feel like the whole of public education is struggling at the current moment, but I’ve had some very specific circumstances at the last few institutions where I worked. About 10 years ago, I worked at Marylhurst University in Portland, Oregon, and Marylhurst University ended up closing down because of financial insecurity. And I was there a few years before they closed down and sort of dealing with the environment and watching the writing on the wall get darker and darker. After that, I went to University of Wisconsin-Madison, where the Governor, Scott Walker, obliterated tenure across the system, taking one of the best public education state systems in our country and making it a mockery. And his decision had a rippling impact across the entire institution. And what I found in both of those situations was that in situations of precarity, situations of financial austerity… and in many cases, those are manufactured, and they’re manufactured, especially in the case of Scott Walker, for very particular political reasons. In situations of austerity and precarity, people start to turn on each other, the sort of fabric of the community that existed prior to those moments that I found myself in at those institutions, I watched it erode and it eroded very quickly. And so the importance of being kind to one another, the importance of supporting each other, supporting our students, certainly, but also supporting our colleagues, and the importance of administrations focusing their efforts not on finding a new contract to a remote proctoring solution, which will do harm to all of the students and all of the teachers at the institution, but to focus their investment and their energy on finding ways to support the community that beats at the heart of the institution. That’s ultimately what we have to do. And it’s so important right now, because I saw over the last 18 months, the same thing starting to happen at a lot of institutions. I saw institutions beginning to create cultures that were inhospitable to the kinds of work that we really want to do in education.

Rebecca: I think one of the things that comes up in addition to food insecurity and housing insecurity with our students is that during the pandemic it became visible, I think, for some folks, that part-time faculty, adjunct faculty, also have some of those insecurities that we often just don’t address or think about. How do you see us, as a larger higher education community starting to support those faculty more and really addressing those insecurities? What can we do?

Jesse: I think there’s an easy answer… that we should all commit to having a permanent full-time academic workforce at all of our institutions. And the truth is that when you look at what the expenses are of our institutions, there are ways to cut costs. Imagine an institution that has just spent $500,000, or if you’re the State of Illinois, just spent $23 million on a multi-year contract with a remote proctoring solution. Think about all of that money, and how many adjunct or precarious faculty that money could support. If you think about the pedagogical benefits of making faculty full-time non-precarious, versus the pedagogical deficit that gets created by creating a culture of suspicion at our institutions, there is money being spent on things doing harm to students that could be easily re channeled towards something like certainly student support, supporting students basic needs, or supporting the basic needs of faculty who are struggling. I think that there is a need right now for us to be really honest about how money is getting spent at institutions and how that money signals what our institutions value and what our institutions don’t value. It is quite clear, across the entirety of higher education, that the vast majority of our institutions do not support teachers or the work of teaching. And that is quite clear via the mass adjunctification across our institutions, as well as the failure to properly invest in the preparation of teachers or pedagogical support for teachers. And that didn’t change in the pandemic. I have not seen a huge amount of money suddenly getting funneled into faculty development and support… at most institutions, anyway.

Rebecca: I think many of the things that we’re talking about right now are all things that were happening before the pandemic, they just became more visible to some people during the pandemic.

Jesse: Yeah, and you mentioned food and housing insecurity, and then alluded to other struggles that people were having… mental health issues… certainly, we are all experiencing acute mental health issues because of the last 18 months. But there are so many people who were experiencing acute and chronic mental health issues prior to the pandemic that weren’t getting properly addressed. And if you also think about disabled students and faculty, and the ways that their needs were not being met prior to the pandemic. We figured out how to do remote work and remote teaching in the midst of the pandemic, or we figured out how to do it as best as each individual institution might have done, which is… your mileage may vary, I guess. [LAUGHTER] But, the truth is that there are so many faculty and students who are disabled in various ways who needed that kind of support well before the pandemic.

John: On a positive note, though, didn’t the pandemic help make some of these issues much more clear to faculty and administrators, when they saw the problems that students had in continuing and when they recognize the need to provide support for faculty who didn’t have computer access at home to even connect with their students remotely? Might that perhaps help lead to a change in mindset?

Jesse: On my Twitter bio, I am called an irascible optimist. That was a moniker given to me by Sean Michael Morris. And when he said that I thought: “That is indeed me.” And I’ve worn that moniker ever since he gave it to me, irascible optimist. I’ll be honest that I have been less optimistic in the last 18 years. And I recognize I’m being less optimistic in this initial start to this conversation than I would have been if we had talked two years ago. And part of that is because of what I have seen over the last 18 months, and the deep, deep struggles that I’ve seen so many of my students having, and so many of my colleagues having, and also the failures of so many state governments, the federal government, and institutions to really figure out what to do and how to handle this particular moment. So if I think about what we’ve learned, is that we’ve learned to listen to our gut, we’ve learned to acknowledge the things that we were already seeing. It’s not like suddenly we saw new things over the last 18 months, we were already seeing them. And so we learned that we actually have to take action. One of the sad things and this is going to keep us maybe on the pessimistic place for just a few more minutes, is that I worry that so many institutions came to grips with these things, because these things started to hit them in their pocketbook. And I hate that that was the reason that many institutions started to solve these issues. On the other hand, what I will say is that the kinds of conversations that I’ve had with fellow teachers over the last 18 months have felt incredible. I have felt more connected, even if my work has been harder than it ever has been. I have felt more connected to that work and more deeply connected to the colleagues that I work with. And I have found new connections, because I have seen so many individual teachers struggling and working so hard to help meet the needs of our present moment.

John: And I’m still fairly optimistic because of that. A lot of faculty were able to avoid some of those issues, even though they may have been generally aware of some of the challenges our students face. When they interacted with them in the classroom it wasn’t quite as clear as when they were hearing from students who were dealing with problems of just being at their class because they had work commitments or because they had other responsibilities. And they had network issues because they didn’t have stable network connections, or they were using a laptop that was 10 years old, and it wouldn’t work consistently. And I think faculty in general have become much more aware of the challenges of our students. I’m hopeful, at least, that that’s not going to disappear. And that that could help lead to more consistent support of students once we do return to whatever the new normal happens to be as we move back to more campus instruction.

Rebecca: I’m really hoping that faculty, given this kind of acknowledgement of a wide variety of struggles, will really work together and push administrators and push universities and push systems to change. Because if we don’t speak up together in a unified way, it’s not gonna happen.

Jesse: Yeah, Paulo Freire and bell hooks both talk about what they describe as critical hope… that hope is an action that we take not a passive state, that hope is a work… that hope is struggle. And just that idea that hope isn’t passive, we don’t sit back and wait and hope. Instead, we take the action of hope. And Maxine Greene, also a critical pedagogue, talks about imagining the world as though it could be otherwise. And so her word there is “imagination.” Again, something active, imagining the world as though it could be otherwise requires us to recognize our agency and how we can have a positive impact and a positive effect. And so pushing back where we can, drawing students into these conversations where we are able, insisting that student voices be centered in these conversations, these are things that we can do and that will have a necessarily good impact, even when we’re precarious and where we feel like our job might be at risk, there are still actions that we can take, and it’s a matter of figuring out how do I engage in the work of hope or the work of imagination.

Rebecca: See, we got to a more positive place. [LAUGHTER]

Jesse: Just give us a few minutes. [LAUGHTER]

John: One of the things you’re really known for is your work on ungrading and creating an environment that’s more conducive to learning. Could you just talk a little bit about that?

Jesse: So I’ll just say that I have been quote, unquote, ungrading for 21 years, it’s a practice that I started my first semester of teaching. And it’s a practice that has grown and changed over time. But, I often say that I have never put a grade on a piece of student work in my career. The truth is that that’s not exactly true, because I love co-teaching and when you co-teach you negotiate a pedagogy with your co-teacher, and so I have put grades on individual students’ work but it was always a discussion and a sort of process that I came to with another teacher. The interesting thing is that I’ve been doing this work as part of my practice for 21 years, but I didn’t start talking about it publicly. I mean, beyond just having conversations about it publicly. I didn’t start publicly writing about it, giving keynotes about it, etc., until 2017. So four years ago that I really started writing publicly about this. Ungrading was a word that I had used, but it wasn’t something that an entire way of my pedagogical thought was centered around. So it has been interesting to watch the transition in me as I’ve moved towards talking about this more publicly. And I’ll tell you the reasons I didn’t talk about it publicly. I was a road warrior adjunct for about nine years of my teaching, teaching at up to four institutions, nine classes a term, dealing with the rules and restrictions at four different institutions. And I also felt like my pedagogical approach to grading felt like something between me and the students I was working with. It was no one else’s business. It was a conversation I had with them. And I felt like I wanted to protect that space for students and me to work through that together. The reason that I changed my thinking and started writing more publicly is because, over the last 20 years, I’ve watched education become increasingly quantitative and watched the reliance on learning management systems, which turn students into rows in a spreadsheet and their work into columns in a spreadsheet. I’ve watched institutions grade and evaluate their teachers in increasingly quantifiable ways. And then I’ve watched, obviously, the turn towards algorithms and the Internet of Things and weird tools like plagiarism detection software that again, feels like it reduces us to cogs, and reduces our work to bits, ones and zeros. And so I felt the need to create a larger conversation and dialogue on this because increasingly, I recognize that grades were the biggest thorn in the side of critical pedagogy and the biggest thorn in the side of my pedagogy. And so many people felt like we’re increasingly struggling with grades as the thing that got in the way of them creating productive relationships with students. And ultimately, when I started writing about it, I was amazed at the response. And to some degree, I feel like there were so many people that had hit that wall, and that we’re feeling that increased quantification over many, many years, almost like frogs boiling in a pot of water. And the other amazing thing was how much conversations with the larger community of teachers, a larger community of students, helped continue to evolve and change my practice. I guess one of the other reasons I started writing and talking about it more publicly was because I needed a push. I needed students and colleagues to ask me to work even harder to ask even harder questions of myself. And the last thing I’ll say is that ungrading is just a word. The one thing I can’t stand about the word ungrading is it tries to take a huge variety of practices that push back on traditional grading, and tries to lump them into one word as though there is upgrading tm, you know, the thing Jesse invented and that you can buy from him for $19.99, [LAUGHTER] three payments, and that he’ll deliver it to you and it will be a stack of 20 best practices that if you implement will change your life and make your relationships with students better. And that’s just not the way pedagogy works. That’s not the way teaching works. And that’s certainly not the way something as complex as assessment works. And so ultimately, this has to be an ongoing dialogue, conversation between teachers, between teachers and students. And what works for one teacher in one context with one group of students won’t necessarily work neat and tidily for another.

John: You mentioned that your practice has evolved in some way. Could you talk a little bit about how your practices involving… I don’t want to say ungrading again… [LAUGHTER]

Jesse: No, I did help coin the term.

John: Ok.

Jesse: So I’m all right with us using the word “ungrading.” I think it is good for us to have a word for us to rally these conversations around because we need the energy and the catalyzing force that that term has caused, and so it’s useful and productive in that way. So I’ve done self evaluation, asking students to write process letters, to analyze their own learning, to reflect on their own learning. I’ve asked them to reflect on group and peer learning. And I’ve asked them to grade themselves. And over the course of my career, I almost always give students the grade they give themselves. For the most part, when I change a grade, it’s to raise the grade, especially in situations where I feel like bias has influenced the grades. The thing is bias, even self-internalized bias, affects how we review and evaluate our performance. And the thing that I’ve changed most about is I’ve started to get this nagging feeling that when I have students self evaluate and self grading that I’m taking everything that I don’t like about grades, everything that the research shows is ineffective about grades, everything that is emotionally harmful about grades and giving grades, and taking that and kind of passing the buck on to students. And so my project in ungrading, or my project in my own assessment practice, has always been to turn grades over on their back and inspect them and ask hard questions of them and wonder at them and raise our eyebrows at them so that we feel like we have more agents within a quantified system like we work in. And I don’t think I can necessarily do that by just taking all the problems of grades and passing that over to students. So I’ve started to rethink how I ask students to do that work of grading themselves. One of the things that I found is, over so many years, giving A, A-, B, B+, B, B- is that when students went to grade themselves, they would give themselves something like, “Oh, it’s either an A plus, or an A minus, or it’s a B plus.” And they would quibble these tiny details, which that kind of evidence suggests to me that I had passed the anxiety of grades and quantification on to them. And so recently, in the last two years, I’ve removed A minuses and pluses from the approach that I use, I tell students just round up. And it’s interesting, because the second that I did, that students stopped quibbling the tiny details, and this is really drawn from some writing by Peter Elbow, where he writes specifically about minimal grading, which taking 100 point scale or 1000 point scale and reducing it to a 10 point scale, or a five point scale, or a three, two, one point scale. And the more we reduce it, the more clear it becomes, and the more it communicates, and the more effective it is as an assessment tool. And so giving students less gradations to quibble about. But on the other hand, I also recognize that these are decisions that I’m making, that I still have power in the classroom and trying to think about an inspect my own power and privilege in the classroom and how I can begin to at least dismantle that, not to remove it, because I think classrooms need strong leaders, but at least to dismantle it enough that I’m leaving space for students to sort of carve out their own space within their educations.

Rebecca: Seems to me that a lot of the ungrading work is really tied to this idea of flexibility that you’ve talked about pretty frequently: being flexible as a teacher and offering options, but it’s also in popular in frameworks, like UDL. But I also know that the idea of providing flexibility can cause a lot of anxiety to a faculty member in trying to figure out how to do that and make it manageable and make it sustainable. Can you share some ideas about making that a sustainable practice and also what you mean by flexible options for students.

Jesse: So the interesting thing is flexible does become more complicated. If we are engaging in the work of teaching as a form of policing student learning, or even not policing, just monitoring, even, monitoring student learning, or collecting or gathering student learning or gathering evidence for student learning. The second that we as teachers move away from that role of feeling like we are the evaluators, we are meant to rank students, we’re there to police their learning, we’re there to ensure compliance…. which honestly, even good teachers, so much of that is baked into just how our system is structured, that we do it without even realizing that we’re doing it… even the structure and shape of a syllabus has so much of that baked into it. I think that flexibility becomes a lot easier when you hand that over to the students. So people often say, “Oh, well, you let your students do five different things for an assignment or you let them just pick something… anything?” And I say, “Well, I don’t let them I invite them to do that, first of all.” Second of al, “Well, then how do you manage all the different things you get at different times?” I say, “Well, I don’t consider myself the primary audience for student work, I create a space in my course where they can share this work with one another. And they can give one another feedback.” And then, “Well gosh, how do you deal with all of the requests that you might get?” I don’t ask my students to ask permission. I invite them to modify, remix, to take advantage of flexibility. So in other words, the more that I remove my bureaucratic burden, the more flexibility becomes super easy because if a student says to me, “Well, can I” I can say, “of course you can. I invite you to change, remix,” in some ways, I don’t even have to do the work of considering the request. Because the request isn’t necessary to the relationship. I’m sort of there to offer feedback to students, and to be surprised and to marvel at whatever it is that they end up doing for the course. The other thing that we often do is we think that our role is to rank students against one another. That’s one of the reasons why I can’t stand rubrics, because I feel like the entire structure of a rubric is set up to put student work into neat and tidy boxes. And when we do that, we essentially are ranking students against one another. And so if one student does something that is just in a completely different universe from another, how do you assure that they both earned the A ? Well, ultimately, if you just remove the idea that our work is to compare students to one another. One student does a traditional academic paper and the other gives you a piece of installation art that moves around campus and that you can’t even quite make sense of it. You don’t have to hold them up and say, “Well, how do I really justify giving that piece of performance art an A?” You take it on its own merit, and you recognize what it is, and you marvel at it. And you allow yourself to be surprised by it. The more flexible I am, the more fun teaching ends up being, people often when I say things like that think, “Oh, your classes, just chaos.” And actually, no, I’m a pretty type A person. I’m pretty OCD, I actually structure a really neat and tidy syllabus, the structure of my course, is very organized, partly because I sort of subscribe to improvisation within a frame, which I take from jazz music, but I don’t know much about jazz. So feel free to tell me if I’ve interpreted that completely wrongly. But this idea that we need a frame and a structure in order to improvise within it. And so you set up the sort of guardrails for students, to some extent their boundaries, but it’s more like their guardrails, you set them up so that students feel like they can experiment within the space of the classroom. And then, to some extent, it allows you and gives you the freedom to play without worrying if you’re just going to go completely off the deep end,

John: You mentioned being surprised by some of the things your students have come up with as ways of demonstrating their learning. Could you give us just a few examples of some of the more interesting projects your students have selected?

Jesse: I kind of alluded to it in our last conversation. But this was at University of Mary Washington, and the assignment was to reinvent, rebuild the internet. And the assignment had a very short prompt that gave space for students to interpret the instructions in so many different ways. And the answer to this assignment for a group of students was to create a pile of trash. And that pile of trash had multicolored bits of crumpled paper in it. And it was a piece of installation art that migrated around campus. And they took pictures of it in different locations around campus. And then at one point it showed up in our classroom, and they wrote an artist statement that talked about the detritus of the web, the deep and dark web and all the bits you can see and the bits you can’t see. And that was marvelous. The sort of meat of the project was how captivating and how just seeing this thing, and wondering at how this fit as an interpretation of the assignment. I often come into class, and when I’ve just picked something like a reading or designed an assignment, and I’ve kind of done it instinctually maybe it’s because I’m doing that reading for the first time, I’ll often go into class, and I’ll say, “Why did I choose this reading?” And I mean that honestly, it’s not a rhetorical question. It’s like, this is the first time I’ve taught this and I’m trying to figure out whether it fits and how it fits. And so ultimately, that’s what this group of students’ project did for me, is it forced me to ask myself, “Well, gosh, what is this course even about?” And to me, that project managed to get at the biggest question of the course, which is, what are we even doing here? Why are we talking about the internet, and for me, that was marvelous. On the other hand, another teacher might look at this pile of trash and say, “Hey, that’s just a pile of trash.” And so there’s something idiosyncratic about how we engage with student work. I’ve also read really, really good academic papers. And so even some of those have surprised me, in part because sometimes it’s that punctum in an academic paper where the academic paper is just going along, going through the motions of a traditional academic paper, and then it just veers. And then you have this moment like Roland Barthe’s punctum where all you can see, you almost have it burned into your retina, this sort of moment of friction within the work. And truthfully, those are the most interesting parts of education in general, is the parts where we do something that we weren’t expecting, or where students turn something in that we never would have imagined for a particular assignment.

Rebecca: One of the things that sometimes comes up with flexibilities not just the trepidation of a faculty member, but also of students. When there’s a lot of options available, students sometimes can freeze and not know what to do. You mentioned the guardrails. So how do those function? Or how do you make sure that those students that are overwhelmed by choice feel included?

