194. Minding Bodies

Visualize a classroom. Perhaps there’s a whiteboard in front with students seated. We tend not to think of the outdoors or students actively moving around or engaging all of their senses. In this episode, Susan Hrach joins us to explore embodied cognition and how we can leverage sensory input and physical space to support learning. Susan is the Director of the Faculty Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning and an English Professor at Columbus State University. Susan is the author of Minding Bodies: How Physical Space, Sensation, and Movement Affect Learning.

Shownotes

  • Hrach, S. (2021). Minding Bodies: How Physical Space, Sensation, and Movement Affect Learning. West Virginia University Press.
  • Verschelden, C. (2017). Bandwidth recovery: Helping students reclaim cognitive resources lost to poverty, racism, and social marginalization. Stylus Publishing, LLC.

Transcript

Rebecca: Visualize a classroom. Perhaps there’s a whiteboard in front with students seated. We tend not to think of the outdoors or students actively moving around or engaging all of their senses. In this episode, we explore embodied cognition and how we can leverage sensory input and physical space to support learning.

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[MUSIC]

John: Our guest today is Susan Hrach. Susan is the Director of the Faculty Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning and an English professor at Columbus State University. Susan is the author of the recently released Minding Bodies: How Physical Space, Sensation, and Movement affect Learning. Welcome back, Susan.

Susan: Thank you. I’m happy to be back.

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

Susan: I’m sorry to say that it’s already gotten hot here and I’m drinking a cold water straight from the fridge.

Rebecca: That sounds actually nice and refreshing.

Susan: It is. We keep cold, refillable glass bottles in the fridge to be able to grab.

Rebecca: Perfect. How about you, John?

John: Well, for the first time on this podcast, I believe, I’m drinking inced tea instead of regular tea. I’ve been in meetings since very early this morning and have not had a break to go down and heat up some water. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: I think you might have had iced tea one other time.

John: Possibly.

REBECC: I know we have a friend of the podcast who will let us know. Today I’m having English breakfast. So when we hear the word cognition, we tend to think of heads and brains and not necessarily the rest of our bodies. And in your book, Susan, Minding Bodies, you challenge the assumption by introducing us to the term embodied cognition. Can you define what you mean by embodied cognition for listeners and maybe introduce the six principles that your book is organized around?

Susan: Sure, yeah. So the way that I am defining embodied cognition is a recognition that your whole body and your immediate environment really play a role in your thinking process. So internally, your heart rate, your spikes of cortisol or endorphins, your digestive functioning, maybe externally, the position of your limbs and your posture, your prior experiences. And then most importantly, the level of bodily energy that you bring to any moment of perception is all simultaneously at work in cognition. So I read a lot of neuroscience, especially from the past couple of recent decades, is when the embodied cognition work has really taken off. And I came up with these six principles just to provide a framework for understanding it for me and for the book. So the first one is to recognize that our bodies are constantly moving, one scientist explains that we might more accurately think of ourselves like clouds or waves than objects. And because we’re constantly moving, our bodies try to conserve energy. And brains use a lot of energy. So that’s important for our efforts to conserve it. So the way that we partly conserve energy is by engaging affordances around us. So that’s tools, it can be other human beings. And then because we’re such social creatures, and we engage each other as affordances to our thinking, each of us affects each other’s ecosystems of thinking. We can directly affect the other person’s experience or perception of any given moment. The fifth one is that we construct knowledge through embodied experiences. And then last but not least, our bodies reward learning in a physiological way, we experience pleasure when we learn under the right condition.

John: Following up on that, you note that our brains have evolved to conserve energy by basing predictions on past observations, while ignoring most of the input being taken in by our senses. And how does that limit our ability to understand the world around us and to learn?

Susan: Yeah, that’s huge. So this whole default prediction mode was something that it took me a while to kind of revise my own prior understanding of how thinking operates. But basically, your brain is trying to conserve milliseconds of time predicting what it expects to happen next. And it will anticipate what it expects to happen in a way that is also able to override what does happen. So that explains why if you are at the scene of an accident, and different people have different accounts of what they saw, it’s because their brains are literally being shaped partly by what they expected to see. And that’s why some people can be so sure that they saw the witness holding a gun, but there was no gun. Those are all just reflections of the way that brains are not really reliable recorders of perceptions. So the way that you can override that default prediction network is basically to bring a huge amount of energy, bodily energy, to being present in the moment and being very open to your sensory perceptions and also just having enough energy to be really self aware about what you’re encountering. And so having the opportunity to explore something from a different perspective, to connect your prior knowledge to something new. Those are ways that you give yourself the best opportunity to be present in the moment and resist the pull of that default prediction network.

John: And that’s a useful skill, I think, for us all to acquire. And I think we’d have a much better political climate, if we could help everyone get free of those biases or help to escape some of those biases.

Susan: Yeah, you know, it’s really hard. I think it’s most important for us to just know about it and be aware of it. I don’t know that we can completely escape it. This is just how our brains are wired to work. But yeah, I mean, even this new development of like the deep fake news, it’s sort of based on our predictive brains, because we’re not paying close enough attention to the image to recognize the telltale signs of how it’s been faked. And so those attempts to persuade people are relying on the fact that our brains are willing to just jump over the step of being as observant as possible.

Rebecca: In the first chapter of your book, you focus a lot on physical space and how space impacts learning. And you open by noting that a student in a college class is expected to spend about 112.5 hours sitting down and you use the phrase “sitting is the new smoking.” Can you explain to our listeners why we should reconsider this?

Susan: Yeah, sure. And I can’t recall exactly how I came up with the 112.5 hours, I suspect I might have gone to the accrediting body’s site in which, you know, they list seat time… isn’t that a terrible phrase?

Rebecca: A very terrible phrase. [LAUGHTER]

John: We should note that while we’re recording this, you are standing to get around this.

Susan: I am, and Rebecca…

Rebecca: Me too. Me too.

Susan: And Rebecca too. That’s right, Yeah, you can find articles about this pretty much every day in the popular press. I’ve stopped saving them, because there’s no point in having it in 500 different places. But the bottom line is, especially in the past 40 years, 50 years, we’ve engineered movement out of our lives in a way that’s been really detrimental to health, even if you get a really intense workout at the gym once during the day, that’s not enough to override the whole day of sitting. And so I don’t like the word exercise as much as movement, because exercise implies that like, “Okay, we’re going to set aside this special time to do this special activity.” And really, what would be better for our overall health is just to get a lot more movement worked into just our ordinary activities. So that’s because human beings evolved over all of these years up until the last 40 or 50, to spend a lot of time walking, moving, being outside, having the normal hours of daylight, kind of regulate our sleep patterns, eating a wide variety of foods that are natural. And so we’ve changed all of that in the not too distant past. And in order to recapture some of that conditions for human health, you have to be a little bit of a weirdo these days, you have to resist the car, you have to say “Actually, I’m going to purposely make myself take the stairs, or I’m going to use my body to transport myself from one place to another,” and it’s countercultural. But if we do work in more ways to move around as ordinary part of our day, our whole health, and therefore our brain health will be more resilient. And they’re just learning about the ways that that impacts our overall aging and resistance to disease, as well.

Rebecca: As a residential campus that’s got a lot of green space and walking space. I know one thing that both faculty and students really missed during the pandemic was walking from building to building, maybe not during snowstorms. But on a nice day, we had a lot of walking in our daily lives and had to find a way to do that when we were working remotely. But now I think a lot of us have been working remotely and found ways to do that, like maybe taking a break from the screen by taking a quick walk or folding some laundry or doing some other things that get your body moving as a part of the work day that I think we’ll all need to be thinking about as we head back in the fall. And just think about how to keep movement or reintroduce movement, [LAUGHTER]

Susan: Yeah.

Rebecca: …whatever the case may be, depending on the circumstances you were in when you were working more remotely.

Susan: That’s right, Rebecca, and I’m glad that you mentioned that just because the environment is not all about just your personal choices that we’ve also paved over the universe, and, [LAUGHTER] in the case of campuses that are not residential, made it really difficult to get around using your own bodily effort. And maybe you’re living in a place where it’s not very conducive. There aren’t sidewalks or safe places to walk in. Those are the harder, longer term challenges that we face as sort of reversing the way that the past half century has engineered movement out of our lives.

John: Yeah, and I’ve been thinking myself that one of the reasons why so many of us have Zoom fatigue is we don’t have those little walking breaks. I know when I’m teaching in a large class, I often use a step counter. And I often would get in a mile, or a mile and a half of walking during an hour and 20 minute class period. But then I was thinking, I was doing that, but those students were stuck in those seats. What can we do to give our students more opportunities to benefit from more motion, rather than just asking him to sit in place constantly.

Susan: Um hmm. That’s right. And I’m so glad that you raised that point, too, because we are the lucky ones, we’ve got freedom of movement in the classroom. And you’re right, your experience of getting all of those steps in during class, I think, is the experience of lots of faculty, and that blinds us to the fact that nobody else in the room has had the opportunity to get those steps. So really, if we can use any opportunities to get students moving around, that’s the ideal use of the space. If we can change up the arrangement of the furniture and get them to help, that’s giving them a chance to be up and about. If we can change their whole experience of the space by leaving the classroom on occasion that will help them to be more alert and give them a little bit of bandwidth recovery. So you’re probably familiar with this bandwidth concept that Cia Verschelden has used in her book: Bandwidth Recovery. It has to do with basically giving students the opportunity to be mindful of how much energy it takes to be a learner and give them opportunities to recover bandwidth that’s getting sucked up by other things, whenever we have the opportunity. Another thing I would suggest is open the blinds in your room. So how many times do we go into a classroom and someone has turned it into a cave, because they needed it to be very dark for the PowerPoint? And so be a stealth natural light provider by resisting the shut blinds, and, if your windows open, open your windows. Fresh air is a wonderful thing to have in a classroom.

Rebecca: So Susan, what about some of the spaces I teach in that have no windows? [LAUGHTER]

Susan: Right, exactly…

Rebecca: That’s where they put all those computer people… in the basement of buildings. [LAUGHTER]

Susan: Yes. Well, I started sending to our print shop pictures that I’ve taken with my phone camera that are of trees and sky and outdoor scenes. And I just get them to blow them up and put them on foam board and hang them as sort of pretend windows, and people comment on it all the time. “Ooh, that’s so beautiful.” When I say “Right, yep, not expensive, not hard.” But it really changes the feel of a room to at least have an image, a beautiful natural landscape, on the walls.

Rebecca: I’ve had the opportunity to teach quite a few classes where we’ve had travel abroad components where we are doing place-based learning and really being able to be outside and walking around and really using our full set of senses. In fact, one of the classes I co-taught with a colleague of mine, Chris McEvoy, the whole framework of the class was around the five senses in India.

Susan: Awesome.

Rebecca: …which was amazing.

Susan: Yeah.

Rebecca: But then I think about classes like my web design class and think “Hmm, I would really love to get around.” So as I’ve read your book, I’ve been brainstorming ways to break down those ideas. But one of the things that we do when we have these travel classes is often alert students to things that they don’t expect, because we’re so used to sitting in a classroom and not moving. So we say things like “there’s a lot of walking, there’s stairs, there’s heights,” all these things that we have to alert students to because they’re not expecting it in a learning situation. So when we start thinking about these embodied experiences, what are some things that we need to do to prepare students and to make sure that students who may have mobility limitations that might not be visible, for example, or maybe someone who’s really sensitive to the sun, there could be all kinds of things that we’re not thinking about, how do we make sure that everyone’s going to be able to participate or be included in these embodied experiences?

Susan: So this is a really important question. And I’ve thought a lot about it too, because inclusivity is so important. And I would say, as a blanket statement, no activity is so valuable that it would override the need for inclusivity. So, that’s first priority, but my approach to movement in the classroom is more in line with UDL, universal design for learning, principles than trying to create extra work for the accessibility office by providing three more things that students need to ask for accommodations for. I really would not want to do that. So every activity that you plan really should have options. You should think it through really carefully, walk it through if you can, be able to describe really transparently and well in advance what to expect. And then think about options. And I needed to do this even for new faculty orientation, because you never know when somebody has twisted their ankle the day before, and they show up with crutches, or somebody who is in their last trimester of pregnancy. There’s just all sorts of things that affect our mobility, that we need to be able to plan for people to participate in whatever way that will be manageable for them. So options, I think, are the key thing. As you get to know your students in your class, you will find out whether there’s somebody who has a really significant reason to not be able to go outside, for example, or that we need to really give plenty of time for this person to be able to move outside of the classroom or even inside of the classroom, I think an atmosphere of respect and encouragement and the way that you build community with your students. Those are all things that should be the bigger context of any activity that you plan, so that it doesn’t become a source of exclusivity in any way, but just something to negotiate, and something to discuss together to figure out what will work. And the other aspect, I would say that’s important here, and I get this from the Faculty Development Center at the University of Pacific where Leslie Bayers and Lott Hill have been doing really great work for years in embodied kinds of faculty development, is to be really clear about the difference between things that are uncomfortable, and things that are unsafe. So they say sitting on a blanket in the grass may, for you, think about this… is it uncomfortable in a way that you could stretch a little bit to try to imagine how this might be an experience that will be okay for you? Or is it actually unsafe, for whatever reason? And that distinction might be important for students, because you’re right, a lot of them as you said, this is not what they expect from a college class. So they need some time to absorb it and to know what to expect.

Rebecca: Susan, do you introduce any of these ideas in your syllabus, for example, or introduce how you might use movement in the class on the first day.

Susan: I do I do. So I started including under the material list, an old towel or blanket, and I tell them why I prefer days where we might be going outside. I haven’t had anybody say that that was objectionable, or that that was going to be a problem. In fact, a lot of them said, “Oh, I don’t need to sit on anything, I’m fine on the grass.” So that gives them just the opportunity to know that if you feel like you’re not gonna want to sit directly on the grass and you bring something you don’t care about getting dirty to sit on. The other thing that I’ve done just this past semester with my class that was mostly online, is that I spent the first night.. we actually did a guided meditation the first night. And so I spent a while telling them that we were going to begin each class with contemplative practices and why, and that I wanted them to feel like they had the opportunity to transition from whatever crazy things were going on in their lives outside of this class to being fully in the moment and present. And that I was very aware of the way that the pandemic has been stressful for all of us, and that I wanted to give them a chance and some space and time to regain some serenity, some quiet, some ability to reflect and that I had done this research to show that their learning would be enhanced. It would be more smoothly facilitated if they were given the opportunity to quiet their busy brains and prepare for the rest of the class just by taking five or 10 minutes at the beginning to do something a little unorthodox. And they were totally receptive. Nobody said, “This is weird. I’m not doing it.” I mean, they immediately were game to kind of close their eyes and listen to the recording of the guided meditation. And there was one student [LAUGHTER] who came in a little bit late that night and we’re all sitting there with our eyes closed in complete silence. And I thought, well, this has got to be an interesting moment, you know… [LAUGHTER] …walking into a class on the first night and the professor and everyone else are just sitting there quietly with their eyes closed, but I was able to explain to him what we were doing afterwards, and they were cool with it.

Rebecca: On the same idea, Susan, I was doing a lot of warm up drawing activities and things in my design classes at the start of class during the pandemic and students really noted how helpful that was for the same reason, to refocus or get into the space of the class and allow them to stop thinking about all the things going around them. So I got a lot of feedback at the end of the semester. about that.

Susan: Oh, that’s great. I think a lot of us have recognized in the virtual environment that you just really have to find a way to begin that is the icebreaker activity almost every time. Like you’ve got to make that transition somehow,

John: As we move into the fall, we’re moving into a situation that’s very different, where many students have not been in the classroom, and people who are going to be sophomores may not even have been on the campus that they were enrolled in. What can we do in our classes in the fall to take advantage of some of the notions of embodied cognition to help our students be successful as they transition into a new environment?

Susan: Well, I would say if you have the opportunity, as you’re planning your fall syllabi, to plan a couple of experiences that would be connected to your content, and perhaps involve taking your students somewhere else on campus than your classroom. That would be one really interesting thing to experiment with. If you have the opportunity to take them to somewhere on campus, that’s even more exciting. But of course, the logistics and the resources might be more time intensive. The other thing people might consider for this fall is having… and again, the natural sciences and the arts are so lucky in that all of their disciplinary work is lab or studio enhanced as well. But for those who don’t have a normal lab or studio as part of their disciplinary context, can you create that inside of your own classroom? Can you bring some objects to explore and have students touch and move around with or draw, for example, smell maybe, in a way that you haven’t tried before. That would give them a really hands-on sensory experience with an object that your discipline values, or here’s another inside of the classroom idea. If you haven’t used those giant sticky pads that you can just stick on the wall, the sheet-size paper with markers, or if you have access, maybe through your Center for Teaching and Learning, to portable whiteboards that you can pass out to each student or just a couple of students per whiteboard, can you think of just one new activity you might try in your classroom that would have them using those tools. So those are affordances for learning, and they give students some sort of more tactile experience that will help the learning to be experienced in an embodied way. I do believe that students are more willing to jot down tentative ideas or be more just free with their initial ideas with whiteboards because they’re just so easily erased, that it feels a little bit safer to go ahead and just jot some things down.

John: We’ve been through this experience where most classes were taught virtually, but it’s likely some of that’s going to be continuing as we move into what we hope to be a post-pandemic future. How can you take advantage of some of these concepts of embodied cognition when you’re teaching students virtually say with either asynchronous courses or synchronous remote classes?

Susan: Right? So I imagine that others have read these pieces about Zoom fatigue. And this is great because the people who work in cognitive psychology have been trying to figure out why is it so tiring for us to be on Zoom all the time, recognize that human beings are not really accustomed to staring straight into each other’s eyeballs, uninterruptedly. This is exhausting for us. And then they also recognize that we are not used to staring at our own faces for hours and hours, and that’s super distracting, and also exhausting. And so I think we’re adopting some new practices that recognize what was a little unnatural about the virtual meeting, the fact that we need a break from looking at ourselves that maybe, I think, some of the platforms now have even adjusted so that the default setting is for you and your little square to be minimized, which is helpful. But just to recognize that it’s important for us to have a break from staring into each other’s eyeballs and planning moments to say, “Please turn your cameras off, because we’re now going to have a little stretch break. And I’ll guide you through twisting in your chair, touching your toes, doing a little bit of chair yoga so that we can bring our attention back to the conversation here.” Those are things that we might now recognize as important to do in synchronous meetings. I think there’s also some attention we could pay in the online universe to space. So students should know that their space matters, the place where they’re learning remotely is worth paying attention to. I think it would be great at the opening of an online asynchronous class, there could be like a special assignment to prepare the space where you’re going to be primarily engaging with the course. Can you think about what will make it a more productive happy space for you? What are you staring at? Where’s the desk facing? Can you change up the arrangement of the room in a way that will make it feel more pleasant for you? Or is there somewhere else you might go outside of your house? And how can you make it into the most pleasant kind of learning space for you? And that has to do with relatively superficial things? Can you think about the fresh air in the room? Do you need to make your bed? Are there ways that you can have that space, give your brain the best opportunity to function. And then also, I think the opportunity to get your students away from the screen through activities and assignments that you design to be done elsewhere is just a really worthwhile thing to try. If you can assign podcasts and tell them, specifically, “I want you to not sit and stare at the computer while you’re listening to this, I want you to do some chores, or take a walk or do something else that requires movement so that you can be absorbing this audio experience while you’re moving your body, and tell them why. Because this is often an opportunity for your brain to be more alert and awake and absorb the material in a different way than it would if you were just sitting and vulnerable to opening three more tabs and doing other things.”

Rebecca: There’s one thing that was sprinkled throughout your book that I was really happy to see but also a really important thing to pay attention to. And that was you open today talking about how all of our systems are kind of connected to cognition and the digestive system and all of these things. So students who might be going hungry are not having nourishment or not having warm clothes to go outside and these other things. So I was wondering if you could just talk a little bit about some of these other barriers that students might be facing that are impacting their sensory experience and their embodied experience while they’re learning?

Susan: Yes, absolutely. And I think the number one problem there is sleep deprivation. And so a couple of years ago, we had Roxanne Prichard, from the Center for College Sleep come and give a talk to faculty and staff and also students and coaches at the beginning of the year. And people have told me,I’m not exaggerating, that that changed their lives, because it was so shocking to learn how much we really disadvantage ourselves and our own ability to function best by getting too little sleep. If we prioritize the need for sleep in order for our whole bodies and our brains to function at our best, it really matters. It makes a difference. It improves your performance so that you are able to do things more quickly and more accurately, and you save time that you maybe thought you were needing by getting less sleep. So setting your assignment deadlines at like 5 pm instead of midnight, sends a signal to students that you value, their ability to wind down and sleep in the evening and telling them there’s some great infographics and things availabl… I have a reference to this in my book as well… that will share with them exactly how sleep impacts their cognitive functioning and can impact their grades. I think there’s even been some SOTL work that shows how students GPAs were affected when they change their sleep habits. So that’s one thing. And then of course, their nutrition is another thing. And this is again, you got to be really kind of countercultural, like it’s so easy to just feed them pizza all the time and donuts and soda and what’s in the vending machine on your campus. And you really have to be assertive and challenging to get the whole campus to recognize this is really working against our main mission, which is to help support brain growth. And so we could have trail mix in the vending machines instead of just potato chips and doughnuts. That would be a step.

Rebecca: What’s easy for me as an art and design faculty member to think about how to have [LAUGHTER] embodied experiences in class and how to use our senses. But I don’t think that’s so obvious to faculty and some other disciplines. Can you talk about some ways to use the senses or to have more movement in maybe spaces that aren’t so obvious?

Susan: Yeah, well, I think one of the things that we need to do is just be willing to absorb the notion of flexibility. So even just on the recent past years, I remember looking at some of these designs for active learning spaces where they had a bunch of not uniform furniture. It was like “oh, here’s a grouping of stools and high top tables and here’s some sofas.” And I use a lot of group work, and I kept thinking like, how could I do that unless there’s round tables that each have four or five chairs around them. That’s messing with my sense of what my primary mode of delivery is. And then I had to sort of gradually come around to recognizing that people really like choice and options, and they like to be able to choose where they are in a space and how their perspective is. And there’s really no reason that groups need to be sitting in uniform spaces with exactly the same tables and chairs. You can still have groups and let them choose whether they want to sit on the floor, or perch on sofa arms, or be in some space that doesn’t have uniform furniture, and it will be okay. In fact, they might like it more, because they’ve got this choice and variety in their learning experience. There’s just these tiny things about the space that we inhabit that can help to make the experience feel a little bit different in any discipline. But there’s also practices that might be familiar to people like the concept of the gallery walk or stations where you’ve got them moving around the room to contribute to different pieces of the content on different walls of the space. And those have been recommended as active learning practices for a while now, because they’re opportunities for students to be interacting, but embodied cognition explains in a new way, why they work, it’s because you’re getting people up and moving around. And so I think any faculty member in a discipline, even that has not traditionally been as focused on sensory experiences or movement or objects, it just needs to reflect on what made you fall in love with that discipline yourself. Was it the smell of the books? Was it the handling of the special objects that might seem sort of mundane, like some sort of a measuring tool or something that we wouldn’t necessarily think of as being especially exciting, but offers a more tactile kind of way into understanding the concepts. I think individual faculty members are going to come up with their own really creative ways of figuring out how to bring students into a more direct experience with the thing itself that gets them so excited.

Rebecca: That sounds like a key piece is moving away from just always being so conceptual in our heads and just into some sort of physical realm or space.

Susan: It’s true. And I think part of what we excel at in higher ed is conceptual and abstract thinking and this is why we have achieved advanced degrees and become disciplinary experts, because we’ve moved into this conceptual and abstract realm with our disciplines that we’re now prepared for, because we have also moved through other encounters with our discipline that might have been more embodied. But we didn’t necessarily acknowledge or recognize them in that way. And I think of one of my early experiences in graduate school. And this is going to date me for the technology, but was working with the microfiche or the microfilm. Do you remember those? And it was like this big giant… [LAUGHTER] it was like an X-ray machine or something, you put your head in there. And you have to get the reel from the special library container and put it in and figure out the movement controls to be able to see the thing magnified. And I remember telling my professor, it was a little bit like time travel because you could kind of get lost in these really old documents that were suddenly blown up in front of your face. And she said to me, “Ah, you’re in the right place. You belong here.” I mean, that was a fantastic response for her because I was just thinking, “well, I guess I’m some kind of weirdo. [LAUGHTER] I liked the microfiche.” But that was a very embodied experience of the text for me. And as I got to be more credentialed, I was able to go to archives and actually handle these rare objects myself. And that was like sensory explosion because it was just so exciting to be able to touch these old, old things and see the handwriting and it was transforming.

John: Well, I guess the challenge for us is how we can create experiences like that for our students who may not have those microfilm readers or access some of those objects.

Susan: Yeah, and I think the library, the museum, the archives, the places on your campus, where we don’t normally think of them as classroom spaces. These are the places we need to be taking our students.

Rebecca: So we always end by asking: “What’s next?

Susan: So I should say, I’m really enjoying just having readers at this point and being able to have conversations like this one, because you spend a long time thinking about all of these things in writing and trying to carefully craft the whole message so that somebody will be listening to it. I’m not really looking ahead to a new book or anything, because I’m just enjoying the conversations that are arising from this one at the moment. But I am, and we’ve talked about this briefly the last time I was on the podcast, continuing to pursue a certification in coaching. And so I’ve got a course I’m taking this weekend in somatic coaching, or using embodied principles to help people be able to have a felt sense of the change that they might want to make in their lives, or how they’re in touch with what they know and what they’re figuring out about, where where they are and where they want to go. I’m really excited about that.

Rebecca: It’ll be interesting to see how that work ties with your embodied cognition work, moving forward.

Susan: Yeah. And I feel like I have such a good grounding now in the science of it, that I’m just really excited to hear from other people who have been practicing what that looks like in a one-on-one conversation. What do they actually ask the person who’s being coached to do with their body or to tune into, so I feel like my brain is rushing ahead and predicting, but I’m going to be open.

John: Excellent. Well, thank you. It’s been great talking to you again, and I’ve really enjoyed reading your book.

Susan: Well, thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to reach a broader audience and just to talk through some of these ideas, because they are, in some ways, really common sense and in other ways, sort of a radical new way of looking at them.

Rebecca: Yeah, I’m looking forward to processing your book as I’m thinking about my fall classes.

Susan: That’s great.

[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.

[MUSIC]

193. Making Team Projects Work

The ability to work effectively in teams is a skill that is highly valued by the employers of college graduates. Group projects in college classes, though, are not always designed to develop teamwork skills. In this episode, Lauren Vicker and Tim Franz join us to discuss strategies that we can use to create group activities that help students develop their teamwork skills while addressing complex problems. Lauren is a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Media and Communication at St. John Fisher College. Tim is a Professor and Interim Chair in the Psychology Department, also at St. John Fisher College. They are the authors of Making Team Projects Work: A Resource for High School and College Educators, which was released earlier this year.

Shownotes

Transcript

John: The ability to work effectively in teams is a skill that is highly valued by the employers of college graduates. Group projects in college classes, though, are not always designed to develop teamwork skills. In this episode, we explore strategies that we can use to create group activities that help students develop their teamwork skills while addressing complex problems.

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[MUSIC]

John: Our guests today are Lauren Vicker and Tim Franz. Lauren is a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Media and Communication at St. John Fisher College. Tim is a Professor and Interim Chair in the Psychology Department, also at St. John Fisher College. They are the authors of Making Team Projects Work: A Resource for High School and College Educators, which was just released earlier this year. Welcome Lauren and Tim.

Lauren: Thank you.

Tim: Thanks for having us.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are…. Lauren, Are you drinking tea?

Lauren: I am drinking tea. I am drinking Trader Joe’s Moroccan mint green tea, one of my favorites.

Rebecca: That sounds like something John would rock. [LAUGHTER]

John: I actually have a backup tea here which is Moroccan mint, but it’s a different brand.

Tim: …and Wegmans decaf green for me.

Rebecca: It’s a good one. Wegotta have the Wegmans on…

John: Wegmans has a wonderful collection of teas, especially in the larger stores. And I have ginger peach green tea.

Rebecca: …and I am back to my good old English afternoon, John.

John: It’s been a year. I think you only had that once on the podcast in the last year or so.

Rebecca: Yeah, yeah, I know. I was thinking like, I haven’t been drinking it very often. I need to get back to it.

John: Well, we have six boxes of it still in the office for when we return.

Rebecca: I have six boxes in this office too. [LAUGHTER]

John: So, you should be set for the week.

Rebecca: I’m good. I’m good.

Tim: I took all my tea home last August, because I knew it would be a while. I did finish all the office tea.

Rebecca: It’d be hard for us to do that.

John: We have hundreds of teas in the office, so yes. We’ve invited you here to discuss Making Team Projects Work. Could you tell us a little bit about how this project got started?

Tim: Yeah, this was an interesting project, because it’s really been something that Lauren and I have been talking about for years. When I first started here back in 2000, at St. John Fisher, we realized pretty quickly that we offer two similar courses, one in small group communication that Lauren was offering and one in small group dynamics that we were offering in psychology. And so what we did was merge the courses. And then we started team teaching it and have been team teaching for about 20 years together. Over the time of our team teaching, we realized that we were going way beyond with our team projects than most of our peers, most of our colleagues at St. John Fisher. And we realized that a lot of people don’t know all the details about running a team project. So, we wrote the book.

Rebecca: Sometimes students complain about group projects. There’s a lot of strengths and benefits, but also some reasons to maybe not do group projects. So can you talk a little bit about both some of the benefits and some of the weaknesses of doing group projects.

Lauren: So one of the best reasons came out last week in Inside Higher Ed a story about a survey that was done by a AAC&U (American Association of Colleges and Universities) where they surveyed 500 employers, CEOs, and hiring managers, and asked them about the top skills that they were looking for in their new hires. And number one, a top skill turned out to be ability to work in teams. So we really need to be preparing our students for the workplace. And that’s one of the best reasons to use a group project. It’s also a much better way to engage students while they are in the classroom. Get them involved, have them work with other people, give them some of those professional skills that they need, and also keeps them more engaged than say, listening to a passive lecture. So there are a lot of reasons why people don’t use group projects. And it is a lot of work to set up a group project, and to do it well. A lot of faculty think about group projects as a way that they can minimize their workload. So what they’ll do is they’ll take an individual project that they might give to students, and just turn it over to a group and say, “Here, do this.” Give it out. And then you don’t hear anything until the end of the semester or close to the time when the project is due. And that is definitely not the way to do it. And so what we’re proposing is that people follow a very systematic process. And we actually have a model that shows how you can walk through each of the steps and be able to turn what might be an individual project into a really good team project.

Tim: Rebecca, there are other reasons why faculty think you shouldn’t run group projects… for example, student complaints, sometimes you get some pretty serious student complaints about a project, or the problem with so many projects and so many team projects, especially, is social loafing, where one person just sits back and lets the other do it, or conflict, or all these other problems that teams can run into. But the reality is that the well designed team project can help to minimize a lot of those problems, especially if the faculty member uses a structured process, such as we suggest in our book, where there’s lots of steps involved, and the faculty members are checking in regularly with the team. Now, the other problem is that does take a little more work. But with good planning and practice, team projects can be really effective.

Rebecca: I’m certainly an advocate for collaborative work. I do a lot of team projects in my own classes and know there are a lot of planning things to do at the beginning. Can you outline some of the key things to think about before introducing a collaborative project to your students,

Lauren: We talk about an input-output model. So let’s start maybe with the inputs to the group. A lot of people think that they can, as we said before, just take an individual project and make it a team project. So attention to the task is really important. And we can talk about that more if you want to talk about what makes a good team task. But also, the people are a huge input. And one of the biggest mistakes that faculty make is allowing students to choose their own teams and just to say, “Okay, everybody break up in groups of four, or five, or six,” and go ahead and do it. And that is the worst way to do it. Because you are not going to get any heterogeneity, you’re not going to get people with diverse viewpoints and experiences, people are just going to be working with their friends. And the final input is actually the context. A lot of people overlook that, but it depends on what kinds of experiences do students have with working in teams. And there are some colleges and universities that have a lot of teamwork going on, and others that are still using a lot of lecture-based sage-on the-stage type of teaching. And so if the culture of the school isn’t used to doing teams, or if you don’t even have a physical setup for teams, where people are in kind of an amphitheater classroom, and it’s hard to move around into groups, all of those things can actually thwart it. And you have to also consider what else is going on at the time. So those of us who were using teams when the pandemic hit know exactly the challenges that that entails. So what we find is that you have to start at that very beginning in the planning… on planning your task and planning the people who are going to be there and then looking at the context that you’re going to be considering.

