300. Episode 300 Reflection

This is episode 300 of the Tea for Teaching podcast. Whether you are a new listener or have been with us for all 300 episodes, we are very grateful that you’ve joined us on our podcasting journey. In this episode, we celebrate this milestone by reflecting on what we’ve learned and how the podcast has evolved.

Show Notes

Transcript

John: This is episode 300 of the Tea for Teaching podcast. Whether you are a new listener or have been with us for all 300 episodes, we are very grateful that you’ve joined us on our podcasting journey. In this episode, we celebrate this milestone by reflecting on what we’ve learned and how the podcast has evolved.

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

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

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Rebecca: Now that we’ve reached Episode 300, we thought we’d take the opportunity to reflect on some of the changes that we’ve seen in higher education since we launched the podcast in 2017.

John: Today’s teas are:…

Rebecca: I have Blue Sapphire.

John: I heard you just stocked up on a trip to your favorite tea store.

Rebecca: Yes, I was really excited to stock up on my favorite and I have a couple new ones too. So maybe in some upcoming episodes, we can try those out.

John: And I have Bing Cherry Black tea from Harry and David’s which is made by the Republic of Tea. When we first got started on the podcast, much of the focus was on specific teaching practices and techniques and interesting projects. Most of our guests were people that we knew or guests who were within our professional networks.

Rebecca: in the spring of 2020, as we know, [LAUGHTER] the focus shifted to the challenges associated with remote and online teaching, and the challenges facing remote learners and instructors.

John: As we became accustomed to pandemic teaching, we focused a bit more on faculty concerns as we transitioned into the transformed higher ed landscape. Historically, higher ed had been designed to serve the elites of society, and while higher ed gradually became more open and students have become much more diverse, many residual practices have worked against serving the students that we have. During the pandemic, faculty became much more aware of the inequities facing our students as well as faculty and staff.

Rebecca: Yeah, so one of the things that we’ve been talking about quite a bit is this more holistic focus on the needs of our students and faculty as humans, and really generating and creating a much more inclusive higher ed environment. How do you see that moving forward, John?

John: One of the things we’ve talked about is addressing the needs caused by the increased demands on time for faculty, staff, and students. As we developed new teaching techniques and tried to build more structure into our courses, it put much more demands on faculty in terms of redesigning their courses, in terms of paying more attention to the needs of students, and providing students with more feedback. And that has led to issues with burnout, which we’ve addressed in a number of podcasts.

Rebecca: And you’ve never experienced that, have you, John?

John: The day is not over yet. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Well, how do we think about supporting faculty as we move forward with all these demands on their time in trying to prevent burnout? We’ve talked about this in a couple of episodes, but as we enjoy summer and have a little bit of more downtime for some of us… maybe not you, John… and move into the fall, what are some things that we need to be thinking about for our own classes to prevent burnout?

John: One of the things that we’re trying to be careful with when we recommend new teaching techniques to faculty at the teaching center here, is that they change approaches gradually, that small changes, incremental changes, are much easier to accommodate than the type of rapid changes that people had to do when they first moved into remote teaching. And so I think we have to be careful in making sure that we maintain a balance and we don’t burn out ourselves, because we’re not going to be very effective in supporting our students if we’re struggling to get through each day ourselves.

Rebecca: Yeah, we need to be present, just like we want our students to be able to be present and have the supports around them to be present in their learning. I think one thing that we’re also talking about in grad studies in our office is really this increased stress on faculty, and how do we support faculty, but also how do we support graduate student populations through things like accountability groups, or ways where there’s another human for accountability, but also for support, and not necessarily a mentor model, where there’s a power dynamic, but really a peer-to-peer approach to connect people together.

John: And we’re running two reading groups this fall to address some of these needs. One of the reading groups is on Sarah Rose Cavanagh’s new book, Mind over Monsters. And the other one is the second edition of Jim Lang’s Small Teaching. We had done that a few years ago, but we’ve had a lot of new faculty since then. And while we try to reach as many faculty as we can in our workshops, there’s a lot of faculty who are still teaching in pretty much the same way as faculty were teaching a century or so ago. And we’re hoping that by encouraging small modifications in teaching approaches, it might encourage more faculty to participate in introducing active learning activities and evidence-based teaching approaches.

Rebecca: It’s really easy to slip back into past practices when we’re tired [LAUGHTER] and overworked. And it’s not surprising that people have kind of slipped back into assignments and stuff that they’re really familiar with to reduce the cognitive load around new stuff and the many stressors around. So having that added support to help faculty re-engage with some of those ideas is, I think, a really great idea at this juncture. And I love that Mind over Monsters is one of the reading groups as well, because mental health is such an increasing concern, not just for students, but also for faculty and staff.

John: And we’re very much looking forward to both of these reading groups. Among the things we’ve talked about more frequently since the start of the pandemic are the challenges faced by underrepresented and contingent faculty.

Rebecca: I think when we’re introducing new techniques, and we’re thinking about supporting students around mental health, or we’re thinking about evidence-based practices and engaging in active learning, we need to remember that contingent faculty or underrepresented faculty have different barriers or different obstacles in implementing these things… or even more pushback from students and implementing some of these techniques. So we really need to be cognizant of supporting each other and realizing that we don’t all have the same kind of supports in place. I think some populations of faculty are just overly criticized. And when they try something new, it’s not accepted in the same way that a more dominant group’s adoption of those same techniques might be.

John: And that’s true both by students as well as by their faculty peers. And one of the things that’s come up in many of the podcasts we’ve discussed are the biases in both student and faculty evaluation of teaching.

Rebecca: Yeah. One of the things that I think is on the minds of our faculty too, is, as we’ve seen increased diversity of our students, we’ve seen diversity in levels of preparation. And I think those inequities have always been there. But again, maybe it’s more visible now than it had been in the past. How do we work through that in our classrooms, especially in these more introductory classes as students transition into college?

John: Well, I think those inequities have always been there, but they certainly grew with remote teaching, because our students face very unequal resources in their school districts and in their households. And when people are physically in the classroom, they’re at least exposed to the same infrastructure within their institutions. But when students were taking classes from home, as we talked about in many, many episodes, during a pandemic, they had very unequal network access, they had very unequal computing facilities, they may have been sharing a computer with multiple family members, they may have been forced to work. And as a result, the inequities in prior education and prior learning became much more dramatic during the period of remote teaching. And that disproportionately affected students from low-income households and low-income school districts. And what we have to do is provide resources, I think, for all students to be successful. And while we always should have been teaching, or providing resources and support, for all students, those needs have become much greater now, because while we are bringing in a much more diverse student body, we’re also losing students who come in with less preparation at some of the highest rates we’ve ever seen before. And we have to make sure that we’re providing the students that we accept with the support they need to be successful. And there’s lots of ways of doing it, you can build in some additional resources, you can connect to YouTube videos, and such things and provide support to students, you can use mastery learning quiz systems, and many other techniques. But we have to work towards having more faculty building that in because while many faculty are doing these types of things, and trying to build more support and more structure into their classes, it’s not a universal phenomenon.

Rebecca: And maybe even acknowledging that some students in the class are quite literally working harder to get to the same level.

John: The last few years when I’ve been teaching my large intro class, that’s something I’ve mentioned explicitly. I said, everyone here has all the resources they need to be successful. But if you had taken an AP introductory microeconomics course, or something close to that, you’re not going to have to work as hard to attain mastery of many of the concepts. If you have not been exposed to these things, or if your background in working with math and using graphs is not as strong, you’re going to have to work a bit harder. And that’s not a message that a lot of students appreciate hearing. But if we want to get all of our students to the same level at the end, the students who do come in with a weaker background need additional support to get there. And using tutoring when available, encouraging students to come in and talk to their professors and use office hours, all of those things can help but we’ve got a ways to go. What are some of the things you do to try to provide support for the increasingly diverse student body?

Rebecca: Yeah, I think the reality is that what we give each student isn’t the same, because what they come in with is not the same. So I often am trying to assess where students are and then pushing them right at that moment where they’re at, rather than expecting everyone to be at the same point. And I can do that a little more efficiently in a small class than you can in a bigger class. But I think we need to use those smaller classroom spaces to be able to do that so that everyone feels challenged, but also has what they need.

John: My introductory course is a prerequisite for all upper-level economics classes, and most of my students will be moving on to upper-level classes, so they have to reach at least a minimum level of proficiency in the discipline in order to be successful in their future classes. In other classes, instructors can be more flexible, and just try to get the most learning gains in their students, no matter what their starting points were. In my introductory class, at least, I have to pretty much take the students where they are, and try to get them all to the same place, while making sure that they’re all challenged. And that’s a very challenging goal to reach.

Rebecca: …and the difference between teaching those introductory classes versus higher level classes within a discipline, for sure, I think one of the most efficient things we can do is making sure that all students know the most effective ways to learn, because they don’t necessarily know those things coming into college, or even into graduate school. What we need to just remember is learning isn’t something that we just magically know how to do, we need to learn strategies and techniques that are effective.

John: We’ve had a number of guests over the last year or two who’ve talked about books that they’ve provided, or resources they’ve created to help students be more successful. Because one of the things that’s been pretty obvious for quite a while is that the study techniques and the learning strategies that students use are not generally consistent with what evidence suggests is most effective. And as a result, students are not using their time as efficiently as they can, by engaging in strategies that they perceive as being useful, that really result in very little increase in long-term recall… strategies such as highlighting, repeated rereading, and so forth. And one of the things that might be helpful is if we all could shift students a little bit in the direction of using evidence-based learning strategies, and some of that could take place through course design, by building infrastructures that incentivize the use of these techniques.

Rebecca: Yeah, and I think the moment that students realize that they don’t have the most efficient way, or the moment that a student begins to struggle is different, depending on some of that background, that they have. Students that come in well prepared may have never really struggled in high school, and maybe eventually, maybe even in the first year of college, you don’t struggle, but maybe it hits a little later on in their education, maybe not until graduate school. And then other students might struggle the second they get to college, because there’s not as much structure in place as there was in high school. So I think we need to be underscoring these techniques at all levels, and not just in their first year.

John: And one other thing that’s been discussed in many podcast episodes, is the importance of making the hidden curriculum of higher ed transparent to students, so that we don’t expect students to know what a syllabus is or how it could be used, that we shouldn’t expect students to know what is expected on a term paper in a class without making those expectations explicit and transparent to students. Because in general, we see a lot of students coming in, and they see it as a game where they’re trying to guess at what instructors are asking. And many of those guesses, especially for students who have not been in college prep classes before, are wrong. And they wasted a lot of time and effort that could have been spent more productively developing their understanding of the subject matter.

Rebecca: And the reality is that there’s differences between disciplines and between courses. And so the more we can be explicit about expectations within our own discipline, and within our own courses, and beyond the classroom experience of higher ed, because there’s expectations in other spaces as well, like student clubs, athletics, and all of the rest of the co-curricular activities that support student learning are incredibly important. And those are also not obvious.

John: One of the things that we’ve talked about much more on the podcast, and higher ed in general has been addressing much more extensively since the pandemic, is alternative grading approaches. Because traditional grading approaches and traditional course structures generally incentivize students to cram and to focus on maximizing their grades, rather than maximizing learning, so that if we really want students to shift to evidence based learning strategies, it would be really helpful if we could shift students emphasis away from grades and faculty emphasis away from high-stakes assessed activity and shift it more to activities that result in deeper learning, more long-term learning. And we’ve talked to many guests who have shifted to using strategy such as specifications grading, mastery learning systems, portfolio assessments, and ungraving, which has become one of the most talked about topics in higher ed in the last few years.

Rebecca: Yeah. And I think one of the things that comes up in a lot of those conversations is concerns over students just wanting the right answer and not learning and not critically thinking about the subject matter and the knowing of why and how, and doing analysis. And I think every instructor [LAUGHTER] has a desire for some of those kinds of conversations to come out in their classes, rather than just regurgitation of things that they’ve said in class.

John: Part of the issue is that when we get students in college, they’ve already had 13 years of experience in K through 12, where grades were the primary area of focus. And as a result, it’s hard to shift that focus from grades to learning. Besides alternative grading, we might use some other strategies such as encouraging students to be more reflective on their work, to spend some time in reflection-based activities and metacognitive development type activities.

Rebecca: Yeah, I know, this is a space where I was maybe a little hesitant at first thinking like, “Oh, these are just quick assignments that have no meaning,” but quickly realizing actually the value in really good well designed reflective activities that challenge students to think through how and why they learned something and what it is that they actually got out of an activity. And I’m often very surprised about how much learning occurs that is not visible, despite the fact that I teach studio classes, so I’m with my students much more than the average instructor. So I actually do observe a lot of learning. But in the reflection activities, I’m hearing a lot about how students are spending their time or things that they really struggled with and worked through that I wasn’t aware of. It also helps me understand where they’re not aware [LAUGHTER] of their own learning, or where they’re using strategies that aren’t as effective and helps with interventions. I know you’ve done a lot around metacognition, especially in your lower-level classes, but also in your upper classes.

John: In at least a couple of my courses. I’ve been using the metacognitive cafe discussion forum, which was actually the topic of our second podcast, Judie Littlejohn and I jointly developed this quite a few years back. And it’s been remarkably effective. It’s basically a low-stakes discussion forum that I’m using in my online classes, where students will reflect on their learning and share their learning strategies and will also read a bit about retrieval practice and spaced practice and the benefits of sleep in learning. And every time I do it, even though it’s only a trivial portion of the grade, it’s 5% of their total grade for participating in that activity, the students report that it was the most valuable learning experience they had in the class. A large proportion of the students at the end of the terms say they wish that they had learned these things back in elementary school, that they had been using practices that were not efficient and they didn’t realize that because they’ve never been taught how to learn. And it’s something that students have found really valuable. And the other nice thing about it is because, in this particular case, it’s done in a discussion forum, it helps them build community and helps them get to know each other, because they’ll often talk about the challenges they face. In online classes, many of the students have families where they’re taking care of young children, they may be working different shifts, they may be faced with other challenges that normally wouldn’t come up in a content discussion forum in an online class. But when they share that, and they share those challenges, and they share their career expectations, and they talk about how what they’re learning might be useful in their expected careers, besides the sense of connection, it also helps students see the relevance of what they’re doing and sharing that with other students helps build a little bit more intrinsic motivation in learning.

Rebecca: It also seems like there’s a bit of an immediacy in that context as well, because the information can immediately be put into action in a real lived experience and not something that may feel abstract, which sometimes happens within a discipline when it feels like maybe it’s not a thing I’m going to do anytime soon, professionally. So I think this really highlights the reason why we need to help students hook into everything that we’re doing to make it feel like they have a personal, professional, or educational connection to their own goals.

John: One of the topics that I use in each class where I’ve done this, at a point where students face the first really challenging material in the class, is just asking them to discuss how they deal with challenges. They share useful strategies, but one of the main benefits of that is it normalizes the sense of struggle, that when students are struggling with concepts, they often feel that they’re alone on this, but when they hear that other people are struggling with exactly the same issues and exactly the same concepts, it normalizes it, and again, it helps them understand that challenge is an important part of learning, which is not the message that they’ve generally received throughout their prior educational experience before coming to college.

Rebecca: It seems to me like this is the same reason why our reading groups work so well for faculty development as well is this connection among peers, but also that the challenges we experience are not in isolation. [LAUGHTER]

John: One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about the reading group is when people will come up with a technique or describe something they’ve done in class and people in completely different disciplines who might never have considered that will make connections and see how they could do something similar in their classes. That understanding that we’re all facing the same challenges makes it much easier to deal with some of the day-to-day stresses that we might have in our classrooms.

Rebecca: I know that one of the things that has come up in our reading groups, and also in our conversations about the future of higher ed and where we’re going to be going over the next few years is student engagement, and then specifically, the role of AI tools like ChatGPT [LAUGHTER] in the conversation. So if students don’t feel motivated, and they’re relying heavily on these tools, how do we get students to re-engage with the idea of learning?

John: Well, going back even just a little before the introduction of ChatGPT, which kind of hit higher ed by storm in late November of 2022, we did see a dramatic increase in the use of sites such as chegg.com, and various other sites out there, where the use of those tools became normalized a little bit, which made it much more challenging to give online assessments. And I think that’s where most people are concerned right now about things like ChatGPT, because with other places, you could at least locate where answers were coming from. And you could address that with the students and attribute it to the specific sites where they got their answers, which was, again, a bit of a challenge. But ChatGPT is raising some challenges for assessment that are going to be difficult to deal with, because it’s much more difficult to determine who is the author of specific items submitted online for assessment. And a lot of people are struggling with that right now. I know I’ve been struggling with it. In my spring 2023 online class, the quality of student writing on essays improved fairly dramatically over the course of the semester. And that seemed to correlate with the spread of the use of ChatGPT a bit. AI tools are really powerful, and they can be really useful. And they have a lot of potential value in education and in providing support for personal and work productivity. Right now, I think, more people are focused on the challenges, but we’re going to have to start thinking about ways in which we can productively integrate this and prepare students for a world in which the availability of AI tools will be ubiquitous.

Rebecca: And you teach in some really challenging contexts, really large classes in person, a number of online sections, and I know ChatGPT is keeping you up at night. What are some things that you’re thinking about… maybe haven’t resolved… but that you’re really thinking about redesigning or rethinking or retooling in the fall to just respond to the moment that we are currently living in.

John: As of 2020, I had shifted all the quizzing to online quizzes and tests and midterm exams and so forth. I’m seriously thinking about in my large face-to-face class, moving back to at least in in-class midterm and an in-class final exam. I really appreciated the fact that I could let students do it at their own pace, and that it took some of the anxiety and stress away when students did not have this two-hour time limit to complete an exam in the classroom. But with the size of the class, a large proportion of the testing is done with multiple choice exams, or algorithmic questions, and those are types of things that ChatGPT answers really, really well. Not too long ago, someone posted that ChatGPT 4 received a score of a 99th percentile on the Test of Understanding in College Economics (the microeconomics version of that), and those are the same types of questions that I’d be giving students on these quizzes. And while I had 1000s of questions that I had created that students were selecting from, all of those questions now are vulnerable to the use of AI tools, which makes it much more difficult to assess in that large class. Right now, the only thing I’ve really thought about doing differently in my large class is moving back to at least a couple of in-class exams. Now some of the things I was doing, such as polling questions embedded in the class activities and working on problems in class, where students submit that in real time, are generally much less subject to that type of issue. I know there are tools where students can scan the questions and so forth, they get responses back a bit more quickly, but it wouldn’t be as easy for them to do in real time when they’re in a polling environment. One of the main benefits of that is when I use polling, it was always tied with peer-to-peer discussions. And those peer-to-peer discussions is where most of the learning actually occurred from those in-class problem-solving exercises. For my online class, I’m not sure what I’m going to do. One thing I have done in the past is I’ve had students do podcast projects. And again, it’s pretty easy for chat GPT to generate scripts, but these projects are pretty heavily scaffolded. Students submit a proposal and they go through a number of steps to get there. And projects that are scaffolded like that, are probably a little bit less sensitive to the use of AI tools to generate the entire project. What are you thinking about in terms of your classes, or in terms of the graduate program?

Rebecca: I think we’ve talked a lot about the concern over the validity of our assessments and wanting there to be accuracy, not just for our sakes, but for students’ stakes in the value of their degrees moving forward. Part of it, I think, is really engaging in conversations around ethics around these tools, and not necessarily discouraging the use of the tools entirely, or banning the tools. I think that just motivates people to want to use them more, but rather to use them in ways that are productive, or interesting, but are also well documented… [LAUGHTER] like students are disclosing what they’re doing. And we can analyze the use of the tools in particular ways because maybe it could save time in particular places and not take away from certain kinds of learning, as long as we keep the learning objectives [LAUGHTER] up front. And then we assess when we’re using particular tools to determine whether or not it’s taking away from the learning. But I think these are hard conversations to have, and certainly not things that I want to be policing.

John: And I’d much rather not be policing these things. Sometimes students haven’t given me much choice in that. One example that I’ve seen recently is students submitting exam responses that asked him to analyze recent data, where the response said something to the effect: “as an AI tool, I do not have access to this data.” And when a student submits work like that, it’s pretty clear that they haven’t even read the essay responses they’re submitting on that graded assessment activity. And we want to make sure that students do actually interact and engage with their learning materials. Perhaps we can also design assessments that are not as vulnerable to AI-generated text. This semester, with my online classes, one thing I have shifted to, instead of having them discuss general debates or issues in economics, I have them focus on interpreting videos online, for example, where economists are debating certain topics, or doing readings that are not in the training database for ChatGPT, which means it’s much harder for AI tools to generate responses when they don’t have access to the underlying content that’s the focus of the assessment activity.

Rebecca: Would hyperlocal situations or examples also be a strategy because there’d be less widely available information on something like that.

John: Definitely. Information on the local community or the campus community or other local things, information that would just not be part of the training database is a good place in which we can ask students to connect the materials their learning to real-world events so that you maintain that sense of relevance while ensuring that the students are actively engaging with the work themselves rather than using a tool.

Rebecca: One of the things that I’ve used historically in my design classes, and it’s a little easier again, because I teach studio classes and see students more often so I tend to have a hunch as to what they’re working on, because I’m seeing them working on things, is really documenting process and not just using language, but showing through a video and showing steps along the way that might not be as easy to capture as an end product using an AI tool.

John: In general, open pedagogy projects, too, could be less vulnerable to having work being done entirely by AI tools. So videos would be an example, wikis perhaps might be.

Rebecca: I think that things that combine text and image are more challenging to have an AI tool create, at this moment.

John: That may very well change…

Rebecca: …by the time this episode comes out. [LAUGHTER] I think one of the things that I’m hearing us say actually, is that a lot of the strategies to reduce intellectual integrity or academic integrity issues around ChatGPT are also the things that are more likely to engage students and foster their learning anyways because they’re more authentic assessments, they’re probably more project based, they’re probably more long term with milestones along the way. And these are things that students often deeply engage in. And I think when they can connect to their local community, whether that’s the campus or the community that campus is situated in, or even their own hometown, in different ways around the discipline, those are all ways that students get a hunger to want to learn more.

John: And going back to our earlier discussion of the importance of shifting students’ focus from grades to learning, students are using tools like ChatGPT to raise their grades, even though they recognize it does not support their learning. If we can shift students’ focus to recognize the value of learning as improving skills that they’re going to need later in life, that should reduce the incentive for students to use shortcuts to avoid learning material.

Rebecca: If we’re not just looking for the right answer, but the journey to an answer, and even if it’s an incorrect answer, being able to understand why it’s not correct, and allowing that to be the learning is a really different way than our education has historically worked. The future of higher ed seems really stressful, John. [LAUGHTER]

John: It does, but it always has. That’s nothing new. But certainly the last few years have seen a lot of rapid change that… I hate to use the word unprecedented… but that have been relatively unprecedented.

Rebecca: And I think it really does speak to this need to connect with other colleagues, where we can share some of the challenges that we’re facing and brainstorm together to improve our teaching, but also to improve the level of stress we’re experiencing. [LAUGHTER]

John: One of the other things that we’ve talked about, especially within the last year or so is growing faculty concerns over student engagement. When students first came back to the classroom, there was a lot of excitement about being back. But since then, faculty generally seem to be noting that the level of engagement of students has shifted or has changed somewhat. More students are not completing assignments. Students in some classes have been disappearing from class as the semester progresses. And there’s a lot of concern that students are not as fully engaged with their coursework as they had been prior to the pandemic. So Rebecca, how are we going to solve this?

Rebecca: That’s a good question, John. I think one of the things that this aligns with is the higher incidences of loneliness, and mental health. And so finding ways to connect students to each other, and establishing those peer networks, I think, is one of the most important things that we can do in our classes. And it’s something that I’ve maybe always done in some way. But I’m being much more intentional about moving forward, because I’m feeling like even if students are in the same room, they’re still feeling really isolated. And so we have to be intentional about creating those opportunities for students to experience connection and feeling like they want to show up for each other and for themselves,

John: …using more group activities in class where the work of each student depends on the contribution of the other members does help create that sort of pressure on students to be there for their peers, to be there for the rest of their team. And that could be very useful.

Rebecca: Yeah. And I think the key to that, though, is not just assuming that students know how to interact with one another, or how to depend on one another in a team context, but really scaffolding those learning opportunities that really start with making connections and establishing relationships, because it’s the relationship that’s going to cause the pressure to show up for someone. And I think when we’re seeing high incidence of like ghosting, for example, it’s because the individuals don’t feel connected to the people that they’re ghosting.

John: And there have been a lot of studies done recently that show the importance of a sense of belonging in student persistence. So helping students form those connections is really important, because we have so many students who go to college, build up a huge volume of debt, and then disappear without getting the degree which does serve as a signal that they’ve actually accomplished something as a result of their education. And they end up with more financial struggles than they would have had had they not started. So we do want to help students form those connections for their own sakes, for their own future success. And one of the books we used in a past reading group was Relationship-Rich Education by Leo Lambert and Peter Felton. And that summarizes a lot of the research on the importance of building community and building connections, and also provides some really nice examples of ways in which institutions can transform to help facilitate those connections.

Rebecca: As instructors, we have a lot of power in that space to help students feel a sense of belonging. We can do really simple things to make someone feel seen and if they feel seen, they’re more likely to feel like they belong. So personalized messages, getting to know your students a little bit, being approachable, calling students by name, all of those things help students feel like they’re a part of a particular community. There’s so much to still learn and to come together around. And so I know that we’re looking forward to having many more guests and many more conversations to help work through many of the questions and concerns and things that we’ve raised today and have been raised by our colleagues. Now, John, we always wrap up by asking what’s next?

John: Well, what’s next for me is I’m heading down to North Carolina to teach at Duke again next week. And I’m looking forward to this. And this time, I’m going to try avoiding getting run over by a car. So I can actually teach my classes down there and spend some time away from the hospital this summer,

Rebecca: #life_goals. [LAUGHTER]

John: Small goals are sometimes more achievable. And Rebecca, what’s next for you?

Rebecca: This summer, I’m looking forward to doing some more work on our graduate student online orientation, which we put together as we transition to our new course management system in the fall and also working with some colleagues on an accessibility online module.

John: And we’re looking forward to talking to more of our wonderful guests. I’ve really enjoyed the experience of interacting with so many great people doing some really good research and doing such good work in higher ed.

Rebecca: We’re grateful for all of our guests and all of our listeners. So thanks for listening

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

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

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299. My Professor Cares

Students from marginalized groups often question whether or not they should be in our classes and disciplines. In this episode, Michal Kurlaender joins us to discuss an easy to implement intervention that faculty can use to improve retention and student success. Michal is a Chancellor’s Leadership Professor in the School of Education at UC Davis and is a co-Director of the California Education Lab. She is a co-author with Scott Carrell of a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper entitled “My Professor Cares: Experimental Evidence on the Role of Faculty Engagement.” (This article is forthcoming in the American Economic Association journal, Economic Policy.)

Show Notes

Transcript

John: Students from marginalized groups often question whether or not they should be in our classes and disciplines. In this episode, we discuss an easy to implement intervention that faculty can use to improve retention and student success.

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

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

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Rebecca: Our guest today is Michal Kurlaender. Michal is a Chancellor’s Leadership Professor in the School of Education at UC Davis and is a co-Director of the California Education Lab. She is a co-author with Scott Carrell of a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper entitled “My Professor Cares: Experimental Evidence on the Role of Faculty Engagement.” This article is forthcoming in the American Economic Association Journal, Economic Policy. Welcome, Michal.

Michal: Thank you for having me.

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

Michal: I am not drinking tea, but I did have some not too long ago today.

Rebecca: Do you have a favorite?

Michal: I’ve come back to Earl Grey. I used to be an Earl Grey person. I left it for a while, and it’s just made a comeback for me.

Rebecca: Nice. It’s a classic. I have Christmas tea today, despite the fact that it’s June.

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

Rebecca: I have my Christmas tea because we had our presidential announcement today. And it was like celebration tea.

John: White smoke has come out of the towers [LAUGHTER] and we have a new college president here.

Michal: Congratulations.

Rebecca: So we invited you here today to discuss the study of the impact of specific faculty behaviors on historically underrepresented minority student success. How did you decide on this specific intervention?

Michal: My colleague and collaborator Scott Carrell and I do a lot of work to try to understand College Access and Success. And in particular, we’re interested in understanding inequalities in graduation rates at more open access institutions, like the California State University system, which has, across its system, some more selective campuses and some more open access institutions. But in particular, what we’ve noticed for years is that the graduation rates of students of color, particularly male students of color, black and LatinX men, were really much lower than other groups. And this was a puzzle to us, largely because the eligibility to get into four-year colleges, including the CSUs is quite substantial. These are primarily B-plus students who have finished a comprehensive set of courses required to be eligible for the CSU. And so to see their graduation rates lag so much behind other students was really troubling to us. And so that’s why we decided to focus particularly on the CSU system. And we focused on one campus in particular, that’s a less selective CSU campus.

John: What was the intervention that you used?

Michal: We didn’t go in knowing what intervention to use, we actually started with a focus group with particularly men of color at this campus and asked them what their challenges were. In particular, what we learned was that their challenges were not necessarily social or more broadly campus level, they were primarily in the classroom, and that is they felt disconnected from their instructors and from what to do to be successful. These were all students who reported feeling quite successful in their high school, feeling quite connected to their high school instructors who encouraged them to go on to college. Many of them were in competitive fields like STEM and engineering. And then they felt like they really struggled in college, and in particular, how to seek help and how to understand what instructors wanted from them. And so we came in quite agnostic, I would say, about what could work, what is helpful here? Is it more writing centers, more coaching, more nudging? We didn’t know. And what we came out with is feeling quite sure that we needed to tackle the classroom. And in particular, I think what we wanted to think about was this untapped source of potential support or hindrance in that is faculty, and think historically, we know that many times we just think of the classroom as kind of untouchable, and we put other support centers, writing centers, and tutoring centers, and other supports for students. And we kind of leave the classroom alone and leave faculty, including ourselves… we’re both faculty… to do what they will. And instead, here we wanted to really think about, could we intervene with faculty to provide more support for students?

Rebecca: Yeah, it’s funny how we often overlook that particular option given that’s a key touchpoint with our students, right?

Michal: Exactly. So we came out deciding that we’re going to do an intervention that was classroom based, and that was going to try to work with faculty to give students more information about what it takes to be successful in the classroom, how to seek help. And then we decided to pilot that to see if the proof of concept worked. And we piloted it at a large, more selective institution on a small-scale pilot, and found some promising results and then launched it at full scale. This article describes that whole kind of research process as well, which we think is also an important contribution to the literature… to not just immediately do something, but to actually think about the way in which it might function and just really to understand from students what they tell us they need.

John: Your initial pilot used a light-touch intervention, could you describe that intervention?

Michal: So initially, in the pilot, what we did was a slightly underpowered pilot in the sense that we took students who didn’t complete their first homework assignment in a classroom where you have to complete a set number of homework assignments. And you could miss one, but historically, we knew that students who missed the first one often struggled in the class. And so that’s the point of randomization that we took for the pilot. That is we took those who didn’t submit their first homework assignment and to half of them we sent an email saying, “Hey, we noticed you did and submit your homework assignment. Just to remind you to do well on this course, here are some things that might be helpful.” We also provided some information on what’s coming up and reminding of the office hours and how to seek help. And then we did two others. Importantly, the two other emails provided information that showed the students that we knew how they were doing in the class so far. So after the midterm, and before the final, and we found again, it was underpowered, but we found positive effects among the treatment group. And then that was conditional on some other ex post characteristics that we added to the pilot, but then we decided to launch it at the CSU campus that we worked with at full scale across a random sample of introductory courses.

John: For those listeners who are not familiar with statistics, when you mentioned that this is an underpowered test, could you just explain that in terms that…

Rebecca: …Rebecca can understand? [LAUGHTER]

Michal: Absolutely. So they were underpowered statistically, to detect a statistically significant difference between the treated students, those who got the emails, and those who didn’t. And so for that, we need a large enough sample size of treated versus control students, particularly if we’re going to add other kinds of observations about them, like their gender, or their race, or their prior academic achievement. And so when we say something’s underpowered, we might see the positive effect that is better achievement in terms of the final or in satisfactory progress in the course. But that difference may not be large enough in statistical terms to consider it statistically significant, even if the mean differences are actually in the direction that you expect. So to get that, to be able to actually detect significant effects, you need a large enough sample size. And that’s when we launched into the population that we were specifically focused on, which was the population at this less selective campus.

Rebecca: At that less selective campus when you scaled things up, did you keep the intervention the same? Or did it change? What did that scale up look like?

Michal: Great question. So the first thing we did was we really focused on introductory courses. This was also piloted in an introductory course. But we wanted to focus on particularly large classes, especially because the information was going to come from the instructor and we were doing a randomized control trial, that is some students are going to get this treatment and others are not. So the class had to be large enough for it to not be weird that some students were getting it and others were not. If you’re in a classroom of 30, that might be strange if you’re talking to someone next to you, and they get this email from an instructor, but basically what we did is we recruited faculty, we randomly chose 30 large undergraduate courses. And then we recruited those faculty and said, “Will you be part of an experiment with us? …and here’s what you need to do.” And the important thing here is that we’re not trying to dramatically change faculty style in the classroom, we all have our own style, the own way we write a syllabus and what we expect from students. What we wanted, we had several key principles. The key principle first was that faculty need to directly communicate with the students showing them that they know who they are. So it very much said in an email, Dear Rebecca, or Dear John. They needed to provide information that was specific to their class, it couldn’t be quite generic. We provided them some templates, but the goal was for them to personalize them and say, “Here’s this upcoming unit, here’s what to look out for, here’s how I would study for it, Here are my office hours, and so it provided information. So the way we changed it is… it was a semester-long courses. and so we requested that faculty sent a minimum of three emails to students, one after the first assignment or exam, sometimes earlier if they didn’t have an exam, and two later, we wanted it within the first three weeks of the semester, one after the midterm, and one before the final. And the important thing is, in the second two emails, those were further personalized to sort of say, again, “Dear Rebecca, I see that you’ve gotten a 72 on your midterm, it’s not too late to improve your grade in this class. Here are the things that you could do. And so it was personalized also just showing that we know how you fared in this class. And so again, the goal was to let faculty, in their own words and in their own course formats, personalize these emails, with the principal being information to students, personalization to students, and help seeking behavior advice.

John: And this process is a personalization, was this done in a mail-merge type format? Because I would think to scale this intervention would be a lot easier if you did do it either using the tools within the LMS or using some type of a mail merge.

Michal: Great question. So again, this was a grant-funded study and where we could provide some support to faculty, some faculty didn’t need additional RA support from us and either knew how to do a mail merge, it really worked with their course management system, like Canvas or Blackboard and found it very efficient to work on the own. Others you may or may not be surprised, did request our help from our graduate students. And we did provide support including one actually helping a faculty member directly write individual emails for students to support. You’ll probably ask me how the faculty feel about this. And I will say we actually asked them how long it took. It didn’t take more than a minute an email and so we do kind of try to guesstimate the investment on the faculty’s time to do this, and it very much varies on their comfort level with the course management system.

Rebecca: In the scaled up version of this study, did you continue only interacting with students who had struggled and missed their first assignment or is that a shift from the pilot to the big study?

