187. Talking Tech

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

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

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

Shownotes

Transcript

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

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

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

Michelle: Hi, it’s great to be here.

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

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

Rebecca: How about you, John?

John: I am drinking ginger peach green tea.

Rebecca: And I have golden monkey today.

John: …for a change.

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle: Indeed, it is, indeed it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rebecca: It’s a cool Museum,

Michelle: Oh, you’ve been there.

Rebecca: Yeah.

Michelle: Oh, my gosh.

John: I was too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle: Yes, and I’m all for that.

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle: Oh, my pleasure. Thank you.

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

Michelle: Absolutely.

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

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

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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.

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

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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.

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

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

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184. Engaging Students

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

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

Show Notes

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

Transcript

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

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

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

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

John: Today’s teas are:

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

John: I’m drinking vanilla almond black tea.

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

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

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

Christine: Excellent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rebecca: That’s really exciting.

John: Are those links public?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rebecca: Thank you.

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

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

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

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181. Capstone Experience

Imagine a course in which the faculty member is a coach who guides students through a real-world project with messy data and the problem-solving that comes with it. In this episode, Dr. Kathryn Berkow joins us to discuss how a course with no content can provide students with a rich learning experience full of analysis and insights. Katy is an Assistant Professor of Management Information Systems at the University of Delaware. She is also the host of the On Cultivating Student Engagement in Higher Ed podcast.

Show Notes

Transcript

John: Imagine a course in which the faculty member is a coach who guides students through a real-world project with messy data and the problem-solving that comes with it. In this episode, we explore how a course with no content can provide students with a rich learning experience full of analysis and insights.

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

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Rebecca: Our guest today is Dr. Kathryn Berkow. Katy is an Assistant Professor of Management Information Systems at the University of Delaware. She is also the host of the On Cultivating Student Engagement in Higher Ed podcast. Welcome back, Katy.

Katy: Thanks so much for having me on again.

John: We’re really happy to talk to you again. And our teas today are:

Katy: I’m having a decaf Earl Grey.

Rebecca: …good classic. I’m having a Scottish afternoon tea, which is my new regular.

John: And I am drinking vanilla almond tea. It’s a black tea from the Republic of Tea.

Rebecca: I really like almond teas.

John: This is my first, it was a gift from my son.

Rebecca: So we invited you back Katy to talk about your capstone course that you offer. Can you tell us a little bit about the course?

Katy: Absolutely. I love talking about this class. It’s one of my favorite courses to teach and I teach it every spring. And so having the break in the fall teaching my other courses gives me a lot of renewed energy for this capstone. It’s a senior capstone experience for our business analytics minors in their final semester as they prepare for their next steps after graduation. And the students have a variety of majors and a variety of perspectives in the class. And analytics is only their minor focus. And so in course design I have had, I would say, two influences. I have a colleague who designed a similar capstone for our management information system students that relies on semester long projects with an external sponsor. But also, before coming to the University of Delaware, I worked in the financial services industry as a quant analyst. So I worked through lots of long, larger scale, analytical projects. And so I modeled the course after my colleagues set up quite a bit, but I adapt it from my own professional analytical experiences. So when I first started teaching this course, I shied away from saying what I’m about to say, but now that I’ve seen enough students through the course to know that they learn so much over the course of the semester, I feel very comfortable sharing this: there is no content in this particular course, and I think that’s what makes it so much fun. So we spend the complete semester working on a large scale, real, unwieldy project that is truly representative of the type of projects students will face in their professional careers as data scientists. The students work on the project throughout the semester, they report to me or my co teacher as their manager every week. And we provide feedback on performance, suggestions and resources for how to move forward. When the students are stuck, we’ve usually seen something like that before. And we can brainstorm together how to get unstuck. And sometimes all the students need is confidence that the direction they’re planning to go in is a good one. But because there’s no content, the projects can really unfold and be the focus for all of us throughout the semester, and each student team gets a unique experience. So the two important things that I really want students to know after finishing this course, are: one, that there’s no perfect answer to a complex problem… there are only a degrees of good, better, better than that… when it comes to analytical solutions, which I’m sure is true in so many areas; and number two is that each unique problem needs its own thoughtful solution. We’re not trying to teach students in this class how to think about every problem, just how to think analytically now that they have the analytical tools. Not what to do in every situation, but how to think through each complex new situation they face.

Rebecca: Do students in this class all work on this same project, or do you have small groups working on projects.

Katy: So each student team is working on a project throughout the semester, and this semester, for example, I’ll have 42 students in the class working on nine distinct projects.

Rebecca: Do the students define their own projects, or do you have a predefined project.

Katy: So I create the projects for them with community members. Because there’s no content in the course, the project is the critical design component. So each year, I start getting ready months in advance curating these projects for the semester. In the past, we’ve worked with our own athletics department on a variety of projects, a large retail banking institution, a service provider of home repairs, a few local nonprofit organizations, and lots of others. And so the variety is exciting, because the students all have different interests as well. And I tell these organizations that all I really need from them is a sufficiently challenging research question. I mean, everybody’s got lots of questions, but we have to really hone in on one theme, and then enough data to support finding an answer to that question, perhaps. It’s not been too challenging to get project sponsors interested, because I’m offering free analytics. [LAUGHTER] And so I might contact someone through a friend of a friend and say, “Here’s a few naive questions, I think we might be able to help you answer if you have the data,” and people generally seem excited to have an introductory conversation. So, for example, some of the organizations that we’ve worked with want evidence of program efficacy. They might have survey data or some measurement of before and after metrics on the students or participants in the program. And we can use that data to answer questions. Others have said we want suggestions for how to price the seats in our new stadium which is super open ended and they’ll provide some data about ticket sales, for example, and so it’s a very open ended data-driven question but it’s not standard. And sometimes those non standard questions are even more fun. So I write up a project description after a couple of meetings, discussion, thought with the project sponsor. That might be two to five pages, it’s not a lot of information, and then I get the data into a format that students can work with, which sometimes is me doing nothing to prepare the data. I do want the students to struggle a little bit with formatting the data since data cleaning is a big part of learning to be a successful data analyst, but I provide lightly processed data and a project description to the students as their starting point. So, I ask them what project they’d like to work on after introducing the projects to them on the first day of class and I try to fit students to a project that they’re most interested in, but really sometimes i’m surprised that some projects are more popular than others and it’s not the ones that I expect

John: Paul Handstedt has a book called Creating Wicked Students: Designing Courses for a Complex World and what you’re doing sounds very much like what he’s advocating. Giving students really challenging problems where there’s no clear solutions, is a really good way of helping them pull together all the things they’ve learned. So in a sense the content is really everything they’ve done up to the capstone but you’re giving them an opportunity to apply it in ways that they’ll need to, if they’re going to be successful in their career

Katy: Absolutely. Completely. Because I did read that book and really felt inspired and I think I was already doing this style of course at the time, but it made me feel like I was headed in the right direction, that giving students this opportunity to try solving a problem that has no answer and most of the problems they try to solve in their careers don’t already have answers or we’d just be using those existing solutions. And so it is really good practice I think for whatever’s next especially in the field of analytics. Ee don’t know what the technology looks like or the methods are going to look like as we move forward and so they really need to be able to think critically about ethical concerns, methodologies, how to work with their data in a really honest and skilled way that can be applied to lots of wicked problems.

Rebecca: So, it sounds like in a process like this, which sounds similar to kinds of courses that I also teach, you act more as a coach rather than more of a traditional teacher, kind of coaching them along on how to respond to the data, respond to what’s happening in the moment. Is that correct?

Katy: Absolutely, and that’s something that I love about this class. I know a lot of your guests have talked about removing themselves from the sage on the stage position and becoming the coach or cheerleader in an active environment and that is one of the things I love most. When students are excited and driving the questions, I get even more excited to talk about what those answers might look like with them.

Rebecca: Do students have the opportunity to talk to your community partners or is it always through you?

Katy: So we staged the course in three sections and we have three presentations associated. So, the students will get started, spend maybe three weeks or so working with the data, getting to know it, generating some questions and some initial discovery points, and then they’ll present those results to their sponsor. And actually teaching online has been much easier for the project sponsors because they can easily attend presentations and provide feedback. Usually in that first round, the discovery period, the students present something and the sponsor can say, “Oh, let me explain that.” It’s sort of a back and forth where there’s a lot of sort of correcting any misunderstandings or answering questions. Phase two, the students are working toward what I call an initial solution. This solution might be a basic model that makes some assumptions that are maybe not appropriate, but just to get started. And it underscores what I love most about the class which is the idea of iterative solution. Presentation three is going to give them an opportunity to refine the solution, completely abandon what they did for presentation two, or improve it in a way that makes it more realistic, more robust, more an answer to the project sponsor’s research question. So, absolutely, the students get to interact with their project sponsors during those presentations where they are leading the show, they’re having the conversation, they’re hearing the direct feedback as though the project sponsor is their manager in that moment. And then I can sort of serve as a liaison, saying “I think what you’re saying is this,” “maybe we can put that on our to-do list,” and sort of just offering the support to both sides, to help everybody come together for a solution

John: How do you assess the contributions of individual students in the group project?

Katy: This will be the fourth time we offer this class and this has evolved quite a lot. A few things have remained the same. Those presentations I mentioned are a clear part of assessment in the class. But each week, I require that each team submit a status state. And that will be a highly detailed list of achievements toward answering their research questions, and also a list of highly detailed to-dos for the next week. So, even though it’s not a class in project management, they’re getting that scope of accountability for moving their project forward. And I require that each student’s name appear next to achievements, and next to to- do items. And that gives me an opportunity to really see what’s happening. But we also have weekly meetings. The students, instead of meeting in a classroom setting where the entire class is together, I’ll meet with each group for maybe 30 minutes. If they need more time, certainly, we can have an office hours setup. But 30 minutes is usually plenty for us to discuss anything from the status update, for them to get feedback from me, and for me to say things like, “It doesn’t really seem like we’ve done enough this week, what’s going on team?” …just like their manager would say in real life, maybe they haven’t had a chance to have that really, in-person accountability conversation before. The need for that is very rare. Most of the time, I’m saying things like, “Wow, I’m so blown away by what you’ve achieved this week. How can I best assist this week with your to-dos? What do you want to talk about in this meeting?” but those are the three components. I recently transitioned to specifications grading, which has been a ton of fun in this particular class, because the senior students are so independent and really prepared to graduate, that this gives them a lot of flexibility. So I require excellence in answering the research question as the C-level component. So the team grade is the C, do a great job on this project. And then I can add in individual components that will scale toward a B and an A. So for this semester, for example, the students will earn a B if they complete a data ethics module where they have to think and write about some ethical dilemmas in data science. They write reflections on visiting speakers who are analytical professionals that we have come to class via zoom, and they evaluate their own performance. And then to earn an A, I ask that the students take on a particularly challenging component of answering their team research question. And I don’t give a lot of guidance there except to say, discuss it with your instructor so that everybody’s on the same page. So I can help them determine what is sufficiently challenging to be truly deserving of an A, because every project is so different, I don’t want to spell out what they need to do. But an example would be if you’re working toward a C in the class, you could work with a team member to generate a model that answers a particular, say, sub question of your focus. But if you’re working toward an A, you need to be maybe developing that model on your own. The one thing that I do promise students is that there will be no surprises. I know it sounds like there’s some looseness in the specifications. But we’re talking about it every week in our meetings. And if students are not on track to earn that excellence, C-level grade, then they know about it with plenty of time. And I’ve really never had to give students much more motivation than “Hey, I haven’t really seen much from the team this week. Let’s talk about those to-dos for next week.”

Rebecca: It sounds like those meetings are really important in terms of processing learning, not only just moving the project forward, but also just processing “what are they learning?” …and how might they move that forward in the future, not just in their projects? And you also mentioned some sort of self-evaluation or reflection, can you talk a little bit more about that component?

Katy: Oh, sure. At the end of the semester, I ask them to do this performance evaluation of themselves in much the same way that I have to write one in my role and have done in the past. It gives them a little bit of practice self reflecting. I’m not really judging performance based on their performance assessment. I’ve already seen what they’ve done in the meetings. When they speak with confidence about something complicated, I know that they’ve learned a lot. So I really just ask them to be honest, and say, “What do you feel like were your greatest growth points? What do you feel like you still need to work on as you head into a professional role as a data analyst?” And I also ask for feedback about the course. {What were the elements that you felt contributed most to your growth this semester, and what things didn’t contribute anything?”

Rebecca: What have your student responses been to working on these projects.

Katy: So ever since the first time the course was offered, the students have expressed sincere appreciation for the help in making a transition from student to professional. It seems like by the time this course pops up in their schedules, they are really ready to start becoming more independent, and squeezing into a seat in a classroom just doesn’t feel comfortable for them anymore. So they express that this course and other capstones like it that are problem based really give them an opportunity to be in the driver’s seat and have more independence in their senior spring. Many also have said that they’ve learned the skills of analytical thinking, data cleaning, planning, modeling, but now they’re seeing for the first time how those things go together in a sequence and on a complete scale over much more time. This isn’t just a week long project where everything is abbreviated and if they’re going into an analysis role this is going to be what their career is like. So, I couldn’t be happier than to hear those two things. It makes it feel like a success. But, I’d also like to add something really selfish here. I get so much personal fulfillment from teaching students, at any level, but this class really gives me the opportunity to stand back and coach as you said earlier, Rebecca, rather than be that sage on the stage in front of the class with the slides. And I just get so much enjoyment from seeing students take off, watching them steer the ship for the first time, getting their answers. I also teach them at sophomore levels, the intro course, and so i’m lucky enough to see them again at the senior level and just saying that it makes me feel really proud is such a dramatic understatement because seeing them ready to leave the University of Delaware and become professionals… it’s really really fulfilling in a selfish way.

Rebecca: My experience with classes like that, too, is that students really appreciate the opportunity to try out this pretend career for a moment. [LAUGHTER] It’s a safe place to try that rollout and understand where they fit in the bigger picture or what specific role within an area or field might be a good fit for them in a way that an internship doesn’t, because it’s maybe a little more flexible or you have more of that direct contact with the faculty member during that process instead of just in the work environment. I’ve had students that have said that in those scenarios they’ve really appreciated that opportunity to fail without repercussions.

Katy: Yeah that’s a great point. It’s like we’re the coach but we’re also the bumper in the bowling alley… that we’re just trying to keep them on track and rolling forward. And I think what you said is true, especially as I think about what their roles might look like… different positions as data analysts… maybe they’re the best at doing the analysis, building the models, or maybe they’re the best at communicating the results and being the liaison between people who are super analytical and people who are not super analytical. So, this class, just as you said, gives them an opportunity to try on the different hats that might be available and see where they fit best in a comfortable supportive environment.

John: When you mentioned watching your students grow from seeing them as sophomores to seeing them as seniors, I have very much the same experience. I used to teach a wider variety of classes but in recent years, since i’ve been working in the teaching center, I primarily see them just as freshmen in a large intro economics course and then I see them generally as juniors and seniors in any econometrics class and in a capstone course, and seeing the change in them and seeing how they become confident with their material and seeing the work that they’re able to produce is really impressive. It’s a really nice feeling.

Katy: Absolutely and when you’re talking to people from other universities or if you’re talking to a panel during accreditation, it’s really, really nice to be able to speak to the entire scope of the educational process. When you see them one time as sophomores, or even one time as seniors,you only get that point in time feedback, but when you get to see the whole development process it just makes you so proud of what the students are learning and you have just such appreciation for all that your colleagues do along the way as well. It just makes it feel like there’s a symphony happening here and that you can see it much more clearly.

Rebecca: So, Katy, you’ve talked about this is the fourth time you’ve taught it. So, the first two times I believe were in person, then you had a time that started in person that shift out not in person. I imagine this time is remote.

Katy: Absolutely.

Rebecca: So, can you talk about that transition or transformation?

Katy: Sure. Last spring we were in person for five weeks and then we transitioned online and I was actually having one of my group meetings with students when the email came out. So, the email came out announcing that we were closing maybe at like 4:55 and we were meeting at five. So, I corralled the team into my office and I said “What’s going on? Just read it out loud. Let’s get this out in the open.” And it was so helpful for me to see the students processing the information live because I was processing it too but thinking in the way that they were thinking in that moment was so helpful to me. One student, for example, raised this question of “But i’m supposed to be on spring break when they say we’re coming back to school…” And i’m just like “Uh huh, let’s take it one day at a time. this is obviously new information for all of us.” But that’s how she was processing and the next student said “Are we going to not have a graduation?” …and I don’t know the answer to that. I said “Well I don’t know if this is going to be two weeks oor three months or longer, but we’re just going to take it one day at a time.” it was just so fascinating to hear what was happening in their minds. One of the questions that came up was “What’s going to happen in this class?” …like they felt almost more concerned about this class than some of their other ones transitioning online. And I said, “Well that you certainly don’t need to worry about. I feel less concerned about transitioning this particular class online than I do my other ones. Because all we do is have conversations. We have conversations together in this small group, we have conversations as a class where we’re listening to a speaker, and we have conversations with your project sponsors. And we can do all of that on Zoom.” I was lucky enough to have had some experience with Zoom beforehand. And so I just felt really confident that there might be one or two things I had to think through, but that most of the things that we were doing could easily be achieved via Zoom. So it was the other classes that were more, I’ll say, traditional in delivery format that I was worried about. So this, I feel like the students are getting exactly the same experience, they just don’t get to shake their project sponsors hand, which, you know, is a little bit disappointing. The networking component is really nice in person, but it’s not necessary. And I think meeting in these small groups, I still get to know the students just as well, and really can serve in the capacity of whatever they need, whether it’s mentor, thinking about helping them to find a job, or just project mentor, whatever is needed, I can do via zoom, because it’s in this sort of small group protected setting. And so it has been maybe the greatest challenge to transition other courses, not this one. So I really feel good about how this one has transitioned online,

Rebecca: I was shaking my head up and down the whole time you were talking, Katy, because I felt the same way about my project based courses. And in some ways, some of the logistics got so much easier being online. There’s some classes that I do that were project based, for example, our Vote Oswego project that I do with a political science faculty member in the fall, we do things with our classes together, it was so much easier to find a space we could all fit in on Zoom, we could easily get in and have the space to go into small groups without getting too loud. And some of those logistics actually were really fine online. And then even with some other projects that we were doing, having our community partners join us more easily, in a lot of ways, by being on Zoom, rather than having all the logistics of going to campus in person and finding a time that’s going to work, because there’s all the travel time involved and what have you as well.

Katy: Absolutely. One of our visiting speakers comes from Denver every year, just to be with us. She happens to be a graduate of the University of Delaware and loves spending time with our students and giving back in that way. But when I had to call her and say, “Hey, we don’t need you to come all the way to Denver anymore, we’re going to be virtual,” maybe that was a relief. [LAUGHTER] But now it just opens the door. I’ve heard a lot of your guests say it opens the door for so much flexibility in the future to just bring in more voices into the classroom and have an opportunity to learn from just a variety of different people because the commute time is zero now.

John: Going back to your point about students being a little anxious of how the course was going to proceed, I had a very similar experience with my capstone course compared to another more traditional type class. I met with them on the Monday before the shutdown began, and it wasn’t announced and there had been no discussion, at least that I had heard of on campus. But it was pretty clear that campuses all over the world were shutting down. So it was pretty clear we were going to as well. And I said “We should be prepared that this might be our last time meeting in person.” And they said, “Well, what are we going to do? How are we going to keep doing all these meetings and keep going?” And they wanted to make sure the class would be successful. I said, “Well remember how I told you, if you couldn’t be here sometime, you could just come in on Zoom? Well, that’s what we’ll probably be doing in the event of a shutdown.” Most of them had laptops there, I said, “Go to the Zoom website, create an account, [LAUGHTER] just so you’ll have it there, because you may want to create your own sessions for work within your groups.”And they downloaded Zoom to their smartphones and to their laptops. And I said,”Let’s just try connecting and just make sure you mute your microphone so we don’t get any feedback issues.” And they were pretty relaxed about it. And nothing really about the course changed other than the fact that they were meeting over a computer. They were doing all the presentations, they were doing all of their group work in breakout rooms instead of gathering tables around. And actually in a lot of ways it was easier because when they were meeting in small groups in the physical classroom, they were all looking over the shoulders of the people who were actually doing the writing at the time. And it was just so much easier for them just to share the screen and discuss it from wherever they were and have a much clearer view.

Rebecca: I think it’s really interesting that both of you are talking about how concerned the students were about being able to fulfill that particular class or that particular project and I think it really attests to probably their commitment to that project. And Katy, in your case, it might be just because it’s somewhat high stakes, right? There’s a client or a partner involved that you want to satisfy and it feels really satisfying to do real work for real people. And I’ve had this experience as well with community based projects that students just are all in on those kinds of projects, and just don’t want to see them fail at all.

Katy: That’s true. I’ve never had a problem getting students motivated. I told you once in a while, I’ll say like, “What’s happening this week?” and then you hear there were some tests or something like that. But honestly, the students are highly motivated all semester, because they’re getting to interact with those project sponsors during the presentations. And they’re going to be accountable to that person’s face or group of people during the presentation. And so sometimes I worry, as we get closer to the end of senior spring, that students are going to lose their motivation, and it really doesn’t happen. You know, they’re tired by the end, they’re ready to be done with the project, because this might be the longest project they’ve ever worked on. But they really deliver. And they always really impress me, I don’t feel any stress at the end of the semester with grades, because they, number one, they know what’s happening. We’re very clear all semester long about where their grade is headed, but also because they’re driving it. And this is a group of students who’s elected to have a minor in addition to their major studies. And they’re just highly motivated. Most of the class is earning an A by the end because of the excellent work they produce.

Rebecca: Sounds like a really fun class to teach.

Katy: I have so much fun. The hardest part’s the project. Once the projects are made, the rest is easy. I just show up and ask questions.

Rebecca: Mm hmm. I love my projects classes,

John: Is there any type of artifact that the students create that they can share with potential employers as a demonstration of what they’ve learned.

Katy: I would say I always encourage the students to include their project on their resume. But I do ask students to sign a nondisclosure agreements for their project sponsor. Tthat makes everybody feel more comfortable. Sometimes the data is sensitive if it’s got, for example, young children participating in a program, and other small businesses might not want to share their data. And so I have the students sign something. But I tell them, if you’re interviewing, you can certainly describe your involvement in the project in a loose way, you can talk about the specifics of the modeling you did, and how you contributed to the client’s end goals without saying, “Oh, I worked for this specific company.” And they also do create an executive summary. So that’s an artifact. They share their presentation slides, of course, with their customer, and they create an executive summary. But the goal of that artifact is to deliver information to their project sponsor, and not necessarily to serve as a portfolio. When I offer this class in the graduate level, where I have professional students who might be working, I don’t also ask them to work on a project for another organization. They collect their own project from publicly available data, and they generate a description of what the impact they could have studying this publicly available data might be. They create a digital portfolio using a WordPress blog. And then that’s something that they could really share as an artifact. So if it happened to be publicly available data they were studying, then they could certainly share that with a prospective employer.

Rebecca: It’s also a great opportunity at that capstone level to have conversations about the way that the profession works. Whether it’s nondisclosure agreements or copyright or whatever it might be related to what you’re doing. These are important times to have those conversations before the students graduate and move into their professional lives.

Katy: Absolutely. Because the data in our classes is often either… I’ll call it simulated, which is just made up by me, as an example, or some publicly available data that’s already in a nice format. So, it’s good for them to have the exposure to working with data that is just in a different format, because it comes from a different place. Or to see that not every dataset looks the same as the one your teacher might have curated in your sophomore level introductory course,

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

Katy: So Monday is the start of our semester at the University of Delaware. So what’s next for me is diving into nine really exciting projects this semester with our seniors this year. So I’m really excited about that. But for the course overall, there’s going to be a big change coming up. And that is that I mentioned we have minors in business analytics in the course. We recently added a major in business analytics. So I think the exciting thing to look forward to is that we’ll have an even greater mix of students coming up either next spring or the following spring that will include people who have had even more training in analytics during their time in the University of Delaware, and it’ll increase the variety of solutions that we can provide to our project sponsors. So that’s really exciting, as is being part of a growing program. But in addition to that, I’d like to concur with many of your other recent guests who have said that they’re focused on what the future looks like in their classrooms. Certainly what’s next is going to involve some changes. And it seems like there are lots of opportunities to reimagine our courses when we have the option of being in person, but also using the new tools we’ve learned for engagement and flexibility. So in the broader sense of what’s next, I really don’t know, but I’m thinking about it a lot.