Tim: If I can follow up on one thing, Lauren, this idea of picking your own teams that so many people, and in our presentations, we’ve gotten some pushback on this, that “Oh, the students love picking their own teams.” But number one, and we’ve seen this in our class, and we both seen it separately. Sometimes friendships break apart in those teams, because the friends realize they have very different working styles and get very frustrated with one another. And then the other problem with letting people pick their own teams is the elementary school kickball on the playground problem where somebody is the last to get picked. And honestly, I had somebody in tears in my class a couple of years ago, when I did a very short project and decided I don’t have time to do all that. And the person didn’t get picked until very last. And that was awful. And this is not the way we want people in college to be picking their teams. When they get out in the workplace, they’re not picking their own teams there either.

John: I’ve had a similar experience when I’ve used group projects in my classes, and students will always say, “Can we make our own groups?” And what I’ve done the last several times I’ve done it, and it’s worked really effectively, is to ask them how they knew each other. These are upper-level classes, primarily, where I’m doing this. And they’ll say, “Well, we’ve taken a lot of classes together.” I said, “So we’d like to have teams where everyone has a good mix of experience on all the teams. But if you know these people because you’ve taken a lot of classes with them, that means you’ve probably taken more courses in the discipline than other people have. So if we put everyone together who has the most background in the material, we won’t get as much diversity in the group, but we’ll also end up with some teams having some really rich backgrounds in the discipline, and others having a somewhat weaker background. And that may not be the most equitable way of creating teams.” And once you say that to students, you get much more buy in and they’ll generally accept it. And then I’ll often ask them, “What might we use as a criteria to balance the teams?” …and they’ve come up with some good suggestions. And that’s worked pretty well.

Lauren: You’re absolutely right, John. We’re a really big fan of the team-based learning approach to forming teams, which is: make the criteria very transparent. So if you say “I don’t want you with people that you’ve had two or three classes with,” or “I don’t want you with people who are in the same major or at the same level,” that’s great. We’ve done a number of different things. Sometimes faculty can pick the criteria as you have done, John, other times I know Tim has used a questionnaire that he’s had students fill out like a self assessment of their skills, and then he’ll put the teams together that way and tell the students this is how you were put together. I actually had one class where I did let them pick the criteria, or suggest the criteria, and I said “That sounds like a good idea. Let’s give it a try.” And when we put the teams together, we realized that they were perfectly balanced. And it was one of the best TBL classes that I had. And when we went online during the pandemic, it was almost seamless, because the teams had already really been formed, and they had an identity, and they’d had successes together. And so it was a really great way to do it. So we’re a huge advocate of not letting students pick their own teams,.

Tim: …and letting it be that transparent process. That transparent process is so important.

John: I’ve used a Google form in the classroom, where, when it’s in the classroom, where it’s displayed on the screen, they submit their responses, I’ll sort them from highest to lowest according to that criteria, and just go down the list assigning the teams 1-2-3-4, etc., and it’s worked really well. And another nice thing about it is when the teams are formed with this sort of criteria, instead of by social network, the team has been created for a specific purpose and they tend, when they’re working together, to focus on their purpose, rather than talking about what they’re going to do that weekend and other things. I found that the students tend to be much more on task when the teams were created to be balanced, separate from any friendship relationships. They tend to separate it from the social networks that otherwise might tend to dominate some of the discussions when they’re in a physical classroom. The groups have been really productive that way.

Tim: That’s a fabulous point.

Rebecca: Yeah, I’ve had very similar experiences in my classes as well. I tend to have a lot of different majors that come together and so I often use that as one way of dividing up the differences of experience for these collaborative projects, and it tends to work out well, and they tend not to know each other, as a result. [LAUGHTER]

Tim: Well, and then on certain teams, Lauren, I don’t think you even know this, but two of the students in our last class, our last group dynamics class, are now the closest of friends. And they didn’t know each other before a class, so that division can actually open up the doors to new friendships as well.

Rebecca: One of the things that you talk about in your book, and this seems like a good moment to bring it up, is that teams need to form and get to know each other, understand the project, understand what each member’s expertise might be, what the tasks are at hand, and also a need for someone to kind of step into a facilitator role. We might call it a leader, we might call it a facilitator, whatever that might be, can you talk about how to make that process go smoothly? …because if that process doesn’t happen, as you indicate in your book, the team doesn’t work, because nothing ever gets done. [LAUGHTER]

Tim: Right. And the team can take so much longer to get to a level of performance. When we talk about team performance, the key theory of development is Tuckman, where most people have heard this… that forming, storming, norming, and performing… and we want to get our class projects right into that performing stage as quickly as possible, and a team charter can do that. And in that team charter, it’s allowing the team to create some guidelines. In those guidelines should be things like attendance and deadlines, how to deal with conflict, the levels of participation that they expect from one another, their communication standards and rotating responsibilities, as you said, Rebecca, who’s going to be taking notes at the meeting, who’s going to be facilitating the meeting, when is each person going to be taking the lead on each thing, meeting times and places and then even things like decision rules and ways to solve problems when they occur. Those are all things that we encourage our teams to develop upfront ahead of time so those discussions are productive, rather than during a time of conflict.

Lauren: And if some people think that a team charter is too formal, we’ve actually had the class as a whole agree on: What are the norms for the class? How are we going to run this class? …kind of giving them ownership. And we have all the teams get together and generate different rules for the class and then we post them up on our course management system. And so when there’s an issue, we say, “Hey, look, we said that people were going to answer any texts or email within 24 hours, or within 12 hours, or everybody was going to show up prepared to meetings.” So we can actually point to those. But I want to back up before we actually start the team charter, we are huge fans of icebreaker exercises. And I know one of the things that we had the luxury of doing in group dynamics was we were teaching about groups, so we could spend a lot of time talking about these issues. However, most faculty have content that they need to cover. I also teach a course in the Wegmans School of Pharmacy and I know how much content people in the sciences and the humanities… they have so much to cover. They don’t really have a lot of time to talk about the group dynamics. And so they might assume that just because you’re working on a team project, you’re learning to work in a team, but we really want the teams to be able to do some icebreaker exercises in the beginning, even if it’s just fun stuff, you know, like what do you binge watching? What kind of pets do you have? Where are you from? …just getting to know each other. We think that that is hugely important. Just to get to know each other on a personal level, and then they get a little bit more ownership of the team. So while John’s right that not knowing people may be good and make you a little more task oriented, you still have to be concerned about all the people. And we know that, like this past year, a lot of students have really suffered from some anxiety and mental health issues. So we want them to feel comfortable talking to the group when they need to, we think that that is an important piece. So starting with that, and then they can constructively work together on that team charter.

Rebecca: To take one of those icebreaker activities that I’ve done in my classes that’s been really fun is to design an emoji. Of course, I teach a design class, so it’s related, but the students have had a lot of fun doing that activity, but it immediately gets them figuring out a way to work together and just talk a little more socially. So it’s kind of a task to do, it doesn’t really matter what the outcome is.

Tim: Some of the best icebreakers are actually relevant to the course or relevant to the team project. If you can make them relevant, they’re even better. And so I think that’s a perfect one.

Lauren: Yeah, emojis or I have them design a logo for their team… come up with a team name, and then a logo, and in the olden days, I would print up the logo and put it on their team folder. Now we have to do that virtually. [LAUGHTER]

John: One of the issues that, as you mentioned before, often shows up for students in terms of past experience with groups, are those people who may be sharking. In your book several times you mentioned the student named Fred. Could you tell us a little bit about Fred and how to deal with students like Fred.

Tim: Fred is actually a real student. This was not a hypothetical story. I think we embellish a little, but you saw us both laugh when you mentioned, Fred.

Rebecca: I think I’ve met Fred. [LAUGHTER]

John: I think we’ve all met Fred. [LAUGHTER]

Lauren: So again, we go back to what’s happening with this project? What is Fred doing or not doing? What has the team decided on their norms, or their roles for the team? And what are the sanctions for someone who is social loafing and not pulling their weight in the team? And one of the things that we talk about extensively, and this is also a big part of team-based learning, is peer evaluations. People who are not doing what they’re supposed to be doing on the team should be getting feedback from each other, and not just at the end of the project. Very often, we wait to the end, and we say, “team evaluations.” And all of a sudden it says, “Wait, Rebecca didn’t show up for any of the meetings. John wasn’t prepared for the presentation.” We need to know that along the way, and we recommend check-ins frequently with the groups. So we spend time informally checking in with the teams, meaning just wandering around the class or, if they’re in breakout rooms, popping into the breakout rooms to see what they’re doing, or actually having formal check-in times. We’ve sometimes given surveys to the class to find out how things are going, sometimes we make them anonymous. So we find out where are you on the project? How is everybody doing? And other times we ask them to specifically evaluate the contributions of each member. Another thing that we’ve done in the past is actually set up Google folders for all of the teams with instructor access. And that way we tell them, “Okay, everything that you do is going to go into that Google folder.” So the instructor has a way of looking in and saying, “Fred, it’s been three weeks, and you have put nothing into the Google folder, what’s going on?” So we can talk to the teams individually, but also talk to Fred individually, as well.

Tim: Yeah, and just as instructors, it’s our job to give students those skills for teamwork, because that’s what their employers and grad schools want. It’s also our job as instructors to develop our students. And that process of multiple check-ins, though, that’s one of the areas where it does take more work, we need those multiple check-ins to see how things are going. And Lauren, I think you emphasized and I can’t stress enough, the importance of these formal and informal peer and instructor evaluations that are going on throughout the process of this team project to keep them on track and develop their skills so that they can improve and be better team members when they leave our campus.

Rebecca: You have a couple other scenarios of student or learning situations around leadership that I think are maybe important to address as well, the idea that the team seems it’s going great, but come to find out it’s the one person doing all the work and no one else is allowed to do anything. And then there’s also the opposite where just nobody’s doing anything because nobody knows who’s in charge. Can you talk a little bit about how to make sure that there’s maybe a leader who’s not a dictator? …someone who’s really acting more as a facilitator within a team.

Tim: Well, I think this is another area where it does take a little extra time. And if we want to develop these teamwork skills in our students, we need to teach to the teamwork skills and teach to the leadership skills, at least a little time …and I’m not talking taking whole weeks of class but 15 to 20 minutes to put our expectations down and have them help get those expectations out there so that they know what it means to rotate through leadership. They know what the five or 10 top leadership characteristics are that their team expects of them when they’re leading. And we do emphasize the importance of rotating in the leadership role. That is important because we want everybody to lead team meetings and everybody to take notes at team meetings, not leave all that to one person.

Lauren: And students are really reluctant to take on the leadership role. They don’t want to seem like it’s a power grab sort of thing. And so it’s important for them to understand the nature of leadership, that it isn’t one autocratic person telling everybody what to do, that they understand the different perspectives on leadership. And again, we have the luxury of being able to talk about that, about different types of leadership, and we have our students do leadership assessments. And it’s helpful for them to be able to talk about when they go to a job interview. They’ve got something where they can discuss how they see themselves as leading the team.

Tim: Right, those demonstrable activities that they can actually show on paper in a portfolio, I say on paper, but it certainly could be electronic in these days.

Rebecca: I think one thing that comes up frequently when we talk about groups and group dynamics is setting on and establishing roles. And I’m hearing you both emphasize the idea of rotating some of those roles. And I think this is a place where faculty struggle to set up good structure. Can you talk a little bit about some of the rotating roles that should be there and how do we encourage students to rotate over the course of a semester?

Tim: Some of those roles I think we’ve already mentioned, certainly leadership should rotate at meetings. A lot of those roles occur in meetings. So, at a meeting, you want somebody who’s leading or facilitating, we often prefer the term facilitating, because that is somebody who’s just leading that meeting, then you need a note taker, then you need on top of that a timekeeper, somebody who’s keeping that team on task. But even beyond just the simple meeting strategies, where everybody should be getting some practice and learning opportunities throughout all those, when you’re thinking about roles, there’s also those informal roles, like somebody who could be the cheerleader for the team and trying to get people to feel better. And somebody who could be the one who’s asking the questions or giving the task-based answers, keeping them on track during their problem solving or decision making. These are all roles that each person should be practicing. We all tend to fall into our own roles that we are used to. And by forcing them out of their comfort zone and into some of these other roles, they can get better at being a team member, and bring more inputs, as Lauren introduced at the beginning, into the team project.

Lauren: But having said that, it is a lot more challenging to do when you’ve got an online class or online team projects, because, especially if it’s an asynchronous class, so it really depends on your circumstances. And another thing we found is that as the project progresses and students are getting closer to the deadlines, they definitely have to start solidifying their roles, they need one person who’s going to collect all the data and one person who’s going to do the data analysis and one person who’s going to organize, whether it’s a portfolio or slides or whatever that they’re going to do. So that part becomes important as well. And so one of the things we’re teaching them is to be flexible in their roles and realize that maybe you were a leader on the last project, but you’re not the expert to be the leader of this particular project. Or maybe you’re a really good graphic designer. And so you should do our slides for our presentation or design the portfolio. So trying to make sure that everybody gets a chance to show their strengths, as well.

John: I know when Rebecca and I have presented together jointly, she was always very quick to volunteer to do it, [LAUGHTER] because she wanted to make sure I wasn’t doing it. [LAUGHTER]

Tim: Well, Lauren and I have the same exact relationship, because I’m going to give Lauren some credit here, [LAUGHTER] she is way better at doing slides. And now when I’m doing the slides, I do my outline and hand it over to Lauren electronically to clean it up and make it look nice. [LAUGHTER] And it looks a lot better when we get it to the point where we’re going to use it.

John: So that does suggest though, that using the expertise of some of the group members can be helpful. But you do also want to provide some rotation in tasks. And that could be a bit of a challenge. Would you recommend instructors giving students are a rotating list of at least some of those positions? Or would you encourage the teams to do that on their own, such as the leadership role and other roles?

Tim: Well, I think the areas where you have expertise, you should certainly…. that’s the advantage of teams… you can spread the work out but you can also at least get closer to that idea of team synergy because you’re pulling together all those diverse views, all those diverse backgrounds, all that diversity in expertise. And oftentimes when we use the term diversity, we use it to mean race, but diversity is much, much broader than that. And so you can pull together that diversity in expertise and come up with a much better outcome, a much better product that the students are proud to share, and show off in the future. So yes, you certainly want to leverage the expertise of your students. But there are certain areas where you want the students to get some practice with those roles, as you pointed out, John.

Lauren: And I think if we don’t set them up, they probably won’t happen naturally. And so we need to be talking to them about it, giving them some experience doing it. A lot of it is putting the responsibility on the team and the students to say, “Okay, here’s something that we want to see you doing,” and have them explain to us how that happened. So one of the things that we’ve done when we have students give team projects is not just talk about what they found out when they did the project, but what was their process like? …and describing that, because you can learn a lot from hearing how other teams managed it. And you can actually see, during presentation time or reading portfolios, how they approached it, and which processes were most successful.

Rebecca: One of the things that we do in our design classes is something called a process video for just that. So if they’re working collaboratively, they describe and show their process for the project in a short video, like a three- to five-minute video. And it’s really interesting sometimes to see the way that different team members describe the same process.

Lauren: I love it. I love it.

Tim: That’s fabulous. The importance of reflection on their group work, it can’t be understated, because a lot of times is, Professors, we focus on the task outcome, but what we want for our students is also all the other stuff that comes along with teamwork, where they learned what it means to be a team member. And it’s those reflective activities at the end: “How did you get to this? Where did you help? Where could the team do better?” Those are the things that can really help our students develop those teamwork skills in the future.

Rebecca: Sometimes those things are so invisible too, unless we directly ask them to explain or narrate. I’ve been surprised often, in watching the process videos like”Oh, is that how you did that? I didn’t realize.” [LAUGHTER] It’s really interesting sometimes to see how they did something technically or how they arrived at a particular idea which hadn’t been explained to me in a one-on-one meeting or something or with a group meeting.

Lauren: And one of the things that we have done at the end of a big project is we have asked the teams to self assess, and actually tell us verbally, in front of the whole class, what they think they did well, what they’d like to do if they were going to do that project again, or going forward, how they will use that. And then we have other teams give peer feedback too, so it’s a good discussion. And it’s after they have finished the project, so there’s a sense of relief. But also, it’s important to say “Just because you turn the project in, that’s not the end of the process, you’ve got to look back and take those lessons with you to the next group experience.” And we should point out that there are some programs, especially in graduate programs, where people are in the same teams for a year or even two years. And so if you’re going to be doing more projects with the same team, it’s just invaluable to be able to learn from each of those experiences and take it forward.

John: One of the issues along those lines that came up with a podcast we did earlier with Olga Stoddard was an examination of long-term group projects and leadership roles in terms of gender. This was in an MBA program, which was disproportionately male dominated. And one of the things that happened in groups where women were in the minority, their leadership tended to be undervalued, or their rating of their leadership skills tended to be rated relatively low, while in groups where they were the majority or represented the whole group, their leadership evaluation was quite a bit higher. So one of the things, in terms of roles, that could be an issue is gender bias, and so forth in constructing the group. There’s also lots of research that shows that women are more likely to be asked to take minutes in meetings or to be the recorder in groups. Might it be worthwhile to address some of these issues with the groups before the groups create their charter or before they start their processing?

Lauren: Absolutely. And we do talk about implicit bias, not just gender, but on other factors as well, that it is important for students to have that call to their attention. Fisher has more females than males. So we haven’t had that much of an issue in classes. But I have seen that happen. I taught at the Simon School of Business at the University of Rochester for a while and you see that sort of thing happening, but students may not even realize what they’re doing. And so calling it to their attention is really important. I recently hosted a DEI panel at the TBLC conference. And one of the things that came out was, if you only have a few people of color in the class, don’t spread them out. So each group has one person of color who has to represent their entire race. And it’s that sort of thing students don’t really understand. And I think sometimes faculty don’t even understand what the implications are. But how valuable that lesson can be for the students going forward.

Rebecca: We spent a lot of time talking about interpersonal relationships in groups in our discussion today, but maybe we can also talk a little bit about the kinds of activities that might be appropriate to do as a group, as opposed to what might be more appropriate for individuals.

Tim: Well, there are definitely tasks that are not appropriate for teamwork. For example, writing a paper, if you want people to write a paper together, that’s a task that really isn’t a typical team task. A team task, one that’s designed for a team, should be complex, it should be challenging, it should require lots of ways to solve it, and it should force some level of cooperation. And I wish we could give some examples. But the problem is that the task is very discipline dependent. And what task works for one discipline is different for another. But if you’re trying out a team task, then you can use it, you can see what works and see what you need to change or have some of your colleagues and peers review it and see what they think is relevant and what they think works and what they think might not work about it. Because we’re all trying to improve. We’re all lifelong learners. And so we can improve ourselves, too.

Lauren: And that’s another reason why you don’t want to take an individual project and turn it over to a group. Because those cooperation requirements are so important. They’re valuable for the students learning the content for the course, but also learning how teams work and how they can develop in those.

Tim: And back to those multiple check-ins. Once you start to force people to cooperate in a complex and challenging task, then it’s really difficult for certain students to let go their control and let others do it. But if you’re doing the multiple check-ins, you’re getting the information about which members are doing their work, and which members are not in time so that they can change and improve and develop.

Rebecca: Although cooperative tasks are different in different disciplines. Can you give an example from the classes that you’ve taught together, of where cooperation becomes an important key or important element to a project that you’ve assigned?

Tim: Oh, yeah, we’ve got quite a few of them, because we use team projects, not just together in our group dynamics class, but in many other classes. And so I ‘m going to pick my industrial and organizational psychology class. And in that class, they do a client project where they go out and they do a survey within an organization. And when they do that survey in an organization, I have them divided up to one person who’s the main client contact, and one person who does the data analysis, and one person who’s the lead for the first half of the project. And the project takes a lot of steps, I give them a stepwise document for what they should do, but there’s a lot of steps involved. And it’s something they’ve never done, writing a client type report instead of…. I’m in psychology… that dreaded APA-style paper that is [LAUGHTER] so frustrating for so many students. And in this case, they haven’t done this, so they’re trying to figure this out, dividing it up, and then coming back together and building on each other’s work to do this client survey.

Lauren: Now another project that we did in our group dynamics class was we had students actually do an observational report on a real-life group on campus. And so they had to choose a group, they had to get permission to observe the group, they had to observe the group at least three times, they had to give a certain number of instruments, whether they were things that measured interpersonal skills, leadership skills, roles, conflict resolution, that sort of thing. And then they had to go and observe the group and do a post-meeting analysis and ask people to say, “How did you think the meeting went?” So it required a lot of coordination, because they had to find a group that would give them permission to observe. And then they had to come back and figure out how were you going to collect this data, who was going to be responsible for doing that. When a meeting’s over, most of the time the students all get up and they want to leave the meeting, get to class or whatever. So they had to figure out how they were going to get that information from people. And when it was all done, they had to put it together and display their data. They had to show the results of all of the surveys they had done, the observations, they had to look at the task, the people, the contexts, and analyze those things. And then they were asked to analyze all those things that happened when the group got together. How was their communication style? What kind of norms did you notice? And it became really interesting to watch the students recognize things that they had done, and maybe not even realized, that they were either supportive of the group goals or not so supportive of the group goals, depending on what was happening. And then they had to come and give recommendations. And the groups that they observed were told that, if they wanted the recommendations, they would give them the executive summary from their report. So that was a task that required everybody being involved because they couldn’t all do all of the things. And it was pretty complex, and a long semester project.

Rebecca: So it sounds like scope is an important piece of the puzzle with collaborative assignments.

Tim:: Absolutely.

John: Do you have any other advice for our listeners?

Lauren: One of the things that we haven’t talked about was making sure that everybody is involved in the group. And it’s easy for people in groups to get lost if they don’t know the people well, if they may be shy and not comfortable speaking up… maybe it’s their first class in a particular subject matter. And so we’ve talked about this idea of checking in and making sure that everybody’s involved and that’s one thing that you can do is to encourage that sort of feedback, and making sure that everybody understands that everyone has to be involved, that that’s part of the requirements for the group tasks. Starting off with those icebreakers is just great, because it gets you to know everyone, and so people start to feel more comfortable. And especially again, I’ll say with online classes, it’s an issue because people don’t put their cameras on, they mute their microphones, they don’t show up for team meetings because of a scheduling conflict, and that sort of thing. So it makes it difficult, but you’ve got to make sure that with formal and informal check ins that everybody is involved and know what their role is and what their deliverable is going to be for the project.

Tim: And if I can follow up on a different thing, but it’s related to what Lauren finished on, in the online environment. We are all teaching in this different environment now, getting used to teaching online. And that’s difficult. And it’s difficult for us, it’s difficult for our students. What we found is our students often don’t know all the tools available to them, nor do they know how to use all those tools that are available to them. And so helping, especially on a team project, helping them realize all the different ways they can communicate, because if left to their own devices, it’ll be primarily by text, [LAUGHTER] and if other students are like ours. And so helping them to see that they have all these other things available that are both things they can do at the same time (synchronous tools), and asynchronous tools (things that they can use that drop information where other team members can get to it later).

Rebecca: I think that’s a really important point, Tim, not just in the online environment, just generally when students are collaborating, because they may not always be able to be in person together at the same time in any context. So having strategies to deal with communication or deal with sharing materials can be really helpful. And sometimes that means, in my experience at least, doing some little activities to introduce them to those tools so they can kind of level up in the technical skill sets that might be necessary before expecting them to be using it in their teams.

Tim: Absolutely. What’s interesting is, I’m going to date myself here, and sorry, Lauren, you’re coming along on the ride with me on this one, [LAUGHTER] but when Lauren and I first started teaching group dynamics together, we used to talk about teams that were either virtual or not virtual, because that’s the way it was at the time, your team was one or the other. And now in today’s environment, no team is all face to face, and no team is all virtual. I have a colleague next to me that I’ve texted, emailed and called and her office is right next to mine. And so we have a lot of computer-mediated communication, even in face-to-face teams now. So it’s the level of virtuality, everybody is using these tools. How can we use them to match the task and to match the skill set that the people on the team have?

Lauren: So at the beginning of this conversation, we talked about our book being based on a model that was an input-output model. And so we talked a little bit about the inputs, the things that happen in the middle are the communication and the conflict and the norms and roles, but to really be aware of what the outputs are. And faculty need to be aware of those before they assign the project. As much as we hate having to put together rubrics, it’s something that students need to have, they need to know how are they going to be evaluated. So we tend to focus, though, a lot on the task rubric. And that’s important. Obviously, we want students to get the content that relates to the course material, but we also need to have a rubric for those self and peer evaluations. And so the output is not only the task output, how did they do on the task? …but what did they take as a result from working on that task together? What kind of feedback did they get? How are they seeing themselves? …and actually having structured rubrics not just saying, “Well, what do you think? How did you do?” actually giving them a form to fill out and we’ve got some examples in the book and on our website too, that show what people can do. We’ve even got some from high school that were not as detailed as the ones that we gave our college students, but it’s important that they see the output of it is not just what the grade was on the project. But there’s more detail for that.

Rebecca: Students have a tendency to think that the output is the thing that the most weight or value was placed on. And I know, in my classes, it’s really the process. [LAUGHTER] So when I show them those rubrics and show them the weighting between the task versus the actual process of making the thing that you’re outputting, they’re often surprised. And I have to remind them constantly throughout the process, or through the project, that this process piece is important, you need to stop shortcutting this, this is the thing that actually matters the most, this is where the learning is happening.

Lauren: This is so true, I teach public speaking, and students think that the person with the best delivery is going to get the best grade. And I said, but look at the rubric, delivery is only 15% of the grade, you’ve got to do research, you’ve got to do organizing, you’ve got to have your citations in there, and you’ve got to have visuals, and how you handle Q&A, and all of those sorts of things. So it is a good example, Rebecca, of how there’s a lot more to it. And we need to lay it out so students know what it is.

John: And sharing those rubrics in advance with students in the learning management system or in person if it’s face to face, but preferably in the learning management system, so they have access to them anytime, and referring back to them regularly, will help remind them and help you be more transparent and how you’re assessing student work.

Tim: We remind our students: we want to start with the end in sight, what is it that you need at the end and build the project based on that end goal. So if we can provide those rubrics and those processes through which we’re going to be evaluating them, we get better work from our students. And that’s what we all want is better work for our students.

Lauren: And from time to time, we actually pull the rubric up during class and say, “Does this look familiar? Did anybody notice that this is the way you’re going to be evaluated?” …because they get involved in their project and then they lose sight of some of those details that are going to be important. For example, we had a project where students had to use two synchronous tools and two asynchronous tools when they were working on their project. And we went around and started asking them well, like, “What’s one of your synchronous tools?” They were saying: “Well, we’re using Google Docs.” We’re like, “Well, wait a minute, just because you’re both on the Google Doc at the same time, doesn’t make it a synchronous tool,” [LAUGHTER] and so it gave us a chance to really give them some clarification about what they needed to do. And so that’s why the rubric at the beginning is so important.

Rebecca: I think this is a good moment to wrap up in some ways, because it’s like we’ve got our end in sight, we’ve got a process in place. And so we always wrap up by asking: what’s next?” (that nice reflection kind of question) [LAUGHTER]

Lauren: Great.

Tim: That’s a great question, because we do have the “what’s next.” Number one is we post blog posts on our LinkedIn sites every Tuesday. So we’re constantly developing content. For example, on May 18, we talked about giving feedback and peer evaluations, we have something about how to teach peer evaluation, so your students do a better job at it. That’s on our blog posts. And we also have a student version of our handbook coming out in September. It’s going to be matched to the professor version, the handbook for the instructor, except it’s going to be more student friendly, a lot less writing a lot less “how to” in the text and a lot more based on checklists and exercises and guidelines, rather than simply explaining the things.

John: That sounds like a great project.

Tim: Thank you.

Lauren: Thank you. And we’re looking forward to being able to get more feedback from educators. We have a lot of professionals who follow us on LinkedIn as well, and so respond to some of those topics. And we’ve done a number of professional development seminars for different colleges and universities that have been pretty well received. So we’re looking forward to it. But we’ve got a lot of resources on our website, which we can put in the show notes and people can find a lot of information there and just get an idea of some tools they can use as well as contact us if they want more information.

Rebecca: Excellent. Thanks so much.

John: Thank you.

Lauren: Thank you so much for having us. It’s been a lot of fun.

[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.

[MUSIC]

192. Skim, Dive, Surface

Digital texts and materials have been increasingly used in college classes. In this episode Jenae Cohn joins us to explore some of the affordances of digital texts and discuss strategies for effectively engaging with digital material. Jenae is the Director of Academic Technology at California State University Sacramento and the author of Skim, Dive, Surface: Teaching Digital Reading, which has been recently released by West Virginia University Press.

Shownotes

  • Cohn, J. (2021). Skim, Dive, Surface: Teaching Digital Reading. West Virginia University Press.
  • Christina Haas (1997). Writing Technology: Studies In The Materiality Of Literacy. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc., 1996
  • Smale, M. A. (2020). “It’s a lot to take in.” Undergraduate Experiences with Assigned Reading. CUNY Academic Works. 1-10.
  • Smale, M. A., & Regalado, M. (2016). Digital technology as affordance and barrier in higher education. Springer.
  • Hypothesis
  • Perusall
  • Power Notes
  • Kalir, R., & Garcia, A. (2019). Annotation. MIT Press.

Transcript

John: Digital texts and materials have been increasingly used in college classes. In this episode we explore some of the affordances of digital texts and discuss strategies for effectively engaging with digital material.

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[MUSIC]

Rebecca: Our guest today is Jenae Cohn. She is the Director of Academic Technology at California State University Sacramento and the author of Skim, Dive, Surface: Teaching Digital Reading, which has been recently released by West Virginia University Press as part of the superb series on teaching and learning, edited by James Lang. Welcome, Jenae.

Jenae: Thank you, Rebecca. Thanks for having me.

John: We’re glad to talk to you again.

Jenae: Such fun.

John: And we’re really glad to see your book out. When we last talked to you, you were finishing it up but we didn’t actually get to see it. So this time, we’ve had a chance to actually read it before talking to you.

Jenae: Oh, I’m so thrilled you’ve had a chance to read it. It’s so exciting to get to talk to people about it, finally.

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

Jenae: I am drinking tea today. I’ve got an English Breakfast tea.

Rebecca: I’ve got a Scottish afternoon tea. So, do you have something for the evening, John? [LAUGHTER]

John: No, I actually have English Breakfast tea from Tea Pigs, which is a new tea company for me. It was a gift.

Rebecca: That’s an unusual choice.

John: It’s very good, actually.

Jenae: I’m always up for new tea recommendations. I have a whole tea shelf. I was really born ready for this podcast. So I am wishing I had some Sleepy Time now to complete the full…

Rebecca: I know, right?

Jenae: …section of daytime to nighttime. That’s alright, it’s still morning here for me. So, I wasn’t quite ready for that yet. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: I go straight for the afternoon, even in the morning. So we’ve invited you here today to discuss Skim, Dive, Surface. Digital content has been really increasing in our college classes for some time. And there are some affordances of digital content that print content doesn’t have, like OER and some accessibility features, etc. Can you talk a little bit about some of the affordances of digital content?