Michal: Yeah, thank you for catching that. No, it is a shift. We did open it up. We believed actually, theoretically, our priors were that anyone could benefit from this. So if you were a B or on the cusp, we have lots of researchers suggest students, especially in introductory courses, some students, particularly first gen students might take a B or a C as a signal that they shouldn’t be in a particular major. We really did want to encourage across the achievement distribution for everyone. As to John’s earlier question, as you scale this up, or as people have talked to me since this experiment said, what if I want to do this, but I teach 400 people, you could one year, one term, try it with your lower achievers, another term, try it with those at that C range, or others. And so we did in this initial intervention want to do it across the board.

John: How large was the sample on the scaled up version?

Michal: It was 20 faculty, some were in multiple classes, we had 22 classrooms overall, and roughly 3000 students.

John: Excellent. How large was the estimated effect in the scaled up version?

Michal: First, it’s important to note, as we’re talking about findings, that our findings are really concentrated on first- and second-year students or new students, and who are from underrepresented minority backgrounds, so URM students, and we find that their treatments are about five percentage points more likely to earn an A or a B in the course by comparison to control students. So again, just important to note, we find overall positive effects for the whole of treated students. But they’re only statistically significant for the URM students that we target, that our intervention aimed to focus on.

Rebecca: Was the impact limited to just the classes the students were in, or was there an effect beyond that individual class?

Michal: Yeah, so that’s a great question, and we do find what are called spillover effects. And that is that those same students, those URM students, had a positive effect of being in the treatment group, even in courses that were not part of the experiment. That positive effect was much smaller in magnitude, it was like three quarters the size of the effect of the actual treated course. But still statistically significant at the ,10 level.

Rebecca: it seems so easy, just three emails.

Michal: Yeah, it does. It takes an investment. But yeah, I think it does beg the question, I think, for me, and maybe this is something that you want to talk about a little bit later. But we do so many things to introduce first-gen students or to get students in the classroom and again to provide support externally, but we do tend to sort of assume that they’ll just survive or just be okay in the classroom without training faculty on how people might experience their classroom differently. And so, again, we do test for other subgroups. I focus on first-gen, because it’s a concept that is helpful for people to think about students who don’t have at home, at least, people to tell them what to expect in the college environment and how you might go to someone’s faculty office hours, and they’re not there, or they’re there, but they’re sort of like, “Yes, did you have a question about the material?” Whereas to know, you could go just to review the material or you don’t have to have a question, you can just show up, things like that. Being able to feel comfortable asking questions in class and others who don’t or just step in at the end of class and sort of say, I found this part of the lecture really complicated, will you be reviewing it again the next day? So things of that nature. And so I don’t think these emails did those, but they sort of remind us that there are things that faculty can do to remind students that they see them, that they see that they’re in a classroom, and that they know that they may be enjoying parts or struggling in parts, and that there are some actions that they can take to be more successful in their classroom.

John: Did the effect size vary with class size? Was there a more substantive effect in larger classes than smaller classes? Because I would think it might be easier for students to feel more lost in a larger section, especially as a first-gen student?

Michal: It’s a great question. We aren’t able to test that, our sizes were all pretty similar, and we didn’t have enough. We actually chose the largest classes that exist in this campus, which don’t get much bigger than 150. I think it is worth testing. Absolutely. I can tell you from the pilot, that, in particular, that was a class of 400 students, and both for the pilot and for the full scale up the types of emails we got, that faculty got back. So that’s one thing we could talk about is how did students respond more generally, and many students emailed instructors back, and in particular, in the pilot, but also in the scale up, we got those emails back from the faculty who were in our experiment, and they very much appreciated the email and said, “No faculty members ever emailed me before,” or “especially in a class of this size,” or “I so appreciate the email. I’m working really hard.” So the first and sort of overwhelming finding from these emails is just gratitude from students that a faculty member emailed them, particularly we noted that in the pilot when the class was quite so large.

Rebecca: Yeah, I can imagine that just something that feels personalized, whether or not it’s super personalized or not, just feels personalized, really helps students feel seen.

Michal: Exactly that. That’s right. I should also say in addition to just grades and you asked me about graduation outcomes, we also included a survey, both in our pilot and in the scale up, to try to get at some of the mechanisms and in particular, we asked questions like, “Did you feel this instructor supports your learning? Did you feel you could reach out to your instructor?” And we do find consistent with our intervention that students in the treatment group reported more positive outcomes on these dimensions.

Rebecca: That’s so fascinating, because it’s so easy. Like it just isn’t that complicated.

John: In your study, you also examined how this effect persists over time, which certainly relates to the graduation thing. What did you find in terms of the persistence of this effect over time,

Michal: We did look at long-run treatment effects. That is, we waited to see what happened several years later, we presented on this paper in the shorter term outcomes. And we tracked these students and worked with this institution closely, we really wanted to know did it affect the outcome we care most about, which is graduation? In other words, we care about student success in a particular classroom, and maybe they’re slightly better grade, or not dropping out of the course. But we really care about their longer term outcome of finishing. Again, for this specific group of interest. We note that the treatment results in that 7.3 percentage point increase in persistence, one semester later, and then a higher four percentage points difference in graduation. So we do find positive effects on the likelihood of graduation.

Rebecca: We’ve talked a bit about the impact on students and how students have responded, how did faculty respond to participating in this intervention?

Michal: First, I’ll just say, again, we had to recruit faculty to do this. And so we do track the faculty who said no, and we did as much reconnaissance work, if you will, to understand that we did need to self select faculty, keeping in mind that if we did self select faculty who just had a proclivity to help students or being this intervention, if anything, we perhaps under reported some of our findings, but we do as much effort to understand how representative our faculty are, which we did determine they are, and in the paper, there’s some details about that. And they represent faculty from a real diversity of disciplines, from music to engineering, across the board, humanities and social sciences, we had the whole range, we had the range of faculty. So you know, “I do this a little bit sometimes. And the two of you are, I would have said, I’d do the same with a student who doesn’t show up or doesn’t complete to sort of track them down. But I’ve never done it systematically. And I’ve always wondered if it even matters.” We had everything from that kind of faculty member to a faculty member that’s like, “Well, I’ll do this, but I don’t think it matters. I mean, at the end of the day, the students who want to put in the work put in the work.” And so we had a whole range in their attitudes. We did offer a stipend to do this, because we did believe it takes time. And we wanted to sort of show that faculty who do have a lot of demands, especially at teaching institutions, that this was going to take some time. And so we haven’t done it again without an incentive, or with an institutional incentive, that’s part of like performance evaluations or something. So that’s yet another thing that in terms of where to take this in terms of where institutions might take this, for our perspective, it was externally funded, they were only accountable to us in their efforts to do this. And so we talked to them multiple times in the term, again, some were in both waves of the study, because we did it over two terms. And then we surveyed them at the end and really got some details from them. Some of this is in the paper around how they felt. And I would say most expressed similar to what you expressed, Rebecca, which is like “Wow, this some emails and I made this difference, especially in underrepresented minority students lives and in their classroom, and it felt really good about the impact.” …keeping in mind, we talked to them also, before we knew the results. And so at that point, they just were sort of documenting how much time it took to do the emails, and what kind of emails they got in response from students and most felt, I would say, humbled by the thank yous that something so small, like an email, got so much gratitude back from students. We did have some faculty that sort of said, this takes a lot of time, and I’m not sure it’s much of a help. In our last survey with faculty, we actually provided them the full scale results and said, “Here’s, by the way, what we learned from the study,” and then asked them to respond or to reflect on that. And many said, “Wow,” like, again, similar to your reaction, “a few emails could make such a big difference, I will be sure to continue.” We ask them directly if they will and we report this in the paper. Most do say that now that they know the positive impacts of this study, they’re likely to continue with these emails.

Rebecca: I imagine the workload for a faculty member isn’t necessarily in drafting those initial emails, but maybe the responses to the emails [LAUGHTER] you might receive back.

Michal: It’s a good question. I don’t know how many continued the conversation once an email was sent, the standard emails, part of the experiment and the student wrote back and said, “Thank you so much.” I’m not sure they continued. We did a lot of qualitative coding, which we don’t report in the paper, we report some but then we did a lot more internally. And there definitely were a lot of hardships described among students who did reply, the extent to which faculty replied with those hardships offering extensions or any other kind of augmentation to their requirements, we don’t know.

John: In an introductory microeconomics course I use the Lumen Learning Waymaker package which actually does automate emails to students based on their performance on weekly quizzes and so forth. And even though the students in the class realized it was automated, they’d still write back to me and I’d respond to it. And they’d often apologize, saying, “I had a bad week and I know I need to work harder.” But it did often start a dialogue that might not have occurred otherwise. And I’ve often wondered how large that effect was, but because it’s automated for the whole class, it’s hard to measure the differential effect of that. So it’s nice to see this result, that that type of approach works.

Michal: Yeah, I think that what you’re describing is exactly right, this sort of feedback. Our whole intervention is built around theories, not just from kind of behavioral economics or nudging or information source, but on the education literature on feedback, and the important role of feedback, and the timing of it. And it’s most useful if it’s not just performative like feedback, like your grade on an assessment like a “C,” but that actually gives you more information about how you’re doing or what to do to improve. And so this kind of thing you’re describing John is exactly right. I think we know that more touch points with students through assessments, as opposed to all hanging on a midterm and final also support students to get more feedback about how they’re doing.

Rebecca:I think sometimes students know that they’re struggling, you get a grade back, you know, if you’re doing well or not, but I think a lot of students need more coaching around what to do to improve or to better understand how the grade is calculated, to just take the time and attention. It’s there. It’s in the syllabus. But sometimes they don’t realize what they should prioritize. And including some of that kind of messaging makes a lot of sense. I know that when I’ve done that with my students, they’ve been really appreciative because they didn’t realize that they were putting all their energy into something that didn’t really matter as much.

Michal: Yeah, that’s right. And I think coaching is a great choice of words around what to do with it. I also think many students come to our universities with really uneven or unequal preparation for those courses. And so I think a lot about students who came from a high school where they took an AP course in economics or chemistry that might as well have been a college level course. Many of these questions are great on a grade curve. And so that C might be an excellent grade for them, given the type of preparation that they had, but they don’t know that necessarily, and they might, to them, signal that maybe this isn’t the right major for them. And so I also think coaching around what to do with the grade when you’re kind of passionate about a subject and not to give up on yourself too quickly. Many are juggling jobs, we know for some, it’s their only work is to get through this term, and others are doing this while working and taking care of family members or whatever. And so that grade that they got often conveys information that we as faculty don’t necessarily know anything about how they’re interpreting,

John: I would think just a signal, as in the title of your paper, “my professor cares” might create a sense of connection and belonging that might otherwise be missing for someone who is a first-gen student who might not feel that they belong in the institution.

Michal: Yes, I agree. And I think there are more and more studies coming out, particularly in social psychology, but elsewhere about the importance of belonging. We know from the K-12 literature that it’s having a teacher who cares about you matters, actually. And again, nothing dramatic happens once you get to college. But we assume it’s completely different, where in fact, I think having an adult or particularly your instructor care, you feel a sense that that instructor cares about your learning, or how you’re doing in their class, irrespective of the grade per se, just that you’re making progress in the class or feeling comfortable in the class, I think is really important. And I think it’s hard to test. And most of the belonging literature has been on survey type research, “I feel like I belong here.” And it’s not as much in the classroom, although there’s increasingly more studies about belonging in the college classroom beyond just a university at large.

John: A while back, we interviewed Peter Arcidiacono, on a paper that looked at the impact of differential grading between STEM and non-STEM courses. One of the things you just said reminded me a little bit of that, because one of the things that was noted in that paper is that many of the people, particularly female and underrepresented minority students who switch their majors out of the STEM fields had some of the higher grades in the class, but it was below their expectations. And I’m wondering if this type of intervention might have an effect of letting them know that that performance in that discipline may not be all that bad. Since we’re probably not going to eliminate grading differentials between STEM and non-STEM disciplines, perhaps some type of personal communication might help preserve some of those connections so we don’t lose as many people in the STEM fields where the returns to education are the highest.

Michal: Absolutely, I think well said. That’s exactly right. And I think that is among the reasons we wanted to get across the grade distribution, not just those who are really, really struggling. And also because we do think that students might give too much meaning from a signal of a grade early on in their academic pursuits where they can get through a certain amount of courses and then maybe where the fun stuff of their major where they really see that utility of a particular course for a future career path matters. And so I think that’s right and I do think Peter’s work and other people’s work looking at the impacts of particular kind of grades and grading distributions or signals of grades, I think, are really important. I think that’s an area that’s blossoming in economics and in other fields to sort of better understand heterogeneity or differences between subgroups around how particular information like an assessment, grade or a test score.

John: One of the things we’ve been seeing in a lot of studies is that many changes in education, such as using more active learning techniques, providing more course structure, benefits all students but disproportionately benefits those students who are historically underrepresented. And it seems like this study just provides more evidence of that, that good teaching practices benefits everyone, but especially benefits the people who are most at risk in higher ed. And those are often the people who can get the greatest benefit by persisting in higher ed.

Michal: Yes, I think that’s exactly right, if we’re really going to address disparities in college outcomes, and I think one really important source to go to is the importance of information gaps. And that would be particularly for first-generation students, for students of color, but also for students who come from unequal K-12 backgrounds. Colleges and universities often know and often are recipients of systematically particular high schools in their states, especially public flagships, community colleges, others, and so they are aware, they offer relationships with those K-12 high schools that are feeders to their institutions. And that is an important source of information that they can provide to high school students as they enter college for a kind of a warmer handoff, if you will, but that also faculty teaching introductory courses can provide. And so I think, again, if our goal is to address inequalities that we see in college outcomes, then I think information, particularly for those for whom their information gaps, is particularly key. Students want to be seen and not necessarily yes, there’s the anonymity of a large lecture hall, that maybe don’t want to be called on. But that doesn’t mean you don’t want to know that your faculty member sees you and knows whether you’re doing well or struggling, or how you feel about the class or how to succeed on the next exam or in the next course in that sequence.

Rebecca: So if there’s other faculty who think, “Hmm, three emails, that seems easy,” What recommendations would you make to those faculty?

Michal: Yeah, I mean, I think what the first recommendation I would make is to try it, to do it. I think thinking about how you communicate in your syllabus that about your forms of communication are important. So if you’re going to do an email, I think one thing that we would have loved to test and if we were to continue further is the format for the information. And so I think letting also students know that you want to hear from them over email or through other means, I think is useful. So first, deciding on the kind of medium like how you’re going to communicate this, I think email makes sense. When faculty start texting students, maybe we’d move to a text them information. But that’s not the case for most of us, so it’s through the course management system or email. I would say focus on again, what we know from the literature on feedback is that for it to be as specific as possible about what students can do with this information, and so that is looking at your syllabus closely, knowing… we typically do as faculty… where students trip up in the material, what’s complex, what’s up ahead. And so giving that kind of feedback as well about how to prepare for the next assignment or exam, what has tripped people up in the past, what you know, might work for them is really helpful. Again, other research has suggested the importance of going to office hours might matter. But that means you need it to show up, you have to think about how you structure your office hours. Incidentally, we did try to track that… quite hard to do whether it actually promoted more office hours in the pilot, we believe it did promote more office hour usage. More broadly, it’s something we’d like to test, the actual help-seeking behavior of students. So I would say faculty should do it if you’re teaching a 400-person class and you can’t imagine doing this for 200 students or even 100 students, maybe start with students who you see as struggling based on that first assignment, as we did in the pilot and see what you can learn from that… maybe do as John suggests, which is kind of get savvy on a mail merge and think about ways to do this so it’s more efficiently done, so that you can reach as many students as possible.

John: We just switched recently to Desire to Learn’s Brightspace platform, and it does have intelligent agents and it does have replace strings so you can automate an email conditioned on the grade on either your overall course grade or on a specific item. And if you do it on overall course grade, (which I just set up, by the way, for my summer class last week), students get an email saying, “I see that you’re struggling, there are some things you might want to try.” It would be nice if I could put in their grade without having to go to mail merge, but I don’t think that would be possible. And I’d like to scale this up. In any case, I’d encourage them to contact me during my office hours or to make an appointment to talk to me. The first iteration of that went out last week. None of the students responded, but it’s a small summer class. So I’m curious to see how this might work. And your paper helped encourage me to try this. I had other reminders out there, but this was one that I thought might be useful, using a specific grade trigger.

Michal: That’s great.

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

Michal: Well, I think our lab and Scott Carrell and I continue to do this work, and in particular, we’re also spending a lot of our time these days doing work at community colleges in California, which serves one in four community college students nationwide. So also persistence outcomes are quite weak at community colleges, historically, and we’ve seen real declines in enrollment at community colleges since the pandemic. And so we are definitely doing some work at community colleges. We continue to track and follow graduation rates, particularly inequality in graduation rates at CSU. And we’d love to launch another intervention. So stay tuned on that. I can tell you, we are quite committed to understanding the college classroom beyond college settings more generally, and so hope that the college classroom continues to be a source of important information for the field about how to better support student success,

John: You’re doing some really wonderful research. And it’s really nice to see some of the attention that this got because your article has been mentioned in The Chronicle. It’s been mentioned in Inside Higher Ed, and I’ve seen people tweeting about it ever since it came out. It’s good to see this research becoming popularized.

Michal: Well, we appreciate it, especially since Scott and I did not succeed on that front, that is becoming those people who do good social media. Other people are better at that than I am. And I’m always a little troubled when I talk to more junior faculty around “Do you need to do all that?” …and 10 years ago or so I would say “No, just do good work and it doesn’t matter.” And now I confess the sort of buzz that some people are better able to develop around their findings in their papers seems to matter and so it’s really nice when it happens to you because we didn’t do it ourselves. [LAUGHTER] So I appreciate my friends Sue Dynarski and others who’ve done a really nice job promoting this paper.

Rebecca: Well, thank you so much for joining us and for sharing your work with our audience.

Michal: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

John: And we will include a link to your study in the show notes and we encourage our audience to read it.

Michal: Wonderful.

John: Thank you.

Michal: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

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

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

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297. The Road Forward

The opening session of the 2023 SUNY Conference on Instruction and Technology, which took place at SUNY Oswego, included a keynote address in the form of a live podcast interview with Flower Darby. This podcast episode is a recording of this session, which included both a live and a remote audience. Flower is an Associate Director of the Teaching for Learning Center at the  University of Missouri at Columbia. She is the co-author, with James Lang, of Small Teaching Online: Applying Learning Science in Online Classes and a co-author of The Norton Guide to Equity-Minded Teaching.

Show Notes

Transcript

John: The opening session of the 2023 SUNY Conference on Instruction and Technology, which took place at SUNY Oswego included a keynote address in the form of a live podcast interview with Flower Darby. This podcast episode is a recording of this session, which included both a live and a remote audience.

When colleges shut down in the country in mid-March of 2020 we reached out to Flower Darby to provide some guidance for people who were moving to remote instruction, for the most part, for the first time. She joined us on a special episode… in fact, it was the only time we released two episodes in one week… and she provided advice to faculty on emergency remote instruction, resource sharing, and strategies to keep courses going. Today, we are pleased to have Flower back with us to reflect on the impact of the past three years and map a road forward for teaching and the academy.

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

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

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John: Our guest today is Flower Darby. Flower is an Associate Director of the Teaching for Learning Center at the University of Missouri at Columbia. She is the co-author, with James Lang, of Small Teaching Online: Applying Learning Science in Online Classes and a co-author of The Norton Guide to Equity-Minded Teaching. Welcome back, Flower.

Flower: Thank you, John. Thank you, Rebecca. Thank you all for having me and for being here and focusing on how we can map that all important road forward. So good to be here with you all.

Rebecca: So it wouldn’t be an episode of tea for teaching if we didn’t ask about our teas. So our teas today are: … Flower, are you drinking tea?

Flower: I have my iced tea in here. And it is a Hawaiian Islands Passionfruit blend.

Rebecca: Nice.

John: And I have a Tea Forte black currant tea today.

Rebecca: And I brought out the Jasmine dragon pearls green tea for today’s episode.

John: When we last talked on March 17 2020, you provided some suggestions on how we could maintain instructional continuity during that two-week shutdown we were going to have to deal with [LAUGHTER] and one of the things you asked in the conversation was what are we going to reflect on looking back when we’re through this immediate crisis situation? So we’re going to turn this question back to you. What sticks in your mind the most from the period of pandemic teaching?

Flower: Yeah, thank you, John, it’s such a big question. And I have reflected very deeply on this over the past three years of ongoing research, conversations with 1000s of educators around the country and around the world. And really, there is one thing that has become crystal clear for me. And that is the centrality and the importance of holistic wellbeing for both ourselves, our faculty, our staff, and our students. I’m excited about how technology use has advanced as a result of the pandemic. But that’s not actually the central focus for me. It is about the importance of our wellbeing, of our students’ holistic wellbeing, and of how we need to center and highlight and forefront social connections and those kinds of relational aspects of teaching and learning with technology in person wherever we are. That extended period of isolation and loss and grief and challenge and distance in education really brought to the front for me the importance of connectedness, and being intentional in how we connect with our students and help them connect with each other as well.

Rebecca: I think you’ve started hinting at this already, Flower, but how has higher ed been transformed by this pandemic experience?

Flower: Yeah, thank you, Rebecca. So I do think that there has been a lot of work done to enhance technology implementations, to provide better support for faculty who are just in the trenches trying to figure this out, whether it’s using new features in Canvas or your learning management system that you may not have used before. Here at the University of Missouri all of our classrooms are now called Zoum rooms. And that’s Zoum, because we’re at Mizzou, which is spelled M-I-Z-Z-O-U. And it’s a challenge for faculty to be in these high-tech teaching spaces and it’s wonderful that the university is making this commitment. But for me again, it is not about the tech, we have seen good tech advancements. We just heard from the Chancellor about some really amazing innovations and that is wonderful because it is going to keep moving us forward. But it is true, I do believe the truth of transformation that is beginning, and that we need to continue, is focusing on this notion of holistic wellbeing and relational teaching and learning.

John: In 202o, one of the things we talked about in that last conversation was the insufficient systemic institutional support for teaching centers, instructional designers, and the effective use of technology in teaching and learning. Have leaders in higher education made long-term sustainable investments in this work.

Flower: Yeah, great question. I think some have, and of course, my answer is going to be, “And we could do more here.” Here again, I just mentioned that example locally here at the University of Missouri with all this investment in the Zoum rooms. What I’m hearing sometimes, though, is that the challenge in managing all the bells and whistles, especially if you do have students who are in the room in front of you, and also Zooming in, it is not something that we necessarily prepare college faculty to do in our graduate programs. I’ve had so many countless conversations over the last few years where the fact is, as a professor, I did not necessarily set out to be a tech whiz as well. So I’m seeing encouraging signs and improvements and a greater awareness of the potential for effective use of teaching with technology to enhance inclusive and accessible, equity-minded student success. And I’m going to say we can do more.

Rebecca: As you just mentioned, prior to the pandemic, many faculty and students were resistant to online instruction. And while this resistance has faded, in some cases, one of the concerns that you expressed in our earlier discussion was the physical isolation experienced in online learning and you mentioned this a bit earlier today. Has the pandemic helped us to develop new ways of encouraging that relationship building online?

Flower: I would say yes, and I would say greater awareness and receptivity to the importance of building relationships online. I think that once again, we still have work to do in this area. But I do believe that prior to the pandemic, there was less awareness on the part of faculty and no blame no shame, I would say it’s the way that institutions and graduate programs may or may not prepare faculty for effective online teaching. I would say there was kind of less institutional awareness of the importance of those relationships online. Now we have seen what happens, we felt it, we’ve lived it in our bodies, when we felt disconnected from our students, when we’ve tried to teach to black boxes with a name, or Anna’s iPad on the Zoom screen. We’ve kind of lived out that disconnect and that isolation. And yet, we know there was abundant research to show that we can have really engaging interactions in our online spaces. And we know that it increases access. I’m here with you today from beautiful Columbia, Missouri, because we have this option available, although I would love to be in the room, but we have other folks joining online as well. We see the value, we know the importance of those connections, those relationships. And one thing that I have really focused in on in the last couple of years is being intentional in the way that we create and structure those opportunities for rapport building and to close the distance because we know that it’s not going to happen by accident online, whether asynchronous or synchronous, intentionality is required. And I encourage faculty to rethink how they use their class time, what the activities are in asynchronous modules, maybe even the kinds of assessments that are in our syllabi, and whether we’re offering points for those kinds of activities. Basically, my argument is that we can do more to design for intentional social connections… that I would say would apply in all class modalities.

John: During the pandemic, the inequities that our students face became much more visible. When we were connecting to students who were zooming in from home and they had trouble accessing the one computer they had to share with four or five other people, or when they didn’t have good network access, or when they were struggling to try to work to pay some bills, and so forth, those inequities became really hard to ignore, for faculty. And campuses did a lot to mitigate that, by loaning computers, by loaning hotspots, and providing other resources. But now that we’ve moved back to more on-campus instruction, and with staffing shortages and budget cuts very common in higher ed, do we run the risk of falling back on some of the exclusionary practices that we had practiced in the past?

Flower: I would say yes, we run that risk. But I actually want to take a little tangent here and tell you about a conversation that I had just on Friday. This past Friday, I was at a conference in Portland, Oregon for teachers of accounting, and I had a very heartwarming and encouraging conversation with one individual faculty, and I think it’s highly representative of where our heads are, and more importantly, where our hearts are now. Of course, I was presenting on the importance of social and emotional connections… that’s what I do… and she shared a story…in fact, I have a couple of poignant stories from that event. This particular one said “You know, I used to be the hardline accountant, you follow the rules and you make the deadlines or you get out,” and then she said “until I was watching my students trying to take their exams via Zoom, and I saw one of my students, his little brother was like hitting him on the head with like a paddle while he’s trying to take his exam. And I saw all kinds of other things.” This experience, the pandemic did give us a view, a window into our students’ lived experiences. The other one, just very briefly, another faculty member, a caring, passionate, dedicated, instructor was talking about how she had one student in one particular semester who lost 13 members of her family to COVID. How much community was built as the entire class was caring deeply. So I do believe there is lasting change. The first accountant I was telling you about, she’s like, “I’ll never go back to that hardline approach. I have more empathy for my students now. I see what they’re dealing with to make this happen.” Now, that said, yes, we do run the risk of falling back into exclusionary practices. I’ve been thoughtful, reflective of how we want to go back to the way things have always been, and I get it, I’m back on a physical campus, I spent the entire time of the pandemic myself working remotely, and I hungered for a physical campus with real live embodied people and students on the pedway. And I’m loving this experience. So I get it that we want to come back to our tried and true, our comfort zones, our methods we’ve relied on. And if we slip back into, for example, less than equitable teaching methods like large lectures and high-stakes exams, we are absolutely sliding back into exclusionary practices. So I would encourage us to not waste this crisis, which is not my unique phrase, but I think it’s definitely apt in this time. Let’s keep pushing forward so that we can become more inclusive and equity focused as higher ed as a whole,

Rebecca: It can definitely be easy to slip back into habits, but I know many of us are really committed to that change and the equitable work that you’ve been talking about, Flower. What can we do together to redesign higher education to be more equitable? What do we need to do?

Flower: Yeah, great question, and sometimes I think, huge picture as in, it’s way too big to change, and other times, I really focus on the circle of control. So I definitely think that, if you haven’t seen it before, I think it’s Stephen Covey has these circles, the inner one is control, here’s what I have influence over, then there’s a broader circle, that’s influence, here’s what I have some influence about. And then the third circle is concern, there’s not a lot that I can do. And so I think we can focus primarily on our control circle. I do think, and we make this argument in the newly released Norton Guide to Equity-Minded Teaching, we make the argument that we do need to advocate for systemic change, and we need to do that in community. So we can work towards that. And then there are influences and aspects that we cannot really necessarily change. We can be concerned about them and mindful. So what can we do? Well, here’s what it comes down to for me, and I’ve thought a lot about this. I would argue, as I just mentioned a minute ago, we have to stop doing things the way we always have. So if you think about the history of higher education in the United States, it is based on centuries of tradition in Europe. And it was designed to be available to elite white men. It is exclusionary in its very nature. So we have this opportunity to say we know that our student body is diversifying. And we know that is so important because with diversity comes strength, comes creativity, comes new perspectives, comes better solutions. So let’s stop doing things the way we always have. Let’s stop with those large lectures. And I do sometimes think about things we can’t change, like, untenable work conditions where contingent faculty are going semester to semester, or we’re being asked to teach these large enrollment classes with very little, if any, TA support. Those are things that are challenging that are, for me, are in that circle of concern. But I think a general mindset to think about is, if I’m tempted to slip back into doing things the way I used to do, maybe that’s an opportunity to ask myself, whether there’s a more equity-minded way to do some things, a more inclusive way, a more active way to help students really process and interact with the materials that we’re teaching.

Rebecca: You’ve talked a little bit about burnout, stress, and mental health concerns that continue to challenge our students, faculty, and staff. And we’ve talked about needing to humanize the learning experience through the pandemic. What role… and you already hinted at this, [LAUGHTER] but I’m hoping you can dig into it… what role does holistic wellbeing play into the future of the academy?

Flower: You know, clearly by now, you know, I’m glad to say it needs to play a central role. And I don’t think as an academy, we are quite there yet. We do work and exist in an overworked culture. We absolutely do. And I would say we’re high-achieving individuals. If we choose to be here, we’re passionate, we’re focused, we work hard, but in general, we need to give grace to ourselves to take more opportunity to support our own wellbeing. We need to extend that grace to each other in community… to say “it’s okay, go ahead and take that weekend off. I don’t need the manuscript on Monday. It’s alright.” And then collectively, again, I think the more that we’re having these conversations, that can help. So just recently, my good friend and colleague, Sarah Rose Cavanaugh, had a piece come out in The Chronicle. And the headline was, “They Need Us to Be Well,” and it’s about how, if we want to support student success, if we want to advance equity and become even more inclusive than we already are, we actually have to start with ourselves. And I don’t think that we do this very well in this culture. I have had to work, to learn to give myself permission to take a weekend off. It’s something that we, again, for me, it’s about giving permission, it’s about supporting each other in these decisions as well. And then, broadly speaking, I hope that we are seeing the beginnings of a culture change. Questions about the validity and the feasibility of teaching these large-enrollment sections or teaching online classes with very little attention paid to interactions between people. I think we do have this opening for these conversations, and I’m doing everything I can to advance those conversations.

John: In response to the pandemic, faculty face unprecedented changes in the way in which they were teaching. And since then, we’ve had a number of other changes in our practices. Here at SUNY, we’ve had a transition to a new learning management system that came immediately after these transitions. And I know other campuses happen to be doing the same thing at the same time. But one of the things that’s happened recently is the introduction of new AI tools, such as ChatGPT and image generation tools. And one of the questions a lot of faculty have is how they might be able to accurately assess student learning in the presence of these tools, while also appreciating the affordances that these tools provide. And how will these AI tools transform instructional practices and the future of the Academy?

Flower: Yeah, great question. And sadly, I don’t have a crystal ball, [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Dang.

Flower: …however, I do have some thoughts [LAUGHTER] to share and some, again, recent research, there was a survey that I heard of… just yesterday, I saw a summary of it, it was run by the Washington Post. And it was essentially saying that many faculty are not really thinking about ChatGPT generative AI, all these new tools. We’re doing a little bit of the “I don’t want to deal with that quite yet.” And again, that’s an overgeneralization. But that’s what the survey results really did show. So how these tools will impact our work in education? My real answer is: “Yes, they absolutely will,” I have come to conclude that they are like the advent of the Internet. Remember, way back in the early to mid-90s, when it didn’t used to be possible to do an online search for something? I think this tool, this change,is along the same lines of the smartphone. Remember, when we didn’t always have a super powerful computer available to us in our pocket or our bag? For me, this is a seismic change, and it will change the way we do things. Now, that’s scary… and exciting. [LAUGHTER] Our world is changing, and we have to be willing to embrace it. Are we worried about whether students are going to do their own work? Absolutely. Do we know that we need to equip our students to use these tools in order to thrive in their careers? We know that too. Right now we’re in a very unique moment of trying to walk a middle ground here, trying to see what are the opportunities of these tools? How do we help to understand whether our students are actually doing their own work? I don’t have those answers. What I do know is that this is another big, and quite frankly, painful opportunity to think deeply again, about the way we do teaching and learning in higher education. The pandemic was this for me, ChatGPT, and Gen AI is this for me. We can think deeply about the way we do things. We’re gonna have to change some things. And that deep reflection and change process is undeniably painful, undeniably scary, and can be deeply meaningful and rewarding as well.

Rebecca: That’s a little too much seismic activity going on there. [LAUGHTER]

Flower: It is. It’s a tough moment. It’s a really tough moment in higher ed. I want to just be honest about that.

Rebecca: So at this moment, we’d like to move to some audience questions. And we do have a first audience question. And that first question, Flower, is moving forward, which pandemic modifications, or temporary adjustments, should we adopt as best practices to meet the needs of modern learners?

Flower: I have one that comes very easily to mind. And thankfully, it’s not a big huge effort or overhaul to our course design and pedagogy. And that is, let’s check in with our students more often. Let’s check in more frequently. During the pandemic, in an effort to engage those black boxes that were on our Zoom screens, many of us developed new ways of using Zoom polls, of asking quick questions in the chat box, assigning collaborative activities in Google Docs or Padlet, these kinds of things, and the students have unwaveringly told us that they appreciate us checking in more often. So, whether it is a matter of if you are lecturing in person, every 10 to 12 minutes or so ask your students a quick question, quiz them on the concept, or ask them “How are you doing? Are you with me?” …here again to think about the Zoom example, which I know not everybody is really doing as much of, and that’s probably good. But I know one instructor who would use to say, “Are you with me?” and her students knew that they could use the emojis in the chat box… one thumbs up was like, I’m not doing too good. Two thumbs up, pretty good, pretty good. Three thumbs up, I got it. And she told me that if she saw a range of those one thumbs ups coming in, she’d be like, “That’s it. We’re not going any further until we kind of talk this through a little bit more. What are your questions?” That’s the kind of informal checking in with our students that I’m encouraging us to do. Again, this can take the form of an activity that happens during class, a quick poll, it can be a show of hands, I saw a great example, just last week, those of you here in the room and watching the video will see this, for the audio recording, I’ll just describe it. I heard this great example of a biology instructor asking her students a very simple check your understanding question during a large lecture, and she had taught her students that they should answer the question based on a number of responses, the responses were numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. And she said, choose the best answer and just put it right here, on your chest, so that you can hold up the number of fingers right against your chest. And what this does is it doesn’t let anybody have to feel really awkward or insecure about “I’m not sure if I’m holding up the number one, and maybe I’m wrong.” By holding it right here, we’re doing a couple of things. We’re providing safety, we’re building trust, we’re giving students an opportunity to retrieve the information that they have just been taught. And again, you can adapt this approach to anything: How are you doing? Are you with me? Hold up a one if you’re feeling terrible. So this idea of the informal check-ins with students… you can also do online anonymous surveys using Survey Monkey, Google form, whatever is in the learning management system. Ask your students: How are you? What do we need to do more of? The stop, start, continue, survey is a really great model. What should we stop doing? What should we start doing? What should we continue doing? And then very importantly, if you do those kinds of surveys, which are really powerful and equity minded, you want to circle back to your students and say, “Alright, here’s what you told me. No, we’re not going to stop having our weekly homework assignments. Those are important. But here are some changes that I can do.” So informal check ins with your students, it does a lot of different things… key for me is demonstrate pedagogical caring, that we do care about our students. And we want them to be successful. And it helps our students to communicate to us if we need to slow down or provide another explanation, those kinds of things.