Jesse: One thing is to have very clear parameters, and I tend to have really short provocations for students… let’s call them provocations instead of assignments, because even the idea of assignment suggests a transactional relationship between a teacher and students, I still haven’t found quite the right word, invitation doesn’t feel strong enough, but maybe provocation is what it is. So I try and be very, very clear to have very explicit instructions. And also to have them very short. I find that so often, we create assignment sheets that end up being longer than the papers themselves. I’ve seen two-page responses that have an assignment sheet that’s three or four pages describing what students should do and their two page response paper. And I think partly we do that because we’re anxious about the questions that we’ll get, and we’re anxious about students falling through the cracks. When what happens is the more words that we put in our assignments, or provocations, whatever you want to call them…. I think I’ll, for the purposes here, I’ll keep calling them assignments. I think that’s fine. We fill our assignments up with language that’s all there, in some ways defensively, but every single word we put in there is a pothole that a student might fall into. It’s a rabbit hole a student might fall down. And I find that the shorter my assignment descriptions are, the less questions I get, the longer they are, the more questions they get. And people just think, well, if I just answer all the questions in advance that I won’t get any questions. And that isn’t how it ends up working out, because students are really worried about what our expectations are. And I think we have to break that down. And the reason that a student feels overwhelmed by choice is because they’re worried about meeting our expectations. And so we have to make sure that, in our language, we make clear, this isn’t about my expectations, it’s about what you expect of yourself. And here’s the thing I don’t necessarily know that works if we’re using traditional grading systems, because ultimately, if you’re putting a grade on a thing, your expectations are what matters. But if you’re giving over some, or even all of that work to students, it starts to break down this idea. They recognize, “Oh, he’s not grading this anyway. So this really is about my expectations.” And if, when I engage with the work rather than approving of it or disapproving of it, instead, I encounter it the way a reader would, by having a reaction to it and telling students what my reaction is. And then I encourage students to do that for each other. Peter Elbow talks about ranking, evaluating and liking… ranking being the thing that we shouldn’t do, we shouldn’t rank students against one another, evaluating being a thing that still has a place because certainly there are times when students do need some amount of evaluation from an external mentor, I think those moments are much fewer than we end up doing. And then he talks about liking, which is just giving ourselves space to appreciate student work, to not have to evaluate it, to just enjoy it, and to respond to it and to be an expert reader for students.

John: Could you elaborate on that notion of being an expert reader for students? What sort of feedback do you provide them as an expert reader?

Jesse: Well, I think one of the things is that so much of our so many of our traditional grading systems call for us to be objective. And we can probably have a whole other podcast around objectivity versus subjectivity and whether they’re even possible. There’s a lot of research that shows the idea of objective grading is just a fallacy to begin with. But I think that it’s about allowing ourselves to have a subjective response, allowing ourselves to bring our full humanity to that moment of engaging with student work, to laugh at it, to wonder at it, to marvel at it, to be silent, to be struck silent, to raise our eyebrows at it, to ask hard questions of it. And so what that might actually look like with a group of students is letting them see me puzzling over it, letting them see me just work through my thinking about what I’m seeing. And so oftentimes, I have students do sort of expos in class where they bring all of their work and they just lay it out, whether it’s a paper, whether it’s a pile of trash, whether it’s a video, whether it’s a documentary, they lay their work out, and we just hang out together and go around and look at each other’s work. And what I sort of see my role there is just to model what it looks like to appreciate the efforts that they’ve made and to encounter their work and talk about my experience of it, as opposed to saying, “Oh, you did this? Well, this needs improvement.” …to sort of hold back that this needs improvement, because there are moments when that’s really important, but then other moments where it isn’t. For example, I taught first-year writing for a long time, and in first-year college writing, it’s not getting to success, it’s about just getting comfortable writing, just getting comfortable in your skin as a writer. And that means not a lot of that kind of evaluative feedback, it means more just here’s what happens to me when I encounter your words.

Rebecca: Some of what we’ve been talking about with this flexibility and ungrading is really starting to get a sense that individual students and members of a learning community really being members and belonging to that community. Can you elaborate on ways in addition to this flexibility idea that might help students from a wide variety of backgrounds feel like they belong, especially those that we saw during the pandemic and we know they existed before that, really struggling or having barriers and helping them really feel like “You really do belong here. You really should be here. We want you here.”

Jesse: I think that we do that from the very beginning and how we structure education at so many of our institutions, the reliance on the idea of seat time. classes that meet two days a week, Tuesday and Thursday for a set amount of hours, classes that meet Monday, Wednesday, Friday, really bizarre ways of thinking about hybrid learning or online learning where there’s too much of a reliance on synchronous engagement. Ultimately, when we make those kinds of decisions with how we structure education at our institutions, we’re telling whole swaths of students: “This isn’t built for you, this isn’t made for you.” And increasingly people talk about adult learners. Well, at the college level, all of our students are adult learners. And increasingly, the vast majority of them are working adult learners. And we’re not doing enough to structure education so that it acknowledges their experience. I had a student who was disabled, he had chronic migraines. And, luckily, at the time I worked at an institution where I was developing a new hybrid degree program. And I had in a sense developed the program not just for him, but for all of the students I was working with, who were like him in various ways, who had no access to education, without serious rethinking about how we build our curriculum. So thinking about when we move online, relying increasingly on asynchronous ways for students to engage asynchronously, because most of the students who turn to online need more flexibility, their time is not their own in many cases. And when we’re designing degree programs, rethinking things like the 15-week semester, rethinking things like seat time, rethinking things like classes that meet Monday, Wednesday, Friday for 50 minutes over the course of a 15-week period. Honestly, I increasingly think that’s absurd. What a weird structure…50 minutes three times a week, how is where a student is at on Monday any different than where they’re at on Wednesday, is 15 minutes really enough time for us to develop the kinds of thinking that we’re trying to get at in our courses. Ultimately, I think, just asking ourselves, are we continuing to teach students in the way that we are just because this is the way we have always done it? Or is this actually what will help students learn and give space for students to learn? Also, if we go back to those adjuncts, when I was a road warrior adjunct trying to teach a Monday, Wednesday, Friday class that met for 50 minutes, that was 45 minutes from my house, trying to fit that into my schedule with my other eight classes, was nearly impossible. What I needed more than anything was not just one approach, I needed to be able to teach one course asynchronously, one course on a tuesday, thursday schedule. So I needed a variety of different things in my schedule. And that’s what a lot of students are needing. The students at my institution, where I’m currently teaching still at University of Mary Washington, so many of them are quote unquote, traditional students who want face-to-face interaction. And so the institution says we are on ground residential institution, we will be back full time, everyone will be back at their desks in the fall. But that’s not what the students actually want. The students want most of their educational experience to be face to face, but they’re struggling to fill a schedule, because they’re also working. And so they need to be able to take some courses online, some courses hybrid, some courses face to face. And they really want to be able to build a much more thoughtful approach to education. And also, when we think about specific classes, some disciplines, some courses, lend themselves to one format, some lend themselves to another. So I think that that’s the way we invite students in is, from the start, actually building with the students. And not just for the students building for those students would be great, but also finding ways to build with them, and to design curriculum alongside of them. So it really meets their needs and challenges them appropriately.

John: One of the things that’s going to be a bit different this fall is that we’re going to have some students who are sophomores, even, who’ve never been on campus. And most students have not been interacting in person in classrooms for the last year and a half or so. What can we do to help create a sense of community when we bring these people together for the first time after this long break from face-to-face interaction?

Jesse: The first thing I’m thinking about is something that I started saying, from the very, very start of the quote unquote pivot to online, right around the beginning of the lockdown last year, I started to say, we need to make sure that it isn’t continuity of instruction that we’re trying to maintain, but continuity of the communities at the heart of our institutions. I don’t know if many institutions figured out how to support those communities online. I think they figured out how to keep the lights on and to keep people taking classes. But, I don’t necessarily know that the communities were maintained. What I worry about as we return to campus is that we will try and pick up right where we left with that continuity of instruction. Rather than realizing that where we need to most place our efforts is not just starting up the wheel of delivering content to students, what we need to do is figure out how to revitalize those communities. And that needs to be a huge part of our efforts. So if every teacher is imagining that they’re going to go back to teaching the same amount of content that they taught before the pandemic… one, they were probably trying to teach too much. They were probably teaching too much at the expense of developing community even two years ago, but recognizing that we need to put a lot more breathing room into our courses. And also a lot more conversation between courses, because communities don’t just exist in a vacuum, you don’t just have a community in your first-period class, and then a community in your second-period class community is living, breathing, and it’s sort of echoes between those spaces. So thinking about what happens between period one and period two. How are those two courses connected? What are students doing on campus? Where is the life of the institution? And how can we invest as much as possible into supporting that, and I don’t think it’s with algorithmic retention software. That is the worst possible thing that I see institutions turning to to try and support community. Algorithms are not going to help us build and maintain community, human beings are the ones who are good at that. So any dollar you’re spending on an algorithmic retention software, please give that to adjunct and contingent instructors.

John: In terms of reducing the amount of content in classes, I think a lot of faculty realized that when they switch to remote or online instruction. Is that something you think people will automatically recognize or do you think people are going to try to go back to how things were before and forget the lessons that they’ve learned about this during the pandemic?

Jesse: I think a lot of individual faculty, individual teachers, individual students will take so many of these lessons back to their work this fall and beyond. I think institutions are much harder to shift. And so the problem is, I don’t know that institutional culture will change in the way that it needs to in order to support the efforts of those students and faculty. And so this is really a charge to institutions and administrators to put that breathing room also in the institutional culture and important ways.

Rebecca: And maybe even really, to push it within a department because that might be a place where faculty can start to expand it out. And think about it. When you were talking, I was imagining a time that seems so long ago now. It may have been 10 years ago, and seems like a really long time now.

Jesse: Yeah, it feels like it’s either a week ago, or like 10 years ago, to me,

Rebecca: I had colleagues that we would, if we had classes at the same time, we would actually schedule activities together. We would cross pollinate to have some of that community. We’d have design challenges and investigate and do different things with each other. We’ve lost some of that play, just over time with assessment requirements and this and that. It has fizzled. So I’m hoping that this fall will bring back the play, bring back the fun for that community that to marinate a little bit.

Jesse: And if I can think of some really practical things institutions can do in order to seed that community that you’re describing. If your institution is not paying adjuncts and contingent staff for faculty development, it needs to. Even Walmart and Subway and Starbucks pays their employees for required job training. But then the other benefit is that those are the spaces where community germinates. Another example is there are so many barriers to collaborative teaching at our institutions, “Oh, well, who’s going to get the credit for it? Whose load is it going to count towards?” If that’s your answer to collaborative teaching, you need to stop right there and ask yourself, “What kind of environment are we trying to create?” And if we want a collaborative environment, if we want a community amongst our faculty, then right then and there, decide and commit yourself to figuring out the obstacles to collaborative teaching, which I’ve watched get worse and worse and worse over the last 21 years that I’ve been teaching. And those are just two small things. And the truth is, they’re relatively easy. There are bureaucratic systems that feel like “You can’t possibly… how are we going to deal with that within our institutional database?” Like get over it, figure it out. [LAUGHTER] The truth is that those are things that we all know we want. I’ve never talked to someone who says “no, no, we don’t want people collaborative teaching” then why don’t institutions charge themselves to figure that out?

Rebecca: So many good questions raised in this conversation, Jesse. As always, I wouldn’t expect anything different with a conversation with you. We always wrap up by asking, “What’s next?”

Jesse: Oh, wow, that’s a really, really large question. What’s next? Okay, well, I’m gonna say that, as some folks listening to this may not know, my husband and I and my four-year old daughter just opened a game and toy store which has a classroom and a makerspace in it. And I am really thinking about how helping my husband with this endeavor is going to push me to think about my teaching in new ways. So, it’s a small retail space, 1600 square feet on the main street of Littleton with a retail section and a classroom and a maker space. We’re going to offer classes for kids and adults, so that it isn’t just about selling people toys and games, but teaching them how to design and make and manufacture their own toys and games. And it feels like a respite for me in some ways… one, to have my own project that I’m focusing on, but also to have a space where nobody’s telling me I have to grade. I just get to decide how I approach the work inside this space. So I’m excited to see how helping my husband with this project informs the rest of my practice and thinking about education.

Rebecca: That sounds so fun. Can I come? [LAUGHTER]

Jesse: Yeah. yeah, yeah, ou can. Do you want to be a teacher? We haven’t hired our first teacher. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: That sounds really fun. Actually. I’ve taught makerspace things before with kids. That sounds totally fun.

Jesse: And I guess that what’s next is to find joy in this work, because the last 18 months have been so hard. And I think that joy… bell hooks also writes a lot about joy. Joy is also a practice, joy is also struggle… but figuring out how to find the kernel of the work of teaching that has kept me doing this work for 21 years. That’s really something I feel charged to do.

Rebecca: Perhaps a charge we should all have moving into the fall.

Jesse: Yeah, I’m determined to become an irascible optimist again. We’ll see. Check back with me in a year maybe I would have gotten there. [LAUGHTER]

John: And perhaps shifting some of our focus away from grading can help restore some of that joy.

Jesse: Absolutely,

Rebecca: Indeed, indeed. Thanks so much, Jesse.


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.


185. Model Online Teaching

The Society for the Teaching of Psychology has identified 6 evidence-based criteria for model teaching. In this episode, Aaron Richmond, Regan Gurung, and Guy Boysen join us to discuss how those principles translate into effective practices in both physical and virtual environments.

Aaron is a Professor of Educational Psychology and Human Development at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Regan is the Interim Executive Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning and Professor of Psychological Science at Oregon State University. Guy is a Professor of Psychology at McKendree University. They are the authors of A Pocket Guide to Online Teaching: Translating the Evidence-Based Model Teaching Criteria (2021) and An Evidence-Based Guide to College and University Teaching: Developing the Model Teacher (2016).

Show Notes


John: The Society for the Teaching of Psychology has identified 6 evidence-based criteria for model teaching. In this episode we discuss how those principles translate into effective practices in both physical and virtual environments.


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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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


John: Our guests today are Aaron Richmond, Regan Gurung and Guy Boysen. Aaron is a Professor of Educational Psychology and Human Development at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Regan is the Interim Executive Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning and Professor of Psychological Science at Oregon State University. Guy is a Professor of Psychology at McKendree University. Welcome, Aaron and Guy, and welcome back, Regan.

Regan: Thank you, John.

Guy: Thank you.

Aaron: Thank you.

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

Guy: I’m drinking coffee black tea. I guess that’s coffee. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: So I heard.

Aaron: My coffee is Dunkin Donuts coffee, kind of a guilty pleasure every morning. Currently on water. It’s a little bit late for me to be drinking caffeine.

Regan: Still pretty early here in the Pacific Northwest in Oregon. So, coffee it is.

John: And I’m drinking chocolate mint oolong tea

Rebecca: I was ready for you to say chocolate milk or something. I was like, “Alright, there’s no tea here.” [LAUGHTER] I have Irish breakfast today, heavily caffeinated.

Regan: Timely this week with St. Patrick’s Day and all that. So, yeah.

Rebecca: I try. It just happened to be the one open.

John: We’ve invited you here to discuss your new book together, A Pocket Guide to Online Teaching: Translating the Evidence-Based Model Teaching Criteria. A few years ago, you had written an Evidence-Based Guide to College and University Teaching to help faculty apply the model teaching characteristics that were developed by the Society for the Teaching of Psychology. In the new book, you shift your focus to online instruction. Could you tell us a little bit about the origin of this new book?

Regan: Aaron, you can do the whole origin story since really Aaron, being Chair of the task force that first kicked this off, can give us the whole etiology. So give us the origin story, Aaron.

Aaron: Well, of course, the origin story starts with Regan, [LAUGHTER] as almost every story starts with. And so Regan was coming on as the Society of Teaching of Psychology President which is a division of the American Psychological Association Division Two. And he had like 105 taskforce that he created for us to do. And I was in charge of somehow more than one, it wasn’t just the model teaching competencies. But in terms of this project, he really wanted us to create a committee or a task force to really kind of get at what is it that the model teachers are doing. They originally started in psychology, but then branched out into other disciplines for sure. But really, the call was, what are people doing? What’s the evidence behind what they’re doing that is going well and is doing great work, and all facets of education and Guy was instrumental in that it actually ended up spanning two presidencies, almost three, because it was such a colossal task and ask where that committee was a really good working group. We met twice a month, I think, there for a while. And then we were meeting once a month for two to three years, basically. And so after much, much research, much of it spearheaded by Guy, the task force came up with the model teacher competencies, and we published a couple of articles on it, a kind of a white paper for Division II STP. And then that was the catalyst for Guy, Regan, and I jumping into the first book, the model teaching competency book.

Rebecca: For those that aren’t familiar, can you just talk about what the model teaching competencies is?

Guy: I will say that my memory of how this came about is a little bit different. I kind of envisioned it as almost like a survivor Island type of deal where we were initially this huge task force, and then it turned into an article and a few people dropped off, and then it turned into a book and it was just the three of us. So it’s kind of like we were the people with the endurance to keep trying to push these model teaching competencies down people’s throats until they would sort of accept them. But we think we’ve got good stuff here. And that’s why we stuck with it as we really do believe in these competencies. Basically what we did on that task force is we tried to say, if you’re going to be a good teacher, what are the key things you need to be able to do and so we said, part of that is just being trained. You have to have a little bit of training behind and know some pedagogy. You have to have some basic instructional methods that you use. You have to be teaching content that’s relevant to what you’re doing. And you have to assess learning related to that content, put together a syllabus that’s reasonable. And then also just be asking students how you’re doing, so using teaching evaluations, both formative and summative. And those are the areas we agreed on. And then we defined it by breaking it down a bunch of different ways. And so, I think, to get back to the original question, I think we realized that these things work in the online format, but in our first book, we didn’t really talk about that context very much. I think if you pull out any sentence from our first book, it applies to online teaching, but we certainly didn’t talk about online teaching or LMSs or some of those specific things that would specifically speak to online teachers. So that’s part of the origin for the new book, I think.

Regan: To add to that, not only did it apply, but we didn’t make the connection. I think on the other side of the coin, there’s just so much that goes on in online teaching that is in addition to what normally goes on as well. So, there was a clear cut need for “What does this look like in an online context?” So even though we have six, there’s a nice number to wrap your heads around, there are six model teaching criteria. And you look at all six of those, and yes, they can apply to the online, but it’s a whole different thing when you say, “Okay, let’s actually start from online teaching.” And that final pragmatic piece as to how this came about is we were actually approached by the publishers to do a revision of model teaching, of the original. And this happened to just, if I remember correctly, when the pandemic was kicking off. And I think that’s important, too, because we were all thinking a lot about what does it mean to teach remotely? What does it mean to teach online? And we quickly convinced them or they convinced us and I think it’s more the latter, they quickly convinced us that, before a second edition, maybe if we could address online teaching explicitly, that would be better. And hence, the Pocket Guide. It’s not the full blown, it’s the “let’s explicitly look at online teaching and see what we can say.”

John: At the beginning of this book, you talk about how, at one point, each of you was somewhat skeptical of online instruction until you actually worked with it. I think that’s true of many people who went through the transition to remote or online instruction in the spring of 2020. Could you tell us a little bit about your own transition to online teaching, as well as how your courses were modified as we move to remote instruction in the spring of 2020.

Aaron: I had been teaching online for a very long time. And so I think the pivot for both Guy and Reagan was a little bit different than mine. I had other stressors associated with the pandemic, namely, having five people in my household full time, and kids learning on, and my wife learning online. But for me, I’ll let Reagan and Guy answer the question, mostly because I started teaching online in graduate school as a way to build my curriculum vitae and built my teaching experience. And so it wasn’t as big of a quote, quote, pivot for me, as it is for a lot of my colleagues.

Regan: Yeah, I think I will go in reverse order this way, because I think I’m sort of next up with somebody who had done some online teaching. I had taught online before the pandemic, but hadn’t taught it recently. And I think to fine tune your question, John, personally, it was just more of a question of not having done it as much. In fact, I think I’ll go on record as saying that if you asked me 15 years ago, what I thought about online teaching, before I actually looked into the literature, I had a very different take on it then after I looked into the literature, and then after I really did it. So, it was much more of a question of had done it, but hadn’t done it to the extent and hadn’t looked at the research on it to the extent that I’d wanted to, but that changed very quickly.