Jenae: Sure, I’d be glad to. And I love that we’re starting from this place of affordances., ‘cause I think often enough in our teaching, we can make choices about what we use based on our prior experiences, or what we found comfortable. And I would love to see us having a measured conversation about what we get when we make these choices, to be really mindful about the kinds of choices that we make. So, to me, one of the greatest affordances of thinking about adopting digital text is their flexibility. Digital texts can be modified and they can be transformed on different kinds of devices and using different kinds of applications. So when you’re encountering a printed book, something that publishers and writers really love is that you can really control the experience. And sometimes there’s real pleasure in seeing that really controlled experience. But, for a student, for a teaching context, being able to modify the size or the shape of the text, to modify the spacing, to be able to cut and paste and remix things, that can really be of tremendous benefit on the learning side of things. Rebecca, you mentioned equity-based concerns around digital reading as well. And I think that’s, to me, the hugest motivation to doing this work. We know that, according to EDUCAUSE data that’s been collected for years, we know that mobile device usage in college classrooms is nearly ubiquitous at this point. Mobile devices are not a luxury device, they are the standard device that students use. And they’ll often choose to use a mobile phone for their learning more than a laptop, more than buying scores of heavy textbooks. So the more that we can make our learning experiences accessible on mobile, the easier it is for us to be able to reach students who, again, may not have access to more than one device or who may not have the budget to be buying all their books, who might be doing a lot of their learning on a bus on their way to campus, for example. When people start repopulating campuses, one thing I think we’ve learned in the Covid-19 pandemic is that mobile phones were often a more stable source of WiFi internet connection than home wireless access was. So we also knew that from a kind of a download access perspective too, mobile really provided a lot of touch points that made access to materials even easier. But I sometimes struggle to read on a mobile phone. That’s not how I learned to read. But there are some things that I read all the time on my mobile phone. So the more that we can think about, again, what’s possible in those spaces, the transportability, the adaptability, the flexibility, the more we can start to think inventively about how we’re distributing and thinking about access in those spaces.

John: You mentioned mobile devices as a platform for student reading. And that’s especially true for first-generation students and students from lower income households, who face some of the greater challenges in being successful and continuing their studies. So I think that adds to that equity component, And one of the reasons we’ve been pushing for this on our campus… and I think this is true everywhere… is that, in general, text in digital format is easier to distribute to students through the LMS so they have day one access, where if you have physical textbooks, generally students have to pay for them, and sometimes that’s a bit of a struggle for students in coming up with the funds to require textbooks. And certainly with OER, but with digital materials in general, you can have them there so that all students start from an equitable standpoint.

Jenae: Absolutely. It’s a great point that often our OERs are digitized, which makes them more affordable when we’re concerned with student budgets. Not all digital texts are affordable, but the other piece I’d like to mention here, that I think I always appreciate underscoring is that a lot of libraries have way more access to digital collections through the kinds of publication packages that they purchase. I think we forget about the amazing resources our librarians are thinking about. And so many of our librarians are educators who are being really thoughtful about what they’re procuring online, there’s also this real potential if we’re willing to accept that good, deep, close, mindful reading can happen on screen that we really get this world of new things that might be opened up to vis-a-vis collaborating with our librarians, and thinking about what kinds of types of texts or resources might be really well suited for the kinds of educational goals we might have.

Rebecca: I think one of the things that I discovered from doing some interviews with students about their experience learning during the pandemic, is that access to textbooks was actually a really big problem, because some of them depended on course reserves and things physically in the library. And then when they went home during remote learning, and then maybe even any online courses afterwards, they just had a lot less access, because, previously, they might have shared a physical book with other students even so that it was more affordable,

Jenae: Right, absolutely. I think libraries had to be really creative in giving students that access that maybe we took for granted, when we were thinking about the campus from a brick and mortar only perspective. And especially when it comes to books and reading, we kind of come by the attachment to the printed books quite honestly. Decades of survey research suggests that students and faculty alike prefer and find, or at least think that, they read more effectively by print. Librarians have researched this, literacy scholars have researched this, neuroscientists have researched this, and they’ve all basically found the same result. So I think there’s been a lot of behavior that has been driven around that data. And I don’t mean to suggest that we should ignore that data, I think there’s probably lots of people who do read more closely and more analytically when they have a paper book in front of them. I don’t think that data means that it’s impossible to read in a digital space effectively well, we really just have to be thinking about strategies that work for it and assignments that are aligned.

Rebecca: As a designer, I appreciate the physical artifact of a book. And I was really, really, actually very resistant to reading online, but wasn’t for pleasure, which is really weird, because I’m a digital designer. I design websites, I design apps, that’s the kind of design I do. And I was really resistant to that for all of those kinds of emotional reasons probably. And it wasn’t really until the last couple years that I started using a digital format for more scholarly work or research. I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner. I’m discovering all of the affordances that I should have known as a designer who designed things digitally, [LAUGHTER] it’s just you get into habits and you don’t think of these things. So can you talk a little bit about some of the reasons why students find reading digitally more challenging than in a print format?

Jenae: Sure, there are a number of things that come up when students read online. One of them is what rhetorician Christina Haas studied a long time ago, back in the early 90s, actually. So we’ve been thinking about digital reading for quite some time. But she found in some small scale studies of student reading behaviors online that students lost what she coined “text sense” this ability to sort of locate and recall information based on where they appeared spatially. So one real challenge is when you read online, and you’re moving from kind of the logic of a codex, a traditional printed or bound book, which sort of moves from left to right in a certain kind of way, is a linear narrative order. When you move from that to what is typically sort of a scroll when you read on a screen, that creates a different sense of spatial awareness of where you might find that information. So it can be harder to remember, for example, where a certain key point was made, where you don’t have the materiality of paper to dog ear a page, for example, to create a kind of tactile difference in where you find information. That can be a challenge. So you do have to come up with some new strategies for simple memory and comprehension recall. The other research in this space, again, especially from cognitive psychology and neuroscience has demonstrated that in small time studies people of all ages, young and old, do tend to remember information better from print, again, especially if it’s short recall, because of that text sense, that ability to really quickly and nimbly place where information might be found in a book. Another challenge to reading on screen that students might have that they might have been used to in print are some strategies around annotation as well. I think that, in a lot of contexts, students have learned how to use a highlighter or a pen to underline or mark where important information is on a page. And it’s not always immediately obvious where you might do that annotation work online, unless you have learned about tools available for markup. So I’ve always been surprised when I’ve worked with students at all kinds of institutions… every place I’ve been in, there’s always this range of what students just know about how to markup or read digital documents. Some students know all about PDF editors and readers. Some students know about browser extensions or add ons that might allow them to annotate web pages. But many don’t. Many think that the only way that you can mark up a text is by printing it out. And this isn’t just students, faculty, professionals, people all over are still learning. I don’t know that, for whatever reason, there’s necessarily widespread awareness of what it really can look like to manipulate texts that are not designed to be manipulated,…again, especially documents like PDFs that are stable, that are designed not to be necessarily changed. So there is a certain amount of scaffolding that we would need to do with students to help them understand exactly how they can directly engage with or build upon that affordance, and as we discussed at the beginning of this conversation, to have that real flexibility to modify and engage with the text and make it their own.

John: And students at some point in their educational career had learned how to use highlighters, and they were given highlighters by their parents at some point. But as you said, they’ve never been taught how to mark up digital documents. One of the things you suggest is that that’s probably something that we should work with them on in our courses. Are there any suggestions of where that should occur? Or is that the conversation, perhaps, we should all have with our students when we’re giving them digital text?

Jenae: Right, I think there’s a couple things we’d want to engage with students on and not take for granted. And I would maybe even take one step back and just engage students in conversation about what it looks like for them when they read in academic context. To your point, John, I do think that many students have been equipped with some of the skills to do basic markup in print. But some didn’t even get that. Maura Smale, who’s a librarian and researcher herself,has a great article about reading, and she surveyed a bunch of students and the quote that still really stands out to me, she talked to one student who said “In college reading is your problem.” And that quote, really still just sticks out to me, because it just goes to show that, I think,as instructors in a college setting we can take for granted that students have learned this academic skill to be able to figure out what to do with the reading. And as instructors, I think we need to be challenged to think really critically about what we also want students to be doing with that reading. Do we want students to read for content uptake? Are we wanting them to learn key terms, critical definitions, concepts? Are we asking students to do what a lot of humanities faculty call close reading, which is trying to unpack language and see what we learn from language choices? Are we wanting students to read like writers, that is, are we wanting them to read to emulate certain conventions in the discipline or the field? So there’s a lot of reasons why we need students to read. Sometimes we don’t always articulate this. So I would say that one thing we could do with students is to make explicit what our intentions are for the reading task as well. And to also ask, “What have they done? What strategies have worked for them? What have they found useful?” Just as you might ask them to do the same when they’re starting a new writing project, we want to think about the genres of what they’re reading and how those genres might shape the kind of actions that they take. Then when you start thinking about media on top of that, then we can start to open up to what strategies, tools, or resources might make those ways of reading possible. So just as an example, if you’re wanting students to read closely, just read for language moves, to do a close reading, those kinds of markup and annotation tools might be extremely useful for, say, color coding a document for certain kinds of moves or patterns that they’re noticing in the language. But if you’re wanting students really to read in a more curatorial way, that is wanting students to read for research, pull out a bunch of main points, put them together, come up with their own argument or analysis, maybe that highlighting is still useful, but there might also be tools like citation managers, bookmarking tools, heck, even a really good word processor, using the sort of capacity of the word processor to copy and paste and bring things over to make a kind of collage of new ideas. These are other kinds of tools we can leverage as reading tools. But again, we’ll have to think about why those tools might be serving our purposes successfully. And it won’t always be obvious to students what those hacks are. Sometimes they’ll come up with new things and ways to do it, but until we make explicit the ways that we are inviting this reading work, it won’t be clear how to really adapt the media in any way.

Rebecca: And I think one thing that comes up in your book, too, is the idea that there’s a lot of tools to handle a lot of these different techniques, some only work on one platform, which might not be the most optimal choice. But sometimes that’s all you have, and that you need to find a suite of options that are available across different platforms and things like that, because we don’t want students who have to read, perhaps, on their phone to feel like they’re not included or that they don’t have access to things and that there are tools available but they may not be aware of them. I’m always surprised even for students not realizing that there’s an Acrobat reader for their phone and that they can have things read out loud to them with a pretty easy free tool.

Jenae: Yes, text-to-speech applications are so transformative for so many students, text-to-speech applications are the perfect example of “accommodations for some” are “accommodations for everyone.” As long as we, to your point Rebecca, make those options really visible, we can really empower students to figure out what works well for them, that we don’t need to get too rigid in our conception of what’s possible. I was worried that some readers would see all those tool options in the book and think, “Oh, that’s so overwhelming. I don’t want to have to learn how to use six different things, so I don’t know how to recommend to students a whole suite of things that I barely use any of them myself.” And so I do encourage readers or listeners who are feeling that way, or having that reaction, to just know that they’re not alone in doing this work. I would say there are resources on your campus that you can tap into to learn what some of the options are. A lot of institutions do have some really good local tools and solutions that go beyond the kind of private or free options that are more well known and well recognized. So I really tried to steer away in the book from naming particular tools where I could, that’s one really good way to date your book, and make it not very useful after a small sliver of time. But I do have an appendix with some contemporary options in case people really just want the list of tools. But I would encourage collaboration, not just with other colleagues in your department or your discipline, but again, I’m really pushing hard for libraries today. [LAUGHTER] Libraries are really great places to talk to about these tools, IT offices, teaching and learning centers. And I suspect that listeners to this podcast are already tapping into those resources. But it’s a good reminder that staff and faculty on campus can really partner on some of these initiatives. And these offices are there to do the research, to create the infrastructure that makes these different options available to everyone.

John: One of the things that economists have often noted is that when new technologies appear to do things that were done in a different way, in the past, people generally try to do the things in the same way. So when, for example, water power was replaced by internal combustion engines, and then later by electric power, and so forth, people initially were using the same basic systems where there was one central mechanism transmitting power to different locations in the building. And it took decades and in some cases, centuries, to fully exploit the new technology. I think the same thing happens when we have new ways of teaching. When people first started teaching online, they initially tried to replicate all the things they did in the classroom, whether they worked well in the classroom or not, they tried to come up with equivalents, and it took a while for us to come up with more effective ways of teaching asynchronously. I think maybe the same sort of thing is happening here. And that initially, the first thing people wanted to do were to be able to highlight and to be able to put bookmarks in digital text. But as you’ve suggested, there’s a lot more that you can do when text is in a digital format. What are some of the ways in which digital reading environments can transform the way in which we engage with content more effectively than occurred when it was in a fixed print format? You’ve mentioned a little bit about that. But I think there’s several other things you talk about in your book.

Jenae: Yeah, I have the most affection for the chapter where I cover 1000s of years [LAUGHTER] of media history, which was also the hardest and most painstaking chapter to write, because I was terrified that I would misrepresent all the complexity of book history. But in any case, we can get back to that at some other point.

John: Before we leave that, though, that was one of the things that really struck me, where you mentioned talking about how when people were first reading, they were reading aloud as the normal default mode of reading, because that’s how communications had taken place in the past. And there was concern that reading silently would result in learning less than by speaking the text aloud. And it struck me that that’s happened so many times with any new technology in education or ways of engaging with content.

Jenae: Yes, I think it’s really easy to forget that history. And to forget that books are a new technology. Books themselves, as a ubiquitous technology, are only a couple hundred years old. That’s so mind blowing. I could not stop geeking out over that [LAUGHTER] as I was working on this book, to realize that so many of the assumptions about reading and writing I have held so dear, are very contemporary assumptions that in… gosh, just like the 16th century, the 17th century, orality was really the primary means of distributing information, of comprehending information. Memory was the most valued component of being a literate individual… that is so different in the moment we’re in now where we want to sort of ossify ideas in a very linear form, which is really what a Codex, the printed book, privileges as a technology. There’s a very iterative relationship between media technologies and what we value in our thinking. And something that struck me in writing this book are the cyclical patterns in which our technologies and assumptions we make about our technologies change our assumptions and values about what good learning is, or what acceptable sociability is, or what acceptable learning behaviors look like. And so the same thing is happening in a digital moment where because reading on screen looks different than reading on print, it’s less linear, it’s less controlled, it is less bound… there’s a pun there… is less bound to a certain isolated knowledge space that the author kind of creates. Those things seem like they are less rigorous and less scholarly, when, again, those perceptions of what rigor is and what good reading is. It’s a social construct that’s bound up in the material conditions of how we learn.

John: But even going back further, the book itself was seen as something that would cause us to lose the memory skills that people had from trying to memorize things directly. People objected to books, they objected to reading silently. And we’re seeing exactly the same objections to digital reading. I thought that whole section of your book was fascinating. And I learned a lot from it.

Jenae: Oh, thank you, I’m so glad. [LAUGHTER] Again, it was the portion of the book that I feel like was definitely the last practical part of the book. But maybe as a humanist, in my own training, I really enjoyed that process of getting to tell a very, very, very slivered slice of that history, because really, there’s no way I could really capture centuries of scholarship. But I felt like we needed to have some context to recognize that what we’re struggling with is not new, I think it’s easy in narratives about technology to just focus on the novelty, to focus on what’s shiny and different. And as a technologist, I resist that too. That really, when we’re thinking about technology, I like to shift the conversation more into thinking about space, and about behavior, and about activity, and less about what’s the latest, greatest gadgetry for the sake of gadgetry? I realized I never answered your question. It got us started on this about what we could do differently with digital reading. So I’m happy to go there.

John: So what are some of the new ways of engaging with content provided by digital formats.

Jenae: So I think there’s a handful of things that are really, I’d say, uniquely possible in digital environments. And I’ll frame what I’m about to describe in terms of the digital reading framework that’s really at the heart of this book. And so there are five strategies for digital reading, that they’re broad strategies and, in many ways, the strategies that you could use for reading in any media, but I call them strategies for digital reading framework, because I think you can uniquely map some affordances in digital environments to the strategies. So for example, one thing that’s really unique about digital environments is how easy it is to curate… curation is the first part of my framework… how easy it is to curate lots of different pieces of information, and bring them together. You can, of course, do curatorial activities in print by, say, organizing index cards, or putting together a filing cabinet of articles and information. But online, you can curate even more of a detailed level. So, for example, there are activities I really like to do with students where we use things like tags, you know, metadata, that users generate to create clusters of information. So, if you invite students to tag, for example, a collection of articles they’re finding for research, they can start to see what key topics or terms might be shared across sources they might not have otherwise seen, if they were just trying to index that. You could put together broad buckets of information under those tags much more easily with citation management tools, for example, or you could go even a little bit more old fashioned and use bookmarking tools for this in your browser. You have bookmarking tools where you could create folders that are basically topical tags to sort things. You can even do it on a desktop if you want to do this offline, you could create folders that are organized by subject headers or tags to put things together and create collections of resources. That’s one thing I think is unique is its ability to bring a lot of information together. The other thing I think is really unique and exciting about working online is the second part of my framework, which is connection, which is this easy ability to link lots of different pieces of information together. Again, you could do this in print when you look at the references section of a printed out article or the works cited of a book. You can find them there, but when you’re online, it’s so much easier to generate and follow hyperlinks from one website to the next or to look at a citation trail and see who has cited whom and see how particular ideas are connected to each other, or even at the sentence level to see whether a reference to a particular person or place can be connected to encyclopedic information about that person or place to deepen your knowledge of things that are referred to in the text itself. Let’s say there’s also a description of an image or a graph, you could find the illustration of that and make that connection between the visual and the textual to create a more multimodal experience as well. Again, all possible in print, just easier and uniquely accessible to do when you’re doing this work digitally, I’ll say one more thing that I think is unique about working digitally. And I’m gonna veer a little off from the framework here, but we can return to that if you’d like, but that reading digitally can be even more nimbly social, and more easily shareable. With print, the best ways that we can share ideas are by talking about this, as we’re doing now. Of course, if you go to a used bookstore, you might find some good books that have written annotations of people of yore in them, which always feels like a wonderful discovery. But online, there are all kinds of tools where you can annotate together in real time. So this can be done in something as simple as a Microsoft Word document with Track Changes where you can share back and forth, a Google Doc, a lot of people use now as a really easy way to annotate in real time, and of course, there are specialized tools that make social annotation visible as well, Hypothesis is a very popular one, Perusall, is another popular one, Power Notes is another popular one. There’s a whole suite of things now that are really encouraging students and faculty to work together to make their thinking really visible and social in one text. And I think all those movements have such transformative potential to spark conversation, because reading really is about having a good conversation.

John: I’ve been using Hypothesis in a couple of my classes now for the last three years and students have just found it so incredibly engaging, and that they’re reading things so much more deeply and having conversations right in the text, which is so much more informed than when they were working on a discussion forum online talking about it, or even when we had class discussions about it. My students have generally responded extremely positively to that social annotation process.

Jenae: That’s wonderful. I’m glad to hear it. There’s good scaffolding that needs to make that happen. Your social annotations can turn into a discussion board quite easily. Without the framing, there’s a potential to highlight part of a text and have someone comment and someone else say “I agree.” But, the book actually offers some strategies. It sounds like you’re doing this brilliantly, John, if you’re getting really good results from your students. I’d be curious to hear how you’re framing it because that’s always, I think, the challenge. And in the book, I do talk about some things you could ask students to look for, simple prompts, not just highlighting moments that are important, but also inviting students to ask questions, or inviting students to look at which parts are sort of popular when you do look for things that are important or interesting. So there’s a lot of different ways you can frame that task.

Rebecca: I did that trick with my syllabi during the pandemic, to get students to make sure they’re looking at the syllabus and doing a careful reading of the syllabus and see if there was any policy questions and things and encourage questions about it. And we ended up having some really great conversations as a result of essentially annotating the digital version of the syllabus.

Jenae: Yes, that’s a great assignment. Remi Kalir has some great articles about annotating the syllabus. I don’t know if that was part of your inspiration. And Remi Kalir and Antero Garcia also just wrote a great book about annotation from MIT Press that I think is really… someone’s listening to this and thinking, “Oh, I want to learn more about annotation.” My book is one starting point there. But their book is a much deeper dive into just annotation as a learning practice.

John: We’ll include the citation for that in the show notes.

Rebecca: When we start talking about social annotation, one question that may arise for folks is privacy issues and ethical issues about sharing and making something that historically we might be thinking of as being a private experience more public. So can you talk a little bit about some of these ethical issues around digital reading?

Jenae: Yes, I’d be glad to. And in the third part of my book, I address this conversation in a lot more depth. So this will be sort of a thumbnail sketch of thinking about the real ethical dimensions, as you put it, to digital reading. So, when it comes to social annotation, in particular, we have to be, I think, really thoughtful in our framing about what we’re asking students to share. One thing I would suggest is, as instructors, if you’re going to ask students to use any kind of annotation-based software, (A) to make it really clear to students who will see it. So with most social annotation tools, you can control the privacy settings to make sure that certain annotations might only be visible to the class community. But as an instructor, there is, I think, a little bit of responsibility on you to do that research and to make sure you understand before you ask for mandates and tools, that you know, where students data is going, when they enter it into any kind of cloud-based platform or internet-based platform, in particular. I think this is where tools like Google Docs, especially, get into very dicey privacy-based territory, because Google, in particular, we know has a track record of… especially if you’re using an instance of Google Docs not managed by your institution… that data is owned… all of your written data is owned by Google and is used for optimizing their ad services. So I think before we just sort of uncritically adopt these tools, we have to think about the implications of what we’re doing and give students the option to opt out. Social annotation can be really powerful and really transformative. But there always needs to be ways for students to contribute if they don’t want to have their words online or they don’t want to use a platform. Even if it is private to the class, we still always need to let students make evidence of their work private, because ultimately their thinking is their intellectual property. But it’s also just we want to make sure students have the agency to decide where and how their thinking is made visible. So I would say the other thing we want to think about with digital leading too is where we’re asking the students to read. I think we can forget that every website we go to on the internet is tracked, whether that’s the browser based cookies, if we’re using a university proxy network, a VPN, the University knows [LAUGHTER] where we’re going on the internet. Again, that sounds a little scary, but it’s true. That’s just the reality of the connected world that we live in. It’s not necessarily dangerous, but it could be. There’s always sort of potential for data to be weaponized in ways that we need to be cognizant of. So I would just say that, for as many possibilities as there are, there are also risks that we need to assess and be mindful of. And I realize one reaction to this risk is let’s just go back to paper [LAUGHTER] and forget about it. Why put ourselves into the surveillance network that is the internet for our learning. But there are real risks to reading in print too. There’s less permanence. If I spilled my tea on this book, this book work is no longer accessible to me. It’s like paper’s actually a very fragile technology that way. There’s a reason that some people’s whole jobs are to be preservationists of print materials. So we have to kind of weigh the risks and affordances. And again, give our students choices where we can. So that might just mean, again, as an instructor, letting students for example, if they don’t want to annotate publicly, they could probably easily do the annotation in a Word document and send that to you privately to have it be an offline document, they can even expand their thoughts on a print book and take a picture. If they’re really insistent on doing that, that’s still a kind of digital reading, in a way, even if they’re using a print-based technology to do the optical work of scanning the words on a page, they can again, snip a picture, send it to you, and keep the digital infrastructure intact. And I think encouraging questions… If you as an instructor don’t know what the privacy policies are on the technologies you use, again, partnership with your IT office that looks into information security concerns all the time, your accessibility office that might also be thinking about the risks associated for students who might not always be able to use particular technologies, these are all things that can start to be thinking about when we design these activities and work in these spaces. It might not all happen at once, and that’s okay, too. I think it’s always good to experiment and think about what’s best for maintaining an active learning environment. But these are considerations that we don’t want to ignore, and it might just take our own continuous learning and our own continuous digital literacy development to really make sure we’re understanding just what we’re doing when we’re asking the students to work online.

John: You mentioned that that’s especially a concern with Google tools that are personal Google tools that you might ask students to use. But when you work with Google Apps for Education, there’s generally an agreement where the educational institution owns the data, which provides more privacy protection…

Jenae: Yes.

John: …and Google agrees not to use that in any commercial manner.

Jenae: Yes, that’s a great point. And so it’s certainly worth, if you don’t know, if your institution has a Google for Education license, this is just something to look into. Because to your point, John, the kinds of licenses your institution manages centrally may impact the ways in which student data is used. And yet another example of this… if your institution matches certain tools to protect logins behind Single Sign On authentication for your tool, so students have to log in with their university username and password, that also usually suggests a greater level of security than say a student has to create new accounts and logins to use the tool. Even more risky is if certain tools invite students to create an account with their Facebook username or other social media kinds of connections. If you’re looking to expand your students’ reading behaviors to some tools, it’s always worth just thinking about, “Okay, what are the access points my students will have to engage in to use this? To what extent is it disconnected from our university’s existing infrastructure? And what are the risks of moving further away from the infrastructure or using it?” And again, if you don’t know and you have questions, this is really what a lot of experts on campus are happy to talk to people about to understand those choices more clearly.

John: And even if there is a Google Apps for Education agreement, not all the apps that are provided may be subject to the terms of that. I know, in the SUNY system, there was a core set of apps that were negotiated. And then many other apps such as YouTube were not part of that agreement. So, use of that, or at least at SUNY, is not subject to the same set of protections as are the core apps of the educational platform, though, it is worth exploring, as you suggested.

Jenae: Yeah, I know, it’s kind of in the weeds. And sometimes it’s like, “Oh, gosh, all the legal and technical stuff is super complicated, it’s kind of frustrating.” But I think there’s also really, again, exciting potential to learn with your students. The world we live in now is a world where we both have access to so much more and once more things open up more risks just emerge. just kind of part of living in an interconnected world. And so I think that being curious is a really great habit of mind. And so sometimes I get down these conversations, I too can feel a little bit like, “Oh, it’s so annoying that we have to ask all these questions.” And yet I try to approach it from a perspective of curiosity. And that was part of my motivation for writing this book, too, was just being really curious about imagining what would happen if we really developed a clear understanding of what we get when we do our operations in digital spaces. What’s possible there, and how do we explore that in ways that are engaged and thoughtful and attuned to the material conditions of the world we’re in?

John: One of the nice things about your book is you include a set of activities that you can use in classes to help students engage more effectively with digital content. Could you share, perhaps, a couple of those?

Jenae: Sure, so this can kind of bring us back to our framework a bit. So maybe I’ll share a couple activities that we haven’t talked about yet. So a third component of the framework is “creativity.” And so these are activities that really inspire students to create new ideas based on what they’ve read. We know that reading is mentioned to inspire new thoughts and develop new ideas. So one activity that I think has a ton of potential is one that I call “visualize that” where we ask students to create some infographic or a map of what they’ve read and invite them to really take a step back. Again, doing this online isn’t possible in print. You could have someone draw an infographic. But there’s a lot of tools where students can easily create shapes, create maps, you could do this in your cyber tools, you could use this in explicitly designed mind mapping tools. And if you have students who can’t use these visual tools, or for whom visuals was not an especially effective way to learn, I found a good workaround is actually students create a spreadsheet, like an Excel spreadsheet, where they map connections between ideas to take a step back from the reading itself. So I think that’s one activity that is really exciting for reading digitally. Another one is in the contextualization section of the framework, which really invites to think about not just like how a text exists on its own, but why it exists, who wrote it, etc. So there’s one really simple activity that I call “the journalistic investigation,” gathering the who, what, where, when, why… which, again, you could do this in print, but what’s really nice about doing online is you could have students basically create a shared resource where they work together to gather: “Okay, what do we know about this author? Who are they? Where do they come from? Why do we care about them? Why did they write it? What are the contexts in which this book, or this article, or this piece of research exists?” …and to really inspire students to see text, not just kind of as a floating isolated thing that came from this author’s genius brain, [LAUGHTER] but that exists in a particular context. And that can really shape the way they understand that past.

Rebecca: Thanks for all those great ideas, Jenae, and really thinking through all of these different considerations of reading online and reading digitally. I know that everyone that picks up a copy of the book will find many nuggets within the pages that are far beyond what we talked about today. But we always wrap up by asking: “What’s next?”

Jenae: Yes. So one thing relevant to this book that’s next is that I will be at the Distance Teaching and Learning Conference hosted by the University of Wisconsin – Madison in August. I’m really honored to be one of the invited speakers of that conference where the theme is what’s next. And the topic for me is “what’s next is text.” So making the argument that as we think about futures of online learning, after a year of working remotely, that we really can take a step back to be thinking really critically about what we do with text in online spaces. I think a lot of folks got really into video and audio and the online moment, all of which is wonderful. And yet text is one of the most accessible, flexible, ways that we distribute content and engage with learning and learners if students don’t have access to high bandwidth, internet speeds using chat and using text-based tools really has tons of potential. So I’m thinking about expanding some of this work into, I would say, an even broader conversation about low-tech online learning is kind of where I’ve been really interested in going next with some of my work and thinking about how we kind of strip out the, I think, intimidating overhead of really high-tech gadgetry when we talk about teaching grant technology to remind ourselves that teaching with technology actually involves a lot of tools that are extremely low bandwidth, extremely easy to use, and can be really transformative and have a really high impact. So I don’t know what my next big project is, but I think I want it to have something to do with like low tech, high impact. I haven’t decided how yet. But immediate next is that conference. I hope to see some people there.

John: It’s great talking to you and we hope when you do come up with that next thing you want to address, that you’ll join us back on the podcast again.

Jenae: Oh, I hope so too. Thank you so much again for having me, always such a pleasure to speak with both of you, John and Rebecca. Thank you.

Rebecca: Thanks for your time, Jenae.

[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.

[MUSIC]

191. Moving Forward

After a year of experimentation during the pandemic we can reflect on practices worth keeping. In this episode, Martha Bless joins us to examine what we’ve learned from this experience about building and maintaining a productive class community in multiple modalities. Martha is an Academic Director at the Association of College and University educators (ACUE). She has been working with us at SUNY Oswego to support our faculty in the ACUE program for the past two years. She’s a member of the Education Department at Albertus Magnus College and Southern Connecticut State University.

Shownotes

Transcript

John: After a year of experimentation during the pandemic we can reflect on practices worth keeping. In this episode, we examine what we’ve learned from this experience about building and maintaining a productive class community in multiple modalities.

We should note that this episode was recorded in late April when there was still a great deal more uncertainty about the success of the vaccination program. Today, we’re a bit more optimistic about the fall semester than we were at the time of this recording.

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[MUSIC]

Rebecca: Our guest today is Martha Bless. Martha is an Academic Director at the Association of College and University educators (ACUE). She has been working with us at SUNY Oswego to support our faculty in the ACUE program for the past two years. She’s a member of the Education Department at Albertus Magnus College and Southern Connecticut State University. Welcome, Martha.

Martha: Thanks, Rebecca. I’m so glad to be here. It’s like being with my friends again. I love it.

John: It’s good to talk to you.

Martha: Yeah, yeah.

Rebecca: It’s been a while.

Martha: I know. I know.

John: Our teas today are…

Rebecca: Martha. Are you drinking tea?

Martha: Yes. Special for this occasion, I poured myself some iced green tea because we’re experiencing beautiful weather here in Connecticut where I live.

Rebecca: Wonderful. I have Scottish afternoon tea. I’m back on a streak again.

John: And I have Lady Grey tea.

Rebecca: That’s an unusual choice for you, John. It’s caffeine in the afternoon.

Martha: Is that like Earl Grey? Only Lady Grey?

John: Yeah, they use something different. I actually like it better than Earl Grey.

Martha: Earl Grey is strong. Yeah, it’s got that strong herby flavor to it.

Rebecca: So we’ve invited you here today to follow up on an OpenStax blog post you wrote in January titled Revisiting Pandemic Teaching Advice. Now that we’ve survived the spring semester, and maybe are planning for the fall… maybe we’re in denial about the fall. But for many faculty, that might be back to in-person classes that are socially distanced and masked after multiple semesters of online teaching. So what are some things that are on your mind as you look back over the past year and into the fall?

Martha: Yeah, that’s a great question. So, I’m already getting questions from faculty about this idea of a HyFlex classroom. you’ve heard this term before, where they might be in a face-to-face classroom, but it’s going to be socially distanced, they’’ll be wearing masks, they might have students who are also Zooming in at the same time that their students are face to face. So, that’s gonna pose them real challenges. My husband teaches in a K-12 world, and they’ve been dealing with that all year. So he has kids Zooming in, he has kids who are in the classroom. So it’s a real juggle, and I will say the first couple of weeks of that kind of a classroom can be super stressful. But a way to help with that is to try to have your students who are in class bring devices, whether it’s a tablet, or a laptop, so that, if you want to do small group instruction, for example, you could have the students who are Zooming in sit with the students in the classroom at a desk on the laptop, so that it feels like they’re there. And then I would just say it’s all the same strategies and practices that I’ve been talking with faculty about for the entire year, which is focusing on building that relationship, focusing on getting the stress out of the room first, so that people can focus on the teaching. And that includes you as the teacher. It’s okay in those kinds of situations to come in and say, “Okay, my tech isn’t working today. So let’s talk it through,” or whatever’s on your mind. But I think for HyFlex, again, if you were teaching online this past year, and now you’re going back to campus. In that situation, again, there’s going to be a big learning curve there.