Rebecca: So I’m wondering, Flower, if you can talk a little bit more about some of these same kinds of practices, but in an online environment, in an asynchronous online environment, where sometimes it’s a little more difficult to figure out how to adopt some of these practices?

Flower: Yeah, great question, Rebecca. And thank you for kind of bringing us back to online because I have another huge takeaway for me [LAUGHTER] from the pandemic is that online, asynchronous, I think, is one of the most challenging formats to teach in. And I myself still struggle to see the students in my classes as real embodied people. It is so easy to fall into the sense that they are names on a screen, that they are tasks on a to-do list. And we know that our students don’t think we’re real. They tell us repeatedly… well, they don’t tell us they tell each other, they tell the media. My own daughters have said to me online teachers aren’t real. I kid you not. [LAUGHTER] During the pandemic they’re like “My teachers aren’t real people.” So very important, asynchronous while recognizing the limitations, and I don’t actually mean of the format in this case. I mean, the demands on people’s busy lives, because we know students who choose asynchronous online frequently need the flexibility. And maybe they don’t necessarily see the value of all the discussion forums and those kinds of things. So how do we do this relationship building, this increasing interaction? Certainly, I would argue that, as instructors, we need to be communicating with our students more often than not, and that can be announcements, it can be interacting in the discussion boards, not a ton, not dominating, but posting a guiding question here, or “that’s a great point” kind of there. We can be responsive in our assignment feedback, we don’t have to write a tome of comments. But even using an emoji or a quick comment to say, “I see you. I appreciate your work.” Some learning management systems make it very easy to record assignment feedback. Now, all of these, we need to hold in balance with the point I was making earlier about self care and holistic wellbeing for ourselves. I am not saying that we should become 24/7 chatbots, who are always available to our online students. I am saying they need more than what we might do. And we can also foster these connections to support their wellbeing with each other. So here’s one very quick example. I love an activity called “share one photo” and what this is, you can create this in an asynchronous class as an individual assignment, or as a discussion forum getting to know you kind of opportunity and if you do it… well, in either format, you could do this more than once. It could be an ongoing or an every other week, something like this. It’s a great way to intentionally structure social connections and relationship building. And what you do is you ask your students to look in their photo library on their smartphone, don’t go out and take a new photo, look in your photo library, choose one photo that is meaningful to you, write a line or two about why you chose to show that and submit it. And it’s worth points. Because it’s not just that we only focus on the class content, we focus on building relationships to help our students thrive. This can be really powerful, you will get different responses. If it’s an individual assignment, you make it more vulnerable images, if it’s a discussion post, you’ll have opportunities for students to connect with each other, like I was just saying, it doesn’t always have to be just you. But this is a way for students to choose what they want to share. It demonstrates to them that you care about them as people and not just names on a screen. And it can be a really powerful and fun way to see a little bit more about who your students are as people. I would certainly encourage that we do the same. Let’s also share one photo, help our students see us as real people as well.

John: One of the questions that has come in is from someone who is in a nursing education program, and the instructor notes that they use a lot of high-stakes exams and assessments in that. Do you have any suggestions on how they can move away from that? And I’ll just add a little bit to it, given that they do have high- stakes assessments as a criteria for licensing.

Flower: Yeah, great point, I was gonna make the same point there, John, thank you. There are disciplinary considerations to all of the recommendations that people like me come in and make. [LAUGHTER] And if you do have those accreditation exams, then part of your curriculum needs to be preparing your students to be successful on those high-stakes accreditation exams. So for me, a lot of times it’s about keeping things in tension, or in balance. We know that they need practice, they need to develop a comfort level with higher stakes, higher pressure situations. And honestly, I’m thinking about on the job, when you’re dealing with a patient, there could be a healthcare crisis that you need to be able to respond to. So, for me, preparing future nurses to deal with the pressure is part of the learning outcomes. But maybe, while they’re students, maybe we can balance that just a little bit. Maybe it’s not just about those high-stakes exams, maybe we balance out the grading scheme to award more points, as an example, for a weekly written reflection, where students can explain how they’re thinking about the processes that they’re learning about. If we have to, and I’m going to qualify… if we have to, for disciplinary reasons, have those bigger exams, because I’m going to invite us to think about: “Do we have to have those exams in this case?” Yeah, maybe. But maybe what we can do too, in a very equity-minded way is to offer retakes, offer test corrections, and a critical part there is to again structure a way for students to articulate where they went wrong, what they learned through this process. So kind of explain, how do I get this wrong? What did I need to do differently. So for me, it’s about balancing the grading scheme, thinking about equity-minded grading in terms of maybe you could build in the drop one exam, drop your lowest test, there’s a lot more that we write about that in the Norton Guide, which by the way, I want to say is actually available for free as an ebook. And, of course, I don’t have the link right in front of me. But maybe in the podcast notes, you can place the link to finding out more about that book, because it is freely available and has lots more of these kinds of ideas in it.

John: It’s a great resource, and we will share a link to that in the show notes.

Rebecca: We have a question that came in from Kristin Croyle, who is one of our previous guests on Tea for Teaching, and also is our Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences here at SUNY Oswego. And she asked, “What do you recommend for campus leadership approaches to support student learning and faculty staff wellbeing and what should we institutionally start, stop, and continue doing?”

Flower: Oh, I love it. Thank you so much.

Rebecca: No small question there.

Flower: [LAUGHTER] I know, right? Well, first of all, I’m going to actually focus on faculty. When we support faculty wellbeing it can translate most effectively to student wellbeing and success and equity. But one thing we haven’t really talked about today is how our own identities as instructors impact our day-to-day experience. And that can be a big question. It can be related to identities, our social identities, involving our race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, it can involve lots of things. It can even involve the work… and I did this for literally decades… being an adjunct faculty and teaching just wherever I could, mostly online, so at least I wasn’t a freeway flyer, but recognizing that our individual faculty have a lot of demands, a lot of needs, and one size does not fit all from a campus leadership perspective. So recognizing and elevating the importance of attending to our individual faculty to maybe working with them to adjust teaching loads. There’s a lot in the recent media and literature about how some instructors who hold some marginalized identities end up doing a lot of emotional labor that many other identities may not, in terms of supporting students who are underrepresented, extra demands on their time. So let’s stop treating all faculty the same. Pie in the sky, let’s also stop with these untenable working conditions. But that’s a big one. Let us start paying attention to the individual wellbeing of the individuals who are doing this hard and important work of supporting our students and helping them to learn and grow and graduate and make a better life. And let’s continue having these conversations. This is the way we’re going to enact change.

John: We have a question from Christine Miller. And she asks, “While respecting academic freedom, how do we spread the good news of equitable and inclusive practices to resistant faculty and support these practices with our adjunct faculty?

Flower: Yeah, this is a great question. And the opportunity to work on the Guide to Equity-Minded Teaching gave us as an author team, which I do want to give a shout out to my brilliant co authors Isis Artze-Vega, Bryan Dewsbury, and Mays Imad. It gave us lots of opportunity to wrestle with this. And here’s exactly where we landed. I used a phrase earlier that has served me quite well. And that is to not blame and not shame. Let’s recognize that our colleagues, maybe those whom we support, whether we’re perhaps in an instructional design role, whether we’re in a leadership position, let’s recognize that every person is on their own individual equity journey. And we don’t want to judge somebody for perhaps not being in the place that we are, for being a little bit more resistant. The way that I think about it is that maybe we haven’t given them an invitation to slow down and think about things from a different perspective. Maybe they haven’t had that opportunity to see their accounting student trying to take an exam while their little brother was hitting them on the head. So let’s meet our faculty colleagues where they are. We talk about this with our students, too. Let’s meet them where they are, let’s help them to find a way in to what we’re encouraging them to learn and think about. Let’s not blame. Let’s not shame. Let’s extend grace. Let’s support each other. Let’s ask questions. Let’s tell stories. Because, as I just mentioned, the one with the accounting student and the exam, these are things that get people to think about things differently. So it’s a really important question. I’m asked this a lot. And we think about polarized political situations, you think about legislation that is being enacted around the country or being debated. And yet, of course, I’m gonna say this work is worth doing. It’s all the more worth doing. Let’s be strategic, and let’s be supportive of each other and not get frustrated with somebody who isn’t quite where we want them to be yet. We’re all on a journey.

Rebecca: There’s another question. There’s actually a bunch of questions that we’re not going to get to because they all came at the same time. But there’s another question here that says, “You mentioned the different circles of control for advocating for equity and advocating in communities. How do you seek out or help build those communities on your campus, and then build consensus on what that community can influence on the campus?”

Flower: For me, it’s about being intentional to dedicate time and I will try to be brief in my answers, so hopefully, we can get to a few questions if possible. Let’s be intentional with our own personal time to create those communities and work together. One example that has a long history is a book club. So maybe a group of folks on the community, on the campus, want to choose our new book, or any range of other really great books and set aside time in your semester to connect with other colleagues, working with your centers for teaching excellence, working with your instructional designers. These are ways that we can individually choose within our own circle of control to establish community with our colleagues and support each other in this work.

John: We have an anonymous question, which is: “If you were to create or select an emoji to represent [LAUGHTER] the road forward in higher education, what would it be?”

Flower: Wow, that is a good one. The first image that flashed into my mind is the big mountain [LAUGHTER] with a path going up. And I kind of like that because it can represent a couple of different nuances. It can be: we have a long way to go, we have an uphill battle. But it can also be: we have this amazing opportunity and challenge ahead of us and we can ascend and climb this mountain together. I’m going to leave it at that.

Rebecca: Well, thank you CIT audience members for your questions and engagement. And also Flower, for all your answers to not the easiest questions. But we always wrap up with one last question, as you know, and that is: “What’s next?”

Flower: Yeah, thank you. You may have asked me this question in March of 2020. And I have the same answer. [LAUGHTER] I am resuming work, working hard on a manuscript on effective teaching, applying emotion science to teaching with technology. I was working on that manuscript. This amazing opportunity to join the author team for the Norton guide came along, So I had to pause on the emotion science book, but I am picking it up in earnest, and I think again, it holds a lot of keys for how we can enhance equitable higher education for ourselves and our students.

Rebecca: I know it’s something we’re definitely looking forward to here.

Flower: Thank you.

John: And thank you for joining us. We really appreciate it, and it’s great to talk to you again.

Flower: Yeah, very nice to be here with you all and I hope it’s a wonderful rest of the conference as well.

Rebecca: So let’s give Flower a warm thank you. [APPLAUSE]

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

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

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296. ChatGPT Chat

Since its arrival in late November 2022, ChatGPT has been a popular topic of discussion in academic circles. In this episode, Betsy Barre joins us to discuss some of the ways in which generative AI tools such as ChatGPT can benefit faculty and students as well as some strategies that can be used to mitigate academic integrity concerns. Betsy is the Executive Director of the Center for Advancement of Teaching at Wake Forest University. In 2017 she won, with Justin Esarey, the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education’s Innovation Award for their Course Workload Estimator.

Show Notes

Transcript

John: Since its arrival in late November 2022, ChatGPT has been a popular topic of discussion in academic circles. In this episode, we discuss some of the ways in which generative AI tools such as ChatGPT can benefit faculty and students as well as some strategies that can be used to mitigate academic integrity concerns.

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

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

[MUSIC]

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

Betsy: Thanks. It’s so good to be back.

John: We’re really happy to talk to you again. Today’s teas are… Betsy, are you drinking tea?

Betsy: Yeah, actually, I was really excited. I’ve Chai spice tea. I was really excited when y’all invited me back because I’ve actually made a decision to stop drinking coffee as much as I have in the past. So I thought I’d be into all these exotic teas by the time that we recorded this, but nope, just a boring chai tea for today. But maybe next time when I come back, I’ll have some interesting teas for you.

Rebecca: We’ll make sure we ask you to level up next time, Betsy.

Betsy: Great.

Rebecca: I have a cup of cacao tea with cinnamon.

Betsy: Nice.

John: And I have a pineapple ginger green tea today.

Betsy: You all are inspiring me. I love it.

Rebecca: Did you say pineapple, John?

John: Pineapple.

Rebecca: Is this a new one?

John: No, it’s been in the CELT office for a while. It’s a new can of it, It’s a Republic of Tea tea.

Rebecca: I feel like it’s not one of your usual choices.

John: You said that the last time I had this. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Yes, I just don’t associate this tea with you.

Betsy: You have a block.

John: I think I’ve only had it on the podcast two or three times.

Rebecca: Just a couple. [LAUGHTER] I just don’t remember. Clearly. Okay. [LAUGHTER] We’ll move on. We’ve invited you back, Betsy to talk about ChatGPT. We know you’ve been writing about it, you’ve been speaking about it, and everyone’s concerned about it. [LAUGHTER] But maybe we can start first by talking about ways that faculty might use tools such as this one to be productive in our work.

Betsy: When I discovered ChatGPT, the way that I discovered it, which was back in December, was that I had a colleague who sent a screenshot of asking them to draft a syllabus. And so my first encounter was actually with ChatGPT, doing something that would help teachers. It’s also the case that I’m a teaching center director, so, of course, I’m thinking of these things, but it has certainly shaped what was possible. And it blew my mind what it was capable of doing in a great degree of detail, actually. And then about a month later, I was working on a curriculum project where I was having to draft learning outcomes. And that’s a task that we do in the teaching center a lot, and always getting it precisely right and not really sure what’s the different ways that we can phrase this so that it’s actually measurable. And so I just started playing around with what was its capabilities in terms of learning outcomes, and I saw that it was actually pretty impressive and generative there. And then back then, when there was only GPT3, I kept trying to see if it could do curriculum maps for us. And I really had to force it and really think hard about my prompts to get it to actually map outcomes to courses and curriculum. But then when GPT4 came out, I tried it again. And I thought I was going to have to do it step by step. But this time, I tried with a philosophy curriculum, and I said, I want 15 courses, I want them to have three to five outcomes each, students need to take a certain number of courses, we want them to have each outcome three to five times and just sort of gave broad guidance. And it gave me a full curriculum as well as a map. And it was actually a very good philosophy curriculum. So it came up with the outcomes. It came up with the courses, I was floored, and it was my first request. So there are many other things I think we can use ChatGPT for in terms of our teaching, but the curriculum was really, I think, one of the most complex things that I’ve seen it do.

John: I saw you do that. And so I experimented to have it develop a whole major program, with course descriptions and learning outcomes for the program, as well as for each individual course. And it did a remarkably good job of it.

Betsy: Yeah, I was amazed because I didn’t really give it much of a prompt. And it had within the philosophy major, like comparative philosophy, issues of diversity, environmental philosophy. So it wasn’t the typical things that you would expect in a philosophy major, it was actually quite innovative in some ways. And I appreciated that. From the perspective of a teaching center consulting with administrators and faculty on curriculum, one of the things we often see is that the little blurbs in our handbooks or bulletins for students to see the descriptions of the courses, they’re about 150 words. And often they’re very much teacher centered. So here’s the topic of the course: in this course, you will study this, this, and this. And one of the biggest challenges is how do we turn those into outcomes. And so I actually tried to do that too, is I went through our bulletin and just threw in those 150-word descriptions of the topics, and had them develop three to five outcomes that were measurable. And it did pretty remarkably. And so I think that could be a useful starting place. Again, with a lot of this stuff, you don’t want to just take it as is, but a useful starting place to help our faculty and our curriculum committees brainstorm. And in about a week, we are going to do a course design institute at Wake Forest. We do it every summer, and I’m really eager to have my colleague Kristi Verbeke, and my other colleague, Anita McCauley, experiment with using ChatGPT as part of the process in the course design institute to see if it helps them speed up or get more ideas as they’re generating various aspects of design of their course, not just outcomes, but all the way down the line of the steps of course design.

Rebecca: Sometimes it can be really hard to get started, but as soon as you have a start, you know what you want.

Betsy: That’s right. And one response you might imagine to the fact that ChatGPT can draft learning outcomes is you might imagine someone saying, “Well, that’s a clear sign that it’s pretty easy and meaningless tasks to think to be able to draft the learning outcomes.” But what I have found is that when I, not just my colleagues, but when I have a really concrete learning outcome that’s measurable, it helps me design the course better, like it’s just so much easier to think immediately of an assignment. But when it’s vague, and it’s kind of like, I don’t really have it really clear, in my mind, it’s so much harder to do all the other steps. And so even if we think it’s a somewhat trivial task, having ChatGPT help our colleagues come up with really clear learning outcomes will help speed up everything else, at least that’s my hypothesis and we’re gonna see how that goes this summer.

Rebecca: We’ve played around a little bit of using like those course descriptions that might appear in a catalog and turning it into marketing language, which is very different.

Betsy: Oh, that’s so interesting. And has it worked well?

Rebecca: Yeah, I think it’s definitely a starting place to move it to a different kind of language.

Betsy: So I’m teaching a first-year seminar in the spring, and I’m an ethicist, so I teach a course on sexual ethics. And the last time I taught it, I had a pretty conservative title. And it was interesting, I only had women in the class, cis women in the class, there were no men that had signed up, which had not been the case before when I’ve taught that class. So I actually used it to say, I want to attract a diverse group of 18 year olds, or 20 year olds, first-year students to this class, what are some titles or some quick summaries that I might use, and it was really fun to see some of the ideas it gave me. I ended up mashing a bunch together, again, taking pieces of it as an expert and pulling it together. But it certainly got me thinking in a way that would have taken me much longer if I didn’t have that help.

John: I used ChatGPT to create an ad for the Tea for Teaching podcast just to see how it would work and I posted it on Facebook, and I got quite a few responses from people saying, “I use this all the time in my work.”

Betsy: Yeah.

John: This is a tool that’s out there and that came up really quickly, but it’s still a really early stage of this. And a lot of faculty are really concerned about issues of academic integrity, and so forth. And we can talk a little bit about those. But we have to prepare students for the world in which they’re living. And the world in which they’ll be living is one where AI tools are going to be ubiquitous. So you do a lot of work with ethics. How can we help students learn how to ethically use ChatGPT, in college and beyond?

Betsy: Yeah, I think it’s actually a fabulous question. And one of the things I’ve often said, a lot of folks come to me to talk about ChatGPT in terms of teaching and learning. And of course, I have lots of thoughts about that. But I actually have been particularly consumed with reading about the much bigger questions about what AI means for humanity, to be quite frank. There are really dramatic and important questions that we need to think about. And in fact, I think sometimes what I have seen is sometimes people will think that that’s just hype: “Oh, that AI might take over the world, or that it might have these dramatic effects.” But if you actually talk to people who are experts in artificial intelligence, they’re really worried. And when the experts are really worried, it makes me very worried. So when we think about preparing our students, on the one hand, you can think about it as preparing them to use a tool that they need to use for their career, kind of like, “I need to teach them how to use Excel, or I need to teach them how to do basic productivity tools.” And that’s really important. Don’t get me wrong. In fact, like a lot of students don’t learn how to use Excel, and they don’t learn how to use these productivity tools. I have colleagues that I’m teaching these things to where I’m like, “Oh, you didn’t realize you could use this, it makes your life a lot easier.” But I think the bigger issues are preparing them to think about the potential implications to really understand what the tool is doing and what that means for how we understand human intelligence, how we think about consciousness. I mean, what it means for whether we want to have a world in which there are artificial intelligences that we might have moral obligations to. I mean, all sorts of huge, huge questions. Now, I don’t think all teachers need to address those issues. Just like all teachers probably don’t need to teach the technical stuff. But I certainly think when we are thinking about curriculum, it’s essential that our institutions think about helping our students think critically and philosophically about what artificial intelligence means. And I think perhaps my guess is like some of our students or like, our faculty haven’t played around with it a lot or kind of like, “it’s just another thing like Grammarly, it’s not that big of a deal.” But we have found at Wake Forest that when we invite experts in, so linguists, or computer scientists, or machine learning folks, or ethicists to come and talk about these tools and how they really work. Folks have their eyes opened, and then realize, “Oh, this is a bigger deal than we thought it was and we might need to think about regulation [LAUGHTER] and what comes next.” So policy issues, not just ethics issues as well. So we don’t have an answer except for the fact that we need to be talking about it. I have some ideas myself about what I think regulation should be, et cetera. But I do think our students shouldn’t just be seeing it as a tool to make their lives easier, although it is, it also is important for them to think through the implications for society. And then I guess also as another ethical piece, obviously, is that, as we address the issue of academic honesty, helping our students think about their reasons for choosing to take liberties that they were not authorized to do and thinking about their own character. And that’s going to have to be an approach that is somewhat different than just punishment to help our students behave in ways that we wish them to.

Rebecca: I know that my colleagues and I have had some really interesting conversations around AI related to visual culture and creating visual items, because a lot of the libraries of images are copyright protected. And what does it mean when you’re taking something that has these legal protections and mash them up into something new? And then whose property is it? So they lead to really interesting conversations, and so you start thinking about it as a maker and your work being a part of like a library of something, and then also, when you’re using work that’s created, what does that mean? So one of the things that we’ve been talking about is there’s policy at all levels, like what’s our departmental policy around these things? And what kind of syllabus statements or things might we do to be consistent across courses?

Betsy: Yeah, and I think one of the most important things, and it’s gonna take some time, is for all of us to get clear on what we think our policies or our positions are going to be about what is appropriate and what’s not appropriate. And then once we do, to really communicate that to students, because I think they’re in a place right now where it’s all over the map. And many instructors aren’t actually sharing that with them. And so I think that gets us in a fuzzy situation where students assume “Well, if this professor said this, then this professor would be okay with it.” And often it’s very different. And so how do we at least have a conversation at the beginning of the semester with our students about what we think? And I actually think, as you point out, Rebecca, it’s a learning opportunity too for students to co-construct some of those positions. So let’s talk about the reasons why we might want to not just say it’s a free for all. We can talk about the value of art and the value of our work as artists, and what does it mean to just use somebody else’s work without acknowledging it? And maybe there are ways to acknowledge it. And unfortunately, one of the challenges of these image generators is that we don’t necessarily know what it’s drawing on. And so that’s one interesting regulation is: could there be a way? I mean, I don’t know. It’s tough. So one of the challenges with the science of this stuff is that often those who create it don’t know how it’s working. [LAUGHTER] And they will tell you that, that it’s a black box. And so to be able to get in there and say, “Well, I will reveal it to you.” I think sometimes folks assume they’re not telling us because they want it to be proprietary. But often, they’re not telling us because they don’t actually know how the algorithm was developed or is doing its work. And so that’s a really tricky situation. But when we did a number of series of workshops for our faculty this semester, and one of them was we brought in some experts, and we had some copyright experts and some lawyers that came in and talked about this, and really fascinating questions about copyright in our work that, again, is a great opportunity for students to learn that question in a real live way that they see happening.

John: Going back to the whole issue of copyright, in terms of human history, that whole concept is relatively new. And when artists created new work, they started by copying the work of others, and they added their own twist. And in general, in pretty much all academic disciplines, the work that people are doing now is built on the work that others have done before, this. Is what ChatGPT is doing, in part, just the same type of thing that humans were doing, except instead of spending years learning how to do this, and building on it slowly over centuries, it’s doing it in a few milliseconds.

Betsy: Yeah, and I’m not an expert on arts, and so I’m sure there are lots of experts, and Rebecca, you can jump in here as well. But I would say that there are certainly questions about: Is it harming? That’s the question, often with ethics, we’re asking. Is itt harming anyone to engage in this practice. And even if we don’t know we’re using somebody else’s work, we often are. Our ideas build on one another, etc. But of course, in a capitalist society where artists make money based on their work, there become new questions about how do I preserve my livelihood in this particular context? Now, again, if there was a different context in which we supported our artists, so that they didn’t need to make money off of their work, because we gave them a basic income, there may be a different question involved there. And so actually, I mean, I think the economic questions, so I’m tying you both together here. So economics and art, this is great. The economic questions are really interesting about what does this mean for the future of labor? And how do we think about work in the future? I mean, granted, now, it seems like it’s not going to be immediate, but there might be long-term implications for all of us that we need to rethink as well. So I don’t know, Rebecca, you have thoughts about that?

Rebecca: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s interesting. I mean, John’s pointing really to the printing press is when copyright came about, when there it was easier and less time consuming to make copies of things. And then in 1998 copyright law changed again, because of the ability of making digital files, copies, so easy.

Betsy: Napster. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Yeah, copyright law hasn’t kept up with technology over time. So there’s constantly these conversations about technology and creative work and what is it mean? I come from computer art. So generative art is a thing that we do, and that’s algorithm-based and you would argue that the machine is collaborating, in some ways, you write the algorithm. So I think there’s a trajectory of this has been happening for a long time. But it does raise a lot of interesting questions. And I think it’s really important for our students to grapple with, and really critically think about, and for us to critically think about together. In some ways, it’s nice because it gives us something to have a good constructive conversation around and really sort through it together.

John: And then maybe a less positive note, in terms of the economics behind this, there have been a lot of stories of people taking two or three jobs on and using chatGPT, to do two or three times as much work as they did before. And one of the issues I’ve addressed with my students in my labor economics class is, if we have these tools that can do the work that college graduates used to do, will there still be a demand for college graduates to do these tasks. Most technological change in the past ended up replacing less skilled workers, and provided a really nice return to those who had college degrees. But this type of innovation might very well be hitting a little bit more heavily on college graduates than most previous innovations.

Betsy: Yeah, it’s hard to actually talk about this, because I feel like every week it gets better and better. And so I could say, “Well, currently, here’s the set of skills, if we’re an expert, we can use it to sort of level up a bit.” So as I shared with just the curriculum mapping, I’m able to ask it things, and then because I’m an expert, I’m able to do things with it and ask appropriate prompts that push it right in the direction I want it to go and then I produce this wonderful outcome, ehereas sometimes I tried just to show my faculty to put in questions from like physics or something and I couldn’t really assess whether it was a appropriate answer or not, or how I had to push it. And so there’s part of me that thinks that there will be roles for expertise. But then again, how good will it get? Who knows? Will it eventually out compete us? …which is somewhat of a worry… but I do think that, at least currently, there’s still a role for the expertise to play a role. But you’re right, it’s going to just make it more efficient so that we can do more. And then the question is, if we’re doing more will we need fewer workers? Or will we just be more productive? All sorts of interesting questions there. I will say just a funny little story about this point about computer art and economics is our office is called the Center for the Advancement of Teaching. And our acronym is CAT. [LAUGHTER] So we make lots of jokes about that. And we have a serious logo. But all along we’ve been thinking like, we should have a fun, funny cat logo, like with an actual cat, we just haven’t had the money for it. We have this wonderful designer we work with, she’s amazing, we got a quote, we’re going to do it if we have money left over at the end of the year, but I was just playing around with Midjourney and like, what can it do for me? …and I mean, it’s not as good as hers will be, I don’t think, but it was pretty remarkable, especially since this is just a fun logo, it’s not like our serious logo, that I could just use it instead of paying somebody to do it. So this is the real sort of challenge is that it’s really maybe just the most advanced things that we’re still going to rely on experts for but maybe some of the basic stuff that we would have paid, we’re no longer going to do and what does that mean, economically?

Rebecca: There are some existing sources prior to AI that were like people who didn’t have degrees or didn’t have a background in design, who would whip up something for five bucks. [LAUGHTER] And sometimes it looks like it was whipped up for five bucks.

Betsy: [LAUGHTER] You probably would think that about my Midjourney examples. I’m sure Rebecca, I’m sure. Yeah. It’s so funny. So, this is the other thing too, is the students will eventually get better at this, like googling prompts. I went to this website that was like, “Here are these professional designers who design logos, ask it to do it in that person’s style?” Or “Here’s some language that you can use for the prompt like: vector, flat,” like, well, this sort of thing, or a mascot logo, which I didn’t even know that was a thing. But I guess if I want a cat logo, it’s a mascot logo, learning those things, which I never would have prompted, it actually helped me get something that was a little bit better. But it is fascinating. Yeah. And I think that’s true, in my experience with the tool in general is that the more you use it, the more you learn what it’s capable of. And I do think that a lot of our faculty have not really spent a lot of time experimenting with it for a variety of reasons. They’re busy, et cetera. But I often encourage them to really spend as much time as possible with it to really understand what it’s capable of doing. I was sharing with John, before we started this podcast, that plugins are now possible with ChatGPT. And the plugins just take it to a whole next level beyond even GPT4. And I’m still starting to play around with that. And I think it’s just something that, again, faculty need to be prepared for, because right now they’re saying, “Oh, it can’t cite things, or it can’t search the web.” Well, now it can. And what do we do about that? How do we keep up with it if we aren’t paying attention to it?

Rebecca: I think one of the things that you said earlier and alluded to when you were talking about the logo is needing expert language and expert concepts to be able to curate the prompts. So if students want to use tools like this in a productive way, they then also have to have a certain level of expertise, presumably, to do a good job. If we want to encourage students to be productive and use a productive tool in a productive way, what can we do to coach students? Do we want to coach students in this way?

Betsy: The question about whether we want to coach students is a really interesting one. There are folks, I think, who are anxious that if you teach them how to use it, they’ll use it in inappropriate ways. And my sort of response to that is we’re gonna have to address their desire to violate norms in a different way. That’s a different issue. That’s an issue of character. It’s an issue of ethics, because I think they are likely to do it anyway. Now it’s true, if they don’t really know how to do it, we might find it easier to detect it. But I’m guessing that, in a year, it’ll be harder and harder to detect it, even if they don’t know how to do it. But as of right now, I would say I think it is useful to teach them. I wasn’t teaching the spring, but I am teaching in the fall. And I’m really excited to think about. I’m not going to totally redesign my course, some people have done that, I’m not going to do radical changes, but just to engage in the conversation with them in the ways that it can be used. And I think some of the most important, honestly, are using it to explain material that they didn’t understand or using it to interpret my prompts if they’re weird, or my expectations. So helping the students use it to help them with their learning. So giving me feedback on my work, and I have a whole list of things that I would recommend, which is somewhat different than what we immediately think about when we think about students using ChatGPT. We think about them using it to write their papers, or to start, brainstorm, or give an outline. And all of those things might be great. But I actually think, as a person who’s interested in pedagogy, and particularly in student learning, there are only so many hours in the day, I have so many students, I can’t be with them one on one for 15 hours a week. But if there’s a way in which they can have like a tutor, who’s there with them to say, here’s what I think might be the explanation of that thing you didn’t understand, or let me help you interpret this paragraph and put it in the words for a sixth grader, or I’ll give you an analogy related to sports, if that’s what you know. [LAUGHTER] All of those things are amazing opportunities for our students to accelerate their learning. And that’s what we want. So it is true that these tools can be a threat to learning if students are just using them to write their papers in a literally copy and paste kind of way. But I also think there’s real opportunity to help them accelerate their learning. And again, you have to be careful, because it’s not perfect. And that’s your point about expertise. But I think, frankly, sometimes the advice they get from their friends, or if they go to the internet and Google it or YouTube, they’re not getting great advice either. So it doesn’t have to be perfect to be better than what they’re currently doing, is I guess what I would say? So I think that’s important. And then we could talk if you wanted to about how they might use it as a writing tool. I think it’s trickier there, of how we could ultimately and I’m sure you’ve heard this before in the previous ChatGPT podcast you did, it ultimately depends on your learning goals. What are your goals for your course, how you want to use it, but I do think there are certainly legitimate ways in which we can help students use it to help them learn more.

John: And just following up a little bit on that. I’ve heard of a number of faculty who are encouraging students to use it to create tutorials on specific topics where they may have a weaker background. And that’s certainly a very good potential use of this.

Betsy: And I even have experimented with like, “Okay, so give me feedback on this and then give me a learning plan,” like, “give me an improvement plan,” like, “what should I do? What steps should I take to get better at this skill?” …and it’ll actually give you pretty good plans. And it also can help them with time management, you know, “I have this many things I need to do help me prioritize what I should work on next.” And that’s good for us, [LAUGHTER], but it’s also really good for our students who really struggle with time management, I think. So I really do think there are a number of things that students can use it for, that I would feel comfortable with, but I also think it’s a really useful exercise for everyone listening or for any instructor to think through the possibilities. And you may decide these things are okay, these things aren’t okay, and it may differ for each class. But that is really important to do before you can actually communicate to your students what is and is not okay. And if you want them to actually do what you ask them to do, you have to have good reasons, I think. So you can’t just give them a rule, you should justify that rule, like with kids a little bit, you got to say why you think it’s the case to hopefully bring them along of why they wouldn’t want to just use the tool straightforwardly.

John: One thing I’ve used with some students, especially when I’ve talked to him about some of their uses of ChatGPT is, if all they’re learning in the course is how to type a prompt into ChatGPT and copy and paste that in, what types of skills are they acquiring there that’s going to be useful when they leave, because they could be replaced by anyone typing in those prompts.

Betsy: Right? What makes them unique. So one frame for this is the things we’re teaching students in school are useful for them. We want them to learn so that they can be productive in the market. That’s one way we often frame the work that we’re doing. But I think this gives us an opportunity to open it up a little bit wider where we think about the purposes of education beyond just what is going to be useful in the market. And so I sometimes will use the example of pottery… we’re coming back to art… is that I took a pottery class, after COVID, but it was like the first thing I wanted to do after we were back in person and so I took a wheel throwing class, and I was absolutely terrible. But the idea that I would go to Target and just cheat by bringing in something from Target that was made by a machine. No, there’s a reason I’m doing it. I want to actually learn the craft and the craft has meaning in and of itself, apart from the fact that yes, I could get a much better bowl [LAUGHTER] from Target than anything I will be able to create, but I’m really glad I’m doing it. And I think that’s really what’s gonna start happening is we’re going to start to see that there’s actually intrinsic value to some of these tasks, apart from their value for the, you know, am I gonna make more money later, etc, that we actually think that learning and thinking and the creativity that comes with producing is a value in itself. And that’s going to take a while to turn our students in that direction again, because there’s so market driven right now. But if things start changing in the market, and there are fewer and fewer jobs, they may be open to that conversation.

John: And maybe with the growth of alternative grading systems that try to shift the focus away from extrinsic rewards to intrinsic rewards, this could be quite complimentary.