John: Our students got an interesting email. For the first time since I’ve been at Oswego, we had about a foot of snow and it was coming down pretty quickly and instead of getting a notice that classes were canceled, they got a note that all classes will take place remotely today. [LAUGHTER] So one change is, I think, for those students who used to look forward to the occasional snow day in upstate New York, those days are probably gone pretty much everywhere.

Rebecca: It’s not just the students that look forward to those days. [LAUGHTER]

Katy: Absolutely, I agree. But you’re right, that’s a big change. And we’re seeing that at the University of Delaware as well, our winter session courses were not affected by snow.

Rebecca: Well, thanks so much, Katie, for joining us and sharing other great stories from your classroom. There’s so much to learn from your practice and I’m glad that you were able to join us again.

Katy: Well, thank you so much for having me back. I really enjoy talking with both of you. But also I enjoy learning so much from all the guests that you talk with on your show.

John: And I really enjoy your podcast as well and am looking forward to hearing more episodes. And this sounds like a really great project you have there.

Katy: Thanks so much. Yeah, I hope everyone will check out the On Cultivating Student Engagement in Higher Ed podcast and I’m hoping to put out a second season this spring.

John: And we will share a link to that in the show notes.

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

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

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178. Teaching for Learning

As we again begin planning for the uncertainties of the fall semester, it is helpful to have a rich toolkit of evidence-based teaching practices that can work in multiple modalities. In this episode,  Claire Howell Major, Michael S. Harris, and Todd Zakrajsek join us to discuss a variety of these practices that can be effectively matched with your course learning objectives.

Claire is a Professor of Higher Education Administration at the University of Alabama. Michael is a Professor of Higher Education and Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Southern Methodist university. Todd is an Associate Research Professor and Associate Director of Fellowship Programs in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Claire, Michael, and Todd are the authors of many superb books and articles on teaching and learning in higher education. In June, they are releasing a second edition of Teaching for Learning: 101 Intentionally Designed Educational Activities to Put Students on the Path to Success.

Show Notes

Transcript

John: As we again begin planning for the uncertainties of the fall semester, it is helpful to have a rich toolkit of evidence-based teaching practices that can work in multiple modalities. In this episode, we discuss a variety of these practices that can be effectively matched with your course learning objectives.

[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 guests today are Claire Howell Major, Michael S. Harris, and Todd Zakrajsek. Claire is a Professor of Higher Education Administration at the University of Alabama. Michael is a Professor of Higher Education and Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Southern Methodist university. Todd is an Associate Research Professor and Associate Director of Fellowship Programs in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Claire, Michael, and Todd are the authors of many superb books and articles on teaching and learning in higher education.

Rebecca: Welcome, Claire and Michael and welcome back, Todd.

Todd: Thank you, Rebecca.

Michael: Good to be here.

John: Thanks for joining us. Today’s teas are:

Todd: I got myself a nice hibiscus tea, in my favorite little mug.

Rebecca: Awesome.

Michael: And I have a nice regular Co’ Cola.

Claire: Chocolate milk, signing in here. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: I think that might be a podcast first, Claire. [LAUGHTER]

Claire: I’m 12, basically. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: I’m drinking Scottish afternoon.

John: And I’m drinking ginger peach green tea. We’ve invited here today to discuss the forthcoming second edition of Teaching for Learning: 101 Intentionally Designed Educational Activities to Put Students on the Path to Success, which forms a nice acronym of IDEAS. The first edition provided faculty with a large variety of evidence-based learning activities that faculty can adopt to enhance student learning. These were grouped into eight categories of teaching approaches, lecture, discussion, reciprocal peer teaching, academic games, reading strategies, writing to learn, graphic organizers, and metacognitive reflection. What will be new in the second edition?

Michael: Thanks, John, for the overview and also for having us here today to talk about this. We’re very excited about the second edition. I think we’ve got a great team here, I so enjoy working with Todd and Michael on it. Basically, we’ve kept the same structure that you mentioned before, we have the same eight categories. We have the same structure within each chapter where we move from research to practical tips and specific ideas that people can use in their own classes. The idea is that it is a very broad kind of technique that we include when we include the techniques and when we talk about the research. So it is something that people from all disciplines and fields could in theory use for their own classes. Now, in practice, people have to make decisions about what will work best for their learners at their institutions and their disciplines and fields. So that part has stayed the same. We have updated the research from the first edition to the second. So it’s five years later. So we have included many new research studies to support the message and what the research shows us about what works well in higher education, what has been shown to change educational outcomes of learners, what can faculty do in particular that will help student learning. Another thing that is new in this edition, and I think this is really timely right now, is a focus on online learning. So in the first edition, we talked a lot about how these would work in in-class or onsite settings. In this edition, we go that next step and say, “Here’s some of the theory about what it means to do this online and here are some techniques.” And then within each specific idea, we say specifically, here are some tools that you can use to implement this in an online environment. So we have spent a lot of time working through that. We know how many people have shifted from onsite to online or hybrid courses and how important this is for successful teaching right now. So there’s a big focus on that.

Michael: One of the things as we were going through working on the online elements of this. that’s only become that much more important in light of the pandemic, is understanding the ways to blend the in-person technique and technology together. And that’s something, I think, as we’ve certainly gone through the last year everyone has done that in a much more detailed way. But I think what we’ve in part set out to do here, because we started working on this before the pandemic, is there elements of technology and teaching that faculty should be including afterwards after the pandemic is over? …And so one of the things I think readers will be able to take away. This is not a book written in response to the pandemic… that we can take these various techniques, take technology, take the understanding of your learners and context, as Claire mentioned, and then together figure out what is the best activity in your setting. Think that’s, as we set out identifying the various techniques throughout the book, is understanding that no class, no instructor is going to be comfortable with everything. So we’ve tried to give what I like to think of as a broad menu for faculty under each of the broad topics but also in terms of individual strategies and techniques that faculty can use in their setting. And the hope is, if you need an idea to use in your class that day, you can pick this book off the shelf, and somewhere in there, it’s going to be something that’s gonna work.

Rebecca: I think we really love the mix of both the research and the practical aspects of the book. I think sometimes either it’s just practical, or it’s just the research, and it’s hard to bring them together. So having everything in one place is very handy. [LAUGHTER] Faculty like that. We like convenience for sure. One of the things that I’ve been doing some research on recently is some students complaining about this online environment being so text heavy. And so I’m kind of curious if you could talk a little bit about maybe some of the research on graphic organizers and some of the strategies because that’s a visual way of handling some information in a time where students are feeling really bogged down by text.

Michael: I think to your first point, this is critically important. As we first started talking about this book in the very, very early days, one of the things we wanted to do was to bring together both the research literature, what do we know from the scholarship, but also what are the practical things that faculty need to know how to implement these ideas. And so we very much kept that. That DNA was part of our very early conversations, and is still part of the second edition. And I think one of the things that we found in terms of writing the book, and I think, as we’ve heard from folks who’ve read it, subsequently, is to be able to have access to the research for faculty, those of us who are in teaching centers, and faculty developers, we live this stuff every day, we know where the research is, and what the most recent findings are. For most faculty, whether at an institution focused on teaching, or even researchers, that access is much more difficult to find, right? It’s spread out in hundreds of journals, most of which just folks in the disciplines don’t necessarily read. And so trying to bring that out, and also insights from related disciplines. This is very difficult to access all this literature, because it’s spread out in so many different outlets, it’s in books, it’s in journals, it’s in places like podcasts, there’s all these places to get the information. It’s really difficult, I think, for a faculty member with a limited amount of time to dedicate to course planning and preparation to find all these resources. So that’s what we wanted to do was bring that together, but also remembering that faculty need to be able to take all that information, I think it’s all of us have worked with faculty, we found that they want to know that it’s researched-based, and what those research findings are, but then they want to quickly get to: “Now, what do I do with this information?” And so that’s the way we’ve set up the book is we’re going to go through the literature, if you want to do a deep dive there, all of that information is there. But then we also want to be able to provide some really tangible tactical things for a faculty member to do. And so as we designed all the ideas and thought about the updated literature, that’s still the core tenet of what we want to do.

Todd: Next. I think the second part of the question,you said, Rebecca, was the visual aspects, specifically. So, I thought Michael covered it really, really well. But there’s a whole section in the book with graphics, of course, and just so many different ways you can use the tools that are out there: concept mapping right now, and doing word clouds, and setting up different ways for people to share a space and to drop in photos and images. And there’s a lot of them in there. And I like what Michael said in terms of there’s so much information, it becomes really overwhelming. So my educational technology list is 118 different educational solutions right now that are being used. And so what we try to do in the book was spread out not all 118 of them, but we spread them out. So if you’re interested in concept mapping, here’s a program called Cacoo. And if you want to do word clouds, there’s the traditional WordClouds. But there’s also AnswerGarden, which gives you a little bit more opportunity to put some text in there. But. lots of things on graphics.

John: Going back to that division of teaching and research and practical tips . The research is not just on the general principle of how these things work, but specific studies of how the individual tools or the individual approaches have been used, and that I found really helpful. In the new addition, is this most appropriate for people teaching synchronous courses, or you mentioned that there’s the addition of online components, are the online components primarily asynchronous online, or synchronous online, or some combination of those.

Todd: Actually, that’s great, because this was a really exciting project to do. And one of the things we did to update the book was we went in, and actually, there’s not 101. The title of the book is 101 Intentionally Designed Activities. I would challenge anybody who wants to sit down and rattle off 101, I want to hear you do it. Because when Claire and Michael and I got together we did, we said yeah, 101 sounds great. And we got up to 100. And then everything started to sound like a variation on something we’ve already done. So the hundred and first one is actually a do it yourself intentional. Isn’t that great?

Rebecca: It’s perfect.

Todd: Take your information and apply it. And the reason I bring this up is that means there are 100 in there, 100 different suggestions we have of how to engage your students. For this second edition we went through and we came up with one synchronous and one asynchronous way of doing each one of those. So this book actually has 200 different ways to engage your students in synchronous and asynchronous classes. And I got to tell you that I was really impressed with the team here. To be able to pull that off is really, really challenging. Some of them are very easy. If you want to basically do a small group discussion or post something, you use Padlet or something is really easy. Some of them became really interesting. So for instance, Kahoot! is a great adaptation to something like a Jeopardy type of thing. But then how do you do something like Jeopardy in an asynchronous course, where it’s going across time? So we’re digging through and Kahoot! It turns out has a way of doing that. So, really excited about having different ways of doing this in both synchronous and asynchronous class.

Claire: John, you mentioned how much research there is about the individual techniques. And I just want to share that there is so much research being done in education right now. It’s just blossomed as a field of study, and that’s wonderful. But I think Michael alluded to the fact that faculty members don’t have time to sit down and read 1000 studies, but we do, right? We did. And so we’re sharing that information. We’ve synthesized and collated and culled out what didn’t look like such a good study, or trying to make it into something that’s accessible for faculty who are busy and may not want to read that much educational research… I don’t know, hypothetically. So we are trying to say, “Okay, here’s what it says,” and then definitely apply it to practice. You also mentioned the distinction between onsite and online. I think that distinction is becoming a little more blurred than it used to be. When I teach an onsite class anymore, I’m still having my learning management system set up, there’s still stuff that I’m doing through the learning management system, there’s still stuff I’m doing online. When I teach online, I still have, maybe not face-to-face meetings, but I have Zoom meetings, I have these synchronous ones. And it just is not such a hard and fast distinction, I think. It’s like “I do this with people in the room in real time, or I do this through the technology.” And I think we can use things in all kinds of settings, and that’s what we’ve tried to share a little bit. And I do want to give a shout out, or a special credit to Todd on this. Because there are some things that, like he said, just one technique, how would you do it on every one? I’m like, “Oh, well, that’s an assignment, you submit that through your LMS.” And Todd’s like, “No, here’s 47 different other ways you can do that.” [LAUGHTER] And it’s like, there are some really creative ideas, I think, in there about different tools that you can use to do things in different ways. And so it’s not all just submitted as an assignment through your LMS. There are a lot of really cool tools out there, and to go back to Rebecca’s point, can make things more visual and more creative. And I think that involves students in ways that producing more text may not. It’s like “Oh, wow, I get to make this beautiful, professional looking product and share that with others.” And that causes or at least creates an opportunity for engagement in ways that others can’t. So yeah, we tried to share some good ideas about how to use technology. And that technology might be in an online class, or it might be in a hybrid or hyflex class, or it might be in an onsite class where you use technology in a way that supports onsite learning.

Rebecca: I really need to know what strategies were the most difficult to come up with across platforms or cross modalities. I must know. [LAUGHTER] You have to share.

Todd: There was one that took me about four days to get to and so here’s one for you. One of our onsite ones that we did was Pictionary, you know, drawing. So you divide your class into two teams, and somebody takes a marker and starts to draw. And then of course, everyone has to yell out an answer. Do that in an asynchronous class, that becomes challenging. But I stumbled across a program… actually, I shouldn’t say stumbled across, I’ve used it a couple times. But as I was thinking about this, after a couple days, I was thinking, “No, you got to turn that a little bit.” So there’s a program on there called Formative. And Formative is something that you basically come up with an image that you start and you draw like a circle or something and you present that to the class, And then each class member draws what they see of that, and then you can get feedback on that. And it suddenly occurred to me as instead of having people guessing back and forth real time that way, what you could do is provide the basic image for the class and then say, “Okay, I want everybody to draw something and submit it on this date. And then the first person who can figure out what it is, you basically write in.” And so it’s a way to do kind of Pictionary in an asynchronous way. But that was one of the trickiest ones.

Rebecca: That’s funny that you mentioned that particular thing, Todd, because I’m teaching a class this spring, a new class for me, where I was trying to come up with a way of doing Exquisite Corpse, which is a folded paper drawing, where one person would draw a head and then you try to do the body and then the next person does legs or something… something like that with my class. And I came across an example of having different boxes, essentially in a whiteboard app, for each student. And I’m going to do pet robots. And so everybody draws one part of the robot, the nose, and then you pass it to the next person. And then you say, like, “Oh, draw the head,” or whatever. So it’s a way of doing that. But that took me a good few days to come up with a solution.” [LAUGHTER]

Todd: Yeah, it does.

Michael: Well, I thought I knew a lot about technology. And as Claire said, Todd would pull something out that never ever heard of before or heard of, but I never thought to use it in that way. And I think that was one of those challenges is, anytime you’re writing a book, you don’t want to be obsolete by the time it comes out. And so it’s always tricky with technology, because websites change and services change and the ability to do different things change. But I think what we were able to do in the end was, even though it may reference a particular website or software, the underlying design principle will hold even as we get different technology over time. And I think that was one of the things we struggled with five years ago, because I’m just not sure technology across all 100 ideas was there. But I think now we’re at the place where you could at least have some semblance of how you would do this, even if that particular service was no longer available.

Todd: I really liked that you said that because the one that I’ll have to admit, one of the very first times I did exactly what you’re thinking of here is I love doing gallery walks in classes, the traditional gallery walk. And I’m sure the listeners know, but you set up four or five flip charts, you put students in groups, smaller groups, each groups in front of a flip chart, they respond to a prompt, different prompts for each flip chart, and then you rotate and you keep rotating until you come back essentially to the first one. and I thought about it for a little while and thought this would work out really well on a Jamboard. So you go to Google Jamboard, and you set up five boards and people go through it. But just like Mike was just saying, if Jamboard goes away, alright, let’s do it with Padlet. And if Padlet goes away, alright, we’ll do it with something else. So once you think this is a way through technology to do this, then it becomes actually fairly easy to find other ways to do it.

John: For faculty who are reading this for the first time, and they see now 200 techniques, maybe only 100 of which might apply for their courses, they might be tempted to try a lot of those. Would you recommend that people who are redesigning their courses or restructuring their courses try doing many new things all at once? Or should perhaps they use a more gradual approach?

Claire: I think the answer to that question depends a lot on who the faculty member is. I think some faculty members want to go all in and try a lot of new things. I think some might do well trying one new thing, and seeing how that works, and then trying another use thing. I also think that again, it depends on who your students are, what your discipline is. A lot of our techniques, though, are things that can be done in addition to other things. Like you might lecture for 10 or 15 minutes, and then do a think-pair-share. Or you might do a punctuated lecture where you stop and say “What are you thinking about right now?” …or something like that. So these are ones that can be incorporated into what faculty are already doing for the most part. So I really think it depends on what the faculty member wants to accomplish and what works best for their particular situation.

Michael: I agree with Claire, I think there’s a notion of, depending on how many times you’ve taught the class, for example, there may be a different freedom to innovate in different ways. I think the other part though, is we have to be careful if we talk about teaching innovation in this way, is beginning with the end in mind. Changing something for the sake of changing something is not a good idea to use one of these techniques. The idea is: know what you’re trying to get the students to learn. What is the content you’re trying to get them to learn? And then look for a technique that best gets you there. Certainly, as I talk to faculty, and think about ways they might do something different in class, you’ve got to start at that point, then decide what is the most effective way to get your students there. Now as much as I love all of the ideas in the book, they’re not all going to work in every situation, even if you were game to try them all. And that would probably not be an effective way to teach class. But if you know what you want your students to learn… and then we always preach backwards design, there’s a reason we do that. We start there and get them to “what we want to know” and then figure out what’s the best way to do that. And I think that’s, to me, when I think about using these activities in my own classes and as I talk to other faculty, is if I know what I’m trying to convey, I can then say, “Well, now I need to go look for a game because this might be content that’s a little dry, or I know from the past that students don’t enjoy it as much. So maybe a game would be a good thing to spice it up a little bit.” Or if I know this is really important content, and they need to understand it in a very specific way. Well, now let me look for a lecture activity that I can convey that content. So I think that, if you know what you’re doing, then you can use the book and we’ve got the full menu available to you. But if you don’t know what type of restaurant you’re going to, the menu is going to be gibberish.

Claire: I absolutely agree with that. I do want to follow up with one thing though. I would say for the person who is, and surely nobody’s still doing this, lecturing for 50 minutes without a break. Even if you don’t know why you’re going to stop every 15 minutes to do a short thing, like maybe an interpreted lecture or pause procedure or something like that. Even if you don’t know why, go ahead and do it, [LAUGHTER] because it will help your students learn better is why. That’s the answer. We all know about human attention span and all that good stuff, but also just varying the activity a little bit and giving them something to reset their attention span will be really, really helpful to their long-term learning. So even if you don’t have the perfect learning goal crafted out, if you could just stop every 10 or 15 minutes and give them something to do, something short to reset their attention span and get them back on track, they’re going to be able to listen to you more in that next lecture segment. So I absolutely agree with Michael, the one caveat is just stop every 10 or 15 minutes and do something different.

Todd: I love what you just said there, Claire, but I’m not even sure its attention span. I don’t think it’s attention span. And I mean, that is part of it. But cognitive load.

Claire: Well, that’s part of it, too. Yeah.

Todd: Anytime you’re trying to learn something new, how many times have you start to watch a video, a YouTube clip on how to do a change your carburetor on your lawnmower or whatever, that you have to stop after about three steps and say, “Whoops, wait a minute, what was that stop again? We’re the experts and we start spewing all this information. And I love that Claire said that. And I live by backward design. So, I love that one too. But the one thing we know from all the research, that’s the most clear thing out there is that putting something with a lecture always enhances learning. If you’re only doing the lecturing, and then you put something with it, it always does better. My biggest fight over the last three or four years, the research doesn’t actually really say it’s lecture versus active learning. If you read the research, the titles will say that at times… people argue that all the time. It’s not lecture versus active learning. The research is lecture alone versus lecturing with active learning, and lecturing with active learning kicks butt all the time. So I love that.

Rebecca: There’s a lot of faculty who are now teaching online synchronously, which is, you know, a newer modality that’s not written about quite as much. And John and I’ve been talking about that a bit the past few months on our podcasts.

John: …certainly, since March.

Rebecca: Yeah, I guess it’s coming up on a year. But I know one of the things that faculty are struggling with is ways to do some of these activities and build community online as part of that and get students connecting with their peers. Can you talk about some strategies that might be in your book that we could point faculty to looking into more?

Michael: You know, it’s such a great question, because I think if I think about all the way back in the beginning of March, when we had faculty on our campus that have never heard of Zoome before, we’d had Zoom for a while, but most people had never had a reason to really use it. This is the single biggest challenge I think our faculty have faced. For some getting in the learning management system was a struggle, but we could get past that fairly easily, at least to a threshold to be successful. Learning what to do… and I think to some extent, it gets to Claire’s answer about lecturing, we still have a number of faculty that do lecture almost exclusively. And so, as soon as the pandemic took hold and we moved online, we had faculty that were just lecturing the entire time. And particularly, I think this is somewhat better at least for some student populations, you know, the internet capabilities and things. We were all just overloaded, right? Yeah, and nobody could get on and constantly got the messages about connectivity problems, and Zoom and all the rest. And so faculty started recording lectures, then what happened, at least with our students, there was no reason to go to class anymore, I can watch that lecture and put it on two-times speed. And I can get out of class in half the time I used to. We’ve had a lot of conversations with faculty about how to make that time important. And especially for some faculty who are concerned about, “Well, once I record all my lectures, you don’t need me anymore.” Well, if all you’re doing is doing those recorded lectures, we probably don’t need you anymore. But do the thing that faculty are best at. It is building communities. It’s encouraging curiosity and creativity and all those things that get those of us in teaching, really jazzed to get up in the morning and go to class, be it in-person or online. And so I think for me, and as we’re thinking about some of the techniques, the more complicated the modality gets, whether we’re talking about something like hyflex or synchronous online, I think in some ways, that’s where getting back to the basics can be helpful. So using some of the lecture and discussion techniques, where you take a break and change as we were talking about just a minute ago. I also think breakout rooms… and I know this is something I think Claire’s talked about before… breakout rooms can sometimes be an extra layer of complication we may not need. And so thinking about the ways that small group discussions can be had in Zoom, or any online platform, but I think that at the end of the day, for me, it’s when we’re using complicated technology, and it may not be complicated technology wise, right, but different modalities that we’re not always comfortable teaching in, and none of us would have designed in an ideal setting. We’re clearly far from ideal. But if we can take some of those basic ideas… think-pair-share as an example. That’s one that we’ve been using for forever. Can we use that in an online platform in a way that you’re not trying to do too much technology. We had faculty early on who were trying to use every piece of technology in every class session, and they couldn’t remember which login, and then this would crash and that would crash. It was just too much. So using the basic functionalities, some of the discussion techniques where you can use the chat window, I think many faculty are probably not using some of those basic functionalities as much. So I think that’s, to me, as you’re looking at the various techniques, if you can make it easier, the more complicated the student situation is. If you know you’ve got students that are working all day and come into class at night, then maybe being super technical in different software packages… that may not be the time to do that. If you’re working with traditional 18-year olds who are savvy using a lot different technology than maybe you could. And I think that’s for me been one of the lessons of the last almost year now is can we get back to basics, and then let the technology help us to reach our students, build a community, build their engagement, use Zoom to access office hours and some of those kinds of things in which I think we’re finding our students are having much more engagement with, if we can get them to show up. So that’s to me, if we can get back to the basics, then it would be helpful, I think, for both faculty and student learning.