John: What are the best ways of building community in a classroom, because as you noted in your blog post, that’s one of the most important lessons taken away, the importance of maintaining community.

Martha: One of the things that struck me when, in March of 2020, when we were all sort of thrust into this, like, learning curve, where we didn’t have a choice anymore, we had to learn how to teach online. I know I experienced, both as a faculty development professional and as a teacher myself, as a faculty, I get this barrage of emails from multiple companies, from my IT department, from my department chair, all my colleagues, etc. And every day, there would be some new, like, “Try this, here’s this training. Come to this session.” And for a lot of us, it was overwhelming. So what I found was, I tried to sort of filter through all of that barrage of what, in many cases, was very helpful information. Sometimes it was a lifeline, like, “How do I use Blackboard? I need help with that.” But when it came down to it, I think when the dust settled, it occurred to me that there were really two big takeaways with that abrupt shift, one of which was: one of the most important things about online teaching, whether it’s synchronous or asynchronous, is building community. That’s one of the challenges because obviously, you’re not right there with them. You don’t have facial expression, you don’t have gesture, you don’t have tone of voice. So that became really important for me to focus on as a teacher. And then the other thing that bubbled up for me and a lot of us was the workload, the sheer workload that, if you’re new to online teaching, it can be a real time suck. And I always say this about online teaching and learning, The thing about online learning is it’s a great way to learn because you can do it in your PJs, you can do it whenever you want to. It’s always there. You can go to it when you have the time and when you schedule it, but that also is the thing that makes it, from a learning perspective, really easy to forget about, which is why we have often high dropout rates, high failure rates in online learning. From the teaching perspective, I think it’s that same thing. The great part about it is you can do it anytime, you can get to it when you have the time. But the flip side for teaching in an online class is the time management piece, because we often feel like we always need to be online, we always have to be there to answer the email right away. And that can be a huge pressure. Because again, it’s always there. You never know when to turn off, turn on. When am I teaching, when am I not teaching when I teach an online class? So for me, one of the biggest things was… well, a couple things really… at the beginning of the semester, in your syllabus, in your conversations with your students, to make sure that you clearly identify the parameters of communication in your online class. How soon should they expect an answer to an email? When are you available for meetings? When are you not available? About how long is it going to take you to give them their feedback, and so on. So I think, for students, if they know from the get go, here are the parameters, here’s what you can expect from me in terms of communication, then I know I can set that schedule and stick to it. Because it’s like a contract between me and my students. When I say to them,“No, I’m not going to email you back at three in the morning, I’m not going to email you at five in the morning, I’m going to email you between these hours and get back to you within 24 hours.” So I think that that’s a big thing for me in terms of time management that worked really well.

Rebecca: Circling back to the idea of building community, maybe we can take each modality one at a time, what are some strategies in asynchronous environments to get back community going?

Martha: In asynchronous environments, I think that’s one of the hardest because there’s no set time to be together. So I think a couple of things are really important. The first is to get in there and communicate with an announcement, before your students actually arrive, have it populated in your course so that when they open the course they see either an announcement or a video welcoming them to the class, something warm and inviting, not “Hi, here’s what to expect,” but “Hi, here’s who I am. Here’s what we’re going to be doing in this class. Here’s how it’s going to impact your life.” And, particularly in an online asynchronous class, I think video becomes really important. And I know that people are hesitant about being on camera, it can be a little tricky, it can be like, “Oh, that’s really me? That’s what I look like?” But I think we need to get over that and just sort of embrace the camera and make short videos that reveal your personality. And if you’re familiar with Michael Wesch, I know he’s wonderful. He has a great YouTube channel. And he has a wonderful little short video about how to make short videos, which is hilarious. And his point, and also others, James Lang, for example, who wrote Small Teaching, and Flower Darby, who wrote Small Teaching Online, they all refer to the use of video and not to be afraid of it. Because, in fact, research tells us that students actually prefer videos from their teachers that are not slick and highly produced. They prefer them that are more homey, that give them a sense of who you are as a person, maybe a little window into where you live and what your family was like or who your pets are. Those are often more well received than something that you might work on for hours and hours that’s really slick and prepared. So don’t be afraid to create these small little videos and post them frequently. Typically, what I do in an asynchronous class is I post at least two announcements a week and at least one video announcement a week. In the beginning of the semester, I typically do it at the beginning of the week. And then as the semester rolls on, they’ve submitted their first or second assignment, I usually do a short little video that says, “Hey, great assignment. Here’s what I noticed.” And I do a little recap about common themes and threads that I saw in the assignments. So video is a really important thing in an asynchronous class. In a synchronous class, when you’re meeting with students, I think encouraging them to go on camera… I know it’s been a real challenge for faculty. I’ve spoken to a lot of faculty who say, “My students just won’t go on camera, how can I get them to go on camera?” …and certainly we can’t make them. We can do as much as we can to encourage them, including having them use things like background screens, etc. If they’re a little bit shy about coming on and showing where they’re living or whatever it is, but encouraging them through incentives and through modeling it yourself and being on camera, I think, is really important in a synchronous class. And also using active learning techniques where you’re putting students in groups. I do a thing called a chatterfall often at the beginning of class where I have all of my students do a check in and I say, “Okay, type of word into the chat, how are you feeling today? Don’t submit it until I say ‘go.’” And then you say “go” and the chat explodes with all of these words from your students. So doing fun, active, things like that, I think is a way to build community in a synchronous class. Face to face…. obviously, in a HyFlex classroom, of course you’ll have your students in front of you and your students Zooming in. One of the simplest things that has the biggest impact, believe it or not, is learning and using students’ names. You would be amazed how much of an impact that has on students in a face-to-face classroom, in a synchronous classroom, and as am async when you’re replying to discussion forums, for example. “Hey, Rebecca, great job in this discussion, I love that you enjoyed the story.” Just using someone’s name communicates to them that you see them as a human being, that they’re included in this learning community and that you value them. So simple things like that, and be a good way to build community as well.

Rebecca: I know one of the things that faculty might be particularly stressed about, and obviously we have some faculty who have a little experience of this over the past couple semesters, is teaching in person when everybody’s masked. So you might be used to seeing facial expressions, even if you were teaching synchronously online, you might still have gotten to have that, right?

Martha: That’s true, yeah.

Rebecca: So what are some ways or things to be thinking about or planning for in person when people might be masked, but still generate community?

Martha: That’s a really great question. I wonder if doing things like “Hey, bring in a picture of you doing something and share it with the class, when you weren’t masked? What are some things you’d like to do” and share that. And I’ll share that on the screen: “Here’s me at the beach without my mask, here’s me with my family without my mask,” so that at least people can get a sense of the whole person. That’s really one of the only things I can think of.

John: One thing that I’ve done, it was primarily in asynchronous classes, but I’ve thought about doing this in synchronous classes too, is to have students create short flipgrid videos or voice thread and have them do short introductory videos, and then just share them. Now that may not scale very well in a large classroom, so I don’t think I’ll be doing that in a class of 400 students this fall. But that is a way of at least asking students to share something of themselves where at least they can see each other. One concern I have with incentives for turning on the camera is that many of our students are in crowded living quarters with multiple people in the room, there’s often a lot of noise and distraction, and sometimes they’re on limited bandwidth. And so the students who would find it easier to turn on the cameras are those who are living in nice living quarters with their own private space where they can work, where there’s no other people around. And so it’s essentially rewarding the students that are in a better environment, and it would disadvantage your students who are not able to do any of those things.

Martha: I agree. And when I say incentives, I mean things like not points or grades necessarily, but a nudge, or like, “let’s do some gamification, because everybody’s on camera today,” that kind of thing, more interactive conversation. Yeah, I wouldn’t use it as a carrot for a grade or extra credit points or anything like that. But certainly doing more fun activities, and saying, “Hey, if everybody’s on camera today, guess what? We’re gonna stop five minutes early, and I’m going to show you this really cute, award winning short graphic novel,” something that’s more the social oriented incentive, rather than a grade incentive, because, certainly, that wouldn’t be fair at all. I have students who come in on their iPhones. In one of my asynchronous classes, I have students literally all over the world. I have a student in China and one in St. Vincent. This was the best excuse email I ever got, by the way, as a teacher, I don’t know if you know, but St. Vincent in the Caribbean is just experiencing a volcanic eruption. He emailed me and said, “Dr. Bless, I’m so sorry. I’m not going to be able to hand in my paper. I’m being evacuated because of the volcano.” And I was like, “please just stay safe. It’s okay.” [LAUGHTER] But yeah, that was the best late excuse I think I’ve ever gotten as a teacher.

Rebecca: I’ve had two synchronous online classes this semester, and camera use is way down. But I’ve discovered that during certain activities, students will use their microphones quite a bit, and the chat a ton. And we’ve been using interactive whiteboards, like Miro, and students are super active in those environments. So although I can’t see a single face, I actually feel like I’ve gotten to know many of these students. Sometimes they’ll turn the camera on if we’re having a one-on-one conversation or something for a small amount of time. I even had a student turn on her camera the other day, she’s like, “I don’t want anyone else to see this, but I’ll let you see my crazy hair.” [LAUGHTER]

Martha: I love that.

Rebecca: But it’s been nice. I’ve had students presenting work, just speaking a little bit about what they’re doing. And then students are asking all kinds of great questions in the chat, providing good feedback, and it feels really engaged, maybe even more so than in person sometimes.

Martha: Yeah, it’s so funny that you say that, because, thinking about my synchronous class, and a lot of them don’t go on camera. But it’s amazing how much is conveyed just through your voice. Like, I know who they are when they speak, like, “Oh, yeah, so and so? Yep, absolutely. Thanks for you know…” And you’re right about the chat, they are more likely to use the chat than they are sometimes to speak. And I’m okay with that. That’s participation in my mind, as long as they’re sharing their thoughts via chat or voice. And it’s one of the things that I wrote about in the blog piece is to save time in terms of the grading load of any course, and that’s always a challenge for teachers. It’s always like, “I really want to give feedback. But oh, it takes so long to give so much feedback on papers.” So I found a tool when I was working on my dissertation. My doctoral work was about feedback in classrooms, and how to make that process more streamlined and better from both perspectives, for both the student and the teacher. And I came upon this tool, it’s called Kaizena, and it’s actually an add-on for Google Docs. Like a lot of these tools, there’s a free version and a paid version. But it’s not very expensive if you’re a teacher, and the students, of course, don’t have to pay. And what I’ve found is I use that tool, that allows me to drop an audio file or a mini lesson right into the student assignment. Then when they open it up, they hear me giving them comments. And I’ve been using this now for about a year and a half. And in every semester, about mid semester, I survey my students and I solicit feedback from them about various things, my teaching and Kaizena, specifically, and I ask them, “What are your thoughts on the audio feedback,” and far and away, most of them say, “Oh, I really like it, it’s more personal, I can hear the explanation that you give, that makes more sense.” And from my perspective, I can give them a lot more about what they can tweak in their assignment and how to do it than I ever could writing it on Word or in a margin on a real piece of paper. And the other thing that’s kind of funny about it. And sometimes when I give a video summary of “Let’s talk about this assignment and trends that I saw,” one of the last ones I created, I said to them, and it’s you know, towards the end of the semester, so I’ve given them a lot of notes already. And I said “In this paper on Kaizena, some of you may have heard my voice change a little bit and get a little irritated.” [LAUGHTER] And they laugh, and they’re like, “Oh, I know, I know, you’ve given me that note before, Dr. Glass. And I promise next time in the next paper, I won’t do it again,” or whatever, or “I’ll make it better.” But they always tell me in that mid-semester feedback that they really appreciate the voice component of it. And for me, it’s also a time saver. This is one of the other things that I found about the workload in online classes and how to derive that and it makes it more enjoyable. It takes some getting used to like I’m just talking to my computer, but my students really enjoy it. So for me, that’s become a really valuable tool.

John: And the tone of voice in terms of showing when you’re getting frustrated can also show when you’re not being quite as serious, when you’re being a little bit more flippant, which won’t show up in the same way when students are reading the comments, because we know that people in general are more likely to interpret things in a negative way.

Martha: It’s really true. And what I found is that, of course, on the flip side, I also give positive comments like, “Wow, that’s an amazing story. What a great sentence you’ve written here, terrific thesis.” And I can also give little personal anecdotes. One of their assignments is a little short memoir. And I can say, “Oh, yeah, I did that too,” or like relate to them in that way. So it’s a multi-purpose tool for me in both building community and in time saving, because they can hear that connection to me, to what they’ve written, which I think they really value.

Rebecca: I think that also happens too, when you’re trying to give encouraging feedback about improvement, but they just hear “Don’t do this. Don’t do that.” When it might be like, “Oh, you did this thing here. You could do it better by doing X,” which is really different.

Martha: Yeah. And the little mini lessons that I’m talking about… So, in Kaizena, what you do is, you set up your account, and I can create mini-lessons by pulling in content from the web. So like, “Here’s a little video on how to not use passive voice.” “Here’s a little video on APA format,” whatever it is, and I drop it right into the paper so that they can click on it and hear a little one-, two-minute tutorial. They’re very honest in their feedback, and some of them say, “Okay, I didn’t watch all the videos, but thank you for giving them to me.” But the ones who say “Yeah, those were really helpful.” I think it’s a valuable thing for them to hear not just “bad, bad, bad,” but “Okay, this is an edit, and here’s how to edit it. No big deal.”

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about accessibility related to audio feedback.

Martha: Yeah, great question. I always put in my syllabus and also talk about or put a video on the first day that I use this tool. However, if that’s not going to work for you, for whatever reason, email me. And Kaizena also lets me put in text comments. So I have that as an option as well. And because it’s a Google Doc add-on, I have all the Google Doc tools as well for editing and reviewing. So this, give them that right from the beginning and say, “I’m using this tool, if that’s going to be an issue for you just email me privately, you don’t even need to tell me what the issue is just say ‘No, I’d prefer text.’ So I give them that option.”

Rebecca: It seems like it might be helpful to do one more check in after the first time of leaving feedback as well. Like now that you’ve had some of that voice feedback, does it still work for you?

Martha: Exactly. Yeah. And I do, if it’s a synchronous class, I’ll, after the first paper comes in, I’ll walk them through it and ask “Does anyone have any questions or comments?” And if it’s an async, I usually post an announcement and then hold the virtual office hour for anybody who wants to drop in and chat with me about what they heard or any concerns they have.

Rebecca: Time saving tips are really popular amongst faculty, do you have any others?

Martha: Yeah, Kaizena has saved me a lot of time in grading. Sticking to that schedule, I think, is really important. It’s something as simple as putting things in your calendar. So if it’s an asynchronous class, and you don’t have a scheduled time, I find it really important to give myself that schedule, and try to stick to it. Because if I put it in my calendar, and I give myself a reminder, I know I’m going to be disciplined and sit down and get my work done in that hour and a half that I’ve put in my calendar, and then on to something else. So, really simple time management strategies, I think, work the best. I think thinking about creating videos ahead of time, so much of online teaching is done ahead of time, so anything that you can do before the semester starts during break week. So if you know what your schedule is going to be, you know, you can record your little intro videos for all the sections or courses that you’re teaching so that you can just quickly upload those. Making your videos not so specific to a course so that you can recycle them as well is another time saver. So rather than saying welcome to English 130, or whatever the course is, just say, “Hey, welcome to the course, this is who I am.” And then you can use that video in whatever course you’re teaching. Sometimes you can do that with videos, sometimes not, because I obviously like to make it personal for the students and the feedback that they need. But sometimes you can recycle them and that saves a bit of time as well.

Rebecca: I think i n your article, you also mentioned using rubrics.

Martha: Yes, one of the things that’s really interesting to me is that before the pandemic, most of us who are teaching face-to-face all received a course shell in our LMS, whether it’s Blackboard or Canvas or whatever it is, but the data, the statistics on use of those shells was just terrible. Like I think it was maybe hovering around 30% of face-to-face instructors actually used their course shell. Now, I think one of the positives to come out of all of this is that we didn’t have a choice anymore, we kind of had to use our course shell. And one of the things that I learned very quickly was the rubric tool in the learning management system. And again, it’s one of those things that, it’s time upfront, but you get that investment of time back multiple fold. By using the rubric tool to either convert existing rubrics that you have for your assignments or create rubrics. I created a discussion rubric for my synchronous and asynchronous classes. I had existing rubrics for some of my assignments. So I took some of that and just created it in the LMS tool itself. So that now I can go in there and just click, click, click, quickly grade it. And I’ve given them the feedback in Kaizena. So all I need to do in my LMS gradebook is grade the rubric and it’s done. And the other thing about rubrics, particularly for discussions, is I tried to get not too complicated. Don’t overthink it. I think Flower Darby talks about this too, in her book, particularly with discussions. And I’ve gone to a kind of three-pronged rubric, which is “Yeah, you got it, almost… mmh, almost there, not quite… and that’s a do over… like 1-2-3. And if they get a that’s to do over, I actually allow them to do it over because often it happens early on in the semester where they don’t quite have the hang of it. I give them an opportunity to redo because my goal as an instructor is to actually get the students to do the assignment and do it well. Rather than just feel bad about getting a bad grade.

John: Another nice thing with rubrics is that if you share them with students in advance, you’re making transparent what the expectations are. And that makes it easier for students to meet those expectations, because students often, in the beginning of a course, are trying to judge what you expect from them. And we’re not always as clear with that as we should be. And the use of rubrics can make that very explicit and create more transparency in the assessment process, which makes it easier for students to meet those expectations.

Martha: Exactly. I think there’s a level of respect with that, that “Here, I’m telling you, I don’t want you to guess what the teacher wants. I want to spell it out clearly for you.” And I also want to spell it out, not in teacher lingo. I want to make sure that my rubrics are clear to students about even making assumptions, like “analyzes source material…” Well, do I really know that my students understand what analysis entails? And so I think it’s important, when we share the rubrics with the students to parse that language a little bit and say, “Okay, who knows what that really means? What does it mean to analyze a source?” and if they don’t know what it means, then provide that definition for them. But I try not to make it too, too jargony in my rubrics as well,

Rebecca: One of the things I quickly learned… well, maybe not so quickly, I should have learned it more quickly… is that students don’t necessarily know where the rubrics are in the LMS. And you got to kind of explicitly point that out. I think it was halfway through last semester. And I’m like, you need to look at the rubric. If you looked at the rubric, you could get full credit on this assignment. And the students are like “There’s a rubric.”” Like, “Yes, there’s been a rubric on every assignment all semester, and some of them are in the syllabus as well.” But I had to show them and they’re like, Oooooh,” but as someone who hadn’t taught online before, it wasn’t obvious to me that I needed to show them where that was.

Martha: Yeah, it’s another great idea for a short video, the first week of the semester, let’s do a walkthrough of our course, here’s where you find the rubrics and do it as a screencast. And I made that same mistake in the fall about three weeks in, I emailed this person, and they hadn’t turned something in and they were like, “Oh, where do you hand in the assignment again?” …that kind of thing. And I was like, “Oh, gosh, I assumed that people knew Blackboard.” But I really shouldn’t make that assumption. So making a short little, “here’s how to navigate our course” video, I think, is a good thing to do as well.

Rebecca: Yeah, with all those little details, I did the submission piece, like I didn’t forget that part…

Martha: Right.

Rebecca: …but, where the rubrics are, no, didn’t manage that

Martha: …not so much…

Rebecca: Like, here’s a checklist of all the [LAUGHTER] pieces of the class to go over.

Martha: Yeah, an important thing, when you make that video, if you make a short little, “here’s how to do Blackboard” video for your students make sure you’re in student view, because I’ve made that mistake, I’ve started out my video on like,” Oh, wait, I’m not in student view.” So I need to do it again.” [LAUGHTER] …a little thing to remember. And actually one of the new versions of Blackboard, I don’t use it, but my understanding is that they also have a voice comment capability in Blackboard, and so that’s also a great tool to use if you have it. I don’t have it in my version, but I know it’s out there.

Rebecca: One other quick thing to remind students about too, in one of those video walkthroughs, is that the app version is different than the website version, and not all the content that is available in the app version, including some of the accessibility features. So sometimes they’re like, “I can’t find this.” And then you find out it’s because they’re accessing it from their phone and so they default to an app. And they may need to be doing stuff on their phone, because that might be a primary portal to the internet for them. But the web version does work on their phones as well. And pointing out that they might need to switch to that view to get some of the content is maybe helpful.

Martha: Yeah, definitely. As I said, I have a couple of students who access the course on their phone.

John: We always end with the question. What’s next? …which is something we’re all concerned about right now.

Martha: Yeah, that’s a great question. So my “what’s next” is, and I’ve mentioned that I think there are some positives to come out of this, and that is that it really catapulted us even kicking and screaming some of us into the world of online teaching and learning. And now that we’ve sort of gotten comfortable with some of those practices, and with using an LMS, my “what’s next” is what’s gonna stick? Like, are the statistics for using our course shells in a face-to-face course going to go up? Are we going to utilize those grade books more often? Are we going to bring in some of our video and those kinds of communication skills moreso into our face-to-face classes? That’s what I wonder about, like, “how much of our new learning is gonna stick?”

Rebecca: And it seems particularly important if we might be masked and stuff in the fall that we do have that strong digital presence moving forward, at least as we transition back to what will become our new norma.

Martha: Absolutely. Yeah,

John: And I know on our campus, they’re talking about cutting back student print quotas to encourage more continued use of digital materials.

Martha: Wow, that’s really interesting. Yeah.

John: So the goal there is to encourage both faculty and students to take advantage of those features because it’s in everyone’s interest to do so.

Martha: That’s really interesting because, of course, when computers and printers and digital documents first arrived, everyone was like, “Oh, nobody’s gonna use paper anymore.” 20 years later, and we’re still using lots of paper. So that’ll be interesting to see if it has an impact on that. I hope it does.

Rebecca: Well, it’s always wonderful to talk to you, Martha, thanks for joining us.

Martha: This has been so fun. Thank you so much, Rebecca and John. It’s good seeing you.

John: Thank you. And we will include a link to Kaizena in the show notes.

Martha:Awesome. That’s great.

[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.

[MUSIC]

190. Academic Integrity

The global pandemic resulted in a dramatic increase in online instruction. This was accompanied by an expansion of the use of online services that, in return for a fee, provide students with solutions to assignments and exams . In this episode, James M. Pitarresi joins us to discuss strategies that faculty can use to preserve academic integrity in their online courses.

James is a Vice Provost for Online and Innovative Education and the Executive Director of the Center for Learning and Teaching at the State University of New York at Binghamton. He is also a Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Binghamton.

Shownotes

Transcript

John: The global pandemic resulted in a dramatic increase in online instruction. This was accompanied by an expansion of the use
of online services that, in return for a fee, provide students with solutions to assignments and exams. In this episode, we examine strategies that faculty can use to preserve academic integrity in their online courses.

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[MUSIC]

John: Our guest today is James M. Pitarresi. James is a Vice Provost for Online and Innovative Education and the Executive Director of the Center for Learning and Teaching at the State University of New York at Binghamton. He is also a Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Binghamton. Welcome, James.

James: It’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for bringing me on board.

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

James: I had my cup of tea. I drink Barry’s Irish tea with a little bit of sugar and milk, and I’ve already had it today.

John: And I am drinking Spring Cherry Green tea.

Rebecca: And I’ve got a near neighbor with my Scottish afternoon breakfast.

James: Oh, nice.

Rebecca: …to James, not to John. [LAUGHTER]

John: Yeah, I’m not sure where this one comes from. It’s a Republic of Tea tea.

James: Well, I have to try the Scottish Breakfast. I’ve had the English Breakfast tea.

Rebecca: This one’s a Scottish afternoon, and there’s a morning as well, but I actually prefer the afternoon. It’s a little smoother or something.

James: Ok, Yeah, I’ll look for it.

John: And for many episodes, English afternoon was the preferred which is a little bit harder to find. Well, it’s probably comparable to the Scottish afternoon in terms of ease of locating,

Rebecca: You got to know where to look, John, you got to know where to look.

John: Well, we actually have six packs of twenty in the office where they’ve been sitting since last February when they came in.

Rebecca: We have to hurry up and drink those up.

John: So the global pandemic, which began last March, caused many faculty to shift from face-to-face instruction to online instruction, many for the first time. And we’ve seen a tremendous shift of students from face-to-face to online instruction. And that seems to have been accompanied by a fairly dramatic expansion in the use of online services that facilitate academic dishonesty. And a few years ago, at least on our campus, much of that seemed to be taking place using Course Hero. In the last couple years, much of the expansion seems to have been from Chegg. I saw a statistic recently that between April and August of 2020, the number of student uploads or questions to Chegg approximately doubled, and I think that expansion has continued since then. Why are the sites so popular?

James: Yeah, John, great summary of the challenges we face right now. I’ve done a lot of interviewing with students. And actually I stumbled into this in, I think it was June of 2019, at the American Society of Engineering Education annual conference, I think it was in Tampa. And I was doing one of the keynote breakfast things that are sponsored, McGraw Hill was sponsoring it. And we were talking about the future of educational materials. And the session was well attended by both faculty and students. We had a great panel and I was emceeing it. And the conversation came up about Chegg. Now this is pre-pandemic, and the question came up about Chegg. Many of the faculty hadn’t heard of it. All the students had heard of it. And it was an incredible conversation and eye opener. And what came out of that hour and a half meeting was, for me anyways, “Well, why were students using these type of websites?” …and there are many out there, I think Chegg is probably the leading one right now. And it was fascinating, having the conversation with the students. Of course, fast forward to the pandemic, and this all exploded. But what I’ve discovered, in having both focus groups and individual conversations with students from across the country, is that there seems to be a sense that students don’t want to leave points on the table. So if homework is worth 20%, or 25%, or 50%, they’re going to get all of those points if they can, and most students work hard to try to figure it out. But if they’re stuck, they’re not going to leave those points on the table, they’re going to go someplace to get help. And in the past, that might have been the person living in the dorm down the hall, or maybe you went to tutoring or some other source to get help. But these online sites are a couple mouse clicks away. And so the barrier to entry is so low, that if you’re struggling with a demanding curriculum and other things going on, the temptation is so great. And so what I found, in talking to students using these websites, is one of two general flavors. One was the student that was, “I’m not going to leave points on the table,” and frankly, blurring the line between academic dishonesty and trying to actually learn, and that’s sad. And we’ll probably get into that in a little bit in this conversation. The other group of students were students that were really trying to use these sites to learn, they were stuck on something, they couldn’t get past it. They’d submit, they’d take a look or search around. And to a large extent, they really want to learn. The pandemic came, everybody shifted online, and they took a look around and said, “Well, wait a minute here, this person’s cheating. That person’s cheating. I’m the one not cheating, I’m going to get the low grade because I’m really trying to do well, I’m not a cheat.” I heard this over and over again, “I’m not a cheat, but I know everyone in the class is cheating, and I’m not going to be the one getting a B, when they’re getting an A.” And so it became this crazy dynamic of a mix of “I’m not going to leave points on the table,” and “I’ll be darned everyone else is cheating.” And the barrier to entry is so incredibly low that the students who would never cheat, it’s a mouse click away. Oh, there’s the answer. Yeah, I knew that, hand it in, Sorry, long answer, John, but that sort of summarizes my exposure to it.

John: I actually had a conversation with a student just a few weeks ago that mirrors that exact discussion. Her response when we talked about this is she should have had more faith in her own ability, but she was using it as a crutch because she wasn’t that confident, so she was using this in every one of her courses. And I was just the person who happened to catch her doing it.

Rebecca: Academic dishonesty has been an issue for a very long time. But the pandemic has definitely put a spotlight on, especially this kind of digital version of academic dishonesty, even though that same mouse click was there a year or two ago, and these platforms definitely had traffic, they seem to have increased during the pandemic. Can you talk a little bit about the role of the pandemic in this particular issue?

James: Rebecca, you’re absolutely right. Unfortunately, cheating has been going on for a long time. And, usually, the way most professors adjust to that is, let’s say the homework or something might only be worth 10,15, 20%. It’s not particularly high stakes. It’s designed to be formative anyways. It’s the exams. And so in the past, they were face to face. And while young people tend to be very innovative and brilliant in solutions to circumventing academic honesty, in general, it was very hard to do. The pandemic rolls in. And now, exams are online. So we’re in a situation where the barrier to entry to cheating on an exam when it was face to face was pretty gosh darn high. Now, it’s extremely low, because you’re at home, you’re sitting in your bedroom or whatever, at the kitchen table, you’re taking an online test. Many faculty, many universities don’t use a proctoring service, we can talk a little bit about those, they’re typically a cost added, usually to the student, if they become very expensive to do institutionally. And quite frankly, I have a lot of experience that those systems don’t work, they don’t deter cheating, it’s pretty easy to cheat while these systems are being used. And I’ve unfortunately been involved with faculty that I’ve talked to, from my institution and other institutions where cheating has occurred during the exam while it was being video monitored. So in the arms race of trying to prevent cheating in the online world, we as instructors have a tendency to be a step behind. But you’re right, Rebecca, the pandemic shifted us online, including the big assessments, the big summative assessments, the exams, and we struggled with how to do it. Frankly, it was a little bit of lack of imagination on our part, and maybe an unwillingness or not recognizing that this change was afoot. The faculty that I’ve talked to that have modified their exam processes, have had some success. And interestingly enough faculty who have had upfront discussions with their students about academic honesty, and integrity, and setting standards, and a North star for yourself in terms of what your behavior is, they’ve had success in deterring cheating and academic dishonesty. But yeah, the pandemic brought it on, and it was the shift to online, plain and simple.

John: One of the things I think many teaching centers have been advocating for years is to use more online quizzing that’s automated to take some of the pressure off professors, and also to give students lots of formative assessment, as you’ve suggested, much of which is often done as a low-stakes summative assessment too, where students have multiple attempts. And so many faculty have been routinely creating these large test banks and updating them, but they pretty much all appear online pretty quickly. And the benefits of that, in many classes, have effectively disappeared. What can faculty do, without creating thousands of questions every semester, to get around this issue, to give students the benefits of that low-stakes or no-stakes formative assessment, while still making sure that students are actually learning from and ar not just looking things up on one of the services?

Rebecca: John, are you just looking for personal advice?

James: Chances are, it’s out there, John, I’m sorry to say, but hopefully…

John: I actually have been checking and I have done a few things that make it more difficult. But I’ve also been writing hundreds of new questions every week this semester.

James: Yeah, John, that’s part of the challenge is not only is it a shift in thinking for instructors, but it’s a shift in workload. So one approach is you did the work upfront, you’re writing hundreds of new questions with subtle changes, perhaps. And so it makes it very difficult to keep up with all those. The backside is to have more open-ended problems, but then your grading, so your extra work is on the backend. Part of this is having the conversation with the students, an honest conversation about their learning, connecting what you’re doing in the class, what you’re doing with the subject material to the issues that they’re going to face, perhaps in other courses, perhaps in their life and their career choice… so just an adult conversation, this is why it’s important for you to learn that, and I’ve come up with these low-stakes tests, so you can see where you’re at. And yeah, you can cheat on it. If that’s going to be your approach, then I don’t agree with that, and I think it’s eventually going to get you in trouble. So one approach, John is, yeah, you just do it, you have that conversation, and you say, “Look, it’s like taking your temperature to see if you have a fever. Just go and check. You want to know, if you have a fever, you want to know if you really have this material. I think you got to combine that when you get away from the frequent formative testing… the mantra, frequent formative assessment… when you get away from that, and you’re kind of saying, “Okay, here’s the next level test. This is a summative assessment, I need to know where you’re at with it.” That’s where the challenge is at right now, because the test banks have all been widely distributed. And unless you’re a glutton for punishment, and can write hundreds of questions, it’s going to be a real challenge. We’ve had some luck with using Gradescope. John, Rebecca, have you guys used Gradescope?

John: I have not. I know some colleagues who have, although not on our campus that I’m aware of.