Betsy: Yeah, and I know that we don’t want to talk all about academic honesty, but it is a real question. And so I don’t want to dismiss the faculty who are anxious about this. I was sharing before the podcast was recorded as well that the news about Chegg losing so much money in the past few months, was a real indicator to me that perhaps my optimism [LAUGHTER] about students not using it was ill placed, that in fact, that’s pretty good indirect evidence that a lot of students are now using ChatGPT to do what Chegg used to do for them. And so it’s not good for us, but it’s not good for the students. And so we do need to think about it. But I do think there’s sort of two broad approaches. One is like the punishment and enforcement approach, and then the other is prevention. And I think focusing on prevention is really where we need to go. And so referencing focusing on the intrinsic value of the work, maybe pulling away from those high-stakes graded assessments is a way to think about motivational changes of how we prevent students from engaging in these and I sometimes will use the example again, of the pottery class, like the idea that I would be motivated to cheat in a pottery class is absurd, like, why would I cheat at that class, because I’m just doing it for my sake. Now, if I was doing it so that I could get more money or so I could get this grade so that I could get into something else I wanted, then I might be willing and tempted to cheat in the pottery class. We know that students cheat because of the grade, they don’t cheat just because they think that’s the fastest way to learn. [LAUGHTER] They know they’re not learning, but they’re like, “I need this grade, because I need this degree so that I can get this job.” And so really bringing them back, decreasing that external stuff, and taking them back to the value of learning may be the only way we’re really going to tackle this. Now, it’s easier said than done. We’re all in a system where grades matter, and students need to get degrees and so it’s a longer conversation. But I do think revisiting some of the literature on cheating, even before ChatGPT existed is going to be really valuable for all of us.

Rebecca: So you’ve talked about moving towards more low-stakes opportunities, and we’ve hinted towards alternative grading, what are some strategies that faculty can use to assess student learning? We’re concerned that we’re not able to see whether or not a student is learning if they’re using tools like that, those are the conversations that we’re having.

Betsy: Yeah, so there’s things you can do to hopefully try to prevent it. But those may not always work. So I have a lot of ideas for how to prevent it. You can give them extrinsic reasons for using the tool itself. Like for example, I mean, this is just a simple one, but let’s say you’re teaching a math class, and you have an in-person final, and you tell them, “you’re going to be preparing yourself for the in person final by doing the homework yourself.” So there’s a kind of extrinsic reward of the final that’s in person will hopefully motivate the students to do the practice problems themselves, because they need to actually learn the thing that will get them that reward. But I do think if they do it, so again, lots of motivational things to talk about. But if they do it, first of all, how do we know is a really interesting concern. And I think that one interesting point that I’ve raised when I’ve had some conversations with folks is that I think a lot of people think when we’re talking about we need accurate assessments of student learning. The first assumption is that what we’re talking about there is we need to have grades that are just, so when we pass them on to like jobs, or to future courses, that we have just grades. But I actually think there’s a real learning reason why we want accurate assessments, is that if I can’t accurately assess your skills, you’re not going to learn. I actually want to know where you are really struggling, so then I can adapt my teaching to better help you learn. And if it looks like you’re doing great, I’m moving on, I’m moving on, I’m not going to actually help you learn that thing. And so it’s really important for learning as well that we have really accurate assessments of their skills. And so if they are using it, so how do we detect it? Tough one, but I think that’s where multiple measures. So you might imagine you have some in-class things that are happening, you’re not just lecturing. So this is a good reason for active learning as well. Because you’re engaging your students in class, you actually hear them speak in class and explain things to you in class. And if they’re struggling there, and then all of a sudden, they have this beautifully written paper, I think that’s a useful comparison. It’s no guarantee that that’s the case because sometimes students need time to reflect, particularly English as a second language learners need time to build their arguments, etc, rather than just being on the fly in class, but it is interesting evidence and that there’s people talking about oral exams and other possibilities or at least having conferences with the students about their work. So it’s not an exam, but just like let’s meet to chat about this. Now, of course, if you’re teaching a huge class, that’s not possible and available to you, but those that are teaching smaller classes, it might be. So I think we’re gonna have to be creative. I have not found a silver bullet here, I have heard lots of great ideas of things that could be possible, but all of them have trade offs, all of them come with downsides. And this is kind of my mantra all the time, when I think about pedagogy issues is that we should not get too absolutist about this, all of us are going to make different choices. And they’re all gonna have different downsides, and they’re all pretty reasonable, because right now, there is no obvious solution of what we all should be doing. I think some may choose to do oral exams, some may choose to do in-person, others may choose to say, “I’m not gonna pay as much attention as some others are.” And all of those things I think are reasonable. They’re just different approaches. And we should keep paying attention and be open to changing our minds if it seems like it’s not working. But I don’t feel like it helps us to be in sort of like one strong camp or the other when we think about the issues of academic honesty, and ChatGPT. So again, I don’t have an answer. Just lots of questions for you. But did you find anything that was useful over the past semester for you?

Rebecca: We teach really different things so our approaches are going to be very different. In my classes, we’re doing creative work. And so historically, and we continue to do this, documenting your process is part of the project. And so we see a project evolve over time. And that maybe involves using the use of AI as part of an input during that time, but documenting that as something that makes that happen. And we do critiques, we show things in progress, and we talk about it, and there’s feedback that’s recorded at those moments. And then if we’re not responding to feedback, then we’re not growing. So we have some systematic ways of demonstrating some creative process there and having to discuss and determine decision making around design decisions or creative decisions, like “Why did you make that decision?” And if it’s just like a random choice, then let’s be intentional about it. And now you need to maybe rethink that choice and make it more intentional. So those kinds of authentic learning opportunities really do kind of push it in a direction where it’s a lot more difficult to use AI as the entire thing. [LAUGHTER] It might be a part of the process, but it wouldn’t be the final output.

Betsy: John, I want to let you respond too, but what you’ve done is that one of the things about that, because that is certainly like doing authentic learning and process-based stuff. As you put it, Rebecca, it’s more difficult. But that doesn’t mean, and this is important, some people will say is that like, ChatGPT will tell you it’s process too, or you can ask it to give me processes, etc. So I do think, actually, one of the things that I think is I appreciate about your example is there’s a lot going on in class, there’s a lot going on, and it’s harder for folks who are doing asynchronous online courses. But if there are ways in which we actually see the process, and that’s kind of the authentic too, is that we’re actually not assessing a product, we’re literally live with them watching the process, I think we might be more likely to get some accurate things. And then if we just said, “Okay, we want you to write about your process, we actually want to see the process as most important.” So John, what about you,

John: The classes I’m most worried about are my large class, which has up to 400 students in it, and an online class that’s on the same topic with generally 40 to 50 students in it. And there’s some challenges there. In the large class, one of the things I’ve done since the start of the pandemic, is to shift all the assessment to online activities. I used to have a midterm and a final that were cumulative, they weren’t a tremendously large portion of the grade, there were lots of low-stakes tests that they could do over and over again. But the validity of those I suspect is going to be a bit different now. Because ChatGPT can do quite well with multiple choice questions and short answer questions and even algorithmic questions. So I’m probably going to bring back at least a midterm and final in person in my large class, just for the reason you described, the motivational thing… that you can practice these things as much as you want to learn it, but you’re going to be tested on this. And the greater your ability to recall and apply these concepts, the better you’ll be able to do on these things. And I wish I didn’t have to do that, because there’s so much advantage of letting students do things over and over again until they master things. But I’ve looked at some of the times on some of the quizzes I used this time, and students were turning them in [LAUGHTER] much more quickly than would have been possible had they not been relying on some sort of assistance.

Rebecca: Well, John, they’re just learning it so much better.

Betsy: Yes, that’s right. That’s right. That’s right.

John: And a nice side effect is you no longer get any spelling or grammatical errors.

Betsy: Yeah, you can read it faster as well.

John: Yeah, it makes it easier. [LAUGHTER]

Betsy: Yeah, no, and I do think as much as I think that we should trust our students, and I don’t want to be overly alarmist. There’s a lot of evidence that our students are doing it and even our students who would prefer not to do it, I think are doing it because they perceive that all the other students are doing it. So this was the same problem in the pandemic with academic honesty is that you have some students who will never cheat for whatever reason, [LAUGHTER] a small number… you have some students who will always cheat, they’ll find ways, they’ll pay somebody, whatever… they’re gonna find ways, and then there’s just a whole bunch of students in the middle who If the context really matters, and if they assume that all the other students are doing it, it puts them at a disadvantage to not do it. And we shouldn’t put our heads in the sand or assume that all of our students are not doing it. We shouldn’t also assume that our students are these horrible people, because they’re doing it, we need to recognize they’re doing it, and how can we help them create the conditions where they would be motivated to not do it to get themselves in trouble. And I do think your point, John, about the 400 students, about teaching an async online course, and even Rebecca, some of your description of what you’re doing in class. One thing that occurs to me, and I don’t have any illusions that this is going to happen, but I do think what these push against is our traditional model of how higher education happens. So we assume for the longest time that it was a lecture that took place. So that’s why 400 didn’t matter versus 20, we also assume that most of the learning would take place outside of class, because you would just come to a lecture and then you would go read the book and learn and teach yourself, basically. It’s kind of this old school model of like, the professor is just there to give you information, you’re going to teach yourself before the exams. And I think I can imagine a world in which, if we really want to see process, we need to be with our students more than three hours a week, and we need fewer students in the course. But that would be such a radical change to the economic model of higher education. I can’t imagine how expensive that would be. But it is more similar to K through 12. And in some ways, I think K through 12 folks have more of an advantage because they’re with the students so much more that they can actually watch them. And homework is less important. One of the most important things I always tell my students and have for years is that most of your learning will take place outside of class, and to emphasize that to them. And I think maybe now that creates a challenge because we’re not with them. And so we can’t sort of see whether they’re doing what we want them to do. So we really have to lean into the intrinsic motivation pieces of what is it that motivates them to want to do well, but with 400 students, they don’t know you really well, John, so they don’t feel guilty about like I have this relationship with my professor. It is tough. And I guess I would say on this point about academic honesty, and maybe we don’t have to keep talking about academic honesty. But I’ve seen a lot of faculty feel really guilty about their approach to this on both sides, like either they’re too overly harsh, or they have ignored it too much. And they’re super anxious about whether they’ve taken the right approach to academic honesty. And I think the most important thing I would say to instructors is this is really hard. Don’t beat yourself up about it, like you’re trying your best. And none of us have a perfect system. If we did, we’d be able to sell that, and it would be great. [LAUGHTER] We don’t have a perfect system. Some of us are maybe leaning one direction, and others are leaning in the other direction. And it’s really demoralizing when our students cheat, and then that makes us depressed as well. But also know that you’re not the only one that all of us have students who cheat and that’s unfortunately, part of the educational process. So do your best. [LAUGHTER] Pay attention. But don’t worry if it’s not a perfect outcome.

John: One of the things I was struggling with just recently as I was grading exams is how do I evaluate the work which is clearly the student’s own work, versus one that probably wasn’t the student’s own work. I don’t want to penalize students for actually trying.

Betsy: I think some people say like, “Ah, let’s just ignore it. It’s not my job to be a cop.” But I think the reason we want to actually do that is an ethical reason, which is that I don’t want the students who actually put forth the effort to be disadvantaged. So I think that’s the right impulse, John, yeah, for sure.

John: One thing I hope that doesn’t happen, though, is that we move to proctored exams online, and that we don’t move to more use of high-stakes in-person exams and so forth, because that would go against so many other things that we’ve been arguing in terms of equity and inclusion and so forth.

Betsy: Yeah, and also, these detectors. So TurnItIn, which most folks are using now, because many schools have TurnItIn, attached to their LMS. And so even before schools have had an opportunity to make a choice it’s default turned on. So your institution has to choose collectively to turn off the AI detector in TurnItIn. And so I think that’s important, too, to think about, like, are we just going to move to these detectors as a way of punishing students? And are they reliable enough? We don’t know. So there are all sorts of good equity questions. Actually, there’s a paper that I read in preprints, about how the detectors seem to flag international students more than those who speak English as a native language, in part because their grammar is better. [LAUGHTER] And so it’s more formulaic, because we’re teaching them the formula of how to speak English. And we need to be mindful of like, how do we balance these things,our equity concerns… and really they both are equity concerns, as you point out, John… so there are equity concerns about more high-stakes testing and in-person testing, etc. But if we just ignore it, there are also equity concerns for the students who do the work versus the probably the privileged kids who are just going to be like, “Whatever, I’m going to pay my $20 a month for GPT4, and be able to get the better answer to be able to use it.” So how do we come up with some sort of solution that balances those and we probably won’t be able to have… at least I don’t think there’s one… where there aren’t some harms? And so it’s really about like, which harms are we willing to tolerate while we work for a better solution? And that’s the hard part of ethical reasoning is that there’s not a solution where no one is harmed usually in these dilemmas.

Rebecca: One interesting thing you said like spending more time with your students, which I have the luxury of doing in a studio art space, we spend twice as much time with students for the same credit hours…

BETSY. Interesting.

Rebecca: …which is valuable. We see process, we get to know our students really well, it’s a relational space [LAUGHTER] for forming relationships. And that really does change the dynamic. But that’s a really big time investment, while the cost of faculty in the spaces but also students of certain backgrounds, or if they have to work, it becomes much more difficult for them to take those kinds of classes, because they’re offered at particular times, and they’re longer, they’re harder to schedule their job around, and that kind of thing. So there’s equity issues in that space, too, as you’ve alluded to, about being in person.

Betsy: Yes, being in person, and then also the point about extra time. I was on talking about workload before. One interesting thing related to workload is that we know, from the research on student learning, that time on task increases learning. And so sometimes I think when we talk about making things accessible to students who are working 40, 50 hours a week, what we’re really doing is reducing the work that’s required of them, which is fine, if it’s just about getting the degree, which I think you can make interesting ethical policy arguments that that’s really important, because economically, it allows them to advance, etc. But if it’s about learning, we actually shouldn’t be reducing the amount of time they’re spending because they’re going to learn less. And so then there’s that tricky question of if we need students to spend 40 hours a week on school, what do we do? We have to compensate them so that they’re not having to work, there’s much larger policy issues at stake here beyond just like, well, we just got to expect them to buckle up and do it, they got to work 80 hours a week now instead. So these are all tough things. And in the context that we are in, where we don’t have those amazing, policy based governmental solutions in the United States, we have to make compromises. And we may say, “Well, maybe a little less work for the students who are working is the compromise we’re going to make for the greater good in this situation.” But recognizing it is true that they’re probably learning less if they’re not putting in the 40 hours. So but maybe with ChatGPT, we can speed it up, I don’t know. [LAUGHTER] So, interesting things about efficiency.

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

Betsy: So I’ll speak to related to artificial intelligence a little bit. So I am, in July, going to the Council of Graduate School summer workshop, New Dean’s Institute. They’ve invited me out to share a little bit about ChatGPT, and I’m really excited to be thinking about what’s distinct about graduate education with respect to these tools, it kind of merges my interest in faculty use, as well as thinking about student use as well, for learning. In addition to that, we’ve been talking a lot about how to prepare for the fall, when the faculty come back. We were sort of… just like, COVID… sort of flying by the seat of our pants in the spring, like, here’s some things we’re gonna roll out for you, we’d like to be a little bit more intentional in the fall. And so as I’ve alluded to in this session, I really do think focusing on motivation for students is going to be really important instead of detection. And so we’re gonna do a reading group, we’re gonna go back to Jim Lang’s Cheating Lessons, which still holds up pretty well, actually. And we’re going to do a reading group of faculty on that. And then we’re also going to read the Grading for Growth book that’s just coming out in July, which we’re super excited about alternative grading. I’m teaching in the fall, as I said, so excited to actually try some of these things out and see if my ideas are actually practical [LAUGHTER] or not. And hopefully, I guess I just say, what’s next? I hope there’s some regulation. So we didn’t get into a lot of details about this, because we were focusing on teaching and learning. But I know Sam Altman, and Gary Marcus were before Congress. And I do hope that we actually see, unlike with social media, that we see some movement for some regulation about the development of these tools. So I think what we have now… fine, let’s figure out how to use them. But it’s really anxiety inducing to me that these tools will develop skills that nobody planned emergently like, it’ll just, “oh, now it has this new skill.” And the more that we build these tools out, we don’t actually know what we’re going to create. And I think [LAUGHTER] that is a little worrisome to me. And so I hope that what is next is more regulation on the tools.

John: We should note that we are recording this several weeks before it’s actually released. And we hope that at the time when this is released, [LAUGHTER] we haven’t reached that AI apocalypse that so many people have been worried about.

Betsy: That’s right. That’s good, John, thank you.

Rebecca: Well, thank you so much for joining us, Betsy. We always enjoy talking to you.

Betsy: Thanks for having me.

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

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

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295. Equity-Minded Teaching

As our student body diversifies, higher ed needs to respond and adapt. In this episode, Bryan Dewsbury and Mays Imad join us to discuss equity-minded strategies we can use to redesign or incrementally improve our courses. Bryan is an Associate Professor of Biological Sciences and the principal investigator of the Science Education and Society research program at Florida International University. Mays is an Associate Professor of Biology and Equity Pedagogy at Connecticut College and is a AAC&U Senior Fellow. Bryan and Mays are co-authors, with Flower Darby and Isis Artze-Vega, of The Norton Guide to Equity-Minded Teaching.

Show Notes

Transcript

John: As our student body diversifies, higher ed needs to respond and adapt. In this episode, we discuss equity-minded strategies we can use to redesign or incrementally improve our courses.

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

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

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Rebecca: Our guests today are Bryan Dewsbury and Mays Imad. Bryan is an Associate Professor of Biological Sciences and the principal investigator of the Science Education and Society research program at Florida International University. Mays is an Associate Professor of Biology and Equity Pedagogy at Connecticut College and is a AAC&U Senior Fellow. Bryan and Mays are co-authors (with Flower Darby and Isis Artze-Vega), of The Norton Guide to Equity-Minded Teaching. Welcome Bryan and Mays.

Mays: Thank you. Thank you for having us.

John: Today’s teas are: …Bryan, Mays, are either of you drinking tea?

Mays: I am.

Bryan: I am not.

John: Mays, what tea are you drinking?

Mays: I am drinking chai masala, that I prepare the night before, and I wake up and it’s the first thing on my mind.

Rebecca: Oh, that sounds amazing. I have an awake tea this morning, John.

John: And I have a ginger peach black tea today.

Bryan: So I’m it odd one out with a cup of black coffee.

John: That’s not uncommon. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: One of the most common teas we have.

John: We’ve invited you here today to discuss the Norton Guide to Equity-Minded Teaching. Before we discuss the book itself, could you tell us a little bit about your own pathway to this project?

Bryan: Mays, you want to go first?

Mays: Sure. So my career started at the community college. And in fact, I was a postdoctoral fellow when I started, a postdoctoral fellow studying the cellular mechanisms of learning, which is vast and complex. And as a graduate student, as a postdoctoral fellow, I had this growing understanding that learning can happen, and it can happen spectacularly well, provided the right environment is there. So when I began to teach at Pima Community College, I began to see how so many of my first-generation working students, coming, showing up, doing all what is expected of them, and having a really hard time academically. And I began to understand the notion of the system and the complexity of learning. So really, for me, it started as a recognition that I, as a teacher, as a fellow human being, have a moral imperative to address what is going on. The inequities that I was seeing are not an inherent self-evident part of the system. It’s by virtue of the human-made system, that I had a choice and a chance and an obligation to start to shift and address and interrogate and even transform. So that’s how I began and fast forward to a few years ago, when Isis reached out to me, it was something that very much spoke to my heart and I said, “Yes.”

Bryan: yeah, a little bit of a similar story, I guess. I mean, without maybe recounting my whole academic career, all of the authors on this guide are people with whom that I’ve worked with in different contexts. And there’s a sense in which projects like these tend to be a combination of conversations that you’ve been having for years. And obviously, there’s a plan, there was a strategy, we carved this out and really tried to think carefully about what would be the most impactful. We also recognize and appreciate all the other books and publications out there addressing inclusive teaching. So it’s not to replace any of those, it’s really to just kind of add to the conversation nationally. We are an interesting mix in that, in terms of our individual careers, and that Isis is a provost. I’m a research faculty, but also do a lot of faculty development. Mays will probably describe herself the same way and Flower Darby is nationally known a lot of times in the online space, but really her work expands to everything. So I bring that up to say that you probably will see a lot of that complexity come to bear in the way the book is written and the kind of things we try to think about, that our faculty would need to think about, when they’re designing an equity-minded classroom.

Rebecca: So it is nice to hear all your different backgrounds and thinking about the authorship of the book, because it does help us think about, as you mentioned, the complexities of how it was written and also just the complexities of the things that we need to be thinking about when we’re teaching in this space. Your book is divided into three sections. The first section addresses class design, the second addresses the day to day operations of the class, and the final section focuses on critical reflection at the end of the course. During course design, what are some of the most important factors that faculty should consider when trying to design an inclusive course?

Mays: I’ll share some of them and Bryan, please feel free to jump in and add. So one of the things that are critical is that we approach this work with intentionality and explicit intentionality that right from the get go, even from before the students get there that we design the course to have equity in mind. And one of the factors, when it comes to course design and curriculum, is that the course has to be relevant for the students. And what the research that we found is many students find that the materials are not relevant. Now, when I think about how the brain works and how we have limited energy, oftentimes, when I see my students struggling, and I try to dig deeper and try to see how I can engage them, I usually find things like they say things like, ‘I don’t know how this is going to make me a better person,’ or ‘I don’t know how this is relevant.’ And so the brain is going to disconnect, it’s going to focus on something that is more urgent, more relevant. So we talk about relevance being very important… to explicitly make connections between students’ lives and what is in the course. The second one is transparency, why we’re doing what we’re doing. And there is a lot of research about transparency and how there is more buy-in from the students when we articulate for them how things connect, and that it’s not just busy work. And then a third factor that we say it’s really important to consider when you’re designing your course, is rigor. And we talked about the research behind rigor, and we problematize rigor, and what is the definition of rigor, and so on. And here we’re talking about academic challenge. We owe it to our students to challenge them academically, so they could succeed in their next courses, and we understand that this is multifactorial, and that we have to also find the resources so they could succeed when we challenge them academically. And so those are some of the factors that we talk about to take into consideration before you even meet your students: who are the students? what matters to them? and why it is important to cultivate the space where, when we challenge them academically, they can succeed.

Bryan: The only thing I will add because you know, we both wrote the book. So [LAUGHTER] refer pages 25 to 50, for your question kind of thing. But the only thing I will add, because this phrase wasn’t used in the book. But this phrase comes from another wonderful book called Radical Equations by Robert Moses, a civil rights leader from the 60s. And there’s a phrase they use during that time, which is then applied, he then came to apply to the Algebra Project, which he founded, which is “Cast your bucket where you are.” And that really speaks to what Mays just mentioned about getting to know your students and your context, especially at an entry level, it almost sounds like provocative, radical advice. But a lot of these things that are really important for good course design have nothing to do with the content of the class. This is not us saying that the content doesn’t matter and they should just all be signing Kumbaya for 15 weeks. What this means is that teaching is a skill and a skill that involves the psychology of the individual, the social context, both in real time but also what they brought before they showed up to that classroom. And this whole conversation is taking place because of the years we’ve been ignoring that. So I really want to kind of center that. Because I think a lot of times when people ask that question, the first thing they hear is, “Well, how do I make respiration more exciting?” Well, yeah, we’ll get to that, but this is a human being that you’re trying to build a relationship and a connection with. And that needs to take front and center before you get to inspiring them with the really beautiful content.

John: The second part of your book deals with maintaining the class, with the ongoing running of the class. And one of the things you emphasize throughout is the importance of creating a sense of belonging. Could you each talk about some strategies that could be used to help create that sense of belonging within the classroom.

Bryan: I don’t want to run the risk of listing your audience to death here. So I want to offer what I’m about to say as maybe the thing that bubbles up to the surface to me as an instructor. There’s certainly a lot of things one can do to help students feel a sense of belonging. And the approach chosen might differ depending on the class that’s been taught in the institution. One of the classes that I teach most often is intro bio and it’s a really special class for me, because it’s it’s a privilege to teach that class. I’m grateful to have the chance to welcome students into a wonderful discipline and a way of seeing the world that’s relatively unique to that space. I also like the challenge of showing a lot of students who before may not feel like this is a place they belong or see themselves doing this 10, 15, 20 years in the future. I like the challenge of showing them that this is the real thing. You can be as much a biologist as anybody else, anybody in the book, anybody you’ve seen on TV, etc. But it is a very technical space. And any technical space kind of requires a slowly evolving comfort level [LAUGHTER] as you navigate through the technicalities of it. And I think that tends to be a place where some students and faculty get stuck into how you keep that door open and welcoming while navigating this environment that really requires a lot of time and attention on the cognitive challenge. So one thing, and it might sound simple, but how feedback is given really, really matters. Without saying my age here, but I certainly went to school at a time when it was your tool, just try harder, right? …just study harder. And any grade you got you there was this sort of assumption that any grade you got was just 100% due to whether you did try well or didn’t try well enough or knew this stuff or didn’t know it. There was no discussion of the way the teaching happened. There was no discussion of your actual approaches to studying. There was no discussion about what motivates you to even do this class in the first place. And now we know and we probably knew it then too, but we know how much all of that matters. So when a student sits in front of me and they have a C, it’s not just that “Well Mays, you need to do better than this.” It’s: “Tell me how you prepare for this moment. Tell me what is motivating you to be pre-med or to want to go to grad school.” And all of those things come to be in a conversation, the goal of which is for me to see you shine in the way that I know you can. How does it build a sense of belonging? It shows the student that I am not questioning if you can become a biologist, I’m actually assuming that. What I’m working on are things that are fixable. I’m working on strategy. I’m working on things that you can do something different and see a result. And so once you know I kind of have your back in that way, your effort then becomes different because it’s just a matter of specific things we can work on.

Mays: Yes, so thank you for that. Bryan. If I were to add to your beautiful answer, I would say take the time to find out what belonging means for your students, I think we often make assumptions about inclusion and belonging and what they want and what they don’t want. Of course, I start with the understanding that wanting to belong is a human need. We’re social beings, we want to connect and we want to belong, but on a day-to-day basis in my classes within my context, what does that mean and what it would look like that’s going to be different. And while I’m going to apply what I learned, and what the research says, I also want to take the time to ask students do you want to belong? And what makes you want to belong to an academic setting or a social group? And what are some of the things that make you want to belong? And what does that word mean for you? So I think starting with that is really important. It can be really informative to our practices.

Rebecca: I really related to what you were saying, Bryan, I teach in a really technical field as well. And that technical challenge can really discourage students if we don’t make those assumptions that they can indeed be in the field that they are studying. So thanks for sharing that as your top. I feel like that’s one of my top ideas, too. And I love, Mays, about thinking about our audience, and including our audience in the design. As a designer, I really gravitate towards those kinds of ideas. One of the things that you already kind of mentioned is this idea of connections and relevance. So what are some ways that faculty can help students connect course content to their lived experiences?

Mays: I think one of the things I asked them is I talk about how learning is very relational. We are relational, learning is relational, knowledge, when we co-create it, is very much relational. So one of the things I ask them is, “Why should you care about this lesson, this topic, this context? How does it relate to your life? How does it connect to your family? How does it impact the people you care about?” And throughout the semester this is a recurring set of questions that I ask. And in the beginning of the semester, I pause, and I model the answers. I care about this, because this is how it connects to the community, the people I care about, this is how it connects to something I feel passionate about. And then it becomes an exercise that they do regularly. We do this exercise at the beginning of the class of “What is your why? And what is your ‘why?’ beyond taking this class? Why is this important? And so we connect those many exercises or “Why should you care about the acid-based physiology” to that initial “why?” exercise?

Bryan: You don’t imply this in your question, Rebecca, but it does come up a lot about relevance and how it works. And I think one danger that I want to ask faculty members to avoid is the notion here is not that every aspect of the content has to tie back to something. You may fall into that trap if everything is not connected to something, but, you know, sometimes a cell is a cell is a cell kind of thing. But there are several things that do. For me, it’s actually less a case of connecting it to their lives, per se and more a case of communicating that human beings do science, human beings do the discipline. That, in and of itself, by definition, means that there’s a social component to how it’s practiced. It introduces the cultural context within which science is done and it introduces the bias that occurs with some scientific decisions, good, bad, in-between. It brings up a different conversation once you recognize that none of these things are really apolitical, values free. The second point is, to connect something to students’ lives, you have to first know student’s life so that this way you understand, it doesn’t feel patronizing or facetious. There has to be some authenticity there about Mays’ story about getting to know the students, I don’t think she just meant know them individually, but just also their broader context. When I taught in Rhode Island, it was important to know the local and the very ancient, but also more recent history of the state, of the city, of the neighborhoods the students came from. I knew the high schools that were big feeders. Those things made the relationship a lot more authentic, because the knowledge was there first. So I think once that all those precursors are present, honestly, the connection part is not that hard, it almost comes naturally. Because you just naturally want to teach in a way that builds a history of these beautiful people. And you kind of… I don’t want to say just is automatic because you are intentional… but it is so much, so much easier, and you have this desire to do it. I’ll just add one last thing, a lot of times with teaching, and I’m speaking now, as a faculty developer, here. I get good course design, I get you want to have learning outcomes, they’re going to be measurable, etc. But sometimes, even conversations like this can get stuck within the structure of what higher ed is, which is you get 120 credits and 15 weeks at a time you take a suite of classes, and those classes give you a grade and those grades average into a number, and then you become a 3.1. Student or a 4.0 student. We get it. We get how all of that stuff works. But I know Mays well enough to know that we have much more radical visions for what education is and what it can be. We come from the Freireian school of critical consciousness and preparing students to be civically engaged to have agency and power and to see themselves as agentic parts of a democratic experiment. So what’s driving all of this is who I want you to be, not necessarily getting your good grades in 15 weeks. So from that perspective, even simple things like group work, for example, it really is actually practicing deliberative democracy. Even things like how we talk about experimental design, they bring up other questions like whose voices are not at the table when you think about these questions, like whose perspectives are you not considering? Or who are you. So if you think about this a little bit more broadly, beyond like, I just want people to do well, in this really nice subject I have a PhD in, that you tap into the more socio-political aspect of education, which is a beautiful thing, I think, but it makes the connection to social life and just broader life in general easier to do.

John: One of the things that’s especially challenging is that we’ve always had students come in with very diverse prior backgrounds in terms of their training and what they know coming into our classes, but the experience of remote teaching during COVID resulted in much greater variations in their preparation. We want to create courses that are challenging for everyone. How can we do that in a way where we’re challenging the students with really strong preparation without losing the students who don’t have as much background? What types of support can we provide to make sure that all of our students are challenged, but also have the resources to be successful in our courses?

Bryan: We could just give everybody a trophy right? Now, that’s what they say this generation is. When I put on the intro bio hat again, and that’s a place where the differential readiness is really, really apart, I would have students who last science class you take, not bio, science class, was their first year of high school next to students who were in AP, went to private school or things like that. And that’s fine. It’s fine in the sense that I’m able to design for that. And I would say there’s kind of two things I’ll say to this point. Number one, you have to be able, as an instructor, to have things in place to accurately detect whose readiness might be further behind. And specifically, what areas of readiness that need addressing, and then have the tools in place to quickly respond to that. So a lot of times just my own history, it’s hard to study. A lot of times it’s confidence. Honestly, it’s fixed mindsets around who gets to do science and what counts as doing well in science and things like that. So the first month of that class is almost like a battle, that I generally win, I think, in convincing them that this is a place for them if we consider these specific things I’m trying to show you. So a lot of times, yeah, there’s class or whatever. But there’s a lot of times spent in office hours, which we actually call student hours, because it uses a smaller group. There’s a lot of time sneaking in conversations about: Have you tried this? Have you tried that? Emails that are sent to direct people, etc. Your students will come in and I’ll just say for now, maybe kind of fly in from the get go. There are other things that they can do to grow. So those are the students I might say: Have you thought about joining our research lab? I know it’s your first semester, but it’s a good time to get to know a professor more personally and see how science is done a professional way. A lot of times those students will come to student hours. And what I would do is I put them to work. I will say, “Mays, can you make sure this group of four understands glycolysis as well as you do,” and those students will typically go on to become my learning assistants in a future semester. So my point here is that everybody has a space to grow and has a direction and an amount that they can transform. The pedagogy is you being able to figure that out? And figuring out how to respond to what growth that is needed for that individual.

Mays: Thanks, Brian, I have a couple things to add. So number one, obviously, as I hear you, John ask the question, I think it’s complex. So yes, there are students that are going to come in that may not have the academic background, perhaps they come into my pathophysiology class not really knowing the cardiac output and the cardiovascular system as they should in their previous class. And then there are students that come in ready to be challenged. At the same time, there are students that are going to come in that are going to have perhaps subtle and not so visible skills that other students who maybe have the academic background are going to have. So it’s not just that I want to bring everyone up to speed academically, I want to also bring them up to speed when it comes to issues that really matters for citizens, their empathy, their non-academic problem solving, their collegiality, and so on. So there are a couple of things I do, I want to get to know who knows what. And I tell them that I’m very transparent why I do what I do. And I tell them that this is a way to give me feedback, so I could know how to maneuver forward. I also bring the tutors and the preceptors myself from my previous classes. And I rarely bring the ones who got A’s, I bring the students who came into the class, not quote, unquote, having the background. And then they picked up the background. And they succeeded. And they ended up with a solid B, and sometimes even a C, and I bring those students and we meet on a weekly basis. And so the culture of my class is very much we’re going to work together with the tutors. And then the third thing is I tell the students, we come from different backgrounds. And I use my story that when I started graduate school, my background was in philosophy, and all of a sudden, I am studying neuropharmacology. And many of my peers in graduate school were steps ahead of me. And I was trying to figure out just basic things in cellular neurophysiology, or cellular neuroscience. And so I talk about the notion of some of us have this background and not the other background as a way to celebrate the diversity. And I say the way I’m going to approach this is I am going to start slow, because I want to review for some of you and I want to bring up to speed others, those of you who are going to feel like this is slow, I want you to stick with me. And I want you to think about what’s coming ahead. And then sometimes I’m going to speed up and some of you are going to feel like this is so fast, I also want you to stick with me, I’m going to slow down. So it’s very much relational. I’m telling them what’s going on, I’m working with the tutors, they come and talk with me. At the beginning of the class, I do a lot of exercises where students answer on a form, it’s a one-item form: should I slow down or speed up. So I’m getting this real live feedback, slow down or speed up. I’m not learning anything new, this is overwhelming. And it gives me the opportunity to change and accommodate. No class or no session is going to be the same as the previous one. So those are some of my approaches. Again, be transparent with the student, get to know what they know. focus on not just what they perhaps don’t have academically, but what other assets they bring that perhaps the students that have the academic background don’t bring and celebrate those. Those are also important and constantly seek feedback from your audience.

John: And it sounds like using peers in the classroom to provide feedback and using group projects would be another way of leveraging the strength of all the students so that those who do have better strength in a topic can assist those who are still at an earlier stage of development, which benefits both types of individuals because by explaining it to other students, they’re going to reinforce their own learning and the students who have things explained to them by their peers are going to be able to connect to that in a way they don’t often if we were explaining it to them.

Rebecca: You just kind of talked a lot about some feedback loops that are necessary in learning. And one of the things that you advocate in your book is a process of critical reflection at the end of the term that relies on self examination and engagement with course data. Can you talk a little bit about that process and what data faculty might use to assist in this kind of reflection?