Guy: And that’s totally accurate to say that I was the least experienced, I’m fully capable of admitting that. And we have a fully online psychology program at McKendree, and I had designed courses, and I had been trained in the basics of online instruction, but I’d never done sort of a deep dive into the literature like I did when we were preparing to write this book. It was interesting, since in the last year, I’ve taught literally face to face, I’ve taught online, and I’ve taught various versions of hybrid. And then I taught whatever the heck last spring was, as well. So, I’ve gotten a taste of everything in this last year. And so I’ve learned a lot, both writing the book and having to teach in ways that I hadn’t taught before. So I had done the design component of it, and been trained a little bit, but had never actually pulled the trigger and taught a fully online course as an instructor before the pandemic,

Aaron: What I loved about the three of us, and I always love working with these two other folks. But we had this strata of experience with online education. And poor Guy even had the wonderful opportunity to learn a brand new learning management system like two weeks before the start of the fall semester. And when we talk about online education, chalk is chalk, right? But learning how to do certain grade things in an LMS, Guy was really kind of a little bit of a guinea pig, and it was nice to have those three levels of experience because I think we could get fresh perspectives for the book. I’m Quality Matters certified, which is one of the national certifications for online education, and then Reagan and then Guy with not as much experience, and so I think it was a really serendipitous opportunity for us because of that.

Regan: And just along those lines of serendipity, I think one of the things that the pandemic did was had many of us have more conversations with the experts on online teaching on our campuses. Here at Oregon State or e-campus program is one of the top five in the nation with our psych program being number two in online psych majors, which was great, which meant I could go in… actually, I was gonna say go in but during the pandemic, there was no going in anywhere but I I had all these conversations with wonderful people and shout out to Shannon Riggs and Kate Linder, wonderful people who’ve done a lot of work already on online teaching. And we have these conversations, great email exchanges back and forth that really informed, I think, what we then went and talked about.

Guy: I would be interested in hearing, we’ve never had this conversation, whattyou all think, Aaron and Regan, about whether people during the pandemic are actually doing the type of online teaching we’re talking about in our book, or if they’re doing something that’s more of like an emergency remote teaching, because I’ve noticed in my institution, there’s a lot of people who are basically teaching the same class, it’s just that it’s over a Zoom meeting.

Regan: [LAUGHTER] We could probably do a whole podcast on remote teaching versus online teaching. I’ll just say, in brief, Guy, you are absolutely right. What I have seen is the entire spectrum of instructors who are, somewhat alluding to what Aaron said, trying to make sure they can keep teaching. And I think everybody’s circumstances vary. And I think that resulted in a lot of variance in what those courses look like. Some of the courses would look like, I think, what we’d call online teaching, and what we talked about, and then there are others that are very, very quite clearly remote, emergency, doing the best “giving it all I’ve got, Captain” kind of stuff that are working towards it. And of course, now, literally one year later, I can actually see courses that have made that transition that were here spring term, that were here fall term, that were here the next winter term, and so on and so forth. But you’re absolutely right, Guy, it’s not. When you talk about online teaching, and in these conversations, I try very hard to keep remote teaching separate from online teaching.

Rebecca: The visual description of Regan’s hand was moving up, as he was saying here, here, and here. [LAUGHTER]

Aaron: Thank you. Guy’s trying to get us in trouble with our colleagues. I think that the short answer from my department, and we’re a large department, we have over 25 tenure track faculty, and then a whole army platoon of affiliates. Luckily, within our department, because we had a program that was Quality Matters (QM) certified, we had had a lot of core courses that were already certified. And then they were shells given to faculty members. And so in those scenarios, you had what we are talking about in this book, we had a really good pedagogy, a really good online teaching situation. But there was also other classes where, frankly, some of those instructors didn’t know what LMS stood for, had never used an LMS, a Learning Management System, didn’t even use PowerPoint, didn’t use a computer, like literally still wrote on the whiteboard. And so they had to rise to the occasion. And I think it’s more along with what Regan is saying, some of those folks were really just remote teaching, or doing some sort of synchronous teaching, and then some sort of asynchronous teaching that probably wasn’t the best practices. But that’s why we wrote the book.

Guy: Yeah, and don’t get me wrong. I’m not necessarily trying to criticize anyone in what they’re doing. But I do think it’s important to distinguish between what we ended up talking about in the book and what has emerged from some people who don’t have as much training in online teaching and what they’re doing, and are basically just trying to recreate their classroom in a synchronous video session.

Aaron: What we did in our department as well is we buddied up, in a sense, if there was somebody that had a lot of experience online, they would help build the course with the other instructor who had less experience or who needed more assistance, for sure.

Rebecca: I think one thing that you’re alluding to Guy that I wanted to ask about is the literature historically talks a lot about asynchronous online, and when we’re thinking about online education, that’s generally what we’re talking about, but there’s been a lot of experimentation over the last year with synchronous online, and it may or may not be trying to recreate the classroom, there’s a mix of people trying to actively use that environment to do active learning and these sorts of things, and then others that are perhaps resorting to lecturing at in a meeting kind of setting. Can you address that a little bit in terms of whether or not your book addresses the synchronous component, or if it really is focused more on this more traditional asynchronous aspect of online education?

Aaron: We do address that. Our book is organized by really three kind of different types of interactions: one is the student-to-student interaction, one is interaction with content, and then the other is interaction student to the instructor. And I was largely responsible for that section. And it’s a great debate. The whole synchronous versus asynchronous learning’s been debated for as long as we’ve had distance education. And so I think it really comes down to context and situation. For instance, students at Metropolitan State, typically 51% of them are first-generation college students. We’re a Hispanic serving institution, we have the largest military population in the state at our institution and over 60% work full time. And so we try to steer away from a lot of synchronous learning because they’re working full time… just restricting them to a schedule just doesn’t really work. But I think that really depends on the class, it depends on the institution, it depends on the department. And so it’s really contextually driven. And it’s really dependent on the situation. There’s pros and cons to both synchronous and asynchronous learning. There’s definitely engagement with synchronous learning. You could see this face to face, I just saw this meme, it was actually aTik Tok, and I’m not onTik Tok, but I saw a Tik Tok. [LAUGHTER] And it was basically the student walks into the college classroom, and they’re all wearing masks, and it’s like “Hey, professor.” And the professor kind of looks at him like, “Mmmm, I’m not making a connection.” And he’s like, “No, it’s John.” “…not making a connection.” And then he holds up a J in front of his face, [LAUGHTER] and he goes “Oh, John!” …and so there is this idea about synchronous learning and engagement that is really, really important, for sure. And having that one-to-one rapport and connection, but there are asynchronous things that you can do to also increase that rapport as well.

Regan: Well, I think that’s why this debate, not only is it a really interesting question, but like the three of us our motto is, “Well, what does the evidence say?” And I think we’re going to be taking a lot closer look at the evidence in the year ahead. Speaking of evidence, Fox and colleagues, there’s a 2021 report that just came out in January, that actually maps how the percentage of courses that were synchronous versus asynchronous, changed over last year from spring before and then to the next winter. And what you see is a lot of courses. And this is, of course, descriptive data, it’s not causal in any way, but what you see is a lot of courses that started off primarily synchronous, or exclusively synchronous, even remotely, started adding asynchronous components. So even though I think many institutions said, “Look, we were on campus, we’re going remote,we just do everything that we did remotely,” the context changes and you can’t just do everything that you did in a face-to-face class synchronously, remotely synchronously all the time. Now, how much of the time? Which classes? What can you do? Those are all the really cool questions that I think we are now taking a much closer look at.

John: Last March, a lot of people suddenly transitioned to either a remote or online format. But then many people, as we just heard, have been shifting to more and more asynchronous work. In your book, you talk a little bit about some of the challenges that people may face when they’re not experienced teaching online, could you talk a little bit about some of the adjustments people have to make to an asynchronous online environment, as well as perhaps some of the affordances, some of the advantages, that people have come to see, once they start teaching online?

Guy: Well, as the newest recruit to online, I guess I’ll start off here. And I would say my biggest challenge has been just the differences in immediacy between a face-to-face classroom and an online classroom. It’s just a completely different game to say something and make eye contact with students in different rows… front row, back row… and be able to tell whether they’re staring at you or ready to move on versus being online and you have to be reading a discussion board or looking at a quiz score. So it just doesn’t have that immediate feedback. And if you’re talking about the synchronous Zoom meeting type things, then really, it’s kind of soul crushing. I don’t lecture that much, but when I do lecture, and I’m lecturing to the empty space of blank Zoom tiles, it is truly crushing. It is just not an enjoyable experience. It’s just like talking to yourself. There’s some of that spark of immediacy that really energizes the classroom, I have found it difficult to recreate. But the engagement is just different, right? So the engagement might happen in a breakout room, rather than me talking at them in a full classroom. The engagement might happen on a discussion board or on a group project that they’re collaborating on using chats outside of things that I witness. So it’s different. But that’s the thing that was the most challenging for me, is the immediacy.

Aaron: I think I would add a couple things, too. I would definitely agree with what Guy said, I would think also, too, one of the difficulties in that transition is you have to be a little bit more cognizant about your time, and especially if you’re talking about asynchronous learning is like I grade a lot in the evening and at night, because that’s kind of my schedule, but my students, generally speaking, that’s when they’re doing most of their work, because they’re working during the day. So that’s one issue, I think. For a lot of new concepts, too, it’s really understanding time management. I think another thing is, and this is one of the things that Guy alluded to was, I have been teaching online for a very long time, and when I would have a student who had me as an online instructor first, and then took a face-to-face class with me, almost invariably, on the first day, they would come up to me after class and they’d be like, “Man, Dr. Richmond, you are not who I thought you were.” And I would say “What do you mean? They’re like, “Well, I kind of thought you were like this stick in the mud, but you’re kind of a short funny Hobbit.” And after that happened the first couple semesters, I became really aware of it. And really what Guy was kind of alluding to is how do we establish this rapport with our students? How do we establish immediacy which is actually nonverbal immediacy? That’s my hand gestulating, you know, all that kind of stuff, the visual things of teaching? How do we establish those things in an online environment. I think that’s one of the biggest adjustments that most teachers, when they pivot to online having never done it, struggle with, because they take all these face-to-face interactions for granted. They’re not cognitively thinking of how their body posture or the jokes they might use, or the eye contact as G uy was saying. And I still struggle with one of the most difficult things with online engagement rapport, and that learning alliance, as Rogers would call it.

Regan: Lets also add to that, in a face-to-face class, there’s that time before class starts, there’s that time after class ends, where you’re chatting, and you’re talking about stuff. But there are two very significant components to add, both in terms of teaching online, but also teaching remotely, it applies to both. I think the first thing is judging how much work is enough work or not enough work. And I think that’s a huge problem that we’ve seen, is the switch to teaching online or putting something into an online class. If you are not watching how much work you’re giving students, it’s very, very easy to have the tendency to say, “Hey, we’re not meeting for all this face-to-face time or synchronous time. Therefore, let’s have you do more assignments. Let’s have you do more of this and more of that.” And there are some really great time calculators out there right now that I think are important. Related to that, it comes back to there is such a great body of research and training done by instructional designers to help individuals with the management of how much to assign, but also, to get to what Aaron and Guy were saying, how to use all those different tools of a learning management system to try and do those things that you’re used to doing in a face-to-face online class. And there’s a wealth of tools out there in a learning management system. Yes, discussion boards, but even how you use discussion boards and all of that, and how you use chat, that you can do that. One additional thing, and this truly relates to synchronous versus asynchronous, not necessarily face-to-face versus online. But I think one of the things I personally discovered is how to leverage, you use the word affordances, how to leverage things such as the chat, and at first, I was extremely wary of the chat because I’m thinking, “Hey, I have 295 people in this class, is the chat gonna go wild and crazy?” And it went pretty wild, it didn’t actually get crazy. But on top of that, I can tell you what I relied on to look at and see in faces, I was now getting from comments typed into the chat. And I still want face to face. But I can tell you that having that chat open and monitored with rules of conduct, but students were responding in chat, the stuff I was talking about, that I normally wouldn’t see in a face-to-face class.

Guy: And just building off of that in terms of moving to strengths a little bit more. As someone who really loves assessment and appreciates data from students, my, there is a lot of stuff you can assess using the LMS. And I really appreciated being able to log in and see if my students had logged in and see what they had clicked on, and all of this granular information. I had a very small class, so I did not have to explore that too much. But in a larger class, being able to do that and set up agents to monitor them and email them if they’re not logging in, and all these different things you can do. It’s just a wonderful way to increase the engagement in a different way. So in some ways, it almost seems mysterious, now seeing a student every other day, in a face-to-face class, and not knowing whether they had to open their book or not. But if I was teaching a online course, [LAUGHTER] I would know exactly what they have done in between. And I could still have more LMS stuff in my face-to-face class, but it’s different than when it’s all based on the LMS.

Rebecca: So we talked earlier about the model teaching principles. Do they apply in online? Or how are they different in an online environment?

Guy: I said this earlier, but I would definitely say that you could pull out any one of our criteria, the individual ones from our original book, and not tell someone which format it’s in, and they would pretty much all apply. There’s gonna be a few things about teaching very specific teaching skills that might be kind of written in a face-to-face format. So I really do think, almost surprisingly to me, they really do generalize. Training is important in both. Intentional design is important in both. Intentional assessment of learning is important to both. Student feedback is important in both. And, if anything, one of the things I maybe found surprising was that actually what we were saying, however many years ago, eight years ago, nine years ago, when we first started this, is very similar to the stuff that the online quality matters and the instructional designers have always been saying about how courses should be designed before you jump into them. So I was actually a little bit surprised, I think, when I got into the online teaching literature, just how much overlap there was.

Regan: Absolutely. I mean a few words different. I look at a figure that I know normally use when I’m talking about model teaching criteria, and it says “classroom” in there, but apart from little words like that, everything holds. And actually one of the first things that three of us did was we took a look at our self-guided measure that we had created that was in the back of the first book. And we went through it and asked ourselves, which of these don’t apply? And most of them were in there.

Aaron: Yeah, principally, I think that it just holds water. And that’s the beauty of the model. I think you just tweak certain ways in which you accomplish those tasks or accomplish those competencies to the online space.

Rebecca: Aaron, can you give an example of one way that one of those needs to be adapted in an online space?

Aaron: I think the syllabus is a really good example. The online syllabus has changed dramatically in the last 18 months, it used to be a standard format, is you upload a PDF, and don’t get me wrong, I’m not speaking flippantly about syllabi, because that’s my bread and butter, I do a lot of research on it. But you might just load it up into the LMS. And “Hey, go check it out.” But now, I think we’re kind of deconstructing the syllabus a little bit. And really, a lot of people are doing it, where they’re really putting it to the “Start Here” module, and they’re deconstructing the syllabus to where it’s all these different components to it. You can still have a standard syllabus that somebody links on, and if they want to print something out, old school, and they can have, but you really are kind of reincorporating, that syllabus into a startup module, a “startup week one,” however, you want to organize your course. And you’re really kind of diving into it. So structurally, it’s the same, but functionally, how it’s delivered, changes. And I think that’s just one example of the principles there. It’s just how is it surfaced? How is it realized to the learner, it might take on a different form.

Guy: That’s really interesting, because even in I’m teaching in person this semester, and I found myself essentially designing courses, like online courses, where my syllabus is deconstructed to an extent. And I just put the pieces into various modules, so that students don’t have to necessarily go back and read the whole syllabus. So there is a sort of a weird transition, now, and this could be a positive of all this extra work that people are putting into transitioning remote and online is that people will take advantage of some of the things that are in LMSs is a little bit more. So if you wanted to make some money, you could probably start a company right now, or add something to Brightspace or Blackboard where you build the course in the LMS, and then it automatically builds the syllabus for you or something like that. That would be a great feature that I think teachers would love, you wouldn’t have to deconstruct one to make the other, essentially.

Regan: I wanted to go back to something that Guy said earlier that I think is really important in this context, and what Guy said was the overlap between what we all experienced when we read more of the other literature’s in online teaching. And I think far too often, many of us who only have taught in the classroom. And there are still many faculty out there who only teach face-to-face who haven’t taught online. They have missed out on a world of pedagogical practices that instructional designers have been really well aware of for a very, very long time. And so that overlap that Guy alluded to that we all saw, when we looked at that literature, I think, is just a great testament to the fact that there still needs to be some better coordination and communication between those people who talk about and train folks on what the better practices are. And right there when I say that, many individuals who teach online at most universities have to go through some kind of training, but few universities make people teaching face to face go through some sort of training. As somebody who works at a Center for Teaching and Learning, I wish there were more prescriptions to come in and take some guidance on pedagogical practices. So I think that’s a big deal there. Instructional designers have these things down that we could have used. And Guy, I had exactly the same experience about maybe 8, 8, 10 years ago, when I took a Quality Matters course and then immediately used all those practices for my face-to-face LMS. What a great world out there and we need to do some more cross fertilization.

Rebecca: Regan, I think one of the things that’s really interesting that you’re pointing out is we often think about the silos of higher ed as being disciplinary, but it’s also in terms of modality and between staff and faculty. So there might be research done by instructional designers, but somehow that lives in staff world, and it doesn’t live in faculty world. And there’s not a lot of integrations or conversations across those lines. And the pandemic has forced us all to talk to each other in these ways and troubleshoot more because we’re trying to solve some immediate problems. Being more aware of these treasures that are available in different silos that we don’t usually dip into can be helpful.

Regan: Absolutely.

John: And I know a lot of faculty at our campus have been attending workshops at rates they never had before, because they started learning about all these new techniques and tools, and many of them have said that when they go back to a purely face-to-face environment, they’re not going to teach their class in any way, like they were doing before, that they’re going to port this over. And I know I had the same experience several decades ago when I first started teaching online. All of the tools I picked up and some of the techniques have been used in my face-to-face classes as well. Going back, though, to that discussion of the syllabus, one of the things you note in your book is that it’s really important to provide people with more detailed instruction in an asynchronous environment than it would be if you’re meeting with students synchronously, because students are working on their own and they need more information. And I think that’s part of the issue that you’re referring to with a syllabus, perhaps, by building more information into it. Could you talk a little bit about that?

Aaron: Yeah, I think there are several strategies. We’re always going to compare face-to-face to an online or even a flipped or hybrid course, you have these side conversations in a face-to-face course, like you might have this little 30 second “Hey, don’t forget to do this” and “I want you to really pay attention,” “Work on your APA style,” whatever the case may be. You don’t have that at all in the online setting. So you have to create opportunities for that. And so one strategy that I’ve seen pretty successful is making mini short tutorial videos. Just like a six-line email, students are not going to watch a video that’s more than six minutes. I haven’t quite seen the research on this, but I can almost guarantee you, to a certain degree, there’s this Sesame Street effect, their attention spans not gonna be that strong. Because it’s in a video format. It’s asynchronous. So there’s not a lot of interaction. So I’ve seen a lot of people do assignment tutorials, just generally how to take a quiz, how to do an assignment, how to actually have a discussion, not “Well, I met the minimum rubric criteria and I responded to two people and I cited in reference my work, which is actually to have engaged into a asynchronous conversation. And so you see a lot of video tutorials. And here’s another thing about how principally it works within the model teaching competencies face to face, it just looks a little different in online format. The beauty about all those too is they can be the transcript, they can do a video and if you do it through YouTube or whatnot, you can get closed caption, you can get a written version of it. And so that’s one example I think of having to, what I call, make implicit procedural knowledge. So somehow, you’re supposed to know how to do it, but nobody tells you. And so making it explicit. And so those types of tutorials I’m pretty big on. I was slow to come onto that train a little bit, because there is a lot of upfront work. But once you get good at say Loom (that’s the program I use) or Camtasia, or whatever the program is, you can get pretty quick at doing a three-minute video, posting it, and you can also monitor if they’re watching it, and that kind of stuff.