James: We’ve had some, I would say modest success with it. It’s a tool that I think works best in a face-to-face type of exam, but you can do it in an online format. It helps speed up the grading process, it leverages artificial intelligence. There are some technical issues and glitches and so forth. But folks in chemistry and math have been experimenting with it with very good results. And one of the things it does is it can reduce the grading time. And that’s been the big pushback from my colleagues is “I’ll make open-ended problems, but then their grading is so hard.” One thing I did, and again, mechanical engineering, so I’ve got an advantage in that I can ask design-type questions. And what I have done in the past… this is pre-pandemic… is I would assign each student in the class slightly different parameters for a design problem. And then I was able, using some software (I think I used Mathematica or MATLAB, I don’t remember), I was able to run all the different variables and come up with approximately what their solution should look like. And so I split the difference, there was a little bit of upfront work in setting it up and a little bit of extra grading. But here’s the thing, the students loved it. And not because it was a design problem… I would say they like design problems. Here’s the insight. They loved it because they could work together, but they all had their own set of parameters that they had to do on their own. So they were like, “Oh, this is great. We got together, four or five of us got together and talked through it and explained it to each other.” But then everyone had to sit down, and kind of run the numbers for themselves. And they all diverged to slightly different solutions. That was a big insight for me. It would be interesting. I mean, I don’t know how you’d expand that to other disciplines. It would be interesting to go back and try that some more and see if that sort of assessment would get around all this. Now that said, could someone post their specific parameters on Chegg and get the answer? Yeah, unfortunately, the answer might be yes, John.

John: And in fact, I did that with my first econometrics exam when we moved online. I created seven variants of each of seven questions for a class of about 30 students, and nearly all the questions ended up online within about an hour of the test. And the first appearance was within 15 minutes of the test opening. So yeah, they can and they get a custom solution that can then be used by others. And for most of them five or six of the variants ended up appearing online very quickly.

James: Yeah, I wish we had a solution. Because if the three of us had the solution to it, we’d be going up for the initial public offering and starting up our company. But yeah, part of it is student behavior, and helping them understand what’s at stake about their learning. Part of it is changing our behavior as instructors. And while I understand sites like Chegg have introduced, I think it;s called honor shields, and so forth, the colleagues that I’ve talked to said it’s not very effective, they haven’t been happy with it. So yeah, this is a very vexing problem. And one that I don’t see a clear solution to in the future, I will say there was a math professor with a small seminar type class, and he just had oral Zoom exams with each student. He just set up a time and asked them. And the same professor, in his larger class, told students, “I might randomly contact you to explain how you solve a problem on a test.” And I think the fear of that alone probably drove students to study. [LAUGHTER] But yeah, you hate to resort to techniques like that. But there it is.

Rebecca: Especially when the platform’s themselves, like Chegg, they’re well designed for the behavior they want to occur. They’re designed in a way that rewards people uploading content, and so it’s designed in a way to be kind of effective at getting students to upload content because they want content.

James: Yep, exactly.

John: That’s actually the Course Hero model where you get free subscriptions if you upload a certain amount of graded material. And then you get access to materials that other students post. With Chegg, there’s a monthly fee, which I know, because I have to pay it just to keep track of all the cheating that’s taking place in my classes, which is really troubling. But it does have a nice interface, which is fairly similar to the interface that Netflix and similar services use. “If you like this problem, you will also like this problem.” And, in general, you can trace your way through and find many other questions from any given assessment that you posted

Rebecca: …referrals and recommendations. It’s amazing.

James: This is the Amazon model. John, one of the things that I found was interesting in talking to students who use Chegg is it recommends another problem. A number of students said that they enjoyed that, because while they saw the solution and everything, they felt that they were getting more experience with different types of problems, and they like that. But what was really interesting is when I would interview students and talk about their use of Chegg, one of the things that kept coming up, over and over again, is they liked the way, with certain types of problems in Chegg, that there could be hints. There are a whole spectrum of solutions available there. But the ones that are sort of curated, they thought were done very well, every step was explained, there was no “Oh, and it can be shown” and “then completing the algebra you get”… they showed all the steps. And some problems have hints, and you can choose to uncover the hints. And many of the students said they loved that. It was in plain language, and it showed all the steps. And maybe we should take a lesson from that when we put together course materials and study guides for our students, maybe that would be more beneficial for the students, would help them work their way through it. But I thought that was an interesting insight, that those were key aspects. Here’s another aspect, there’s not a lot of video content on Chegg. Now part of it is because “I just need to copy the answer and hand this homework in,” [LAUGHTER] but the students said, “Yeah, they didn’t really care about the video content, they were happy to read through the sort of solution walkthroughs.” And that’s interesting, because that’s sort of the opposite of YouTube, where it’s all video. And so the different learning methods and styles and approaches I thought was interesting. I just wish they didn’t cheat. [LAUGHTER]]

Rebecca: I think taking a lesson from some of those design aspects is important too. A lot of the things that students complain about is the learning management system and what that looks like and feels like or, for example, the problem sets that you’re talking about and wanting it to be in plain language rather than in language that maybe seems too difficult, or it’s not the right level of challenge. All of those things are things that could help the student maybe not want to leave your course and go somewhere else if it was built in. But it all requires a lot of time and resources and materials. And many of us don’t have that available to us with workloads expanding and especially during the pandemic having to turn around things quickly to shift gears,

James: Rebecca, you’re right, the massive shift from face to face to online, the anxiety, especially in the early days over this pandemic, and I don’t think the anxiety has gone down at all. But all that and the extra workload of learning to transition online, and figuring all this out. That’s been a consistent challenge during this whole period, that crazy shift in workload. And it’s been a challenge for all of us. It’s been a challenge for the students, certainly the types of students we’re talking about, in general, are students who went to college, they went to a residential experience. And all of a sudden we told them, [LAUGHTER] “Well, no, you’re actually attending an online institution at this point.” And Rebecca and John, I did want to point out, there was another interesting insight. I was interviewing some students on our campus, and then when I interviewed students from other universities, I was able to find similar things. And here’s what a student said to me, and I won’t use names, but they said, “Oh, in Professor X’s class, we never use Chegg.” Well, why not? “We didn’t have to. Her lectures were great. She explained everything. The homework was tied in, it made sense. And she gave us all her old exams. And she said, ‘Oh, you’re gonna know this for the exam.’” We had her old exams, and we’re like, “Oh my gosh, she’s right. We need to know this for the exam.“ And there was good support and tutorial services. There was great support. This is a quote, one student said “Chegg, Chegg who?” …obviously being a joker about it. But I thought that was fascinating, that when the course is well designed, when the material is presented in a clear way that’s student centered, when the students clearly understand how they’re going to be assessed, they know there isn’t going to be the trick problem to separate the stratospheric A from everybody else, they were like, “Yeah, we don’t need Chegg. We have everything we need from the professor and the student support services.” And when I asked students from other universities, I said, “Well, tell me about a course that you didn’t use Chegg.” And pretty much, I’d say well over half of them had “Oh, yeah, in organic chemistry, in thermodynamics, yeah, I had a great professor.” So there’s something in there that we need to learn as instructors. But that said, another quote from the same students who did use Chegg in another class, when I said “It’s academic dishonesty, you can be expelled.” And he said, “80% of the class is using it, they gonna expel all of us?” That’s an interesting perspective from a student. So yeah, but talking to students and getting their views on this has been tremendously fascinating. And it’s really helped inform a lot of the advice I give my colleagues about how to make the best of this situation. But it’s a challenge.

John: And I suspect the number of classes where it’s not being used has probably declined quite a bit, because once they’re paying that monthly fee, and now Chegg has a really nice mobile app, where you just take a picture of a problem on the screen, it uploads it, and the response comes back generally in 15 to 20 minutes, the marginal cost of engaging it in additional classes has become a lot lower for those students who might have considered it but didn’t think it was worthwhile before.

James: Yeah, the barrier to entry is now at ground level, other than the fee of $15, or whatever it is. It would be nice to engage with Chegg and other platforms. We need the students to learn this material. This is important. Let’s work together. I mean, the honor shield, okay, if it’s not working, why isn’t it working? Let’s figure out why it isn’t working on our end, working with students on academic honesty, and having a North star and having their own internal what’s right and what’s wrong, and helping young people build that set of skills and beliefs about themselves. You mentioned earlier that the young woman, she didn’t have the confidence in herself to be able to just do it. And part of it might be down the road, do departments and schools and universities and so forth, make a big fuss out of this? Is there legal action in the future? This is interesting. Where is this gonna go? I think the article in Forbes, which was very enlightening, they talked about the valuation of the company in the billions. And so if you take a very crass look at this, you got a multi billion dollar company based on cheating. That’s a hard swipe, and so forth. But let’s have a conversation.

John: And it’s basically all copyright infringement of textbook publishers’ content and faculty members’ content. So basically, they’re making millions, essentially from encouraging academic dishonesty and from infringing on everybody’s copyright. So it wouldn’t really be all that difficult, I would think, although copyright law with digital materials is a little bit tricky, because we do have the DMCA out there. And I know Chegg in particular, and I think Course Hero as well, is pretty good at responding to DMCA takedown requests, because I’ve sent dozens of them there just in the past semester, and quite a few over the last couple of years. And Chegg is actually also very good in providing faculty with information on the login ID that students use. Up until last year, in my experience at least, students were mostly using their actual college email address. Now they’ve tended to switch it a bit where they’ve created fake Gmail accounts, but they’re still logging in from the same IP address that they’re using when they submit their exams, which makes it really easy to do a look up between the exam and the person contributing the material. So there are ways of enforcing this. And if more faculty crack down on it, perhaps, it might deter a bit more of this activity. But there’s millions being made, as you said, and it might be nice if some of the publishers would work together to try to take back their ownership of the material they’ve paid to create.

James: I don’t know copyright law. But some of the problems I’ve looked at, where they were explained in more detail, whoever wrote that up, sort of wrote it up independent, they did not photocopy the instructors manual, the solution manual, they worked it out themselves. And truly I do not know what the copyright law is there.

John: The solutions, I think, would not be violations to copyright. But the photocopies of the problems and the test questions and so forth would be a violation of copyright.

James: That’s right, when we make up exams and so forth. But I mean, I’ve talked to faculty who had the exam, and had on the exam, “do not upload to Chegg,” [LAUGHTER] and it appeared, as you said, John, within 15, 20 minutes, and in those cases, it’s pretty easy to prosecute. Chegg will, as long as you go through the official academic honesty policy on campus, they’ll provide information, and that gets ugly really fast for the student. And here’s the other issue, John and Rebecca, I’ve pursued academic dishonesty cases, not involving Chegg, and it is work, it’s effort, it’s stress, and then you get the emails from the student: “You’re ruining my life” and all this kind of stuff. And It can be like, “Oh, boy, wouldn’t have been so much better if we had this conversation and you said, ‘Hey, Professor, I’m really struggling, can you give me some extra help or help me find a tutor.’” Here at Binghamton University, and I assume at many universities, students pay various comprehensive fees. tutoring is free, just go and sign up for tutoring, you’ve already paid a comprehensive fee that covers it. And I make that pitch to the first-year students all the time and say,” You’ve already paid for this, go and use it.” But yeah, I mean, think of the effort it takes for you to then go through all this work and crosswalk an IP address to this and that, I mean, that’s part of the equation we talked about, the time shift, you have to spend time on front creating assessments, on the back end grading it, and all through the process, pursuing it legally, a real challenge.

Rebecca: I think sometimes the argument, too, for students about being honest works a little better when it’s in their major, because there’s a slightly better sell of like a direct impact of “this skill set is really going to get you when you start that job and you can’t do the thing.” But we have to work on our arguments for the courses that might be in general education and things and help students recognize how those are valuable as well out in the workforce. Because I think sometimes that argument can be really compelling for students, but we have to be ready to help make it and help them want to be authentic in what they’re doing so that they can have success.

James: Absolutely. And you’re right. When I talked to students, certainly, for the courses outside of their major, they were much more willing to just survive the course, they really didn’t care. And, again, what lesson can we learn from that? Why are students feeling that way? Why are they saying that? Are those courses not connected? Or did we just not make the connection? We didn’t show them, “Oh, yes, that’s important, that gen ed is really much more important.” I’d argue, certainly in the STEM fields, as so many STEM degrees are being offered worldwide, as technology allows for so many of the things that used to require a person, now can be done by AI, that it’s our ability to work in teams, our ability to communicate, its ethics, and how do you tackle big challenging problems? I might be a mechanical engineer, I bring that background, other people bring other backgrounds and experiences. And that, what a great way to tie in general education courses to the bigger picture. Are we making that argument? Are we helping students make those connections? So, something to think about. I don’t have any answers, guys, so I’ll have to stay tuned to your podcast as you bring smarter people in to say, “Oh, well, when James said that, I have the solution.” [LAUGHTER]

John: Are there some other approaches that faculty could use in place of more traditional exams to eliminate some of the incentives and the possibility for this type of academic integrity concern?

James: Sure, there are, and they’re are more time consuming. So I’m going to be honest with myself, it’s a little easier to have 10 multiple choice questions in mechanical engineering on an exam, a little bit of a testbank, a little bit of taken from the homework, taken from my notes, super easy to grade. If you got 100 plus students, you can grade that pretty quick or you bubble source it. And I justify it, because the licensing exam is multiple choice. Well, it’s okay. It’s okay. I think we got to go back and say, “Well, maybe a judicious blend of some multiple choice questions.” Hey, you know what? The licensing exam is multiple choice. And sometimes you just got to get the right answer. With longer answer prompts that ask them to evaluate something, that’s the approach I use, and it weighs heavily on the back end. The grading is now something that you spend the weekend with a stack of papers,going through them. And you know, you guys know how that is, you can’t start grading a problem and stop halfway because you lose it in your head, right? You got the rubric in front of you. But still, you get a certain “Ok, I took a point off for that, yeah.” And so you got to sit and do that whole problem. And that’s for a lot of folks, I’ll just say, for me, that’s a shift in doing things as we shift to online. I hope that when we go back to face to face, and let’s hope it’s this fall, that we don’t forget some of these lessons, that we really should be designing better assessments that really challenge what the students know. My argument is, if you can google on it, and it’s three mouse clicks away, it’s probably not worthy of testing them on it. And the students are telling you that by saying I’m just gonna copy it. So I don’t have great solutions. I know some of the learning management systems, you can put problems in there, they’ll mix up the order, they’re timed, you can’t go back. But, the only problem I have with that is what is it we’re really testing? The time thing just puts a lot of anxiety and pressure on people and I’m not a good one under those conditions. And you know, John, I’m a “Oh shoot on problem two, wait a minute. Yeah, I did. Oh, I did that. I want to go back to problem two. I just remembered, cause in problem six, there was something similar.” You can’t do it. So yeah, there are things we do out there. But they’re not getting at the heart of what we want. And that is students to learn this material and for us to assess it in a fair and reasonable way, and help the students connect all this for whatever goals they have in their lives. What are you trying to do? Why are you in college? What’s your goal? Let’s connect what we’re doing to that goal. So Chegg’s not in front of that, that’s a deeply philosophical question for another podcast. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: I think combined with that, James, depending on your class size, open pedagogy or authentic assessments are also options, but it has to be the right kind of course, with the right kind of content, and the right kind of class size…

James: Yeah.

Rebecca: …for those things to all work in the mix.

James: Yeah, Rebecca, right now I’m teaching an innovation class with 10 students. [LAUGHTER] It is an absolute joy. It’s 10 motivated students, we’re using a platform called mural, which is an online collaborative platform. And so when the homework is due, I can actually go into Mural and see them doing the homework and they see each other’s homework. It’s like, yeah, we’re all going to collaborate on this. And so they can actually look and see what other people are putting in. And I mix it up, I randomize some stuff. So they have to do the reading and then they have to do parts. But, the students love it. And believe me, it’s almost like a bespoke education. This is like hand crafted somewhere between there and I used to teach some of the big sophomore engineering classes with 175 students, and I know some of your listeners who are teaching even bigger classes. That becomes almost industrial in scale. And the ability to give authentic assessments becomes very, very difficult. And until we get those AI engines up… and I’ll tell you what, when they get to the level of being able to do that. we’re all out of a job…. [LAUGHTER] or we better redefine what it is we do as educators.

Rebecca: I think what you’re pointing out, though, James, in some ways is that it tends to be those lower level classes that are bigger, those introductory classes. And so although they might get away with it, in those lower classes, they may not be thinking about the long-term game there.[LAUGHTER]

James: Yeah.

Rebecca: …because those are skills and things that they need in those upper-level classes, especially in their major, it’ll come back to get them in a way that if they don’t take an upper- level class in something else, they might not experience the same kind of consequences. But even reminding students of that, particular long-term consequences of their choices, could be useful.

James: That’s excellent. Rebecca. And as we talked earlier on, I mentioned some of the strategies that seems to work was faculty instructors talking about this, just having a very frank conversation. “Yeah, I know, all these platforms exist. Let’s talk about it. Here’s what I’m trying to do in this class.” Rebecca, I don’t think, in general, we do a great job at connecting the courses across the curriculum. And so I’m teaching my course and I do my thing. And then I hand the students off over the fence. “There you go, go take the next course,” unless we’re doing kind of self studies within our disciplines. “Hey, you know what, I teach this basic thing here at the sophomore level, and you don’t use it till last semester senior year, when does the student practice that thing?” And now we’re expecting them to pull that out of their hat and be experts at it? Why don’t we change things so that they’re constantly using it? And these are great conversations to have… a good hard look, a deep dive into how we build curriculum, helping students connect it, helping connect it to the progress they’re trying to make in their lives. Why are you studying mechanical engineering? What do you want to do with that? Let’s connect those dots through the program, so you can see where things are connected. But as long as the barrier to entry to online cheating is low, [LAUGHTER] but we got an uphill fight.

John: I have tried using some open pedagogy projects, including student-created podcasts and videos created by students, but it’s so much more work evaluating that, that it just doesn’t scale very well. I have been using them in my classes of up to 50 in my online class, but I have not yet committed to doing that in a class of 400, which I normally teach in person… last fall I taught synchronously online.

James: Wow. Yeah, you’re absolutely right. And what are the recurrent themes here? Part of it is: let’s have conversations with students, let’s rethink formative and summative assessments, are there solutions at different scales that make sense? The real challenge, Rebecca, you’re absolutely right, is the big introductory sort of classes where we’ve become used to having sometimes hundreds, if not more, students in the class, these pools of multiple choice questions that make it, and I’m using the phrase industrial and I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense at all, but it’s this ability to be able to expose students to a chemistry curriculum or mechanical engineering curriculum at scale in a very efficient way. [LAUGHTER] I mean, It’s kind of what STEM people do: how do we make this more efficient? And then a big change comes, a huge disruption, and we have to scramble. And so, I don’t see a way around the fact that this is going to be a lot of extra work. And if this were a long term shift, then absolutely, I think we’d be talking about how we restructure higher education in general and different departments and disciplines. I think because it’s short term, the concern I have is, we are going to forget all this, we’re going to wipe our hands of it and go back to face to face and go back to the old way, and not address some of the structural challenges that we’ve uncovered here: helping students understand why it’s important, and “oh, by the way, if the courses are disjointed, that’s on us, go fix that, put some effort into that, and have those conversations with the students.” That’s one of the things I always think about is what is it going to look like a year from now. And I’m concerned that we’re going to miss learning the lessons, we’re going to forget to apply these lessons, when we get back to our old ways, because we’re used to them. “I’ve got my research, my scholarship, my teaching, I’ve got it all balanced just right. I’ve been doing this for a long time, don’t make me change.” But we might have to in order to really help the students be successful. And one thing I always remember is this generation of students is going to be taking care of me when I’m old, so I want them to be good decision makers, [LAUGHTER] and have a good strong set of ethics and a moral compass. So they’re like, “oh, yeah, we have to look at society in a bigger sense.”

Rebecca: That keeps it in perspective, I think, James. [LAUGHTER]

James: Yeah, that’s right. It’s like, “Make sure I’m nice, because when I’m retired, these will be the wage earners. So I want to make sure that they keep the wheels of the economy turning and keep healthcare going and all the things we rely on, that we became painfully aware of during this pandemic, and how thin some of those threads were, how tenuous some of those systems were and are.” So really, it’s amazing how this pandemic has impacted absolutely every aspect of our lives. And we’re talking about some very specific things here. But there’s deep stuff going on here. And this is an opportunity for us to rethink how we move forward.

Rebecca: Especially because it’s easy to go back to what we had or to desire that, especially when we feel potentially burnt out with the workload and things of shifting, or just even having to have the difficult conversations with colleagues about really needing to do significant change when it’s really hard work that needs to be done.

James: Yeah.

Rebecca: So it’s easy to want to avoid it. [LAUGHTER]

James: Yeah, and I’m assuming this is a true statement. But, as a mechanical engineering professor, my training was watching my mechanical engineering professors, right? And their training was watching their professors. And so we teach the way we were taught unless we pause and take a look at the science and research and scholarship in teaching and learning, and then try to apply that. And yeah, Rebecca, you’re right, it’s work. And when you upset that balance, what’s going to happen here? And what does this mean for the future of how we do things? It would be great to not have these massive classes where you could interact with students more directly. I don’t know that that would solve the cheating problem. My students aren’t cheating in my class, there’s only 10 of them, I know them extremely well, they’re very motivated and interested, and they see where it’s connected. So how do you do that at scale and how do you do that across the curriculum?

John: On a more positive note, many faculty who had not been very involved in professional development, who had not reflected on their teaching, because they were just doing it the same way they always had, were suddenly forced to confront some new realities, and they’ve learned a lot during the past year. And I’m hoping that much of what people have learned will not be forgotten as we move past the pandemic.

James: Yeah, I agree. And I’ve been, as I’m sure you’ve seen, I’ve been just blown away by my colleagues, the huge shift, the willingness to just jump on board, to try new technology, to experiment with things and get feedback. Hey, I tried this and it really works great. And then we’ve been able to get that in the hands of other people. It was incredible to see and you’re absolutely right. So let’s pull these good pieces and bring them back. I can see myself now, even when we go face to face, just being more than happy if a student wants to Zoom with me for 15 minutes, and it’s in the evening, I could set up two evenings a week, set up an hour to do that. Like, before, I would have been: “When I get home, I’m toast. I just want to maybe catch up on my reading, catch up on my emails,” I could see that changing. And John and Rebecca, one of the things I have done, is for my entire staff, I have a weekly Zoom town hall where they can ask any questions, I give them updates. It’s fantastic. Folks really like it. And then I run a scholarship program and I just have… every two weeks, I set up a time chunk of time, vast majority of them show up, and we just chat, like, “How are things going?” And I didn’t do that. I mean, I certainly didn’t do it on Zoom before. And I might see individuals now and then, but it made me much more accessible. But in a way that was acceptable. It’s like, “Oh, I’m used to Zoom now, yeah, I don’t mind sitting in my attic studio at home and setting up a 45-minute Zoom and meeting with some students or some colleagues. So what a cool thing to be that accessible and be comfortable with it, within, obviously, within limits, and so forth. That’s a cool thing that I want to continue. A lesson we learned is that when we shifted to online, one thing became apparent right away, is there were a lot of students in socio-economic situations, they didn’t have a laptop, they didn’t have a camera, they didn’t have headphones, they didn’t have internet. And this pandemic has widened the gap to a very uncomfortable level. And so paying attention to that. And what we did at Binghamton is SUNYgave us laptops, we went out and bought a bunch of laptops, we bought mobile MiFi hotspots, 250 of them. You don’t even want to know what my monthly bill is for those… unlimited data. But we just did it. We just did it and sent it out. The other thing is we did a phone campaign just to reach out to students. And we recruited faculty and staff. And it was incredible, just to have a conversation with students. They were like, “Hey,” the overwhelming comment back was “Wow, like, thanks for contacting me.” “Yeah, I’m doing okay,” or “No, I’m not doing okay, I’ve got to take care of my younger brother and sister, my mom is working as a nurse, and it’s absolute chaos here.” So those are two things we learned in the pandemic that I hope we pay attention to, because there are students for with having all this fancy technology, that doesn’t exist. They’re in school, because there’s a computer lab and they don’t own this stuff, they don’t have it. And then the other is just reaching out to students, being a human, you know, “Hey, how’s it going?: …incredible, how powerful that is.

John: This has all become much more visible for faculty as a result of the pandemic. Those inequities were always there, but they were hidden. And now that faculty see that, it may also provide a richer appreciation of the inequities that students face as they were reaching the college level. And that’s something, as we move into the fall, that I think we’re going to see magnified because most students completed most of the last academic year remote, and some students were in well-funded school district with many resources, and all of the students and the faculty had good equipment. And in other schools, they did not have that sort of environment and much less learning occurred. So, we’re going to be faced with a student body that’s going to be experiencing greater inequities as they arrive on our campus in the fall. And I think that’s something that we all have to be prepared for.

James: John, you’re absolutely right, and well said. I think it’s always been there, and now there’s much more awareness. And I think that is something we cannot forget. And the second part of that is the students coming in… we’ve had some conversations with school districts, principals, high school principals, so forth, superintendents, and what we’re hearing is exactly what you said. It’s all over the map in terms of what that academic experience is. We know that the incoming first-year students had a pretty crazy year and a half, a lot of school districts had a “do no harm” policy. So John, if my average in your class was an 87, it didn’t matter. I couldn’t get worse than an 87. So am I motivated to work harder? Or am I going: “and thank you, I just got to take it easy.” And so I may not have learned all that material. So we have that. We have principals telling us that people have moved because of the pandemic, they had to move in with relatives. So the student isn’t showing up, they go to the house, they don’t even live there anymore. Like, where are they? So that’s a challenge. So if you think about the social aspects at home, you think about the emotional growth aspects, you think about the academic aspects, and then you add in standard test optional. The cohort of students coming in is potentially very different in a lot of ways. And we’re going to have to look at how we support them. It’s not a deficit model on their part. It’s a deficit model on our part, too, as instructors. So what are our deficits? And how do we change and modify to meet the students at a place where they can be successful? And I think that’s very important. But John, here’s the thing that was most sobering. One principal told us that it’s not just the seniors, it’s the juniors. It’s like, “Oh, yeah, so not only did the first-year’s propagate through the system, right behind them is the juniors who had a wacky…” and here’s what one principal said: “The biggest failure rate they’re seeing is in the high school sophomores.” This is a problem that isn’t going away. This is going to wash up onto the shores of higher education and if we’re not ready for it, we’re going to be in for a heck of a shock. And quite frankly, those students are going to be in for a shock. So we’ve got to figure out, what do we need to do as institutions of higher learning? And how can we best support students to be successful? No one goes to college to flunk out. They’re going because they’re trying to make progress. They’re trying to make progress in their life. Okay. How do we help them? Oh, yeah, deep and profound stuff, John and Rebecca, the effects of this are going to be with us for years to come.

Rebecca: …at least 13 years, I think, K-12. [LAUGHTER]

James: Oh yeah, right?

John: The preschoolers might have gotten past it by the time they arrive, but…

Rebecca: Yeah. A lot of preschools, I think, still maintained in person, but…

James: Yeah, so big challenges out there. I think we’re up for it. What I love about being in higher education is that we constantly question, we’re curious by nature, stubborn sometimes and have to see data in order to change our minds. But, these are all things we’re good at, and as long as we pay attention, don’t forget the lessons we’ve learned and recognize that the world has changed, and if we’re willing to figure out how we change, then I think this has a good ending. So I’m optimistic. But it’s going to be a lot of work. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Definitely, and some values, of changes of things like flexibility are things that we see as value, perhaps, in students now that we didn’t see before as important skill sets and things, and adaptability.

James: Yeah, and helping students persist, and all the qualities that helped drive us to moving forward in higher education, and so forth. How do we instill some of that curiosity and work ethic? All of us, each one of us, has a unique story of why we went to school and how we want to move forward with our lives. So how do we tap into that and help students be successful? That’s what gets me up in the morning and makes me excited about my job.

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

James: Good question. So I can tell you what’s next on my horizon. I’m in the STEM field, I’m doing some research and doing some digging. I’m concerned about traditionally underrepresented groups of students in STEM fields and their success and persistence. I am very fortunate to have an NSF grant that’s sponsoring some work in this area. And when I interview and talk to students, their perspective is very interesting. For example, I was talking with a young Hispanic woman, very smart, already has a job lined up, great, great student. And she said, “Yeah, they bring guest speakers in the class, and no one looks like me, all the guest speakers look like the professor,” …which is like me, an old white guy. So where are the young people? Where are people that, I know it sounds silly, but that look different, but more importantly, have different backgrounds and different experiences and different paths to success. And that’s such an easy thing to fix at all our institutions. We have alumni of diversity who are out there. So I’m concerned about our ability to attract and retain traditionally underrepresented students in STEM fields, because that’s the pipeline for faculty in STEM. So you want to attack the faculty problem in STEM, let’s fix this problem. And you can argue let’s fix K through 12, but I can impact where I’m at right now. And down the road that’s going to impact senior-level administration. So the more people who choose an academic career, the more diverse points of view we have, the more likely that they’ll persist in the career and move into leadership. So, that’s a big problem I’m working on. That’s what’s next for me is some research and scholarship in that area. Because I want the best and brightest students no matter what their background is, because they got to take care of me when I’m old. And I’m already getting pretty old.

Rebecca: I think that’s a perfect note to end on. [LAUGHTER] Thanks so much for that conversation. Really important things to be thinking about.

James: Yeah, good stuff. And thank you so much for inviting me. I really appreciate it. Best wishes to you all. And let’s reconnect in the fall and see what lessons have we hung on to and how crazy is the fall. So, let’s circle back if you don’t mind, I’d love to catch up with you again.

John: That would be great. It’s always great talking to you. Thank you.

James: Great. Awesome. All right. Bye bye.

[MUSIC]

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

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

[MUSIC]

189. Teaching with Zoom

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in an explosion in the use of remote synchronous instruction, a modality that was rarely used until March 2020. In this episode, Dan Levy joins us to discuss the affordances and the challenges associated with this relatively new modality. Dan is an economist and a senior lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard University where he teaches courses in quantitative methods, policy analysis, and program evaluation. He is the author of Teaching Effectively with Zoom, A Practical Guide to Engage Your Students and Help Them Learn, which is now in its second edition.

Shownotes

Transcript

John: The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in an explosion in the use of remote synchronous instruction, a modality that was rarely used until March 2020. In this episode, we discuss the affordances and the challenges associated with this relatively new modality.

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[MUSIC]

Rebecca: Our guest today is Dan Levy. Dan is an economist and a senior lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard University where he teaches courses in quantitative methods, policy analysis, and program evaluation. He is the author of Teaching Effectively with Zoom, A Practical Guide to Engage Your Students and Help Them Learn, which is now in its second edition. Welcome, Dan.

Dan: Thank you very much, Rebecca and John.

John: We’re looking forward to talking to you.

Dan: Thank you.

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

Dan: I love Moroccan tea. My family’s originally from Morocco. And that’s the tea that I normally drink when I drink tea.

Rebecca: Today, I have Scottish afternoon, John… we’re coming back, coming back with the good stuff.

John: And I have two teas here, actually. I have ginger peach green tea and a Moroccan mint tea.

Dan: Oh, wow.

John: That worked nicely.

Dan: Yeah.

Rebecca: I don’t know if I’d drink them quite at the same time, but… [LAUGHTER]

John: Well, they’re sequential.

Rebecca: So we’ve invited you here today to discuss Teaching Effectively with Zoom. Could you talk a little bit about how you started this book project?

Dan: Sure. So in March of last year, when we all had to go quickly to remote teaching, I had spent the better part of 10 years trying things surrounding online learning at the Harvard Kennedy School. But I had never spent much time with synchronous online teaching. And so when we had to move to remote teaching, my first instinct was to go and observe as many instructors as possible to see what they were doing. And what I discovered then was an incredible wealth of people who were just doing incredible things, they’re being very resourceful in the way that they were trying to use the platform to accomplish our pedagogical goals. I didn’t set out to write a book at that time, but I was just learning a lot. And at the same time, I was observing my daughters, in high school, receiving online learning instruction. Around mid-May, I sort of had the feeling that in the fall, we would be teaching online still. And I felt that there was a lot being written online, in Twitter and blogs and all of that. But I felt, gosh, this is overwhelming. And so I felt the need to have in one single place, what I thought would be useful gui e for instructors who were saying, “I need to do this, I want to do it well.” And I thought that I had gotten a lot of ideas from the colleagues that I observed teach… which by the way, observing colleagues teach is one of the silver linings of the pandemic, because it’s now easier than ever, and it’s an incredibly powerful way of learning. So in any case, at that point, I said, “I want to write this book, I’ve never done anything like that. And I want the book to be ready by July 1, because that’s how it’s gonna be helpful to people in the world, given the academic calendars.” And on July 1, a book was ready. And then on July 2, we put it out there to the world. And then because so much happened in the fall, I released the second edition based on everything that I had learned since then, from my own teaching and that of colleagues. And it was very rewarding to see people from all over the world who had engaged with the book, also contribute with some of their examples.