Bryan: I guess for me, I really would like the conversation about how we look at semesters that we teach, to move away from a hyper focus on whether we grade or not grade, or just assess learning. And I’m not saying that assessing learning is not important. But I would like to move away from that and broaden it to evaluating an experience. And that language matters. Because in the latter, by definition, when you’re doing any kind of forensic analysis of an experience, you naturally have to think about all the factors that contribute to whether that experience was successful, however its success is defined for that situation. And the factors include ourselves, the factors includes things we did well or didn’t do well. The factors include the physical environment of the classroom or the virtual environment. The factors include the support structures that were available for both the instructor and student to be their best selves. And so once the conversation broadens in that way, it just by definition necessitates some critical reflection. It really presents the class with that question wrong. It’s probably not them, it might be me. So just things like that. It gets us away from what I think is a little bit of a false dichotomy on that kind of issue. Should you put a ladder or should you not put a ladder, that is what it is, but this is what our section is really asking us to respect. If it’s a humanist process, then every human involved will have some questions to answer about how well it went or didn’t go.

Mays: So teaching, as I mentioned earlier, is very relational. And it’s a work in progress, as learning is. And so the feedback that we see from our students is critical to help us look at what we’re missing, look at assumptions we made, assumptions we didn’t make. It really helps us move forward in a kind, equitable, and liberatory way. So, first of all, we advocate for feedback throughout the semester. Talk with your students, listen to your students. It’s a co-creative process. And then the feedback that we seek at the end, we of course, problematize student evaluation. And we say that, on the one hand, there are so many biases and so many problems with how instructors are not evaluated equitably, especially instructors from racialized backgrounds and women instructors. And at the same time, the feedback is so important, because it is right now, it’s arguably the only source of information we get about students’ experience, not so much about their learning, but about their experience. And that’s really important. We do talk about ways to enhance the reflection, too. So we could get more in-depth information about students’ experiences. And we talk about this idea of reflection, why it is so important. Parker Palmer talks about how we teach who we are, and how our inner being is so critical in the teaching process. And when we reflect on even the most harsh evaluation, what we’re doing is trying to find the truth, find a truth within that, with the intention that this truth can help us grow as teachers, as instructors, as facilitators, as human beings. So it could help our future students. So those are some of the things we talked about that the reflection is so critical, and it’s been written about in bell hooks’ work and Paulo Freire’s work, and certainly Stephen Brookfield and Parker Palmer and Laura Rendon. And those are really important. I hope when I finish a class, that it’s not just my students who are changed, that I change as well, that it is a process where as bell hooks calls it, liberating mutuality, where the classroom, whether it’s online or in person becomes a space where both the instructor and the students are transformed by the end of that experience. So those are just some of the things we underscore in that section of the book.

John: We always end by asking, what’s next?

Bryan: I will say what’s next, for my program in general, is we’ve been keeping our ears to the ground on the political landscape in the US, particularly around the kinds of things that we’ve been writing about over the past several years. And I think one thing the field needs more is we need to continue to have scholarship around these ideas and think critically about how to have education systems that allow everybody to thrive. But I think there also needs to be really well designed communication projects that message this and perhaps ways other than how academia typically messages this, which is through the research process. This is not trying to throw that process out of the water, but I think getting into more storytelling type projects, podcasting, narrative, op ed. So the short answer to you “what next” question is there’ll be more projects like that are coming down the pipeline, because we think that there’s a gap and a real need for that.

Mays: For me, it’s really bringing the wellbeing and mental health to the equity conversations. I think for so long we’ve done equity and inclusive work, kind of like in a vacuum without taking a holistic approach and that exclusion can have a profound impact on our sense of wellbeing or even mental health. I mean research shows just how systematic exclusion and microaggression can impact our cortisol level, for example. In my own work, I’ve been just saying how they intersect mental health and equity and inclusion and justice. And I want to be more intentional to, I guess, bring that to national conversations. What are you doing about mental health? I know you have this and that initiative for equity-minded education. Where does mental health fit in within that?

John: Well, thank you. Your book is a tremendous resource that can be really valuable in helping people build a more equitable classroom environment.

Mays: Thank you for having us.

Rebecca: We appreciate you joining us today.

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

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

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292. From Suarez’s Basement

Students often do not see themselves as having the potential to become the experts that will define their field. In this episode, Francisco Suarez joins us to discuss his podcast project which is designed to supplement class activities and to connect students with professionals. Francisco is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at SUNY Oswego and as the host of From Suarez’s Basement, a video podcast that was a recipient of the 2021 Communicator Award of Excellence by the Academy of Interactive and Visual Arts.

Show Notes

Transcript

Rebecca: Students often do not see themselves as having the potential to become the experts that will define their field. In this episode, we discuss a podcast project designed to supplement class activities and to connect students with professionals.

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

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

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John: Our guest today is Francisco Suarez. Francisco is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at SUNY Oswego and as the host of From Suarez’s Basement, a video podcast that was a recipient of the 2021 Communicator Award of Excellence by the Academy of Interactive and Visual Arts. Welcome, Francisco.

Francisco: Thank you for having me. This is awesome. I’m glad to be here.

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

Francisco: I’m drinking a delicious tea, it’s an imaginary tea. [LAUGHTER] I have this beautiful tea cup that I’m opening right now… sorry for the sound… that say Tea for Teaching, which is the name of the podcast. And yeah, having a delicious hot tea. [LAUGHTER]

John: And I am drinking a cranberry blood orange black tea from the Republic of Tea.

Rebecca: Oh, that sounds nice. I don’t think I’ve had that one. John,

John: We have plenty of it.

Rebecca: I’m sure I could stop buy and get some.

Francisco: How about you?

Rebecca: I have just an English breakfast today. I think. No. Yes. It’s been a long day already. Yeah, I think it’s Awake tea which, I think, it is English breakfast. It has a name called Awake, but it is technically an English breakfast tea. That was way more information than anybody needs.

John: We’ve invited you here to discuss your video podcast. Could you tell us a little bit about the focus of the podcast?

Francisco: Sure. First, thank you for having me. It’s always good to be between friends nd this is a very cozy environment actually. I have to say we’re having tea. Well, From Suarez’s Basement, you can imagine, [LAUGHTER] it was created in the basement of my house during the pandemic, I was trying to find something to do to don’t go crazy or make my family more crazy than we already were stuck at home and to put my creativity to work. So I decided to start a podcast that has to do with experts in the communication media and the arts, visual storytelling in specific because that’s what I love. And the idea was to create bridges between experts in those fields, and the audience, which is very much concentrating students and faculty. That doesn’t mean that the podcasts doesn’t have a general audience. So I started in the basement of my house, very small, like everything that we started with a small idea, and having grow very much, which I love it. And again, we have conversation with those experts that are working behind some of your favorite TV shows, or films, produced shows, artists, musicians, you name it, anybody who can bring me a good conversation, that’s where I’m interested in. You can sometimes have guests like me talk a lot or guests that don’t talk a lot… nothing… zero. But that’s how we start.

Rebecca: You mentioned that you started it during the pandemic to keep those around you from going crazy and yourself…

Francisco: Ah yes.

Rebecca: …not to go crazy. But clearly you had some other motivations…

FRANCSICO: Yes.

Rebecca: …probably around students and things. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Francisco: Yeah, of course, the part ofnot going crazy is the joke part. The serious part about the podcast is that I believe very much in the interaction of my students with the professionals in the field. I’m in love with education, I’m in love with the process of mentoring the students. So to give this opportunity to students to have conversation with cinematographers and set design, costume design, you name it, was always the intention, to create this connection between the students and those experts. Because you know, the funny part… we all are professors here… a lot of our students in those chairs, and they never realize that that person that you admire so much was once sitting in that chair, too. They see us so far away. It’s like, “Oh, my God, I’m going to talk to the set designer of Bridgerton.” It’s like, “Wow, this is amazing,” like, “but this person was you in some point in life.” So if we can create that connection, I think, that’s what is the beauty of the podcast is to see the students realizing that that person or the other end is no much different than you. So the motivation is to really keep my students engaged and optimistic about the future, especially when the pandemic hit, I think, we all were not very optimistic. But students in general were like, “Okay, what is a career’s going to be? Where I’m going to find a job?” So I say, if these people that are actually working in this industry can give some kind of wisdom to the students, I think they will feel a little more better, then things will get better. So that’s how we start but again, little by little it grows. So it’s all about education, connection, networking, and created a sense of belonging to industry. That’s what I like.

Rebecca:I know one of the things that John and I experienced when we started this podcast is we started with some of our local colleagues and started branching out and then we were continuously surprised by how many people would agree to come on to share their experience and expertise. And you’ve had some really wonderful guests on your podcast. Can you talk a little bit about what that experience has been like?

Francisco: Yeah, it has been fantastic. I cannot say who is coming in season five, but now I’m just recording season five, and have this amazing conversation with a Grammy Award winning singer, and I’m like I cannot believe I’m talking to this person. But not only that is a conversation that makes it so special, truly, truly special. So how that happened is like everything right? It’s true. When I started my first guest, and all my guests are important, but what I’m saying were people that I knew: friends, professors from here, from SUNY Oswego, until I start getting the point where my first big guess was the production designer for Game of Thrones. She’s not only produced Game of Thrones, and a lot of other TV shows and movies, so she was a big deal. And because of her, then other people start following her. I think, and this is important, because the podcasts have an educational component to it, that makes a big difference. When I send the emails to the managers or the agents of these experts, I’m always very clear this is not about just gossiping. I don’t want to know if you broke up with your boyfriend, or whatever. This is about, I wanted to understand that this is an educational tool. And I think that educational component have allowed these very prestigious guests to say, “You know what, I can take 20, 25 minutes of my time, and be sure that I can contribute to the education of the listeners of the podcast. So little by little have been growing and as soon as you get kind of a big one then other ones start following. But like I say, for me, the titles, if you want to call it titles, or awards are not necessarily the attractive aspect. Is this guest someone who’s going to give me a good conversation, and that I’m going to learn something new from it. So you can have Oscar winners and Grammy winners and Emmy winners and all these stuff, but in fact, I’m not going to say who, but I was very excited about this guest, I was like, “Oh my god, this is awesome.” Oh my, it was so difficult [LAUGHTER]… dry, dry, like yes or no answers. In fact, at some point, I was doubting to air the podcast, because it really wasn’t too much there. But again, I say, “Well, it’s a big name like it will bring other people into the equation.” So I did air it, you can guess. What I’m saying is that you never know what you’re going to get. But the process of getting these prestige experts are getting easier because of the educational component of the podcast, and because now the list is getting better and better.

John: One of the things we found following up on this was that we had a few big guests as you did that brought in a much larger audience, but one thing that really amazed us was how many people would agree. I found it much more difficult to get some of our own faculty and the people we know to join than people we’ve never met. That surprised me quite a bit in terms of how many people agreed to be on it. Do you get a lot of positive responses?

Francisco: Yes and no. I sent around 20 email, from those 20 emails, I get around three. So that’s the average more or less. It takes me 20 emails to get three of the possible guests. And then it’s a back and forth between agent, a manager, and then time commitment. So it’s difficult in that sense. But I get around three from 20 emails that I send. And then from people that are my friends, and now that the podcast is growing, the other ones are like “I can be in your podcast, like I would love to talk about this and that. I found people from the UK that are big, big, big in their field, I just interviewed the director of Ted Lasso, which is one of my favorite shows right now. He’s from Ireland, actually, the sweetest guy ever. And he was so humble, so easy to talk. So for some reason, some people from the UK seems to be very approachable in compare with maybe some people here in the US where it’s like, “Oh, he doesn’t have the time or she doesn’t have the time or they don’t have the time,” like “email us in three months.” And I do. In three months I’m going to be emailing you. It’s cool to see students like “How professor? How? You say “because I told you nothing is impossible.” Like that is the point. If you ask this question to yourself, and I say this to a lot of my students that want advice, “What do I have to lose?” And the answer is probably nothing. I don’t understand why you will not do it. So I don’t have nothing to lose to send an email to Tom Hanks. What is I can’t get? No he’s too busy. Which probably he is. But you will be surprised. Maybe the guy is like, “Well, yeah, sure I come 20 minutes to talk to this crazy Latino guy.” I don’t know, but I don’t have nothing to lose. Right? And that is the beauty of it, when students see reflecting themselves into the process, that issue is not much that you can lose.

Rebecca: How have you used your podcast in teaching and within your department?

Francisco: The teaching aspect is that if you go to the website, which is fsbasement.com, we have there a tab that is called teaching resources. What I do is I record both, I record video and I record audio, in the two formats. Those videos are being used already by faculty members not only in my department, but outside of SUNY Oswego, which is also very excited when I get an email from a professor from NYU, or from USA, or any other university to say, “Hey, you know, I’m loving what you’re doing, I got to show your podcast about production design or set design in my Set Design class, because the amount of knowledge studies combined in those 30 minutes is amazing. It really is.” My goal is hopefully to write a book, not necessarily about podcasting, but about the knowledge absorbed to those… we are now season five, so we’re going to have already like sixty episodes already produced. But I ask, for example, one of the questions I asked to the guests, that is a common question is about perseverance and rejection. And it’s so good to hear so many different guests talking about how to deal with rejection, and what it means to persevere in an industry that you most have that in you. So is a lot of knowledge there that for me, I want to be sure that the podcast doesn’t end just with the first air of the podcast. So professors of any university can go to the website, go into the tab of teaching resources, and they can found by category… if you teach cinematography is a bunch of videos there with cinematography; if you teach set design, there’s a bunch of video of set design. So it allows easy access to these interviews that are more or less a short masterclass, I think is great.

John: Do you use assignments with your classes based on the podcast? And if so, what types of learning activities do you use?

Francisco: And in fact, if you go to that tab, not only i give you the video, but I give you already what you can do in your class. So it’s basically you go there, and you have a whole day of lecture where you can watch the video and then you say, “Okay, you can do these activities based in what the video is about it.” So if you go there, you not only have the video, but you have activities or questions related to the video. You can do kind of a short quiz of okay, what do you learn through these videos? So the questions that are already there. The actual episodes have the questions that we did in the episode. So if you are a professor and you’re looking for a specific question about how to build a set in the desert, you probably will find it there. And you just can use that piece of information for it. So each of the episodes have an assignment, put it that way. It is a lot of work, because we need to pull apart the episode and be sure that what is here, where were the questions, what kind of assignments we can do is some bit of work, but I love it. That’s exactly what the podcast is about.

Rebecca: Well with all those nice assets that you have going with the podcast, I imagine that’s why you’ve decided to do seasons…[LAUGHTER] to help manage that a little bit.

Francisco: Here’s the thing. The market is telling you, I want my podcast delivery very much at the same day, same time, with this timing periods. Our podcast is bi-weekly. So is every two weeks that come out. But having seasons allow me to say okay, we need to get a break. Normally the break is during the semester, because I’m too busy with other stuff. And then I use summer and part of the fall semester to do everything I have to do with production, post-production, and then I accumulate, let’s say around 12 episodes. I try of course, as information is no by any specific time. So we don’t talk about things that happen necessarily in a specific week or month or things like that. So I can air an episode six months later if I want. But yeah, I like it. I like to talk like you can see. [LAUGHTER] So it’s perfect for me. [LAUGHTER]

John: We’re still on our first season….

Rebecca: Yeah.

John: …and a very, very long season. We did have a break last summer, literally actually, when a car ran over my leg and broke it. So we took four weeks off for that.

Rebecca: ….first four weeks ever, John.

John: …the only time we’ve ever missed publishing an episode. It’s nice to be back on track. At times a break would be appealing…

Rebecca: Yeah.

John: …but it’s still fun, so we’re still doing it.

Rebecca: There was a design education podcast that I listen to a lot that, it wasn’t video, but it has a similar kind of feel to your podcasts that I used to use all the time when I was teaching our capstone class. And I’d pull out like portfolio ideas and application ideas and like collate little snippets from various things and students really responded to of hearing someone else say the same things that I would have said anyways.

Francisco: That is always the case, right? It’s crazy. It is. it is. Listen, is no easy job. But for me the hard part is not the production process, is more the breaking noise process. Because of digital era, we are very lucky to be sitting here and having a great conversation and for me podcasts is the new mass communication, a way for people to be able to express themselves. I always say it’s not about quantity. It’s about quality. He doesn’t matter if you have 200 listeners to 2000. As long as 200 listeners come to you every week, that’s what you’re looking for. But the issue is, because of the digital era, there’s so much noise out there, unbelievable amount of noise. So I think I spend more time sometimes not even producing and getting the guests and all this stuff, is how I’m guarantee these awesome interviews I have with any of my guests can reach where I want you to reach. So the whole TikTok, on Instagram, and is quite a lot. Because again, there’s a lot of noise out there. So you need to figure out what is the best way to reach your audience, for sure.

John: You talked a little bit about how these podcasts can be used in classes, how have students responded in your classes to the podcast.

Francisco: Very good, I think very good for two reasons. First, because again, the main goal of the podcast is to create a bridge between the experts and the students. And the actual episode brings so much knowledge to the students. But I do see it’s something very special when students see his own professor struggling with a project and putting the time and the effort in that project. It’s almost like I’m walking the walk, I think it’s how you say here, right?

Rebecca: Um hm.

Francisco: I think that creates a student sense of okay, this guy is also trying to get to a goal to a specific dream that I have. So I think that create a very interesting relationship with your students. I don’t talk about how you do your podcast in the sense of my own experience, but not only the sense of what the theoretical aspect, or academic aspect of the podcast is, but by my own experience. So that creates a different type of relationship with your students. But they have been reacting very well. I put them… I don’t overdo it, because I feel also like, “Okay, this guy is like so full of himself. Now, he wanted me to watch every single episode.” But when it’s an episode for example, in my screenwriting class there’s two episodes there that for me are gold. One is with the writer of Only Murders in the Building, he’s a-co creator and writer of it. And he explained very interestingly, how to write for a crime show and how it works. And then the other one was, he’s a creator and writer of Inside Number 9, which is a British show. She’s fantastic and he had been the reason for so many years. And he gave a lot of good, good information about character development, what it means to develop your character first before you develop your plot. So I use those episodes as an amazing way for them to be able to get that information from these experts. So then I test them the next day, they have like a short quiz about it, just to be sure that they really watch or listen to the podcast. So they have been reacting quite well. One of the assignments I’m doing in my screenwriting class is that they need to write an episode of Inside Number 9, based on what they learned from the actual creator of the show. And that worked really, really well. It’s very interesting to see what they write. The whole premise of the show is episodical, so it means each episode is a different story. So they don’t match. But one of the things about the show is that it always takes place in one specific location. So there is no switching location. So it can be Inside Number 9 can be inside warehouse number nine, or inside aeroplane number nine. So all the plots take place inside that space, and that’s very difficult to do. [LAUGHTER] And they are brilliant. The stories are fantastic, so I 100% recommend that. What are you watching these days?

Rebecca: I don’t want much watch TV. [LAUGHTER] Not a good conversation. I don’t watch much TV. [LAUGHTER]

John: I don’t either, but Only Murders in the Building was a really good show.

deal.

Francisco: It was amazing.

John: I’m looking forward to the third season.

Francisco: Yeah, I’m very looking forward to it too. It’s very well written.

John: Meryl Streep is going to be on the third season.

Francisco: Yeah.

Rebecca: If the target audience isn’t like five year olds. I’m not watching it, you know. [LAUGHTER]

John: It might work very well work, hough, because you’ve got Steve Martin there and you have….

Francisco: Martin Short. Yes, yes, and Selena Gomez, which has been a revelation to me how good of an actor she is. But also love to see her interacting with these more mature actors. And it’s a great, great show. I am a TV junker because, well, first, that’s what I teach. [LAUGHTER] But I watch from reality TV to, you name it. And the beauty of it is that streaming media have allowed openness of storytelling that we didn’t have before. Maybe a little oversaturated at this point, but it still, I think, is in for our students here how at SUNY-Oswego or any students who want to pursue storytelling it’s a fantastic time because 20 years ago, maybe, the hallway was very narrow. You go to NBC, CBS, the regular networks. Now it’s like hunting season all these…Apple TV and Hulu are looking for new content and that allow our students who want to pursue that to have a better opportunity to tell the stories that we didn’t have before.

Rebecca: It’s certainly an exciting time to be in that field.

Francisco: It is, it is. I watch a lot of things and sometimes, I’m amazed. So much like washing many films, the production value. Well, Game of Thrones is a good example of a brilliant production design where I always say, in order for you to have a good visual storytelling, you need three aspects: good writing, good acting, and good production value. If one of those three aspects are no present fully in their full potential, you lost me as an audience. So writing, I started watching shows where something’s like, “Man, this is bad writing,” like the way their characters are talking feel very cheesy. Then acting, well, we know what acting does, right? You can really have a beautiful script. But if I don’t believe that you are rocking hard, oh, I’m out. And then production design, I’d say, “Well, if the dragon doesn’t like a dragon, I’m out.” So it’s the combination of those three things. And I think what I tried to teach in my classes is that… depends on the class, right? …if you are in the screenwriting class, you are concentrated in the screenwriting aspect, but if you are in the video production, isn’t only about how to frame, isn’t only about how to shoot, it’s the production value. And I love when students get out of their dorms because I say “I don’t want to see the lake, please don’t show me the lake, I see the lake too many times at this point and try to film your stuff outside your dorm room, so you feel real.” So of course, they need to work harder. And they need to go to downtown to a diner and ask for permission to record a dating scene in the diner and I say, “Well, that makes a huge difference.” It’s not the same to record a dating scene in Lake Effect Cafe here on campus grounds, going to an actual diner create a different reality. So anyway, that’s my approach. But that’s what I love so much watching TV to actually peek in those things.

Rebecca: Yeah, I can imagine students really digging the idea of getting to hear from a writer or a producer or a set designer, and then doing a project based on what they’re saying. Because it does provide that frame for something that feels real…

Francisco: Yes.

Rebecca: …and not forced, which I think a lot of students struggle with.

Francisco: Yeah, the other thing that I think is important is that I try to have co-hosts in the show. And I invite students to be part of the co-hosting, because they bring a completely different perspective. I could have my very fancy intelligent questions, I guess, but the students really have all the questions… actually sometimes surprised me. it’s like, “Wow, this is such a good question.” So bringing students is really important for me to have those co-hosts. And the beauty of it is, I do have three examples at this point, of students who have been co-hosting my shows, and these three students are now working for the guests, because that relationship is established because the guest was so impressed so impressed with the questions and the maturity of the co-host. I love it when someone says “Professor Suarez, you’re not going to believe it, I’m going to do an internship with blah, blah, blah. And then they call me and say “By the way, I’m actually not working full time as an editor. I have a student who’s doing a first set design called a set design assistant for some shows in NBC. But that bridge was because of the podcast. And that’s what it’s all about. In the website actually is the final tab of the website is something called mentoring program where students can sign up… somebody who is looking for a mentor. But also my guests can sign as a mentoree, so they can actually dedicate 40 minutes of a student meeting with some of these students. So it’s all about creating this community. And you’re a good example, the podcast is just a tip of the iceberg. It’s just a sense of communication. But it’s about creating a community of people who love education, who are in education and academia. And so I think that sense of community is very important for me.

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

Francisco: What is next? That is a great question. I want to find other platforms to distribution of the podcast. That is very important to me. So more people that I can reach the better. I think that’s a goal we all podcasts have. Not for the sense of the quantity again is for the sense of the quality. Now, From Suarez’s Basement is a PBS WCNY radio station, which is great because it’s giving a huge platform of people listening to it. Of course, it’s in their regular Apple podcasts and Spotify, and those kind of regular things. But I would like to see if I can get all the kind of distribution, especially the visual aspect of it, to see if we can put those videos to work in another way. But more than that, my aspirations is to be persistent, to keep going. I think that is important. I think that this project, in the specific, are teaching me that if you put in the hard work and you keep going, it get back to you. And I think students in this day, or this generation in general, we are living in a time where immediate gratification is all about you post something, and you get 200 likes in two seconds. So they feel like, “Oh, if I don’t get 200 likes, or if I don’t get 200 followers, or I’m going to drop this, this doesn’t work.” And then I’m saying, “Oh, actually, that’s not how it works.” When you say what is next is to remind myself that this is a long trip. And I’m willing to go into that trip and see what cool things come on my way, awards or new guests or being here with you guys. But, what I what is next? I’m not sure. Hopefully, again, reach more audience and the podcast is used more and more by other universities. And the book, I want to write a book, again, not necessarily about how to podcast. There’s so many books already out there about podcasting and what kind of equipment do you need. I want a book that brings the experience of these experts into a text that, if you read it, you can learn very much from these interviews, for sure.

Rebecca: Well, thanks so much for sharing this great project with us.

Francisco: No, thank you for having me. This is fantastic. And I’m loving my imaginary tea here. [LAUGHTER]

[MUSIC]

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

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

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291. Navigating Teaching Inequities

While women faculty of color are underrepresented in the professoriate, they are responsible for a disproportionate share of faculty workload. In this episode, Chavella Pittman joins us to discuss strategies that can be used by individual faculty and by institutions to create a more equitable workload distribution. Chavella is a Professor of Sociology at Dominican University. She is also the founder of Effective & Efficient Faculty, a faculty development company that works extensively with faculty and campuses across the country to help them develop strategies for inclusive learning environments and the retention of diverse students and faculty. Her research interests and expertise include higher education, interpersonal interactions and marginalized statuses, research methods, and statistics. Chavella is also the author of a chapter in Picture a Professor, edited by Jessamyn Neuhaus.

Show Notes

  • Effective & Efficient Faculty
  • Neuhaus, J. (Ed.). (2022). Picture a Professor: Interrupting Biases about Faculty and Increasing Student Learning. West Virginia University Press.
  • Pittman, Chavella (2022). “Strategizing for Success: Women Faculty of Color Navigating Teaching Inequities in Higher Ed” in Picture a Professor: Interrupting Biases about Faculty and Increasing Student Learning. Ed. by Jessamyn NeuhausWest Virginia University Press.
  • Winklemes, Mary-Ann (2023). “Transparency in Learning and Teaching.” Tea for Teaching Podcast. Episode 290. May 24.

Transcript

John: While women faculty of color are underrepresented in the professoriate, they are responsible for a disproportionate share of faculty workload. In this episode, we discuss strategies that can be used by individual faculty and by institutions to create a more equitable workload distribution.

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

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

[MUSIC]

John: Our guest today is Chavella Pittman. Chavella is a Professor of Sociology at Dominican University. She is also the founder of Effective & Efficient Faculty, a faculty development company that works extensively with faculty and campuses across the country to help them develop strategies for inclusive learning environments and the retention of diverse students and faculty. Her research interests and expertise include higher education, interpersonal interactions and marginalized statuses, research methods, and statistics. Chevella is also the author of a chapter in Picture a Professor, edited by our friend Jessamyn Neuhaus, and that’s what we’ll be talking about here today. Welcome back, Chavella.

Chavella: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me back. I enjoyed my last conversation, so I’m looking forward to this one.

John: We did too. And it’s about time we have your back on again.

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

Chavella: I am. I have a lemon and ginger tea today.

Rebecca: Oh, that sounds so delightful.

John: And I am drinking a Dragon Oolong tea today.

Rebecca: Oh, that’s a difference for you, John.

John: It is. it’s been in the office for a while and it’s been sitting there feeling lonely. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: We have a good variety today because I have a hot cinnamon spice tea.

Chavella: Oooh. [LAUGHTER]

John: Very nice.

Rebecca: We couldn’t get I think many more different options today. [LAUGHTER]

John: We’ve invited you here today to discuss your chapter in Picture a Professor entitled “Empowered Strategies for Women Faculty of Color: Navigating Teaching Inequities in Higher Ed.” While most colleges have substantially increased the diversity of their student body in the last decade or so, faculty still remained substantially less diverse. Could you talk a bit about the representation of women faculty of color among college faculty?

Chavella: Yes, absolutely. I think that people think that there are more of us than there are. [LAUGHTER] I think people know the numbers are low, but I don’t think they realize like how low the numbers are. So specifically, when you take a look, I think if we’re looking just at women, white women are 35% of US college faculty and women of color are about 7% total. So across all the groups, there’s about 7% of us. So 3%, Asian, about 2%, black, less than 1% of Latinos and about, you know, less than 1%, of Native American. So I think that with all of the talk of diversity, the valuing of diversity, the saying, “we’re going to do the this and the that,” people think that our numbers are much, much larger, and they are really, really low. And they don’t match the population in the US. That’s usually the measure of whether or not groups are underrepresented or not, if they match the numbers in the population. And so yes, there is very few of us out there.

Rebecca: So we were just talking about how faculty of color are disproportionately underrepresented among faculty generally, but also among tenured faculty. And while this might be partly the result of recent increased efforts to diversify the professoriate, you note that this is also due to many women faculty of color leaving academia because of the higher demands placed on them. Can you talk a little bit about the additional labor that’s required of women faculty of color in particular?

Chavella: Yes. One thing I didn’t say before, is that, and this sort of, I think, lay’s upon this question as well, is that even though we’re underrepresented in college faculty, we’re over-represented in certain types of roles. So more of us are likely to be contingent faculty, we’re more likely to be at minority-serving institutions, we’re more likely to be at community colleges, we’re more likely to be at the lower ranks if we’re tenure track at all. So part of the reason I’m adding it here is because it connects a little bit to the additional labor that’s required by women faculty of color, or just women instructors of color, which is that we tend to have teaching overloads, we tend to have like actual higher teaching loads. Somebody might be teaching like one niche course on their research topic, like a seminar, like five to 10 students, but then women faculty of color are teaching, if they’re teaching one course, it’s like a service course. So like, you know, 75 to 300 students. So even if the load is the same, what the load looks like is different because we end up in a lot of these service courses, but in actuality, the load usually is not the same. We usually have the higher load. A lot of faculty that are from privileged statuses, they’re buying out of their teaching in some way, shape, or form. They’re reassigned in some sort of leadership role. So that person really might have a load of one course, whereas a woman of color, who’s an instructor of faculty might have a load of 3, 4, 5, 6 courses, if they’re teaching an overload to sort of make up for whatever… financial things sometimes usually… but sometimes it’s just the way people are assigning us. In addition to actually having a higher teaching load, they tend to have more labor dealing with colleague and student resistance to their teaching. So that takes effort, that takes cognitive load, that takes emotional load, that takes affective load, to deal with colleagues and students that are actively resisting your teaching. So that’s some of the additional labor, and in the prep that comes with sort of trying to navigate some of the inequities of like having too high of a teaching load, and having people who are on a regular basis, challenging your teaching. There’s all sorts of ways in which labor ends up sort of multiplying, but those are the ways that sort of makes the most sense to discuss straight out: teaching overload, student challenges, and then like navigating all of the things. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: I’m sure some of that also includes increased mentorship among certain populations of students, getting asked to provide service on certain kinds of committees, that your colleagues are not being asked to do.

Chavella: Absolutely. And in sitting on all the committees that have anything to do with curriculum or pedagogy. And the funny thing is, I rarely mention those. I mean, obviously, the research shows that the women of color are the ones that are providing a lot of that advising, not just to students of color, and students that are marginalized, they’re providing that advising to all of the students, they’re providing that mentoring to all of the students, I tend to not mention those because a lot of times, allies or administrators think that it’s our choice, and sometimes it is our choice. But give us credit for that. We’re doing the labor that the institution says that it values, but we’re not given credit for that. And then sometimes it actually isn’t our choice. A lot of people are asked to be on all of those committees, they’re asked to write those letters, they’re asked to mentor those students. And because we tend to be in these contingent, lower status roles, we don’t often feel that we have the space to say no, even if we are actually overwhelmed by that labor.

John: So in addition to resistance that may be due to racist attitudes, you also note that one of the reasons why there may be some resistance is that women faculty of color often use somewhat different teaching techniques than the general college faculty. Could you talk a little bit about some of the differences in terms of the methods of teaching that are often adopted by women faculty of color?

Chavella: Yes, absolutely, and it’s one of the reasons I wrote this chapter is because a lot of times, the narratives that women faculty of color hear about their teaching are negative, and they’re deficiency based. And it’s because a lot of us don’t know the scholarship of teaching and learning. We don’t know the pedagogy stuff. We are experts in our discipline, but not of the practices that we’re actually using. And so I wrote this chapter, because I wanted people to really see all of the wonderful beauties and benefits and all the fantastic things they’re doing in theirteaching. So I really wanted women faculty of color, to have a different narrative about their teaching. So the research is pretty clear about a couple of features about the pedagogy for women faculty of color. We tend to use more innovative, evidence-based and transformative pedagogy. We’re more likely to do things like active learning, or collaborative teaching, we’re more likely to focus on higher-order cognitive skills, instead of surface learning. We’re more likely to have assignments that are connected to the real world. We’re also more likely to have assignments that are connected to diversity in some way, shape, or form. We’re also more likely to focus on learning goals that are beyond just the straight knowledge and the straight skills, we’re more likely to include things that are about affective emotional, moral, or civic development of students. We’re more likely to encourage them to think critically, and to think about society in structural ways. So those are just a couple of examples. And I think that sometimes when folks hear that list or allies, they’re like, “Oh, I do that, too.” I’m like “Ok.” Yes, no one is saying you don’t do that. [LAUGHTER] But as a group, women faculty of color are doing that at a higher rate. They’re doing it more often, it’s woven through all of their courses. It’s not just the courseware, they happen to have some sort of diversity topic. And so we’re engaging in all of these pedagogies that are shown to be transformative, to have like high payoffs for student learning. But no one is acknowledging that. And so I’m glad that you asked that question because it is one of the reasons that I wrote the chapter. I want women faculty of color to sort of stick their chest out a little bit and be proud [LAUGHTER] of all the fantastic things they’re doing.

John: And those are things that teaching centers have long been advocating that all faculty do, so it sounds really great.

CHVELLA: Yes, absolutely.

Rebecca: So you talk about these kinds of teaching strategies that are maybe less common and that we certainly advocate for in the teaching center and on this podcast: evidence-based practices, active learning, etc. But we also know that faculty who are using these teaching methods face resistance from students, in student feedback, for example. Can you talk a little bit about the bias that we see in student evaluations and peer evaluations, when looking at these teaching strategies?

Chavella: Yeah, at the end of the day, our colleagues and our students are used to what’s familiar, which a lot of times is not what’s best practice. So people, they might be used to being taught a particular way. So then when you come in doing active learning, when they’re used to being in a more of a passive scenario, they’re going to resist, they are now thinking you’ve done something wrong. They already think that you’re not credible in some sort of way. And so the fact that you’re doing something different, they’re using that as evidence that you don’t know what you’re doing. And it’s the same thing with our peers, our peers very much so think that the way that they’ve been doing it is the way that it is to be done. So the moment that you start having some sort of active learning instead of standing in front of the classroom lecturing in a very non-interactive way for like an hour, they’re now thinking that you have done something wrong as well. So all of that stuff gets baked into the formal evaluation of teaching. So this is how we end up with these negative narratives of women faculty of colors, teaching, because colleagues are like, “What are you doing? You’re doing something that’s wrong and disruptive, and it’s not what I’m doing.” And then students are complaining to those same colleagues that, “Hey, this person is doing something that’s different, that’s wrong, and it’s disruptive that I don’t like,” but then that gets baked into the narrative of “The teacher is incompetent, they don’t know what they’re doing. They’re getting low evaluations. Their peers evaluating them in ways that are negative.” And so it’s not aligned at all, because what we’re doing is actually what the research says we’re supposed to be doing, it’s just not common practice.