Regan: And I just wanted to add something else that adds on to Rebecca, to the question you asked, that’s relating to this, which is, what are the things that are different and varied? And I think when we teach face to face, we take just the power of presence for granted. And I think we more implicitly think about what can we do for a student to student interactions. And I know that was something when we were writing this book and thinking about the online nature, if you’ve never taught online before… and really, that’s where we geared this book towards, it’s people who’ve taught a lot of face to face, perhaps, but kinda need to start thinking about what’s different in online. And I think that’s one of those big things that’s different with online, is thinking about, you don’t have people sitting in the same room physically, what do you need to do to explicitly build that student-to-student interaction, so that it’s not just student-to-content and student-to-instructor? But, what are those things we can do to make it an engaging student-to-student environment? And that’s a really big challenge

Rebecca: Regan, you’re making a really good point. And also maybe assuming that students feel that connection with students in a physical face-to-face class that they may not actually feel. But just because they’re in the same space, we make these assumptions. I think that being explicit, maybe we’re learning it for online, but it certainly applies to going back into the classroom as well. [LAUGHTER]

Guy: Yeah, and just to connect a couple different lines here, just with the explicitness of it, the engagements, you even have to be explicit in how you engage what the rules are, what the minimal standards are. It’s something that in a classroom that’s face to face, you say, “Okay, turn to your partner and talk and you can watch and see and they have whatever, two minutes, five minutes, 10 minutes, whatever it is, but online, you literally have to tell them, “Okay, your first comment is due by X, and then you respond by Y, whatever day it actually is.” And so there’s a little bit more of you have to be intentional about setting expectations and, I don’t want to use “moderating,” but really controlling… that’s not a better word is it?… [LAUGHTER]… facilitating the exact behaviors that you want. And I definitely learned that in the spring with the pandemic teaching and even a little bit with the online courses. If you allow students to post online when they want to it will be near the deadline and that’s not a great way to foster engagements. So, you have to design engagement. It’s really about intentional design. You can’t just walk into the classroom and wing it, like a lot of us who were experience teachers can do face to face.

Regan: And great use of the word design, Guy. And I think, really, that’s something that’s so important. Even when you’re teaching face to face, there is design. Teaching should not be an impromptu act, it needs thought, it needs forethought, it needs intentionality. Every once in a while I run into folks who go, “Hey, I really know my stuff well. What’s there to teaching? I step into the class and voila, there you have it.” No. Design, people. Intentionality.

Guy: Out of all the stuff that I picked up in the last year learning about online, the thing that has been most gratifying is this idea that your whole course is in the bag and ready to go before the first day. I’ve been doing that since day one of my teaching, and it’s so nice to hear reinforcement for that’s the way it should be done. And so I think that’s a message that, if we’re talking about learning from the experience of doing online in the last year, that’s definitely one that I hope gets generalized outside of the online environment, because it’s just so important for students and for the instructor.

Rebecca: As an interaction designer, I have to say, Yes, we should design experiences. [LAUGHTER]

Guy: Yeah.

Regan: I also want to be respectful of individuals who are in situations where, due to courseload, they cannot be as intentional as they would like, because of lack of training that they don’t know how to be intentional, I think it’s very easy to say that’s a good thing. But it’s really up to colleges and universities to help their faculty, to help their instructors be able to do those things.

Rebecca: It’s a heavy lift to be intentional.

Aaron: And I think I would add to that, as well is two things: one is that and maybe this is opening a different line of thought and questions, but the diversity, equity, and inclusion issue in online is real. And this is kind of related to it. I just read a couple different studies where they’re measuring, essentially in online learning, essentially what modality or what tools students are using, and it varies widely, but it’s somewhere between 40 and 80% of students are only using their phone to do an online course. I accept late work for partial credit and I do that because I don’t want to judge people’s excuses. That’s just not something I want to do. And I just got an email from one of my students that just said, “Hey, I’m going to be late, I understand the consequence, I’m sharing a computer with my roommate. I just got a positive COVID test, so I don’t think I should use this person’s computer…” which is like, of course, right? But I think we need to understand access, we need to understand bandwidth. When we pivoted in March of last year… our university uses Teams and to be honest, sorry, Microsoft, it sucked at the beginning, it was horrible. It took a massive amount of bandwidth. And if you didn’t have really high speed internet, you couldn’t engage in teams at all. So I purchased Zoom, ‘cause Zoom’s bandwidth was like I think a 10th of what Teams… and teams has cleared that up since then… but you have to think of things like those equity issues in what students have access to. And so I think that, in line with what we were talking about, in terms of intentional engagement, you have to realize that not all students can do those things. They just don’t have the opportunity or the access or the virtual bandwidth, the metaphoric bandwidth to do it.

Guy: I’m curious if anyone has read, if there is research on that, with online instruction, that students who maybe are coming in with some access issues if they’re as successful or less successful than students who don’t have those, because I think we’ve seen basically the same sort of stratification in terms of the health effects of COVID, the educational effects of COVID, I have friends who are therapists, and it’s the exact same thing for them, they have patients who are doing just fine, and they have patients who are doing really bad because of all kinds of other issues. But has anyone read research on that?

Aaron: I’ve seen a little bit on internet accessibility, but most of that stuff is in the K-12. My wife is a third grade teacher and teaches online remotely right now, and has the whole time during the pandemic. And she will literally spend hours with one student just getting them to upload a document. But I think that, going back to the original discussion about intentionality, you can build into your online courses, flexibility, and something that transfers from the MTC to the online setting, and whether that means “Okay, I have 12 quizzes, but I’m only going to take your best nine scores,” or “I have 10 discussions, I’m only going to take your best seven…” T here are ways in which you can build in DEI issues, if that’s related to it, where you’re flexible. You still have great standards and high standards, but there’s flexibility and autonomy within your course as well.

Regan: And I see a lot more sensitivity to the kinds of issues you brought, Guy, in online teaching that I see in face-to-face courses. Many online and e-campus programs do such a wonderful job of preparing students for the class. They acknowledge that the online course is different, and they do very different things. And I think, boy, just like faculty training, I think the more we can do to prepare students for face-to-face classes, the better. A long-term gripe has been: in college, we assume that those students know how to study. And one of my pet areas is study techniques and study skills, and all of the skills that we build. And I take a lot of time in my first few days of class to talk explicitly about how best to study for my course. And I think that a lot of folks who make the assumption that people know how to study, and I think together with the “how to study,” I think we need to be more aware of “Do you have access to the material?” Gosh, “Do you have access to food?” …is a big thing. Something that I think a theme that you’ve seen us mention many times that I want to underline is don’t take teaching for granted and don’t take online teaching for granted just because you’ve taught face to face.

John: We always end with the question, what’s next? And we’ve all been wondering that for at least a year now.

Rebecca: So please, please enlighten us. [LAUGHTER]

Regan: So I’ll tell you the writing that’s on the wall here, and I think what I can see in higher education. I think we’re looking at a new modality, remote teaching, and not just what can we take from remote teaching that can stay when we get back, but looking at that modality in and of itself, especially to get at issues that we’ve talked about, access and reaching people who may or may not be able to come in to some of our schools. I see the sweet spot in remote teaching that it unearthed new ways for us to connect to our students, new ways to share content, new ways to get engagement, that I think we need to capitalize on and fine tune and study so we can better use it. I think that’s what’s coming down the pike as far as I can tell.

Guy: Almost the same comment but maybe a little bit different terminology is, I posed the question is everything hyflex now? And so hyflex meaning that basically, you’re delivering all modalities at once to all students online, face to face, video, and the students can basically choose which of those modalities they interact with. And just to use an example is, for students who are in quarantine or what have you, this semester, we’ve been encouraged at my institution to zoom our classes. Well, that has expanded a bit in what students are expecting even in face-to-face classes to have accessibility to classroom videos. And so is that now happening for everything? Is that just something that students are going to expect from here on out? And is that necessarily a good thing? Because in small institutions, there’s not hundreds of students, it can be difficult to plan for a class, if you’ve got 15 students, and you don’t know how many are going to be there, and how many are not going to be there. And you maybe don’t have a classroom that’s set up to do both types of teaching. So it definitely is, I think, been useful for students who have to step away from the classroom for health reasons or for safety reasons. But I’m curious to see what happens if the student culture is going to change in terms of what they expect and if the teacher culture will change in what they’re willing to offer students who desire that type of flexibility.

Aaron: Yeah, one of the reasons that Guy and Regan and I work together a lot, it’s because we think very similarly. And we also have our unique perspectives on things. I think that higher education is gearing up for a paradigm shift. I think that there’s going to be massive differences in models in how we approach classroom instruction, brick and mortar versus a virtual environment. I think what the pandemic has done is, for some students, conditioned a new way of approaching their education. And I think you see this at the K-12 level, I think you see at this higher education level as well. And so I think that the schools and institutions that jump on this opportunity… we haven’t had a situation in which institutions can reinvent themselves in modern times, and I think this is definitely one of them. I think a lot of programs can reinvent themselves. And enrollment is up and down across the country. There are certain schools that are really getting hit. Community colleges are really taking a massive hit in the pandemic. And they’re having to reinvent themselves and figure out how can we do online instruction? How can we do this flex instruction? And so I think that, as a scientist, we are in a reinvigoration of scholarship of teaching and learning… how to do these different things. It’s going to be an exciting next five to ten years, I think, in higher education, from a teaching perspective, from the learner perspective, and from a scientist perspective about studying what’s going on. there’s going to be a lot of opportunities to basically treat the pandemic as a catalyst for change.

Regan: Absolutely.

Guy: In terms of opportunities, I think my response came off as pretty somber, but I would say there are some things I’m very excited about. So I’m the type of teacher who hates snow days. So I’m excited by the fact that we’re never going to have another snow day ever again. You never have to cancel a class ever again. Every single teacher knows what to do to replace a class that’s canceled for a snow day. And I’m really excited that more people who maybe would not have used an LMS in the past now are realizing the benefits of it. So, we’re going to have more people using those, which is, I think, only beneficial for students. And I’m hoping that more people are realizing that they can move a lot of the stuff that they used to just talk at students in the classroom, that they can move that online. So those are some of the things, as someone who’s still primarily a face-to-face teacher, that I’m excited about how online teaching will have a bigger influence as we move forward.

Regan: Guy said the word face-to-face teaching, and let me say something I’m excited by is that I don’t think there’s ever been as much scrutiny to teaching and learning as we’ve seen in the last year. And I love that. May that continue.

Aaron: I’ll second that.

Rebecca: Well, thank you so much for joining us and sharing some insights from your book and getting us all excited about picking up a copy of your book and also really thinking forward to what is next for us as teachers.

Aaron: Thank you.

Guy: Thank you for inviting us.

Regan: Thank you, Rebecca and John.


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.


184. Engaging Students

As faculty we don’t always have the opportunity to talk to students about their overall learning experience and what has worked well for them as students. In this episode, Christine Harrington joins us to discuss what keeps students engaged, from their perspective, and how that ties to research on teaching and learning.

Christine is an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at New Jersey City University and the author of Keeping Us Engaged (and several other books related to teaching, learning, and student success). Christine has been the Executive Director of the Student Success Center at the NJ Council of County Colleges.

Show Notes

  • Harrington, C. (2021). Keeping Us Engaged: Student Perspectives (and Research-based Strategies) on What Works and Why. Stylus Publishing, LLC
  • Harrington, C., & Thomas, M. (2018). Designing a Motivational Syllabus: Creating a Learning Path for Student Engagement. Stylus Publishing, LLC.
  • Harrington, C., & Zakrajsek, T. D. (2017). Dynamic Lecturing: Research-Based strategies to enhance lecture effectiveness. Stylus Publishing, LLC.
  • Smith, Ashley A. (2018). The Persistence Project. Inside Higher Ed. March 13.
  • Pecha Kucha
  • Playlist of student videos student video presentations
  • Stylus webinar presentation on Keeping Us Engaged
  • Harrington, C. (2018). Student Success in College: Doing What Works! Cengage Learning.


John: As faculty we don’t always have the opportunity to talk to students about their overall learning experience and what has worked well for them as students. In this episode, we discuss what keeps students engaged from their perspective and how that ties to research on teaching and learning.


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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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


Rebecca: Our guest today is Christine Harrington, an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at New Jersey City University and the author of Keeping Us Engaged and several other books related to teaching, learning, and student success. Christine has been the executive director of the Student Success Center at the New Jersey Council of County Colleges. Welcome back, Christine.

Christine: Thank you so much, Rebecca and John. It’s my pleasure to be here again

John: Today’s teas are:

Christine: I’m having water today, John, how about you?

John: I’m drinking vanilla almond black tea.

Rebecca: Hey, that sounds good. John, where’d you get that from?

John: I had it before on a podcast. It was a gift from my son at Christmas.

Rebecca: Oh, yeah, I think I do remember that. I love almond tea. I haven’t had any in a long time. I have Irish breakfast tea today.

Christine: Excellent.

John: So we’ve invited you back to talk about your newest book entitled Keeping Us Engaged: Student Perspective and Research-Based Strategies on What Works and Why, which you co-authored with a small group of 50 students. [LAUGHTER] Could you tell us a little bit about how this came about?

Christine: Sure, John, I would love to. In fact, I have to tell you, this is one of my favorite book projects that I’ve ever worked on. It certainly was not an easy task working with 50 different student contributors, but what a rewarding one. So here’s the story of how it came out. I think you know I served as the director of our teaching and learning center at Middlesex County College, which is located in central New Jersey for a number of years. And then I left and went to the state level, as Rebecca had shared. I was the executive director of the Center for Student Success. And then when I came back to Middlesex, I went back into my role as the Director of Teaching and Learning. And the last session that I hosted there, right before I took the new position that I have right now as Associate Professor and Co-coordinator in a new doctoral program on the Ed.D. in Community College leadership, was a student panel. And this student panel was so incredibly well received by faculty. After you do a professional development event, you always have a few faculty at the end coming up to whoever the presenter is and talking with them and engaging in deeper dialogue. Well, the line was [LAUGHTER], I think, out the door for how many faculty wanted to hear more from the students who were really sharing what worked for them in the classroom, and what faculty did that really made a difference for them. So inspiring, and so moving. So I was thinking that if this worked so well in a professional development setting, that we need to get this word out in a much broader way. We need to bring the student voice, which is the voice that is often missing. But it’s all professionals hanging out together, and excellent professionals and strong research. And I’ve always been kind of a research Queen in all of this, being very tied to only sharing research-based strategies with fellow colleagues. But the absence of the student voice was really something that just kind of was glaring, at that very moment. So I decided I wanted to try to embark on this process. And I’m so, so excited to share that this is out and the 50 students contributors who were just a joy to work with, an absolutely joy.

John: The mix of students is really diverse in terms of age, in terms of the modality in which they’re taking the classes, their geographical location, and in terms of ethnicity, gender, race, and so forth. You’ve got a lot of diversity in there in terms of students. How did you find that collection of students?

Christine: A lot of that was luck, actually. [LAUGHTER] So as it always is, right? I was really hoping to get a diverse group of students to contribute. But it’s really hard to make that happen. And I was really very lucky. I leaned on faculty colleagues, for the most part. So believe it or not, I went on listservs I went on the POD listserv, the first-year experience listserv to see if there’s anyone who was able to assist me and then I leaned on some of my professional networks. So I did reach out to people where maybe they invited me to present and they knew of my other teaching and learning work and I knew that they had direct access to students. So I kind of looked through my Rolodex… if you call it that anymore, right? [LAUGHTER] …of professionals, and I started to email people. And I would ask either teaching and learning center director type folks or faculty, “I’m embarking on this new project, do you have any students who might be interested?” …and I tried to emphasize to those faculty or directors that I was looking for a diverse group of students, but some of the students just answered the call. Some faculty just put it out there to their class. And then it all depends on who’s interested in doing this kind of work. And then, to be honest, I also, as a mom of college students, I had a little network myself, [LAUGHTER] in my personal world, so I leaned on my children and asked them if they would be willing to talk with some of their friends. I got to tell you, that didn’t lead to as many [LAUGHTER] leads as my professional role did, but I did get a bunch. And actually, when you lean on the moms a little bit, just kind of put it out there to some of my mom networks. “If any of your college students are interested in being a part of this….” So they put a little bit of pressure on their children to participate as well. So I got really lucky and I am really so grateful, to be honest with you, to all of my colleagues as well as the students because I wouldn’t have found all these students without the network that I developed. So I’m very, very grateful to everyone who helped me identify students as well as the students who were willing to engage in this process and become a contributor.

Rebecca: Thanks for sharing that process. One of the things that I know, in the land of design that we talk about a lot, is an inclusive design process. We talked a lot about an inclusive classroom, but we don’t talk about the design process being inclusive. And what you’ve just described is that inclusive design process where you recruit folks who are ultimately the audience of the education, to co-contribute or to co-write or to co-research and share their insights as part of the process. And so I really love that you’re modeling that in what you’re doing.

Christine: Thanks so much, I appreciate that feedback. And it is so important to have the student voice front and center. And I’m just honored to have been a part of creating this because I think it really is so critical.

John: Your book consists of five main chapters on the syllabus and the start of the class the first day, the power of relationship, teaching strategies, meaningful assignments, and feedback. Could you give us some examples of some of the research based-strategies that you discussed and some of the discussion that came from students about the impact of those strategies?

Christine: John, it’s interesting, I had a draft table of contents that I sent out to students. So I had some ideas about what kinds of stories I might get from students. But my initial Table of Contents had to get modified significantly in order to fit the stories that I received, because students would say, “Well, I don’t have a story for that, but I have a story for this.” So I’m like, “Okay, I shouldn’t really be dictating the path here.” So I started more with the research lens and trying to get the student voice to support it, and then kind of scratch that. And I had to instead lead with the student voice, and then I only wanted to really provide stories that were research based. So the good news is every single thing that came across my desk from students was grounded in research, it was not hard to look for that evidence, it was really just kind of a repackaging of it. But many of the things that we already know, such as transparency and being clear with expectations at the beginning. There were several students who talked about the syllabus, even if their story wasn’t about the syllabus, because many students said, “Well, on the first day of class, usually it’s a boring overview of the syllabus,” …there were several references of that nature, even though they weren’t talking about it. So people wanted to have more engagement on the first day of class, which we all know is really important, but to hear how powerful it was, from their perspective was critical. And then this one student really talked about how so many syllabi that he received were not clear in terms of what the expectations were, and then changed frequently. So it was like a moving target. So the lack of clarity, and the lack of transparency, really, in terms of what’s expected of students is something that I think we all know we need to be better at. But this student really just kind of put that wonderful perspective on the importance of that. So that would be one example. And you folks know, I wrote an entire book on a syllabus, so I could have gone on and on about the syllabus, but I didn’t want that to take over this book. But it was interesting to see how, without my solicitation, people are really talking about the power of those early actions. And not just the syllabus, John, but also the first day of class. So lots of students talked about the power of giving them opportunities to get to know each other, but not just in a true icebreaker format, but in a connected way to the class. So one student in particular talked about how on the first day of class, his faculty member gave them a survey and they had to answer all these random questions about their height. What did they think the average SAT score was of the class? How many siblings did they have, and was interesting because they give you a little window into their judgments of us. [LAUGHTER] And this particular student said, “Does he just need something to do for a few minutes like thi? He needs some time to get an administrative task and just try to entertain us for a couple of minutes?” But then he said, ”Oh, I quickly realized how powerful this was,” because it was a class that was based on statistical analysis. And they were able to use all of the class data really to teach the students about all the statistical concepts. So he saw the relevance immediately, because now it wasn’t these textbook cases with all these examples that aren’t meaningful and relevant to them. But it was actually their data. So their engagement was much higher. So that’s just another example of the research that speaks so highly and so importantly, about the first day of class actions and helping people feel comfortable. And there was one student he talked about this happening in a large class because I know a lot of times faculty will say, “This isn’t so hard to do if it’s a small class, but if it’s a large class, that’s not an easy task, and how are we supposed to make the students comfortable?” And this particular student talked about how they had a couple of different ways they could contribute and one that they could even do some dance moves, you know, just interjecting some fun into the first day of class and how memorable that was. It was really memorable and the emotion that they felt on that first day of just feeling okay made it easier for them to tackle the more challenging academic tasks that lie ahead and feel okay about that. Because now he felt like the faculty is approachable… they went so crazy to be dancing in front of us in front of the class to really show us that they care about us, like that really mattered. I know the other one that really came up several times, which is no big surprise, and I think you won’t be shocked by it at all. Just know me… you know… know my name, and how like blown away this one student was when their faculty member said, “I’m going to know all your names by next week” and not only knew their names, but knew something about them, and greeted them personally when they walked into class, blew them away, because they realized how big a task that is… simple on the surface, knowing someone’s name, but not when you have hundreds of students every semester. That’s not a small task as we all know. It’s easy to say and hard to do. So the effort that went into that was really, really powerful. And of course, I could go on and on talking about the meaningful assignments, That was another chapter that I thought I was going to turn that one into a whole book [LAUGHTER] Students have a lot to say about the nature of the assignments. And we don’t always think about assignments as an engagement tool, we think about them more so as a learning tool, we hope it engages them with the content. But, many of the assignments will beyond the content and engage them and so much more in their communities, if it was a service-based learning activity… making a difference. But you can see very clearly that many of the examples that they gave were about giving me something to do that had purpose. And that’s grounded in theory. We know that if you care about something, and you feel like there’s value in it, you’re gonna put forth more effort. So all of their strategies that they talked about had such good theoretical and research-based grounding.