Rebecca: I think I need to get one of those magic wands you must have to turn around stuff that quickly.

Dan: Well, no. Thank you. I think there’s nothing like a deadline… [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: True

Dan: …and a deadline that I really felt it was important to meet. And I have a good friend who I sent the book, he is not in the education world. And I said, “Here it is.” And then he told me, “Then you lied to me. You told me that you wrote the book in a month and a half. But I know from previous conversations with you that you have been writing this book in your mind for the last 10 years.” And I thought that was an interesting way of putting it because I’ve been thinking about a lot of these issues, but I never sat down to write any of them.

John: It was extremely timely, and I know many people adopted the book last summer or picked up the second edition in January when that came out. There weren’t a lot of resources other than lots of Twitter posts and lots of blog posts on specific aspects. But the book blends together a nice discussion of the technical details of how you do things with effective pedagogy, which is a resource that was very much needed and is still very much needed for many people as we move forward. Because this is an area that people had not really done very much with until this sudden transition.

Dan: Yes, thank you so much John.

John: What are some of the most effective ways that you’ve seen faculty using Zoom in their classes or that you’ve used Zoom in your classes yourself?

Dan: One observation that I had throughout this year… and the book is a little bit organized in this way, but it didn’t crystallize to me until later in the last year… which is that if you conceptualize the way students can engage in your course and think about the different channels… in the book, I describe five main channels, they can speak, they can vote, they can write, they can work in groups, and they can show their work. One of the things that becomes very obvious, at least to me, is that for default, in in-person teaching, tends to be verbal, we speak to each other. And what I realize in live online learning is that of those five channels, the one that most degrades when you go from in person to online is precisely the verbal one. And I think, my sense is that of recognition that that’s the case for many, many reasons, is what I think has made some instructors particularly successful at doing this because they are not wedded to verbal as the main or default channel of communication. So that’s kind of like an overall message that if you think about in which ways can your students engage in your class, and in which of these ways do I want for this particular pedagogic purpose my students to engage with, my sense is that that tends to be a winning combination.

Rebecca: When I was looking at that organization of your book, Dan, it really struck me and was really helpful way of thinking about it. And, in your description right now, made it really clear to me why it was actually very easy for me to switch to synchronous online learning [LAUGHTER] because I don’t really prefer the verbal. [LAUGHTER] So it was nice to engage in these other spaces as an introvert, like I could use chat in other places that I’m actually much more comfortable. [LAUGHTER]

Dan: It’s interesting you say this, Rebecca, because the same thing that you said, is true for students. So introverted students now have different ways of engaging with us that we might not have even heard from them before. And I think if we leverage those ways, we’re going to end up being in a better place. And most importantly, they’re going to end up being in a better place.

John: One of the nice things about written communication and chat is you’ve got that delete key, which, when people are feeling a little more introverted, perhaps, they’re less confident about saying something where they can’t take something back, rephrase it on the fly. And having that delete option, lets them be a little more thoughtful in their participation, and can lead to a much more inclusive environment in many ways.

Dan: Absolutely. The other thing that it does is that you can take your time to compose a message that you write, whereas, when you’re called to speak, you might have perhaps practiced this message in your mind, but you feel like on the spot, you have to now deliver it at that point. And then the introverts tend to have more difficulty with that. And I say that as an introvert. I don’t want to be too binary in the definition. But I say that as an introvert.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about why the verbal channel degrades a bit in a Zoom situation? Because I think that might actually be really helpful for people to think about.

Dan: Sure. So one way in which it does, and I wish the podcast was a video podcast, but one way in which it does is right now we are with this software, and the three of us can see each other. But right now, I’m looking at you, Rebecca, and you think I’m looking down somewhere and not at you. Like you have no idea that I’m looking at you. And you’re like, “Why is this person looking down? I’m speaking with him.” And John right now also thinks I’m looking down. So he doesn’t even know that I’m looking at you and not at him. And if I wanted to give you, Rebecca, the impression that I’m looking at you, I would have to point my eyes to a camera, and I no longer have any nonverbal feedback from you, I have no idea of what’s going on with you. And not only that, now John thinks I’m also looking at him, and I’m not looking at either of you. [LAUGHTER] So, that’s kind of one simple level and I’m optimistic that maybe we’ll have technology that solves this. The other day, I saw a Kickstarter campaign that a friend of mine forwarded to me for this idea that I kind of have been having for a while but it seems like someone actually created a product for a video camera that is in the middle of your screen, rather than at the top or at the bottom. So, in any case, that’s one aspect of it, but another, I think, important aspect… and people have written about it… is that the communication is just not as effective. You cannot signal in the same way non-verbally as you can signal in a classroom. In a classroom, you have your whole body to express, you can use physical distance with the students, to approach, you can move, there are so many other things at your disposal. And the one to me that still becomes the most important one is that you cannot hear the classroom. People have to unmute… if you have a big enough classroom they have to unmute, and that is just much less natural. There’s no “click this” reaction item to sort of say how you’re feeling. No, you just see it automatically. So in any case, those are some of the ones that I have felt myself, I’m sure that you as educators have also other ones. But of all the channels it’s the clearest one in which in-person seems to me better than online.

John: Are there any other ways in which remote synchronous instruction offers some advantages that we don’t have in the classroom?

Dan: Yeah, for example, writing… we were talking about writing. We can use writing in the classroom. I think many of us have shied away, we’re nervous about having our students with their laptops in the classroom and so on. But writing feels to me such a powerful tool, not only for doing the kinds of things that Rebecca was saying before, that you can bring introverts, or the things that you were saying more generally, John, that you can have more inclusive teaching, but you can do what some people might describe parallel processing instead of serial processing. So if you ask students in the classroom, can you give me an example of X, please write it in the chat, within 30 seconds you have 20 examples if you have 20 students, whereas if you had to do it verbally, you would take one at a time. And that, I think, is much less efficient in that sense. So I think there are many, many reasons why chat, even though it’s controversial, can be powerful. And I know one of the favorite ones that I’m sure you’ve all used is this one-minute paper, where you tend to distribute this piece of paper where they write it and they give it to you. And I’ve always had the intention of using this in my physical classrooms. But many times, it seems like the last minute of class there’s something more urgent that I need to do and then there are logistics there. But with online live teaching, it’s very easy. You can do something as simple as “One minute left in class, please everyone write down what was your main key takeaway from today.” And within a minute, you have a lot of information of what happened in that class.

Rebecca: So a lot of faculty also seem to be under the impression that by being physically in the same space, somehow community is automatically formed. Can you talk a little bit about how community does build in an online synchronous space?

Dan: To me, this was one of the biggest positive surprises I thought of all the aspects of online teaching, this would be the one where it would perform the worst. And I do think that there’s something special that happens when human beings are together in the same space. There’s no question for me about it. But I observed many instructors doing things that I think helped create community in the classroom in ways that I was very surprised. And if I had one general guidance to give is that you just have to be a lot more deliberate about creating community than you are when you are in the same physical space together. And people do it in all sorts of ways. But I think just being deliberate and being intentional about it goes a long way. And just to name three very practical things. One is, if you can open your classroom before class starts, in some way that simulates what you would do in a regular class anyway. Second, if you can stay in your online class for a few minutes after to speak with students. It’s another way of doing it. And then there are of course, things you can do that in a physical and in an online classroom that I think are good for creating communities. If you can learn about your students, so that they know that you know them, that you’ve taken a personal interest in them and that you can bring that to the classroom, that I think is just as true or nine as it is in person. Then there are many other things, there like music lists, and many, many things that people have been very creative about. But those are three that come to mind as fairly easy to do.

John: One of the things I really like about your book is you start by emphasizing the use of a backwards design approach in classes. And you suggest that that be done at the level of individual class sessions or individual activities. Could you give us an example of how you might apply that in a synchronous online session in Zoom?

Dan: Many, many people that listen to your show, I’m sure have heard of backward design and subscribe to it in their own teaching. I think in some way, it’s not that different online in the sense that you think about what are two or three things that I want to make sure that students are able to do at the end of this learning experience. And when you plan your class, you organize it around those things. And one of my biggest challenges as an instructor is time management, it’s like, “Oh my god, can I manage time to do this?”… but what has been very helpful to me is I might have a class plan that says part 1 – 15 minutes part 2 – 23 minutes, and so on. And as I look at the clock, I know where I am in the class plan relative to the time, and knowing what are those two or three things that you want to make sure that everyone gets at the end, allows you to make choices in the class that I think become more likely to succeed. So for example, if you feel like you’re running behind, and there is a particular topic that you think is useful, but not crucial to those two or three things, you might decide to skip it, or you might decide to go a little bit faster, or you might decide not to pause for the discussion that you were planning to have. So, having a concrete set of what you are trying to achieve. I know it sounds obvious, but it wasn’t to me when I first started teaching. I conceived of teaching like, “Well, we need to cover this, and this is what we’re gonna do.” And I still remember attending a one-hour session when I was a PhD student at Northwestern University, from the Director of Teaching and Learning Center at the time, Ken Bain. And I remember him introducing this idea. And that was totally revolutionary to me. Again, I know for many of us, it’s not anymore. But that was more than 20 years ago, and has guided my teaching ever since.

Rebecca: You know, Dan, I certainly subscribe to backwards design, both as a designer and also as a teacher.

Dan: Yeah.

Rebecca: … but I did find myself doing synchronous online being really specific about time chunks, because it’s like, “We need to mix this up, otherwise, we’re just staring at a screen.” And being even more intentional about that. I’d have an agenda and the students can see me going in there like, “No, we’re changing this agenda. [LAUGHTER] on the fly is like “No, this conversation’s good, we need to do this instead.” [LAUGHTER]

Dan: Yes, I guess they’re seeing your design as you are executing it.John, you were asking about some of the advantages of online. I hate to mention this as an advantage. But the reality is, we now have screens, and we can put to the side of the screen things that we want to remember in a way that’s harder to do in a class. So this is like a super tactical tip, but you’re interested in teaching inclusively in the classroom, and you’re worried about voices that haven’t participated that much, you can do something as low tech as: before your class, you write the name of say, three to five students that you want to call on in a piece of paper. And you tape that piece of paper to the right of your screen, right where the participant, the Zoom participant list normally is, or Zoom or whichever other software. And when you see the participant list and you see a few hands up, you look at your paper list and sort of see is one of the hands up belonging to one of the students that I want to call on. And that seems like a simple thing. But it is helpful. I don’t know if you know, but I co-created this application called Teachly, which allows you to track participation and help people teach more inclusively and effectively. And this makes the use of this app even easier, because once you have that participant list, you just put it next to the participant list in Zoom, either electronically or physically. And you have that as a way to do it.

John: And if I remember correctly, on your companion website, you have a picture of a list of names taped to the side of the screen.

Dan: Yes.

John: And we should also mention that there is a really great list of resources associated with the book. We’ll include a link to that in the show notes.

Dan: Thank you. Yeah, the website. Victoria Barnum, I work with her, she put it together. And it was again, a very quick way to try to put resources out there that would be helpful for people. And there’s one page for each chapter of the book.

John: You mentioned rearranging things to make sure you get to the end result. And that’s something I’ve noticed I have to do a lot more with synchronous remote sessions than I did in the classroom. I think partly because I was so used to doing it in a classroom, I had routines where I could get the things more or less quickly with a whole set of activities. But maybe I’ve been over-preparing, but I have a big list of things I want to do. I do polling in the classroom, I have some group work where they’re working in breakout rooms, and I never can get all them done. So I’m constantly, as I’m going through each day’s session trying, “Well, which of these is most important to getting them to that goal,” which is a way I never really had to think about quite as extensively as I do now.

Dan: Yes, though I will say that I was having those same struggles before online teaching, but I also share your experience that they have become more prevalent, and to the extent that it has forced that conversation on all of us. And “Okay, what is the essence of what I want to make sure that students are able to learn in this class?” I think that’s a positive development. One of the things that I discovered very early on in the process of writing a book is that many instructors, and maybe John, this applies to your experience, were saying that compared to their in-person class, when they try to execute that plan, they generally were only able to do about 80% of what they were doing before. Now I don’t know how much of that is still true today. Maybe as we get better with teaching online, we can get that number closer to the 100%. And I don’t know the extent to which it has to do with Rebecca’s questions about verbal communication degrading and making it harder to communicate. But to the extent that that number is even in the ballpark of being true, it does explain why most of us are feeling that need to interrogate more our class trends.

21:15.461

Rebecca: Maybe it’ll also make us a little more empathetic to students who have time management issues, we’re sure. Zoom has really evolved quite a bit since March, there’s new features and new capabilities and things. Can you talk a little bit about how your own teaching using zoom has evolved over the past year,

Dan: I think as all of us practice has allowed me to become better at it, I remember the first few times, I couldn’t even imagine being able to check the chat at the same time, then I was teaching, I was like, there’s just too much going on here. Now, I won’t say that I can handle any number of comments in the chat. But now I can do it in a way that I couldn’t do it before. And so in some way, teaching online live sessions is an exercise in multitasking, you have to pay attention to a lot of things that are happening in your students in your screen, and so on. And frankly, with as much practice you get better. And I think that’s one thing that’s useful in terms of zoom specific things. I think one feature that has come out relatively recently, which to me opens a whole set of possibilities is the fact that now in breakout rooms, you can set it up so that children’s can choose the breakout rooms. And I think that opens up many interesting possibilities in that perhaps students can choose according to a particular interest that they have, perhaps they can choose relative to position that they might have in a debate relative to a vote they have had in a poll. And that I think, in some way, is incredibly powerful. So that’s one way in which I’ve just began to explore. And I hope by the way, there are other ways of setting up the rooms in the future, that might be good. The second thing, which we haven’t talked too much about the breakout rooms. But I think breakout rooms combined with collaborative documents, such as Google Slides, or jam board or mural, whatever other tools we have, can be incredibly powerful for group work. And that has been an area of constant experimentation for me and many of my colleagues. And that is one area where I think we can make even more progress. And my sense is that we’re going to bring some of that into our physical classrooms, when hopefully someday we come back to our physical classrooms.

Rebecca: I’ve experimented a lot with those new breakout rooms more recently, as well. And even with some mastery learning activities, where we’re doing exercises, and as they complete one, they can move to the next one and moving to different breakout rooms depending on what they’re working on. So they can help each other out and collaborate. And that’s been working really well. And I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from students about how that’s actually really helpful to like community of people who are actually at the same moment of their learning. So there’s a lot of possibilities there.

Dan: Many, many you can have different themes. There’s one thing we experimented recently, I don’t know if any of you co teach a class, but we were doing this in a program in executive education, we to try to create a more intimate environment, we divided the class into two groups, and each of the group was with one faculty member. And we had asked each of these faculty members to be available for an hour. So for the first half hour, Group A with with the first instructor group, he was with the second instructor, and then at the half hour marked, we swapped them and we thought about Okay, how can we do this easily without people getting lost? And all we did was to swap the instructors from one room to another and all of a sudden you basically had students who are staying with one hour in a breakout room, were able to have a more intimate experience with two instructors. With that, I think would have been hard to do in the physical world.

Rebecca: Nice that we’re getting to the point where we’re appreciating some of the digital rather than scrambling all the time.

Dan: Yes, I think there’s some things that actually worked better.

John: And certainly that ability to mix up groups easily and quickly in different ways. Either having persistent rooms where you have persistent groups working in the same room regularly or mixing it up for different topics or again, doing the self selection gives you a lot more variety and how you mix and match activities.

Dan: It does. My colleague Terry serranos was experimenting with this and I thought that was an interesting use. If you have a teaching assistant and you have your students work on an activity during class, they three or four minutes in silence work on this you can open a couple of breakout rooms and one of them has a teaching assistant and if you would like help from the teaching assistant go to breakout room one if you would like to work alone in a virtual room go to this other room. So I think we’re experimenting in ways that I think are conducive to good learning experiences.

John:
One of the other in recent addition, cism is the ability to let co hosts set up and establish the breakout room. So if you do have a teaching assistant or multiple instructors, if you’re presenting on something, or if you’re working with a group, you don’t have to do the back end arrangement while you’re also trying to do other things. So if that makes it a whole lot easier,

Dan: I totally agree. And sometimes you can multitask. But if you can have one less task to do, that’s probably helpful.

John: You also talk quite a bit about the use of Paul, and could you talk about some of the ways in which people might do Pauling and how polling might be used effectively in instruction,

Dan: I want to first say that I started using polling many, many years ago in my physical classrooms inspired by one of my mentors, Eric, Missouri in the physics department, at our end, I do you have a bias towards using them. But I would say a first approximation, polling allows you to learn what your students are thinking in a very efficient manner. And I’m struck by the number of times where what I think my students are thinking is not what my students are thinking. And so for me, it has been very, very useful tool to center me in the reality of what actually is happening in the classroom. There’s this wonderful book by Derek Braff, he wrote it years ago before the pandemic head, but I still think it’s very applicable. In that book, he describes many, many uses of it. But just in the interest of time here, one way in which I use it is to check for understanding Another way is when I, particularly when there are questions in which I think students might not be so willing to express verbally how they think about something, I want to be able to allow them an opportunity to do that. And then the nice thing about polling is that it can be combined with other things like think pair share peer instruction, or other things that depending on where the poll results, you can take in one direction or the other. So I’m a super, super big fan of it. And if you have listeners who haven’t tried, no matter what your field, I actually highly recommend that you try it. And the best way to do it, it’s just try one or two polls in one of your next classes and see what you learn from it.

John: And it not only helps you understand what students understand or where students are, it also helps students understand what they know, and they don’t know. And it gives them that immediate feedback that would take longer to do in pretty much any other way.

Dan: Absolutely. It also allows them to commit to an answer. So that allows them to more actively participate. The other thing that I find is that I think it emboldened some students to participate. If they my response has 30% of people who voted for the same response, then there’s something here that I’m not going to be the only one defending this use. So I’m going to go out and defend it. So I’m a big fan of it.

John: And once they commit to that, and you tell them they’re wrong, they want to know why. And that’s not something we always say that committing to that answer is really effective. It is it is Dan Ariely. And one of his books talks about a similar experience where he said he presented these results that he did not find very intuitive. And he gave a talk at some firm. And people would say, Well, yeah, that’s exactly what we’d expect would happen. And then he started pulling them, because then you actually got to see what happened rather than them saying, Oh, yeah, that makes sense. That’s what I would have said anyway. But once you got them to commit to it, all of a sudden, they were objecting they were discussing, and they were engaging with material. And I know Eric Mazhar gave a talk at our campus. I mentioned this on past podcast, but he basically asked people to make a commitment deciding what happens to the hall and a plate of metal when you heat it up. And he went through that whole process where students voted, then they discussed it. And then they voted again, he started to go on to the next topic. And people were angry because they wanted to know the answer at he’s used this example at many places. But one of the things he said is, if I was to give a lecture on what happens, the whole and a plate of metal when I heat it up, it would be about the most boring lecture that you could imagine. But now you all want to know the answer. And so motivating curiosity through these types of things and having that engagement and discussion is a really powerful technique.

Dan: There are several components there, right one is questioning for teaching. The other one is, as you said, the commitment that comes from the poll in the other one is the wanting to know aspect that the whole experience created. The other thing about using poll through technology and about paper that we published some time ago with a student Josh Yardley, and one of my mentors at the Kennedy School Richard Zack Houser, where we compare voting outcomes when students voted by raising their hand versus with at the time, we use this clicker devices, and we discovered big differences in the raise of hands versus the polling devices. So I think another advantage of polling electronically is that they tend to reveal more truthful and it sounds like your story from Dan Ariely reveals that more truthfully how tos actually think

Rebecca: it’s probably that anonymity behind the technology, you have to raise your hand. Now everybody knows whether or not you’re right or wrong. Exactly.

Dan: And also, you are seeing other hands being risen. So you might want to side with the majority in a way that you wouldn’t have if you had to do it electronically. I think

John: this is one of the areas where it seems to take me longer when I’m using zoom. Here, we have a campus adoption by clicker, but this works with any type of boring software, students vote on it, then I send them to breakout rooms. And it takes just a bit longer to do that, just because of the time it takes them to go in and out, then it would in the classroom. So I’m not able to get quite as many clicker questions. And so I have to choose them perhaps a little more carefully than I do. And I’m not using the think pair share quite as actively as I would in a classroom, because it’s really easy to say find someone nearby who has a different answer and debate it for a few minutes. And you can pretty easily see when it’s done in breakout rooms, it’s a little harder to do that. So I generally will, depending on the type of question, I’ll pick the time, which should be enough for everybody, but just the time it takes to get them there and back just adds a little more overhead. But on the other hand, I think it’s still working really well. And maybe by being more judicious in which questions I’m asking that might compensate for the additional overhead costs? And

Dan: I’m not sure yes, and it’s interesting you say this, John, because I have had the same experience. And I wonder if one of the drivers of this is that in a physical classroom, the students tend to know the students who are nearby. So by the third or fourth time you do this, they don’t have this awkward bore you. And my sense is that while the default, and probably a good default that we use in zoom to assign students is random. My sense is that part of what’s driving students taking more time is that they’re often put in this breakout room with someone they’ve never met. And the degree to which they can collaborate quickly on your question about the minimum wage, or whatever you’re asking them to collaborate on probably is not as good as if they had already interacted a lot with each other. So wonder, it does have some disadvantages. But I wonder if you might gain some advantages for those quick questions to always assign students to maybe not the same other person, because then if they all have the same answer, we won’t work but maybe a group of three, this is something that I’ve been surprised by as well. In writing the book, one of the things that became clear is that students tended to like break out rooms by enlarge. But the two main problems they saw with them, his instructions, were not always very clear. And that I think is on us as instructors. And then the second one is, we didn’t give them enough time. And I think you’re right that in a classroom, you can sort of see when the sound is dwindling down. But in the virtual world is a little bit more difficult. I think if you use a collaborative tool, like a Google slide, or something like that, you would be able to sort of see where each group is. But that’s for longer breakout rooms,

Rebecca: That’s definitely my feature request is being able to have more information about what’s going on in a breakout room, even working on little activities or projects, I teach longer extended classes. So they might be working on a project for a period of time. It’s like if I was walking around the classroom, I would just know what they’re doing. Sometimes I can see their files and depends what they’re doing. But sometimes we’re doing code projects or things where it’s not quite as easy to do that.

Dan: I think if you had a Google slide that you can see, but sometimes the word doesn’t lend itself to Google Slides. But you’re right, I think it would be great if they could signal that we’re about 80% down. Here’s prejudice. But I don’t know maybe there’s a future version which we can pull students when they’re in breakout rooms. That might be one way of see Yeah, even

Rebecca: being able to chat with the breakout room would do that. In my class, we ended up setting up slack. So we had that kind of better chat experience while they were in breakouts.

John: That’s certainly been an issue. I know my students are getting much more adept when they’re working in breakout rooms for a longer period and summoning me for help. But it’s really common to get called to one of the breakout rooms I’m talking to them. And then they got another call from another group. And it looks like I’m not being responsive, but I’m really just trying to finish a topic in one group. And it can be a bit of a challenge hopping from group to group because the communication ability to break out rooms, as you both said is limited at this stage.

Rebecca: I’ve had people jumping back into the main window for help. And that works better because then if another group or something jumps back into the main window, they can see that there’s a queue.

John: At least then it’s visible. One of the concerns that many faculty have expressed is that they’re interacting with students who they will see typing in chat and they will hear their voices but they never actually seen the students because most of the time, they have to keep their cameras off because there’s other family members around them. Or they’re connecting to Wi Fi in a parking lot next to a fast food restaurant, or they’re working on a mobile device with limited data plans. So that’s perhaps more of a challenge for faculty than it is for the students themselves. But a lot of faculty suffered Warzone fatigue, when they don’t actually get to see their students. Do you have any suggestions on how people can perhaps get past that?

Dan: So when I wrote the book, initially, I was well aware that I was trying to be helpful to as wide of an array of instructors as I could, but I was well aware that different international contexts might make some of the recommendations harder than others. I think, for the reasons that you suggested, it is hard, in some context, to be able to sort of say to students, please use your camera. So even in my environment, I tried to note them to using their camera, but there are legitimate reasons why they might not use the camera. But what I have discovered, I think you might have discovered in your own faculty meetings, and so on, is that sometimes the issue is not the kind of issue that you pointed out for bandwidth connection or anything like that, is that sometimes you just want to be listening without your video showing off. And what I understand that I think that what we do in our teaching at the end of the day can be profoundly human. And I find it to be very hard to create a human learning experience. If most cameras are off my standpoint, it feels like no one is there. But it’s not only from our standpoint, right? It’s even from the standpoint of the other students in the class. I’m the first one who understands about zoom fatigue. And so I’m not above sometimes having a camera of so I can take a break. But I do feel like to the extent that we can motivate that, and perhaps try if we can to reduce the stigma, use a virtual background, do whatever you can, I think it’s better. But again, I’m not at a place to say everyone should do it, I just be like, the experience can be more human and more effective. If we had most of our students on video,

Rebecca: there seems to be a peer pressure component to that classes have personalities. And if there’s a lot of people who tend to have their cameras on all the sudden there’s more cameras on and if it’s a class that just shuts down, everybody’s in shutdown mode, and breakout rooms, where they’re talking to each other tend to make more cameras appear on from my experience.

Dan: Yeah, I suppose there’s a tipping point, I once gave a I think it was kind of like a webinar where it was on zoom. And you know how on zoom, you have 49 little squares, and then you can go to the other 49 and go on in the videos tend to go on the first. So I think they were like 400 people. And they were like 12 with a video on. And to me that just was very, very challenging. And then I’m not expecting people to put their video on because it’s challenging for me, but I’m expecting that it’d be better experience for everyone. If we can look at each other.

John: I agree, it provides more of a sense of humanity, when you can actually see people, it’s not just that array of black boxes. I know in my own classes, and I think many people on campus have suggested that there’s been that sort of peer pressure to have fewer and fewer cameras all the time. And I think that’s made it a little more challenging for everyone perhaps to have that same sense of engagement, encouraging it is certainly valuable. I think,

Dan: I wonder if this is just speculation on my part. But I wonder if in those contexts to the extent that one of the reasons driving it is I just need a little bit of time off the screen. I wonder if maybe there will be periods in the class where you don’t think that video being on is this critical, and you designate them as camera off period. And the default is camera on. I’m not sure whether that would work. But that’s one idea that just occurring to me.

Rebecca: I’ve experimented with things like that a little bit, Dan, in my longer classes, because he wants to be on camera for three hours. I certainly don’t. That’s right. So like between a mix of breakout rooms, and then little activities that they might do on their own. We do have periods where it’s Hey, we’re gonna have a conversation now it’d be really great to like see, you win an invitation to turn them back on but then also for doing something that’s an independent activity, like we’ve established what behavior of the default this camera off so that people aren’t staring at you while you’re writing something down or whatever. And I also turn my camera off and signal that now’s a good time to turn your camera off and then turn it back on.

Dan: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me. Sometimes we will just need a break in some days, not even a video break. Last semester. I remember there was a class where I can I mean, I cannot feel it in the same way that I feel it in a physical classroom, but I could feel that the students were tired. And so one of our teaching assistants I knew that she thought yoga. And I was like, Alright, I know that this is not going to be the end all. But we’re going to do one minute yoga poses for just one minute to just reset. And even that can bring a little bit of energy to the class. And so my short answer to your question, john, is that I don’t know how we solve that problem. But I do think that it is a better experience if we can to have more students most of the time by video, and I like Rebecca’s gentle now it’s a good time to have the video on as a way of signaling when it’s important.

John: Earlier, you mentioned teacherly as a tool to help track engagement. Could you talk a little bit about teaching?

Dan: Sure. So digital is an application, we created that Harvard University group of us to help faculty teach more effectively and inclusively. When you’re in a class you call on different students. And what you see happening very quickly during the semester is that some voices start dominating the classroom and you don’t even realize it. And then you don’t even realize which voices you’re not hearing from. So the way that teacherly works is very simple. You basically have someone record every time that a student participates. And then the students, all they need to do is to fill in a student profile that information about themselves. And as an instructor, then you get access to the student profiles, which allows you to know more about your students, which allows you to search their profiles to see if there are things that you want to incorporate into your next class. And the other thing that it does is it gives you dashboards, about your participation patterns. And so you can see which students have tended to participate the most which students haven’t participated. And most importantly, you can take action to redress any participation patterns that you want to redress. It’s a tool that’s freely available to anyone who wants to use it, the website, it’s teacherly.me. And you adopt the version, there are two versions, the main version is the one that allows you to have student profiles and so on. And it’s been used at Harvard for the last four years, we have over 100 faculty members using it. And last year, we launched an open version so that anyone anywhere in the world can use it. And we’re very happy to see people from other universities started adopting even people from high schools have people at UC Irvine, we have people ideal, we have people in Chi in Costa Rica, and we have people at different places using it. So if you’re interested, go ahead and try it out. I hope it can be helpful in your efforts. I always cite as an example, the fact that before I started using it, I had 46% of students in my classroom one year identify themselves or female students, and only 36% of the comments in the class were coming from female students. And that was a total shock for me, because I didn’t think that that pattern had emerged in my classroom, but it had and this allowed me to take corrective action, where easy to see where you need to take action. And now I’m proud to say I’m not the only digital user who would say that, but I have at least a gender equitable classroom, I no longer have that pattern that I didn’t even know I have, until I started using it.

Rebecca: We’ll make sure that that link to teach Lee’s in the show notes. And that’s a really powerful way to remind us how much data can actually help us that technology can help us in a lot of different ways,

Dan: knowledge and data can help us my colleague studies, we’re owners and Victoria Barnum are also behind this effort. And many of us will be happy to hear from anyone who’s using it,

Rebecca: That leads nicely into what are some of the things that we can take away from this year of technology exploration, as we hopefully start moving back into physical classrooms?

Dan: So this is a question I’ve tried to give a lot of thought, because there’s an aspect that I think is very natural for most of us, we just want to go back to our classrooms, and all of this stuff of assigning race and all of that, but we just want to be with our students in the space. I think for many of us, there’s so much lost that we felt when that environment was in some way taken away. And there’s so much longing for that environment. Again, having said that, I would say that there is so much that we learned about eating during this time that it would be a pity, if we just go back and only adopt nominal change to what we’re doing. My sense is that most of us will now explore using Office Hours through zoom or a similar technology. My sense is that a lot of us created videos for students to engage before class and we might reuse those videos. And I think that’s all great, and maybe the biggest change is that I think Because of this crisis, a lot of instructors were questioning what they were doing in the classroom much more than they did before. I’m sure you see that in your teaching and learning center. And perhaps that questioning and that rethinking about what they did, will translate back into the classroom. But old habits are hard to die. So I think there’s one risk. My sense is that the risk is that we want leverage enough of what we learn in the online environment. And so here are just a couple of things that I’m thinking would be great to think about. One is that I would love for us to try to reimagine or physical classroom in light of what we learn, what is it that frankly, you’re now saying, Wow, this was better in zoom than in person? And how can you go back to your physical classroom and see if there’s a way to leverage that in your physical room? For me, the things that I’ve discovered in breakout rooms have been incredibly powerful. And I don’t mean, just as zoom breakout room, I mean, how can we make the work of groups visible? And how can I be able to see that and leverage that in the discussion? So there’s no reason why when we’re in a physical classroom, we couldn’t use some of the things that we did with Google Slides or jam board or whatever technology we use collaboratively, and try to leverage them in the same way that we did before. That is one concrete example where it’d be a pity to think oh, no, I did that in zoom because of X or Y. No, I think we can do some of that. I know it’s probably for most institutions is too early to think about it. But I do wonder if there are changes we should do in the infrastructure, both technology and otherwise, of our classrooms that might help us teach more effectively. I don’t know about you, but the fact that in so more teams, so whichever technology use, you had the name of each student in front of you in such a clear manner was super helpful to learn their names. And at the Kennedy School, we use name tents. But those name tents are physical. And I wonder if in the classroom of the future, we could imagine digital ones that had more information than just a student name. By the way, I think a lot of changes should also happen in the online technology. Like why is it that the only thing we see is the student name? Why can we hover and see something about their background or their whatever, it should be overlaying so much information that we currently don’t have very case, those are just some ideas, I’m sure that you have many, many more, and that your listeners have many, many more. But if I could leave with one note of encouragement to all of us is to think about what we learned and what lessons were helpful in the online experience and bring it to the in person classroom, perhaps in the different manifestations, but I still think could be helpful.