John: And peer evaluations are generally not done by people who have been trained in effective teaching methods or in effective peer evaluation. And they’re often more senior members of the faculty who are likely to be using more lecture in their classes. So that problem is a pretty serious one, it would be nice if we could somehow improve on in the institution.

Chavella: It’s insane. It’s totally insane. And the point that you just made, very often, that’s who’s giving feedback to the faculty that I work with, faculty that come to me as clients is that it is the senior person, it’s the chair in their department that’s like giving them teaching advice. And I’m like, “That’s bonkers, [LAUGHTER] like what they’re suggesting, no one would tell you to do,” but that person is just so gung ho that they know what that person needs to do, and usually it’s like, flat out wrong. It’s not even like halfway in the ballpark. It’s like completely wrong. So yes, I wish we could solve that.

Rebecca: And I think there are faculty in power, who can help to start to solve that, and we need to advocate for evaluations that reflect good teaching and evidence-based practices that in and of itself, will move the needle.

Chavella: Absolutely. I mean, I say the same five things over and over again, that institutions should be doing: the need to sort of monitor and adjust course assignment, you can keep an eye on what those loads actually are for people; to establish a policy for disruptive student classroom behavior, so that there’s some recourse for faculty who are dealing with students who are resisting; promote faculty development opportunities, and reward effective pedagogy, so actually make it a practice so that people know that these are the best practices, and that they’re actually rewarded for using them; provide training on how to interpret the student ratings, which the student evaluations are their own beast, which is why I separate that from implementing sound practices to evaluate teaching for tenure and promotion, that’s more of a holistic thing. And then some campuses don’t have teaching centers, or they’re overwhelmed with other things, or they have a specialty on something other than diverse faculty, or evaluating teaching, which is why I think places should also allocate resources for faculty to get that sort of support off campus, like every teaching center, they can’t be everything to everybody. And so I say those same things over and over again, those are the six sort of pieces of advice that I give to institutions over and over again, to sort of deal with the teaching inequities that women faculty of color, and a lot of other diverse faculty, face.

John: In this chapter. You also note that women faculty of color provide many benefits to the students besides the effective teaching methods that they’re using in their classes in preparing students for a future career and life in a diverse world. Could you talk a little bit about that?

Chavella: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I think that people get stuck on the idea of college being a place where students come, you teach them the ABCs and math, they come in, they go out and that’s the end of it. When you really look at the purpose of college, it’s actually a much more broad set of outcomes that we want for our students. Unfortunately, are more traditional colleagues are focusing on the ABCs and the math, but the faculty that tend to come from diverse backgrounds, including women, faculty of color, are focusing on that broader range of skills. So I’ll give an example just to make it concrete so I’m not just saying things that are abstract. The AACU has their essential learning outcomes. And whether you abide by these or not, it’s a useful framing. There are four categories. I think most people focus on the knowledge of human cultures and the physical and natural world. That’s where you actually learned the ABCs and the math, essentially. And then the intellectual and practical skills, people start inching a little bit into that category. So the critical thinking, writing, those things that skill, teamwork, but very few people actually focus on teamwork and problem solving, in terms of goals for college which faculty are trying to do. But there are two other categories: personal and social responsibility, and integrative and applied learning. And the personal and social responsibility are the things that are meant to benefit society. One of the goals of college is to set our students up so that they can actually do well in society, but also to continue society and for it to do well. So some of the goals there are like: civic knowledge and engagement, intercultural knowledge, ethical reasoning, foundations and skills for lifelong learning. So those are the things that our women faculty of color are also focusing on in addition to those other categories. The last category is about applying all of the other categories to the real world, which I mentioned in some of their pedagogy. So they absolutely are, like, “Great, you’ve learned the ABCs, you’ve learned how to do some math, how to communicate ethical reasoning, now we’re going to take a look at how does that apply to the water crisis in Flint.” So using all the things that they’ve learned to apply them to new contexts and to complicated problems. So they’re doing that as well. So that’s how they benefit society by making sure that they’re developing well-rounded folks, versus just teaching them the ABCs and one, two, three.

Rebecca: So we’ve talked a lot about the great contributions women faculty of color have in higher education. And we also talked a bit about some of the resistance and barriers that they face. What are some strategies that you offer to faculty of color to overcome some of these biases and inequities, or at least push against them, and give a little bit of a leg up.

Chavella: The other reason that I wrote this chapter is because in addition to wanting women faculty of color, to be able to stick their chest out and be proud, I wanted them to actually be able to be proactive and push back a little bit. Because the teaching isn’t just about the student learning, like these are people’s careers, they just depend on these things for their livelihood. And so the last thing I want is for them to face these inequities and then be out of a job. Essentially, you can’t just talk about student learning, and not talk about the actual reality of a pending review. So whether it’s a review for renewal, a review for tenure, or a review for promotion, and so I made it a point to have a couple of strategies in the chapter of what people can do to sort of deal with these things. And they’re, I don’t want to say basic, but they’re easily attainable, keeping in mind that they already have all this other labor on their shoulders and that institutions should actually be coming up with these solutions, but they’re not, immediately. So the first thing that I encourage people to do is to have a very intentional teaching narrative, which means most of the people that women faculty of color are going to interact with, they aren’t going to actually know the research on our teaching, they are going to have either a neutral or a negative view on our teaching. So you have to have a narrative that’s very explicit, you have to have a narrative that’s informing people, that’s teaching people, that’s educating people about what it is that you’re doing. So you need to be able to say, “I engage in these types of pedagogy, they’re evidence-based, here are the learning goals that I’m trying to achieve with these pedagogies, here’s how this is aligned with the university mission.” So you have to have a very intentional narrative about your teaching, you can’t just be casual about it, you have to be intentional, just to be strategic. And then you have to actually share that narrative. You can’t just sort of get it together for your own edification, and only in your circles that are trusted. You need to be telling that to allies, to administrators, etc., because that’s part of educating and informing people that what you’re doing is not being an agitator, or an outlier. Well, [LAUGHTER] you probably are an agitator or an outlier. But the thing is, you’re doing it right. So, [LAUGHTER] that’s what you need to be informed that you’re actually doing it right. So that narrative has to actually be floating around, because otherwise the only narrative out there is that you’re deficient in some way, shape, or form. And because the way that people currently assess teaching quality is primarily through student evals, which we’ve already talked, people don’t know how to do the numbers, the way they do peer reviews is horrible, you have to have some other sort of evidence that what you’re doing is effective. And so you have to document student learning. So you have to have a way that you’re collecting and analyzing and sharing data that shows that what you’re actually doing in your classroom is successful. And you can’t leave that up to someone else. Because those others probably aren’t going to have a lot of experience dealing with folks who have teaching inequities. They’re not used to it being make or break for your career. So you have to be in a habit of collecting your own data, or analyzing your data, communicating your own data on student learning. And it could be simple stuff, it could be like a pre-post test, maybe the first day of class, you give students like a 10 item quiz of things that they should know by the middle of the class, end of class and then you give a post test, it could be doing something similar at the beginning and end of a course session, you could have students write multiple drafts, and you do an analysis of an early draft, and you do one of a later draft. So it doesn’t have to be labor intensive. But you do have to have your own data. Because unfortunately, the data that people are using of student learning isn’t actual evidence of student learning. So those are the things that I would suggest that women faculty of color do until allies and institutions come to speed about the other suggestions that I made.

Rebecca: I love that you’re advocating building it into your process, that it’s not an add on, but can be really informative to what you’re doing. And therefore it’s just part of what you’re doing. Because otherwise it often feels like so much extra.

Chavella: Yes. I feel so guilty, sometimes telling folks like, “Yes, you’re juggling an actual teaching overload. Yes, you’re juggling a mentoring overload. Yes, you’re having to deal with all this resistance. And let me add this extra thing to your plate.” But it’s required, because it’s going to give you a little bit of space to reflect on what you’re doing, breathe, be acknowledged for it, instead of being punished for it, I guess, so to speak. But yes, very much so baked into what you’re already doing. So I like to tell people the easy lift things to do.

Rebecca: I like that strategy.

John: One of the nice things of this approach is that to the extent to which faculty are sharing teaching narratives about effective practice and documenting student learning, that can have some nice… well, in economics, we refer to them as externalities… that, while they benefit the students directly from the use of these techniques, to the extent to which he is shared with other faculty members who then can learn about more effective ways of increasing student learning, those practices can become more diffuse in the institution, which is something I think many of us would like to see.

Chavella: Absolutely. I talk about that explicitly, because that’s what I want allied colleagues and that’s what I want faculty developers to do, I’m suggesting things at the institutional level, for sure. But the things that people could do at an individual level are to mimic these practices to make them normal. So that it’s not just the diverse faculty or the marginalized faculty or the women faculty of color that are doing these things, but so that everybody’s doing it. So the more normative it gets it would benefit student learning and teaching all around, but it very much still would make it be much more of a mainstream practice, it would just be beneficial to everybody,

Rebecca: I think it’s helpful too to have a box of strategies that you can use as an individual and with your colleagues to kind of have a ground up approach as well as institutional strategies from the top down so that maybe we can meet somewhere in the middle. [LAUGHTER]

Chavella: Absolutely. I love the middle. I’m a social psychologist, so I love the middle. [LAUGHTER] I think so many things honestly get done at the middle. I mean, exactly because of what you just said. I think of an example of that, one of the things I was suggesting that institutions can do to deal with these inequities is for them to establish a policy for disruptive student classroom behavior. That’s very much one that an allied colleague could do in their own classroom, that a faculty developer could suggest to a whole bunch of faculty, like a cohort or two of faculty, that if the policy doesn’t come from the top, it can very much still come from the bottom. As people start to see it, it becomes more normative. Students start to realize different things help and inhibit my learning and different professors. It just makes it normative, that it’s not the wild, wild west, essentially, in the classroom.

Rebecca: I love this reflective approach too, in terms of having your own teaching narrative and sharing that, especially when sometimes you really do feel beaten down, taken advantage of, tossed around. It gives time and space and requires time and space to recognize success or to recognize that what you have done has actually made a difference and to see that other narrative.

Chavella: Absolutely, and it’s one of the things I love most about working with faculty is women of color will tell me like “Oh, you know, I do this thing in my class,” and they’ll describe just the logistics of what they’re doing and what they’re trying to do, and I usually have like a term for it. Like I’m like, “Oh, that’s XYZ pedagogy and like, that’s the goal” and they’re like, “Oh!” So they’re doing all this fantastic stuff, they just don’t always have the language for it, to be able to talk about it sort of out front. So I love being able to give them the language and say, “Hey, this thing that you’re doing that students are very clear that they hate [LAUGHTER] and are telling everybody that they hate, that this is actually the right thing to do, and here’s how you can communicate it to your colleagues that this is what you’re doing. This is where you’re trying to get students to go. And this is why it’s important for you to do it.” Those conversations. are the best for me, because people seem to just like intuitively know how to bring folks into the learning a lot of times from their own experiences either being taught well, or not being taught well as diverse folks. So being able to give them the language in the scholarship of teaching and learning has been a very powerful thing for people to experience.

Rebecca: One of the things I wanted to follow up on, is we talked about sharing the teaching narrative with colleagues, but what about sharing with students? Would you recommend that to women faculty of color?

Chavella: Absolutely. I always recommend this to my diverse faculty. And first of all, I have them put it on their syllabus, usually as an abbreviated teaching philosophy statement. There’s a lot of research about like transparency in learning and how it aids students learning. And I think what it does is it makes it really plain to students that what you’re doing is backed up in the research. So even if it’s not familiar to them, it’s an evidence-based practice. It also makes it really plain to students that the learning goals that you have for them, again, are backed up by the research, because some of the resistance that students give women faculty of color, sometimes, they’ll say, “Oh, this is your opinion, or this is an agenda.” It’s like, no, that’s not what’s going on here at all, I’m trying to actually build your skill in this particular way. And this is the goal, I’m not trying to convert you to a way of thinking. I’m trying to get you to achieve this particular skill. to have this particular outcome. So I always advise diverse faculty to put these things on their syllabus as a way of communicating to students that these are evidence-based practices, these are known and lauded learning outcomes. So I very much will always make sure that they engage in a particular practice on their syllabus. Again, it’s strategic, but it’s very helpful. [LAUGHTER]

John: And we can put a plug in for that we just recorded with Mary-Ann Winklemes, who talks about transparency and learning and teaching and the benefits that result from that. So that’s a nice tie in.

Chavella: Absolutely. Her work is what I’m usually reading about TILT. So yes, I love her work. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: You know, Chavella, I think we often see underrepresented faculty having a lot of struggle. But we also know that this group of faculty is really passionate about what they do. That’s why they explore different kinds of pedagogies and believe in evidence-based practices. What advice do you have to help us all see that joy in teaching and have a really positive way of looking at our roles as faculty members at our institutions,

Chavella: What I would really like to see and where my work has always existed, but where it’s about to go more fully on the front stage, like this is the backstage version of my work, is that I would love for this work to be more about faculty wellness, about faculty development and success, instead of just about faculty productivity. So I’m very much interested in whole faculty development. So work is one part of what we do, but we actually have to have full, rewarding, sustaining lives away from work in order for us to even bring the best version of ourselves and for us to be able to contribute at work. So that’s what I would like people to be much more open about in the front stage and to think about much more in the front stage, is sort of faculty wellness overall. And the timing couldn’t be better for these conversations. Burnout was already existing for a lot of our women faculty of color, a lot of our diverse faculty. The pandemic, George Floyd, like all of these things made it worse. And so maybe this is the point where institutions will really be curious to pursue it, as they see that people are quiet quitting and great resignation and burning out, browning out, etc. Maybe this will be the time for them to actually start investing in the development and the wellness of faculty as humans, not just as cogs in the machine.

Rebecca: It’s interesting when you’re framing it like that, Chevella, because we often talk about things being really student centered. And I’m always thinking like, “Why aren’t we making it people centered, because faculty and staff are also part of the bigger community of learning and making sure that learning kind of is happening up and down and around.” And that’s really what higher ed is about, but sometimes it doesn’t feel that way.

Chavella: No, it doesn’t at all, and depending on what day you catch me, [LAUGHTER] I’ll tell you… well I’m saying it in a flip way… I will say I care less about the students, I care more about the faculty. But for me caring for the faculty is caring for the students. So it doesn’t mean that I don’t care about the students and I’m not focused on them. I’m focused on them by being focused on the faculty. So I’m very, very, very faculty centered in what I do and staff centered as well, but just trying to shift the lens so that we’re not just only looking at students, because like you said, there are other parts of that equation.

Rebecca: Come to find out we’re all human.

Chavella: Yes, turns out. [LAUGHTER] Who knew? [LAUGHTER]

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

Chavella: Well, again, my book is still forthcoming. So I have an entire book that’s for women faculty of color, about navigating these teaching inequities. So that chapter is just sort of a sliver of perspective shifting and strategic advice so that women faculty of color can be successful. And then the book is like a much larger version, a much more in-depth version, for how people can, again, have a shift in lens on their teaching, protect themselves from inequities. And there is a chapter in it about joy, about engaging in joy. So that’s the thing that’s what’s next, and I’ll continue to do things that promote for faculty to be whole, well, happy people, not just cogs in a machine. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Yeah, I’m in it for the joy. Let’s have more joy. [LAUGHTER]

John: Joy is good.

Chavella: Absolutely.

Rebecca: We’re looking forward to talking to you again when your book is ready to come out.

Chavella: Absolutely. I’ll be back here with bells on ready to chat about it.

John: Well, thank you. It’s always great talking to you. And we’re looking forward to that next conversation.

Chavella: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me on.

Rebecca: It’s always our pleasure.

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

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

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290. Transparency in Learning and Teaching

While instructors know what they expect from students, these expectations are not always clear to their students. In this episode, Mary-Ann Winkelmes joins us to discuss what happens when instructors make their expectations transparent to their students.  Mary-Ann has served in leadership roles at campus teaching centers at Harvard, the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois, the University of Nevada – Las Vegas, and Brandeis University and is the Founder and Director of TILTHigherEd.

Transcript

John:While instructors know what they expect from students, these expectations are not always clear to their students. In this episode, we explore what happens when instructors make their expectations transparent to their students.

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

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

John:…and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

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

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Rebecca: Our guest today is Mary-Ann Winkelmes. She has served in leadership roles at campus teaching centers at Harvard, the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois, the University of Nevada – Las Vegas, and Brandeis University and is the Founder and Director of TILTHigherEd. TILT is an acronym for Transparency in Learning and Teaching in Higher Ed. We are very much fans of the TILT approach and have referred to it often in workshops on our campus (and on previous podcast episodes). Welcome, Mary-Ann.

Mary-Ann: Thank you. I’m really delighted to be here with you. And I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you on Tea for Teaching.

John:We’re very happy to have you here. You’ve long been on the list of people we’ve wanted to invite. So we’re very pleased that you’re here today. Today’s teas are:… Mary-Ann, are you drinking tea?

Mary-Ann: I am indeed. And I’m drinking a Sencha green tea today. That’s my new favorite kind of green tea, Sencha.

Rebecca: Nice. I have English breakfast today.

John:And I am drinking a mixed berry Twinings black tea…

Rebecca: Hmmm.

John:…which I haven’t had in a long time. I wanted to mix it up a little bit today.

Rebecca: …mixing it up with mixed berries. So, Mary-Ann, can you tell us a little bit about how the TILT project came about?

Mary-Ann: Sure. This was years back, I want to say in the early 2000s, late 1990s, where I was working at the BOK Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard University. And I was leading a seminar group discussions about teaching and learning. And we began to think about the question: “What happens when you tell students why you’re teaching how you’re teaching, just what happens when you tell the students more about your choices as an instructor, how you’re choosing to shape the learning experiences for the students?” And that’s not often something that we think about first when we’re thinking about what’s the content of the course. But we began to think about that a lot. And we had a kind of metaphor about the Wizard of Oz, and pulling back the curtain to show what was happening behind the scenes to build the experience. And then somehow through that conversation, the word transparency emerged. And that became the word that we used pretty regularly from that time on. When I moved to the University of Chicago, that was the word we were using, and it kind of stuck. So that’s kind of where it started. And it started alongside of my career as an educational developer. And it’s kind of been, for me, in the background or on the side, as something that I’ve been kind of tracking along with as a project. It’s still there, it keeps going. And just about a year ago, I began to work on TILT as my full-time job, which I’m really happy to be doing now because it gives me an opportunity, not just to do a guest talk here or there, or a keynote address, which is usually a one time-interaction. But now I have the flexibility to connect with institutions around a longer-term project. So if there’s a faculty learning community that emerges from a first talk that I would give, I get to follow up with them later and see what’s happening and check in with them. Sometimes I get to see the assignments before and after, which I really like. And I invite those now, because we’d like to publish some of those on the TILThighered.com website. And there are some schools that I’ve been working with in the state of Washington for several years now running with their TILT projects. And that emerged from a project we did with the entire state system of Community and Technical Colleges in Washington State. So I have opportunities now like that, where I can work with larger scale TILT projects that take more time, because this is my full-time job now. And I’m really happy about how that’s working, because I feel like it’s getting larger beneficial impact for students in a way that’s more efficient than when my full-time job was at an individual institution.

John:Could you give us an overview of the TILT framework?

Mary-Ann: Absolutely. So the TILT framework is meant to be a very simple tool that is a framework for an ongoing kind of communication among teachers and students. And in all of our studies, we asked teachers to use this framework in their own way at their own discretion, because we know that it’s not really possible to expect that people would do the exact same things with it. So our research is based on the premise that people are using this framework in their own way, at their own discretion, in a way that feels consistent with their teaching style. So there are three parts to this framework: purpose, task, and criteria. And what we ask in all of our studies is for teachers to engage students in conversation about three aspects of a particular assignment or a project or even an in-class activity. Before the students do a piece of work that we want them to complete, we’re asking for teachers and students to have a conversation about three aspects of the work before the students start working on it. And those three aspects are the purpose, the task and the criteria. Now the purpose kind of consists of two pieces. The first part is talking about the skills that students will practice while they’re working on the assignment. And then how are those skills useful, not just now in this course, or maybe in college and other courses, but how are these lifelong learning skills that will be useful for the student in their careers after college or in their lives ongoing? And then the second part of the purpose is about the content knowledge. What new information or what disciplinary information will the students be researching, or gaining, or applying when they’re working on the assignment? And how will that be also similarly useful to them, not just now, or in college, but beyond in their lives? The task, that’s the second part of the TILT framework, and the task is sort of about what are the teacher’s expectations about how students will approach the work? And for the students, it’s kind of like mapping out their game plan, like, what’s the first thing they will do? Will they Google something? Will they go to office hours? Will they go seek out a research librarian? Will they go into the lab and start mixing something like, what’s the first thing they’ll do? And then a sequence of what they plan to do after that until they submit the work. In an ideal world, the teachers and the students would have similar expectations about how that would go. In some cases, though, teachers have a pretty legitimate pedagogical reason for hiding that, that they don’t want students to know how to do the task. And I found this to be the case, particularly in fields where creativity is really important: performing arts, studio arts, even engineering or some STEM courses, where teachers really want students to cast about for a while and kind of use their imagination and see if they can come up with something unique, if not into the discipline, at least unique for the student to try to figure out some new process. And there’s value in that. When teachers want to do that, we did have some pushback from teachers in our original TILT research studies, where they said, “What happens if we don’t want to tell students how to do the work, like part of the task is for them to figure out how to do the work?” So in that case, we asked for those teachers to just say something like, “Part of the purpose of this assignment, in addition to the skills and the knowledge we’ve talked about, part of the purpose is for you to struggle and feel confused, while you invent your own approach to the question.” And we think this is what helps to preserve the student’s sense of confidence and their sense of belonging. Because instead of having that moment of panic of “Oh, no, I don’t actually know how to do this, I don’t even know where to start, I don’t know where the resources are, I don’t know what I’m doing. Maybe I shouldn’t be doing this, maybe this isn’t for me, maybe I shouldn’t be in this major, or in this course.” Instead of going to blaming it on themself or to questioning whether they’re up to the task at all, students can say instead, “I am totally lost right now. And that is exactly where I’m supposed to be. I know I’m on track. I’m doing great. This is the confusion part that comes before the clarity. And I know that because we talked about that and the professor said, this is part of what we expect to happen. This is intentional, this confusion, you’re supposed to feel lost right now.” So that’s sort of what we can say about the task. And the benefit of students knowing upfront what the task is, or knowing how they plan to approach the assignment or the project, the benefit there is that students get to spend 100% of the time they’ve allocated to work on this project, doing their best quality work, and they don’t lose time trying different approaches to see if this or that is going to work or looking for resources that aren’t what the teacher intended for them to be using. Instead of losing time, on the “how,” students get to spend their time so that what teachers receive then is most of the time what we’re looking for, which is “What is the student’s highest capacity right now?” Let’s see an example of the best work that the student can do right now, so we know where they’re at and we can bring them further so that they can advance in their learning. But if we accidentally end up in a situation where a teacher didn’t intend for the students to be confused, they expected the students to take a particular approach that they may have even mentioned at some point in class. So that’s why they think the students know that that’s the expected approach. I don’t want to say the correct approach but at least what they expect students to do. So if we think that students know how to do what we expect them to do, and the students don’t know what we’re expecting them to do, then there’s this chunk of lost time, where what we’re measuring then in the end is what happens after the students spend a chunk of their time lost trying to figure out how to approach the work, and then whatever time is left after that doing their best quality work in the amount of limited time that’s left. So part of the “task” piece of the framework is about what do we want to measure? Right? Do we want to be assessing the best quality work that students can do? Or do we want to be assessing what happens when you give a really varied, diverse group of students a particular assignment to do and you don’t give them 100% clarity about how to do it, and then kind of what you’re measuring is which students have, through no fault of their own, not encountered that information in their lives before coming to this course. And then you also get to identify who are the students that maybe because they had some other kinds of privileges that not all the students had, who are the students that can figure it out faster, because they come equipped with those privileges. So you can begin to see that this is an equity issue. So if talking about the purpose of the assignment kind of speaks to the student’s motivation, and to the value that they will gain from doing the work, and maybe to their ability to assess if they’re getting that value while they’re doing the work, the task speaks to even more of an equity situation where we’re trying to get all of the students to the same starting line of understanding of how to do it, and of having all the resources they would need to do the work to complete the work. And we want to make sure that students are all at that same starting line before they start the assignment. So that’s kind of the equity piece of this. And then finally, the third part of the framework is about criteria. We want students to be able to understand while they’re doing the work, how well are they doing. We want them to be able to make corrections, if they end up with a finished version that doesn’t look like what successful work would look like in this kind of a scenario. But if the students have never seen what successful work looks like, and they probably haven’t, because why would you assign them to do something that they’ve already seen many examples of; they wouldn’t be learning anything new. So kind of by definition, students aren’t going to know what successful work looks like when it meets this or that criterion in the discipline. So what we encourage teachers and students to do there when they’re considering the criteria is to offer students more than just a checklist or a rubric, because the words on a rubric or checklist might mean something different to the student who hasn’t done this kind of work than they do to the teacher who’s really immersed in this kind of work. An example I sometimes offer is, let’s say, I asked students to write up an analysis of a 15th century wooden painted sculpture of the Madonna and child from when I was teaching Italian Renaissance art history courses. In an art history course, the word analyze, like the tasks, the actions that you take when you are analyzing something, that’s a very, very different activity than analyze in the context of an economics course, or in the context of a chemistry course. But if the student hasn’t done this kind of analysis before, you can’t know for sure that they know what you’re asking them to do. So we kind of have to talk that through and students are going to need to see some examples of real world work in the discipline so that they can, with you, in a class meeting, talk about how do we evaluate analysis in this example from the real world, or in that example from the real world. And you won’t find any one example that matches every criterion of the assignment you’re asking students to do, usually, so you need several examples. The benefit of several examples is also that you can begin to talk about the relative success with which different examples are meeting a particular criterion as well. So once we’re in a conversation with students, and we hear back from them, that they’re telling us, what we had hoped they would understand about the skills they’ll practice and the knowledge they’ll gain, that purpose, about how they’re going to approach the work, the task, and about how they’ll know that they’re doing good quality work, the criteria, once we hear students telling us that, that’s the moment that things have become transparent. It is that activity of communication, that conversation with students about purposes, tasks, and criteria, that’s where the transparency comes from. And when we are done with that conversation, we know that students are at the same starting line of readiness In terms of their understanding of what they’re going to do, and also, in terms of their confidence that everyone has the resources that they need, in order to complete that work

Rebecca: What faculty believe is important for students to learn doesn’t always align with the goals of students. Can you talk a little bit about some strategies for bringing these into better alignment?

Mary-Ann: Sure, I think that this kind of speaks to the purpose part of the transparency framework. And often teachers are expecting students to learn something that is very valuable, we wouldn’t spend our time teaching things that don’t have a lot of benefit for students or that they would only use today and it wouldn’t be useful to them later in life. We like to teach things that have value. And so, when we are communicating with students about that value, we’re talking about the skills that students will be practicing. They won’t perfect them on this assignment, but they will begin to strengthen a particular kind of skill set. And they will gain some sort of disciplinary knowledge that can be useful to them later. And we know that sometimes disciplinary knowledge changes over the years as people discover new things and publish new things in any field. Sometimes that knowledge changes. But having some knowledge now does give you important value if you’re going to continue in that discipline or if you want to understand basic principles of a discipline that you might find useful elsewhere. So if students and teachers have a transparent conversation or communication, it could be a written communication, it could be something that they record and put on a website, it could be an asynchronous kind of conversation in an online course. But whatever form that communication takes, I think students and teachers when they’re on the same page about what the knowledge is, what the skills are, that are the focus of this assignment, students will feel more motivated to do the work, because they’ll see that it has benefit for them. And it doesn’t feel like a rote exercise, or just churning out another problem set or another art history analysis paper. There’s some value here that the students know upfront what that value is. And when the teachers hear the students reflecting back to them in this communication, that this is the value that they will be gaining, then we know that students have a kind of motivation to benefit from this assignment.

John:One other issue is that students have come up with some way of learning while they’ve been in elementary and secondary school. But those methods that they picked up are not generally the ones that are most effective. How can we encourage students to adopt learning strategies that they may be resistant to because for example, students, when there have been surveys of what types of learning strategies they found most productive, students often say they prefer to be lectured at, because they learn more from the professor that way. And also, many students don’t like active learning strategies. While they learn more, they don’t perceive it that way. Partly because of those desirable difficulties you referred to before, that when they’re struggling with something, it’s a little bit less pleasant than sitting there nodding and smiling and having everything seem to make sense. How can we encourage students to accept those desirable difficulties associated with learning so that they can learn more effectively,

Mary-Ann: I want to say that this is something that the TILT framework can definitely help us with. And this is not an uncommon phenomenon at all, I even find in my TILT workshops that I do with instructors, that instructors don’t love collaborative learning either. And in fact, many of these TILT workshops that I do will begin with some kind of a research review about “How do we know TILT works? What are the studies and what do they tell us and show us the data?” So we get off on this kind of role, where we’re almost in a traditional lecture format, where like someone’s delivering some information, and people are listening, and then they have questions about it. Or maybe they have challenges to say, “Wait, this doesn’t make sense, let’s talk about this.” And then I kind of switch the method that we’re using. And I’ll ask people to break off into small groups and begin to analyze a particular assignment and talk about where do they see the purposes, the tasks, and the criteria? Before I do that, I acknowledge the fact that we are shifting gears, and that we were doing fine with this sort of Q&A format. You know, look at the research and then think about it and talk about it. Ask questions. Why would I switch that up now? Like we were on a roll, we were doing great. Everybody was sort of on board. Why would I change that now? And so I use the TILT framework to talk about why we’re shifting gears now. What is my purpose in having you use this different method? So if it’s a peer learning method, as it is in the workshops, or as it might be with students in a class, we want to tell students: “Why are we now manipulating your learning experiences this way? Why would I do that to you when I know that sometimes students resist this, when I know that it can be uncomfortable, because I don’t personally always like to do it when I’m in a learning experience?” So if we can tell students, here’s why this is going to benefit you, because you don’t just hear it, but you have to struggle to apply it, you have to fit it not to the situation that I was talking about, where it all sort of makes sense when it rolls over you and you’re hearing it. But you now have to take the principle of what we were talking about, and apply it to this new unfamiliar scenario. And the benefit of that is that you will discover you will hit a barrier at some point in that process, where you will discover the exact piece of information that’s missing for you. You will discover exactly where you hit a barrier to your understanding. And you will have an opportunity right now, right here with me, the teacher in this class, to address that confusing point. And the benefit of doing that now, as opposed to later when you’re doing a graded assignment, is pretty obvious, you get the benefit of having the difficult learning experience in a safe environment that doesn’t lose you any sort of points on your grade. It doesn’t have any negative impact on you the way that it might if you waited until the end of the term to do some massive project and you hadn’t really done a lot of the homework or done a lot of the practices and so you didn’t really know what you didn’t understand until it was kind of too late to do anything about. So I think in short, what I’m trying to say is when we’re asking students to do something uncomfortable, that has a really solid pedagogical reason, that has evidence behind that, it is an evidence-based practice, we want students to know that upfront, because that then will increase their motivation to do it, because they see how they’re going to benefit if they do this thing.

Rebecca: One of the things that students often struggle with is when they start new courses with new faculty, and new ways of doing things and determining what the instructor will expect out of them and out of that learning experience. Can you talk a little bit about how the TILT framework could allow students to shift their focus to learning if it was adopted in the design of the course rather than just an individual single assignments?

Mary-Ann: Yes. And in fact, this is a way that lots of faculty are using the TILT framework, is to think about how do I TILT not just a single assignment, but a whole course. So usually, when people are introduced to the TILT framework, the original ask for all our research studies is would you please do this two times in an academic term, just twice? Because we wanted to see how little change could you make and have a beneficial impact on students’ learning, because small change is much more likely to happen than massive change. But once you’ve made that small change as an instructor, and you see that when you do this with two assignments, there’s some real benefit for students. And on the TILThighered.com website, there are publications by faculty who talk about not just how the quality of students’ work increases, but how the teachers experience in grading, or in responding to students, or in how many students will ask for an extension at the last minute, like these difficulties that teachers often face are diminished, while the benefits for students and the quality of students work increases. So once you begin to see this in the small scale of assignments, teachers then, maybe in the subsequent term, will think about what else could I TILT? Could I TILT in-class activities? Could I TILT a unit of this course? Could I TILT the whole course? And then the effects or the applications can grow. So we can apply this to a single assignment, we could TILT a whole course, we could TILT a curriculum in a department, we could TILT a program, we could TILT an institution’s learning outcomes and thread them through not just all the courses, but through all the co-curriculars too so that students might discover in their work-study job that they’re practicing one of the critical thinking outcomes, that’s a goal for the whole university that connects with what they were doing in their accounting class. And then we can even think about this in terms of a national framework of learning outcomes as well. So there are many scales at which you can apply that to a framework. And one of the things that I’m really enjoying about doing TILT full time, is that I can work with groups of schools, groups of institutions, so not just the Washington State group that I mentioned to you, but several weeks ago I was in the state of Kentucky where working with teams of teachers from institutions across the state, for the whole state system, to think about aspects of how do you map out a path for students to succeed in fulfilling their curriculum? And then how do you pursue that path? How do you complete that path? And in that case, we were using the TILT framework as a strategic planning framework to think about once we know what the plan is, like, once we’ve mapped out our plan for how students can effectively complete their degrees, how do we then communicate the value of that degree, not just to the students who are doing the degree, not just to the students’ families who may be contributing to the costs of doing that degree, not just the costs of the student’s tuition, but the cost of the student not being an earner in that family. And we want to communicate this to all the stakeholders, so the students, their parents, faculty, and staff at the institution, to state legislators who may be voting on packages of funding to higher education in their state, to individual grantors who might be funding particular scholarships. And we want to be able to communicate the value of this degree to every stakeholder in a state system that way. And the TILT framework is very helpful for thinking across multiple audiences, because that’s a pretty difficult task to communicate clearly to all of those different kinds of audiences. But it’s pretty essential for the success of higher education in this country. And so we spent a couple of days using the TILT framework as a strategic planning framework to think about how do you communicate the value of a degree? There are lots of ways that you can apply the TILT framework. Another example is I was working with a school in Texas over the summer, and they were TILTing their entire college success course. Many institutions have that kind of course in the first year, and some of them had TILTed individual assignments. And they decided they wanted to put the team of all the teachers together, and then subdivide that so that a smaller team of teachers was working on each week of the course. And then all the assignments and the lectures or discussions that would go into that week. And then we use the TILT framework as a larger framework to connect that whole course. So that from week to week, the purposes, tasks, and criteria were pretty clear. And students understood the path for all of their learning across that course.

John:Have you tried taking on the Florida Legislature? [LAUGHTER]

Mary-Ann: I have not.

John:That’s a real challenge, I suspect.

Mary-Ann: Yeah, I have worked with schools in Wisconsin. Last week, I was working with a school in Tennessee, right after a couple of their legislators were expelled temporarily. This kind of a framework, I think, can be effective in a lot of different higher education systems and contexts. That’s one of the beauties of it. Because this is something that teachers can do, starting right now, to complement any kind of larger, institutionally driven or federally funded program that might focus on student success. A lot of the time, those programs don’t necessarily feel like they’re directly connected to what faculty members are doing in the day to day in their classes. But using this TILT framework is something that you can do that will advance students’ success that will then make you feel more like you’re connected to these larger ongoing efforts that might be focusing on something that you don’t do directly, like targeted scholarship funding, for example. But that’s part of the beauty of the TILT framework is that it can work in many, many different contexts, and across different scale sizes of projects, as well.