Claire: I’d like to pick up on this too. And that’s in part, I’m a mom, I have a 10th grader, the 10th grader is in the room right next to mine, I can’t help but overhear sometimes. I try to stay focused on my work and not pay attention, but the house is only so big. And so I’m just hearing things, and some of his teachers…..well, they’re all wonderful people… they’re lovely, lovely people doing excellent work and a pandemic. But some of them will talk for the full 60 minutes of the class. And I’m going to tell you, my kid who is a wonderful, lovely person and a really, really good student, like you might expect… both of his parents are profs, we’re nerds, we’re a nerdy family. So he does well in school, he is not managing to stay focused for those 60 minutes. I will see him get up and go to the kitchen, maybe walk through, there may be a little pacing. It’s just not happening. And then there are other teachers who will do some of the things that are in our book to mix it up. And he is in there. He’s engaged. He’s talking to the screen, talking to the teacher, he goes into breakout rooms, they’ll ask a question like, “What did we talk about last week,” like “Today, I learned…” “What did we talk about last week? And why is that important today?” Or they’ll say “Okay, so what do you think is gonna happen in this experiment that we’re about to do in chemistry?” …so like an anticipation or taking a guess kind of thing. They might occasionally go into breakout rooms to work a problem or to compare their notes for the session. They might break out and do some kind of jigsaw activity where they work together and then they teach each other. They might even do just a quick prewriting, they’ll say, “Write for a minute, and then we’ll take their responses.” And it is like night and day, he doesn’t leave the room, he is focused the whole time, he is able to maintain that attention and engagement. It’s not just attention, like Todd said, it’s more than that. It’s the ability to hang on, to concentrate, to process, for his working memory to really be able to stay with the whole thing. And so I think that what we can do is use some of these techniques when we’re teaching these synchronous things. So we’re not just giving everybody Zoom fatigue. So we are giving them good educational experiences, and not just 60 minutes wall of sound from the teacher, because that’s just not the best way. They’re not going to learn the best in that kind of situation.

Todd: Well, I heard a learner recently put it in the way that really helped me out. She said “I think about classes as to whether or not I could spend the entire class period ironing or not.” [LAUGHTER] And she said, “If I could stand up and iron an entire load of clothes while class is going on.” And all I could conceptualize in my head is “Oh, that’d be the same as like watching a soap opera or a television program while you’re ironing.” And she said, “Yep, if I can do that, I don’t need to be in class, I can just look at the recording later.” But just like what Claire was just saying, if you’re doing all those things, my goodness, it’d be interrupting your ironing all the time. [LAUGHTER] Make them do something. One of the things so fascinating about teaching is that you’re constantly straddling a line that has cut points of boredom and frustration. You got to be above boredom, you got to be interesting enough or present information in an interesting enough way that people will attend to it. But you can’t do it in such a complex way that they’re frustrated by it, because they just can’t get it. And so how can you take a learner and engage them, but not frustrate them? And that’s what you have to always be looking for techniques or ways to do that.

Michael: You know, it’s funny you say that Todd, because right before we started recording, I went out, and I’ve got a sixth grader and he was in the kitchen and getting some peanut butter cookies my daughter made this weekend. And I said, “What are you doing?” And he said, “I’m getting some peanut butter cookies.” I said, “Okay, what are you supposed to be doing?” Oh, I’m in class.” The laptop’s upstairs. He’s downstairs in the kitchen. And he had his headset on and was listening. But I contrast that with other times when, like Claire, I go past and he’s in class and when he’s got a notebook out and he’s working. His art teacher right now… because I think in some ways, certain disciplines are kind of naturally inclined to go this way…. With art, he’s got different media out, he’s got his markers, and his crayons and colored pencils and different type of paper, and he’s doing this stuff. And then he’ll be in another class, and he can go to the kitchen and get cookies and not miss a thing. And while yes, we’re all doing the best we can, I do hope when we come out of this, there’s going to be some lessons we take away from it. And one of those being: if we can just hit record and walk away, that’s maybe not the best thing for an hour class or even longer for those who have longer classes. But if we can engage students, if we can stop for a minute, if we can make them think, if we make them do something, the combination of those two things. It’s hard right now. If somebody was trying to do active learning for an entire 60 minute class, that also would be really hard to do right now given everything. But this blend, as Todd said earlier, the research shows when we can put lecture and active learning together and put some of these different techniques together, that’s where I think we’re gonna see some benefit. And I think that’s true whatever we were teaching, if we were talking about K-12, or higher education, or anything in which you are trying to communicate.

Todd: And that made me think of something else too, real quick, that I just heard a session done by someone who works at Zoom. And keeping in mind, Zoom is not static. For those of you who are using Zoom, it’s changing all the time. So they have now changed how the reaction buttons are used. They’ve got them set up in a much more easy format, they have some things that stay there until you take them off, some things that don’t, there’s all these other techniques too. Closed captioning, Zoom has finally got it, it just was launched, I believe, yesterday, or the day before it came out. I got students who have babies, they can’t have the sound on. I mean, that’s a new thing that’s good. They’ve got another one now and they blur out the background. And here’s what I really love about this with the guy who was explaining it, he said, “We’re now gonna have the capability instead of virtual backgrounds to blur the background, we did that for a more equitable situation for students who are uncomfortable with their housing situation. I was blown away that that’s the reason the guy said they did it, not because “Oh, here’s another thing that people would like.” So again, the technologies keep changing. But we as teachers, it’s what Michael and Claire both said too is we as teachers have to decide what to do and why, again, back to backward design.

Claire: And I’d like to pick up on the point too that, I think right now, making connections with other human beings is really, really important. And that’s not just watching your teacher on TV, that is actually having some kind of meaningful exchange where you get to talk to another human being. And a lot of people haven’t left their houses not much since March, or they’re not in class, they’re still online, just making that human connection is absolutely essential. And some of our techniques allow for that. They’re putting people together where they’re connecting, either through discussion or group work or something else. And I think those things, even if they’re just for a brief period of time, are probably some of the most important things we can do right now.. is give them that space and time for exchanging ideas and sharing and making that contact.

Todd: My gosh, and I know we got to move on.. this question we’ve been on it for a while, but Claire, that was such a great concept. I remember, a student in one of my classes from almost 30 years ago, and it was a night class, she kept dozing off. And I kept walking by her desk and saying, you know, “Maybe you better go splash some water on your face,” and I walked by again, and “Maybe you should just like walk around the building once real quickly.” And at the end of the class I talked to her real quickly and I said “How are you doing? I’m really concerned about you.” She said, “I’m so sorry. I’m so so sorry. I almost didn’t come to class tonight, because I just worked a double shift and I’m absolutely exhausted. But this class is the only time during the week that I feel like a real valued human being.” You know, what Claire said, even without the pandemic, a lot of individuals are in home/life situations. They’re in jobs where they’re not appreciated by their colleagues. I mean, it’s one time during the day that students can feel like they mean something. And so even more so in the pandemic, but yeah,Claire. I’m glad you said that. I hadn’t thought about her for a long time.

Claire: Nice. Yeah, it is connections. It’s very important and very meaningful. And students, I truly believe they really appreciate those opportunities all the time, but especially right now when their opportunities are more constrained than they might normally be.

Rebecca: Not just students as faculty…. [LAUGHTER]… the interactions too. I remember last semester there were times when I had some really nice deep conversations with some of my students and it was like, “Wow, alright, this is the first time I’ve had a conversation with someone who’s older than three.” [LAUGHTER]

Claire: …outside the immediate family… it’s lovely.

John: We thought we’d ask each of you to share one of your favorite techniques that are in this book,

Rebecca: …or most impactful for you

Todd: …comes down to a lot of different things. But sometimes I’m actually gonna jump in and say it’s kind of a combination. It was one that I didn’t actually do, but it was one I just saw, but a technique… these techniques are so cool. Having a person open a Google form. We’ve mentioned Google forms several times in the book, but asking a quick question for the Google form of “What do you think about this?” The learners then typed what they thought, the individual was able to take those very quickly, download those into a word cloud, and then presented the word cloud. Now we’ve got AnswerGarden as a word cloud that we mentioned on a couple of the IDEAS, and Google forms is something else we use in it. But the ability to capture that information and turn it into a visual that quickly was just one that I thought was really amazing.

Michael: I think my favorite is one, it’s called “Houston, we have a problem.” And it’s taken from Apollo 13, of course. And it’s that great scene in the movie where the engineers have to figure out how to get the oxygen thing working on the spaceship. And so they have all this stuff. And you can’t give them new supplies and new tools, because they’re halfway to the moon. And there’s this great line: “you have to make this fit into that using just this.” And so what I love about this is it’s fundamentally problem solving, but it brings together knowledge and skills. And so you give students, and it can be different depending on whatever class of course, it can be a set of terms or methodologies or equipment or whatever it might be, but the students have to take these things and figure out how to use them. And I love the notion of that. I use versions of it in my own classes, the notion of having students take something, even things that might be out of the context of the class, or even the discipline, and figure out how to make it work. Because I do think fundamentally, to me, it gets to what you do when you leave us. The academy’s this great place where we can play with ideas and information and learn skills, but it’s somewhat sanitized, it’s hard to really get to the messiness of what students are going to face when they leave us. And that, to me, is such a great activity where you’ve got to figure out how to get to a solution, and you don’t have all the information, you may not have everything you need to solve it. But you collectively as a group have to come. So I think we called it a game, I’m not sure if it’s entirely a game, there’s probably a game element to it. But I just love the notion of students having to work together and kind of fight to a solution.

Rebecca: Michael, did you say that you do this in some of your classes?

Michael: I have,yes. Probably my favorite way to do it is for research design, actually, and give students a variety of different data sources and analytic techniques, and a question they’re trying to solve. And so they have to decide if I’m going to use this quantitative data or I’m going to use this qualitative method or I’m gonna use a survey, and they’ve got to figure out how to do it. Amd I usually do it in a fairly compressed amount of time, because what I’m trying to do is quickly think about the tradeoffs in making methods decisions and research develop. And so they can’t do everything they want to do. But they have to figure out how am I going to be able to answer this research question. And so it’s real simple where I usually give them like index cards with terms in them, but then they have to work through and figure out the way they would do it. And what’s often is impactful is to see how the other groups, for the same question, how they got to a different way to get to the answer, then it opens up some great conversations about the methods and rigor and validity and trade offs in research. And it’s kind of a fun way to learn about those ideas.

Claire: I like a lot of those. And it’s really hard for me to choose. But I’m gonna say jigsaw, just to pick one out of a hat, really. And I think jigsaw… I mentioned it earlier, it’s where you create base groups, and students work in base groups to study something and learn about it, and to decide how to teach each other. And then you recombine groups, one person from each base group joins the team. So they then teach each other what they learned in their base groups in their jigsaw. And I think it’s a wonderful technique to encourage collaboration. And it involves students. It engages them. I have a story about it. I teach a college teaching course. And I remember one year early in my teaching of this course, I wanted them to know about the history of college teaching, I thought it was important to have them understand where we come from and how we’ve gotten to where we are. So I created this lecture. It was so long ago, y’all, that it was on overhead. Remember the clear overhead slide you put on the overhead projector, it was like that. And when I teach, one of the things that I do that’s pretty useful is, at the end of every class, I take notes on how things went, and then I put it away, and I pull it out the next year I’m teaching or the next time I’m teaching the course. And so I had created this lecture about the history of college teaching, about pedagogy in higher education. And I gave it, and the next year I came back and I looked at my notes and it said “This was bad. [LAUGHTER] This was really bad. This was bad for you. This was bad for them. [LAUGHTER] Don’t do it.” I had no memory of that at all. I thought, “Oh, good, I’m gonna give my lecture. I’ve already got it done and everything.” And so I… [LAUGHTER] …I pulled back and said, “Alright, what I’m gonna do is a jigsaw with this.” So I gave each group a period of time: y’all got the colonial period, y’all got the antebellum period,” and so forth. So there were four or five periods, I don’t remember how many I divided it into, and they got together and then they taught each other. And they broke out into their new groups, taught each other. They were using games to teach each other. I think they busted out like Jeopardy and Pictionary and all these great things. They were so engaged and into it. And they learned so much more, I promise, through that jigsaw than they ever would have through my lecture. And it was just a really good and useful activity. So that remains one of my favorites for that reason. But I also want to add that I like a lot of the metacognitive activities. It’s one of the best ways to improve the learning, right? But I think it’s something that we don’t always think about doing. And so things like wrappers or even opinion polls, or the “today I’ve learned…” “what’s the most important thing you learn today?” They take so little time and can really, really deepen learning

Rebecca: And that’s only three or four out of 200. [LAUGHTER]

Todd: Well, I gotta say, while we were chatting about that, and Claire was talking about, I just pulled up the chapter that we just finished. And if I have it right here, there’s 14,000 words in that chapter. That was the metacognitive chapter. So this is a pretty dense book in the sense of there’s tons of stuff, but if anybody’s interested, we have 14,000 words on metacognitive strategies, [LAUGHTER] the research behind it, and how to apply it.

John: And that’s something that most faculty tend to ignore. So, including that I think is really, really helpful. The evidence on that’s overwhelming.

Claire: It really is. And I would say maybe not dense, like I don’t think it’s a real dense read. I think it’s chocked full of goodness, right? Here’s a lot of… [LAUGHTER]

Todd: Well, that’s a good point.

Claire: …rich… information rich, yeah.

Todd: I’m actually curious to see how the new books gonna look, though, because when I was looking to the as we were going through updating everything, the standard out there is you’re supposed to change 20% of the material, I think we added something like 30% new material over and there was nothing to take out, because there was nothing in there that was outdated. Nothing we’d written from the first edition was no longer valuable. So the previous book plus about 30% new. So it’s gonna be a very meaty book. But it’s a good resource… not meant to be read from cover to cover. It’s just meant to open it up to what you need.

Rebecca: So when can we start reading this book? Exactly.

Todd: The book will be available in the latter part of June.

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

Todd: In the universe, or…

Rebecca: However you really want to address this, because there’s a lot…

Michael: Todd, do you wanna go first?

Todd: Sure. I think what’s next is just to get through spring. Michael brought it up too, and we’ve kind of touched on it. This is really hard…. the pandemic, with everybody shifting to everybody, we know months and months and months ahead of time that we’re going to do this…” We all want to get back together. So for many of us, UNC Chapel Hill was right at the lead of this one, is students arrived on campus, and seven days later, they shut it down. And then spring came along. And it’s like, “Okay, but now we’re going to be able to be face to face, right?” And we’re still doing either online teaching or emergency remote teaching. The differentiation, of course, the online teaching is a very thoughtful process where people put together this whole package of how you deliver education and emergency remote is we just do the best we can with the time we got. So I think the “what’s next” is to get through the spring, take the summer, I wholeheartedly believe in the fall we’ll be closer to being back together in classrooms. And then I think it’s coming back to what both Clair and Michael have said, is pulling the essence of some of the really cool things we’ve learned and embed those into classes for faculty members who have never even considered teaching online a year and a half ago or a year ago, to now implement those strategies. And so I think that’s what’s next is: how do we find some good out of all of the garbage that’s been happening? And that’s what I’m looking for. Pathological levels of optimism. I think we’re going to get through it and then we’re going to be better off in the future than we were in the past. I’ll use one quick example of this because I work in a medical school, flu rates are almost non existent this year. And I knew that was going to happen six months ago, because nobody took flu that serious… I shouldn’t say nobody, a lot of people didn’t… 30 to 50 thousand… it’s hard to get these numbers, sometimes 30 to 50 thousand people a year die from the flu. And now what we’ve got is a whole population that knows we should wash our hands, stay home when you’re sick, and don’t be in each other’s space all too much and wear masks when you need to and because of that I think next flu season is going to roll around and I think people are going to put their masks and stand back, and we’re going to see flu rates with maybe 20-30 thousand people less dying every year. So with teaching, with health, I think down the road is putting new practices into place.

Rebecca: Sounds like a lot of metacognition might be going on.

Todd: I’m a metacognition nerd. [LAUGHTER]

Michael: So I agree with Todd, I think there’s a lot of lessons to be learned from the pandemic, and what’s going to happen afterwards. I think the other really negative implication of the pandemic is that this moment of equity and inclusion has been too easily forgotten, I think, in corners of higher ed, myself included at times. We’re so trying to get through the day that this reckoning that’s happened, I worry that those of us in higher ed have forgotten it. And so we absolutely need to take some lessons from the pandemic for teaching. But I also think we’ve got to continue to work on the inclusion in our classrooms, be it an in-person classroom or an online classroom. That work is gonna take a lot longer than the pandemic, I suspect, but is equally as important.

Todd: Boy, Michael,I’m really glad you just said that, because this whole thing has shown a huge light on the inequities in our systems. I think the inequities are huge. And I really do hope we can, at least with the big flashlight on there, maybe we can sort a few things out. But I’m really glad you said that.

John: Those inequities became much more visible to faculty with the shift to remote teaching, it was really easy to ignore these differences when everyone has access to the same computer labs, the same wireless network, the same study facilities and some degree of food security with meal plans on campus. But when students dispersed and went home, all that broke down, and faculty suddenly had to become aware of that, and faculty are attending workshops at rates I’ve never seen before. Our attendance has just skyrocketed. And a lot of people have come to appreciate backwards design and building new things into their classes. So I’m really optimistic about many of these things. But we certainly need to do a whole lot more work on equity and inclusion issues.

Claire: I think one thing I’ll say is that faculty aren’t typically taught how to teach, it’s not something we usually take classes on in graduate school, it’s not something that we receive a lot of training before doing it. Most of us have to learn through trial by fire, or we have learned by watching our own teachers, growing up, going through grade school and high school and college, we figure out what works by being participants in it. So I think the result of this is a lot of us haven’t had, again, that formal education in how to teach. We don’t have the research grounding, the theoretical background, and a lot of times when we’re just starting, we don’t even have the practice. So what this pandemic has done has changed that, because we’ve shifted to a new modality that most of us have never engaged with before. Most of us hadn’t taught an online course, or an emergency remote course, and so we’ve had to figure it out on the fly. But what I think this is done is put it in the forefront. All of a sudden teaching is something we really have to think about is something we really have to figure out because I’m doing it in this whole new way, and I can’t just bank on what I suspect works, I have to figure out this new system. And so I think we do have a lot more people thinking about it. I think we also have more institutions investing in professional development in ways that we haven’t before. And we have more faculty participating in professional development than we have before. And so I think it has highlighted teaching in a way that it hasn’t been for everyone for a while. And I think that’s good. If we’re looking for some kind of silver lining here, I think we can say that, all of a sudden, people are at least more often really aware of teaching and thinking about what makes good teaching. And when you have to plan out an online course, it really makes you think through the process. I know we went in March to emergency remote teaching, but a lot of us were teaching online in the fall. And so when you have to think through a whole course in this new way, you really have to think through the process from start to finish. And I think it changes the way you think about teaching, to teach online. And I hope in good ways, like Michael’s saying, I hope that we can learn from what we’ve done and figure out, “Hey, this is stuff that works really well” or “This is stuff that maybe doesn’t work as well,” and that we can take that back into whatever teaching mode we are in in the future. So I do think that there has been a big shift, and I think that’s going to stay with us. I expect we’re gonna see more things done online going forward. And I don’t want to say completely online. I am absolutely not saying higher ed is going online. I’m saying people may use some of the pieces of online activities that worked well for them. They may do an online assignment if they never did before, or they may have a Z oom virtual office hour or something like that. So I think there are going to be some things that we take from this experience.

John: And I think Todd has a book coming out on that, which we discussed in a podcast that was released on January 27.

Todd: Oh, Creating Equity-Based Digital Learning Environments. Oh yeah, I remember that.

Rebecca: Maybe that one? Yeah.

Claire: I want to add too that, I think faculty… I want to believe this… have become more aware of the need for compassion in their classes. I mean, it’s easier when everybody seems healthy and well to say, “You know, no late assignments,” or whatever, and “it’s in the syllabus,” and my late policy is this. But I want to think that people understand that people are sick, or caring for sick people, and that life circumstances are changed, maybe they have their little kids at home with them. I think it’s important to be compassionate for students and to understand their needs. And I think this is highlighted, in addition to equity and inclusion, just some more issues, that people have lives. And they’re different when they’re not on campuses, and that we can be compassionate and kind to people. And that doesn’t make us any less rigorous or whatever. It just means that we’re kind and compassionate, and I think our students will learn more when we are more aware of them as humans.

Todd: we’re seeing that in the POD network, and the Lilly conferences, the stuff you just brought up, Claire, anything dealing with mindfulness and compassion, those types of things. People are just swarming to those sessions, they just love those things. Because it’s vital right now.

Claire: You know, sometimes students will, when I send out something, and I’ll say… I just sent out a note to a student today, and said, “Oh, your assignment didn’t come through, I think you didn’t respond to a peer, so it didn’t come up in the gradebook. I just want you to know, I’m not going to count off late, please just get it done.” It’s just like, “Oh, my gosh, thank you so much for reaching out. I so appreciate it.” It’s like: “who hurt you?” You know… [LAUGHTER] This should not be like this. And this has happened time after time, where I’m just like being a nice human being to say, “hey, you missed this,” or, “hey, don’t forget this,” or whatever. And it’s just this overwhelming response. And I don’t think it needs to be that way. I think we need to show students that we do care about them and understand their situations and just want them to learn. And that doesn’t mean I’m a softy, I don’t want to say that we don’t need to expect them to work hard and do the work and show up and all that. We absolutely do. We just need to understand their circumstances as well.

Rebecca: And not assuming that mal intent. I think sometimes that’s what was happening before the assumption that “they did it on purpose”, or they’re skipping out or something rather than just being like a reasonable human being who made a mistake or forgot something.

Claire: Or you hear the thing, “Oh, their grandmother died. How many grandmothers do you have?” Well, it doesn’t matter how many grandmothers you have, you know, it’s like stop being that way. Maybe they do actually have three grandmothers or maybe they have situations that they don’t want to tell you about. Give them the benefit of the doubt until you can’t, I think. But that’s me. That’s me. Not everybody feels that way.

Todd: Here’s the quick teaching tip on this one I’ve just stumbled in this years ago, and it worked out really well. For me, I will have eight to 10 kind of general “rules.” Just don’t lie to me. Just be honest about stuff. And when I ask you a question and for those types of things, I’ll just say, “Here’s 10 things.” And I did this with face-to-face classes a lot. And I’d say now get into groups of four and come up with two or three things for each group that you’d like me to consider. What are some additional things you’d like me to consider. And the reason I brought this up is because of what you just said, Claire with the “who has hurt you.” The very first time I did this, I just thought this would be a neat way of showing them. It’s a communal organization. I have expectations. So do you. One of my students started out by saying, “If another student starts to attack me, don’t come to my defense. But please moderate the conversation. I can fend for myself if you’ll control the situation.” I thought, well, that’s a really good one. The next one was “If we provide an answer, and it’s wrong, please don’t call us stupid.”

Claire: Oh my gosh.

Todd: And I thought to myself, they’re not making this up. They’re saying things that have happened to them. And so again, the quick teaching tip is on your first day of class, it can be online or it could be face to face, is just “Here are some of my expectations. And now I’d like to hear what are your expectations.” And that’s where you find out who’s hurt them and you address it.

Claire: I’ve also heard of people doing like “life happens” passes the you get one assignment or two assignments or whatever, it is no questions asked. Use the card when you need it. And I don’t need to see your doctor’s note. I don’t need to see anything. Just you have your passes and use them as you will. And I think that’s a fine way to handle it. Or you can just listen to them and say, “Okay, you can have an extension.”

John: Well, thank you. This has been a fascinating conversation and it was great talking to you. And we’re looking forward to the new edition of your book. Your first edition was invaluable as a resource. And this sounds like it’s going to be even more.

Rebecca: It’s like next setting, level up. It sounds like.

Claire: Thank you.

Todd: Yes. Thank you both.

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

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

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177. Blogging in Unexpected Disciplines

Maybe you’ve seen professional development sessions about digital portfolios or blogs and thought, “that is not relevant to my classes.” In this episode, Dr. Kathryn Berkow joins us to discuss how she has used blogging in her Business Analytics class to allow students to share their learning journey. Katy is an Assistant Professor of Management Information Sciences at the University of Delaware. She is also the host of the ON Cultivating Student Engagement in Higher Ed podcast.

Show Notes

Transcript

Rebecca: Maybe you’ve seen professional development sessions about digital portfolios or blogs and thought, “that is not relevant to my classes.” In this episode, we look at one example where blogging has been used to share students’ progress on business analytics projects with an audience.

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

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John: Our guest today is Dr. Kathryn Berkow. Katy is an Assistant Professor of Management Information Sciences at the University of Delaware. She is also the host of the ON Cultivating Student Engagement in Higher Ed podcast. Welcome, Katy.

Katy: Well, thanks so much for having me. I’m a huge fan of your podcast.

John: And we’re fans of yours.

Rebecca: Our teas are:

Katy: I am drinking tea today, I just made a cup of something called Scandinavian detox, which is an herbal caffeine free blend.