John: Those sound like excellent ideas. And it does remind me a while back, one of our first podcast was with someone who is developing an augmented reality app to do facial identification for students in her class. So that way, she would be able to get that sort of information popping up in a physical classroom, certainly, I will miss having all the names visible for each student, particularly when I’m dealing with a class of three to 400. Students, it’s so nice to see the name when they participate right on the box, where you see them speaking in a classroom, it would be a lot harder to remember all those names.

Dan: We’ve been discussing everything about what will we do when we go back to the physical classroom, but certainly one thing that I hope we’re going to do is embrace online learning as part of four ways of being able to teach. And I’ve always been a big believer in the power of blended learning of using each medium to its comparative advantage. And I hope that this puts us in a better position to do better blended learning than we were a year and a half ago, when most of us had not done much of this.

Rebecca: Yeah, many faculty up until this point really hadn’t experienced online learning as a student or a teacher. And so now there’s just a lot more exposure. So those conversations can be more concrete. So we always wrap up by asking, despite the fact that we already kind of asked you this question in a different way. We always wind up by asking what’s next?

Dan: Before I respond to this question, and I should have done this at the beginning. But I just want to thank both of you, john and Rebecca for what you do. I discovered your podcast not too long ago, and I’ve gotten tremendous value out of it just to name a few episodes not to name favorite children or any of that. The episode on using Google Apps was incredibly eye opening and helpful to Even though I have been using Google Apps in my teaching, I still learned it on the episode on statistical simulations was super helpful to me it statistics. And that was a wealth of great ideas. And the episode where you took on the workload issue and how students were perceiving that the workload was greater. I had heard other things on this topic. And this was the best of everything that I’ve heard. So I just want to first just say thank you for what you do, and for the service you provide to the people like me, who are trying to teach more effectively everyday. Thanks, Dan. Thank you, in terms of what’s next, I don’t know. At a more personal level, I want to say that writing this book was a totally unexpected thing. For me, I’d never thought about writing a book about teaching. And this in some way has opened my eyes to sort of another world out there that I wasn’t that much in touch with, and has allowed me to feel a great deal of satisfaction when I hear from someone who said, Oh, I use this in the book. And it was very helpful in my learning. So even though I’m super passionate, and educator, and every time that I see a light in the eye of my student, that’s like the most rewarding thing that I can drive for. I think writing the book gave me a different venue with which to see some, I think positive effect of some of what I was doing. And that was interesting surprise. It’s not like I have three books that are in my queue or anything like that. But I discovered that as an interesting thing. And I’m right now writing another book. Again, I haven’t written anyone before, then this one is not about teaching. And that process has been very, very helpful to me, in terms of teaching what’s next, I would really like to see how we can leverage what we learned during the pandemic to do the best we can to help our students learn. That’s my hope. We’re all of us.

Rebecca: Thanks, Dan. This has been a fun conversation. I feel like we need to follow up in a year and see what happened.

John: I would love to do that thing. And also how many new books come out.

Rebecca: Your turnaround time is really, really good. So between the magic wand and the crystal ball, you have I think your setup well.

Dan: I think that deadline helps quite a bit I have to say but thank you.

John: Well, thank you. We really enjoyed talking to you and we’re looking forward to hearing more

[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.

[MUSIC]

188. Student-Ready Courses

College faculty sometimes complain that many of the first-year students who enter their courses are not “college ready.” In this episode, Natalie Hurley joins us to examine strategies that can be used to ease this transition and help ensure that our courses are “student ready.” Natalie is a New York State Master Teacher and a 2018 NNSTOY STEM Fellow who teaches high school mathematics in the Indian River Central School District in Watertown, NY.

Shownotes

Transcript

John: College faculty sometimes complain that many of the first-year students who enter their courses are not “college ready.” In this episode, we examine strategies that can be used to ease this transition and help ensure that our courses are “student ready.”

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[MUSIC]

John: Our guest today is Natalie Hurley. Natalie is a New York State Master Teacher and a 2018 NNSTOY STEM Fellow who teaches high school mathematics in the Indian River Central School District in Watertown, NY. Natalie was also one of our students here at SUNY Oswego. Welcome, Natalie,

Natalie: T hank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.

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

Natalie: I am, I’m drinking a peach tea because it’s warming up outside and I want to feel that warmth.

Rebecca: That sounds right up John’s alley,

John: …and I am drinking a ginger peach green tea.

Rebecca: I knew there’d be peach. It’s almost like you guys coordinated. I have Irish breakfast today.

John: No Scottish?

Rebecca: I am almost out of the Irish breakfast. And then we will move on to a different container.

John: Move down the Empire [LAUGHTER] and head back to your English breakfast and afternoon.

Rebecca: Yeah. [LAUGHTER]

John: Okay, we’ve invited you here to talk about the transition between high school and college. Could you first tell us a little bit about the courses that you teach?

Natalie: I teach high school math. And I have a pretty nice spectrum. I teach algebra I, calculus, and precalculus. I’m in my fifth year of teaching precalculus and calculus, and I have taught algebra I, eight years.

John: Excellent. What were your majors in college?

Natalie: So, I was a math major from the get go. And then I had this fantastic professor who helped me find my love of economics. His name is Professor John Kane, and he’s here with us too. [LAUGHTER] And then, once I started to find my love of economics, I picked up a minor in it. Unfortunately, it was too late in the game to pick up a double major, but the minor was great too.

John: And we did talk a little bit about you going on to grad school in economics. And I was a little disappointed that you didn’t, but then I thought you could do a lot of good in the school system. So, one of the things we want to talk to you about is the differences between your experiences in college and the way you teach your classes now. Could you talk a little bit about some of the differences between what you observed as an undergraduate student and the way in which you teach now in secondary school?

Natalie: Yes. So there are definitely a lot of differences. Although I tried to definitely keep that idea of college and career readiness, being wholesome in my classroom. I remember in college it was a lot of lecture style, a combination between very, very large classes of hundreds. And my math classes were usually pretty small, less than 20, generally. In my classroom, in a non pandemic year, I have somewhere between 15 and 20 students usually. Of course, now we’re doing cohorts. So I have a class as small as two and another class as large as 13… is my largest class… on Thursdays and Fridays. So I just remember, in college, a lot of lecture style: the teacher talks, you write notes, you can ask questions, but it’s very much like you raise your hand, if a teacher calls on you, you can ask a question. In my classroom, it’s more a conversation about math, whereas I’m leading them to discover the math, hopefully on their own, with a little bit of questioning from me to lead them there. There’s a lot of… in a non-pandemic year, think-pair-shares, or working in groups, or talking it out with their partner, or somebody that they sit near… things like that, that’s a little bit harder to do these days, especially when I only have a class of two in there sitting six feet away from each other or more.

Rebecca: Everything’s a think-pair-share. [LAUGHTER]

Natalie: Right. So yeah, and as I grow, and I become more seasoned, it becomes more student centered and less about me than it had been before. So I want to put the students in the center, whereas when I was there, it was very much the teachers up there telling you how to do it. And then this is how you do the calculus. And then this is how you do calc 2, this is how you do calc 3, and they just show you and you find your study groups, and then you work with each other after class as opposed to in class. So that seems to be some of the differences. I remember in college is a lot of rote memorization: know these words, be able to regurgitate this proof, things like that, where just now, in my classroom, and really the focus of high school math, and really all math through the Common Core standards, is that deep understanding, getting to the core and understanding vertically, what number sense and number theory is throughout all the grade levels.

Rebecca: It sounds like you’ve incorporated a lot of evidence-based practices into your own practice, which we encourage all of our faculty, even at the college level, to do as well. We hear a lot of faculty complaining about students not being “college ready.” And maybe that’s because there’s still a lot of lecture and memorization, and we want to keep changing that. What are some ways that we can become more “student ready” and bring students in?

Natalie: I think it’s very important that colleges understand what it’s like in the high school, how teachers are teaching, what they’re teaching. I’m in my ninth year, and the next year, we’ll start to move into the next gen math standards. And then that’s going to be the third set of standards. And I think it’s really important for college professors at all levels to be able to understand what did these standards look like for these kids? And how do I need to change what I’m teaching to adapt to that? I recently had a very informal discussion with the master teacher program and SUNY professors at SUNY Delhi about their math and science curriculum. And there was just a lot of surprises on both ends about what’s being taught, what isn’t being taught any more… emphasis on the calculator… standards now are being written so that there’s a lot of calculator use and students are losing a lot of their number sense, because you don’t need to know how to add and subtract, multiply and divide fractions when you get into high school, because you have a calculator that’s going to do it all, which turns into a lot of button pushing. But that’s definitely going to have a trickle down effect into… or trickle up effect, I guess… in college, when these students get there and they’re so used to being fully dependent on calculator and technology use… which is great if you’re a college that also promotes that. But some colleges may also still say, “Hey, we want to limit technology.”

John: Since you were in college, I think much of our teaching has changed. I know in my own department, most of us were doing a lot of lecturing when you were a student. And there’s been a pretty steady transition away from that. And that’s been true in many departments, including our math department.

Natalie: That’s great to hear.

John: But we still see a lot of lecture. And one of the things we’re hoping is that perhaps the experience of the transition to remote instruction has encouraged more people to try some new approaches to teaching and learning.

Natalie: We have definitely seen that in the high school, a lot of teachers who were behind the ball, as far as utilizing technology in their classrooms, it’s been forced to become great at it… literally overnight. So I guess if there’s a silver lining to all of this, that is definitely key right there. I think something that’s extremely important in high school is making connections to real world, making everything very real life, how am I ever going to use this in real life and making sure that that is evident in the student learning. And I don’t teach in a college, I haven’t been in a college in 10-15 years. But I think that if you wanted to be more student ready is also connecting all of your curricula to career readiness. Students want to know why am I taking this class if I’m going to be a librarian, or if I’m going to be a social worker. So just being able to bring those connections to them, could also help colleges be more student ready.

Rebecca: Just that relevance alone is more motivating to get students excited about topics. So finding ways to connect to students, no matter the level, high school or college, is a really great way to bring them in and bring them along.

John: One of the challenges I know in economics we face, is with students saying, “I’m just not very good at math,” or “I have trouble with graphs.” And I suspect maybe you might have seen a little bit of that, too. How do you address that issue of a fixed mindset concerning student’s ability to engage in mathematics?

Natalie: In my calculus and precalculus classes, and you’ll be even surprised to hear it that I do hear that there. But it’s extremely prevalent in algebra I, that idea of “My mom wasn’t good at math, so I’m not going to be good at math.” “I’ve always had math support, AIS,” or “I’ve been able to get through because I’ve always stayed after with the teacher.” I definitely still hear that, but the idea is to kind of break that mold by saying, “Hey, listen, this is a new year. This is a new teacher, this is a new curriculum, maybe this is going to be the one for you.” I find a lot of students struggle through geometry. So as soon as I bring up geometry, it’s like, “Oh, no, I don’t want to.” And I say, “Listen, let’s connect it to algebra, then. Do you feel more comfortable making the connections to algebra?” …or I don’t even know. I don’t know how to tell them that you can be better. Maybe you had a bad teacher, maybe you had a teacher who didn’t make things relevant for you, or just some bad experiences, but every year’s a new year. I’ve seen all sorts of success stories of students who truly find their niche late in high school math. So in my class, I’ve definitely adopted the idea of a growth mindset. And I’ve been studying on best practices to help do this. And part of that has been through standards-based grading. I’m kind of a beginner, a novice, of standards-based grading… more of a cafeteria, I’m choosing which aspects of it that I’d like to implement versus which ones don’t work for me, yet, as I learn and grow, which is definitely not the high school or college that I went to, to implement things like re-quizzes and retests. And it was hard for me to even start with this idea. Nobody else in my department was doing anything like this. And to be honest, as I was starting my career, I started my career right as common core was being implemented. So there was a ton of work in developing all the new curricula. I started in an eighth grade and moved all the way up and I’m like, “Wait, you want me to make two tests? four tests? two quizzes? three quizzes? four? And you want me to give them to these kids and grade them and change their grades and all of the clerical work. But now that I’m nine years in, I’m ready for it. And I find that the students have such a better… I guess they feel better about themselves when they go in to take a quiz when they know that there’s going to be redemption. One thing that I do is, if their test grade beats their quiz grade, I let the test grade replace the quiz grade in the gradebook. If you can show growth, by the time you get to the test… and that idea actually comes from college. If your grade on the final is better than your grade in the class, some professors will do something like that. Or if your grade is high enough, you don’t even need to take the final or I don’t know if anybody’s still doing things like that. But that kind of way, it takes the stress of testing and quizzing, and it takes it off of the grade and puts it more onto the learning. And, however, I do understand that that practice might not be making my students “college ready” if their college professors are not following that, which probably they are not. However, it’s something that I feel I need to do in order to focus on the learning that needs to happen.

Rebecca: I think one of the things that we’ve been working really hard to do at the college level is to incorporate some of those practices as well, to encourage learning, and that it’s about test taking and the testing effect as a way of remembering and learning and practicing rather than some moment in time that somehow reflects all learning that has ever occurred, which is not really relevant or accurate.

John: And you would be happy to know that many people in our math department are doing mastery quizzing and mastery learning approaches where they allow students multiple attempts to demonstrate mastery.

Rebecca: One of the things that I think is somewhat problematic for the transition of students from high school to college is that we don’t have these kinds of conversations very often. They’re not in place unless we go out of our way to talk to local high school teachers about what’s going on in local schools and vice versa, where high school teachers are asking us what’s going on at the college level. Can you talk a little bit about how your Delhi experience evolved in ways that you could encourage others to have those same kinds of conversations?

Natalie: I believe it was somebody from SUNY Delhi reached out to the Executive Director of the New York State Master Teacher program, if you haven’t heard about it, it’s a STEM initiative to retain teachers in math and science. And it’s a four-year fellowship that you have to apply and interview and be selected to join. But, it ends up creating a very strong network of teachers statewide that are actually affiliated with SUNY, every region has a SUNY campus that they are affiliated with, Up here in the North Country, mine is Plattsburgh. And since our program has moved more to an online format, we were able to all participate with SUNY Delhi through this conversation. And I think that just leads to more ideas for the future or to somebody who has an in with some SUNY people. I think we all do professional development. I do it as a high school teacher, and you guys do it as professors. But then, where can we find the middle ground that can maybe mesh some professional development and share some best practices between our two groups?

Rebecca: Sounds like an excellent idea.

John: That is a practice that I think we should do more of. One of the issues that we have is that in general, high schools provide a lot of support for students. And often some of that support comes from parents who help encourage students to be successful in school, and then all of a sudden, people go away to college. And sometimes that doesn’t work quite as well, and we lose a lot of people. Do you have any suggestions on what perhaps colleges could do better to help retain more students?

Natalie: That’s a great question. And I think as we grow through the years, you’re noticing a lot more of, shall I say, helicopter parents or parents who are very, very involved in their children’s lives, and so much to the fact that they actually can become bulldozer parents and literally take roadblocks out of their children’s way so that they never experienced any kind of struggle. And that, of course, is not anything that me as a high school teacher, or you guys as college faculty can do, other than just encouraging parents to step back. Students should be very autonomous. I think that, if anything, we’re going to see out of this pandemic. Another I guess silver lining is the students are becoming more autonomous. They have to when their parents are working and they’re only going to school two days a week and they’re responsible for their own learning the other three days a week. They’re also learning skills, like do I care for online learning? So when I get to college, should I steer towards classes that are online or steer away from classes that are online. So these are definitely going to be skills. So you guys might want to look out for when you’re screening students or as advisors, “Hey, how did you do when you were fully remote? Were you able to get all of your work done? Did your mom have to come home and sit down with you and work with you? Or were you able to get up in the morning, eat your breakfast, and then get right started on your schoolwork?” I make a joke to my seniors about this time of year that if they are still being woken up by their parents, they are not ready for college. You will be home by Christmas if your mother is still waking you up to get you in the shower and get to school on time. Students are going to have a lot of free time when they get to college. Their lives are managed for 40 hours a week, an hour bus ride in and back, somebody tells them when it’s time to eat lunch, then they go right to sports practice and come back. They’re so busy when they’re in high school. And then when they get to college, and they have class that are for 15 hours a week, that’s a lot of extra time for these kids to have to manage. And then when they start to find out, “Oh, nobody’s gonna call my mom, if I don’t go to school?” That’s the kind of mentality that these kids are going to. And I ask my students often, “What do you think is going to be one of your biggest struggles?” or “What do you think is going to be a biggest struggle of your peers? …and it is time management. The students are used to doing a lot of their work in school, either in the class or given class time to start assignments, to do assignments, or they have a study hall where somebody says, “Okay, get your books out, get to work.” And now they’re just going to go to class, they’re going to learn for an hour, hour and a half, and then go back to their dorm and have to start studying on their own. And even that, just the idea of needing to study, a lot of students can very easily get through high school without studying, without ever learning how to study. They just are good students, they know how to sit and behave, they learn well, they do their assignments, and that’s enough. I was a victim of that. I was always above average just by doing exactly what is expected of me. And then when you get to the bigger pond and you become the smaller fish, that can cause a lot of struggle for students, that idea of time that’s not managed, that they need to learn how to manage on their own.

Rebecca: I think you’re highlighting a lot of great themes here. And we certainly experience as college faculty, but your students are right: time management is the number one struggle of our college students. [LAUGHTER] They already know that it’s a problem. We know that it’s a problem. High school teachers know it’s a problem. But we don’t actively necessarily all collaborate on finding solutions to that problem. We just expect overnight students are somehow magically going to have autonomy and know what to do with it. [LAUGHTER]

John: And that’s especially true for first-gen students who haven’t had family members talk to them about those challenges and those issues, and who don’t have that sort of support. And suddenly, they have all this free time. And they don’t have any tests until weeks away or months away. And they just had these big assignments due so they don’t have anything they have to do right away. But one of the things that we know makes that worse is online instruction. Because there’s a lot of research. I did some about 17 or 18 years ago that found that freshmen and sophomores just did dramatically worse with online courses. And we had a guest on our podcast several months ago now, who found the same thing in a much larger study… that juniors and seniors and older individuals, if they’ve been successful in making it to that stage of college, they tend to be relatively successful at managing their time effectively. So online instruction is much more challenging for freshmen. And one of the things that I know many faculty are concerned about is the fact that all of our students coming in next year will have spent at least a year in some sort of remote or online instruction. And the quality of that varies quite a bit across school districts. And I think that is going to be a challenge we’re going to need to address. Do you have any thoughts on how we can help students be better at this?

Natalie: You are definitely correct, there are going to be a lot of gaps to fill, based on how students have received instruction, in how much instruction, we were given guidance that perhaps we’d only get through 80% of our material. And as you know, at the end of the 2020 school year, some of the learning immediately stopped in mid March with the “do no harm” idea of you can’t do harm to any of their grades, whatever their grade is when they left is what their grade needs to be. So we saw students who had very high averages that said, “You know what, it’s good enough. So I know you can’t give me anything less than a 98. So I’m not doing anything for the rest of the year.” And that was a very real situation that’s not going to be reflected in a transcript that you receive as a college advisor or as a college applicant when these kids are applying to school. I’m hopeful that students could self assess where they’re at, that if a college is going to have a lot of remote opportunities, and they are good at online learning, absolutely, go there, that’s for you. And if not, then that might not be for you.

John: I think we can also refer back to an earlier podcast we did with Viji Sathy and Kelly Hogan, who talked about the importance of structure in all of our classes, that providing students with clear directions, with giving them more expectations, and a couple of other podcasts that we had with Betsy Barre, she discusses the importance of sharing information about the time that’s required for various tasks. So giving students more detailed instructions and giving them more guidance on how much time they should be expected to work on things, perhaps, may help.

Natalie: I completely agree, I remember the rule of thumb was a three-credit level class would have about nine hours, the total amount of work, including class time for that class. And I try to drill this into my students heads as a pre-calc and calc teacher that you’re going to be doing a lot of work outside of this class, which is not what they’re used to. They’re used to, “I’m going to go home, I’m going to do 15 minutes worth of homework, and it’s going to be graded based on effort. So I get a free 100 in the gradebook if I did it, and nobody’s gonna care if I did it correctly, I could do the whole thing wrong, I could copy from my friend, and there we go, I get the credit.” And that’s just not college readiness, or career readiness, for hopefully most careers. But I would love to see some kind of, even in high schools and then have it trickle right up to college, some kind of bridging from each course… ninth grade, these are our expectations, 10th grade, you get a little bit more strict restrictions, and then all of that being an idea of we’re bridging the gap from 12th grade to college. And as well as college professors and faculty looking back and saying, “Okay, this is where they’re at when they’re coming to us. And so we can pick it up from here.”

Rebecca: Yeah, that ramping is so important. And just acknowledging where students are at, and meeting them where they’re at, and not having some false expectation of where we wish they were, which is very different. And I think what John was talking about, like providing some time allotments and things, but just even providing students with a sample of what their outside of class time should just generally be looking like, maybe you are spending three hours outside of class studying or six hours outside of class studying. But what are those six hours look like? What does studying look like for this class? What are the kinds of exercises that would be really helpful. And faculty have a vision of what that should be, we just often don’t communicate it.

John: And often when faculty do, though, they communicate what worked for them, which is what had worked for their professors before them, which is not always what would work for a typical student.

Rebecca: What do you mean? Highlighting, John?

John: …and repeated rereading, and focusing on learning styles, but there’s a lot of things out there that faculty may encourage students to do that is not really always consistent with evidence. And going back to your point earlier, Natalie, about providing the relevance of things, one of the problems I think that faculty have is we got into these things, because we’re just really interested in the questions of the discipline. And the things that interest us now are based on having studied the discipline for a long time. And it’s a little harder, often, to connect with the types of things that would interest a student who’s just coming out of high school or is in a sophomore or junior position in college, because they don’t have that same network of concepts to make the topics that we find interesting as interesting to them. That’s something I think we definitely need to work on.

Rebecca: I know one thing that I always struggle with in the design classes that I teach is I’m constantly trying to get students to think about audiences other than themselves. But then when you start to put things in perspective, you realize they don’t really know much beyond themselves. They know maybe what an audience younger than them might experience or have expectations of, but they have a really hard time envisioning what a professional world might be like, because you just don’t have any experience in it. So we often come to the table with so many assumptions that we think that they have, and they just don’t have the life experience to match it.

John: We’ve talked a little bit about how instruction was affected during the pandemic, how did your classes transition?

Natalie: I saw this, the pandemic, as a way to be able to spread my wings and try and implement some different teaching strategies that I had thought about, but I wasn’t totally sure if I wanted to dive right in in one given year. And one of those ideas was the idea of a flipped classroom. I had never felt confident to be able to create a flipped classroom that I felt students would be responsible for. That being, watching the videos at home and then us just working on problems together in class. And to be honest, that’s pretty much what has happened. I have students who will have to watch videos on the two days, three days that they’re not here, and they have to, and I’ve figured out now how to assess that they’ve watched the videos, and to make sure that they are responsible for that learning. It’s not totally flipped. But I do have to provide instruction to these students three days of the week that they’re not around. And I did that in a couple of different ways for each one of my preps, because I didn’t want to get so solid in just one way was “the way,” and I wanted to try some things out. So for calculus, I teach calculus fully synchronous. My students who are at home Google meet live with the students that I have in class in front of me. We’re able to talk about problems as a bigger class instead of just the five who are in front of me. And that’s worked out quite well for us. Granted, class is at 10 o’clock, so it’s not too super early for these students. So, precalculus, I do kind of more HyFlex. They have the opportunity to come to the live session if they want to, or I do make videos for them to watch on their own. One thing that we had to keep in mind this year was that some of these students are responsible for younger siblings while parents are at work. So we needed to be a little bit more flexible in how we set up our classes. And when I had the conversation with my calculus students, they said, “Nope, we could totally do synchronous.” And if they needed me to make a video, I can make them a video. And then algebraI, I do completely asynchronous, the videos are already set up. There’s no live session. When they come in the next day, or whatever day follows watching the videos, I check and make sure that they watch their videos, give them a little bit of credit, just for doing what they were supposed to do. And, to be honest, I have become very, very graceful compared to how I ever was in the first seven and a half, eight years of teaching. My department very rarely ever accepts late work. Math is a sequential subject, you need to do the work today so that you know what’s going on tomorrow in class. This year, I’m just happy it’s getting done and getting done with integrity. So I’ve become so extremely graceful with students who are getting work done after due dates, right before the quarter ends. It’s not great, but they are also learning a very important lesson in “it’s a lot easier if I just do a little bit every day instead of trying to cram it all in at the end of the semester, or at the end of the quarter.” So, hopefully, that idea can trickle up to college as well. It’s not very easy to dig yourself out of a hole, especially in college.

John: You mentioned with your recordings that you were verifying that they actually watched the videos. How do you do that?

Natalie: With my algebra I, the videos obviously match their note packet, they have guided notes that matches very nicely. So the next day I just come in, check, they’re going to show me a front and back with all of the notes filled in. For precalculus, I feel like I shouldn’t have to check their notes, that they should be responsible enough for that level to actually watch the videos, I did get a sense that they weren’t watching the videos, mostly because I was bringing things up when they came to class, and I had a lot of blank stares looking at me. So I started using a program called Edpuzzle. They have to sign into it with their Google account. Lots of teachers in my school use this. And I was able to see who was actually watching. And it was funny, I had a student come to me and he goes, “I’m going to make a guess that 1/3 of the kids are actually watching the videos.” And as soon as I started counting up the number of students who actually watched the videos, it was about 1/3. So that gave a very stern talking to about what my expectations were in that they’re not going to have the best understanding and knowledge if they’re just practicing the homework assignments, that it needs to be the full package, coming to class in whatever shape or form that looks like, be it coming to the live session or watching the videos. But all of it needs to be done in order to be successful in precalculus.

John: Do you embed questions in the videos?

Natalie: I am just getting my feet wet with it. I just started using it. So no, I haven’t gotten that far. But I did hear that you can and you can do a little checkup and it will not let you get through unless you do the question. So is that something you guys have used?

John: I haven’t used EdPuzzle. But I have been using PlayPosit this year. And I embed questions in it and it is required as part of the grade in my econometrics class and in my introductory microeconomics class, and I’m probably incorporating it in more classes as I go forward. But students actually have responded really positively. They discovered that when they watch the videos, it’s really helpful, because when there was no grading involved or no questions, the level of use of the videos was dramatically lower. So this provides just a small incentive, it’s a trivial part of their grade, but it’s enough to induce them to watch them, though. I’ve been really pleased with it. One advantage of Edpuzzle though, is that It’s free, as far as I understand, whilel, I do have to pay for PlayPosit.

Natalie: Yep, it’s free. And we’re a Google school. So they are able to sign right in. And it was easy for me to use, I could see all the students, I could see how much of it they watched. So that was pretty cool.

Rebecca: That’s great. As I’m hearing you talk about how your teaching has transitioned, it largely matches how faculty at the college level have also had to transition. So in some ways, we may have been brought together unexpectedly. [LAUGHTER] So there’s a lot more college faculty also using a flipped classroom model, and using more class time to solve problems and work on the more complicated things. Because often the video lectures or that kind of part of the material is foundational. Some of it might be memorization things, it might be terms and things like this, and then you put it into action in the class, and you can have guidance and coaching. So what’s really interesting is that the pandemic may have brought these two experiences together, and that bridge might be more present than it has ever been before.

Natalie: Exactly, I used to think that there was no way for my students to learn, if I wasn’t the one who was telling them and showing them. If I wasn’t up at the front of the board, doing it with them, doing it for them, then they weren’t going to learn… there was no way they can learn this on their own, and boy, was I ever wrong. Even though I could do 10 problems with them up at the board, whereas they could do three working together in a small group or in a pair, it’s so much more valuable to listen to them have those conversations, and to hear them explain these things, in their own words, or what’s very powerful too, is when I hear my words come out of their mouth, as they’re explaining it to another student. So that’s totally cool to hear that. And I think that’s the direction of education. The prep work is more important than what the teacher role is in the classroom. So the role of the teacher plays planning and prepping for a lesson is so much more powerful than what the teacher is doing in the classroom at that time as far as leading instruction.

Rebecca: That design of experience is so powerful, just generally. I think one of the things that I know I have always struggled with using a flipped classroom model, but I’m definitely getting better, the more and more I do it, is really scaling back on how much can actually be done in class, when students are working through problems and they’re not having quite as much coaching. You’re really letting them struggle and fail and try again. That takes time. It’s not like something that can happen automatically. So we might be used to going through more examples, but less examples, but more depth can be really powerful. And your right, students explaining to other students is an amazing thing to see. But it also helps them articulate or realize where they don’t understand, which is something that you don’t necessarily recognize when someone’s explaining something to you. Because when someone explains it to you, of course it seems obvious, until you have to do it yourself.

Natalie: Absolutely.

John: One of the things I was thinking about is I have to create a video on log transformations in econometrics tonight, and that reminded me of all that.

Natalie: Do you want one of mine? I can grab it right off Edpuzzle. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Can you imagine that, though, like sharing back and forth between high school and college and sharing resources? We should do more of this.

Natalie: Oh, absolutely. Why are we always reinventing the wheel for ourselves, when there’s so much already out there?

John: When you first create a flipped classroom model, it’s a lot of work, creating those videos, maybe embedding some questions in them. And doing that is a tremendous amount of work upfront. But it’s taking this stuff that’s relatively easy for students to learn and shifting it outside of the classroom. So that when students are in class, they’re able to focus on the things they have the most trouble with. Because, as Rebecca said, you can provide a really good lecture on how to do something, but if students haven’t wrestled with it, they’re not going to learn it as well. I know for many years, I was doing an awful lot of lecturing, and I’ve cut back to very, very little now other than when I’m recording lectures, and I’m seeing students struggle with materials, but then when they are assessed on it, there’s much more balance in their performance. Because before there were always some students who would pick up on everything you did… people like you, Natalie, and people like those who are faculty. We were able to learn the stuff by listening to people tell us how to do it and figure it out on our own. But that doesn’t work well for a lot of students. And when they’re there explaining it to each other, they learn it much more deeply than they ever would by trying to do the more difficult parts on their own. Because in the traditional model, we’d give them the basics and show them how to do things. But the only time when they really got to apply that was either when they were working alone, doing homework, trying to struggle to solve some problems. or on a high-stakes exam. And those are times when perhaps they need the most support and the flipped classroom model can really address that really nicely.

Natalie: Yep, I absolutely agree.

John: We always end with the question: “What’s next?” …which is a question I think everyone in education is wondering.

Natalie: I think what’s next is filling in the gaps. There is going to be a lot of gaps for a lot of years. And we keep saying I can’t wait till next year, I can’t wait till it’s back to normal. But pandemic aside, I don’t think it’s going to be normal for a long time, we’re going to have a lot of students who need a lot of support for a lot of years, and it’s going to affect me. And then it’s going to affect college faculty, as the students get up there, addressing where the gaps are, how can we fill them? How can we give these students the support that they need, even under just budgets that were being given that were cut in this past year or could be getting cut? We’re going to need a lot of support from each other, from our colleagues, from our administrators from the community… and I think a lot of understanding… these students are going to need understanding, we’re going to need understanding.

Rebecca: I really like the underscoring of this empathy towards one another, both between faculty and teachers, as well as between students and teachers. I think that’s a really nice note to end on. Thanks so much for sharing your insights, Natalie. I think many faculty will want to take the time and effort to reach out to some high school teachers and make some connections and start to figure out ways to bridge those gaps.

Natalie: Thank you so much for having me, this has been such a valuable experience. And I’m always grateful when anybody wants to listen to my opinion and share conversation with me.

John: Well, it’s great talking to you again, I very much enjoyed working with you when you were a student here, and it’s nice to see just how successful you’ve been. And I suppose I should mention that this came about because one of my current students had listened to the podcast, had shared it with people on Facebook, and then she said, “And you know, you really should invite one of my former teachers,” and so we invited you.

Natalie: That is so awesome. I feel very honored that that student thought that I had something great to share. And it’s been so great to be back in SUNY Oswego, among other Lakers, and of course, a professor who was a great mentor and led me down a path of success.

John: Thank you.

[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.