Rebecca: With working with such a diverse group of students. I’m curious, in addition to changing how you were framing, how to get stories and how to frame your book, what else was really surprising about working with the students?

Christine: I don’t know if this is surprising, but the most rewarding part was how engaged they were in the process. And maybe that was a little surprising. I was overwhelmed. I didn’t know how many students I was going to get. I didn’t aim to get 50, like I didn’t really have a goal in mind, I wanted to just get some students, and they just flooded in and they were so interested. And several students wrote more than one story. They’re like, “I have another story to tell,” I’m like, “well then tell it.” So I think the level of engagement they had and how excited they were about this opportunity, what that said to me was that students want to be able to write. Some of these contributors, they’re reaching out to me afterwards, they’re like, “If you have another project, I’ve loved working on this with you. I’d love to partner with you in the future. If you know about other ways I can get involved in writing, this was such a great experience for me.” So I think sometimes we forget how powerful it can be for students, I guess surprising was… maybe I’m surprised at myself for forgetting… that I was just so eager to help other faculty, I wasn’t realizing I was helping the students too. It wasn’t my initial intent, although I’m always about helping students. I was really kind of forward facing and helping their future students was my aim. But it seemed like I really ended up helping many of them too. So that was really terrific. And they were so open to the editing process, because that was a little challenging. Everyone’s stories came in in different forms and shapes. And I had to bring one voice to the overall structure, although I didn’t want them to lose their voice at all, in terms of their story. So I sent everything back to them to make sure they were comfortable with it. If you don’t like any of the edits I made, please let me know, I’m just trying to make it flow well here and everyone gave a little bit of “Who’s using this voice who’s using that voice.” And then sometimes I would also have to encourage them to give me more. So it was a little less personal, like a little more academic. They viewed it more like an academic task. And they were just telling you what the assignment was and why it mattered. I’m like, “Can you give me your voice a little more?” So I’d have to go back and ask them, “Tell me why that really mattered to you. You describe the ‘what they did,’ but I need to hear more your reaction. As a reader, and as faculty reading this, they’re gonna want to know what it was about that because that’s going to help faculty change.” And then as you probably saw, I asked everyone to end with a tip for our faculty: “If you were going to do this, what would you recommend?” So I gave them that structure. What was the strategy? Why did this matter to you? And then what advice do you have for faculty? And they really did find that structure, I think, to work well, because I didn’t have to do a tremendous amount of editing, just a little bit of pushing for some more. And once in a while, I had to cut a little bit of the story because it was too long, you know, [LAUGHTER] for page counts and all. So, I had to say, is it okay, if I have to reduce it, this part to me seemed less important. I want to make sure that’s the case, from your perspective, is too.

John: That seems to tie in pretty well with the chapter you have on meaningful assignments, because students saw that there was some intrinsic value in what they were doing. They saw that it had a purpose, that it might make an impact, and might make life better for people. Is that the type of thing that you and they address in the chapter on meaningful assignments?

Christine: So that was interesting. Some of the tasks that I got, I was not surprised by getting the authentic learning experiences, the service learning, experiential learning. To me, I really was expecting those. So that wasn’t shocking at all. But there was a student who talked about the importance of helping her develop her foundational knowledge. So when you see there are some tasks there that are really just helping them build some of the essential skills, which I know are important. I didn’t guess that students were going to write about those, they’re not always as interesting as the other kinds of tasks. So I was kind of a little bit surprised by that. Even the value of quizzes. And we talked a lot about that value, testing effect and how important that is, but students saw the value of that. And then the linking of formative to summative assessments was something that several students talked about. When their faculty built in these, what they call checkpoints, along the way, and gave them feedback on those assignments, so they could tell whether they were going in the right direction or not, they were incredibly grateful to that. And that kind of dips into the feedback chapter too. That was really great. Something I wasn’t expecting as much was the creativity, several students wanted assignments that gave them more room for creativity, and the value in that. Again, there was a student in particular, [LAUGHTER] who shared her inner thought process on day one. And again, it was a syllabus, the faculty member was going over the syllabus, and there was this whole big long series of assignments and activities that they needed to do. And I think she used some kind of terminology such as “is this professor trying to squeeze every little tiny bit that she can out of us in this short amount of time we have together?” …and oh my god, this sounds not so exciting. But then she said two things that really mattered to her: one was she was going to get choice in the nature of the final project. So she got to bring her own creativity to that. And the second was, everything was connected. So it wasn’t a series of unrelated assignments, they could see everything culminating in this final project that really did seem to make a difference, but also gave them the opportunity to shine in the way they wanted to shine. And you mentioned diversity at the beginning of our talk. I think one of the most powerful things we can do in terms of promoting equity is to provide students with more choice. Students often have very little choice in a course. They might have a choice about what major or curriculum, they might have choices, and sometimes not as many as they used to, about what to take within a curriculum. And then once you get to a course, your choices are often… not always but often… restricted to “What topic do you want this paper to be on? or presentation do you want this to be on, within obviously, the confines of the course matter?” But not always being flexible? Like why does it always have to be a paper? Is that the only skill set that we’re trying to develop is academic writing? What about writing for public scholarship or for organizations? This one student talked about this great example where she needed to write for her own work. And this resulted in the organization changing something that she was so hopeful would happen. But she said I would have never been empowered to have that conversation as a entry-level worker in the field with my boss had it not been based on this assignment. I was able to go in and feel empowered and say, “I have this assignment, we’re supposed to come in with a suggestion about something to improve the way that our world of work works. And I have a suggestion, and here it is.” And then they implemented it, and she was blown away. So when you think about that, it’s just amazing at how the assignments don’t only build skills, but they build confidence, they empower…. of course, they can also make a difference beyond the classroom when you allow it to.

Rebecca: Yeah, when students feel like, “Yeah, I can do this,” they just want more. You’re inviting them to the table, showing them that they can have a feast, and then they want more and more because it works out for them.

Christine: Absolutely. And quite honestly, you do that for organizations, they then value the work that we do more, and we can then create and establish stronger partnerships with those who we’re trying to serve. I mean, isn’t that kind of what we’re doing? We’re supposed to be partnering with industry more, and I don’t think we always do a great job at that. And then we’ll be better attuned to what kind of assignments we really need to have to meet industry needs. And again, I know that the entire degree is not just about workforce training and development and just career track focus. But we do need to be responsive to the needs of the workforce. If we’re not, someone else is going to step in and do it. So if we can be more creative and ensure that our assignments are aligned to what employers need, I think we’re also doing a great service to them too, and getting them excited about the partnership as well.

John: And students do sometimes appreciate being able to get a job when they graduate. [LAUGHTER]

Christine: Sometimes. [LAUGHTER] And their parents really do after paying all that tuition, right? [LAUGHTER]

John: When you were talking about the variety of assignments, and in the discussion in the book, it sounds really consistent with a UDL approach to teaching. Is that something that you would advocate based on what you’ve been hearing back from students?

Christine: Absolutely. I mean, I think this does go back to course design in general. So backward design, UDL,being aware of accessibility issues, trying to provide pathways for students to strengthen and shine at the same time. So I think that If you can do all of that on the front end… and students, they knew it when faculty were being careful and really carefully thinking about the curriculum, it was clear to them that this didn’t get pulled out of a hat. And here’s an idea for today to fill the space. But it was a thoughtful, clear process that was allowing students the freedom and flexibility of choice when possible. And I think, at the end of the day, isn’t that what backward design and UDL principles are all about? …is really ensuring that the learning outcomes are met in a way that all students can meet them. And it’s not a one size fits all, let’s be honest, it’s not the only way to do it. It doesn’t all have to be through this type of assignment, I think it can be many choices within those. Now, I don’t think that we want to just give a free for all, we do have learning outcomes that need to get accomplished. So I don’t want anyone to misinterpret my passion for choice to be that you shouldn’t be in charge of your curriculum. I’m actually not a giant fan of students co-creating the curriculum, because that’s a tough job. And it’s really exhausting. So I think faculty, as experts in the field, need to create their curriculum, but know where the choices can be made, to where students can engage in the decision making, I should say, But absolutely, I think backward design, UDL, all those principles, you can see them front and center.

Rebecca: We want our students to be thoughtful about the work they do, we need to be modeling that as well.

Christine: That we do… that we do. [LAUGHTER] I’ll tell you a quick funny story, Rebecca, I was just talking to one of my students the other day, and it was very sweet of her. It was a doctoral student, and she was saying, “I can’t believe how well this is all going. I love the way you structure your class. And I feel so engaged in an online class. And I forgot I’m even in an online class, because we’re always kind of connected.” And I said, “It’s not through chance that that happens.” [LAUGHTER] We work really hard. Me and my colleagues work really hard at creating this curriculum to ensure that that happens.” I said, “But I’ll tell you, ever since I started writing books on teaching and learning, I have to make sure I’m on my A game, man. Like, you can’t write a book on designing a motivational syllabus and then have a syllabus that’s pretty crappy. So I feel this immense pressure every time I’m designing a course, a syllabus, all these activities. You can’t write about engaging students, and then not engage them.” Like I got to practice what I’m preaching. So it is good for us to do that, but it’s challenging. It’s easy to say we should do it, and it’s really a lot of work as you all know. My husband always jokes with me, every time I’m getting ready to teach a class, he’s like, “Haven’t you taught that before? Like, why are you acting like you haven’t done this before.” And I always say, “But I knew I could do it better.” So it’s like, I spend like 80% of my time before the class starts prepping and planning and really structuring the semester and designing it in a way that, if it’s designed, well the rest should be kind of like I’m on autopilot. And then of course, you’re engaging and modifying and being flexible along the way. But the bulk of the work should be done before the semester starts if it’s planned well.

John: That’s what I always tell myself. And I’m always planning to do it that way. And what I generally will do is design the approach for the course and the first module. And then I get tied up with workshops and other things. And then I’m spending all my time during the course just trying to keep up with it. And it’s something I strongly discourage other people from doing. And I’ve tried to discourage myself from doing it, but I haven’t yet been successful.

Christine: The problem is, as faculty, we’re human too, right? [LAUGHTER] We are not perfect either. And it is hard to do that. And it takes intentionality. And when you’re in a position such as yours, you do a lot of professional development work, that’s front end of the semester, too. So everything’s at the same time. So I know when I was wearing that teaching and learning center director hat, it was even harder because I’m trying to help everyone else. And then they’d be all set. And I’m like, “Well, now what about my classes?” You know, I’ve got to take care of those do. But I’ve always tried to help others first and then you got to get there. But I’m telling you, when you do it that way, it is so much better. And I’m in a new program, so now every course I’m teaching, it’s like the first time I’m teaching it… for real, like it’s not just like it is. it is.[LAUGHTER]. And so, it’s exhausting. But I’m actually teaching a course now the second time and I’m like, “Oh, this is nice.” Course, I’ve revamped it. And it’s way different because I made a million mistakes the first time. It is important for us to do, but it’s so hard to do. If we could only practice that would be a much better position [LAUGHTER]… for the rest of the semester anyway,

John: Speaking of new circumstances, what type of teaching are you doing during this pandemic?

Christine: Well, I was teaching in an online program anyway, so I didn’t have to modify as much as others. However, I had to still significantly modify when the pandemic hit last year. We’re very lucky. We have a program that is asynchronous, but it has synchronous components. So we stepped up the synchronous components to serve as a source of support to students, which I think many others did too. All optional and recorded. So if they couldn’t be there, but they wanted to participate or wanted to learn or wanted to hear what others are saying, they could listen. A lot more one-on-one meetings I’m starting to do with students and small group meetings. Honestly, the small group for my own sanity, I was trying to do what was best for them at first, which was one on ones, and then at some point, I’m like, [LAUGHTER] “this is not going to be sustainable for me to do this as frequently as I want to, so I’m going to have to mix the one on ones with the small group meetings.” So for instance, right now, I’m doing 15-minute meetings with students, I started off hour, then I went to half hour, and I’m like, okay, 15 minutes, I think that’s the amount of time I could do and do regularly enough so that I can feel connected. [LAUGHTER] And I package that with these other small group and full class meetings. And I think that that seems to be a great balance for our students. My course I feel like was well designed from the get go. So I didn’t have to modify so much of the design. But because the pandemic, my students are community college practitioners and their world, like everyone else’s world in education, was turned upside down. And they probably would never have signed up to be in a doctoral program in the middle of this pandemic, [LAUGHTER] if they knew that was gonna happen. So even though our course is online, we still had to modify things significantly, in order to adjust for their life circumstance, we had to really take a good laser focus on what were the essential learning outcomes? and what could we let go and push them to another class down the road (because it’s a cohort-based model), and what did we absolutely have to get done that semester? So in terms of engaging students, I think, in the online environment, it’s usually a variety of synchronous and asynchronous, although you’ll see in my book, there are several students who really talked about the asynchronous online that worked well. But there are some more synchronous things that work well too. I’ll give you one example of a strategy that we used for orientation to the program and their icebreaker activity getting to know you, we had students do a Pecha Kucha, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Pecha Kucha, but for those who are listening who aren’t, it means chit chat. And it’s 20 slides, images only, 20 seconds each slide, we modified it as 15 slides so we can make it a clean five minutes each and we have them do a Pecha Kucha about themselves. So introduce yourself to the class for a Pecha Kucha, and my faculty colleague and I modeled it first prior to that day, so they could see what it looked like and then they had time to work on it. It was one of the best activities because we’ve learned so much about the students in five minutes, it was well worth the time that it took and it took a couple of class days to do that. But it was worth it. It was really, really valuable and students felt connected to each other immediately. So we were able to do that in an online format. We had done that previously in an in-person orientation, but it worked just fine online. And actually one student talked about the Pecha Kucha in the book too, so you can hear a student perspective on that as well.

John: In each of your chapters, you’ve got a nice mix of both discussion of effective strategies and student reactions to that and their perceptions of and how they’ve received those strategies. But you also include a section on faculty reflection questions. That’s not something I’ve seen in many books on teaching and learning. Could you tell us a little bit about why you chose it.

Christine: So, the more I’ve been reflecting on my own teaching practices and the previous role I held as Teaching and Learning Center Director, the more convinced I am about the importance of reflection. And even listening to the students’ stories that were coming in… service learning, for instance, as you know, that strong reflection component in that. So most of our learning really does require that reflection. And you just described earlier, John, how we can’t always even plan, nevermind reflect. [LAUGHTER] That’s a luxury item that doesn’t normally happen. And yet, if we don’t, we’re really missing out on something valuable. So I wanted to intentionally put those questions there for faculty to engage in self reflection. But I also anticipated that teaching and learning center directors might want to use them as good book discussion conversation starters, for faculty to really do a deeper dive and consider their own practices: In what ways do i do some of what the students suggested and what the research says works? I don’t know about you, but sometimes I read some of the things, the stories they gave, and I’m like, I used to do that and then I stopped doing that. I have no idea why. That was something I used to love doing and I just dropped it and I don’t know why. I guess something else filled it’s space. I had no good reason for it. So even reflecting on what we have done that really works and maybe revisiting and bringing some of that back, but then what we can do to really push ourselves a little bit more and thinking about it again, from an inclusive kind of lens as well… You’ll see throughout the book, I provide a decent amount, I think, of research and data that really looks at racial equity. And that’s a really important issue for us to look at. Let me just share one example with you, and this is actually comes from public scholarship. This is not a peer-reviewed scholarship research at all. I found this I think it was on Inside Higher Ed and I was so really impressed by it. A community college basically did 15 minute meetings with their students. So they encouraged faculty, it wasn’t mandatory, it was a voluntary, strongly encouraged kind of scenario. And they asked faculty would you do this 15-minute challenge and have one 15 minutet meeting with all of your students, and Joe in the book, all the specific data, but the main story is any student who had at least one faculty member do that had significantly higher retention and persistence rates. But when you did an equity breakdown,when you disaggregated the data, black students, the equity difference between those who had a faculty member do this and those who did it, it was even a more significant jump there in terms of having a benefit. So I think that those reflective questions help us reflect on our own practices, and trying to meet the needs of our diverse student population and gets you to think about who you can go and reach out to and what action steps do I need to take. So I felt like reflection was a great vehicle to process and hopefully push faculty into action, whether that’s through group discussion or individual reflection.

John: We always talk about the importance of students reflecting on their work and encouraging reflection on their part. It’s really nice to see you encouraging faculty to do it there. And that’s a really good suggestion about doing that with a reading group too, as a group discussion.

Rebecca: It seems like that modeling thing is trying to happen again, I don’t know.

Christine: You’ve got to practice what you’re preaching, right? [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: I really love that the examples and stuff that students gave you were also really a reflection activity on their own learning experiences. So there’s a lot of layers of reflection built into how you have these chapters constructed.

Christine: Yes, absolutely. And really, I was not intentional from the get go, it kind of evolved throughout. I wish I could take credit for that completely and saying I structured in that way. But it just kind of happened, I guess, by the nature of the process. And I’m really glad that that did happen. And I’m glad to be able to practice what we’re preaching and trying to get faculty to engage in that process, too.

Rebecca: Christine, can you talk about any companion materials that you might have with this book, I know you’ve provided some great companion materials in the past.