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

Rebecca: Oh, back to an old favorite. Me too. I’m back to the Scottish afternoon tea… just delivered.

John: We’ve invited here to discuss how you’ve been using blogs in your business analytics class. Could you first describe the class in which you’re doing this?

Katy: Absolutely. So I teach business analytics at the University of Delaware. And the course that we’re talking about today is a reformulation of a traditional second course in statistics, and it’s for sophomores and juniors. So this is a required course in the business school for most business majors. For some, it’s their last statistics class they’ll ever take. And for others, it’s creating the opportunity to introduce perhaps more study in analytics. There’s a wide range of students in the class, lots of different majors, lots of different interests. And the topics that we focus on, are sort of three-pronged instead of a traditional two-pronged approach. So we focus on introducing a programming language, which is always a topic that introduces some fear for many students. We talk about statistical modeling, which also brings some fear. And the third, the part that introduces the reformulation of the class is the communication around the results of building a statistical model. And the potential impact on the research question and what the potential is for using these analytics. We really want to connect the students to the impact that their analytics could have on an organization.

Rebecca: Statistics isn’t necessarily the first topic that comes to mind to meet a blog assignment. So can you talk a little bit about how you decided to introduce blogs into your course?

Katy: Absolutely. And I completely agree with you, Rebecca, this didn’t come on suddenly for me. There were two things that were happening concurrently. The first was, I was experiencing a lot of frustration with my multiple choice homework assignments. When I started teaching the course, I had traditional exams, and these multiple choice questions. And there was always a problem with the multiple choice questions. I’m not putting enough time into writing them well, and generating the multiple questions for each topic that’s going to create that ability to randomize selection for different students. And there was always a problem, you know, a student would email and say, like, “I think I got this wrong, but I don’t know why.” And we would discover that there was actually a problem with the question. But the second thing that was happening as I was becoming more and more frustrated with my homework assignments was that I attended a workshop about digital portfolios. And it was the kind of workshop where you go to several sessions over the day, and you have a great choice. And this was one that I was like, “Well, that sounds interesting, but I’m not sure it’s going to be useful for me,” just like you said, I’m not sure that’s a statistics class was an obvious digital portfolio class. But I just kind of listened, I loved the idea and filed it away. They were giving examples of using it for writing courses or art classes to feature students’ work. But eventually, this moment came where I realized that the two could absolutely go together and highlight the communication in my class that’s missing from the multiple choice homework questions. The students were not getting practice at communicating the impact of their results, or the meaning of their results, in multiple choice questions, really. So the idea to create a space for them to not only report results, but to talk about them in their own words, really made me excited. And I just immediately started developing this new assignment, knowing that I was taking a risk, but I was really excited about it.

John: And so as they’re reporting this, is this something they’re doing over the course of the whole project?

Katy: Yeah, absolutely. So the way the project begins, that first week of the semester, I have students select their own data set of interest from some resources I provide. So an example of that would be like I send them to Kaggle. As a first source. Kaggle.com has lots of publicly available data that people have put up on the site to share. And I’ll have the students select a data set of interest, and work with that particular data set all semester long. So they start by generating an interesting research question to them. And you know, I’m just asking them to put some context around. So some students will select something very serious. Last semester, some students wanted to work with COVID-19 data, which is so relevant and interesting, but others did not want to work with COVID-19 data, they wanted to work with something that was maybe feeling like more of a break from what we were experiencing. So, a lot of students choose sports related data. And whatever the students choose, they’ll work with that data set. The intention is for them to work with that data set all semester long, and apply every skill to that data set and report out. So, there are a variety of different topics, and I also include In my syllabus that we should just be conscious that we’re not all going to choose the same type of data. Some of us are going to choose very serious topics and we should all treat the discussion of those topics in a serious way, and some of us are going to choose some things with a little bit of levity like studying the winners of the bachelorette and what their characteristics are like, and that we should appreciate the levity in that too, and just appreciate each other’s choices.

Rebecca: One of the things that I know that I’ve appreciated in doing projects like this in my class, is the ability for students to practice that professional communication and have an audience. Can you talk a little bit about who the audience of the blog is, and whether or not it’s public facing?

Katy: Oh, sure. So the blogs are intended to be public, because they’ll submit the links to their posts as their homework assignment. And then we use Canvas as an LMS. So Canvas loads those assignments right up, and I can look at them right away, which is great. But because the blogs are public, I also include some notes about that in my syllabus, pointing out that you wouldn’t want to report personal information, for example. You can keep it as private as you’d like to, in that you don’t have to identify yourself as the author if you don’t want to. But I encourage them to keep a professional tone, especially if they want to use this as a potential portfolio to share with future employers as evidence of their study and their work. And I tell them, they can spend as much or as little time as they’d like making it look beautiful, with some really beautiful images. Some students choose not to do that at all and it’s just a plain white background with a title. And that’s fine, too. So I tell them, I am their audience, but that they should consider that this is a public space, and that they might have a broader audience. But I also include in the syllabus, if anyone is uncomfortable with the idea of a public facing blog, they can request a different option. I’ve never actually had to offer that option. But I would offer like, let’s create a Google Doc that is more like with chapters instead of a blog with individual posts.

John: What platform are students using? Do they get to choose our own? Or are they all working in one platform?

Katy: So, I suggest WordPress because it has a free option. And because that’s where I built my example blog, which I’m happy to talk about as well. And I can provide more detailed instructions and troubleshoot with them a little bit more easily. But if they want to choose Wix or something else that they’re more comfortable with, I’m completely fine with that so long as they know that I’m not an expert in any of these other platforms.

Rebecca: Do you want to talk a little bit about that example you just mentioned?

Katy: Absolutely. So the example blog that I built was sort of my first experience with understanding if this could work in the class. As I was trying to formulate what we would do, I was writing my own version of the blog, which later turned into a resource that can help students as an example. So I selected a data set about understanding diabetes, and its relationship to age and blood pressure. And this is a very common data set on Kaggle. So I was writing. The goal is for students to take each topic that we learn in class, and there’s about, say, 15 topics over the course of the semester. So if we learn to build a basic regression model, the students will then apply the basic regression code that we’ve learned in class, and we’ve seen a couple examples and apply it to their own data set. So now I’m thinking about COVID-19 and I want to understand the relationship between, say, rates of cases and age groups, something like that. So they now have my example blog to go to and read and see how I structured what I did. And they’ll say, “Okay, Katy built her model relating blood pressure to age, and I’m going to do something similar.” And one of the reasons why I like creating the example is so that they can see where they’re going. But I also really liked that it serves as sort of a textbook support where we don’t have a textbook in our class. So in the later, more complex topics, I also write a lot about how I’m interpreting my results, and why, so that they have a little more support as they try to make those interpretations. And of course, if they’re having any trouble making those connections, they can always come to office hours and ask questions. But those who have used the example blog as a support really report that it’s useful.

John: You mentioned that you don’t have a textbook, but I’ve seen on your website that you have created videos that serve as a substitute for a textbook.

Katy: Yes, as we’ve transitioned to online remote teaching, I had actually been very lucky to have had experienced teaching online before. And I wasn’t using those videos that I had used in the online version of the class in my on campus class at all. But there have always been students not able to attend class for various reasons. You know, “I’m an athlete and I’m going to be traveling, I’m going to miss class” or “I’m just sick and I’m going to miss class.” So for lots of reasons, students have needed an additional resource and, without a textbook, that’s always been a concern. So I wanted to provide those additional supports but, of course, as I’m sure you’ve considered before as well, does providing the video reduce my attendance in class? There’s this constant struggle. But as I have been doing this online remote teaching, I think that I don’t care, I just want to provide all of the resources, so that every student can find this material in whatever way is easiest, most flexible, most accommodating to their lifestyle. And so that means putting out the videos in what I’m calling a digital textbook. And I can also refer it to students even when we’re on campus as an additional support if they need it after class.

Rebecca: How have your students responded to working through this information in this way? And have they had the opportunity to look at each other’s blogs and comment and do some peer feedback as well?

Katy: That is a great question. I have not incorporated any peer feedback of the blogs into class… except this semester, as we were doing the remote teaching, I was meeting in small groups, so the students would watch the videos from the online class. And then we would come together in conversation. And the only peer feedback that I’ve ever incorporated is having the students present their issues as they work through their blog posts during these small group sessions, and then having others weigh in. And I found that to be so rewarding, it was just so much fun to have them identifying each other’s problems. And there were lots of students in each group studying similar types of data. So one student is studying hockey, “Oh, I’m also studying hockey, did you find this…” and so it really was fun to make those connections. So in that way, we have had some peer oversight and I think I’d like to find ways to continue that kind of small group discussion about the blogs. But overall, the feedback on the blogs has been positive. The way that I know that is I’m looking at course evaluations, I would say, in maybe 40% of my course evaluations, students are mentioning the blogs in general. So, not everyone by a longshot. And when they do mention it, it’s in two ways, in general: 1. I really loved the blog posts, or 2. the blog posts were really hard, but I knew I was learning. And so seeing comments like those, it really makes me feel like I’m achieving the goal of helping the students to get to a place where they’re ready to apply the skill in a new setting. So that’s the beauty of the blog, that it captures what we really want them to do, which is to get into their professional setting, ready to apply it to a new situation, because they have my example blog, they have their example blog, they can remember how to do this given those skills.

John: You provide students with a sample blog, but do you give them any other guidance on what they should include in their blog post?

Katy: Absolutely. So in each problem description, so for each blog post assignment, I’ll give a bulleted list of items that they should include. But in addition to that, because I probably go on a little bit in my bulleted list, I also provide a rubric. And Canvas, as an LMS is really helpful in this way, because I can include the rubric right in the assignment and tell students how I’ll be calculating the points for each assignment. So I can have one point for including an image showing the results, I can have one point for correctly interpreting the intercept, etc. So the students will know as they’re writing, what are the things that I’ll be looking for. But even better than that, they can also see where their blog posts needed improvement. So after it’s been graded, and by the way, it’s very easy to grade in Canvas, because it can take me just a few minutes to read through a post and know whether the student has done the five or six checklist items in the rubric and just click, and I’m done in just a few minutes per student, which is great if you have a large number of students say whether it’s 50 or 150. It’s relatively quick. And I’m very lucky to have the help of a TA with that. But the beauty of the rubric in canvas is that the students can see which buttons I’ve clicked so they can know “Okay, I got a five out of six on this post. And where I wasn’t effective was at describing what the meaning of the intercept was. So now I can go to tutoring or to office hours or talk to the TA about how I could change that for a project or an assessment.”

John: How many posts do they have to make as you’re working through the project.

Katy: So the students will work on a post for every topic over the course of the semester, which ends up being 14 topic related posts. I also have them create a welcome post that’s just “Hey, I’m here blogging as their first assignment…” that just officially sets up their blog and creates their first post walking them through the process. And they create one additional post about “data and impact” I call it so they report which dataset did I select? Why? What’s the potential impact? So I have them create a research question they’ll be focused on through the semester and describe what impact it could have. Now this is a business analytics class, but I think of it more like an organizational analytics. So even if you’re studying the bachelorette, you can position yourself to think about, “Okay, I work for Netflix, and I’m trying to understand, is there a theme here? Do we need to have more diversity and inclusion in our bachelorette or bachelor? So what are the dynamics around the situation we’re studying?” And obviously, some things lend themselves more to a traditional business analytics context than others. But I want the students to know that any organization can have any research question. So you can create that context. And then they do a final post with conclusions at the end of the semester.

John: Do you have a generic rubric that works with all of the posts? Or is there one for each of those stages?

Katy: Great question, John, you’re pointing out that there was quite a bit of setup on the front end of this. So it was good that I was really excited about it when starting the experiment, [LAUGHTER] because I had to build that example blog, I had to build each of the 17 total assignments, and that kind of semi-custom rubric to each one. So each one includes the requirement that an image must be posted, for example. But, if we’re studying linear regression assumptions, I’m going to have one point associated with each assumption that needs to be tested correctly. So there is a lot of customization. However, after creating, because these are so generic or agnostic to the material the student is studying, after creating that first batch of assignments, I’ve been doing this two years now, I have never needed to change it. And I really haven’t had any issues with these assignments when it comes to “this wasn’t clearly enough defined,” for example, because while the students do tend to become frustrated with open-ended assignments, they hear me say, a lot of the time, business analytics is an open-ended kind of structure. It has a lot of art, and a lot of science. And I can’t answer the questions, always in a direct way because your real life is not going to have direct answers to every question. And so over the course of the semester, I do find students tend to get more comfortable with this ill-defined nature. But they also have the support of specific rubrics to give them some sense of structure when possible.

John: Would you recommend this approach to other faculty outside of the more traditional writing fields?

Katy: Absolutely, but I won’t pretend to know how. What I would say is that I encourage just hearing what other people are doing, like I get so much value out of listening to your podcast, and to Bonni Stachoviak’s podcast, just hearing what people are doing in their classrooms that’s engaging their students, because one of the reasons I created my own podcast was to generate more sharing, because what happens in our classrooms is so opaque to others. As I told you, I attended that session a couple of years ago, maybe three or four years ago now. And I didn’t really think it applied. And I know we all say like, “Oh, well that’s not for me,” or “that’s not gonna work,” I just feel like the more ideas we have circulating in our minds that you know “don’t work,” and the more issues we face on our own in our own classes about, especially now, how to engage students under these changing circumstances, I just feel like having a glossary of ideas that you can pull from and maybe adapt to your own class is so helpful. So I think there are lots of potential applications to this, that I could see. In fact, I use this in my other courses. So I teach a capstone course at the senior and graduate level. And when we’re not using proprietary data related to an organization, which I do in my senior capstone, like in the graduate course, I do have students select publicly available data, I also use a blog reporting structure. So I did need to develop a similar framework with rubrics. But it creates this sort of agnostic space where no matter what project you’re working on, you can report out on that topic, and all you need to do is share a link with me and then I can see your status update for the week. And you can really tell a lot by how students are writing about what they’re doing. Now in, say, a finance class where there’s a correct answer to every question, I’m not sure a blog is going to be a perfect fit. But it’s just really nice to have it as one option for reporting something because probably there’s going to be a report or a reflection or writing assignment in some space, where digital reporting is a really nice way to reduce paper, make our classes much more streamlined for remote delivery or flexible delivery as we move into the future. I do think it has a potential for tons of applications that I certainly haven’t thought of yet. But I really like this delivery method in class.

John: And you mentioned reflection, and that’s something that’s useful in any discipline, and that’s one way in which it could be fairly easily integrated. You’ve made my life a lot more complicated this week, because I’m supposed to be preparing my syllabi this week. We’re recording this in late January. We’ll be releasing it a little bit later. And when I saw the description of what you were doing, I was thinking this is something I should try this semester. So I’m probably going to be trying to implement some of these ideas in my econometrics class this semester.

Katy: Well, that’s great to hear. I hope it works.

John: I hope I can get it all together.

Katy: Well, I’d be happy to share anything by the way, like if you want to see my example blog or if you want to see an example rubric or an example assignment description, I’d be happy to share any of those things.

John: That would be very helpful. Thank you.

Rebecca: It is funny that sometimes we get these really great ideas to try out these new things, and John and I certainly experience this frequently. As podcast hosts, we’re exposed to so many great ideas, and then we have so many. But it’s really great, even though that sometimes there’s a lot of time involved in the setup of these things, they often play out in saving time over time….

Katy: Absolutely.

Rebecca: …presuming you stay with it, right? [LAUGHTER]

Katy: Well, absolutely. And that’s one of the things that has been the neatest for me, because one of the issues with the multiple choice questions is that they were so specific, and there was so much opportunity to make a mistake, missing a dollar sign or writing the wrong variable name. With the blog assignments, they’re so open ended. All I’m saying is: “Apply using linear regression with two variables to your dataset.” How can I get that problem description wrong? I can’t. So the beauty of the blog is that the nature of the description of an assignment is so open ended, but so directly flowing from what we did in class that the students really know how to accomplish each step.

Rebecca: I’m sure they also can see the practical application and how all of this skill sets not only from the statistics part of it, but also from the blog component of it, or the digital reporting of it, is practical for their future careers and things. And I think that tends to give students a little bit more buy-in to these kinds of assignments.

Katy: I think you’re right. And it achieves two other critical things. One of them is that it brings the sort of inherent motivation that we know is so important for student learning right up front, the students are choosing what they want to study. So they’re going to have a lot more excitement. And honestly, I see that when I’m talking to them. I don’t know anything about professional hockey, but when my students are working with hockey data, and that’s the area that they have the greatest interest in, I see them light up when I ask questions about like, “Now, how did you make this interpretation? Why do you think this is related to this?” So inherent motivation is a big deal. But the second thing that is a really fun byproduct is that having read what students are doing and having spoken to them in office hours, it brings up a ton of fun examples to talk about in class. So I might remember that Adrian is working on, you know, the COVID-19 data, and I can sort of bring that up casually in class. We found this weird thing that happened in Adrian’s dataset, and why do you think this is happening? Or what do you think is a good solution to this problem that Adrian’s facing and we can talk about things that I had never imagined would come up in class just because of a quirky dataset that was publicly available.

Rebecca: I could see how that also puts students in the position of being an expert or a co- teacher in some ways, which I can see as being another motivating factor.

Katy: Absolutely. That’s such a great point, because they’re also experts in each other’s conversation. So in the small groups that I was doing in the remote teaching in the fall, one student would say, “Oh, well I bought him an idea for your data set based on our conversation last week.” And even if you just watch hockey, and you’re not working on a hockey dataset, but you really like it, you can be an expert in someone else’s space. And clearly I can’t, because I’m upfront with the students about what I know and what I’m interested in and what I’m not. So like, I don’t watch a lot of hockey. so you have to help me understand. And that sort of puts me in a backseat in the same way it puts them in the front seat.

John: Earlier, you mentioned that one of the motivations for doing this was that you wanted to move away from multiple choice tests. Have you eliminated multiple choice tests from this course?

Katy: So yes, I have… sort of. In the remote teaching environment, I have relied more on team projects and multiple choice quizzes. I was trying to model after folks I’ve heard on your podcast and others say that having smaller-stakes quizzes is much more inclusive, gives students more of an opportunity to learn and to course correct, and so I was having these multiple choice quizzes. But I’m finding that the multiple choice quizzes are really an obstacle for students. And I am as frustrated as they are with them. They’re doing great on the blogs, but they’re not doing as well on the multiple choice questions. And I suspect it’s because of the poor design in the multiple choice questions and not because the students don’t know what they’re doing. They couldn’t do a great job on the blog if they didn’t have the skills. So as we head into the spring, where I’ll be teaching remotely again, I am planning to drop the multiple choice quizzes completely. That’s not to say I’ll never use multiple choice questions again. In my in-person class, I have used multiple choice questions or a multiple choice final as part of assessing students. But for now, it seems that the multiple choice quizzes really have not been effective. So this semester, I’m going to be grading students on their blog posts, team project, and participation, which is just an interaction metric

John: Are the team projects the same as a project they’re reporting on the blog?

Katy: Oh, great question. So when I assign a team project to students, it is on a data set that I’ve selected. So at the beginning of the semester, they are downloading a folder of lots of different data sets that they’ll need for examples working through the course skill videos that we’ve talked about. And I’ll choose a data set that they might not have seen yet and write some questions that are somewhat open ended, “build a model,” and I’ll try to randomize across teams like which variables they should use in their model. So they’ll all be predicting sales, for example, but they might have different predictor variables. So team one is going to choose variables, 1, 2, 3, etc. So they’re all working with something a little bit different, but they’re trying to end up in the same place: predicting sales. And these are totally open ended. But they get to work together, and that helps. And I’ve also been using specifications grading in this class over the last semester, which has been a lot of fun. The students have started to appreciate it toward the end of the semester, though, maybe I shouldn’t have selected a semester that was so much in transition to experiment with that. [LAUGHTER] Maybe it created a little stress at the beginning. But by the end of the semester, the students were saying things like, “I really liked that I could choose my level of interaction with the course.” The reason I bring this up is because I would require revisions in team projects. So every team had to score 100%, which of course is alarming to students until you say, “there will be revisions required until you’ve scored 100%.” So I want us to move past these topics, but we are going to make sure that we learn them. And I think that was a really neat experience for me to be able to coach students through finally getting mastery, which I have never done in class before. If a student didn’t master a topic, we just move on and maybe there will be an opportunity down the road. But it really was nice to see students come to a place where they had achieved a particular benchmark.

Rebecca: Were your collaborative assignments done during class time, or were they outside of class?

Katy: So this semester, I allowed students to have an entire day that they could complete the assignment anytime between 12am on that day and 11:59pm. I also encouraged my international students to do it during that 24 hours, but to make sure it was done during that eastern time 24 hours. And they could work on it during the class time, during the scheduled class time. Because it was a day that we would have had class, but they didn’t have to. So they had the flexibility to choose a time that worked for them. If it was late at night, great. If it was early in the morning, great. Or if it was during class time. That’s fine with me too.

John: We’ve really been enjoying your podcast. And you’ve mentioned this a little bit. But can you tell us a little bit more about how you decided to start this podcast?

Katy: Absolutely. First, I want to thank you both for listening. I’m such a fan of your podcast and others that are similar. And just like the digital portfolio idea, the possibility of creating a podcast has been in the back of my mind for a while, listening to some others like yours. So just as I have learned so much from hearing what others are doing via podcasts like yours, I just feel like I can’t get enough examples of creative ideas that people are using to engage their students. And not just big ideas like “Oh, implement a new grading system.” But small ideas like “Oh, I spend the first minute of my class engaging my students in this way,” or “I have this micro assignment that we do only occasionally but builds community.” And as I mentioned before, what we do in our classrooms can feel so opaque. It’s really that I just wanted to contribute in a time when we can all use more sharing of the things that are working for us, and not every idea is perfect for every person. But just more sharing of what’s working so that we have more options to choose from when teaching feels so different and so challenging to so many of us right now. And so the podcast is generating, selfishly, tons of new ideas for me, which even if that’s the only thing that comes out of it, that’s enough. But it’s also doing the service of drawing attention to the great ideas around me at the University of Delaware this semester, and hopefully, in a broader sense in the future. And so I just really appreciate being able to feature great ideas that are happening around me that might not otherwise be heard about except in documentation of excellence, for example.

John: And often those are only seen by a few people on review committees and sharing it more broadly, both within your campus and across the whole academic community, raises the visibility of that work much more extensively.

Katy: That’s my hope because the more people I talk to, I just feel so impressed by the exciting ideas that I’m hearing from different people and to be able to amplify their voices. I couldn’t be happier to be able to do that.

Rebecca: Well, you’ve talked about some really exciting things that you’re working on. But we always like to raise the ante by asking: what’s next?

Katy: So next, for me would be a second season of the podcast. I’d really like to incorporate more ideas from a broader range of places across the University of Delaware, but also bringing in others from outside just to add to the discussion. And also, I’m really thinking a lot, listening a lot to your podcast, and thinking a lot about what the future looks like in my classroom. I will have taught remotely now for…. this will be my second semester in the spring teaching remotely. And I’m learning so many things about how we can make learning more accessible to more students under the current circumstances. But I think a lot of it applies to what our future looks like. So I’m really not sure when we go back in the fall, I’m hopeful we’ll be back in the fall safely, but I’m really not sure what my class is going to look like. I can’t imagine that I’m just gonna slide back into what I used to do without incorporating some new things. And finally, I am expecting a baby in June. So there is a new chapter ahead for me that will bring some other fun changes. And so that is what’s next.

John: Congratulations.

Rebecca: Congratulations. Yeah.

Katy: Thank you very much.

Rebecca: …definitely exciting times on so many fronts.

John: Rebecca had that experience fairly recently.

Katy: Oh, congratulations.

Rebecca: Yeah, my daughter is three and a half now, but yeah, it was a great adventure and continues to be a great adventure. So I know you’ll have a great time.

Katy: Yeah, I’m certainly looking forward to understanding all the things that are ahead and totally different and maybe they’ll also inspire some new ways of thinking about learning from seeing it through a different set of eyes

Rebecca: It definitely did for me. [LAUGHTER]

John: I think it does for everyone who raises children. And actually Josh Eyler, after watching his daughter learn and experience the world…. it inspired him to study more about learning, which is ultimately the source of his book on How Humans Learn.