John:And it works nicely for faculty because you end up getting work of the quality and the type that you expect, rather than getting student work that you find disappointing. And similarly, students end up doing work that they’re much more happy with, because they were not guessing at what the instructors want. So it just seems really, really logical. But it’s not always so widely practiced. Your efforts are really helpful for all of this.

Mary-Ann: I think one of the reasons why people might be hesitant to use the TILT framework, you don’t necessarily want to try doing something different that could suck up time that could take time away from delivering important content in the course, and what teachers have discovered and written about and published in the National Teaching and Learning Forum and other places you can see on the TILThighered.com website, what teachers have discovered is that if you take some class time to talk about the purposes, tasks, and criteria for a project before students do it, by the time that practice is completed, everyone has saved time; that time gets recouped, and students have learned a larger quantity of what we had hoped they we’d learn because when we deliver content in a course, we don’t know that students are absorbing it the way that we’d hoped or that they could apply it the way that we’d hoped. So I think by the end of the course, if you’ve used the TILT framework a couple of times, you’re in a situation where you’ve worked in a way that is more time efficient, somewhat, and you arrive at a place that, as you say, is more satisfying for students and teachers, because more of the time has been spent with the students doing the highest quality work possible.

Rebecca: I think one of the things that can be challenging for faculty initially is that if you’ve never communicated in this way, it’s hard to do it the first time, because anything you do the first time is difficult. But once you have a little practice doing it, it’s easy to adopt and expand across a course or across a set of courses.

Mary-Ann: That’s so true. And I think that the way that we’ve structured the TILT framework, it looks so simple, it’s a three-part framework. Applying it then gets you into some complexities that are important to clarify. I think you’re absolutely right, the first time we try anything that’s unfamiliar, just like for students, it’s more difficult. And then we kind of get the hang of it. And then it comes much smoother, and much easier. The TILT framework for starters, is pretty simple. It’s got three parts, right? And I think you could probably share a link to the one-page version of the framework that we give to students, that sort of spells out the framework: purpose, tasks, criteria, the knowledge and the skills. And then at the bottom, there are some of the evidence behind why we know this works and some footnotes, so that students can see on one page, this is a real thing. It works, it helps you. It is, in some cases, equitable, and it is probably worth giving it a try. And if you can see all that on one page as a student, then you might be more willing, especially in a context where a teacher is describing to you why this will be good for you, why this is a benefit for all of us. And then for teachers who have not encountered the TILT framework, when students can bring in this one pager that has some studies listed at the bottom and footnotes, they can see that when the student is asking me, why should I bother? This is actually a legitimate question. This is not a troublemaker student, this is a student who actually knows that they will benefit from knowing a little bit more in advance about this assignment that they’re planning to do. So we try to make it as easy as possible to implement. And then we also try to say only a little bit of this will make a statistically significant difference for students’ learning, so that you only have to try it a couple of times in a whole term. And you’ll probably see the kind of differences that we saw in terms of increases to students’ confidence and their sense of belonging, and their metacognitive awareness of the skills that they were practicing and developing. So if you’re doing anything new or different for the first time, yes, there’s some difficulty to that, but this one is a very, very desirable difficulty. [LAUGHTER]

John:We’ll share a link to that one-sheet document as well as to your website in general. And you do have a lot of research cited on your website. And there’s also some ongoing projects. Could you talk a little bit about those?

Mary-Ann: Yes, we are sharing all the resources that we possibly can on the TILT higher ed website, because we want for everyone to have access to this. Some of the places that benefit most are places that might have the least amount of money that is allocated for faculty development or educational development. So we want to make sure that this is accessible to anyone who would want to try it. And then the studies that we’ve done in the past, there are a few studies that have indicated to us a number of the benefits of TILT. One of the first studies we did was the national study we ran with the Association of American Colleges and Universities. It was funded by TG Philanthropy and my colleagues working on that project were Tia Brown McNair and Ashley Finley. And what we did there was we worked with a group of seven minority-serving institutions from across the country that represented every possible type of minority-serving institution, as well as a range of educational contexts like urban and rural, two-year, four-year, research university, really small in scale, large, residential and non residential campuses because we wanted for teachers to look at our results and see, “Oh, well, this worked for those faculty at that institution, and there are students like my students in that mix, so maybe this would work for my students. And in that study, we started with 35 professors at seven schools and we surveyed about 1200 students and we saw that, for the students who received the more transparent instruction, their competence and their sense of belonging and their metacognitive awareness of the skills that they were developing, those increased, those were higher for the students who got more transparent instruction than for those who got less transparent instruction. And then we also saw in that study some differences that showed us that while all the students were benefiting to a statistically significant level, underserved students were benefitting slightly more. So first-generation students in their family to attend college and ethnically underrepresented students and low-income students have slightly larger benefits than the benefits for the whole group. And then in our second study, we focused on how long does this effect last. So we worked with a group of University of Nevada – Las Vegas students. At the time we were working with that study, University of Nevada – Las Vegas had the most diverse undergraduate student population in the nation, according to US News and World Report. And we know from other studies, like Walton and Cohen’s, 2011, Science Magazine article, for example, we know that when students’ confidence increases, when their sense of belonging increases, they tend to persist longer in a course. So in courses that have higher levels of confidence and belonging, fewer of the students would drop the course, for example, more of them more likely to complete the course. And we wanted to see how long does that last. Is it just that course? And some studies indicate that this could last for a year. And what we did was we kept looking at the retention rates of these students to see how many of them were still registered a semester later, a year later, two years later. And we saw that by the time students were in their third year of university as undergraduates, those students who had received transparent instruction in one of their large gateway intro courses in their first year, those students were a little bit more likely to be still registered as students in their third year. And we’re now tracking that out to six-year graduation rates. So we saw that not only does transparency have a beneficial effect, it’s statistically significant, but that effect lasts for a good long time. And then in the state of Washington, we’re now writing up that study I mentioned with the Community and Technical College System. And I think that TILT is particularly helpful in that environment, because the population of community colleges and technical colleges is a little bit more diverse. And we have more students who belong to that underserved category of students, first-generation, low income, ethnically underrepresented. And what we’re finding from that study is we’re understanding a little more about how does transparency work, and I want to thank all of the researchers who are contributing to all of these studies too, because I’m not an educational statistician, so Daniel Richard, and Carolyn Weisz and Kathryn Oleson are contributing to this study and doing a lot of the analysis, along with help from some graduate students who have been working on this project over the years. What they’re discovering is that transparent instruction has a direct impact on students’ awareness of the skills that they’re learning, and it has a direct impact, similarly beneficial, on students’ sense of belonging. And then separately, sense of belonging has a direct impact on students’ metacognitive awareness and skills that they’re developing. So TILT has this direct effect. And then there’s this other effect between belonging and skill development as well. So we’re finding out more about precisely how TILT works for the benefit of students in these studies. And I think in terms of next studies, I want to be asking questions that really matter to populations of faculty and students around the country. So we open up the TILT research team to anybody who’s curious about this, and a number of faculty have asked about, can we say something more about how this works in an online setting, in an online synchronous setting in an online asynchronous setting, and we’ve got a few publications up on the website about that, but others are looking at that a bit more. And then we have another person who’s looking into just the impact on low-income students to see if we can find out more there about the details of how this works. And I’m really curious to see if we can work with large state systems, what can we find about the most time efficient, most beneficial ways to apply transparency and learning and teaching in community college settings. And I’ve also noticed that as I begin to do more work internationally, because I now have more flexible time to be able to do that, the colleges of applied sciences, like in the European Union, for example, they have a kind of three-year degree that is similarly focused on students’ learning something from their degree like they do here in a community or technical college that will lead them on a path into sustainable long-term employment and a career. So I think that this is going to be a really beneficial place to focus TILT efforts and to do some more research about how can we long term have an impact on not just students’ education, but how that is a pathway into a career. And I’m hopeful that we can find out more about that, like the longer long-term effect of TILT. But I’m also really open to inviting anyone who wants to do more research with the mountains of data that we’re sitting on, to discover something that is of interest to them about how students are learning, and how we can help students succeed more.

Rebecca: I really love all the resources and examples and research materials, worksheets, that are on the website. They’re really handy for folks who are starting out. We always wrap up by asking: “What’s next?”

Mary-Ann: What’s next for me, and then what might be next for teachers and students too. So we’ve talked a lot in detail about how TILT works, and how we know it works, and what more we want to discover about how it works. But I want people to remember that this is really a small effort, it’s a very easy lift that has a really large benefit from the size of that lift. And so I would really encourage teachers and students, if they’re going to do anything at all, even if they have no time to adjust any assignment prompts or to adjust anything about the way that they’re teaching or learning in a classroom. If you use any one single thing, I would say use that framework that we built for the students that has the footnotes at the bottom, and it’s called the “unwritten rules” and that framework, and I think you could probably provide a link to it, that’s what I would hope people would do next, just take that framework with you to anywhere that you’re communicating with your students. And the students will tell you how to make the work more transparent for them. Ask students what they see as the purpose, the task, and the criteria. And you’ll discover very quickly, very efficiently, how you can make that work more transparent so that all students are starting to do the work with the same understanding about what’s expected and with the same set of resources that they need in order to do it. So that’s what I hope is next for teachers and students.

Rebecca: And I hear all the faculty cheering about efficiency, and quick. [LAUGHTER]

Mary-Ann: That’s good. Yeah. So that would be the most time efficient thing to do, I think is to have students teach us more about how to be more transparent. And then in terms of researchers, I’m hoping that researchers will think about what can we learn more about? Can we learn more about what motivates students? Or what forms students’ sense of belonging? Is there anything in our survey data that would shed light on any kind of work you’re doing around that? Is there anything in our survey data that would shed light on more of the research on neuroscience and how that’s impacting learning? Or is there anything in the research that we have in our survey data that might help clarify what would be most beneficial for the very most at-risk students? So if we look at federal government statistics, National Center for Education Statistics about retention rates and graduation rates of different populations of students? Can we double down and look at those students with the very lowest graduation rates? And can we find something about TILT that would be the most beneficial for that population of students? To me, that’s a really important and interesting question. And then I really do want to be finding more locations where TILT could be useful, small scale for teachers and students, large scale for state systems or national systems to be thinking about how to apply this all for the good of students success, and for the satisfaction and time efficiency for teachers work as well.

John:If you’re finding these results of long-term persistent effects from just a single intro course, imagine what would happen if all intro courses use the TILT approach. I imagine the effect would be magnified if it was adopted at a broader level and it is being adopted at many institutions at a broader level.

Mary-Ann: I absolutely agree with you that applying TILT across the largest introductory gateway required courses at any institution would be probably the most efficient way to improve retention and graduation rates. Because if you go for the largest group of students as they enter, and you reduce the number of those students who might be thinking or doubting or wondering if they should continue, and if you increase the number of students who feel confident, who are aware of the value of what they’re learning, in terms of skills and knowledge, and if you increase the number of students who persist from the first year on, then that’s where you’re going to have the best success in increasing retention and graduation rates. I agree with you. I think that’s a really strategically wise place to invest TILT effort.

Rebecca: Well thank you so much. We’re looking forward to sharing this with our listeners.

Mary-Ann: And thank you so much for the opportunity to talk with you this afternoon, I really appreciate it

John:Thank you for all the work you’re doing.

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

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

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288. Mobile-Mindful Teaching and Learning

Faculty generally design courses on their computers, but many students interact with courses through mobile devices. In this episode, Christina Moore joins us to discuss the benefits of being mobile mindful in course design.

Christina is the Associate Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. She is the author of Mobile-Mindful Teaching and Learning: Harnessing the Technology that Students Use Most, which was recently released by Stylus Publishing.

Show Notes

Transcript

John: Faculty generally design courses on their computers, but many students interact with courses through mobile devices. In this episode, we discuss the benefits of being mobile mindful in course design.

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

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

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John: Our guest today is Christina Moore. Christina is the Associate Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. She is the author of Mobile-Mindful Teaching and Learning: Harnessing the Technology that Students Use Most, which was recently released by Stylus Publishing. Welcome, Christina.

Christina: Thank you so much. So glad to be here.

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

Christina: I am.

Rebecca: Woohoo,what kind? [LAUGHTER]

Christina: I have to, of course. I am having honey vanilla chamomile tea. Just something refreshing and light.

Rebecca: That sounds perfect for a Friday afternoon. [LAUGHTER]

John: And I have one of my usuals, ginger peach green tea, today.

Rebecca: I just got a new shipment of my blue sapphire tea pack. So I’m back to drinking that. It’s a good spring tea.

John: And it’s all sparkly, isn’t it?

Rebecca: It’s not sparkly, it’s blue sapphire.

Christina: I never heard of sparkly tea, but I’m intrigued.

Rebecca: There is. We need to get our hands on some.

John: It was the same episode where you describe that tea. We’ve invited you here to discuss Mobile-Mindful Teaching and Learning. You note that you started writing this book on your phone? Can you tell us a little bit about the origin of this book project?

Christina: Yes. So probably the very first step is my interest in Universal Design for Learning. I find it to be a really useful framework for thinking as expansively as possible about how students can learn and how we, as instructors, can be involved. So my very first interest into mobile-mindful teaching in earnest was reading Tom Tobin and Kirsten Behling’s Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone: UDL in Higher Ed, and they have a chapter on “Meet the Mobile Learners” that was really this important call to learning with our phones and how, as educators, we’re really missing out if we’re not willing to consider the role that that could play, and I thought the argument was really convincing. So I started to do just a little bit of exploration into the topic. And that was probably in January 2020. And then a couple months later, COVID hit in earnest. It really upended our lives. I’m a mother of two young kids, and they were two and four at the time. So it was sometime in late March or early April, that we had been so cooped up, and we had used the family minivan so seldomly that we decided just to play in the car, that that would be the activity; not moving in the van anywhere, just playing in there. The kids would crawl around, listen to the radio… it was just one of those really comical moments just totally different than life in general. And it was really during those days that I was using my phone for work a lot more than I ever had before, because I just sometimes needed to keep things moving while we didn’t have childcare. I would read articles, I would take notes on how they might apply to something else I needed to write or work on that day, or it would spark an idea. And it was really at that point that I realized, it’s not just 18-, 19-, 20-year olds who want to learn on their phones, it’s really something that all of us, at least the vast majority of us, take advantage of. And during certain periods of our life, we need to lean on them more heavily. So I actually started to realize this while I’m sitting in the van, and I started writing down some notes about this experience. I was connecting back to some of the things I started to read and work on earlier. And then I sent the piece to EDUCAUSE and they were really interested in publishing it. It was a really short piece, but I was really surprised with how many people resonated with that, because mobile learning is still something that tends not to excite most instructors, it just feels like this distraction device, something people don’t want to think about, we’re already frustrated about it. But a lot of people recognize themselves, I think, in the story that I told and in some of the practical places to start. So in many ways that was sort of the seed to what would become this book, because honestly, while my interest has been in educational technology for a while, I would not have guessed, I would have written this book, but really it was the need to address something that I think we’ve been ignoring, or just haven’t been able to find a really accessible entry point to as far as a really good learning opportunity and even a good teaching opportunity for us. I was really inspired in this book to say “Okay, let’s come up with a starting point for at least considering what role mobile learning can play. And let’s start developing our curiosity and see where we go from there.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about who the audience of the book is?

Christina: I really tried to make this book to the person who is excited about teaching, they really care about their students’ learning experience, even if they’re not so excited about the idea of students learning on a mobile device. And I would describe the audience that way, because I think that’s the audience that a lot of the enthusiasm around mobile learning has been missing. And we haven’t had that critical mass of instructors who are finding a good entry point in. So I would say it’s like the learner first, tech second, type of instructor who uses technology, normally, because they see it has a real benefit for students. And they may not always be comfortable with it, but they’re willing to try things as long it isn’t too overwhelming. So with that audience in mind, I really tried to take a beginner approach to tech. I explain how QR codes work, how you can create one, might even explain what the share icon is, because that’s really important for fluid learning and connecting our learning experiences. But I also allow space to dive into more course activities and possibilities that you can do with students, even if you don’t feel completely mobile tech savvy, because I’m somewhat in that boat as well. Of course, I learned a lot through this book, but I hope I did some of the learning and pre work so that faculty readers and other educators can just feel free to try things out, even if they’re not totally sure how they feel about these things.

Rebecca: Can you define what you mean by mobile learning, just to make sure that we’re all on the same page early on the conversation?

Christina: Yeah. So mobile learning, first and foremost, makes us think of learning on a smartphone, which mobile learning can sometimes mean like tablets, and even non-smartphones. But we’re normally talking about smartphones, phones that have the capability to connect to the internet, especially because increasingly, most people, most adults, have mobile phones. But I do think a little bit larger about mobile learning as well, just acknowledging the fact that we learn in motion. I think a lot of us sit in front of a computer for a lot of the work that we do. But what I try to guide us to think about is the fact that we learn and work in multiple places, with our laptop, with our phones, while we’re on a walk, while we’re on a drive. We do not stop learning or stop thinking the second that we are no longer in front of a screen officially working on things. So I also try to tease out that much larger idea of we are learners in motion and that we are learning and responding to our environments.

John: And smartphone ownership by students is close to being ubiquitous, nearly all students have a smartphone. And they normally have them with them all the time. And they use them regularly for learning. Yet there is some faculty resistance to students using smartphones in the classroom. How do you address that when faculty say “I don’t allow smartphone use in my classes?”

Christina: I think I take a balanced approach to this. So first, I acknowledge that and understand. I think even our students don’t really like how distracted they constantly feel by technology. Our institution actually just facilitated a student engagement panel with students talking about creating a collaboration around student engagement and learning with faculty. And even that was expressed by the students themselves. And that was corroborated by the research that I looked into. So, I think, and I have this mantra a lot throughout the book, which is somewhat the mindful aspect of it as “Well it’s okay, let’s acknowledge and notice that we have that skeptical feeling, but sort of suspend it and just be a bit curious.” So my first piece of advice is to talk with students directly about this issue, because our classes look different. They’re small, they’re large, they’re gen ed classes or major classes. So I think it helps to first talk with the students, maybe on the first day, if you’re discussing the course syllabus, “What should tech use look like in the class?” It can either be in class or in an anonymous form where you’re saying: “Some research has found that cell phones can be distracting not only to the person using it, but to the person next to them. How do you feel about this and your learning environment?” Then that can help at least bring them into the discussion, so that with whatever you decide, they feel like they have had some say and input, or at least some understanding of why you do what you do. That being said, I would definitely not support just a total tech ban. And that’s because, and the book does get into some of this research, there’s pretty strong indication that students are using these phones for e-texts, sometimes they are caregivers who really feel anxious if they don’t feel like they’re going to know right away if there’s an issue and they’re the primary contact. So there’s lots of evidence that by banning this technology altogether, we can do real harm to the students who really need it the most, which overwhelmingly are women, or people of color, and people with disabilities. So I wouldn’t encourage a total tech ban, a conversation with students, and really, similar to what James Lang has talked about in his book Distracted, that we don’t have to take an either/or stance, it’s not really reasonable to expect totally undivided attention. I mean, think of any faculty meeting and how many phones are even out during those. So just thinking realistically, but also maybe guiding your students, like, which point in class do you think it’s really important to put away the phones because you’re just talking to one another, and then maybe prompting students to do that. Whereas other active learning situations, you might not worry so much about the technology being used, because the activity itself is so engaging that you don’t really have to worry about that. So overall, I actually encourage us to think more about the mobile learning possibilities outside of a classroom, because I actually think that that’s where its virtues come out a lot more than it’s vices.

Rebecca: I’m really struck by the idea of this fluid learning and learning on the go. [LAUGHTER] And having learning in your pocket and work in your pocket. Your story was reminding me that just the other day, I was enjoying the nice weather, but had a lot of work to do, so I got out my mobile device and I talked through the presentation I needed to give so I could get an outline done while I was on a walk without having to be at a computer. And there’s lots of ways that we can use our devices. We talked a little bit about QR codes, and that might be one obvious way to use a mobile device in a classroom, but what are some of these other ways to use a phone that are in these other spaces that we don’t always expect?

Christina: So I think your example of being on a walk is one that I talk through, because part of the book, a fairly large section of the book is called “Start with Self.” And this is really guiding us through the basics of what it means to be a mobile learner, what are some basic skills that will help you actually become more familiar with what it is to be a mobile learner firsthand, because we’re really not used to thinking of ourselves in that way. And I like the walking to sort of get a break, but you’re still actually being very productive. And maybe you’re being more productive because you’re breaking up your thinking, your body is moving, your muscles are moving, so your brain is likely going to be better and more responsive. But I think, for most of us, we have to sort of walk through the steps of “Okay, but how do I make that happen? How do I use voice to text in order to be able to speak into the phone and have the text written out? Where do I do that? What app do I use?” And along with fluid learning, which is the idea that we design learning activities so that if we do our learning in one place, we can then access it in a useful way, in a different context, a different device, in a different situation. So it gets into that decision of am I taking my notes in a app that I can easily access when I do decide to sit back down at the computer? So I think going through those simple steps of “Okay, what buttons do I have to press? How do I find out how to do that? What tools and processes are going to work best for me?” I think is something that we have to start with, because many of us aren’t used to putting all of those pieces together. But just to use this example, again, the idea of being able to walk and learn in a productive way, is a really good example of something that’s good for our bodies that in a way actually takes us away from screens a little bit because we’re not so focused, even on the screen in front of us, we’re just using it basically as a recording device. And that’s why I do like us to think a little bit broader about mobile learning because yes, it is learning that is made possible because of phones but it is not always just us with our thumbs staring at this teeny tiny screen, but it’s also how it allows us to take pictures of things that we find so that we are actually connecting whatever we’re talking about in class to something that we are seeing in a completely different context. And if we think about the application that we make possible, how much more powerful is that learning that we’re able to take it from our environment, and then find some way to share it with our classmates, such as a shared messaging platform or a shared folder where people can put their pictures, I’ve heard really amazing examples, especially in like biology and STEM fields, where instructors are using, whether it’s something like social media or just a shared photo folder, where both the instructors are sharing photos and asking their students to identify them, sometimes on a daily basis, where also students are actively collecting samples via photos. And then they are working as a class together to label the genus or species of whatever leaf, plant, or whatever that they have identified. So I think that answer was a little bit mobile in and of itself, it might have kept going, but I think it provides some examples.

John: In the title of your book, you use mobile mindful, rather than mobile learning. Why is that distinction important?

Christina: Even stepping back to when I was thinking of mobile learning directly, I was really wanting to use my phone more productively so less mindlessly, because I was noticing I was just going to my phone to pass the time. And I was doing things I wasn’t even interested in or was consciously thinking of. So I began thinking, “Okay, how can I redirect this habit into something that is more intentional?” So that’s one reason for the use of the word mobile mindful is this idea of intention, and using our phones for the things we actually want to do rather than just for this pure distraction. But I also use the word mindful with it as a hopefully less intimidating and less techie sounding approach to it. So when I think of mobile mindful, I think of something that’s mobile aware, or mobile-ish, or it’s an adding a piece to our already existing rich ecology for learning that we create in our classroom. And just adding this as like an extra tool, an extra really powerful way to connect all of these pieces together and help our students learn more often and think about the content more often. So it’s a mindful approach to mobile learning, but also like, let’s start with mobile aware before we like go diving into mobile learning. So I contrast it with mobile first learning, which some people are doing amazing work on, which is putting in the constraint and challenge of let’s try to create a whole learning environment that can take place on a phone. That is not the approach that I take in this book. I think it’s productive for most college and university instructors to first start with, “Well, how can this be one piece and one delightful added element to all of the good work that we’re already doing?”

Rebecca: I’m curious in your role as an instructor and in a teaching center and your interactions with students, what are some of the most interesting ways you’ve seen that students have just adapted to using their phones to help with learning?

Christina: Well, I’ll answer the question, but I’ll also add something to it that I think is important for us to realize, that once we go through the learning process of being a mobile learner ourselves, there may need to be a little bit of prep work that we also do with students. Well, a lot of our students have only known the world that is mobile phone capable, it doesn’t always mean that they are ready to be mobile learners. They have definitely internalized messages that phones are bad for them, phones shouldn’t be in the classroom, even though they bring them in anyway. So there’s very much this vice type of attitude towards it. And therefore they haven’t had always a lot of opportunities to use their phones as these powerful learning devices. So I would add sort of the caveat of “Yes, students are doing amazing things and can do amazing things, but they may need to be guided into it a little bit just as much as we do.” So with that being said, I would say that some of the exciting things that students are doing and going back to QR codes, I really liked the example of audio essays that were taken to specific places. And again, QR codes have become so much easier to both use and create. You can basically create them from any browser. The QR codes in my book are purposely created for free by right clicking on any website and there’s a drop down option that says create a QR code. You can create fancier logo specific ones, but I decided to just use the default one as sort of a demonstration of the fact that they are really easy to create, and that’s how I went about it. So I think even just adding an element to maybe research presentations or things for a specific audience where you say, “Okay, how could you use a QR code to direct people to a different learning element?” And so it might be directing them to a piece of audio where you’re explaining something that is in a very specific environment. So again, thinking about learning being mobile is you are creating learning experiences that take place in very specific locations, or could take them to a form that they fill out or a petition or something like that. So I think it creates a lot of convenience and thinking about your audience and makes it a little bit more creative. And then the one other really interesting use that I cover, and I talk about the ethics of mobile phone use and inviting students to use their mobile phones. That’s actually a really good opportunity to get students to think more critically about the data being collected on them. So some faculty have done really interesting work in places like statistics, or other data analysis type of classes, and students have been invited to download the data that is collected about them on social media or on Pokemon Go, especially those that are mobile dependent, like especially Pokemon Go. It not only teaches the students a really useful content skill and applies it, but it helps them be a little bit more critical about what is actually going on behind the scenes when they don’t actively take a role in limiting data sharing about what they’re doing and where they are. So I think that type of application of getting students to think and actually dig into their own data is a really good example of what I think faculty could start to find as really exciting about mobile-mindful teaching, as they start to see that there is a lot they can have students do that really isn’t as possible in other ways.

John: You mentioned QR codes. When they first came out, they were really useful tools, but you had to dig up a specific application to scan them. Once smartphone manufacturers allowed the cameras to directly read and respond to QR codes, it became such a game changer in terms of their use. I don’t think I’ve given any presentations, either in class or at a conference in the last three or four years, except during the time when all instruction was remote, and then I was more likely to drop URLs in the chat. And it just opened up so many great possibilities for sharing resources with students, with colleagues, and so forth. I’m still amazed at the number of faculty who don’t know how to use QR codes. And I was really glad to see you had a discussion of that in the book in terms of how instructors could use those within their classes. You mentioned a little bit about the use of QR codes, but how might instructors use that in their class?

Christina: Yeah, so and just as a funny note, back to the audience, my mother is reading my book, and I asked if she’s tried any of the QR codes yet. And she said, “What’s a QR code?” [LAUGHTER] And I said, “Oh, maybe you haven’t gotten that far in the book yet.” But then I was explaining it to her. And she’s like, “Oh, it’s what’s been on all of the restaurant menus.” I was like, “Yep, those are the ones.” So I also think of like, you don’t know what a QR code is and you’ve seen it, but you haven’t connected the dots. I’m hoping that this book will connect a lot of the dots. So I will give a couple of really useful examples of an instructor intentionally using QR codes. So, I think in the spirit of Universal Design for Learning, it can be really nice to add QR codes to print handouts, because I think sometimes students do like to have print handouts because it helps them resist some of the distraction that comes with phones. They like having something tactile, but by putting a QR code on them, if they would rather consult something on a phone and take digital notes, they immediately have that option. So I think that’s something that’s fairly easy that can be done if you use print handouts, but want to be conscious of people potentially using mobile phones, or directing people intentionally to other websites by using their phones. My other favorite, which I think is also useful in other contexts, is when you want to get quick feedback from your audience, such as students, displaying a really big QR code on a projector. And then even in a really large class, they can pretty easily scan it and then they can give you some really useful feedback that you have in a digital form that can be automatically analyzed or you can quickly go through it. So I think of some of the really classic active learning strategies that we may be familiar with such as exit tickets, what you want to know from students at the end of class. It might be the muddiest point, where you want to know what students are still confused on, or one-minute papers, where you want a really quick reflection about what they’ve learned in the class. So by displaying that QR code, students can take the form there, and then you quickly have all the data. Inversely, you can also do this at the beginning of a class, if you want to ask students, either three review questions, or you want to ask them three questions that are just going to prime the pump of whatever you’re about to discuss to sort of see what they know before you’ve even covered it. While I didn’t do it with the QR code, this was one of my favorite mobile learning activities that I tried the last time that I teach. Because it was an asynchronous online course, I wanted to get a sense of students feeling like I am responding to what they’re learning and thinking. So I would start the week with a really short form and say, “This will take you five minutes, I just want to know what has your experience been doing primary research? Do you know the difference between primary and secondary research?” And then I could address that feedback directly into my instructional video. So it would create that sense of presence, even though it was an asynchronous course. And by telling them it would take them five minutes, they did it right away. So like, that’s kind of the magic of micro learning, which is, I think, one of the superpowers of mobile-mindful learning is if you can break things down into smaller chunks, students will do it. And that’s kind of the interesting course design pedagogical challenges, to figure out how to get things into smaller pieces.

Rebecca: I think one of the things that we often assume is that the students who are using their phones for learning or to complete work are more traditional aged college students. But from my experience, [LAUGHTER] it’s often adult learners who are using their phones the most, because they’re often double timing as your example in the van [LAUGHTER], or at soccer practice or during swim lessons and trying to complete a module or reading the captions on a video, or [LAUGHTER] any number of other things, getting a start on a paper or trying to edit or providing feedback to peers or something. So they’re taking it with them, and often maybe in an environment where there’s other things going on, but trying to make progress on something in the little snippets of time, those small chunks of time that might be available.

Christina: And that’s what I think is useful about thinking of this fluid learning environment is, of course, we don’t always want to be learning in that context. We want our students to think deeply, we want them to have time to really mull over ideas and work in larger chunks of time. But what I’ve come to realize is that there really is quality learning that can happen in those snippets of time, mostly by frequency. Because I think a lot of times with the way activities and courses are set up is that the students are cramming right before class, the last possible minute, to do everything they were supposed to do over the last week. And we know from experience that this does not produce quality work. And it doesn’t bring into our class, a really curious thinker who’s really been mulling over these ideas. So I think if we reframe this sort of micro learning as “How would your students think differently, if they thought about your course content four times a day, even if it was in really small snippets?” They would probably be a lot more prepared and have more interesting things to say once they do sit down with that hour to work on things. So even if we sort of dread and don’t love the idea of our students doing things while waiting in line for five minutes, or being in a waiting room for 10 minutes, I think reframing it as like this is a piece that will contribute to a longer work period. I think that’s a lot more inspiring.

Rebecca: You know, from my own experience, I get more reading done, because sometimes I have my device read to me and I can do that in the car or in other places… maybe not good for research kind of reading but good if I’m trying to get background knowledge on something or keep up with something that’s current.

Christina: Rebecca, you’re narrating and describing exactly the types of things that I want readers to notice about themselves, about how they learn, because I think we normally don’t notice these things. We just sort of do them because we’re trying to just do what we can. And what we want to get students to notice about their own learning emotion as well.

Rebecca: I mean, I’m a designer who designs for mobile devices, so I’m already sold. [LAUGHTER] But I think it’s important that we recognize how often people are using their devices already, and all the ways that we could use them that we don’t always know that we can. My students are often really surprised when I show them some of the features that are available to them on their phone that make their lives easier.

Christina: Yes. Exactly. And that’s why we have to take students along with us and pointing things out like, “Oh, do you know how to do this? Do you know that the learning management system has an app? Do you know that it will give you push notifications when I message you, so you don’t have to worry about catching up on my emails as much?” I think those little nudges like, “Oh, did you know or how do you keep notes on a phone?” I think those types of nudges and getting them in the right direction will help in your class and throughout their whole lives.

John: And you mentioned that you got started on this through a UDL approach. And smartphones enable a lot of assignments that can be done in multiple modes. Could you talk to us a little bit about how instructors might use that to give students multiple ways of demonstrating their learning?

Christina: Yeah, this reminds me of a course activity that I propose in the book. And it’s called “untethering the research presentation,” because I predominantly teach writing and rhetoric to first-year students, they’re required courses. So I think students are really used to doing slide presentations for their classes. And I think they do that because we’re comfortable with them and so it just becomes this routine thing that doesn’t have a lot of love and spirit behind them. So I think this idea of untethering the research presentation is like, let’s think of this in a little bit of a different way. If we’re not using slides, what else can you do? Is it a really engaging discussion without technology? Is it a video? Is it coming up with a social media campaign. And what I like about that idea is not only is it a more creative and authentic way to put whatever they’ve been researching into action with a real audience, but it gets them to think in a different way about how that information lives. So I think mobile learning can be a really important part of this, especially if students are thinking about who their audience is. They may determine that their audience is going to best be reached on a mobile device. So if they’re doing a video, and they determine that their audience is most likely going to look at this on a phone, how are they going to design that video accordingly? If it’s on social media, then doing something in portrait might be the best because it scrolls through better that way. So I think prompting our students to also be, depending on their field, be prepared to be mobile practitioners and how they can reach a mobile audience. Another example I use is if you are a math educator, we hear about the new math and reaching out to parents about how to guide them through that. How many of your parents are likely going to maybe be smartphone dependent, meaning that the only reliable internet they have at home is on a phone? So how are they going to use that sitting next to their child helping them with math? So I think by posing those types of ways of presenting information for a specific audience, is a good example of both inviting students to express their learning in a way that they are comfortable with and excited about and speaks to their strengths, but also getting them to think about the audience for the work that they’re doing too, and how to demonstrate that learning to an audience in a way that is relatable and accessible to them.

Rebecca: So one of the things that got me really curious about how students are using mobile devices is actually, how they might even engage in the learning management system. So we talked a little bit about having an app, but also sometimes there’s a web version that’s made responsively, and also exists on the mobile device. And what I’ve discovered often is that those are sometimes different, or the way you even get to information material is different. So that’s always something that I start talking to my students about is like, “Okay, if you’re using the app, you can do this one thing, if you use the website, you can use this other thing.” I’m mentioning this, in part, because the way that students are engaging with their materials sometimes is really different if they’re in the app of a learning management system versus the website version of it. We might have micro lessons or small activities that we’re doing on our devices, like videos and things and those experiences might be really different. I’m curious about the ways that we can help faculty become more aware of the different ways our students are using their learning management systems, even on our mobile devices.