Christine: Sure, Rebecca. So I was very fortunate to already have presented on this at a national conference. And as I was preparing to present on it, I said to myself, I can share their stories, but you know who would be better at sharing their stories would be the students themselves. So I reached out to my students, and I said, “Okay, the book is coming out, we’re really excited about it.” And many of them, I think, were frustrated to how long the process… we all always are, [LAUGHTER] you know, and then we had the pandemic that slowed us down even more. But anyway, they were so excited the book was finally coming out. And I said, “Look, I don’t want to ask too much of you, because I know you’re in the middle of still taking classes or you just graduated and have a new job. But I would love for you to share your story yourself so that your voice really shines through.” So I asked students, I didn’t get all 50 of them to do this, but I got maybe a dozen or so of the students who were willing to share a video. And what I did was I embedded those into the presentation. So when I gave this presentation at a national conference, there was a nice mix of me sharing some of the research and theory, me sharing some quotes from the stories and then also playing a minute or so video of students telling, in their own words, their story, which was really powerful. So I really love that that happened. So I do have a playlist that is available with the students, please. And I do have a recording of my webinar also with the student voices embedded into it. So I think that faculty will really appreciate that. And of course, I’m actually getting ready to do a conference, it may be my first real live in-person conference, again, post pandemic, this summer. I’m going out to a university and if I get out there in person, I’ll certainly be sharing those voices. So I’m so grateful to students who I can’t necessarily always take me in tow with to the conferences, but I can through the technology bring their voices to many different faculties. So I’m always happy to present if there’s any opportunities out there.

Rebecca: That’s really exciting.

John: Are those links public?

Christine: Yes, actually there on the Stylus website as well. But I can get them to you if you want to be able to link to them. That’s fine. I’m pretty much a public gal. So I share all my resources on my public website. And the videos are also public as well.

John: So we’ll share links to those in the show notes.

Rebecca: And then we always wrap up by asking what’s next? And it seems very loaded these days during the pandemic to ask that question. But what’s next?

Christine: Well, I just found out it’s time for the fourth edition of my student success textbook. So my textbook is Student Success in College: Doing What Works. And I’m really excited about this opportunity to revise that. Although I felt like the third edition was strong. I know I can make it stronger. And I’m really looking forward to that process. So that answered that question. I didn’t have to go looking for anything. Something came and knocked on my door and said it’s time. [LAUGHTER] And I’m working a lot with my doctoral students on public scholarship. So I really want to do more. You folks know I love doing presentations. Hopefully next is more in-person conferences and presentations because I miss that so much… getting together with faculty. I’ve been doing a ton of virtual events and I love doing that too. I don’t miss the plane part of it. Although right now I missed the plane part of it, but give me two or three trips and I won’t miss that part anymore. [LAUGHTER] But the physical getting together with folks is definitely something I do miss, I’m getting ready to present at the Midwest SoTL conference, actually next week. That one is on designing a motivational syllabus with equity in mind. So I have a lot of different presentations coming up. So my big book project will be the revision. And then I want to work on blogs and infographics, LinkedIn posts, things of that nature, on a variety of topics. You know, my passion is the community college, and really the diverse student population that we serve, to ensure that we’re doing the best we can to try to reduce equity gaps and increase student success.

Rebecca: Well, sounds like you’re gonna have a busy year… as always.

Christine: I know. Every time one project ends, another one comes. [LAUGHTER] And everyone tells me “You’ve got to learn to say ‘no.’” And I’m like, “I don’t really know how to do that, because you don’t say no to a fourth edition. You don’t say no to doing a keynote presentation.” These are things I love doing. And I’ve come to realize that this is going to be my hobby, too. I was feeling for a while that I’m a workaholic, and I need to have something else. And actually, my son said to me, “Mom, you get up at 4am and you start working, you wouldn’t do that if you didn’t love it.” He goes: “Why don’t you just pretend that really is your hobby.” And so I think it is. [LAUGHTER] I think it’s my work and my hobby all wrapped up and so on. And I do, I love what I do. So I enjoy it. I love it. So it’s all good. I’m just gonna stop beating myself up over the work-life balance and just forget about that. [LAUGHTER] So, it’s just what it is. [LAUGHTER]

John: I think that’s probably true for us as well, to some extent.

Rebecca: Definitely. Well, thanks again for joining us, Christine. We always enjoy talking to you.

Christine: Oh, same here. I really appreciate it. I’m so glad you folks continue to do this. It’s such good work. And I know that the faculty who listen are so appreciative. So thank you for your leadership.

Rebecca: Thank you.

John: It’s been a lot of fun. Thank you.


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.


182. Gender and Groups

When we sort students into cooperative learning groups, we often attempt to create balanced groups that reflect the diversity of the students in our classes. In this episode Olga Stoddard joins us to discuss her recent research that suggests that this approach can be harmful for female students in classes in which a majority of the students are male.

Olga is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Brigham Young University, a Research Fellow at IZA (the Institute of Labor Economics), and the Research Director at the Science of Diversity and Inclusion Initiative, and the Co-Director of the Gender and Civic Engagement lab at BYU.

Show Notes

  • Stoddard, Olga B.; Karpowitz, Christopher F.; Preece, Jessica (2020) Strength in Numbers: Field Experiment in Gender, Influence, and Group Dynamics, IZA Discussion Papers, No. 13741, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA), Bonn
  • Zölitz, Ulf and Jan Feld (2018), “The effect of peer gender on major choice.” University of Zurich, Department of Economics, Working Paper.
  • Sandberg, S. (2013). Lean in: Women, work, and the will to lead. Random House.


John: When we sort students into cooperative learning groups, we often attempt to create balanced groups that reflect the diversity of the students in our classes. In this episode we discuss recent research that suggests that this approach can be harmful for female students in classes in which a majority of the students are male.


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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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


John: Our guest today is Olga Stoddard. Olga is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Brigham Young University, a Research Fellow at IZA (the Institute of Labor Economics), and the Research Director at the Science of Diversity and Inclusion Initiative, and the Co-Director of the Gender and Civic Engagement lab at BYU. Welcome, Olga.

Olga: Thanks so much for having me. It’s great to be here.

John: …really pleased to have you.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are:

Olga: I was going to be prepared and I have my mug, but unfortunately, it’s only filled with water because I ran out of time to heat it. [LAUGHTER] So, water for me today.

John: Tea is mostly water. We’re recording this in mid February when there’s a bit of a nationwide snow covering. And I’m drinking spring cherry green tea to set a better mood for the future.

Rebecca: I think that seems like a good plan. And for a change, I’m drinking Chai.

John: Wow. Okay, I don’t think I’ve seen you drink that on here before.

Rebecca: It’s not a common one for me. But it’s nice to mix it up occasionally. Of course my Chai doesn’t have dairy in it. So it’s just the tea part of the Chai

Olga: Is it flavored Rebecca?

Rebecca: Yeah, it’s nicely spiced.

Olga: Nice.

John: We do normally in our office have a variety of flavored Chai teas, but they’re safely locked up in our building. We haven’t visited in a long while. We’ve invited you here today to discuss your research with Chris Karpowitz and Jessica Preece concerning how the gender composition of teams affects women’s participation and role in team activities. Could you tell us a little bit about the study?

Olga: Yeah, absolutely. So this study was a collaboration with a top 10 accounting program in the US. We partnered with them to randomly assign different gender compositions of teams in this program. So, like many programs in the US, especially business programs, like MBA programs, this particular program relies on a pedagogical group-based approach in which students are assigned into teams, in this case, teams of five. And they work together quite intensively throughout the semester. So throughout the four months that’s their first semester in the program, they work on assignments together, they meet socially outside of the classroom, they even do some of the exams as a group. And so there’s a lot of interaction between those students within those seats. for that period of four months. Normally, because this program has a really small percentage of women, so about 25% of the students in the program are women, the way that these groups had been formed in the past is to assign one woman per group, so as to sort of dilute the women, to have men have experience in an academic and professional setting interacting with women. There is some prior research in the laboratory that has shown that this really is detrimental for women’s ability to be influential, for their willingness to participate, to be engaged. And so what we wanted to do is we wanted to test whether that laboratory evidence plays out in a similar way in the, so to speak, real world setting, more naturally occurring kind of environment. So we partnered with the program and randomly assigned some women to be in the condition where they were the only woman in the group. So the status quo, this is how things have been done. One woman and four men in a five person group, and then other women were randomly assigned to be in a condition where they were in the majority. So there were three women and two men in a five person group. We then tracked these students for the following two years. We had them complete monthly surveys and peer evaluations of their group members. We had them come into the laboratory twice a semester, where we had them work on a team-building exercise, and we watched who’s participating. These exercises were recorded, so we could see who’s speaking, who is interrupting, with speaking for how long. so that we could precisely measure women’s participation, but also measure their level of influence. Because on these tasks, the way that we designed them, women could exert more or less influence depending on certain decisions they make. So we had different ways to measure their level of influence, their participation, and whether others perceive them to be influential, and sort of more like leaders in the group. And so we did that for the following two years. We had two cohorts of students participate in the study. And what we found is that women who were randomly assigned to be the lone woman in the group were perceived to be significantly less influential, and were actually exerting a lot less influence in the group than the equally qualified women who had been assigned to be in the majority in their group. And so we saw really striking differences across those two conditions. Again, these are equally qualified, very well prepared academically women. This program is very competitive. They have prior leadership experience. And yet we find these huge differences across the two conditions in our case, depending on whether women were in the minority or the majority, they were seen significantly less influential by their peers.

Rebecca: Was the perception of the women in the groups different from the start of the study or the beginning of the group formation versus the end of the group formation? Or was it kind of consistent?

Olga: Yeah, that’s a good question. So one advantage of our study is that we can track these students over a relatively long period of time. Most laboratory studies up to date have relied on sort of these one-shot types of interactions, where strangers meet for a period of an hour or so and never interact again. One thing we wanted to know is do these patterns that had been observed in the lab to date, exacerbate over time, or do things get better as team members get to know each other, they get to experience women’s authority or their expertise. And what we found is that it’s mixed evidence on this. So in these surveys, these are monthly surveys that students have to fill out about each other… we call them peer evaluations… and in these peer evaluations, we ask them “Who is the most influential member of your group?” And they state who is the most but also who’s the least influential. What we found that over time, over the course of those four months that these students work together as a group, there is an improvement for the lone women, that their peers perceive them to be more influential over time. For the women in the majority, there seems to be no change. And so we do see the gap closing by the end of the semester, relative to the large gap in the beginning of the semester, but only in the survey data. Once we actually look at the data from the lab, where we observe students interacting in teams, where we can measure who is exerting influence on a task, we see no difference over time. So it seems that there is some improvement for the lone women in these sort of general assessments of influence in these monthly “Who was the most influential member of your group over the course of the month?” But when you actually get down to the specific tasks, we don’t see any improvement for women over time.

John: I know you were looking at this in a very broad context, in terms of teams and organizations and firms and so forth. But in terms of classroom groups of the sort that you were actually experimenting with, a growing number of classes in pretty much all disciplines now rely on group activities. What does the study suggest about how we form these groups in terms of the gender composition of groups, so that everyone can have an active role in the group?

Olga: Like you said, both in the workplace and in many academic settings, group work is crucial. And many faculty members rely on group- based activities. Understandably, they prefer collaborative thinking and develop the skills that students will need as they go on in workplaces where increasingly there’s reliance on group work. And so certainly the implications from our study are that assigning groups in which women are the lone woman or in the minority is going to have costs for women, costs in terms of participation, in terms of influence, in terms of whether they’re seen as authoritative, as leaders in the group. Those are the types of questions we ask and things that we can measure. And so certainly, if at all possible, groups that are gender balanced, or groups in which women are in the majority, are going to be significantly better for women in terms of these types of outcomes. Now, I would add a couple of caveats here. One is that in our study, we can track the grades. We can see what students actually get at the end of the semester. And we find no penalty for women, as far as grades can tell, when they’re in the minority. The women who are in the minority receive about the same grades as women who are in the majority. However, the grades in this program are largely group based. So it may not be surprising, because so much of the grade is based on the group work that we’re not finding those differences. Moreover, we don’t know how women get to those grades. It’s possible that because of these influence gaps, they’re having to work extra hard to get the same grade, or to be seen as sufficiently expert in that particular class. And so those are the two caveats that, even though we don’t observe differences in grades in our study, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t underlying differences in how hard students are having to work or how much effort they’re having to exert. I would also note that, regardless of the gender composition, there were no differences in man’s perception. So the man, whether they were in the minority, or in the majority, saw no deficit in influence, they were equally likely to be seen as a leader, they were seen equally influential. And so, if one thinks well, putting men In the minority is going to all of a sudden hurt the men in the group. That’s not what we’re finding. And there is in fact quite a bit of literature now confirming that. There are laboratory studies and studies in different settings, like nursing school, where men are in the minority, and in fact are not incurring any kind of deficit as far as influence or participation or authority that the women are incurring in these kinds of settings in which they’re a minority. I would also mention one study, it’s a working paper by a PhD student at University of Zurich, and it’s a really great working paper. She’s looking at a setting in which women are a minority… economics… a setting we’re familiar with. And in that setting, she’s using some data from, I believe it’s University of Zurich, it might be another university in Europe, but at that university, they also created different study groups, just like in our study, except these are larger study groups. These are sections of about 50 to 60 students, and they also randomly assigned gender compositions of these study groups. And what she shows is that, over time, the women that are assigned to be in a group in which they’re a minority, are much more likely to drop out of the study group altogether; that they not only incur these potential influence deficits, which we document in our study, but there are, in fact, very serious consequences to their ability to thrive in that class, or to thrive in that environment in which there are a minority. So that’s closely related, of course, to our study, and confirms really similar patterns.

John: We’ll share a link to both studies in the show notes. You mentioned that in disciplines like economics, and more generally, in STEM fields, women are often underrepresented as students, but they’re also underrepresented in faculty. It’s likely that these types of issues will carry over into group meetings and team meetings and department meetings and so forth on campuses. What can women and departments do to address this problem?

Olga: Yeah, that’s a very good question. Certainly, the setting in which we study these topics is student groups. But we are more than confident that these kinds of patterns replicate in a variety of settings, including professional settings, whether you’re a faculty or a student, being in the minority as a woman entails these costs to your level of influence, to your ability to exert influence, to your ability to be heard and taken seriously. And certainly there are other studies that have found very similar patterns in other kinds of settings. So I would not be surprised that if we ran this study in a professional setting or a workplace, we would find very similar patterns among women at all levels, including leadership. Certainly, some studies have confirmed similar patterns among the board of directors, female directors. The question of what can women do to sort of fix this is a really complicated one. And I say that because, what we find in our particular study, for example, is that women can’t just overcome that deficit by working extra hard. One thing that we observe is their levels of participation, how much time they put into coursework, and things like that. And we find that to be the same, regardless of the condition in which they’re in. They’re working extra hard already. Another thing that we observe is their talk time. In this laboratory setting, we can measure how long each person talks. And so you might say, well, maybe women, they’re just not leaning in, maybe they’re not participating enough in these group discussions, and so of course, they’re not seem as influential. Well, we find that’s not the case. These women are in fact leaning in. They’re speaking just as much regardless of the condition in which they’re in. The women and the minorities are going out of their way to try to get their opinions heard. They’re speaking just as much, as far as we can tell, based on the speaking turns and speaking time that we can observe. And so the failure to lean in can’t explain this gap in influence. So the common sort of Sheryl Sandberg “lean in” approach is that women just need to participate more and become equal participants in the process. That doesn’t seem to be supported by our research. Even when they try to do that, that doesn’t help them overcome this gap in influence. And so that’s kind of a depressing thing to discuss, that there isn’t much women actually can do to change those kinds of outcomes when they find themselves in these settings where they’re underrepresented. That it’s really men’s attitudes and men’s behavior that seems to be changing when women are in the minority versus women in the majority. So in our study, it’s men that are evaluating women as more influential when they are randomly assigned to be in a group with more women relative to when they’re in the group with just one woman. But of course, these underlying causes are really structural. So if you were to ask me, you know, what can organizations do to avoid those kinds of consequences for them, and I would say, “Well, number one is they need to hire more women.” Creating an environment in which women are no longer in the minority is certainly the direct implication of our research. However, that might be the more longer term goal. If organizations, say a tech firm, says over time, “We’re trying to hire more women, but we just don’t even have enough qualified women in the pipeline. What can we do now? How can we fix this given that women are still going to be in the minority for a while…” Then thinking about the structures of the teams and how they’re assigned, but also the norms within those teams? So for example, my co-author Chris Karpowitz has done some research in the past about the norms of deliberation and whether teams make decisions by majority rule, or whether teams make decision unanimously. That seems to be really important to women’s ability to contribute in environments in which they’re underrepresented. So maybe restructuring some of the team norms so that decisions have to be made unanimously, such that women’s voices are heard and they’re able to contribute even when they’re in the minority.

John: One thing I’ve been thinking when I read your paper and during our discussion is that there’s a similar cultural issue that affects teaching evaluations. And there’s at least some research that suggests that the negative bias that students may have in evaluating female professors can be overcome somewhat when students are made aware of the existence of this. And one nice thing about studies like yours is that it is making people more aware of this. But it would be interesting to see if students were given information about this at the start of their group formation, if that may affect the way in which group behavior is formed.

Olga: I am aware of those studies and I like them very much, because they show us one way, an easy nudge, which can change behavior, in this case, in the context of student evaluations of teaching. So in our study, of course, we try to keep the framing about students’ participation in this research, very neutral. We didn’t want them to be primed that this was a study about gender dynamics in groups and things like that. But I can envision future work thinking about the next step, which is what can be done to reduce this gender gap, what can be done to improve outcomes for women when they do find themselves in the minority, and one of those could be making students aware then making these patterns a lot more salient. Because honestly, if you probably ask a lot of the students whether they think that women in these groups are incurring any kind of penalty, they would probably say, “No.” The majority of the male students would probably not think that these things are happening. They’re happening in a subconscious basis, not through explicit discriminatory practices. It’s certainly possible that some male students are explicitly discriminating. But one measure that we have of that is how satisfied students are with their groups. And what we find is actually, regardless of the condition in which women are in, they report very high levels of satisfaction with their group. So even when they’re in the minority, and we can see that they’re incurring this really strong cost or deficit of influence, they still report being equally satisfied with their groups, and as happy with the group interactions as the women in the majority. So it seems that even the women themselves are not often recognizing that these deficits are occurring, let alone the male students in the group.

Rebecca: They’ve experienced it forever, it doesn’t seem different, right? [LAUGHTER]

Olga: That’s right, and this is not the first setting in which they’re experienced in this. There’s research showing that these kinds of patterns exist as early as school levels, where difference in competition is found as early as kindergarten, basically. And so the socialization that takes place even prior to college is probably conditioning women to feel that that is a normal kind of environment.

Rebecca: Your study reminds me a lot of conversations around all girls schools in K-12 and some of the benefits of that for women and also thinking about compositions of committees and things that might exist in professional environments where they’re trying to diversify, and they diversify by having token representation. And we often see that that can be problematic, but this is demonstrating other ways in which it can be problematic, which I think is a lot of interesting food for thought.

Olga: Yeah, absolutely. That was one of the biggest motivation… thinking about this is when you look at these policies, both private and public initiatives that are aiming to diversify these settings, like school boards or corporate boards, political assemblies, often, like you said, the solution is let’s just add one or two token women or minorities to the setting to help us be more diverse, and certainly we wanted to know what impact is that having on the women that are added, the women that become those token or lone members of the group and it’s not looking great. [LAUGHTER]

John: It’s a cultural issue and cultural changes tend to be slow. And as you said before, the only real solution is to have more balanced representation in all groups.

Olga: Absolutely. Yeah. And often, of course, what you hear, especially in the private sector is, “Well, it’s a meritocracy. Everybody can apply for these jobs, and we’re just not finding enough qualified women. And you know that certainly could be a valid concern in some stages of application process, but it is an important hurdle to overcome and think about how do we get more women into the funnel? How do we make sure that our women persist through the application process and actually make it into these jobs, because there are barriers at different levels, at different stages of that process that lead to these gender disparities in the share of women that go into these occupations, it’s not all choice. Choices are made, not in a vacuum, they’re made based on the constraints and information that people have. And so making these environments more appealing, more welcoming to women, should be an important objective of any organization that is struggling to increase diversity, gender diversity, in their rank and file.