Katy: I think I heard him talking with you about that on your podcast.

Rebecca: Well, thanks so much, Katy. This has been a great conversation.

Katy: Well, thank you both so much for having me. It’s really been a pleasure chatting with you.

Rebecca: Hopefully we’ll have you back in the future to hear more about the fun things you’re doing in your classroom.

Katy: That sounds fantastic. 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]

145: Pedagogies of Care: Ungrading

This week we continue a series of interviews with participants in the Pedagogies of Care project. In this episode, Dr. Susan Blum joins us to talk about ungrading as a method to support and motivate student learning. Susan is an anthropologist at the University of Notre Dame and the author of several books and articles on higher education. Her newest book, Ungrading: Why Grading Students Undermines Learning and What to do Instead, will be released as part of the West Virginia University Press series on teaching and learning in December, 2020.

Show Notes

  • Blum, Susan (2020). Editor.  Ungrading: Why Grading Students Undermines Learning (and What to do Instead). West Virginia University Press.
  • Pedagogies of Care
  • Blum, S. D. (2016). ” I Love Learning; I Hate School”: An Anthropology of College. Cornell University Press.
  • Blum, S. D. (2017). “Ungrading.” Inside Higher Ed. November 14.
  • Noddings, Nel (2010). Caring in Education. Infed
  • Sackstein, S. (2015). Hacking assessment: 10 ways to go gradeless in a traditional grades school. Times 10 Publications.
  • Arcidiacono, Peter (2020). Differential Grading Policies. Tea for Teaching podcast, February 26. (the podcast that John referred to that discussed women and underrepresented minoritized groups in STEM classes)
  • Kruger, J., & Dunning, D. (1999). Unskilled and unaware of it: how difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments. Journal of personality and social psychology, 77(6), 1121.
  • A Theory of Public Higher Education
  • Society for Values in Higher Education
  • School Stories

Transcript

John: This week we continue a series of interviews with participants in the Pedagogies of Care project. In this episode, we talk about ungrading as a method to support and motivate student 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]

Rebecca: Our guest today is Dr. Susan Blum. She is an anthropologist at the University of Notre Dame and the author of several books and articles on higher education. Her newest book, Ungrading: Why Grading Students Undermines Learning and What to do Instead, will be released as part of the West Virginia University Press series on teaching and learning in December, 2020. Welcome, Susan.

Susan: Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be here.

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

Susan: I am drinking tea. I’m a tea drinker. I love the name of your podcast and I started my day with Mountain Rose Assam tea with milk and sugar. But now I’ve moved to Light of Day Organic Green Jasmine tea from Traverse City, Michigan.

Rebecca: It sounds like a lovely morning.

Susan: It’s as good as we can have during the pandemic.

Rebecca: It looked like you were drinking out of a lovely cup too, actually.

Susan: This is a Chinese made cup with lids that I’ve had for 35 maybe more years and I’m a China specialist by training and when I first went to China, and everybody was drinking out of covered tea cups, I came home and I thought I had to get some myself. So this is chipped and old, but it’s precious. So, thank you for noticing.

John: Very nice.

Rebecca: Yeah, thank you for describing it too. Sometimes we see things… We don’t always communicate all that to our listeners.

John: The visuals don’t translate well on a podcast.

Susan: It’s a white background porcelain mug with blue dragons and clouds and fish.

Rebecca: Yeah, it attracted my attention the second I saw it with your cup earlier. [LAUGHTER] I’m drinking Scottish breakfast tea and I haven’t quite decided what the difference between the breakfast and afternoon is. So I’ll have to report back next time.

John: That’s right. You were drinking Scottish afternoon before. I think the breakfast tea is supposed to be fairly strong. I’m not sure about their afternoon.

Rebecca: I’ll let you know if I can’t sleep. [LAUGHTER]

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

We’ve invited you here to talk about your contribution to the Pedagogies of Care project and your forthcoming book on ungrading. First, could you tell us a little bit about what prompted your interest in upgrading.

Susan: Well, for over a decade, almost two decades now, I’ve been investigating education. And I do that as an anthropologist. So, there have been a lot of dimensions of my inquiries. I began really thinking about plagiarism, which comes in part from work I had done previously on deception. And that comes in part from my own training as a linguistic and cultural and psychological anthropologist. So the plagiarism work made me really wonder what students were doing in school, what their purposes were, how they felt about it, what motivated them, and so forth. And that led to more research on student experience in college and what the purpose of college was. And that led me to really question what we were doing in the classroom and how we were actually meeting students, given what they need or what they want, or what we think they should want, which is a kind of strange conundrum, and how all of this fits into more general ways people grow up and become adults and are socialized into their societies. And so clearly it has to do with issues of social structure and social values and power. And when I think about power, I think about agency and I wonder who has the agency in learning? Is it the students? Is it the teacher? Where are the topics being generated? What is motivating the learning at all? What kinds of ways can we build on innate curiosity and desire to be competent and responsible people in social groups? And how do our pedagogical practices support or even contradict and prevent some of what we actually want? So my more recent book called I Love Learning, I Hate School: an Anthropology of College really explored a lot of the contradictory dimensions of what we claim we want and why those things don’t really work. And students are pretty aware of a lot of these things. So I really explore what I call and others call “the game of school” where if everybody’s going through the motions and the outcome is just a set of points and the learning…. it’s nice if you get it, but you don’t have to, you can sort of cram some thoughts into your head and do well on a multiple choice exam and get the points at the other side. Learning doesn’t happen. Coercion, fear, anxiety, lots of negative things happen. And that seemed to me to be tragic. It’s a waste of time, money, effort, and it doesn’t have to be that way. So I have been engaged for at least a decade in really rethinking my own pedagogical practices from top to bottom. You know, what do I teach? Why do I teach it? How do I teach it? What do I do? What do the students do? What do they do alone? What do they do together? And grading ended up being one of the kind of threads that connect to all these different dimensions of things. And I’ve also been part of a research project to study student learning in an internship. And there were no grades, but there were authentic outcomes of their practices. And so, I’ve been trying to make my classes as authentic as possible, rather than something people are doing simply for performance of competence, but to actually feel competent themselves. So, grades are thought to have three functions: sorting (which I reject), motivating (which we know doesn’t work), and communicating (which also doesn’t work). So I’ve tried to figure out how to make co-operative classrooms where everybody learns as much as they possibly can, for their own purposes, not for me, and I try to have students help generate their own goals so that they see this is not simply a task to be checked off, but as something that matters to them. I mean, I’m spending my life doing this work, and the thought that it’s just something to check off and get out of the way till they can get on to the real important stuff was very galling to me and actually, frankly, almost made me quit, which is kind of the topic of my next book. But the idea that I could actually change something that everybody thinks is central was so liberating to me. And it has really transformed the way I’ve been teaching. And so I’ve really been very pleased with the outcome. And since I published a short piece on Inside Higher Ed in 2017, I found that there are thousands of people at all levels of education, who are engaged in ungrading, throwing out grades, degrading, we call it different things, but we’re all engaged in the same enterprise. So editing this book… I want to be clear. I’m not the author of this book, I’m the editor. I have written the introduction and conclusion and a chapter but about 15 other people have also contributed to this book. And it’s been so gratifying and reassuring and stimulating and refreshing to know that all these other people are engaged in this too from all different directions. So I’m very excited about getting this out into the world so that we can provide some support and reassurance for people who might be interested in doing this but aren’t really sure how to make it happen.

Rebecca: Authentic learning is something that I’ve been really interested in for a long time. And so ungrading has always been really interesting to me, but I haven’t quite gone all the way there yet. And I’m certainly wanting to experiment in that space. Can you describe for folks what on grading look like and how that shifts the focus to learning?

Susan: Sure, and there are ways to do it partially or fully. So I’ve gone to total ungrading until the end of the semester when I am obliged to give a grade for my class. I wish I didn’t have to. I don’t actually think it’s meaningful or informative. But I’m required to do that. So that does happen, and I can tell you a little bit about how that happens, too. But ungrading really means you talk about what people are learning, maybe you have a conversation about what they’ve done well, what they haven’t done well, some things don’t actually have to be graded at all. We don’t have to assess everything. That doesn’t have to be the central activity of our teaching. And there can be what Nell Noddings refers to as free gifts. You can have people have experiences in the classroom, and the outcome is the enjoyment and the learning. And so that is its own reward. And if people perceive that they have been satisfied in their learning, then that’s an assessment. And you don’t have to translate that into some sort of numerical or letter reduction of what is, we hope, a fully human, rich multisensorial experience. I taught a class on food and culture last semester, which is a really fun class to teach. And students did activities, many of which they generated. I didn’t dictate everything. But one of the classes wanted to push one of the topics which was on technology and food. And they wanted to see what tools people use for cooking. So they had this idea that they would take pictures of what was in their kitchen drawer. This was before the pandemic. So take pictures of what’s in your drawer. So we talked about what was in the drawer. And then they had the idea that they would ask somebody older in their family to take a picture of what was in their drawer and talk about it. So then they had the idea that they could interview people about this. And anyway, it was wonderful as an experience. They interviewed their grandmothers and their mothers about what has changed and why do you have this tool? and what is the tool? …and we had so much fun talking about it, and everybody learned everything and it wasn’t graded. It just wasn’t graded. Because who wouldn’t want to do that? And so the motivation was purely intrinsic. And the assessment was when their classmates said, “Wow, that’s so interesting,” or when their grandmother said, “Wow, it sounds like you’re learning interesting things in school.” And so the measure of the outcome was part of the experience. And there was no need or use for anybody else to assess it. So that’s one type of grading is just not grading. You’re learning something, you’re enjoying it, you’re sharing it, and that’s what we’re here for. So there’s no point in doing more than that. But there are other kinds of assessments that are appropriate sometimes, and so for the assignments that are major assignments in my classes, I have the students include with their assignment, a self assessment. And these self assessments used to look a lot like grading, but they don’t anymore. They used to look like: “I did this right. And I did this right. And I had enough sources and I used the proper format. And I did this and that.” And then it was kind of a rubric where you could add things up. Now it’s much more: “What did you learn? What did you do well? What didn’t you do well? Why didn’t you? What do you need help with? What would you do differently? What are you taking with you?” So, it’s a reflection. So, it’s an assessment, but it’s much more of a reflection, which fosters metacognition, which we all say we want. And until this year, I had “adequate,” “not adequate,” and “exceeds expectations” or something which still kind of translates into like F,C and A. Now I just say, you know what you’re doing or you don’t know what you’re doing. And so sometimes in classes where things are new and hard, I teach a linguistic anthropology class where I have students do sometimes very difficult projects: ethnography, conversation, analysis, all kinds of stuff that they’ve never seen before and they admit is difficult. Sometimes they can say “I didn’t do this well.” And because it’s not a grade, there’s nothing at risk for them to admit that they actually haven’t quite felt secure about it. And that’s helpful information for me. It’s very honest, then we can say, “Well, actually, not that you know how to do this. And that’s okay. And we can work at it more, or I don’t expect you to because it takes two decades to master, or whatever it is.” So, then when I return their projects, I reflect on what they’ve done as their project, and sometimes I also reflect on their reflections. So there are a lot of layers here. So, that’s some of what ungrading looks like.

John: Since this relies on intrinsic motivation, what do you do to help build that? I imagine some classes students will come into them with a great deal of intrinsic motivation and in others that they see as just a gen ed requirement or something… a hoop that they perceive as a box they have to check off, which is something that, as you said, always bothers us. How can we perhaps help build that intrinsic motivation in classes when students are there when, as they perceive it, they’re just required to.

Susan: So I teach fundamentals of linguistic anthropology class, which counts as a social science requirement. So I get a lot of students in there for their gen ed requirement. It also counts as something among a set of choices for the major, but it might not be that they’re inherently interested in the topic. I personally think that everybody’s interested in language and communication. And everybody can become interested in anthropology, which is the study of people, but I don’t take for granted that they’re interested in it the way I’m interested in it. So, in that class, in particular, I have spent a lot of time really tweaking every dimension of the class, from the way they sit in the room, to who speaks first every day, to getting to know each other. I try to introduce play and fun. And I have teams and snack teams and students bring in interesting things for themselves. And anyway, this is really my laboratory where I work on how to create experiences that may allow students’ intrinsic motivation to flourish. Because I don’t think I produce intrinsic motivation. I just create conditions for it. So in that class, I now spend a whole week before we even get started just inviting them to ask big questions, to take charge of their learning, to think about what they’re curious about. Sometimes they work in groups that then they have a responsibility to each other. Also the social dimension… sociality, we know is part of it… I spent a lot of time thinking about the emotional and affective dimension of learning. I try to find really interesting things to do and read and try to connect it to their lives. Students are doing a lot of observations of things that are happening around them, which many of them have never done in an analytic or critical way; they’ve only done it in a reactive way. So, I think there are lots of ways to connect students’ own experiences beginning where they are, not with a deficit perspective, but with an asset perspective. You know, what do you know? What do you care about? …and then connect what we’re learning to something that you want to know more about? In that particular class. I have people write linguistic autobiography, and many of them say, “Well, I just speak English. I grew up in America.” And by the end of the semester, when they go back, and they look at that assignment again, they realize “No, there’s actually something to say because I speak this kind of variety…” and there are a lot of things to do that connect to students’ own lives that still get to the material. I’m not shirking my responsibility, but I also think there are lots and lots of ways to get there and they don’t all have to get to the same place. That’s perfectly fine with me. So, those are some ideas.

Rebecca: You talked a little bit at the very beginning about ungrading throughout the semester, but then, at some point, there is some authority that’s requiring a grade. Can you talk a little bit about how to negotiate that?

Susan: this was something I really worried about for years. And then in the summer of 2016, I came across Starr Sackstein’s book Hacking Assessment. She’s a high school teacher, and she has a chapter in our new ungrading book, and she talked about how to go grade free in a conventional school. So, that gave me confidence and ammunition to try to figure this out. So basically, I asked the students to suggest a grade for themselves. I have conferences, I actually try to do the mid semester and semester final to just say like, “If you were going to give yourself a grade, what would it be and why? What’s the evidence?” I’m not that fixated on the grades anymore. grades for me have become such uninformative flat measures of student experience that I find them very maddening. So if I had a student who came in who had never encountered the discipline before, and got very excited and tried some new things and didn’t do that well at those things, but learned a huge amount, to me, that’s a great accomplishment and a great gain, even if their paper wasn’t as good as somebody who’s a senior anthropology major whose paper it’s flawless. I want to say that both of them have had great learning experiences. And if they both say they earned an A, because they learned a lot. I’m actually okay with that. And I know one of the questions people always have is: “What about the engineers who design our bridges? What if the bridges fall down because one person learned a lot but they still don’t know it?” And one of the things we’re really excited about in our ungrading book is we have STEM teachers. So they are talking about what it’s like to teach computer science or math or chemistry and use an ungrading approach. So it can be done in slightly different ways. But for me, because I’m trying to get my students to see the world, reflect on it, analyze the world, that’s what anthropology does. If I get them there, then I am completely happy to give many of my students As. They don’t all ask for As; they don’t all think they’ve earned it. They come in with different standards and experiences about what grades mean anyway. and international students tend to have very, very high expectations for themselves. So they suggest well, modestly, “I only earned a B minus” but I might say that they really demonstrated great learning and accomplishment and it might be harder if they’re not a native speaker of English. So, I may bump it up. I can bump it up or down. They’re suggesting great, but usually, they’re pretty honest. And they learned a lot. They’ve worked hard. And I usually do accept the grade that they suggest.

Rebecca: How do you see the role of reflection and revision as part of the ungrading process? You mentioned handing in an assignment with a reflection, and then you reflect on all of that. What do they do next? Is revision or iteration a part of the practice?

Susan: It depends on the course. I’m teaching a writing course for graduate students again, and revision is obviously the heart of writing. Anybody can revise anything they want in my classes, and I’ve had students say, “I turned this in, but I procrastinated and I couldn’t really get it done, and I’m just not proud of it. And I’ll say, “Would you like to redo it?” And they’ll look at me like “What? What do you mean? I get to redo it. I’m not like branded as a failure my whole life?” No, if you want to redo it, I’m happy to read it again. I try, depending on the course again, to have things build on each other so that even if they’re not literally revising that assignment, they’re recognizing gaps or deficiencies or weaknesses or strengths that they can carry forward to future work that might rely on what we’ve already done. But I have not, at least in this laboratory class that I’m talking about, I haven’t really had one overall semester-long project. I have thought about doing that, and I haven’t done it yet. That could be something I do next spring. If we’re back in pandemic-ville, I may revise things completely again, just because why not?

Rebecca: I’m thinking about ungrading in the realm of, in the design world, doing sprints, so doing one project that builds on it, but having really distinct chunks that you get feedback on and can keep revising all semester. And so it definitely is in that same spirit. So I’ve been wrestling with how to completely implement that.

Susan: Well, I think in a skills-based discipline, there are certainly skills that you need to try and not be good at it first and then get better at. And that’s how we learn anything real. And it seems obvious to me now that punishing people for not knowing at the beginning is the wrong thing to do. So, having only the final product evaluated seems appropriate to me. But I know design… there are some things that people might all agree on, but there are other things that people don’t all agree on. And that’s true of real life. That’s one reason that a single scale of grading is such a distortion of how we really live our lives. People might make a movie and some critics love it, and some critics don’t love it. And to pretend that there’s a uniform single scale is to deny most of our actual experience outside school.

John: One of the things you mentioned in terms of international students is that they often underestimate the quality of their work. You also mentioned in your recording for the Pedagogies of Care project that some underrepresented groups in particular disciplines often experience the same problem. And we had a podcast recording related to that a while back that talked about how women and underrepresented minorities did as well in their introductory STEM classes, but they were more likely to drop out because they didn’t perceive the quality of the work as being sufficiently high. And that served as a major barrier. And I’m wondering how you address the issues of students who undervalue what they’ve learned or underestimate the amount of learning they’ve achieved. When you’re meeting with students and providing feedback and they undervalue their work, how do you address that with them?

Susan: Well, that’s where I’m grading is so perfect, because I can have a conversation. I have these short individual meetings with every student at least twice a semester. And I can say to them, especially if mid semester they say this isn’t very good, because I’m not smart or my grammar’s bad or I didn’t do this before or something, I can say to them face to face, or at least it used to be face to face, I can say, this was extraordinary. I loved what you did, this was such a contribution. So, I can just personally affirm their value and say, you might be focusing on this, but also notice this wonderful thing. And because also, students are constantly interacting in my classes, the students who may have fewer privileges coming in may get a lot of affirmation also from their classmates for their offerings. They may be quiet, they may not be willing to speak, but I try to make people comfortable, at least in small groups or pairs or something, so that they can make their contributions. So, I think it’s less of a problem when people can actually reflect and get comments back. Also, sometimes students exchange papers or exchange work, I tried to have an authentic audience, so that I’m not the sole audience so that people aren’t writing for me, but they’re writing maybe for real people. That’s something I’ve really tried to develop more. I think that when students read each other’s work, they tend, at my school anyway, to be very nice to each other. So they will get some kind of compliment. And I think then in that sense, there’s less of a potential for people to retain this idea that they are somehow deficient. But I also would like to say that schools can’t solve every problem. And teachers and classes, even the best, can’t solve every problem. And so we have broad racism and sexism, and ableism, and all kinds of other things in our society, and one particular teacher might make a difference, but these are really bigger questions that we need to address outside school also. As a professor, my realm is in my classroom, so I can try.

John: At the other side, what about the students who’ve come in who’ve read some material on the topic and have this fluency illusion where they perceive that they’ve learned it very well. I’m thinking of the Dunning-Kruger effect where the people with the lowest level of understanding often overestimate their competence the most. How do you address those issues?

Susan: I’m not so worried about that, really. I’ve had experiences like, that where students think that they’re kind of expert, and they’re not actually, but I don’t really see my role as like cutting down students’ confidence. I think there are enough forces out there trying to do that. So, I don’t really want to jump on the confidence destruction bandwagon, but I like to think that there will be some kind of real consequence where they will say something to somebody who knows more and that person will say,”Yeah, but X” or where they will interact with another student who will know more, and then the student who has this false sense of their own abilities will realize “Wow, I only noticed these three things and Julia noticed 25 things. I guess I have more room to grow as an ethnographer.”

John: This system, though, relies on intrinsic motivation. And you’ve mentioned using authentic assessments, also perhaps, to help build that. Could you describe some examples of authentic assessments that you use?

Susan: Sure. So in this linguistic anthropology class, one of the projects is in groups of three-ish, they have to create some kind of presentation about a particular language. So something they’ve heard of like Hindi, or something they haven’t heard of, like, I don’t know, Tzelta or something like that. And I give them some things they are supposed to include, but the form is completely open. So, I’ve had infographics, I’ve had lots of websites, I’ve had PowerPoint things. And one time, it worked really great… and I’m in this weird classroom that I like with a bunch of screens. The room is imperfect but they’re five screens around the room. And so I happen to have 10 groups that year. So the students plugged in their laptops and the other half of the students circulated and listened to the students as they were talking about their project. And then on these whiteboards that were next to the screens, they were writing praise, questions, suggestions and different kinds of questions. They had to figure out what kind of question it was: Was it a kind of application question? a factual question? or something like that. And the students really loved that project, because everybody saw what everybody did. And the assessment was basically peer generated. It was: “I liked this image.” “This was a really clear presentation,” or “I didn’t really understand what you meant here.” And so that’s assessment. It doesn’t look like assessment. It doesn’t say good and bad, but it’s getting feedback about what you’re doing that you can take with you. So if somebody says, “I couldn’t read the italic font,” next time, presumably they won’t read the italic font. But they’ve had 30, some people responding to their work, which is such excellent feedback, and so much more useful and meaningful than me just sitting there with something and writing a few things.

Rebecca: I like that poster session model idea. It’s a lot of fun and I think students really do respond to peer feedback in that way. I know I’ve been really successful when I’ve done class sessions that are like that poster session or fair-like atmosphere with those same kinds of categories to fill out, I think, is really super helpful. I’ve had really good experiences with that, too.

Susan: One of the things we’re all thinking about is how to translate all this physical stuff online. And you can. Like this past semester, that project ended up online. And so I had a Google Doc, where people were doing the same thing, and it worked fine. It wasn’t as fun as running around the room, but it was effective.

John: I’ve done the same thing the last couple of years in my econometrics class where students create posters, half of them present one day and half the next class day and I give a break, and a group of them can wander around and see the others on the days when they’re presenting, and I’ve invited members of my department. The Dean has come by in the past, and it’s been something they found so much more valuable than the PowerPoint presentations that they used to do, where they’d all be sitting there nervously, and then getting up and being glad to get through it, and then they’d sit there quietly waiting for the rest of them to be done. There’s so much more engagement when they’re up there presenting for the whole class period to anyone who happens to wander by. And it’s a form of a more authentic assessment, I think, that they value quite a bit.

Rebecca: …builds in more practice, too, because they’re talking about it multiple times. [LAUGHTER]

John: Yeah, having them talk for an hour about their project is much more effective than presenting to a silent audience much of the time. I liked it, they liked it, and they strongly encouraged that it continue.

Rebecca: So, we started talking a little bit about how to translate some of these things online. So, why is upgrading maybe particularly important to think about during this pandemic or in this transition to remote learning or the unknowns of the fall semester, as they currently stand? [LAUGHTER]

Susan: That’s a great question. We are in a very unpredictable moment. And every campus is trying to figure out what to do. The ones who are fully online have just made their claim, and so that’s a little bit more predictable at some level. The ones like mine that are committed to in-person except for exceptions or hybrid until we can’t do it anymore.