[MUSIC]

187. Talking Tech

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

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

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

Shownotes

Transcript

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

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[MUSIC]

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

Michelle: Hi, it’s great to be here.

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

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

Rebecca: How about you, John?

John: I am drinking ginger peach green tea.

Rebecca: And I have golden monkey today.

John: …for a change.

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle: Indeed, it is, indeed it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rebecca: It’s a cool Museum,

Michelle: Oh, you’ve been there.

Rebecca: Yeah.

Michelle: Oh, my gosh.

John: I was too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle: Yes, and I’m all for that.

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle: Oh, my pleasure. Thank you.

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

Michelle: Absolutely.

[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.

[MUSIC]

186. Super Courses

Students often see our classes as boxes that they need to check in order to graduate. By reframing our courses around fascinating big questions that students can connect with, we can help our students recognize the value of these learning experiences. In this episode, Ken Bain joins us to explore examples of courses that do this well.

Ken is an award winning teacher, the founder of the teaching centers at Northwestern, New York, and Vanderbilt Universities. He is the author of two very influential prior books, What the Best College Teachers Do and What the Best College Students Do. His newest, Super Courses, was released in March 2021

Shownotes

  • Bain, K. (2004). What the Best College Teachers Do. Harvard University Press.
  • Bain, K. (2012). What the Best College Students Do. Harvard University Press.
  • Bain, K. (2021). Super Courses: The Future of Teaching and Learning. Princeton University Press.
  • Andrew David Kaugman, Books Behind Bars
  • Deci, E. L. (1972). Intrinsic motivation, extrinsic reinforcement, and inequity. Journal of personality and social psychology, 22(1), 113.
  • Deci, E. L., Koestner, R., & Ryan, R. M. (2001). Extrinsic rewards and intrinsic motivation in education: Reconsidered once again. Review of educational research, 71(1), 1-27.
  • Perusall
  • Hypothes.is

Transcript

John: Students often see our classes as boxes that they need to check in order to graduate. By reframing our courses around fascinating big questions that students can connect with, we can help our students recognize the value of these learning experiences. In this episode, we explore examples of courses that do this well.

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[MUSIC]

Rebecca: Our guest today is Ken Bain. Ken is an award winning teacher, the founder of the teaching centers at Northwestern, New York, and Vanderbilt Universities. He is the author of two very influential prior books, What the Best College Teachers Do and What the Best College Students Do. His newest, Super Courses, was released in March 2021. Welcome, Ken.

Ken: Thank you very much. Glad to be here.

John: We’re really glad to talk to you. You visited Oswego a few years back and people are still talking about your visit.

Ken: Oh, wonderful. I had a wonderful visit.

John: Our teas today are… Are you drinking tea?

Ken: No, my doctor won’t let me do that, and I haven’t had a good cup of tea in… oh my goodness… many, many years.

Rebecca: Oh, that would make me so sad.

Ken: Yes, indeed, it does. Me too. I can’t drink tea… anything that has caffeine in it.

Rebecca: Ah, total bummer.

Ken: Yes, it is. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: I have about the strongest caffeinated Irish breakfast tea you can have. [LAUGHTER]

Ken: Oh, my goodness. Well, the last cup of coffee that I had was in 2002. I remember the date. That’s because it….

Rebecca: Oh, no…

Ken: …a traumatic experience, to go cold turkey.

John: Actually, that’s how I started drinking more tea. I had to cut out caffeine, so I started drinking herbal tea.

Ken: Well, I do drink herbal tea from time to time. I just don’t happen to have a cup right now.

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

Ken: Oh, wonderful.

John: It’s really good.

Rebecca: So we’ve invited you here today to discuss Super Courses. Could you tell us a little bit about the origin of this book project?

Ken: Well, my wife and longtime collaborator, Marsha Marshall Bain, suggested that we do a course around the Invitational syllabus, as we’ve come to call it, what we used to call the promising syllabus. And we began collecting those syllabi from around the world and began looking at them. And in the midst of that endeavor. Peter Dougherty, who is the longtime director of the Princeton University Press, contacted us one day and said, “Would you come down to Princeton, and I’ll buy you lunch?” So that sounded like a great invitation. And we went down. And he asked us what we were working on. And I told him and he said, “Oh, you’re looking for super courses.” And that triggered a whole avalanche Of reconsiderations of what we were doing, and we shifted the Invitational project over to the super course project, and began looking for courses that offered what we had been calling a natural critical learning environment. And we began that project back in, I guess, late 2007.

John: Maybe before we talk about your new book, you can talk just a little bit about the concept of an Invitational syllabus, since that was the origin of this project.

Ken: Oh, sure. It’s the idea of inviting your students into the class, rather than requiring them to come. And rather than focusing upon topics, it focuses upon big and enticing questions, so that the Invitational syllabus begins with an intriguing question, an important question, a beautiful question that students find so enticing, that they say, “I want to be a part of that.” And it becomes a self-motivating experience. So that’s part of what we meant by a natural critical learning environment, is the creation of that self-motivating experience where students would pursue things, not because someone was threatening them with a bad grade, or because they were just looking for credit, but because they became deeply interested in the question.

Rebecca: Can you expand a little bit upon the idea of the natural critical learning environment beyond just the Invitational syllabus?

Ken: Sure, we now have identified, oh, I guess, about 20 some odd elements of what we call a natural critical learning environment. And the first and most foundational of those elements is that it’s organized around those intriguing questions. And its intention is to foster what the literature calls deep learning, that is learning in which students think about implications and applications of what they’re learning and the possibilities of what they’re learning. It’s learning where students look behind the words on a page and think about all of those implications and applications and possibilities and how things are connected to each other. So that’s the foundational element and the chief goal of the natural critical learning environment is to create an atmosphere where students can, and will likely, pursue that deep approach to learning and they develop what we call deep intentions to learn. But, how do they do that? How do we get them to that point? So, what is the natural critical learning environment? Well, it’s an environment where they can try, they can come up short, and get feedback, and try again, without penalty, without any kind of situation where they are punished for coming up short. In other words, if you think about it, it’s the kind of learning environment that we expect, as scientists and as scholars. We try out things, and if they don’t work, if the data doesn’t confirm our hypothesis, we modify it and try again. And we’d be terribly insulted if our first effort out of the box was… and people would say, “That’s nonsense. That’s crazy. Go away.” We try things, get feedback, and try again, and so that’s what the natural critical learning environment does. It’s also an environment where students can work with each other. People learn in community arrangements, where they work with each other to grapple with the problems. And they learn… and this is another key element of the natural critical learning environment… they learn by doing. Sometimes that means learn by teaching. And by teaching, we don’t mean necessarily that they stand in front of a mirror and deliver lectures. In fact, the teaching that they develop often doesn’t even include lectures, it includes a way of fostering very deep learning on the part of other people by creating dialogues, creating exchanges around big questions that move students toward a deeper understanding and a deeper application.

John: Going back to that question of the big questions, because that’s an important part of the approach. I think you talk about that both at the level of the course as a whole in the Invitational syllabus, but also when you’re devising individual components of your course. Could you elaborate a little bit on what faculty should think about when trying to select those questions?

Ken: Yeah. And it’s more than selecting them. It’s framing them, and framing them in a way that will intrigue students. Now, some of the best super courses we came across were questions that sometimes began with questions that were much larger than the course and much larger than the discipline. But in the course of students pursuing those big questions, they discover that “Well, I need to learn chemistry to answer this question,” or “I need to learn history,” or maybe “I need to learn both,” because many of the super courses were multi-disciplinary, built around a big and complex and interesting fascinating question. And then the students would devise ways of trying to answer that question. And the professor would build an environment where they could progressively tackle those questions. They can run from the very simple to the very complex, one of my favorites, and one that I’ve talked about so much, and actually written about, going all the way back 10, 15 years ago, is one that we do mention, briefly, in this new book, but it’s joined by other really exciting examples. First, that old example, it comes from 2006. And there was a professor at Princeton at the time, he was a political historian and political scientist, and who wanted the students to examine the impact of that period we call reconstruction, in period from roughly 1865 to 1877, and to ask themselves, what kind of impact did that period have on subsequent political and social developments and political institutions? Now, as a historian, that’s a very intriguing question to me. [LAUGHTER] But I don’t think you will find many undergraduates who are just dying to pursue that question. So she didn’t ask that question initially. Instead, she built a course around a question that she knew was already on the minds of her students. Now you think about what was on the minds of students in the fall of 20006? …A big question. When I ask American teachers these days, they often can’t remember. [LAUGHTER] I recently did a workshop in China, and in far southwestern China, and they got it immediately. They remembered. But, the question was, basically, “What in the world happened with that disaster we call Katrina?” Now, there’s a lot of evidence that that question became the dominant question in American politics in 2006, 2008, and helped determine the outcome of the election in 2008. You look at Mr. Bush’s numbers of approval, they fell off the cliff after Katrina. So what caused that disaster? So she organized a course, she called “Disaster: Katrina and American Politics.” And students signed up immediately. It became an extraordinarily popular course. Well, how do you get from there to an examination of political history? Well, it happened on the first day. She went into the class, and the first question she asked her students was, “When did the disaster begin? Did it begin in August of 2005, when the storm surge hit New Orleans? Or did it begin in 1866 with the beginning of reconstruction in the Crescent City?” And with that question, she transformed their interest into her interest, and it became the driving push of the whole course. But let me give you another broader example of the book, A guy by the name of Andrew David Kaufman, who teaches at the University of Virginia, about a dozen years ago, organized a program he calls Books Behind Bars. His field is Russian literature, late 19th and early 20th century Russian literature. And that literature is quite famous for asking big questions, questions about: “What’s my purpose in life? What’s my destiny in life?” So what he does in this course, is the help students go into a maximum security correctional facility for young people, people the same age as the UVA students in the course. When they go into that prison, and they help those other young people confront those questions, by reading Tolstoy, by reading Turgenev, raising the questions, and then struggling with them in a class that they do for them once a week, ensure they learn Russian literature, by teaching Russian literature, and not by lecture, but by creating an environment, a natural critical learning environment, where their students, the residents in the correctional facility, will learn just as deeply as they will. And it’s a transformative experience, for both sides, and it changes lives, and it’s self motivating. That makes sense?

Rebecca: Yeah, these are really powerful examples. And I love that both of them have really strong ledes with the course title.

Ken: Yeah. And if you’ll notice also that both have appeal to a sense of altruism. And we discovered that many of these super courses do just that, even in fields like physics and engineering. They do things to help other people. One of our favorites is a course that some high school girls in a high school in northwest Los Angeles, developed for themselves. And the only help they had was they were invited into this program and invited to come up with a project. And they live in a relatively poor neighborhood. They said, “Well, the biggest problem in our neighborhood is homelessness. And we see the homeless out on the street and in the park and under interstate 5 that runs near the high school. And what we want to do is we want to create a portable tent that is solar powered, so they will have heat and the cooking facilities and light and so on and so forth in their tent.” Now to do that, they had to learn engineering. So they organized their own courses, they organized their own sequence of topics that they would pursue. Now they have some guidance. The teachers over there kind of giving them hints or answering questions: “Should we pursue this next?” But they learned everything from electrical engineering to programming, and lots of things in between. But they also learned just the basics of being an engineer. That’s transformative. They created it, and therefore they took ownership of it. Now, the super courses, and the super institutions that we studied, immerse a lot of what they do in the research on human motivation, research pioneered by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan. And they argue, in their well documented research papers, that human beings have three basic needs and that if you meet those psychological needs three basic psychological needs… we have physical needs that go beyond these… the three basic psychological needs. And if you meet those psychological needs, people are just naturally motivated to try to learn. You don’t have to stimulate it, it just occurs naturally. And the problem is often that the way we set up schooling for people doesn’t meet those needs, it actually counters those needs. And so we get classes full of uninterested students, students who are signing off and not really becoming involved. And to address that situation, many of these courses deliberately use Deci and Ryan’s work to build an environment, where, what shall I say, where people are just naturally driven to do what they need to do. Those three needs, by the way, are: a need for autonomy, that is, we like to be in charge of our own lives. We don’t like teachers being in control of our learning. We want teachers to help us with it, that’s different, but not to control that. And beyond autonomy, there’s also a sense of competence. So people, if they feel like if they don’t know something, they can learn it. And they feel that what Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset, that mindset that says, “I may not know this, yet, but I can learn it. I may not know calculus, yet, but I can learn it.” While the person with the fixed mindset says, “I’m not a writing person,” “I’m not a computer person,” “I’m not a whatever person,” and they give up. And they don’t try to learn and to push the envelope. And then finally, it’s the sense of relatedness, people like to be part of a broader effort, and an effort in the super courses that’s often larger than the classes itself, larger than the discipline… that they take on these large projects, because they believe that it can make a difference for themselves, and for other people whose lives they will affect.

John: One of the things that’s challenging, though, for a lot of faculty, is that we do have to assign grades for all of this. So we know ultimately, students are going to get these grades. And that tends to lead to more of a reliance on extrinsic motivation. What can faculty do to provide that sort of encouragement and to help create a growth mindset when students are going to struggle with some of the material at first?

Ken: Yeah, it’s to give them lots of opportunities to try, fail, receive feedback, and try again. Now, that seems really daunting to many faculty members. They say, “Now look, I have to two hundred students, I can’t do that, for all of the students.” But there are ways of doing that. And that’s one of the things that we explore in the book. It is difficult to describe, so I won’t attempt to do so in the conversations here. But, the courses develop ways for students to give feedback to each other. Sometimes they have students make an argument about their own learning, and then have each other to assess that argument and make an argument. And that second part that I mentioned, is really an important part of the natural critical learning environment, that it’s an environment where people deliberately learn to give themselves and each other feedback. So they set up the whole system of marks around that idea that students were going to give each other feedback on how well they’re doing. And they’re going to give themselves feedback. And that they learn to assess their own efforts and work through those. Often, in the course of the term, credit is often given for participating. That is, if you do the work, you get credit for. And only at the end, do you approach anything like a summative judgment that we usually call a final grade. One of the things that we do in the book is to explore the history of grading. And we do that to help people see that grading is, for one, a fairly recent invention in education. The idea of putting a number or a letter on someone else’s thinking, that didn’t emerge until fairly late and really didn’t become entrenched until the late 19th to the early 20th century, and that changed everything. So I want people to see this in that kind of context, that there’s nothing natural or automatic about having the traditional approach to grading. And so what people have done in the super courses, is find ways of saying “Okay, now you’ve joined a community, you’re going to be helping each other to learn and you have responsibilities toward that community and to help each other to assess each other, to give each other feedback… substantive feedback, not scores, substantive feedback to one another. And we’ll try to give you feedback as well, maybe as a group, maybe individually in smaller classes, but to give you that opportunity of trying, coming up short, and being able to try again, without that affecting your overall final grade. And then the final grade is based upon an accumulation of lots of things, and perhaps a final project, a final paper, a final presentation, or something of that sort, rather than just simply accumulating, you get 10% on this and 15% on this and 40% on this aspect of the grading.

John: How can we help students embrace the concept though, of productive failure, that process of trying something, making mistakes, and then learning from that experience. Because that’s something that many of our students don’t naturally come to, because many of them haven’t seen it before up to the point when we have them in class.

Ken: Yeah, exactly. And I think one of the keys is to provide them with very dramatic and enchanting learning environments, at the very beginning of their experience, so that the students say to themselves, “This is going to be different.” Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about… my favorite example of this category. It came from a program that was offered, again, in a secondary school. It is called city term. And it brought students from around the world together right outside of New York City, and they use New York City as their classroom. And the first Saturday in the program, they’re invited to go on a scavenger hunt. And they’re given a list of items that they might look for in New York City. One of them, for example, that they often use was: find the first wooden escalator. So students go off in groups, and there’s a teacher that goes with them, but the teacher doesn’t interfere, and just keep them safe. And beyond that the students go wherever they want to. It’s a wild and exciting adventure. And then at the end of the day, they end up in Central Park on a picnic, and they discuss with each other. “How did you find that escalator at Macy’s? What questions did you begin to ask yourself? Who did you talk to? How did you reason through the process?” And by sharing ideas with each other, what they’re actually doing is learning good research techniques. That’s a wild way of learning good research techniques, to say the least. But it’s something that the students will always remember. And they will latch on to that. And they will latch on to the course now, because that first experience was something that was quite dramatic to them. Now, we don’t all have the opportunity to use New York City as our laboratory or our classroom, and to take students on a scavenger hunt. But we can imagine creating a first assignment, and I’m reluctant to use that word “assignment,” because we found often that these courses don’t talk about assignments, they talk about opportunities, and invitations to students. It’s so exciting that it begins to break down all of their sort of stereotypes in their mind about what’s going to happen in a class. So in Andrew Kaufman’s Books Behind Bars course, they’re first asked to apply for the course. So they have to explain why they want to be in the course, and then helps to begin to break down barriers. And then the first day in the class, he begins to break down the barriers by first telling them about a three minute story about a young man who read a little short story by a guy by the name of Tolstoy, Leo Tolstoy, and as we called him in the West, and about halfway through the story… in other words, about a minute and a half end of the story, the students began to realize that it’s a story about Gandhi. And it’s a story about an important transformation in Gandhi’s life as a result of reading a piece of literature. And so Professor Kaufman says to his student, “We want you to think about a point in your life, when a piece of art, maybe a piece of literature, maybe a painting, maybe a song, but some piece of art had a deep impact upon you and your thinking.” And the students began to discuss with each other. And they began to realize first, that this isn’t going to be a course where the teacher just talks to them and they take notes and then later take a test on whether or not they can recall the notes that they took. But it’s going to be a class that they will dominate, that they will do most of the talking and most of the thinking, and by creating a different kind of environment, you then can move to ultimately getting them to think about such questions as how are you going to assess yourself? How do you know whether or not you’re making progress, and whether or not you’re learning and you’re learning deeply. And the key point here is helping students to learn what it means to learn deeply, that learning deeply is not the traditional strategic learning… “oh, I learn this for the test. I’ll make an A on the test and I’ll make an A in the class.” No. it’s self-driven learning, where you begin to look behind the scenes, where you intend to look for ways in which this course can transform you and transform your thinking.

John: So essentially, I think what you’re saying is we need to help encourage students to develop more reflection on their work and on their learning process.

Ken: Yeah, I think so. I think that’s the key is getting students to think about their own learning, and help them with categories that will enable them to think deeply about their own learning… categories like deep learning, versus strategic learning, or surface learning. The strategic learner just wants to make straight As [LAUGHTER] and they’ll do whatever is necessary to make those straight As. The surface learner just wants to learn enough to pass the course, to be able to perform on an exam or write a paper or whatever it is that’s required of them. But neither one of those two leads to deep intentions, that I deeply want to understand how calculus works, and how it can help me in understanding the world in which I live, and how this applies to me, and my field and how it applies to my major, even though I’m not a mathematician, and how I can change the way in which I think. So developing those deep intentions. and fostering that deep development of intentions, becomes extremely important.

Rebecca: One of the things that you were just mentioning in terms of the strategic learners and the surface learners is how much many of our courses are probably structured with them in mind, rather than a deep learner in mind, and that we perpetuate these kinds of learners rather than deep learners based on our class structures.

Ken: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And I think we began to break away from that, by the way in which we frame the questions we raise. You think about the example of Kaufman’s course. Or let’s take an example from physics. Eric Mazur, at Harvard, has pioneered a lot of the elements of the natural critical learning environment and super course. And the students in his course do not learn physics, by listening to lecture, boring or otherwise. They learn physics by doing physics. They do three big projects. And each semester of the course… it’s a two-semester course, some students take only one semester… but in either semester, they do three big projects and they’re massive projects. And they work with a team. Each student’s is in a team of about five or six students. And they work together to try to attack a problem. And each of the projects has a back story. For example, you’ve been contacted by a charity that was created in Venezuela, by a well known philanthropist and musician, who became quite convinced that music, and symphonic music in particular (being part of a symphony orchestra), is a transformative experience that can help very poor people rise out of their poverty, and to develop a different mindset that enables them to conquer some of the economic circumstances they face. It’s a program that now has about a million students worldwide who are engaged in it. But it has a problem, namely that some of the students are so poor, that they cannot afford to buy real instruments. Now, you’ve been studying waves and music is made up of waves. So, your team has been invited to create new kinds of instruments that can be made from things that you find in the junkyard. Now that new instrument has to be able to be tuned over to different octaves, has to stay in tune for a specific amount of time, but by creating these new kinds of instruments, you can help the young children. Now, that’s a compelling project. They learn physics and the physics of waves actually doing the project and demonstrating that they can do it. Another project is more fun than anything else. Do you remember the old Rube Goldberg cartoons?

John: I do. I don’t know if Rebecca does. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: I know what they are. [LAUGHTER]

Ken: Ok. There was this guy. He was an engineer and he was also a cartoonist from San Francisco. He used to draw these cartoons, where you would attempt to do something very simple, like crack an egg, by a very elaborate piece of machinery, where balls would roll down ramps and would trigger gates that would open up other gates that would cause other balls to fall, and so on, and so forth. So it’s a very elaborate, unnecessary project. So on the Rube Goldberg project, so students are invited to create a Rube Goldberg type device to crack an egg… [LAUGHTER] something you can do very simply by knocking the egg against the edge of your kitchen counter, or your kitchen table. But no, you had to create this very elaborate project. Well, to do that, all of Rube Goldberg drawings and inventions were based on physics. That ball rolling down a ramp at this angle will acquire this speed, and it would open this door and would result in this hammer hitting this hammer that would cause this ball to roll down this ramp… and that would, etc, etc, etc. So you had to know the physics in order to create these absurd projects. But there’s a lot of fun in that. A lot of fun. And the first project they do, I think, is one was just strictly on fun. They build a racing car, and then race each other, like many of them did when they were back in the fifth grade. And they have great fun in doing that. Another one is one where they have to design a lock that other people can’t open. And they get points for 1. being able to keep other people out of their safe, and for being able to crack the lock of other peoples’ safes. So a lot of wild times. Now there’s a textbook that stands behind all of this. And the textbook is written by the professor. And it lays out everything that he might otherwise have said to them in lecture, and more. Now, how do you get students to read that textbook, 1. by creating these enticing projects, but another way you do it is by making reading of the textbook into a social experience. So Mazur and his colleagues created a program which is now available to everyone, called Perusall. And, using Perusall, students can read material together. So in the sense that, “Okay, we’ve got an assignment, we need to read to chapter two. We’re all reading it together, you’re reading it on your computer, I’m reading it on my computer. And as I read along, I may have questions. So I’ll highlight that text, I’ll raise the question.” It’s like writing in the margin, but everybody can see what you wrote. He organizes the groups into groups of 15 or 20 students apiece, and they can read each other’s comments and they can respond to each other’s comments. And to participate in the class, to be a participant in the class, what it means is that they will keep up with offering the comments to each other, and their comments on the text itself, making comments on what’s written there, to raise questions. to answer a question, so on and so forth. And what they found is that reading completion goes from 40 something percent at best, all the way up to 95 to 100% completion.

John: I’ve been using Hypothesis in my classes for the last three years, and nd it’s a very similar type too…

Ken: Yeah, there are several others out there.

John: And students really enjoy that, too. They enjoy seeing what other people are raising questions about. They enjoy answering questions for each other and posing questions to each other, and It seems to make the reading process much more engageing when it becomes this social activity.

Ken: Exactly. Well, that’s the whole idea. And then of course, behind that is this set of really intriguing, interesting, fascinating projects. And there’s a course at an engineering school in Massachussetts that offer a course, for a long time. They no longer offer the course unfortunately, but they offered it for over a decade, I think it’s called the “history of stuff.” [LAUGHTER] And the first day of class, the students go in and they see on the front table stuff. It’s the kind of stuff you might find by going down the aisles of Walmart [LAUGHTER] and picking things off the shelf, just a wild assortment of things. And they’re invited to come down and pick out one of those items. And then to begin to explore it, explore its history. Why was it created? What was it created out of? What materials? What kind of implications does its creation have for society? Does it just clutter up society and create a backlog of unrecyclable material that creates environmental problems of one type or another? Or exactly what is it? Students had a great deal of fun just exploring stuff. And the course ended up by looking at some of the history of technology through the lens of a well known American patriot, Paul Revere. But Paul Revere was also an expert in metals. And so they explore engineering of metals through the eyes of Paul Revere. And it becomes a way of mixing disciplines in a way that makes each discipline more intriguing and more interesting. Rather than “Oh, you study this, then you study that, you make no connection between the two.” Say, one more example?

John: Oh, sure.

Ken: There was a course we looked at in southwest China, and we went to the school, Southwest Jiaotong University, in Chengdu, and it was a course organized by a young woman who teaches physical education. And first day of class, the students are invited to think about what kinds of sports they enjoy doing. is in rock climbing. Is it soccer? Is it basketball? What is it? Now, can you imagine creating an exercise device that will make you a better soccer player, or rock climber, or whatever it is that you want to do… your favorite sport? And then the whole class goes to a sports equipment store, and they began to look at the equipment that’s already there. And then began to think about, “Okay, how can I create something better?” Now, as part of the team, it’s not just this PE teacher, but it’s also other people. Ah, you need someone from biology perhaps, to help them think about… “Well, what kind of exercising do the human muscles need? What kind of social environment do you need to create here?” So, you need other experts. And if you want to make this a product that can go on the market, maybe you need a marketing professor, who can help you devise a marketing plan of the new product that you’re creating. I told this story to my broker several years ago, and his response to me, was: “In Communist China?” And I said, “Yes, they have a market economy just like we do. And they’re interested in marketing and learning marketing. And they have marketing professors, just like we do.” And so they creates this environment where students learn by doing. And they learn by mixing disciplines, rather than keeping them apart. Much more interesting.

Rebecca: I love the move towards more interdisciplinary work….

Ken: Yeah.

Rebecca: …something that I feel really connected to, but it really gets people I think, more excited about different disciplines when they’re more intertwined, because we understand how they’re related to one another.

Ken: Yeah, exactly. So if you’re going to study the human brain, for example, how do you make it interdisciplinary? One of the professors, we studied taught in the medical school and taught medical students about the brain. But she was asked to create a course for undergraduates. This was at Vanderbilt. And so the course on the brain for undergraduates mixed every discipline you can imagine, together, because, as she argued, everything is connected to the brain. So you might be studying music, if that’s your interest, or whatever your interest might be. You might be studying ethics, if that’s your interest, and then you’re encouraged to think about what part of the brain handles ethical questions? What part of the brain helps you to appreciate and understand music? What part of the brain helps you to do this or to do that? So they’re studying all the aspects of the brain, but they’re also studying all these other disciplines, from Holocaust studies to a wide variety of other things, and raising deep ethical questions along the way. And she offered this course for 10 years, and it was a transformative experience for most of her students, the overwhelming majority of them, breaking down stereotypes and prejudices and helping them to also think more deeply about how their brain operates.

Rebecca: Sounds like there’s a lot of classes I should sign up for.

Ken: Exactly. I thought at one point, I was talking to some high school students about where they want to go to school. And I said, “Well, it’d be wonderful if you could go to a school that would mix all these super courses together. Because they’re strung out all over the world.” Maybe there’s a way of doing that virtually I don’t know.

John: Or maybe, as a result of your book, and other similar work, perhaps more faculty will start doing this type of thing and more of their courses.

Ken: Yeah, and perhaps, in designing a curriculum that includes professors from a wide variety of different disciplines, and students from each of those disciplines, working together in small groups, to tackle problems of physics, and then later tackle problems of the brain or tackle problems of history, or tackle problems of well, you name it… and have a opportunity to sort of tour super courses around the world. That would be a wild experience.

John: I still remember examples that you used here when you spoke at Oswego. And I remember examples when I first read your first book on what the best college teachers do, a while back, in large part because you weave in narratives, along with the theory and the reasoning behind these concepts. And I think the use of narrative helps makes the story much more interesting and helps raise curiosity and makes things much more memorable. Is that something faculty should strive to do in their own classes?

Ken: Yes, I think so. And the professor, I was just mentioning at Vanderbilt, I think, did that and created a course that was part history and part neuroanatomy and part philosophy and part literature and part music, but they’re all around narratives of one kind or another. Yeah, I think so. I think creating that narrative. Human beings love stories. And if we began to understand things, in terms of stories, then it becomes much more memorable to us. And we remember what we learn. And if you think about learning, it contains at least these three major aspects: we’ve got to encounter new ideas and procedures, and so forth, but we’ve got to encounter new material, there’s the encountering part. And the second is the making sense of it part where we relate it to other things that we’ve learned. And then the third aspect of it is retaining it long term. So we remember what we remembered, what we learned. And I think encountering all of this in stories, makes it much more memorable. But I think what the super courses do is they have students read stories to learn physics or history or other kinds of things. But they don’t tell them those stories orally, for the most part, they do not use lecture, to do that first aspect, that is of introducing the material. Usually, that’s all that happens in the classes, you’re introduced to the material and lecture, and you never get around, you never have time in class, for those second aspects of the “making sense”part of and the things that you might do to retain it. So super courses are built in a way that they spend their time working on those other aspects. Because the first one, the one of conveying the new information and ideas to the students, that can be done with reading, with films with other ways. But the part of struggling with meaning, with the teacher and with each other, that’s much more complex, and that requires a different kind of approach. And that’s what the super courses offer.

John: This project began with a collection of syllabi, and we should probably note that those syllabi do make it into the book as an appendix. So, not only do you have the stories of how these classes work, but it provides faculty with examples of how these things are implemented. In an Invitational syllabus.

Ken: We took excerpts from some of the syllabi, not all of them. But from a few, to give people illustrations of what we’re doing: one from math, one from the sciences, and one from the humanities.

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

Ken: [LAUGHTER] Good question. Well, I have on my agenda, and I’ve been working on, a book aimed at parents. And the working title of the book sort of summarizes the whole idea of the book. Although the working title is 11 words long, andt hat is way too long. But we’ve got to find a way to achieve the same thing with a shorter title, but it’s: How to Help Your Kids Get the Best Out of School. Now we chose those words carefully, because the first task is defining what we mean by the best. And, in part, it means learning to learn deeply. So how do you help your kids to do that? And we chose one of many words we might have used for kids. We said “kids,” ‘cause it’ss short and to the point. We’re trying to shorten bold type as much as possible. And I’m working on that with a colleague, Mindy Maris, and we have a due date with Harvard press of 2022. So, that’s coming up rapidly. So we’ve got a lot of work to do over the next year and a half. But we’ve already done quite a bit of work in organizing that, and so forth. So that’s the next major project.

Rebecca: That sounds like an exciting addition to the collection that you’ve already have out, and rounds out the offerings.

Ken: And then somewhere in the far distant future I play out entirely, I would love to take all the we’ve learned and how to understand the best in any field. And that was a process in itself. How do you define the best and how do you collect evidence that something is better. I’d love to do a book that might be entitled: What do the Best Coaches Do? [LAUGHTER] and describe good coaches in a wide variety of different sports. But that would be my swan song, if I ever get around to it.

Rebecca: Thanks so much for joining us today and sharing some insight into your newest book. I know that a lot of our listeners will be looking forward to reading it soon.

Ken: Well, I look forward to hearing feedback from your listeners. And as we said, toward the end of the book, we hope that at some point, every reader will say “I wouldn’t do it that way. I’d do it this way.” But when they say that, we hope that they will base that judgment on strong evidence that that presents, whatever alternatives they come up, presents a better learning environment than the one we describe in the book. But, we hope this idea of a super course, is something that is organic, it continues to grow. And five years from now, somebody will summarize something about super courses today, meaning the super courses, 2027 or 2030. And may describe a much different book than the one that Marsha and I wrote. But it’s an organic process. And we’re looking forward to the conversation w e hope that the book stimulates.

John: Well, thank you. It was great talking to you again, and we’re looking forward to sharing this with our listeners.

Ken: Thank you.

Rebecca: Thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate it.

Ken: Oh, my pleasure. My pleasure. Anytime.

[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.

[MUSIC]

185. Model Online Teaching

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

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

Show Notes

Transcript

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

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[MUSIC]

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

Regan: Thank you, John.

Guy: Thank you.

Aaron: Thank you.

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

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

Rebecca: So I heard.

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

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

John: And I’m drinking chocolate mint oolong tea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regan: Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guy: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regan: Absolutely.

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

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

Aaron: I’ll second that.

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

Aaron: Thank you.

Guy: Thank you for inviting us.

Regan: Thank you, Rebecca and John.

[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.

[MUSIC]