Christina: Yeah, so that’s great. And I’m glad we’re bringing it up. I highly encourage us to regularly take mobile test drives through our materials. I think it’s a really good place to start. So pull up your syllabus on a phone, what does it look like? How easy is it to navigate how when you open up links that are there? How many clicks does it take or how many taps if we’re thinking mobile mindful? How many taps does it take for them to get to the content that they want to get to? So I think actually going through the tactile experience of going through your course materials on a phone is really insightful, because I actually hope that you’ll find things work a lot better than you expect, because I think mobile accessibility has gotten a lot better. And I think sometimes we might still be thinking in like a 2004, even 2012, realm of like, where everything just looked terrible on the phone. I think we might be surprised when we actually go through that things scale, and are more responsive than we expect. So I think that that’s a great place to start. If you use the learning management system at your institution, and you’ve never looked into whether they have an app, you can do that. Download it. You might discover things, like I mentioned sort of offhand earlier, that there are push notifications whenever you use the announcements forum, or whatever it’s called in your learning management system. So students get that right away, rather than hoping that they get into their email. So you may discover that there are certain surveys that work okay, but if you maybe used a slightly different tool, or you broke up the question in a different way, it might be even more responsive. And that might make you think, “Okay, if I actually just break this one 30-question quiz into three 10-question quizzes and open up that access so that they can take it as many times as they want, and then I tell them in class, I want you to do these, you can do them on your phone, it’ll probably only take you 10 minutes a day, I mean, then you start to think of how much they’re practicing and reviewing the material so that they don’t even have to think about it anymore, they can get right into the more complex thinking. I think even that test drive mentality of like, “Okay, let’s see how it looks,” then I can sort of guide students on what I think works well on a mobile phone and what I think doesn’t work well on a mobile phone. And then even, and this is what I was doing throughout the book, is taking screenshots that I wanted to save and show in class, okay, this is how it looks. It really helps reinforce that for students, and then going through your course texts, trying to identify what works well, on a mobile device, tell students to do that. You might also feel free to say: “This one text, it really doesn’t respond on mobile well, that’s something I would say to do on your computer, to do offline.” I think talking students through those options really gives them a lot more agency, because I think a lot of our impulse is to say, “Don’t use your phone for the course, it’s not designed that way.” But they are, for different reasons. Sometimes, they’re just going to do it that way. So if instead we can say, “Well, the discussion forums work well if you do a video post, but otherwise, if you need to cite things it might not.” So by giving them an action and plan, rather than just saying, “Don’t do it,” I think that’s gonna get us a lot farther. And I know that in doing this test drive and thinking about how we can leverage those five and ten minutes, it actually got me really excited to think about quiz design, how I get feedback from students, and even how I design my instructional videos. In the UDL mindset, I started to record my videos the same, but I would just pass them on to YouTube as well, instead of just in the learning management system, and then I would have a link that says access on YouTube. And then I would make that into a playlist. It’s not really any extra work, it’s just organizing them into one list. And then it gives students the opportunity to just keep playing through, which we probably know, as mobile consumers ourselves, is that it’s easy to get us to buy in, if it’s only a three-minute video. But then we’re like, “Okay, let’s just do one more three-minute video. And then we’ve been watching videos for a half hour very easily. So if we can use that capability for good, [LAUGHTER] I think that can be something exciting for us.

Rebecca: Christina, did you just suggest designing a learning rabbit hole? [LAUGHTER]

Christina: I sure did.[LAUGHTER]

John: We gave a workshop recently where we encouraged people if they were using videos in their class to do the embed, rather than sending students to YouTube, because that rabbit hole could often take them in directions away from the course. But if you’re directing them to a playlist with a whole series of videos, then having that rabbit hole could be very useful.

Rebecca: That’s downright sneaky.

Christina: Yeah, but let’s use the sneakiness for good. But, doing the test drive, we can also recognize where things are distracting if we tried to take them to a mobile device. And we might just be transparent about that, and for that reason, suggest that they don’t go in that direction. So it’s why it’s this mindful approach. It’s just being aware of what works well and what doesn’t, and giving our students some direction accordingly.

Rebecca: Sometimes that test drive can reveal even little details like should this open in the same window or a different window?

Christina: Mm hmm.

Rebecca: Because some tools are fine on a desktop, but as soon as you try to do it on the mobile device inside of the learning management system, it’s a nightmare.

Christina: I think that’s actually a really good example of how I think going through this thought process will reduce friction, and overall just improve the teaching design in general, because we found that with online teaching, too, is that when people began teaching online overall…I mean, as long as they did it, right, of course, and took a good approach… it actually often increased the quality of their in-person or on-ground learning as well, because it was just a different way of thinking about it. And it helped you see where there were barriers that you could take away. So I think that’s a good example of, it just helps you pay attention to the learning experience in a different way that could give you really good insight overall.

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

Christina: Well, first is, a little bit of a break. [LAUGHTER] I definitely want to talk about the book, and I will be, but I’m taking just a little bit of a pause. But during this pause, I’m actually putting together content for a blog to kind of be the “what’s next” of the book, because the book is an invitation and it’s a framework for us to get started with mobile learning. But from there, I know that there are people doing brilliant things with mobile learning, or they’re going to have lots of light bulbs that go off because of this book. So I want to continue the conversation. I didn’t want it to end with the book. So I plan on contributing content myself, but also inviting people to share their mobile learning strategies, victories, challenges, stories. So I may provide my email address so that people can feel free to contact me if they would like to contribute something. I’m gathering up goodies so that I can start to share them out into the world. And then I also want to work with faculty to research how the application of these strategies are going, because I’d like to see the evidence and put them out in more formalized ways so that we can really build and make this a practice that is more common, more accepted and really is convincing that it is what students need and provide guidance on how to do it well.

Rebecca: Well, thank you so much for the book and really thinking about introductory audience.

Christina: Thanks a lot. This was great.

John: I really enjoyed reading the book and I’m really happy we can share this with our listeners.

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

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

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284. Learning That Matters

Many graduates describe their college experience as being transformative, changing how they view the world and their role in it. In this episode, Caralyn Zehnder, Karynne Kleine, Julia Metzker, and Cynthia Alby join us to explore the role that college faculty can play in creating transformative learning experiences.

Caralyn is a senior lecturer in biology at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Karynne is the former Dean of the Division of Education at Young Harris College, Julia is the Director of the Washington Center for Undergraduate Education at Evergreen St College, and Cynthia is a Professor of Education at Georgia College. They are the authors of Learning that Matters: A Field Guide to Course Design for Transformative Education.

Show Notes

  • Zehnder, C., Alby, C., Kleine, K., & Metzker, J. (2021). Learning that matters: A field guide to course design for transformative education. Myers Education Press.
  • Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning. Jossey-Bass.
  • Selingo, J. J. (2013). College (un) bound: The future of higher education and what it means for students. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  • Selingo, J. The Future Learners. Pearson.
  • Learning that Matters website
  • Learning that Matters: The Course Design Institute

Transcript

John: Many graduates describe their college experience as being transformative, changing how they view the world and their role in it. In this episode, we explore the role that college faculty can play in creating transformative learning experiences.

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

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

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Rebecca: Our guests today are Caralyn Zehnder, Karynne Kleine, Julia Metzker, and Cynthia Alby. Caralyn is a senior lecturer in biology at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Karynne is the former Dean of the Division of Education at Young Harris College, Julia is the Director of the Washington Center for Undergraduate Education at Evergreen St College, and Cynthia is a Professor of Education at Georgia College. They are the authors of Learning that Matters: A Field Guide to Course Design for Transformative Education. Welcome Caralyn, Karynne, Julia, and Cynthia.

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

Karynne: I am and I was joking yesterday that I would have to go to Starbucks and get mine because all I have is Lipton, and I did. And so I’m having some Earl Grey [LAUGHTER] in my Hawaii Cup.

Rebecca: …where I would really like to be during our impending snowstorm. [LAUGHTER]

John: Julia?

JULIA: No, actually I am drinking coffee out of my trusty thermos as I do every morning. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: …there’s always one ,Julia.

John: Well, at least one.. And Cynthia? [LAUGHTER]

Cynthia: I am drinking a Tazo tea called glazed lemon loaf.

John: I haven’t seen that one.

Rebecca: It smells really tasty. I’ve had it. The smell though, is what really gets it.

John: And Caralyn?

Caralyn: I have a handpicked hand dried sweet fern and sassafras tea that my 10 year old who’s now into wild foraging blended for me.

John: Wonderful.

Rebecca: Well, that’s amazing. Can I have I have 10-year old? [LAUGHTER] I have some Awake tea today, despite the fact that it’s two o’clock in the afternoon.

John: And I have Darjeeling tea today.

Rebecca: That’s a different choice for you, John.

John: It is. I was looking for things I haven’t had recently. So I picked that one.

Rebecca: Score one for you, fail for Rebecca. So we’ve invited you here today to discuss Learning that Matters. Can you talk a little bit about how this book came about?

Caralyn: Well, we, many years ago, were all faculty together at Georgia College. And it started with Julia and Cynthia started a group focused on course design. And it morphed into what became the innovative course building group. It was this grassroots… sort of bottom up… we wanted more support, and collaborative work towards teaching. And we all began working together through this and doing workshops. And so we decided to write the book that we wished we had had, when we had first started teaching. We wanted it to be based in theory, but really practical, have a lot of strategies, be really conversational, and be collaborative, and really encourage people to work together. Because we found that sometimes teaching could be so isolating that working together and talking with other people was just something that gave us so much support and we enjoyed, and we wanted that for others.

John: This book is designed to help faculty create transformative learning experiences. What constitutes a transformative learning experience?

Karynne: Well, for our book, we actually used a Mezirow’s theory and then work really from John Dewey. And our definition is about fundamental change that learners undergo, if it is a transformative education, whereby they see themselves and they see the world differently. I taught teachers and I would always tell them, the person you will be when you leave this program is not the person who you are now. So it involves a lot of reflection, whereby you have an experience, you process that experience, and then you make meaning of that. And that changes how you are viewing yourself and the world.

Rebecca: So reflection is a critical part of that practice.

Karynne: Absolutely. And that’s really what we get from Dewey is the importance of that for learning

Rebecca: So, you start a chapter with a pre-flection. Could you explain to our listeners, what this is and why you use this approach? And how we could use it in our classes?

Cynthia: Yes. So it’s one or more questions that we have at the very beginning of the chapter. And I feel like they are just gold. I thought that for a long time. I’ve always enjoyed having individuals do some thinking upfront really before we dive in. But then in a recent study, I’m going to say it was probably 2021, around there, students who took a practice test, who answered questions before learning the material, outperformed their peers who studied it more traditionally, by 49% on a follow-up test. So then I thought, well, heck, I think these pre-questions are even more valuable than I ever imagined. And when you think about why, it makes a lot of sense, because first of all, some pre-questions, some pre-flection, gets people in a good headspace and it’s got them thinking along with what it is you’re about to introduce. I think it stimulates anticipation, because now that you’ve answered some questions, you’re curious to see are the authors going to agree with me? Disagree? What’s going to happen? And I think it can highlight gaps in your knowledge that if you answered some questions previously, and then as you read, you might think, “Okay, well, yes, I said that in my pre-flection. And oh, yes, I said that, oh, but I didn’t think about that piece.” I think it kind of shines a light on those pieces that maybe you hadn’t thought of before. So I just really, really highly recommend that not only does it make good sense for a book like thispre-free questions. And when I have students reading something for homework, I always have some pre-questions that I asked them to answer before they even ever start reading.

John: One argument for it too, is that it helps activate prior knowledge, it gets students starting to make connections, recalling what they already know, and sets a frame for them to put new material into that framework and elaborate on what they already do know. It’s a wonderful strategy and I should do more of it myself. [LAUGHTER] I advocate that very often. And I don’t do it as much as I should.

Rebecca: I know one of the things that I’ve discovered in using some of those strategies is that sometimes a topic is familiar [LAUGHTER] and so familiar is different than knowing. And so sometimes doing an activity like that can help someone recognize that it’s something they’ve heard of before, but they don’t actually know that much about it.

Cynthia: Absolutely.

Caralyn: And especially if it’s something where you know that there’s going to be some misconceptions or things like where the topic, how it’s described, maybe outside of your discipline is not the same as how it is inside, or the terminology has specific meanings. And it’s so good for uncovering that and so much more powerful than me standing up in front of the room, just talking about it.

John: One of the anchor concepts in your book is the principle of teaching towards equity. What are some of the ways in which faculty can work towards creating a more equitable classroom environment?

JULIA: One thing I want to start off by saying is that sometimes, because the stakes around equity are so high, we get a little overwhelmed. And when we start to think about how do I teach towards equity, and one of my lifelong goals as a faculty developer is to demystify the concept of teaching for equity. And so I like to say, at its core, it’s the process of humanizing the learning environment. And so what I mean by that is just approaching each and every student as a unique human with their own story and understanding that the story that they bring into the classroom will impact and influence how they learn, when they learn, what they learn. And then I also want to say to these folks, because I was there, and this idea, like how am I going to make the world more equitable? It’s such a big job. But really, we all as human beings have the innate tools to do this, because we’re social beings that live in a social environment. And we have a lot of practice in all kinds of parts of our lives, learning how to create relationships, how to build communities, how to live in relationship with each other. But it can be challenging in teaching, because we’re working against some pretty powerful social forces that lead us to treat students in our classes as if they’re a monolith. In particular, there’s a powerful collective story about who goes to college and why. And many of us have unconsciously absorbed this story about who goes to college and why and it does not relate to reality. It doesn’t reflect the reality of who’s in our classes. So a big part of what we need to do is understand how to make visible the rich complexity of the stories of learners in our classroom. So my advice is to start with the things you know, which is, if this is something that’s new to you, the very first thing I would say is just make space and provide value for building relationships in your class. So by that, I mean like devote some time where you’re building relationships, where students are building relationships with one another, and put some value on that. So if the currency in your classroom is points, make some points that are associated with building relationships so you’re communicating that this is actually a highly valued part of the learning. And if you’ve already done that, then I should say the second step would be thinking about structure and transparency. So building structures that are clear and transparent for students. So the transparent syllabus and assignments are a great way to start with that, the idea of making what’s hidden, visible for students, and that helps us unpack those stories, because that collective story that many of us have absorbed is the students that are coming to college already know what it means to go to college and for many of our students, that’s not true. So helping make visible what’s hidden. And then the third thing I would say, which is like a thread throughout the whole book, which is grab a friend or some friends and sit down and have some conversations about it, get a book, read it together, but find some partners in crime in here to help you figure out how how you’re gonna teach towards equity and what it might mean for you to teach toward equity. So you can find some really firm grounding and footing for that.

Rebecca: One of the things I really like about how you’re describing teaching toward equity is that it’s a spectrum. And that it’s not equitable or not, but you’re teaching towards it, or you’re moving in that direction, or you’re pushing the needle there. And I think that’s a much more palatable approach than something that feels absolute. And we all know, it’s not actually absolute anyways.

Karynne: Yeah, I think that’s actually woven throughout the book. We really try to encourage folks to take the smallest step regarding anything. And then we also very much encourage collaboration. So find a friend to do this with somebody who’s like minded, and you’re never going to get there. So we’re not there. But this mindset that you’re moving in that direction is really helpful. And I think that’s, like I said, woven throughout the book.

Cynthia: I just think so often, when we think about equity, we think of it sometimes only in terms of content, like the authors I’m teaching, the scientists I’m including, and so forth. But we also like to think about equity in terms of the strategies, not just the what we teach, but the how we teach. And I think oftentimes, that’s an area of equity that people haven’t thought that much about.

Rebecca: Those are all really good points.

John: So one area where perhaps there might be some inequities is in terms of class discussions, because some students would like to talk all the time, other students are a bit more cautious, and sometimes even think about what they want to say before they say anything. What would you suggest to create a more equitable environment for discussions.

JULIA: I’ll jump in and say, my favorite for this, and first, I would say practice in very low risk [LAUGHTER] situations. First is the circle of voices. So this idea that you’re moving around in a circle, and everybody has a chance to speak uninterrupted, so that you’ve lowered the barrier to entry, and that you’re practicing this regularly, so that every student has a lived embodied experience of what it feels like to speak before you let go of those structures, then they’re much more likely to engage once they’ve had that kind of an experience. And then any kind of structured protocol where students are not spending their cognitive power, trying to think about how they’re gonna navigate the space, because it’s really clear how to navigate the space. So they can think about the ideas and do deep listening.

Karynne: Another that we all tend to use, is having community agreements. And we’ll probably talk more about that. But going through that experience with learners, and saying, “This is what we are committing to, and this is what we will abide by.” And that way, those for whom it’s just really, really difficult to speak in a large group won’t feel put upon to do that. If your community says we’re gonna encourage people, but we’re not going to require that or we’re going to ask people to be mindful of how much they are speaking, but we’re not going to close them off if they feel the need to say a second thing.

Caralyn: And I say that sometimes we think about discussions, and we just envision like, okay, we’re all sitting around a table having a classroom discussion, but opening it up, thinking about Universal Design for Learning, and that multiple ways for students to express themselves. So maybe it is an online forum, or maybe one is this synchronous or asynchronous, so that it’s not a, okay, you need to get up and speak in front of 20 people, but maybe you get some time to write. And here’s where the pre-flection questions can really help too, because having some time to think and write beforehand can make for such a richer discussion.

Rebecca: I think the pre-flection also offers that opportunity to transition into a space. You’ve been in this other place, or I was at lunch, or I had this thing, or I had this other conflict on my mind. But then here’s some time to get in this space of what it is that we’re talking about, which does allow people to focus more. So you also advocate for a strategy of “dilemma-issue-question.” Can you talk a little bit about what this is and how it’s a useful strategy?

Caralyn: The dilemmas issues questions, or DIQ approach is basically a framework or a model for putting the course content or the skills that you’re helping students master into a big framing question or a societal issue that students care about. Because we need to provide the “why” we need to provide the “here’s the purpose,” the reason for learning this. So if I’m teaching evolution by natural selection, rather than just diving into “here are the criteria,” maybe pose the question of “which species will be able to evolve in response to climate change?” because now we care about learning about what do we need to know to be able to answer that important question. It helps students connect. It’s an equitable practice because they’re bringing their own lived experiences. They can see where the knowledge and skills are useful, and they get to be creative and do creative thinking, critical thinking, and it’s so much more interesting and fun to teach. You can just take it in so many different ways. And we don’t have to look too far outside of our ivory towers to see big societal issues that we’re all going to be facing, especially many of our students. And if we want to have hope for those things getting solved, then I think providing students with that sort of training and modeling that in the classroom is just so important.

Karynne: Not just the importance of doing this, but really changing your mindset about what is important content in your class. We’ve done a lot of work with other faculty on the content doesn’t have to be these 9 million things that you’re going to be tested on at the end of your chemistry degree, but rather, this ability to think in the present and in the future and solve problems that really, really matter. Hence, learning that matters. I think that’s important to point out. So I think it’s a jazzy name that we’ve come up with, for a dilemma issue and question, DIQs. But I also think this mindset is just so important to develop.

John: And students, I think, would find it easier to learn about things that they care about, where they see the intrinsic value of what they’re working on.

Caralyn: Yeah, because that’s all of us. I feel like every other article in the Chronicle or Faculty Focus, it’s like,” Oh, do we have a student engagement crisis?” And it’s like, “okay, well, how do we engage people?” We engage them by having things that they’re interested in and passionate about, and find purpose in, and that’s where you can have projects where students, they’ll blow you away with what they’re doing, and how much work and time they’ll put into it because they care.

John: One of the issues that people have been complaining about for the last couple of years, since we move back to face-to-face instruction is what appears to be a lack of student motivation. So one way of addressing it is asking students to work on things that they find interesting, and that they can see the value of. Are there any other strategies to increase student engagement and motivation?

Cynthia: Well, I want to start by saying that I really think the decline is real. When I’ve been at national conferences and just talking to faculty from all over, it just seems like it’s what is on everyone’s mind. I have absolutely seen it. It’s interesting to think about why is there this decline? Some of the students I’ve talked to have said, it’s just really hard for them to pay attention for such long stretches of time, when they got used to only paying attention, maybe for short periods of time, I think some began to question the importance of learning at all, especially in high schools. There were often times where teachers were told if the students do anything at all, pass them. And so what message does that send to our students? But a couple of really interesting things I’ve heard from students recently. One student said to me, sometimes I don’t think you professors recognize that these cutesy assignments you give us aren’t really preparing us for the future. And so I feel like anything that helps students better face uncertainty, deal with authentic problems, as opposed to ones that we’ve kind of created in the classroom. Those make a really big difference. And then, of course, some of my graduate students told me this. They had been undergraduates when the pandemic hit, they said, during the pandemic, we learned to cheat, we learn to cheat well. They were just right up front about it. And these are excellent students. And now we’ve of course, got ChatGPT, which makes it even easier if you want to cheat. And that’s something I’ve been studying a lot. And through studying chatGPT, oddly where I came out, after weeks and weeks of study was that students valuing the learning Is everything. Students, valuing the learning is everything. It’s the answer. It’s the foundational answer. And so the learning must matter. And so I’ve been thinking a lot about what we know about intrinsic motivation, and what makes someone value learning. They value learning when they have more autonomy, how can we increase autonomy? They value learning more when they feel a sense of mastery over what they’re learning. They value learning more when they see the purpose. And often the relationship-rich type of classroom also makes them value learning more. So every once in a while, I think, would we have written a different book if we’d written it post pandemic? If we’ve written it post ChatGPT? And I think the answer is no, I think we would have written the same book, because everything in the book is geared toward that type of teaching and learning that is so focused on intrinsic motivation and engagement and relationship building and connecting to the world beyond the classroom. It’s almost like we saw this stuff coming. I don’t know. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: I had an interesting conversation with a colleague yesterday about a conversation she had had with some graduate students that talked about why the students were in graduate school. And they said, “Well, I kind of got cheated out of my undergrad. I didn’t get the undergrad experience because of the pandemic.” And so the motivations that we might assume, that are not necessarily real, of why someone’s in school in the first place, it was just kind of interesting to hear the perspective that they’re not here necessarily to get a particular kind of experience, they feel like they didn’t get. So finding a way to get them to value the learning is really important. And knowing they’re not here because they are motivated, because they’re so excited about a particular topic, which you might expect of a graduate student, I think is really an interesting insight to consider.

Caralyn: And I think it connects back to what Julia was saying, we need to know our students in order to understand: What are their motivations? Why are they here? …and we can’t just assume that they’re coming in with the same reasons we did. We need to take the time, build the time into our courses, to get to know students and have those relationships.

JULIA: I’d also add, if we’re really serious about making students the agents of their own education, we really need to look at the structures of how our institutions are set up, because they’re just so patronizing in every way. Like when students come, there’s so many ways in which they get messages about how they are not able to make decisions about what they can and cannot do that the institution, the professor, that they all know best, and that they need to fit themselves in the mold of that. And that mold is often defined by that story I was talking about earlier, that one story about who goes to college and why? And there’s a lot of unlearning we need to do in higher education to create institutions that actually center student agency.

Rebecca: So we know that institutional change isn’t fast, and requires a lot of people to push against the current structure to change the structure. And one of the ways we can do that is thinking about our own courses, a place that we do have control over. So can you talk a little bit about some of the strategies we can encourage faculty to adopt or practice in the spaces they do have control over, that would help us move into this transformative space and move towards equity.

JULIA: One of the ways in which we do this in the book is we do it in thinking about designing learning experiences from a liberatory framework. And I’ll back up and say backward design has been a really valuable tool in faculty development and teacher preparation, and really has helped change the way in which we think about how we teach. So instead of allowing a textbook or some other driving force, determine what the order is, and the pathway for teaching, we’ve thought backwards about what are the goals we want. One of the challenges with that, I think, leans into what I was just saying is that centers, the faculty member’s thinking very much. It’s a faculty centered thinking design process. And so something that we really tried to do in the book is think about how might you decenter the faculty member in that process some, so that you can bring in some of those student perspectives. And so we did this in a couple of ways. I won’t talk about all of them, because it would take a really long time, but one I want to mention is using design thinking as an approach to complicate that backward design process. So design thinking is an approach that we borrowed, not just us, but lots of folks in higher education now are borrowing from product and software design. And design thinking really starts with centering the user of the design. So if you were a product designer, you would start by trying to empathize with the user. So for example, if you are a toy designer, you’d want to observe children in play and engaging with toys to understand how they engage with toys. You might also want to dig into some research about child development in your target age group so that you could think about developing that toy to be appropriately developmental. And so we translate this in an activity in our book using an empathy map. And the way that we did this, which I think is quite powerful, is we built some composite student personas that tell different stories about students in college, but they’re based on data. To build these I use the institutional data from our institution. And also if you’re familiar with Jeffrey Selingo’s student segments, we use those as well to build, I think there are five of them, that tell different stories about students in college, their histories or herstories, and also their goals for being in college. And then the exercise asked the educators to center themselves in that narrative, and think about what kind of messages might that student be getting from their family, from the college, from the society at large? What kind of goals might they have for themselves, and really think deeply about these before you write your learning goals and decide what activities you’re going to do and set up your learning environment so that process of backward design can really be influenced by having a deeper understanding of the types of students that are actually in your classroom. I’ll just say with a caveat, these student personas were derived from our data and every institution is different. So it really helps to make your own. And from the concept of design thinking, the best approach is to have access to the actual users, which is not always practical in higher education. But another way you might do this is to interview students who’ve been through your class to think about a redesign, you might interview them to understand how they engage with the material. And this is a great way to use an assessment technique through an empathy map.

Karynne: Could I add a couple of things? One is about the process and why we liked this design process. And that is iterative. And the more I talk, the more I’ve realized, oh, everything is just iterative. And so I really liked that we get to embrace that and realize that, okay, it’ll be different next time, it may get closer to the mark if I do this. The other thing I was going to comment on is, and we’ve all done this as well… So it’s not always practical to design the course, but sometimes co-designing with students is really, really powerful. And we’ve tried to take advantage of that when we have that opportunity, just again to send that message, like it’s not about the professor’s experience, it’s about the learners’ experience.

JULIA: Even taking little pieces and co-designing them… I taught a general chemistry class for years and years. And I had a rubric for the final grade and we just co-designed that every year. But it was the only thing we co-designed because we didn’t have time to do the whole course. But that was a pretty powerful thing to co-design at the beginning.

Rebecca: As a designer, I appreciate everybody talking about design thinking. [LAUGHTER]

Caralyn: It took us a while to get there when we think about higher ed, but it makes so much sense. Who do we really want to be thinking about? …and it’s the learner and their experience.

Cynthia: And I often think about the who that we’re designing for, and that all too often novice professors, I find, tend to design for a younger version of themselves. Older professors tend to design for kind of an average student. And then every once in a while someone is designing for an anomaly, where they had a student a previous semester who did something terrible, and now they’re redesigning the course ao that never happens again. And I think any one of those can be problematic, and that we’re often better off trying to design with a variety of students in mind, and not just a single concept.

Rebecca: You mean, we don’t have just one student?

Cynthia: it turns out, we don’t. [LAUGHTER] ibut that would be nice.

Rebecca: It would be a lot easier.

JULIA:Getting specific is important here. The generalities are, I think, the problem. And so what the personas do is they provide some really specific cases to think towards. So you’re not thinking in general about a group of people that morph together, but you’ve got like, one of them is Juwan. And he’s a military veteran, and he can only go to school part time, and he needs to work two days a week. Just getting those details in your mind when you’re thinking about the design are really, really valuable.

John: Might it be helpful also, to get data from your specific students? Do a survey of them asking about their life experiences, about what has worked well for them in the past, and what challenges they’ve had in prior classes or where things didn’t work so well, so that you can address some of those in designing your course, perhaps co-designing, or at least responding to, the students expressed concerns.

Caralyn: There’s so much information there, and it helps going back to building those relationships, they want to be able to talk about who they are, especially if they see that you’re responding to their feedback and changing something because of it. That models such awesome behavior.

John: And if you know some of the things your students are interested in, you can use that sometimes to design activities that may appeal to the specific mix of students you have in your class. So you’re not teaching to that generic student, you’re working with the actual students in your class,

Cynthia: You could design even the assessments around those students sitting in front of you.

Rebecca: What? [LAUGHTER] Tell me more about that.

Caralyn: When we get into assessment, and this is where, when we were writing and that was this collaborative writing process, where I learned so much from Julia, Karynne, and Cynthia about this, and I feel like assessment is the area where there’s so much I can do, personally in my own courses, but also where I look at like that’s where we can have some of the biggest impact because I think our assessment practices have not been well designed and we have done harm and we need to fix that. And I think we advocate for connected assessment. So assessments where they are aligned with learning outcomes, of course, but also working and designing for the whole student. So they’re holistic, they’re affirming, so we’re not trying to be punitive. We’re not trying to like here, let’s go in looking for those mistakes. But we’re looking at, “Hey, where’s the growth happening? Where’s the learning?” …and highlighting that, and being so much more focused on giving feedback and process, so, “Here’s how you’re going and here’s how you move forward” and not just like, “Okay, here’s the percentage and you should know what to do with that,” because it turns out most of us don’t. And being able to have authentic experiences, and the end, like was mentioned earlier, being really transparent. Having examples, having models, being really clear about “here are the steps.” Because if we have, “okay, here’s a project, you’re going to write a lab report,” but I don’t describe actually what goes into that, and what are the steps in how to do it, well, then I really shouldn’t be surprised when the final products are not awesome, because I didn’t provide enough scaffolding to get there. And this is someplace where I’m still doing a lot of work here thinking about my values in teaching and how if I’m looking at that, now, for me, it might be that reading table on the syllabus, like here’s where the points are, here’s where things are coming from. How does that align with my values? How does that align with the message that I want to send students? And where we can being as intentional there as possible, and talking to students about what is the message they’re getting, because what I am intending might not be what is being communicated. And then where we can, really thinking about and being open to taking a risk with some alternative grading strategies. Maybe it’s ungrading, maybe it’s specifications grading, but there are so many more resources and great smart people doing so much work in this area. And every single one I’ve ever talked to or reached out to is always super excited and willing to share their ideas and share what worked and what didn’t, because it can just really change the entire feeling in a classroom when we take away the power of grades, because they’ve really been used to stop learning and oppress in many cases. And if we get rid of that, it really opens up the space for some honest relationships.

Cynthia: Unfortunately, you have to end a book at a certain point and publish it, it turns out, and one of the things that we didn’t really get to talk a lot in the book about was ungrading. We got more into it right after the book came out. But that’s where having a website that goes along with the book has been such a great help, because we were able to put so many fantastic resources about ungraving or minimizing grades on that website. And that made me feel a lot better. Because for myself personally, getting involved with ungrading has been one of the most important things I’ve ever done for my teaching. No one told me it was going to change everything. [LAUGHTER] I thought it was just going to change one little piece, but it changed everything.

Karynne: One of the things that I’ve tried to do with the ungrading is to share with learners… mine’s a view, it’s not the only view… and I never want to be punitive with grading. If you feel like I’m punishing you with grades, please, we need to talk so that I can know more about your assets, know more about your desires, and help you head in the right direction not punish you because you don’t know something. It’s like that’s what learning is. And so that’s just been a practice of mine.

John: We’ll share a link to the website for the book in the show notes so that people can explore some of the additional resources there. One of the things you advocate throughout the book is the use of active learning approaches. But you also note that you should probably expect some pushback from students. What are some of the most effective ways of addressing the pushback from students who prefer learning by being lectured at so they can sit there passively without having to actively think about the content?

Karynne: One strategy actually you can use is to be upfront about it. So students in this course before when I’ve used these things, some of them really don’t like it, they’re very uncomfortable. So I just want to tell you that I’m aware of that. And that’s actually a point where I bring in that idea that I don’t wish to be punitive regarding assessment, you’re going to have as much say in this as I do. So the other thing is to share the the literature and the research. And again, since I primarily teach people who are going to be teachers, they really need to know about what the literature has to say, what the research has to say about learning. And it occurs when there’s some space between absolute comfort and absolute chaos or uncertainty. There’s going to be some uncertainty, so we always try to share that with learners as well so that they can go back and tap into that research. Another thing that we really try to do is to use self assessment and reflection as much as possible, so that you’re letting us know where are the ways that you are growing. I may not be aware of all the things that are changing in you and if you are able to inform me of that, that’s a much more informative approach, then, okay, I’m going to do all of the assessment. We had to learn this ourselves, [LAUGHTER] to start expecting the push back. And then they think that you don’t like them, because you’re not teaching the way that they prefer. And emphasizing that collective, how we’re all changing, how we’re all growing here, I think is another approach that you can take.

JULIA: I would also add just tapping into their lived experience of learning something new. And often they can really embody that if it’s not something about school. So like, are you good at tennis? What did it feel like when you first picked up a racket? Or did you try and learn something and give up on it? Why was that? So understanding that actually getting really good at something does have this period of discomfort before it becomes a regular part of your life so that you understand that that is actually getting you to a point where you’re going to be a different person and transformed.

Cynthia: A friend of mine noted that her students at first they said their fear was that the assessments weren’t going to match the activities in class. And so that made me think, oh, that’s probably something I need to say right up front is, this is what the assessments are going to look like. Here’s how what we’re doing in class is going to feed into that, because I can see where there may have been professors they had in the past, who taught in a way that was very active, but then assessed in a way that was very passive, and students might have had trouble making the match.

Rebecca: Well, there’s been so much great insight in this conversation today. So thank you so much for that. We always wrap up by asking: hat’s next?

JULIA: Well, that’s an exciting question for us. And I actually want to start by talking a little bit about how we ended the book, because a thread in the book that we haven’t talked too much about is really focusing on the educators identity development as an educator being a really critical piece of this whole journey. So what you’re putting together for students and doing for students may often feel like it’s just all work that’s flowing out of you. But also a very important part of that is your own development over time. And so our last chapter is called “Your turn, self and collective efficacy,” and it was really important to us to end by saying to educators, it’s important to think about who you are as an educator, and invest in yourself that way. So that’s one thing that I just wanted to put out there and make sure that people understood that that was a value for us. And in terms of what’s next for us is we are really, really, really excited about launching a course design institute that’s based on the book, which we’re going to host in August, it’s August 4th to 7th, it’s called “Learning that Matters: the Course Design Institute.”Iit’ll be here in Olympia, Washington, a really lovely place to be in August. And we’re at Evergreen State College, which is a College in the Woods, very beautiful. We have a farm and a beach. And, [LAUGHTER] I know, we’re very lucky. But the idea is to have an immersive collaborative environment to design or redesign the courses that you’re going to teach in the next fall. And to do that with people who are not necessarily at your institution. So to get a variety of voices and feedbacks. We’ll have a lot of time for you to work on your own, but also a lot of time to talk with people from different kinds of institutions who are working on different kinds of problems, teaching different kinds of courses, to build that interdisciplinary approach to the work that you are doing in your classroom and also help you build a wider community. So this is something we’re super, super excited about. And we will share that link with you so you can put it in the show notes. And then as a little bit of a teaser, we’re doing a free virtual workshop on May 9, this is at nine o’clock Pacific Time, which is noon Eastern time. It’s called Making Courses Memorable Beginning and Ending and I’m not going to say more about it because I want your curiosity be sparked there.

Cynthia: And of course, we’re also always happy to zoom in with people who are using the book for book clubs.

Rebecca: Well, thank you so much for joining us. We look forward to sharing this and encouraging folks to pick up your book.

Caralyn: Thank you.

JULIA: Thank you.

Karynne: Thank you

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

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

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