Rebecca: It’s a familiar story. [LAUGHTER]

Susan: Yeah. And I read everyday about what everybody around the country is doing. And we don’t really know. So anybody who is sticking to a rigid grading scheme is probably going to keep recalculating and recalibrating all semester long… if you’ve got participation, but then people lose their internet connection because they are stranded somewhere, then what do you do? Do you just have a different formula for that person? I think having precision in grading schemes has often been seen as equitable and comforting for students because it gives them security knowing what they’re going to do, but that presumes that you know what the conditions are going to be. I think, even in ordinary times, there are a lot of fallacies built into that and students’ conditions aren’t as uniform as we often assume they are. But, we know now during the pandemic, how widely and wildly variable people’s conditions are, and the New York Times has done stories about one student helping her family with a food truck and the other one is in the family second home in Maine, and there’s everything in between. There’s using the WiFi in the parking lot of the library or there’s using the WiFi in your beautiful six bedroom home. So the lack of uniformity just highlights all of the inequities and all of the unevenness of the conditions. So, if you’re sorting people, but they’re in wildly different conditions, you’re not actually doing a very good controlled experiment, and it’s certainly unequitable. Another dimension we should probably consider is that, in our current moment, everybody is experiencing some kind of stress and trauma. And the trauma-informed pedagogy is something that we all need to learn a lot more about. We know that one of the outcomes of grading in ordinary times (I don’t know what we’re going to end up calling this third condition) is that grades produce stress and pressure. Right now, with so many other stresses and pressures, we don’t really need grades to add to that. How we keep people accountable, how we keep them on track, how we keep them motivated, involved, connected to each other is really our challenge. And that’s what I think those of us who are really thinking about this are trying to spend every minute of the summer trying to figure out. But grading is not the best method for motivating people. So, I think that this is the perfect time to try ungrading.

Rebecca:So if we try ungrading, how would you recommend framing such things in our syllabi?

Susan: Well, I’ll tell you what I do. I have one sentence on my syllabus. My syllabus is not a contract. It’s not one of those punitive sort of legalistic syllabi. So, what we’re figuring out in this conversation is that everything is connected. But my syllabus has one sentence that says, “We will be practicing ungrading in this class, this will be explained.” And I begin most of the semester by having meaningful, enjoyable experiences where people are learning, and I don’t say it’s not graded, it’s just not graded. And then over weeks, I explain what oungrading is, and I show them this is what we’ve done, see how it works. And when I’m lucky, I have students who have had other classes with me and they can sort of support my claims that this is actually meaningful and they won’t just blow it off and they won’t just think it’s not important. I want to have an acknowledgement here before we end though that contingent faculty, graduate students, people of color, young women, people who are tenure track, people who are teaching lots and lots of classes, may not feel that they have the security to engage in something that’s unfamiliar. And it might be risky for some people. They may need to clear it with their chair or their Dean or somebody like that, who may say no, because it’s scary. That’s one of the reasons we’re trying to have this book so that a young contingent faculty member who really cares about pedagogy can say to the person who’s really holding their employment over their head, “Well, there’s research, too. Look at all these people who are doing it, they’ve done it, they’ve done it, okay, they’ve done it for years, and I would like to try it too. Can I try it in one class, maybe with a good outcome?” So, I don’t recommend starting from a completely conventional class last semester to a completely unconventional class online next semester. I think changing things bit by bit is probably the way to go.

Rebecca: I think that’s good solidI think that’s good solid advice, always: iterative practice with our classes. [LAUGHTER]

John: And you mean by that, perhaps, having some activities that are ungraded and then gradually expanding that as you become more comfortable and your department becomes more comfortable with that?.

Susan: I think that’s a great way of framing it. And it depends on the subject too. Some are much more amenable to ungraded, like writing or social science or something.

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

Susan: So, I’m part of a project called A Theory of Public Higher Education. It’s funded by Indiana University and the Society for Values in Higher Education and we are generating a theory of public higher education. We are going to be publishing our kind of manifesto. We’re finishing It this summer and fall, and it should be published next year. We’re very excited about that. It’s a group of six of us from all different institutions teaching all different subjects. It’s really led us to rethink what is higher education from the foundation up. Another project that I’m also really excited about is called School Stories. And I’d love it if your listeners would give it a look. You can find it at schoolstorieslab.com. And it’s basically crowdsourcing experience stories about being in school. So, it can be students, teachers, parents, administrators, it can be from any place in the world, from any level of school. Our only condition is that you have to be 18 to write the story, because otherwise, we get into problems. But we just launched last week, and we have worked on our web design, and we’ve worked on our IRB, and we’ve worked on every dimension of this and we’re really excited about it. There’ll be a new theme every week; this past week, the theme was racism. So what are people’s experiences of racism in school? We have a whole COVID sort of shell and context for what we’re doing now. So, please check that out. And then my next other project is a book I was writing really well until the pandemic hit. It’s about how your education, it’s called Progress Report about my own transformation in teaching, but it’s on hold right now, because I don’t know what to say, exactly. [LAUGHTER] I’m in a profound process of rethinking right now. So, I will write that but I don’t know what it’s going to be now.

Rebecca: It does seem like COVID-19 has transformed us all. We’re just not sure how yet. [LAUGHTER]

Susan: Right? I mean, we’re living through what we all perceive simultaneously as a huge transformation.

Rebecca: Well, thank you so much for sharing some insight into ungrading. It’s been an interesting conversation, and hopefully, it’ll provoke people to think a little bit differently about their plans for the fall and in the future.

John: Yes, thank you. We’ve really enjoyed talking to you. And this is a topic we wanted to get on the podcast for quite a while. So when we saw your contribution to the Pedagogies of Care project, it was an ideal match.

Susan: Well, thank you so much for your great questions and your welcoming demeanor and for your own little contributions to how to think about teaching, which I’ve kind of taken notes on, and to our listeners. Good luck to you and we’ll get through this.

Rebecca: We hope

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

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

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143. Pedagogies of Care: Creativity

Is creativity something you value in the work that students produce? In this episode, Natasha Haugnes and Martin Springborg join us to discuss ways to spark, motivate, and support creativity.

Natasha has served in faculty and curriculum development at the Academy of Art University and as an adjunct professor at the California College of the Arts. Martin is the Director of Teaching and Learning at Inver Hills Community College and Dakota County Technical College, Natasha and Martin both contributed to the Pedagogies of Care project and are two co-authors (with Hoag Holmgren) of Meaningful Grading: A Guide for Faculty in the Arts.

Show Notes

  • Haugnes, N., Holmgren, H., & Springborg, M. (2018). Meaningful Grading: A Guide for Faculty in the Arts. West Virginia University Press.
  • Pedagogies of Care
  • Haugnes, N., & Russell, J. L. (2016). Don’t Box Me In: Rubrics for Àrtists and Designers. To Improve the Academy, 35(2), 249-283.
  • Haugnes, N., & Russell, J. L. (2008, 2014) “What do Students Think of Rubrics? Summary of survey results: Student Perceptions of Rubric Effectiveness
  • Sawyer, R. K. (2011). Explaining creativity: The science of human innovation. Oxford university press.
  • 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.
  • Inoue, A. B. (2015). Antiracist writing assessment ecologies: Teaching and assessing writing for a socially just future. WAC Clearinghouse.
  • Nilson,. Linda (2019). Specifications Grading. Tea for Teaching podcast. August 21.
  • Tharp, Twyla (2006). The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life. Simon & Schuster
  • Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT)

Transcript

John: Is creativity something you value in the work that students produce? In this episode, we discuss ways to spark, motivate, and support creativity.

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

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Rebecca: Our guests today are Natasha Haugnes and Martin Springborg. Natasha has served in faculty and curriculum development at the Academy of Art University and as an adjunct professor at the California College of the Arts. Martin is the Director of Teaching and Learning at Inver Hills Community College and Dakota County Technical College, Natasha and Martin both contributed to the Pedagogies of Care project and are two co-authors (with Hoag Holmgren) of Meaningful Grading: A Guide for Faculty in the Arts. Welcome Natasha and Martin.

Natasha: Good to see you. Yay.

Martin: Thanks for having us.

John: Our teas today are:

Martin: I’m drinking coffee this morning.

Rebecca: Always… Always the rebels.

Natasha: Well, I had my two cups of coffee and now I’m on to Wild Sweet Orange Tea…

Rebecca: That sounds good.

Natasha: … and it’s delicious. Yeah.

Rebecca: I have iced Scottish afternoon tea

Natasha: Afternoon? Huh…

John: And I am drinking Tea Forte Black Currant Tea. We’ve invited you here today to discuss Natasha’s contribution to the Pedagogies of Care project and your joint work on Meaningful Grading in the Arts. Natasha, could you start by telling us a little bit about your contribution to the project?

Natasha: Sure. “Nurturing the ‘aha moment’” is the topic of the video made. And it was based on one of the tips in the meaningful grading book that I co-authored with Martin and Hoag. This video focuses on the “aha moment,” or that moment of insight in the creative process, and how to really nurture students and invite them into that moment. I focused on the “aha moment,” which could also be called the moment of insight in the creative process because it really is associated with kind of joy and happiness and magic. And there are a lot of cultural myths around insight and creativity in general, but especially these magic moments. People think they come out of the blue, that they’re come down from God, that they’re somehow related to some innate ability. And research shows us, and people who are creative practitioners know, that this is not entirely true. So, I just decided to kind of hone in on that moment. In my work at the Academy of Art University, I have worked with a lot of students and a lot of instructors who are often drawn to creative fields because of the joy and they really want to engage in that, the joy of the creative process. But then when the students get to school, and when the new instructors come to teach, they often get really drained. And they find that there’s so much hard work and there’s so much stress in the classrooms, even in things like painting and graphic design and moviemaking classes, students seem to get really rundown, and they don’t connect with those moments of joy. So, this results in frustration. At my own school, we were seeing pretty high dropout rates of students at a certain point and I actually ended up working with at-risk students in my role as the Resource Center Director at the Academy of Art University many years ago, and that taught me a lot about working with students and engaging them in their creative process. A lot of the students I worked with, they were sent to me by an instructor who would say “This student is just not engaging. They’re really sloppy in their work. They’re really lazy. They’re not putting the time in.” And when I talk to those students, I would find patterns that really ultimately meant that they weren’t understanding their creative process. They were doing things like brainstorming a whole bunch of ideas, and then trying to finish one, but then getting distracted and thinking, “Ah, I’m going down the wrong path, I’m going to do this other project, I need to take this other approach…,” and they would go down another path, and then they would abandon that path, and they would take yet another approach and pretty soon it’s time to go to class and the project they’re presenting for critique looks like it was done at the last minute. Again, this is really frustrating for the student and the instructor. And I realized I needed to learn a lot more about the creative process in order to work with these students and help them connect to that joy, help them understand how the hard work connects with the joy, and help the teachers understand how the hard work connects with the joy. I think it’s really imperative that our faculty understand creative process and define it so we can teach it to our students. And this is especially important for students whose livelihood depends on creativity, like a game designer, a graphic designer, even an illustrator can’t just go to work and hope that insight comes, they need to learn how to have some control over that, not only for their own work, but just so that they continue to enjoy what they’re doing.

John: It sounds like part of the problem is that people think that creativity is just something that people either have or don’t have, and they don’t see that it involves a process that includes a lot of work. What types of things can we do to nurture students in making the connection between the work that they do and that aha moment to get them to that point, so that we don’t lose them on the way.

Martin: One thing that I talk about quite frequently with faculty, no matter their discipline, but especially in the creative fields, and one thing that we go back to quite a few times in Meaningful Grading, is rewarding failure and grading process versus grading that final product. If you value the development of a creative process and you value your students diving into the waters that they’re sort of murky, they cannot be afraid to do that. And at the same time, they should also be aware that you’re rewarding that effort and their engagement and what can be kind of a scary process for them, especially if they consider themselves non-artists or unable to do art because they don’t have some innate knowledge of it. So, as you develop grading systems, making sure to work into those grading systems those things that you truly value about that process and about your course.

Natasha: I think it’s really crucial. And something that I try to point out in the videos is breaking it down, scaffolding the process for them, breaking it down into small accomplishable steps and explaining to them: “No, this is not creativity, this is not your whole project. This is what you need to do now. And here’s what you need to do, and you need to put the work in to do it. And then you can move on to the next step.” I think that’s really important, and it’s just really important for the instructors to do that. We often have the overview, we understand the process, we have faith that they’re going to get there, but the students don’t, necessarily, and so that’s kind of what leads to those patterns of procrastination that we see with the students who aren’t doing so well. They put things off, they don’t understand the importance of that early hard work that you really have to just put in in order to get the payoff at the end.

Rebecca: What are some ways that you recommend building in experimentation or risk taking into the grading system? Because those are often things that we value in creative fields, but are harder things or things that we don’t always build into our evaluation systems. We might focus more on the principles of design or something technical, [LAUGHTER] because those are easy to measure.

Natasha: You’re a graphic designer, aren’t you, Rebecca?

Rebecca: I am. [LAUGHTER]

Natasha: I think graphic design is actually a really great example of a place where you can get really bogged down with rules, right? I mean, you can approach graphic design almost as a mathematician and just kind of go “ka-chink, ka-chink, ka-chink, ka-chink, ka-chink” and you can create stuff that follows the rules, but doesn’t really have a lot of creativity to it. And I guess one piece of advice, this goes to a recommendation that I’ve included in the video, but really simplifying criteria. Again, if you can break down the steps and have each step just be assessed on one or two criteria, that allows students to kind of say, “Okay, I’ve met the goal, now I can do what I want. I’ve done what that teacher needs to see, [LAUGHTER] and I’m going to pass, and now I can really play with it.” In some research that I did with a colleague of the Academy of Art University quite a while ago, we did this big study, twice actually, called “Student Perceptions of Rubric Effectiveness.” We found a common pattern in students’ responses, the students that really liked the rubrics said that they liked the rubrics because it told them exactly what they did have to do. And then once they checked off all those boxes, they could just run with it, and that was very freeing to them. We can talk later that a rubric is not always perceived that way, for some students, it kind of acts like a creative constraint. But, I think if we can keep the criteria to a minimum, that can allow students to know what they have to do and then have fun with it.

John: One of the things I noticed in reading through your book, and also in what you were just talking about in terms of giving stories scaffolding, is so much of the advice that you give could apply in pretty much any discipline. While your focus is on the arts, students don’t have the same expertise that we do. And the tasks that they’re facing are much more challenging and require much more processing. And they don’t always come in with that growth mindset. Much of what you’re talking about basically, is how to help students move from this binary view that they’re either good at it or they’re not to recognizing that learning is work, and that they can get better as they develop. And it was nice to see how closely this was aligned to the advice we try to give in so many disciplines.

Natasha: I totally agree, John, and actually I was in a conference at the University of Missouri where they actually viewed this video, and the person who was facilitating the workshop that I was lucky enough to be able to attend from the comfort of my own home office here, she’s a scientist, and she actually put up a map of the scientific method and said, this is the creative process and this is not the exclusive domain of artists and designers by any stretch of the imagination. So, I love having those cross-disciplinary conversations. I actually teach writing and ESL, and so I see some crossover there. I guess I’m just reluctant to offer a lot more advice to teachers of physics and math and economics and things like that, simply because I don’t have as much experience with those instructors. I’ve been exclusively art and design skills for a really long time. Martin, maybe you can speak to that. You have a lot more majors at your colleges.

Martin: Especially in those foundational courses, you’d certainly get students coming in at a variety of levels. So, they have past experiences, or they don’t, and those with past experiences sometimes come in with quite a bit of knowledge or experience in the arts. So, they’ve had a lot of high school experience, for example, that puts them at a different level than the other students in your class that are truly beginners and don’t have any prior experience and consider themselves very much non artists. So, one thing that’s important to do, just getting to the practical here, if you’re in an arts course teaching at that foundational level… or really going back to your comments about this crosses disciplines, no matter what discipline you’re in, if you’re teaching that foundational level course, getting everybody at that same base level at the beginning. Purely speaking from past experience here on this one point, I taught photography for about 20 years. And in my intro courses, I would frequently have students come in that had high school experience, and they had learned something and could demonstrate that thing. But, at the same time, they learned it in a, I’m not going to say the wrong way, but in a bad way. They picked up some poor practices from their previous education in that, and so you have to make an effort to untrain that a little bit and get them to that same process that you want everybody to engage in, at that very beginning level. So, that step and that effort also makes those students who are truly coming in as beginners and don’t have any previous experience realize that “Oh, yeah, this is something that I actually have to learn and that everybody has to learn and these students who come in with previous knowledge, it’s not just some inherent skill or ability that they have in the arts. Another thing that I found really helpful, in sort of leveling the playing field and making it apparent to those truly beginning students, is using my past beginning students who have come into my courses with no experience, using their products as exemplars when I’m talking about how I want somebody to do something. So, if I’m talking about an assignment, I’m using examples from, and I’m pointing out the fact that these students came in from like, say, they’re nursing students or their automotive students, or this student came in with zero knowledge, and this is the thing that they produced, and it’s actually an ideal example of what I want you to produce in this assignment. So, using that, and going back to those examples shows those students who come in as true non-native or true beginners, that that level of achievement is possible.

John: I think that was an interesting point, too, that also shows up in other fields. I know people teaching computer science often will note that it’s much easier to teach people who are true beginners than those who had been self taught or perhaps picked up something in a course, where perhaps not an optimal pathway was given to them. The importance of unlearning things, perhaps, or breaking down the structures that people have and replacing them with stronger structures, can be as much of a barrier as people who are struggling just to get to that initial level. And that I imagine is particularly true in the arts.

Martin: Yeah. And going back to what I mentioned earlier about valuing process, maybe they do produce a product, that’s roughly the same result, like if they come up with the same result, but the process that they engaged in to get to there is so much more complicated and convoluted than what you’re trying to get everybody to engage in. So, they do need to go back and learn process. They do need to be at that same level as everybody else in your course.

John: One of the issues that often comes up in discussing creative fields is the importance of intrinsic motivation. Could you elaborate a bit on how we can help develop intrinsic motivation for students in these fields?

Martin: So, another thing that we talk about or that we bring up in Meaningful Grading frequently is the building of a community in an arts classroom and how important that is. That community is the intrinsic motivator. For example, if you make that a primary goal of yours in a course, you would then grade heavy on participating in that community at the beginning, knowing full well that the goal you have is to make that a more intrinsic reward for students and to back off on the grading or drop it all together, that participation component. So, that they not only learned that after they leave your course and after they leave an arts program that an arts community is vital. Like you can’t develop work in some sort of vacuum. As an artist, you have to be engaging with others, but also within your course, it’s just showing them and it’s creating that intrinsic value. Like, what’s bringing me back to this class day after day is not the grades that I’m getting from my instructor, but the vast resource that I have in these 30 other classmates that are able to give me feedback and support. And that also show me what they’re working on… that give and take. So, that’s one example of building in that intrinsic value.

Natasha: Correct me if I’m wrong, Martin, but a huge part of that community is critique. It’s critique discussions, right?

Martin: Exactly, hours and hours of it.

NATASHSS: …and helping students to understand that just getting that conversation, it doesn’t even have to be feedback, but a conversation, and engaging people to talk about your work does build intrinsic motivation. That’s the big payoff that we’re working towards.

Martin: And if you don’t have that tight community in that class, when you get to the middle or the end of that class, when you really want students to be engaging honestly in critique, it’s going to be like pulling teeth. You have to foster that community so that students feel comfortable, that they can open up, they can give opinions about other’s work, and accept opinions about their own work.

Natasha: I kind of want to get into a little bit of that intrinsic/ extrinsic motivation research. And I guess one of the things that got me into this field, and my obsession with grading and creativity, which people kind of look at me and they say “You talk about grading in art school, shame on you.” But the thing that was so confusing for so many of these at-risk students that I worked with before was they were engaging in those conversations, or they thought they were, with their instructor and their instructor would say things like, “Yeah, you know, you’re doing great, keep going.” And that can mean “Keep going. You got to keep working. ] 3 handclaps] But you’re not there yet.” But the student was hearing it as “Yeah, I’ve done it. Good enough.” Right? And so that student would say, “I got a D+, I don’t understand. Like, what’s going on? The teacher likes me…” or “the teacher said I was doing great.” And so they weren’t able to suss out the actual evaluation in those conversations, especially these new students. So, this is where it is so important to actually have grading systems that align with those conversations and that reflect those conversations. Keith Sawyer, he is like the creativity guru who I follow. He’s amazing. He wrote this book called Explaining Creativity. And there are a couple of pages in this book, Explaining Creativity, where he does essentially a synopsis of all the research on the effects of reward and grading on creativity. And there’s some things that we can look at here that are kind of important… that yes, we can extinguish intrinsic motivation with grades, we can do it by giving As for everyone. We can do it by just throwing grades that are completely unconnected to the actual conversations we’re having in class. And we can do it when we grade students and use a whole lot of really judgmental language and convey that judgment. That will all really decrease intrinsic motivation and creativity. But a lot of that early research on intrinsic-extrinsic motivation goes back to the Edward Deci studies, I believe, and he actually did more work on this later. And there’s a more nuanced conclusion that he came to later that when grades and rewards are perceived as information, when these grades and rewards are based on the quality of work that students are turning in, that can actually enhance creativity, and it can really build intrinsic motivation. But even when you’re using grades well, they shouldn’t be emphasized too much. This is the conversation that I often had in faculty development when I was working with new teachers. Oh, come to class, you’ll get five points. Five Points, that’s not why you come to class. You should not be coming to class to get the five points; you should be coming to class because the conversations are important. That’s why we want you here… and just changing the script in how we talk about grades. You need to have a grading system that has a lot of integrity. But, we should not be banging that over our students’ heads all the time, it should be kind of in the background just running along in the background. And what we communicate to students is the intrinsic rewards of all the work that we’re having them do.

Martin: And that’s why your grading system has to transform a little bit over the course of a semester, going back to that grading heavily on participation at the beginning of the course, where you have to get the students to the course to participate in the beginning for them to realize that there’s value in those conversations. If nobody shows up, they aren’t going to have conversations, but then that can change and it can evolve over the 16 weeks or 10 weeks or whatever length your course is.

Natasha: Yeah, and there are those students who really do care about grades I find in art and design school, there’s a certain subset of students who really don’t care, and that’s fine. And so they’re kind of on their own path, and they’re often doing well. But there are those students who really care and there are the students who are on the verge of failing out of school so they have to care. And I find that just understanding that, instructors need to leverage that knowledge to convince students to do stuff that we want them to do… that we know will do them good anyway, right? So if I say, “Okay, you’re going to be really a grade grubber… you want an A do these things,” and they’re the things that they need to do anyway. It’s a way of kind of tricking them into doing what we want. If you’re grading what’s important in your course, it’s going to work out, it’s going to work out for the students who really care about the grades, for the ones who don’t as much, hopefully, they’ll just be intrinsically motivated to understand why they need to engage. But grading what’s important is really crucial in that, I think.

Rebecca: One of the things we’ve talked a bit about is scaffolding and helping provide structures. So if we were to provide structure for faculty who are thinking about the idea of building a grading system that has the values that we’re talking about, things that really they care about or are important to their class, what are some of the steps you would recommend they go through to actually develop that system so it actually does reflect the values that they want?

Natasha: Well, [LAUGHTER] my answer to that is it’s ultimately working towards a rubric. And again, that can be kind of a bad word. I’m the one who’s been walking around the art and design school for 25 years saying, “Let’s build rubrics. And let’s do normings.” And I had a photography teacher tell me one time “Natasha, you gotta understand when you say “norming” to an artist, I mean, that’s like death, you know?” So I’m like, “Ah, sorry.”

Martin: There’s a reason why we don’t have assessment in the title of our book.

Natasha: Yes.

Martin: That was on purpose.

Natasha: It was by design. Absolutely. For the really grade-averse instructors, I start with a conversation. And I usually start with grading because that’s a really good entryway. And I’ll just say, “What are you teaching? And what does that look like? And what does it look like when a student does it? And what does it look like when a student doesn’t do it?” And really, that’s where you start. And then I think the next step is really getting real student work in front of this instructor or this department or this cohort of instructors who are teaching the same course… different sections of the same course. They need to look at the student work and they need to say, “Well, yeah, that one meets the criteria for this course that doesn’t.” Why? Why not? Having those conversations, that’s like the best investment that I think any department or any instructor can make into really focusing their teaching and to improving assessment is just think about how you’re making what you teach visible. And then what does it look like when it’s acceptable and when it’s not acceptable, when it meets the goals and when it doesn’t meet the goals? And then it just moves on from there. And if what you think is important, the quality of the color print in your poster, or the resolution on your screen of your logo, or whatever the heck you’re talking about, it might be process. So again, what does that look like? Well, I want to know that they’re listening to the feedback and really taking it in. Well, how can we make that visible? Maybe I have them do a little recording or do a short paper saying here’s all the feedback I heard, and here’s how I responded. “Joey told me I should change the concept, but I didn’t like that idea because…, so I’m not going with that…” and actually have them make that thought process visible. So, it takes some, again, creativity on the part of the instructor in the field of the teaching and learning. But usually, if there’s something really important that you’re teaching, you can have a way to make it visible and figure out what you’re looking for. And what does it look like when there’s evidence that the student has done what you need them to do? And what does it look like when that evidence is not there yet?