Rebecca: As someone who teaches when an area of design that is also not balanced, [LAUGHTER] I teach in a more tech heavy side, it’s much more male dominated, because there’s more code and stuff involved and so historically, there’s less women, I’m thinking about all the group work that I do in my own classes, in the context of your research, and thinking about how productive and exciting it’s been to see some groups of all women, and what that looks like and what that feels like. But also having that little voice in the back of your mind saying maybe we need diverse teams that represent different kinds of people, because we’re designing for different kinds of people. And that, for the benefit of males in the class of interacting with women, maybe it benefits them, but they already have a benefit. And so that’s a really interesting consideration that I don’t think we often think about… not in a systematic way… or thinking about groups. I thought about majors and all kinds of things when I was formulating my groups, but I didn’t necessarily think about this.

Olga: Yeah, and I think that’s very common, especially in environments where there are serious binding constraints, you only have a few women. So I’m at BYU, and we have our share of women in the majors only about 20%. So any faculty trying to form group is going to be faced with these really serious constraints. One thing I would say is, in addition to this quantitative evidence that has been generated over the years showing how harmful it may be for women to be in the minority, there’s also, in our study, some qualitative evidence that we find. And since we’ve presented this study in different places, it’s been such an interesting experience, because you get these women just nodding their heads and saying, “I know exactly how this feels having been in the minority, and having compared my experience as a woman in the majority, just how much more heard and influential I feel in those kinds of settings.” So I think compiling qualitative evidence, pointing to the fact that it is significantly more difficult for women in the minority in these group settings to exert their influence and to get their voices heard.

John: Are you thinking of extending this research to other areas in terms of say race or other categories in which there may be similar effects?

Olga: Yeah, absolutely. So the original study certainly can only speak to gender, we have very few non-white students in the sample and can’t say very much since they weren’t randomly assigned across the group composition. But our goal long term is to look at whether these patterns extend beyond the gender domain. My guess is that we’re going to find very similar patterns for racial minorities, for example, who find themselves being underrepresented in many kinds of similar settings. They may even be exacerbated relative to the gaps that we find for women. And so we’re very interested, we’re in conversations with one firm and another institution trying to design a study that might work but this is a work in progress. And I hope it happens, because certainly we want to know whether other kinds of minorities find themselves in similar predicaments when they are underrepresented.

Rebecca: It also seems like it would be interesting to know whether or not, if you have multiple people from different underrepresented groups, if that somehow starts treating that more as a majority of underrepresented people, or if it’s just specific to a particular group at any given time.

Olga: Yeah, that’s a good point. One thing that we are doing is we do have a study in the field that is sort of following up from their original study, which includes the groups in which women are still in the minority, but they’re not the only woman. In our original setting there’s either one woman and four men, or three women and two men. So it’s not a symmetric kind of setting. And that’s by design, because there’s so few women in that program that if we created two women groups we wouldn’t have enough sample size to confidently say whether these results are statistically significant. But in the follow up study that we have been doing in the field, actually, for the last year and a half, we do have groups with two women and groups with two men. So we can compare sort of more symmetric, does it help to have another woman in a team? Or does it not make a difference, because you’re still in the minority. Some preliminary findings that we have, are that, unfortunately, it’s not tipping the scale… that unless women are in the majority, they’re still going to incur those deficits in terms of influence. And that’s supported by some of the prior laboratory research. But this is still ongoing… so, unfortunately, not the full findings yet. Another interesting extension of this work that we have started implementing, sort of by accident, or by necessity, rather, when COVID head and a lot of the group interactions have moved online… our entire lives have moved on to virtual settings… we wondered whether these same patterns would be exacerbated in virtual settings. There’s some anecdotal evidence that it’s even harder for him to get their voices heard in these kinds of settings. And so the study that we had been running in person has been turned into a study using Zoom as a platform. So we can now, at the end of this semester and next semester, say something about whether these patterns are different in online settings versus actual face-to-face settings, and what kinds of additional burdens may fall on the women when they’re having to influence outcomes or participate in the deliberative process in an online setting.

Rebecca: …sounds fascinating.

John: It’s a great natural experiment. …let me rephrase that… [LAUGHTER] we should probably not refer to the pandemic as a great experiment…

Olga: I know.

John: …but it does provide an interesting source of data on that issue, and virtual work is likely to become much more common in the future anyway.

Olga: Absolutely. It doesn’t seem like it’s going to go away. Even if the pandemic ended today, people are getting used to these kinds of interactions. There are advantages to them in terms of flexibility and the kinds of geographical constraints that no longer seem to apply. But they may also have these unintended hidden costs that I think are important to be able to quantify, particularly as it relates to these gender and racial disparities that already exist in a lot of these settings and workplaces.

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

Olga: So this study has really led us to think carefully about these gender disparities, and to try to understand what kinds of interventions can help improve the outcomes for women. So the next step is certainly for us to try to test and evaluate the effectiveness of some of these interventions. So for example, I mentioned we’re doing a study in the field using Zoom as a platform for team meetings, we’re playing around and designing different kinds of changes in group norms, which operates through Zoom on, for example, who gets to start the conversation, or timing each participant in the group, so they know how long they’ve been speaking for… things that have been possible through technology, and trying to see whether those kinds of interventions will help improve the outcomes for women when they’re in the minority. So that’s one direction in which we are continuing this research agenda. And then another one, of course, is looking at other kinds of minority status. So particularly looking at race, we’re very interested in collaborating either with firms or other institutions that have ethnic or racial minorities, and are interested to know what implications do these settings have on their minority employees or students?

Rebecca: Looks like a lot of great work coming down the pike. I’m excited to hear what you find.

Olga: Thanks, Rebecca, thank you so much.

John: You’re doing some wonderful work, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of it in the future.

Olga: I really appreciate it. Thank you guys. It’s been a pleasure. Thanks so much.

Rebecca: 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.


179. It’s Been a Year

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

Show Notes

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


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


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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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


John: Our teas today are:

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

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

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

John: Well, there was one other time…

Rebecca: Oh, when you dropped off equipment.

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

Rebecca: Are you drinking tea, John?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John: Yes, that meets once a week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rebecca: …or sometime ever… [LAUGHTER]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.


172. Advancing Online Learning

We’ve focused a lot on faculty switching modalities during the pandemic, but even experienced online instructors have faced new challenges redesigning their courses to work for students with limited computer technology, network access, and quiet study environments. In this episode, Kevin Kelly and Todd Zakrajsek join us to discuss how universal design principles can be used to provide learning equity and human connections in our online classes.

Kevin works with colleges and universities as an educational consultant and teaches as a faculty member in Education at San Francisco State University. Todd is an Associate Research Professor and Associate Director of Fellowship Programs in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Todd is also co-author of Dynamic Lecturing that we’ve discussed on earlier podcast episode. Kevin and Todd are the authors of Advancing Online Teaching: Creating Equity-Based Digital Learning Environments, recently published by Stylus publishing.

Show Notes

The Excellent Teacher Series

Resources and tools


  • Sweller, J. (1988). Cognitive load during problem solving: Effects on learning. Cognitive Science, 12, 257-285.
  • Tobin, T. J., & Behling, K. T. (2018). Reach everyone, teach everyone: Universal design for learning in higher education. West Virginia University Press.
  • The psychology of progress bars. Spindogs. Samuel Merritt University.
  • Baker, R., Dee, T., Evans, B., & John, J. (2018). Bias in Online Classes: Evidence from a Field Experiment. CEPA Working Paper No. 18-03. Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis.


John: We’ve focused a lot on faculty switching modalities during the pandemic, but even experienced online instructors have faced new challenges redesigning their courses to work for students with limited computer technology, network access, and quiet study environments. In this episode, we discuss how universal design principles can be used to provide learning equity and human connections in our online 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: Together, we run the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at the State University of New York at Oswego.


Rebecca: Our guests today are Kevin Kelly and Todd Zakrajsek. Kevin works with colleges and universities as an educational consultant and teaches as a faculty member in Education at San Francisco State University. Todd is an Associate Research Professor and Associate Director of Fellowship Programs in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Todd is also co-author of Dynamic Lecturing that we’ve discussed on earlier podcast episode. Kevin and Todd are the authors of Advancing Online Teaching: Creating Equity-Based Digital Learning Environments, recently published by Stylus publishing. Welcome, Todd and Kevin.

Todd: Thank you, Rebecca.

Kevin: Thank you.

John: Our teas today are:

Kevin: I’m drinking Irish breakfast tea with honey from our backyard beehive.

Rebecca: …can’t get any more fresh than that.

Kevin: Nope.

Todd: Well, I just finished hibiscus tea. But now I have my big old bottle of water to get me to the next round.

Rebecca: Excellent. And I have Christmas tea.

John: And I have ginger tea. We’ve invited you here today to discuss Advancing Online Teaching. Could you tell us a little bit about how this very timely book came about?

Kevin: Well, Todd and I have known each other for years and years. And it just so happened that one day he was telling me about a series of books that he’s created. And he invited me to work with him on a book about online teaching. And we’ll get into more about how that evolved, but Todd maybe can fill in the gaps in my memory there.

Todd: No, this is perfect. And you know, I take credit where credit is due. Sometimes you just get really, really lucky, and Kevin and I this round got really lucky in a way. I wanted to mention the fact that we’ve actually been working on this book for about two years. This isn’t a situation where suddenly everything went to emergency remote teaching and we threw a book together. We started about two years ago working on this, we’re both massively busy folks. And so kind of kept picking away at it and running back and forth with edits and kind of kept working on and working on it. And then it was about December of last year, we talked about it and said, let’s just get this thing done, put some time aside and just crank away at it. And it was about six weeks later that everything started to go sideways on teaching. And so then we talked it over and really focused hard. And within about three months, I guess, got it done, because it takes about six months in production. What I mean by lucky is we had enough of it as a framework, that had been years of work, that we could then dump it into something that we could get out very quickly. And at a time that I think is going to be real helpful.

John: One of the things I really like about your book is it’s focused from the ground up on inclusion, equity, and the use of universal design for learning. Could you talk about why you chose those as the foundation of course design?

Kevin: We wanted this book to be different in a few ways. Many of the books out there about online teaching focus either on the technology side (what buttons do you click to make a discussion forum take shape or what have you), and some of them will focus on the student side (how do you actually facilitate those discussions?). But with work that both Todd and I have been doing in different circles, we decided that we wanted there to be an underpinning, if you will, of these different concepts so that they would be infused in everything people do, not just a tack-on at the end, the way you might find in a college of education: “Oh, here’s a class on how to make your courses more multicultural,” Instead of infusing that into every aspect of every course. We kind of viewed it like when you go to the eye doctor, and they put one lens down and say “Are you clear or fuzzier now?” And now we have these three lenses, you characterize it as inclusion, learning, equity and universal design for learning. But we frame it as universal design for learning, learning equity, and human connection, which is a little bit broader than inclusion. But it was really important for us to really think about: “Hey, there’s a human at the other end of that internet connection when you’re having a teaching and learning experience.” And we don’t want to lose sight of that. What do you think, Todd?

Todd: I think that’s a really good point. And I think the biggest one still is that concept of coming back over and over again to remember the human in the exchange. It’s really easy to post things out there and open quizzes and do all those things, and forget the fact that when you open the quiz the student who might be taking the quiz may be in a car in a McDonald’s parking lot, because it’s the only place they can get internet. So we really wanted to hit that over and over again,

Rebecca: I really appreciated too, the extensive coverage on accessibility and things as well as part of that discussion, which sometimes gets overlooked, which is really unfortunate,

Kevin: Right, and we also wanted to make sure that accessibility wasn’t the only frame through which to view Universal Design for Learning. Often many people think about it that way, but we think about, “Hey, these are accommodations for students with busy lives. These are accommodations for students who may speak English as a non-native speaker. These are accommodations for people who are parents and juggling one device amongst themselves and other people in the house just trying to get work done and survive.”

Todd: And that’s how we did a lot of the themes, and it comes up over and over again. You don’t design something so that you provide an opportunity for a person who has some kind of challenge, you design so that that challenge doesn’t matter anymore. So if a person does take a little bit more time to cognitively process, you could certainly make extra time for that person. Or you create an exam with no time limit, and then it’s no longer an issue. And so Kevin was phenomenal at finding a lot of different ways of, again, constructing the learning environment, in an online situation, so that challenges don’t matter anymore, to the greatest extent possible.

John: Many of the earlier books focused on an ideal condition where students working remotely were students who had good equipment, good connections, and plenty of time to arrange for this. But that’s not the student body, I think, that we’re generally seeing. Even without the pandemic, we see increasing diversity in the students and the time commitments and the challenges they’re facing while they’re enrolled in college. So, I think that focus is really good.

Todd: I think that’s a really, really important point, because is in the past, students who are in online classes chose to be in online classes. And there are certain types of students, my daughter is one of them, she does much better in an online course than she does a face-to-face course. She’s got a lot of learning challenges, and it just works better for her. But what we found with emergency remote teaching about 9-10 months ago, is that everybody, faculty and students who had no interest in being in online environments, were all there, which means there was a tremendous mismatch. So the other things we’re really working on with the book is if you find yourself in that mismatch, how can you match it up a little better?

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about ways to overcome some of the racial and ethnic achievement gaps that we see online and some of these other maybe economic issues or just experience differences between students who have a lot of experience online versus students who are new to online?

Kevin: Sure, and I would characterize the equity-based gaps that we see…and often we hear them referred to in reports as achievement gaps… but the literature now encourages us to use words like education debt, so it’s not on the doorstep of the student. But, are we making student-ready colleges as opposed to college-ready students. And so, one of the groups I mentioned in the book Peralta Community College District, I’ve got six years of data, I’ve been looking at their work with students of all varieties, and the only data you can really get in a disaggregated form is for ethnicity, because it’s in the student information system, the database that has characteristics about the students, but the fields for first-generation student, the fields for veterans, the fields for students with disabilities, sometimes aren’t filled in at all. So you won’t be able to tell, to the same extent, that there are either biases, assumptions, or institutional barriers that negatively impact students’ motivation, opportunities, or achievement. So when we get to different things that work for different groups of people, Universal Design for Learning really helps because it allows us to construct multiple pathways for people to succeed. And those multiple pathways may need to take into account that some students are interdependent learners, as opposed to independent learners. They grew up in a culture where everybody’s sitting around the table, and they’re learning as a group, as opposed to individually off on your own reading a piece of text and answering questions about it later. And so to create opportunities for students to learn interdependently with small-group projects or discussions, gives those students who come from, whether it be their family or their identity, their culture, gives them opportunities to succeed in ways that we may be not fostering with highly independent, self-directed learning activities that we commonly see in online courses.

Todd: I want to mention the fact that what Kevin just pointed out is phenomenal in terms of making sure that we’re kind of helping create good learning opportunities for students. But a lot of times people will make that mistake of thinking what we’re talking about here is meshing in learning styles. And you have to be very careful because the literature is very clear on learning styles… it’s one of the trickiest things to debunk out there. We’re not talking about teaching to a given learning style, we’re talking about a situation that if a student is in an environment, for instance, where they’re low bandwidth, and you know, watching videos is going to be really hard… text based material will be a lot better. If you’ve got a student who’s an incredible writer, but they’re extremely shy, then asking them to create a video might be really hard for that person, but creating a paper is not. So, it’s helping to match the types of preferences and abilities students have, not teaching to that learning style. So I just want to make sure there was no misunderstanding there.

Kevin: What you said, Todd, just made me think of some of the research that we’ve been looking at to build the Peralta Equity Rubric. I’ll come back to that in a second. But there’s research that shows that African-American and black students, if they don’t see themselves in the course materials, are less motivated. So back to Rebecca’s earlier question about what can we do? We can make sure that the images and media that we use to represent the content and topics in our courses are also reflective of the students in our classroom, whether that classroom be face-to-face, hybrid, or fully online. And so those types of strategies extend beyond just “What is the content?” but how are we presenting it, as well.

John: One thing that struck me with Todd’s comment is that it may be the case of someone in an environment where writing is easier for them or more natural while video might not be, but for a student who is interacting with a course primarily Through a smartphone, it’s quite possible that the video may be the easier form of representing their knowledge rather than trying to type a paper on a smartphone.

Kevin: Correct. And one strategy that I’ve started using in my own class is for students who may not have access to a device, I had a student who first made me aware of this challenge who was living in his car. And so he didn’t have access to a computer on a regular basis unless he went to the 24/7 lab. So he started using Google Docs and then I told him about Dragon apps so that he could do voice to text. And then I got smart enough, somebody told me about Google Voice, which is a free phone number that students can leave a voicemail message. And so now that student can just write with a pen and paper, not worry about typing it at all, and then read it as a voicemail message just like a book on tape, I can still grade it with the same rubric, but that student has fewer barriers to reach the particular goal with respect to that assignment.

John: You mentioned the equity rubric that you developed at Peralta colleges. Could you tell us a little bit more about that?

Kevin: The short version of the story is that they were moving from one learning management system to another, from Moodle to Canvas. And at the same time, they decided they were going to write their first ever distance education plan. And based on some data that one of the team members had identified during her sabbatical, when you look at the average between all students in face-to-face courses and online courses, that average of retention and success kept shrinking so that students in online courses were catching up. But when you disaggregate that data by ethnicity, you see that Asian students and white students are well above the average and black African-American students, LatinX, Hispanic students, were below. And so we saw that we couldn’t just think about this in one way. And we decided in that distance education plan they wrote for the district, that they wanted the two core values driving the plan to be the learners themselves and equity. And so we didn’t want it to just to be a document sitting on a shelf collecting dust. And so we started looking at how do you operationalize helping faculty members infuse learning equity into their courses. We went out on the web and couldn’t find anything, the closest thing we could find was the University of Southern California has the Center for Urban Education, and they have five principles about equity by design. But that wasn’t very practical for a teacher learning how to infuse equity. So we just went out, looked at all the research that either showed an equity-based gap that negatively impacted student’s performance or an equity-based intervention that positively impacted student’s performance. And those research efforts led to eight criteria that we wove into this rubric. And now we’ve been using it to train faculty. I’m using it in my own course. And it’s been exciting to see how the whole district is responding. It’s gone from an equity rubric to an equity initiative over time,

John: Is that something you share publicly?

Kevin: It is. Yes, if you go to the Peralta website, and we’ll make sure you have the link for your show notes. But the rubric itself is a creative commons document. The training, which is on a new version we’re going to launch in just a couple weeks, we’re putting in the Canvas Commons for free. There’s a bibliography that’s quasi-annotated, that shows the literature pertaining to each rubric criterion, and document that explains some of the core concepts. And some of my work involves taking that rubric and turning it into a framework. And I like to see it,if you’re familiar with Photoshop, or any tool where you have layers on top of layers. The Universal Design for Learning matrix is a grid three by three that helps you identify the checkpoints for integrating UDL principles into your course. And so I thought it would be a nice add-on, it’s not the same as, it’s a new set of ideas for faculty to start weaving in equity principles. So for example, in Universal Design for Learning, we think about different ways of presenting content based on the format, audio and text, or video and text. And then with learning equity, you think about “How do we present multiple perspectives on that, so that we have different ages and ethnicities and backgrounds and cultures and identities, carrying their ideas on the same topic?” And from there, we’ve taken it forward and built it out into a core part of the book.

Rebecca: It’s a much needed thing… grateful that you guys worked on that. I know it’s something that in doing a lot of accessibility related work and UDL work with our faculty and trying to bring in equity more holistically, it’s challenging, because it’s all these disparate resources and trying to make all the connections, it’s nice to have them all in one place.