John: I usually meet with new faculty and generally ask them what would they like to see workshops on and, about six or seven years ago, one thing that was requested was a workshop on evaluating creative work. So I reached out and we got four people from different departments. We had someone from art, someone from music, someone from theatre, and someone from English. And they put together a presentation of how they evaluate creative work. And one thing that was in common was they all used rubrics, and they all talked about how there are certain fundamental skills or processes that students have to follow. And that’s what they embed in the rubrics and it surprised a lot of people in STEM fields who were attending because they were much less clear about what they were expecting from students and They expected something that would be much less well defined. And so one of the things they also emphasized, and you’ve talked about is that it’s telling students exactly what they’re expected to do and what types of things they need to demonstrate in the work before they can embellish on that. And that was a really important feature in all of their discussions, the same arguments show up in your book. That surprised many people outside of the creative fields.

Natasha: Oh, those are my tribe. That warms my heart to hear that, John. That’s exciting, yeah.

Martin: One of the added benefits of using rubrics is that time saved as well. Faculty time is a precious commodity. And if you can convince them or just show them how much time will be saved by simply having that rubric available, and using it as a guide, as you’re going through the assignments that are piled on their desk, it’s a convincing argument.

Rebecca: So, we talked a lot about building in values into our evaluation system. Can you talk about some of the things we should avoid doing.

Martin: I can speak to that a little bit. So, one thing that I’ve seen a lot of arts faculty members do… from a student perspective. So, coming up through the arts, one thing I’ve seen a lot of, and heard stories about, is the instructors bringing their personal bias, their own career and background, and that subjectivity in general, to the process of evaluating student work. So I’ve heard some pretty bad horror stories about that. For example, I’ll just go into one story quickly because I think just every faculty member who’s hearing this should know that this is never something that you want to repeat. So all the work, as you can imagine, all the prints, lining the board during critique and the instructor just, without words, just going across the board, pulling work down and throwing it out the window. Like if he doesn’t like it, right… if it doesn’t meet his criteria, which are a mystery, by the way…

NATASHAS: I’ve been in those classrooms. I’ve seen that.

Martin: Tell non-arts people about these stories, and they’re like, “no.” Yeah, it really happened. So remembering that you got to check your personal bias and your personal preference for art at the door and rely a lot on, or more on, having students engage in self evaluation, like did they feel like, and how do they feel like, they have made this, or communicated this, through their work, this issue that they think is important through their work. And if it doesn’t, like if you’re not understanding, then engage in a conversation about it. Like how they feel they’re getting there and where you think they’re not getting there. So using that as a starting point instead of your own, “I am the authority on art, and this is why this does not work.” That’s a huge demotivator.

Rebecca: I think one of those biases that a lot of faculty might bring to the door, is the history of white art created by white individuals.

Martin: This is the history of art, it’s all white male.

Rebecca: If students are creating their work from different cultural perspectives, and the faculty member is not up to speed on other cultural perspectives, we’re enforcing essentially a white supremacist point of view and system. So how do we engage in those moments in a way that’s productive, especially if we don’t understand the cultural background that something is based on?

Martin: Yeah, if students can’t place themselves in the history that you’re talking about, you’re referring to, how are they to imagine themselves in that world in the future?

Natasha: I’m gonna offer just one little tip here because yes, I hear you, Rebecca, and we see it everywhere in the overwhelming influence and sort of self-perpetuation of the white colonialist culture, even in our art classes. Something that we found when we did our rubrics research was that students, in general, really love rubrics, it helps guide their work. But what they really loved… even more than the grid of language… was samples, examples of work, examples of work that span the quality. Here’s an example of something where somebody tried really hard but they didn’t quite hit the mark. Here’s some examples of passing work. Here’s some examples of work that really hits it out of the park. And it’s really important not to have one example, especially in a creative field, because what happens then? The students who are not very competent will copy. Here’s an opportunity to allow for many different interpretations and really show those to your students. Consider using student work from previous semesters from a diverse range of students with diverse content. And that gives students something to connect to, it helps them see themselves in the class, it helps them understand that you, as an instructor, see them and value them. And that even though you have these criteria, there are many ways to reach those goals and reach those marks, those criteria that you’re putting out.

John: And so, by including a range of examples too, from different genres or different approaches, so that it does not become just a Western culture, perhaps. In recent podcasts we’ve done with Kevin Gannon, for example, he talked about decolonizing your syllabus and just suggesting that when you’re putting together your syllabus or searching for examples or exemplars, you could just do a little Google search on decolonize your [insert subject matter here] syllabus, and you can often find some good discussions of that with some good resources that you can build in.

Natasha: Yeah.

Martin: Yeah.

Natasha: This is incredibly important. In my work at California College of the Arts, there’s a very active group of instructors. They’re working on decolonizing the classroom, anti-racism, anti-racist pedagogies, and I’ve learned a lot since I’ve been in teaching there. I haven’t been there for a very long time. But I guess there’s a book called Antiracist Writing Assessment Ecologies: Teaching and Assessing Writing for a Socially Just Future by Asao Inoue. And he speaks quite a lot about assessment. And the point he makes about assessment is he says, in order to really decolonize your classroom, we need to be careful how we talk about quality, because quality so often is really culturally loaded. It’s so loaded that it is really hard for us to even untangle what we see and what we look for. And as a response to that, he really emphasizes grading on labor, grading on the work. And this, again, relates to some of the topics that are in this little video I put together although I don’t really call it this by telling students and taking all that quality judgment away from your rubric and from your assessment and just saying, create 50 of these things, [make 50 taglines, make 50 photographs, write five different thesis statements for your paper or write five different opening lines for your paper and just do that. And that’s the way of just asking for labor. You’re just saying do this work and it doesn’t have to look a certain way or be a certain way. But if you just put some effort into this, you will do well. This is a way of assessing work that actually pans out much better for students of color, students from cultures that are not traditionally represented very well in the faculty at colleges and university. So this is something I’ve been really taking to heart a lot. And in my writing class, I’ve actually, at CCA, where I teach freshmen composition to non-native English speakers, everything is graded on pass not passing yet. And so that really emphasizes the labor. If they’re not passing yet, the implication in that not passing yet grade is that you will do it again. Just do it again. Do it again. Nope, still not quite right, do it again. There have been a few students who have redone their essays four or five times, and it’s painful. But wow, they learn… they learn. And again, the trick is in not having five pages of criteria, but having a pretty narrow band of criteria that we’re looking for here that doesn’t get really niggly about the quality.

John: It sounds like it’s a specification grading system that you’re using. And it’s also building in something much more explicit than the “keep going” message that can be misinterpreted. So giving students the opportunity to try something to not quite get there, but to encourage them to continue working on it more explicitly than perhaps students always hear.

Natasha: And I’m glad you mentioned specifications grading, Linda Nilson has been a huge influence on the way I think about teaching and grading. She’s got a lot of really good thoughts out there for sure.

Rebecca: One of the things that’s really easy to evaluate is something that’s technical that has a right or wrong answer. How do we evaluate in a rubric format, things that are more qualitative, like the amount of experimentation or risk taking or other things that we might value in terms of creativity? Can you give us a concrete example?

Natasha: Actually, we have a a whole tip in our book about risk taking. There’s some really interesting ideas about ways you can really force students into making some mistakes and talking about them. There’s so much that comes up that seems, at first, like it’s going to be really hard to describe it in a rubric. But again, if we just get instructors and people who teach these disciplines together, talking about things, usually they can come up with something much more concrete, even if it’s not a cut and dry technical skill. Concept is one and I have some examples of like before and after for rubric wording. And often when we first write out a rubric, we might use some really sloppy language like “The concept is sloppy. It’s lazy. It just doesn’t work.” That just doesn’t work, right? [LAUGHTER] And so that might be the first draft. But then you start looking at some student work and talk with your colleagues. And you’ll find some more precise language will come out. Often when we talk about concept… I’m talking about the context of maybe an advertising campaign. But the concept is predictable. That’s a concept that is not acceptable is predictable. It’s the first thing that comes to mind when people think of this product. So, that is not a good concept. So there you go. Now we’ve made something a lot more understandable to the students and to the instructors when they’re using this rubric to grade later. And it can help you move forward in a way that that judgmental language won’t. It just makes the students feel bad. It makes the teachers frustrated, because we’re like, “Oh, it just doesn’t work.” But actually taking the time to look again at a range of work that doesn’t meet or that does meet the expectations for this thing that seems really nebulous at first usually you can manage to articulate it, and if you can’t, then maybe that’s not something you’re actually teaching in your class and maybe that’s outside of what you’re assessing. This is another tip that we come up with quite often. I think oftentimes instructors who fear grading, they think that they need to grade the art and you can’t grade art. No, you can’t grade art. You can’t say Picasso was better than Twyla Tharp. You can’t compare people and grade artists in a holistic way. Your grades should be based on what you’re teaching, and the objectives for your class. And we can communicate to our students, this is what we’re looking at here. You’ve also done this other stuff really well, but in our class, we’re really looking at this, so this is what your grade is based on. And that’s a really important factor in this whole endeavor, as well. One other little trap, I think, that faculty members can fall into when we talk about assessing grading or assessing creative work is that when we sit down to write our criteria out often the first thing we want to talk about is that incredible piece that that student two years ago did, it was amazing. It was mind blowing, it was so good and students need to see this and you get into those conversations. And that’s fun to talk about with your colleagues and you pull up that student’s work. And you talk about how great they were and what they’re doing now. Yes, that work should be shared with other students, that’s exciting. We have to celebrate those moments. But for the student in the middle of the pack in your class who’s kind of struggling, we need to think about what’s acceptable. That’s why it’s really important to really focus on that line between what meets expectations and what doesn’t meet expectations, because there are some students that just really need to work on that. [LAUGHTER] There are others that are going to blast through that and do really great things, but the ones that need our help are usually the ones that are hovering around that middle area.

Rebecca: So, we’ve talked a lot about rubrics and grading and evaluation, kind of assuming that we’re living in a perfect little world in some ways. But as we all know, right now, in this moment in time, there’s a lot of extra stress of COVID-19, protests related to Black Lives Matter, and any numerous other health things that are coming up because of COVID-19, remote learning. [LAUGHTER] All of these things, there’s lots going on. And so students are under more stress than normal. Students are often under a lot of stress, but this is like extra stress. So in these moments, what are ways that we can help promote creativity and also help our students really feel supported and being able to learn whether they’re on this point in the spectrum or they’re finding being creative really therapeutic and helpful, and all the way to students who just feel like they’re frozen because there’s so many things going on in the world, they feel like they can’t move forward.

Martin: I think now is a great time to be engaging students in creative process. It’s what gets us unfrozen. I’m speaking purely from my location at a Community and Technical College. If we can get students to engage in those often elective courses outside of their major or area of focus that allow them the opportunity to dive into those things that they are feeling a lot of stress about or anxiety about. It helps students be more successful in those courses that they do have to get through as a matter of course for their program of study.

Natasha: Oh, boy, these are hard times. I think, just most immediately from the video, the nurturing the aha moment, I think that it’s even more important than ever to break down our projects into small steps and help make those steps really kind of distinct from each other. I think that’s something that’s happening for students now, and for us, is we’re sitting and we’re staring at the screen all day long and it can become this big blob of existence where one thing bleeds into the other. And if we can really make the steps a little bit distinct, including a few steps where the students just disengage from all social media and anything online where they can actually be alone, without all of the electronic stimulation. I think those are things that can really help nurture their creativity. And also just I think there’s this funny paradox right now that we’re all alone. We’re all isolated. And yet, if you’re sitting there on your TikTok and Instagram and all day long you’re connected and that can be really, really stressful… and so convincing students to take a break from that, telling them we’re going through another step now. [LAUGHTER] And keeping things again really simple so that they can have that opportunity to use what we’re doing in our classes as a springboard to express themselves. Encourage them to incorporate what’s going on in their own life into the work that we’re doing, including examples and acknowledgments of what’s going on in the world. Really important. And it’s a fine line. I’ve just talked about this with my co teacher about how we’re going to be discussing Black Lives Matter, the latest George Floyd protests, and the Black Lives Matter protests, and the defund the police protests with our students who are mostly from Mainland China. Where do we even begin with that discussion? How do we do that without completely stressing them out, but also using it as an opportunity to feed their curiosity and acknowledge their own stress around these issues? So we need to let them know that we’re a safe space for everybody to engage and really help them break down things into small packages and celebrate their achievements. And again, let them keep working if they’re not quite there yet. Let them do it again. Let them do it again, let them do it again, I found myself being very forgiving on deadlines,

Martin: We also have to help faculty realize that they’re safe to engage in those redesigns and those conversations, and that comes from at that administrative level, engaging this at a college or institutional level. So that you aren’t leaving faculty to figure this out on their own. At my two colleges, for example, we have this new initiative that will run all the way through next year, and actually, for the next three years, probably called Equity by Design. And so we’re starting with a team comprised of administrators, directors, faculty, helping each other understand what this effort is going to be at a college level.

Rebecca: One of the things that you’ve both emphasize is kind of these small steps. And I think a small step for an expert might be different than a small step for a beginner. [LAUGHTER] Can we just take a minute or two to describe the differences between what an expert might think of as a small step and what might be in practice an actual a small step for a student.

Martin: One thing that we have been engaging in at my colleges is the TILT framework of Transparency in Learning and Teaching by Mary-Ann Winkelmes and her team. Mary-Ann came to one of our colleges in January and actually spoke and I’ve been facilitating communities of practice at both colleges on this topic this year. And in that work, there’s a realization as faculty review each other’s assignments and each other’s syllabi that you’re not starting at square one, you’re actually starting at square five, because we have to so often take a step outside of our disciplines to realize that, like you just said… So, what’s complex or complicated to one student is not for another and vice versa. So that transparency effort helps us to really outline the steps of an assignment, even those small steps. And so I’d encourage any family member struggling with whether or not to start at this point or that to review that transparency literature a little bit to engage with their colleagues, share assignments, and ask their colleagues whether or not they’re starting in the right place.

Natasha: That’s such a good question, Rebecca. The expert/novice thing is just something we grapple with all the time as instructors, especially if we’re teaching a new course… something that I’ve had to do in my own class… I was just thrown into a very new course for me a couple of years ago. And we did a new project on public service announcements this last semester, and I start something in class, I told the students “Now, choose a topic from this list of public service announcements that you’re going to create. And first thing you have to do is do some research. So let’s look at some websites.” And by having them do that in class and seeing what they come up with, I start to say, “Oh, right. [LAUGHTER]] They’re going to TikTok, you know, they’re going to these kind of places I didn’t even anticipate, and that allows me to then say, “Okay, I need to actually really scaffold this down.” I don’t want this to take two weeks of my time, I want them to find a credible source and then I ended up giving them a list of basically five places they should look. And you might say that is oversimplifying it, but again, this was just a step in the process of a larger PSA that they needed to make. So I needed to really like clamp that down. But I think if we can have students start in class and actually watch what they do, that gives us a lot of information about how big a step they’re willing to take on. And again, the little creative process chart that I put in the video that I created, I think a lot of creative practitioners, people who are really established, they’ve internalized this process, and they even don’t even want to put it on the line. They’re just like, “Oh, you bounce around, you know, you go back and forth and it’s not a linear thing.” And that’s not actually helpful to a new student who’s really nervous, who’s really stressed, who’s in school for the first time. They’re paying a ton of money to go to art school and their grandparents are really pissed because they should be an accountant. That’s intense. And so these students really need things broken down. And I think that just an awareness of our own expertise is a good starting point, and taking our cues from the students.

Rebecca: This has been really interesting. We always wrap up by asking what’s next? \

Natasha: What’s next, Martin? [LAUGHTER]

Martin: What’s next for me is to finish this book I’m working on with Cassandra Horii. We’ve been doing this project together for the past decade or so. I’ve been making photographs at colleges and universities across the country. We use those photographs that I make in classrooms in faculty teaching to help faculty think about their teaching practice. So we do this form of photo0based teaching consultation. So we’re putting those thousands of thousands of photographs together into a book. And we’re working with the same press that Natasha and I were with, West Virginia University Press, on that book. As far as my other life as an administrator in higher education, what’s next is figuring out what fall semester looks like. How are we engaging students? And in what space are we engaging them? Are courses going to be offered HyFlex, we don’t know? Are any courses going to be conducted face to face? Some of them have to be. You can’t teach arc welding at a distance. There’s some of that that has to be hands on. So figuring out exactly how we’re engaging students in this next phase is what’s next for me.

Natasha: I’m going really micro because these are really big questions. I’m going to keep working on the curriculum for my ESL class. I am now not in faculty development officially anymore at my university in an official role. My current role is that I coordinate and write the curriculum for one level of the English for non-native speakers at the Academy of Art University. And it’s exciting. So I’m working on actually integrating more of the anti-racist ecologies. I’m working on incorporating even more creative process readings and practices into my ESL course in the new zoom world, also really trying to figure out how to get students conversation practice in zoom. That’s the really tough one. So, I’m very much just kind of looking [LAUGHTER] about two feet in front of myself right now. And boy, as far as the bigger issues go, I don’t know. Let’s check in again in the fall. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: I think that’s fair.

Natasha: This afternoon, I’m going to make a creative genealogy for myself. I’m making a creative family tree, because I’m having my students do this next week when we start class and I’m going to do it for myself as a sample for them and also just to see what it’s like to go through that process. So that’s actually been really fun. That’s my fun thing that I’m doing.

Rebecca: It’s all about balance.

Natasha: Yeah.

John: Well, thank you. This has been fascinating. I really enjoyed reading through your book, and I’ve enjoyed your contribution to the Pedagogies of Care, and it’s been really great talking to you. Thank you.

Rebecca: Yeah. Thank you so much.

Natasha: John and Rebecca, it’s been a really fun conversation. Thanks so much for inviting us.

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

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

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140. Pedagogies of Care: Nerd Edition

This week we continue a series of interviews with participants in the Pedagogies of Care project. In this episode, Dr. Jessamyn Neuhaus joins us to discuss the myth of the super teacher and the importance of focusing on self-efficacy, being human, and being reasonable with ourselves and each other. Jessamyn is the Interim Director of the SUNY Plattsburgh Center for Teaching Excellence and a Professor in the History Department at Plattsburgh. She specializes in the study of pop culture, gender studies, and teaching and learning. Jessamyn is a recipient of the State University of New York Chancellor’s Award for Teaching Excellence. She is also the author of Geeky Pedagogy: A Guide for Intellectuals, Introverts and Nerds Who Want to be Effective Teachers.

Show Notes

Transcript

John: This week we continue a series of interviews with participants in the Pedagogies of Care project. In this episode, we discuss the myth of the super teacher and the importance of focusing on self-efficacy, being human, and being reasonable with ourselves and each other.

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

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

John: &hellipand Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

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John: Our guest today is Dr. Jessamyn Neuhaus. Jessamyn is the Interim Director of the SUNY Plattsburgh Center for Teaching Excellence and a Professor in the History Department at Plattsburgh. She specializes in the study of pop culture, gender studies, and teaching and learning. Jessamyn is a recipient of the State University of New York Chancellor’s Award for Teaching Excellence. She is also the author of Geeky Pedagogy: A Guide for Intellectuals, Introverts and Nerds Who Want to be Effective Teachers, which she talked about on one of our earlier podcasts. Welcome back, Jessamyn.

Jessamyn: Thank you for having me. I’m really happy to be here.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are:

Jessamyn: I am drinking anything and everything with caffeine all day long, every day since March. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Fair.

John: And I am drinking a ginger peach green tea which is, I think, my fifth or sixth cup of tea today.

Rebecca: I’ve got the Irish breakfast going today. You notice, my caffeine choices are definitely on the higher end lately, too. [LAUGHTER] The powerhouses of tea.

John: Caffeine has been extremely helpful in the last couple of months. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: What’s in your teaching tool belt? Some caffeine. [LAUGHTER]

Jessamyn: Yeah.

John: We’ve invited you here today to talk about your contribution to the Pedagogies of Care Project, which we’ve talked about in the last couple of podcasts. Could you tell us a little bit about your contribution to this project?

Jessamyn: Sure. It’s called Pedagogy Nerds Assemble: Battling Big Teaching Myths during Troubled Times. And it’s really about encouraging faculty teaching self-efficacy in the face of so much uncertainty, and trauma, and loss, and struggle now and in the foreseeable future. It also takes the kind of little bit of the snarky tone that I enjoy adding to the scholarship of teaching and learning, kind of real talk to empower faculty to not buy into certain myths that can really interfere with our ability to appreciate our unique ability, our unique contributions to student learning and student success. And mine is in the form of a recorded PowerPoint presentation. I know the project has taken different kinds of format to try to be as accessible as possible. So, I’m very comfortable with PowerPoint, I definitely do not like recording a video of myself. I just did the first one yesterday, because I have a feeling I’m gonna need to do it more often in the semester to come and it was just as awful as I imagined it could be. [LAUGHTER] For the PowerPoint, I have a little picture of myself on the slide, but just my voice.

Rebecca: It sounds like something that we really need. Like self efficacy is something that, in a time when we’re really stressed, is something that we all need more, but also it’s hard to feel like you can empower people to feel like they can empower themselves. Do you have any tips that you can share with faculty about things that they can be thinking about?

Jessamyn: Well, I don’t want to give away all the myths, so I can build interest in the project. But, one of the myths of the three that I tackle in the presentation is the super teacher myth. And fighting that super teacher myth, the impossible ideals of the incredibly charismatic professor who magically helps students learn just by being entertaining. That myth is really, really persistent. And I think the more we can encourage people to recognize that that exists, even maybe at an unconscious level, but to really call it out and recognize it. And that goes a long way towards seeing: “Oh, so here are the ways I can help students keep learning even in these traumatic and troubled times.” I had a crisis pretty early in the shift to emergency remote instruction because I had not taught online before. And I was really struggling with being present to students and communicating to students because, as an introvert who had retreated to her house to replenish her teaching energy, I suddenly found myself needing to open up communication to students at home, while my beloved family (who I wanted to throttle) was humming and buzzing around me. And I had to be more accessible and communicate and present to students, all things I’d learned how to do in person pretty well as part of my teaching persona and to be effective, but I didn’t know how to do it online. And I was lamenting on Twitter: “I suck at this. I’m never going to be good,” and Flower Darby, a scholar of online teaching and learning, reminded me “It took you a long time, like it does for everybody, to learn how to teach effectively in person. The same is true for this new format, this new platform.” And it’s that super teacher myth, “I should be able to do it suddenly, even though I’d never done it before.” So, fighting the super teacher myth would be one of my top pieces of advice. I think.

Rebecca: I think one of the things that you’re pointing out that’s important to remind everybody, as we’re planning for fall in new platforms is there’s a learning curve to anything that’s new. And so if you’re having to learn the LMS, or a new piece of technology, or whatever, the faculty member needs to do that, but so do our students. So, [LAUGHTER] we need to build in some of the time and space to allow ourselves to do that as well as our students and they know when we’re not comfortable or we haven’t built up those skill sets to so being real with students about where we’re comfortable and when we’re not is also not a bad thing being human is important.

Jessamyn: No, and actually it can model for students having a growth mindset, and that learning takes time and it requires making mistakes and, as hard as it is, as difficult as learning is, especially in crisis conditions, especially in the context of trauma and loss, learning is also why we academic nerds and scholarly geeks got here in the first place. I know it’s helped me a lot this semester, in the midst of the struggle and this pain, to be able to look for things that I’m learning about teaching, and I’m learning about my students, and maintaining a growth mindset about my own pedagogical practices, remembering that it always takes a lot of practice, takes experience, takes reflection, but feeling like I was able to learn something… that always makes things better, that makes my nerdy heart happier. [LAUGHTER]

John: I think a lot of faculty have experienced learning in ways that many people hadn’t learned since grad school in terms of making an adjustment. Some people found it easy. The people who are ready teaching online generally found the transition at least smoother than it was for other people. But, for people who were used to only teaching in the classroom, this was a pretty traumatic experience, as it was for many of the students. I was just looking through some comments I got from my students this semester. And some of them said, “I didn’t sign up for an online class, because I really didn’t like it,” and they said the same thing in class right before we made that transition. So, it’s been a learning experience for all of us and maintaining that growth mindset, I think, is really helpful. How can we help students do that? I know you talked about that in your book as well as in your project.