Kevin: Well, I have to say one of the things that led to the success of this project was the fact that we had such a diverse group working on it. We had people from all walks of life: students, staff, faculty, and it’s one of the things I’m most proud of is the work I’ve been doing with that Community College District

John: Changing the topic just a little bit, you advocate a backwards-design process, as many people do, but you also emphasize the importance of creating learning objectives at the level of course modules as well as at the level of the course and also making those explicit, not just in the syllabus, but also in the course module. Could you talk a little bit about why that’s important?

Kevin: I constantly refer back to what I call the psychology of the progress bar. And so if you’re familiar with progress bars, we as humans are not satisfied or motivated until it’s 75 to 80% complete. So when you have, for every course that you’re taking, and imagine a student with a normal load is taking four or five courses, let’s say you have an average five to 10 learning outcomes at the course level, that’s potentially 40 to 50 learning outcomes, or progress bars, that you’re trying to measure your progress over the course of the 17 weeks. So that means you’re waiting until week 12 of any semester to know how you feel about how you’re doing in a course. So that idea behind having module level learning outcomes means that you’re breaking things into small chunks, students can see that they’ve reached those outcomes right away. They dovetail or fall under the umbrella of those larger course-level outcomes, but provide checkpoints along the way for students to tell how they’re doing and stay motivated. Again, that motivation for persistence and success are key factors in helping our students in these online courses. And then, obviously, Todd brought a whole lot to that conversation, because he knew, just on the back of his head, the entire history of the term “learning outcome,” and why we use that instead of the word objective in the book, Todd, what do you think?

Todd: I’ll just mention this quickly, as I think it’s important for the book, because it seems like folks just love to argue about whether you’re really looking at outcomes or objectives… and goals, we totally get, everybody sees those as being separate… but outcomes versus objectives. So we kind of outline in the book, the different ways that people have actually defined those terms. But one of the cool things about this is that it was back around 1962, that a book was written about objectives, it goes back to the 1800s. But in 62, there was a specific book that was written that says, looking very, very carefully, what is the behavior that’s being done? How’s it being done? What’s the criteria for success, and we should be able to document those things so that we can objectively look at whether or not a person has achieved this. Then in about the late 80s, early 90s, the outcome-based education came along. And the big push was from objectives to outcomes. With the idea being that we’re going to define the outcomes of something we should be able to identify what is the behavior? What’s the criteria for success and how they go about doing it? And then they cited the same research from the 1960s. So we have two or three pages in the book of the folks who say, “Oh, no, no, it’s not objectives, it’s outcomes.” We say, Where do you think that came from? So at this level, and we’re not trying to be rude about it, but it really doesn’t matter. If you’re not writing a thesis on this, what’s important is that you can write a statement that says, “By the end of this unit, by the end of this class, by the end of this whole section, a student should be able to, or will be able to…”, and so that’s what we really went for, but kind of waiting for the feedback. The book’s brand new… out right now …of waiting for the hardcore education folks to kind of explain that we had outcomes and objectives wrong.

John: I gave a workshop on this topic in June for people preparing courses for the fall. And that was something that people from our education faculty were raising, saying, “Well, are these really objectives? Or are they outcomes?” And my point was, it doesn’t really matter. These are the things we want students to be able to do. And let’s just work on helping them get to that point, because both terms are used generally interchangeably, from what I’ve seen.

Todd: Yeah, totally.

John: And in describing them, you do use the SMART acronym. One issue I’ve run into is that there’s many different variants of that acronym, but you adopt one that actually pretty much the same one we had used here on our campus. Could you describe that SMART acronym?

Todd: It’s kind of going to come back to the same thing you were talking about for outcomes versus objectives. For a smart outcome, it is very important for It to be specific, that it’d be measurable, achievable, realistic, time bound, sometimes people change realistic for reachable. And so these words will bounce around a little bit. But I think what’s important, it’s almost… in drawing this analogy to Bloom’s taxonomy, people get so hung up on Bloom’s Taxonomy to say, is this knowledge or is this understanding? You know, it’s foundational. If it’s foundational, I’m good with that. There’s a difference between knowledge and understanding versus application versus synthesis. On a SMART outcome, there’s a difference between writing an outcome that’s just not reachable, it’s not timely, it’s not measurable, those are problems. So again, as far as I’m concerned, as long as you got something that’s specific and measurable, and probably reasonable, those are the big ones. But, that’s what we’re really after.

Rebecca: I love the emphasis on chunking things into small pieces to manage cognitive load, not only of our students, but also of the faculty member teaching the class… because just like students who may have those 50 outcomes they’re trying to head for, faculty are also trying to manage that and keep track of that for their students as well. So I like the idea of the cognitive load management for everybody involved in the learning process and really keeping it organized, which is a key thing for any sort of learning design, to make sure that people know how to move forward.

Todd: Well, yeah, I’m going to say that I think probably one of the most important aspects of creating any kind of learning environment for your students is it comes down to cognitive load. I mean, it really is, because at any given moment, if you have too much to do. For anybody out there who doesn’t know what cognitive load is, think about, like, the expressway. And so you got information coming in, if I’m looking over and I see somebody walking by, and I just watch him for a minute and see what their outfit looks like, that’s one thing I can do. If a friend is talking to me, I can listen to the friend. if they’re talking to me in the car while the radio is on, and then it starts to sleet outside, I’m thinking, you know what? …trying to keep the car on the road, listen to somebody talking, and having the radio is too much. And so it’s just too much material coming through at once. And it’s kind of like when the expressway has too many cars coming in at once, and everything comes to a grinding halt. So what we have to be really careful of is that the more you do something, the easier it becomes. And the more you have frameworks for doing things, the more easily you can do it. So as we build these kind of structures, students can process a lot more information. But that’s the cognitive load. And everybody has that feeling of sitting down to read something and getting about two paragraphs in and saying, “Yeah, not now, I just can’t do this right now.” That’s cognitive load. And we do it all the time. The most important thing to keep in mind is, if you’re an expert at something, the process is very easy, because it’s repetitious, but your students are novice, so they’re going to face a lot higher cognitive load. So the thing that you think, “Oh, this is easy…” they’re holding on by their fingertips. So be mindful of that cognitive load, I think, is really important, from the work of Sweller in the 1980s.

Kevin: And just to build on that and to go back to Rebecca’s concept about the chunking and how important that is, it also serves today’s students. So recently, I was a moderator of a student panel at a conference. And we had in the same panel, a working mother. She was a single mother of two kids and in her 30s. And she said, “Sometimes I’m just trying to get the work done. I’m not aiming for the A, even though I would love an A, I’m just trying to get through this credential so I can get a degree and get upward mobility socially and socioeconomically.” And so thinking about chunking as a universal design for learning concept, where students can track their progress when they’re having to bounce between different priorities, academics, worklife, family obligations, this makes a streamlined pathway. Using Todd’s expressway, we’re creating a carpool lane for busy people.

John: And it also matches with your discussion earlier of the checklist type idea, that when students are given a project, say “write a paper by the last day of the term,” it’s really easy to procrastinate. And then quite often, when people did that, it became overwhelming, and it just never got done. By breaking it up into smaller chunks, you’re keeping the cognitive load lower on each chunk, but you’re also dealing with those human tendencies to procrastination and so forth, to make it easier for people to keep the work manageable to stay on track and not to put things off, because they’ve got many other things that at the moment seem more pressing than something due a month later, or two months later.

Todd: Yeah. And John, you brought up something that’s hugely important there, that so much of this stuff is interwoven. And I think it’s hard for a lot of folks to see all of the different connections that are out there. But if you do a project, just like you just said, that’s due at the end of the semester, students wait till the last minute because they will. As a faculty member, I’ve had reports for Provost that I’ve waited until the last minute to do, but that creates the high pressure. Cognitive load goes up, You start thinking “I can’t do it.” Once I started thinking I can’t do it, now I’ve got to pass this class. And so I started looking out online, maybe there’s a paper I could just buy. So suddenly it becomes an integrity issue. And so a lot of times when you look at the research on students who will do unethical things, or cheating in the classroom, it’s almost always based on pressure. People don’t cheat on things that they don’t feel pressure about. So when you have all these checklists, that Kevin pointed out, through the semester, you keep the cognitive load down, you keep the pressure down, then the need to cheat, so to speak, you take that away. So there are really things that we can do to create a better environment for the students that don’t entice them into these unethical behaviors.

Kevin: Well, and one strategy that we put in the book is to not only provide the due dates, but provide start dates. And when you break up a project into chunks, you can have a first draft, you’re gonna have feedback from a peer, and have those all lined up so that students see it’s not just one thing at the end of the term, and they’ll just wait until the last day. But instead, “Oh, I need to start my draft because I need to turn that in. Even if you’re not going to do a whole lot with it as the instructor, but you’re going to provide opportunities for students to interact with one another to get feedback about their work before they turn it in. All those things are important. I’ve gone to the extent where I have students take a snapshot either digitally on their computer, or with a phone picture if they have a paper-based calendar and show that they have allotted the correct amount of time each week for my class. And I give them, if they want, the ability to download or use an online to-do list that basically sends them reminders to start and finish things up.

John: And that feedback that they’re receiving all the way through also reduces the ability to engage in academic dishonesty and it reduces the benefits of it because none of the tasks are unmanageable. It works a lot of ways.

Rebecca: I really appreciated all of the equity framework built into your book, but I have to admit the chapter I went to first was “managing your workload when teaching online and I think maybe a lot of faculty might switch to that immediately right now, in this moment in time. Can you talk a little bit about some of the strategies to reduce workload for faculty as well?

Kevin: Sure, I’ll start, but I know Todd has lots of ideas to jump in. So a couple things, one, and we’ve referred to this before, and not in this interview. But, Tom Tobin has a book with Kirsten Behling about universal design for learning, and in it they propose this “plus one” strategy, just think about one thing that you can do. So while we present a lot of ideas in the book, it’s chock full of ideas, we recognize that, unless you’re going to do a full course redesign over a summer or something like that, you re lly are going to find that the maximum strategy that will help the most students at that particular time. And so when you’re talking about workload, part of it is parsing out the work of modifying your course. The other is thinking about strategies that will help you maybe be more equitable in how you reply to students in a discussion forum. There’s research that shows it, and that particular study by Stanford 94% of the instructors replied first, and sometimes only, to names that look like white male names. So a strategy might be to create a spreadsheet showing that you have responded to all the students equally throughout the semester, just tracking your own progress. Until they have tools like that in the learning management system, we have to do it ourselves. That increases the workload in some respects, but also decreases the workload in terms of, “Well, I know that I’ve talked to Todd three times already this semester, but I haven’t answered Rebecca once.” If I’m worried about whether or not Rebecca is going to stay in the class, the way to demotivate a student is to give them no feedback whatsoever. So that increases our workload when we get those administrative calls from our department chairs or Associate Deans saying, “Hey, your DFW rates really high.” So just thinking about different things that you can do over time, and also ways of working with colleagues. If you’re teaching a class that has more than one section, you might be able to strategize who’s going to do what this week. The ability to leverage open educational resources, so you don’t have to create something from scratch, but maybe modify it to meet your needs. There’s all these different ways that you could manage your workload in the online course development, and also the course facilitation.

Todd: The other thing I would add to that is… I think it’s really important, everybody’s in firefighter mode, especially right now. You’re just trying to get… tomorrow is all you’re trying to do. But I can remember being a faculty member about 35 years ago, I was kind of in that same framework, too. I know that now is tremendously just pressure for everybody. But you know, last year wasn’t just easy, and three years ago wasn’t simple. So we’re always in this field where, because there’s an unlimited number of things we can do, and if we care about our students and we’re pretty bright, and keep trying to do new things, we’re always kind of overworked. So I think this is no different than a lot of other times, you got to take stock of where you’re at and what you can do. And I think budgeting a little bit of time, even every week just for 20, 30 minutes, and specifically say to yourself, low-hanging fruit stuff… What could I do that would actually cut down some of unnecessary work that I’m doing right now, and not decrease the learning for my students? I could take a thing out here, and they’re still going to learn just as much. Or what’s something that I could add that, after a very short period of time, the cognitive load wouldn’t be bad, because it might take me a couple times to figure it out. But once I got it figured out, then I can do something that takes very little time and has a lot more growth for my students. And so just taking stock once in a while, because I will tell you that I remember when EXCEL came out. So when Excel came out, a friend of mine said, you got to get your gradebook into Excel. And for anybody who’s listening that’s old enough to remember carrying around the green book… the little green book that we all wrote up all our notes with. I had five exams where I dropped the lowest exam. And I was doing my class with 600 students in those green books. And it took me two years before I finally tried Excel, because I was too busy to try it. So my framework now is to say, “What if I had budgeted 30 minutes to try that?” I think in the end, it only took me about 30 minutes to an hour to actually run it in Excel. But I never took the time. So what we’re advocating for is, as busy as you are, take just a few minutes to just say if I jump off the treadmill, what could I do that would take less time?

John: This is going to date me a little bit, but I only used one of those little green books back in 1980 and 81. And then I picked up a Timex Sinclair computer, one of those early things, and I wrote a grade book program and I was using that up until the time I got a spreadsheet. I think Lotus 123 was the first one I used and then Excel after that, and then the gradebook in the LMS. I hated doing all that by hand. So I’ve always tried to automate it.

Todd: Before we move on. You know, I do want to point out, just for nostalgia, that there was nothing in society more powerful than that little green grade book because anybody in higher education had seen that book before. And I can remember my sister got in a car accident and these surgeons would come in, different people come in, and they were very dismissive of us, almost all of us. But, I was grading one time and one of them came in and saw that book and stopped and says, “What do you teach?” And then we got into this really nice conversation and it suddenly occurred to me, even the physicians fear the green book.

John: One of the things you emphasize throughout your book is building human connections in online courses. Could you talk a little bit about some strategies that we can use to do that effectively?

Kevin: So first is being aware of opportunities where students can interact with one another or interact with you, the instructor. And so that awareness then extends to “Okay, we’re going to build it into an assignment but in a way that helps students understand that that’s part of what you want to achieve.” And so we often look at instructions for, let’s say, a discussion forum where it’s maybe a paragraph maybe two of how they should respond to your original prompt, and then please reply to two other students. And so giving them some feedback about what do you want to happen in those replies? Do you want them to extend what the other person did by finding resources that would be helpful for the argument they’re making? Is it to probe or clarify when that student’s not making enough points to really make it clear what they’re trying to say? And so giving them some ideas, and then when we pull in the equity angle, on top of human connection, we can say, “How does your connection to this and your background and your identity map to what you’re experiencing with your student classmate?” And so getting them to start interacting with one another at different levels, also increases that sense of human connection because they know each other better? A lot of instructors I know, especially in fields, maybe like STEM, they’re worried about adding things to the class that would take away time from other important activities. And so it’s finding those ways to do both. I’m a big fan of both/and as opposed to either/or. So, if you’re going to have a discussion, then maybe “How does this physics concept apply to your background? How is it useful in your life?” And so there’s still thinking about the physics concept, instead of just a chance to socialize with your classmates. And then moving on from there.

Todd: I love the way Kevin just covered the one aspect. Another thing we’ve talked a lot about in terms of this human connection is there’s an old phrase that “we teach the way we were taught.” And it’s actually a way to excuse folks for lecturing because like, “Well, I was lectured to, so I lecture.” I don’t actually believe you teach the way you were taught. I think that… in fact I know, back when I was an undergraduate, and we’re talking about back in the late 70s, early 80s, there were faculty members doing service learning, there was small groups, we did problem based learning, we had a lot of different things. I loved this one guy who did storytelling lectures. I don’t teach the way I was taught, I teach the way I best learned. And that makes a lot of sense, because if we really don’t stop and take into consideration other people, every one of us has a way we learn. And we think, “Oh, you know how students will learn best is you do it like this.” And it’s the way you learned. And so what I think the thing is, is we got to break away from this concept of teaching the way we best learned. And by the way, as evidence of this too, you’ll have some students who will do phenomenally well in your class. If you sit down and talk to them, they tend to learn just like you did. And that’s why the class is going so well for them. So I think, for me, what I try to do is to say “Who in the classroom….no matter how I’m teaching, who in the classroom is struggling right now?” And so if I’m teaching something where people raise their hands and just shout and answer quickly, I’m actually teaching to the fast thinking, low concerned extroverts… the people who don’t mind making mistakes. And if I stop and think for just a second, who is that not benefiting? Well, somebody who needs to take a few more minutes to think, a person is a little bit more introverted, or an individual who’s really self conscious about making mistakes. So that’s a part of trying to find that human connection to of getting away from just assuming everybody out there like us

Rebecca: As a slow thinker, I really appreciate that.

Todd: And you know, it’s funny, I just want to say is, I think that’s really, really important. Because people will make jokes about that all the time. It’s like, “Well, you know, we introverts…” They’re all learners. And this is one thing I just loved working with Kevin on. He’s one of the kindest, most human oriented people I’ve ever been around. But constantly be thinking, if somebody makes a joke to me and says, “Well, you know, I’m kind of introverted. So I don’t know if I’ll fit in here.” I’ll say, “Well, wait a minute, how can we make that work? And it’s not a joke. Let’s talk that through.” Because education is by and large, built for fast-talking risk-taking extroverts. That’s just who education had been built for. And online learning actually changes that game, which is why some students dislike it, and others love it. But they’re all humans out there. So we do have some students who are really struggling now with online learning, who wouldn’t be doing much better in the classroom right along with the people again, who are doing much better because we’re online.

John: And we should try to design our courses to work for all sets of students.

Todd: Yeah.

Kevin: There you go.

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

Kevin: Well, I would say, Todd described how this book evolved over the course of a couple of years. And during that couple year period, this thing called a pandemic happened. So obviously, there’s more that we could be doing. And so I know, for myself, in conference presentations and workshops that I conduct at colleges and universities, I’ve been trying to fill in different gaps to help people with immediate needs that we may not have been able to get to to the book, otherwise it would have been an encyclopedia. We packed that thing full of ideas, but I think Todd just constructed a website. I’d love to find ways to engage the community around the equity challenges that they’re facing and help folks identify what this really looks like in a course. When you’re talking about learning equity or Universal Design for Learning or human connection. These can seem like abstract concepts. And so when you’re saying, “But I’m designing an online course, I need something that I can see.” So getting examples of that, not just by the ones that Todd and I put in the book, but by others. Stories that students tell about things that helped them, those are the things I think would really bolster this book and make it achievable for people who are busy and just trying to help their students. What do you think, Todd?

Todd: I think that’s great, Kevin, and I guess that’s, for me, the same type of thing. We’ve written the book, I think it’s an amazing material, quite frankly, and I’m in awe of it at the end. And I’m not saying that just because I’m the co-author of the book. It’s got so much information packed into it. And so we did set up a website, theexcellentteacherseries.com, because this is part of that series. And it’s going to have information on it. So I think what’s next is what Kevin was just talking about, just continuing to put tips and different suggestions on this so it can be a living project, as opposed to a static book. The book itself kind of launches you and then we have this living project that people come back to and contribute with.

John: Thank you. I really enjoyed reading your book. And I’ll strongly recommend it to our faculty here. And we very much appreciate you taking the time to talk to us.

Todd: Thank you.

Kevin: Thank you.

Rebecca: Yeah, thank you so much for joining us and sharing all of your rich information.

Todd: Appreciate that. Thanks for the opportunity.

Kevin: Yeah, and the chance to have some tea.

Todd: Oh, yeah. Gotta love the tea.

Rebecca: Tea is very important.


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.