Jessamyn: Well, kind of what I was just saying before, one thing I’ve found helpful is really the modeling portion, especially with the online aspect. And it was helpful with my students, first of all, to clarify this semester. This is not an online class. This is emergency remote instruction, and we’re looking to finish the semester the only ways we can in this crisis condition. And then, just liike we were mentioning before, I also was very clear and upfront about things I was learning how to do. And I’ve mentioned it a couple places now, so it’s getting a little less embarrassing, but I’ll admit it’s still embarrassing. One thing that I was forced to learn how to do was have students submit assignments electronically. I was still making them print out a hard copy of their paper and turn it in, even though for years, I knew I should not be doing that. I knew it made more sense to have them submitted online because I like to scaffold it. So, I always said, so I have to see my previous comments. It totally made sense. Plus, they didn’t have to pay for the printout, which was a real hardship for some of my students. So, I was finally forced to learn how to do it. And I told students, because I made a big deal at the beginning of the semester, I know this is old school and I am being an old Gen X lady here, but can you please print out your assignments? I’m really sorry about the extra step. And then halfway through I said, “Okay, Well, we’re all gonna do this together, and I’m gonna learn how to use the Moodle Dropbox” and I messed it up several times, the settings were wrong and students couldn’t submit. And they were so understanding. A couple of students said this to me, “I know you’re just learning how to do this.” So, it’s okay and it was kind of like modeling that and being clear about this was the technology that was new to me, and trying to be flexible with it. It kind of forced me to also rethink things like I have this really harsh and firm deadline. Well, yeah, except you messed up the Moodle dropbox parameters, so you can’t do that anymore.

Rebecca: I think one of the things that your story illustrates, to some extent, is that breaking down that one myth that you had just talked about, the super teacher, that by showing that we’re learning and that we make mistakes, it also shows students that the learning process includes making mistakes and so it’s not a terrible thing to have that occur. I know that when I’ve struggled with things in class before the students really respond to knowing like, “Oh, I don’t know the answer to that, like, let’s see if we can figure it out.” And the more you can indicate that you’re not some encyclopedia, [LAUGHTER] the more helpful it is.

Jessamyn: Yeah, I had a lot of students clearly very hesitant and fearful about going online. So, helping to demystify that a little bit, I think was helpful.

Rebecca: What are some of your takeaways from this semester moving into the fall?

Jessamyn: For me personally, definitely, kind of building on what I was just saying, being able to better utilize some of our learning management systems to achieve the pedagogical goals that I’ve always wanted to do. There are some very effective tools that I just had not utilized much before because I was doing face to face. One example I can think of is I live for discussion. That’s my favorite part of class and having students discuss, I’ve tried to keep my own piehole shut as much as possible and there are ways to structure, at least some discussion. Even if you’re doing a face-to-face class, you can also include some discussion in your learning management system that’s more inclusive, that will encourage what I hear from faculty lived experiences. And what I’m starting to read about is that there’s ways a good online discussion can increase student participation from people who, for whatever reason, are hesitant to participate in face-to-face discussions. Somebody I know who works with students with English as a second language said when they were forced to switch to online discussions, they started to hear so much more from students who had been hesitant about participating in face-topface discussions. So, my personal takeaway is definitely, when it helps me achieve the pedagogical goal that I would have in any format, I should be able to use some of the online learning tools that are out there. For faculty at large, I guess, I would say two things: One, I saw a lot of pain and struggle, as people were forced to give up things that had worked really effectively for them in the classroom. There’s a real loss there. That’s just one of many, many losses that faculty themselves were experiencing, and of course, in our personal lives during this crisis, but also as teachers, the switch was pretty traumatic in many ways. So, that kind of emotional component and being aware of what we lost and ways that the uncertainties that we’re facing really are going to take a toll day to day, class to class. And the other big takeaway, I think, I saw a lot of faculty and read about a lot of faculty really reflecting for the first time: What are we grading? How are we going to assess student learning? That really rose to the top among the faculty here. How can we possibly assess student learning? They’re just gonna cheat if they’re at home with their book and having it shoved in your face. Well, what do you want them to learn? What are they trying to learn? And how are you going to be able to assess that? So, really deep and difficult reflections on assessing student learning,

John: That type of reflection can result in improved practice, no matter how we’re teaching in the future, I think.

Jessamyn: Yeah, for sure. I just want to give one little shout out here to that term “Pedagogies of Care,” because I do think there’s some misunderstanding about it or assumptions that it means just being completely and utterly touchy feely and a lessening of academic rigor. And that’s not the case, as I talk about in Geeky Pedagogy and have talked about a lot in my own personal experience. You can express care for student learning and a wide range of ways you don’t have to be the extroverted, extra warm, motherly, fatherly professor. I am not that person. I’m very intellectual. And with students, I keep it really professional. But, I’m always getting feedback that she cares a lot, Professor Neuhaus cares so much, because I’m totally fascinated with their ideas and their learning and I do everything I can to help them learn. So, Pedagogy of Care, first for students, means clearly conveying to students that you want them to succeed. And that can take all kinds of different forms. The other thing in my contribution to the project that I emphasize about the Pedagogy of Care is that extends to faculty as well. And we really could all stand to be a little bit kinder and gentler to ourselves and to each other in these extraordinarily difficult times. The Pedagogy of Care extends to our own learning, and not “I flunked. I flunked the semester of teaching. I suck.” No, be as kind to yourself. I’ve repeated this to a number of people for the past four months, like just talk to yourself the way you would to a struggling student that you want to succeed, you know, you’re trying&hellip keep going&hellip you can do it. Don’t give up. This is an obstacle and it’s hard, but you’re learning. talk that way to yourselves too, and try to extend it to colleagues if you can.

Rebecca: I think that one thing that I heard a lot of faculty talking about in relationship to this idea is what they need for self care, and what they actually need and be able to kind of articulate it on a day-to-day basis beyond just the crisis, but there’s competing interests of like family and work and home space and workspace and what have you. And I think people are realizing what kind of time they need for different things to feel balanced, because everything got so out of balance, [LAUGHTER] going from one extreme to another.

Jessamyn: Oh my gosh, yes. I wrote about that. I had an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and it was talking about being an introvert working from home and contrary to this kind of knee jerk: “Oh, introverts have it so great now, because they get to be at home.” Well, except that there could be other people there as well. [LAUGHTER] And demanding, finding, wresting out some solitude when you’re working from home was to me really vital, and it was not easy at all… it was stressful.

Rebecca: Yes, I remember reading that article and thinking, “Yes, all of these things.” [LAUGHTER] We have a system at my house now and that system is really helpful.

Jessamyn: That’s good. Yeah. structure. Yeah. And I live with two off-the-charts extroverts, like off the charts. And normally that works pretty well for us as a family. But, during this situation&hellip no&hellip social isolating. Like our needs were diametrically opposed. I need more time alone. I need more human contact. Yeah, it’s been rough. It’s been rough. [LAUGHTER]

John: We’ll include a link to your article in the show notes as well.

Jessamyn: Thank you.

John: So, you’ve picked a great time to be taking over a teaching center. [LAUGHTER].

Jessamyn: &hellip just the status quo, same old, same old, nothing really big going on.

John: So could you talk a little bit about what you’re planning to help prepare faculty for the uncertainty of the fall semester?

Jessamyn: Sure, It’s a great question. It’s definitely a uniquely challenging time to be trying to revitalize a teaching and learning center on a small rural campus with very limited resources and, like most state schools, facing some really severe financial and student enrollment problems, like maybe forever altering some structures. So, it’s tough. There’s a lot of managing of expectations and emotions. I think the advice that I’ve gotten by far the most, and makes the most sense as well, is the importance of building connections and building communities on campus and reaching out to a wide variety of stakeholders, including students, and really trying to foster pedagogical communities of practice on campus. So not trying to, again with the superhero theme, not trying to fly in and say I’m going to fix everything, but instead trying to encourage sharing of ideas, sharing of resources, support for each other, at this difficult time. We have a very small technology enhanced learning unit that has one instructional designer but we are collaborating on summer programming and working together and just trying to help everyone, I guess, really cultivate that growth mindset we were talking about, and try to approach this as an opportunity for learning. I won’t say silvered lining. That’s not how we want to frame it. But there is this opportunity because every campus has a small group of people who are bought into faculty development from day one, and they’re at every workshop and they want to take every offering and they’re your biggest fans. Then there’s a small group who are going to actively oppose faculty development in any way shape or form and will never ever come to your stupid pointless workshops for any reason, not for love or money. But, then there’s this whole middle population who you could maybe attract them, they could go to one workshop and find it useful and maybe go to another one. Well, that population, in the past three months, has just shot into a whole new world. And I have had, just in the past couple months I’ve been the Teaching Fellow for the CTE and then just starting this gig as the interim director. So I was doing some things with the CTE, and I saw more faces and heard from more people who had never darkened the door of the Center for Teaching Excellence appear and ask me questions and show up. Because, I think it’s not just personally “I don’t know what to do,” but suddenly everywhere, like literally everywhere are professors saying, “I could use some assistance with this. I’m not sure what to do.” Like for the first time in ever, there’s this like cultural acknowledgement that “I don’t know everything.” Like, that’s a major leap for academics to be like, “Well, yeah, maybe I don’t know everything here and I could use some assistance,” but everybody was saying it, everybody was doing it. So, there’s this opportunity to keep building on that and to offer assistance and encourage that growth mindset about their own pedagogical practices to a whole group of people who have never thought about it that way before. So it’s this precious opportunity. I hope I don’t blow it. [LAUGHTER]

John: I think we all share those thoughts about hoping we don’t blow it in getting ready for this.

Rebecca: Now, let’s not put unreasonable expectations upon ourselves.

Jessamyn: I know. [LAUGHTER]

John: But this is true not just for teaching. As human beings, we tend to do things as we’ve always done them unless there’s some compelling need to change. And when things don’t work the way they used to, it forces us to reevaluate how we’re doing anything. And then it’s a great growth opportunity. And it opens a lot of potential. It can be really difficult, as we’ve all been noticing.

Jessamyn: I do think it’s also, not to slam my beloved academic geeks, but I think it can be especially hard for scholarly experts. I mean, we were trained in graduate school: “You don’t reveal your vulnerable underbelly to the alpha academic or you’ll get your throat ripped out.” You always have to be the smartest person in the room. Like that’s the goal of getting your PhD and to back up and admit, “Well wait, I could use some help with this&hellip that’s a big leap for a smarty pants who’s used to their classroom kingdom where nobody ever questions their expertise and authority, which by the way, is not every professor,it depends on your embodied identity. That is a big caveat there. But, you do have this professorial authority and saying “I need help” or saying, “Wow, what worked before isn’t going to work here.” That’s a major leap. That’s a big ask for many academics.

John: And it can help break down that super teacher myth that you mentioned earlier.

Jessamyn: For sure. Yeah.

Rebecca: I think, along those same lines, too, it’s like that same group of people is recognizing all kinds of barriers that students face that weren’t so visible before.

Jessamyn: That’s very, very true.

Rebecca: So really, like transitioning the perception of the ivory tower to something a bit different, and I actually really hope it sticks.

Jessamyn: Yeah, me too. And that’s been amazing, actually, the way I’ve seen that on my campus as well. And it was interesting because I was doing a department-based needs assessment before the emergency pivot. So, I’d been talking to faculty about what they saw as teaching challenges and the student population. And then, within a few weeks after our shift, I saw some of those same professors saying very different things about their students and seeing them in a very different way. Like straight up saying, “My students lives are so hard…” like the obstacles and the lack of access to WiFi, for example, that’s a serious issue. Yeah. And it always has been. So, yeah, it really did. It humanized, I think is the term I hear some people saying is it humanized our teaching in new ways, for sure. And that could be a reach sometimes. Like I was saying, I am very intellectual, I don’t have a lot of personal discussions with my students. But, in these crisis situations, I was very clear about being worried about them and being concerned and hoping they were safe. And all my students appreciated it, but I knew some of them were like, “This is Professor Neuhaus saying, ‘Oh, I’m worried about you. Stay safe.’ Professor Neuhaus, really?” So, yeah, humanizing our interactions is important.

John: I hope that’s a message or a lesson that continues through into the future.

Jessamyn: Me too.

John: And I think it’s worked both ways, that I think a lot of students have seen some of the challenges their professors have faced, not just in terms of using the technology or teaching in a new format, but in terms of having children or pets or other things, or having technology issues, or having access issues themselves, where someone might be using a video game or something similar, cutting into the bandwidth. Many faculty have reported to us that their students have expressed concern, asking if they’re okay, and encouraging them to stay safe and so forth.

Rebecca: I think it’s also along those same lines brought to light some of the invisible barriers that contingent faculty have, being at multiple institutions or the incredible workload that they’ve been asked to bear without really any compensation for the time and effort and energy that’s gone into it.

Jessamyn: Yeah, for sure.

John: Our institution has provided loaner computers and other types of technology to both students and faculty. And an interesting phenomena was that there were more faculty who requested computing equipment and other tools than there were students even. They provided a good deal of it to both, but some of those barriers are not just for students, especially are adjuncts who often are struggling to get by.

Jessamyn: For sure. I was just going to reference and you can put this in the notes to Cate Denial, a historian who wrote a very well known essay, I’m hoping she’ll write a book, advocating a pedagogy of kindness. And I definitely saw how effective that can be this semester for me personally, but I also saw with a lot of other faculty for the first time really seeing what a little bit of flexibility and a little bit of kindness&hellip again, not lessening academic rigor, but bringing in, specifically, some of that humanizing kindness&helliphow effective that can be. And actually, on a similar note, the advocates of ungrading have gotten a big boost as well, because I’ve seen and read a lot of faculty saying, “Wow, you know, once I told my students pass-fail, for example&hellip Wow, their final projects were so great, like they actually did what I want them to do and learn what I want them to learn once the stress and anxiety and kind of false dichotomies, I guess, of grading were taken off the table.” So there’s some real possibilities there.

John: We’ve talked quite a bit about things that we should be focusing on in terms of getting ready for the fall. But what are some things we should probably avoid as either faculty or professional developers in preparing for the fall semester?

Jessamyn: I think a big one is to not ignore or try to just sort of skip over the trauma and the loss that people experienced and also not play like “Who had the worst trauma?” or “Who had the worst loss?” In all kinds of ways we experienced loss as we experienced trauma&hellip and the way trauma works, the weight loss and grieving works is even a small loss can be very difficult because your brain and your heart and your soul are trying to process all your losses and all previous grief and loss. I know I always love graduation. And even though I sit there&hellip it’s very long… it’s very hot… [LAUGHTER] and it can feel like a chore at times. But, the commencement ceremony is so meaningful for everybody, but especially for first-generation students and their families. And we tried to fill in a little bit with some online messages and some online rituals. And I started watching it and just started crying. And I’m like, “What is this? What is happening here?” &hellipand it’s a loss to not be able to engage in that ritual. It’s not the world-ending loss, but it’s a loss and it’s a trauma and people are going to arrive to classes in late August, whatever format it is, with all those things having really just happened to them&hellip faculty, students, administrators, I mean, everybody’s gotten a really raw deal this semester. And that’s not just going to be magically fixed, even if somehow we’re back to exactly where we were. And if all the face-to-face classes are in session as they were planned, and everything’s fine again, but what happened this semester is still gonna be there.

Rebecca: I think that’s a really good reminder. Our students are going to be changed and will be different. And I think in the moment of this semester, a lot of students weren’t able to process what was happening. So, you might really have a really different experience with students in the fall, when they’ve also had a little space to process what that experience was like and the things that they missed out on and are missing out on if they’re online in the fall.

Jessamyn: Yeah, the first chapter in Geeky Pedagogy, advocates for practicing awareness, and really just being as fully mindfully present to the reality of what’s happening around you. And I think that’s always important. But, I think it’s going to be especially important in the fall. And it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to change things that are bad, but to first really be cognizant and aware of what is happening, what is going on here. And the state of all our mental, emotional, and physical states is going to be something that we really have to pay attention to.

Rebecca: I think that’ll really shift what first days of classes look like in the fall.

Jessamyn: Yeah, for sure. The uncertainty remains. We don’t know what’s going to happen. And we can put plans in place, but we just don’t know. And that’s…

Rebecca: &hellipterrifying.

Jessamyn: Yeah. [LAUGHTER] For people who love to plan, and I had really fooled myself, you could see it in my book, too. I’ve attained a new enlightened state where I can roll with the changes and you got to be aware of stuff but then as soon as my world was severely disrupted, no, it was all gone. Just zip… gone. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Emotions do have a lot to do with how we learn and process things.

Jessamyn: Yeah! [LAUGHTER] Come on, emotional learning… yeah.

John: As you know, we always end with the question: What’s next? A question that we’re all thinking about pretty much all the time.

Rebecca: Please tell us.

Jessamyn: Yeah. Wow, that’s crazy&hellip ‘cause I have been working on a project, an anthology of insights into effective teaching from women, marginalized, and underrepresented faculty. It hasn’t been suspended, but I extended the deadline, not having the bandwidth and assuming potential contributors also just utterly overwhelmed. And then I guess it’s like day by day&hellip What could maybe help a few people on campus teach effectively? And, of course, how am I going to prepare my own class to be as resilient and flexible as possible for the fall&hellip and just on a personal note, what about my child? He just finished his first year of college. It was not a overwhelming success. I mentioned last time I was here that he is a lackadaisical student. And he had many of the challenges that first-year college students face. And then, of course, this semester has been a disaster. He was one of those students who said, “I don’t want to do an online class.” He’s an extrovert. He’s very social. So, we’re not sure what’s going to happen for him in the fall. So, those are all the uncertainties awaiting us.

John: I first heard about the Pedagogies of Care project when one of the people participating posted a picture of the Zoom screen with all those people in it. [LAUGHTER] And I recognized all of them, and many of them had been guests on our podcast. So, the initial image didn’t talk about what it was for, it just said a gathering of present and future authors from West Virginia University Press, and it looked like a really impressive group of people. So, we’re very much looking forward to this project. We’ll include a link to that in the show notes.

Jessamyn: They’re really some of the smartest people I’ve ever met, and definitely the best collaborators I’ve ever had. It’s a unique experience being part of that series. I’ve never had a group of scholars who’ve kind of come together and really formed a supportive and encouraging community. It’s just amazing. I’ve never experienced anything like it. And this project, I think, is a good example of how the series at West Virginia University Press edited by Jim Lange is unique to not just the scholarship of teaching and learning but to scholarship period, because I’ve been in various series and journals and stuff, but there’s never been a sense like, this is a real pedagogical community of practice where ideas are debated and shared, and each scholar is really supported and I’m really incredibly grateful and proud to be part of it.

John: And that also shows up in the Twitter conversations that take place. For those who don’t follow the authors there, we strongly encourage that.

Jessamyn: Absolutely. Yes.

Rebecca: Definitely, that’s how we found out about this project.

Jessamyn: Thank you so much for having me.

John: Thank you.

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

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

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138. Pedagogies of Care: UDL

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many reflections on the future of higher education and what we value and prioritize as educators. This week we begin a series of interviews with participants in the Pedagogies of Care project. In this episode, Thomas J. Tobin joins us to discuss how the adoption of Universal Design for Learning principles can increase student motivation, engagement, and success. Tom is the author of Reach Everyone Teach Everyone: Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education and several other works related to teaching and learning. He is one of the contributors to the Pedagogies of Care project from the authors in the West Virginia University Press Teaching and Learning book series.

Show Notes

Transcript

John: The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many reflections on the future of higher education and what we value and prioritize as educators. This week we begin a series of interviews with participants in the Pedagogies of Care project. In this episode, we discuss how the adoption of Universal Design for Learning principles can increase student motivation, engagement, and success.

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

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

John: &helliip;and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

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Rebecca: Our guest today is Thomas J. Tobin. Tom is the author of Reach Everyone Teach Everyone: Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education and several other works related to teaching and learning. He is one of the contributors to the Pedagogies of Care project from the authors in the West Virginia University Press Teaching and Learning book series. Welcome, Tom.

John: Welcome, Tom.

Tom: Thanks. I’m glad to be here, and thank you for inviting me.

John: Our teas today are:

Tom: I’m drinking decaf black tea as always, nothing added, nothing, taken away.

Rebecca: Sounds perfect. I’m drinking strawberry grapefruit green tea today.

John: And I’m drinking a peppermint tea. I’ve had a lot of caffeine today, so I’m watering it down a little bit. [LAUGHTER] We’ve invited you here to talk primarily about your work with the Pedagogies of Care project as well as your work with Universal Design for Learning. Could you tell us about how this project came together?

Tom: I’m one of the authors in the West Virginia University Press series on teaching and learning and it started with an idea from Jim Lang at Assumption College. He wanted to put together a series of books that wasn’t so much “Here’s all the research and all the bona fides and all the scholarship on teaching and learning topics. He wanted books that talked directly to practitioners about what those best practices are, in a way that’s easily digestible and practical and implementable. My co-author Kirsten Behling and I, we wrote the book Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone: Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education for the series. Jim is the editor of the whole series. We’ve got lots of other folks in the series. Michelle Miller is coming up. Josh Eyler just published. Sarah Rose Cavanagh. Kevin Gannon. A lot of the people that you see on academic Twitter. The public intellectuals among us are published in this series and that’s a credit to Derek Chrisoff, the series editor. A number of us who are or will be published in that series in the future, we were part of the emergency response teams at our colleges and universities when the COVID-19 pandemic came up. And we found that whether we were reading in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside HigherEd, Edsurge, we were reading a lot of, “Well, this is the time when we should be evaluating online teaching because now everyone’s teaching online” or “We should be guarding the ivory tower and defending against these rings of cheating students.” And almost everyone in the series thought these are reactionary takes that are getting published out there. And it’s almost the opposite of how we would advise people to go. So a few of us got out our trusty keyboards and we wrote response articles. I responded to a couple of pieces in The Chronicle. Michelle Miller in Inside Higher Ed. Derek Bruff went over onto Edsurge. And we wrote our responses up and people said, “Oh, this is really humane. This treats students like co-learners in the process Instead of adversaries. What else do you have? Do you have more?” And the answer was, “Well, Perhaps we should have more.” And Tori Mondelli from the University of Missouri, asked, “Why not envision and help to shape what the new normal of colleges and universities and higher education could look like post pandemic, if we’re just going back to the way things were, that’s an opportunity missed.” And so we decided to put together this Pedagogies of Care collection from all of the authors and soon-to-be authors in the WVU Press series. So a lot of things went into it. So it was conversations on the POD network open discussion group topic, Josh Eyler was especially active over there, academic Twitter, Kevin Gannon, Viji Sathy, Kelly Hogan from the University of North Carolina. We’ve been voices out there that people trust. We’ve been doing the research, we’ve been listening to our colleagues. And what we’re doing with this Pedagogies of Care Collection, is we’re trying to create a unified voice for what colleges and universities could look like, with the understanding that we have a huge budget crisis, that we only have so much in terms of people, money, and time to be able to implement things. So this isn’t really a rose-colored glasses utopian vision. But it’s a practical look at what we can actually accomplish if we’re working together, thinking together, and thinking in terms of student success.

John: In terms of the contributions, I understand it’s going to be a mix of different types of inputs. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

Tom: Of course. As the Universal Design for Learning thinker among the group, we’ve got a few of us who are also fans of that idea, the initial prompt to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t “Please write an essay,” although I totally wrote an essay, but it was “Please respond in the way that you feel represents your ideas best.” And so for example, Cyndi Kernahan and Kevin Gannon decided that they wanted to, even though they wrote two different books, they wanted to get together and create a video podcast. For example, Sarah Rose Cavanagh decided that she wanted to put together an audio podcast along with a bunch of reference resources and handouts that people could take away. Jessamyn Neuhaus, the author of Geeky Pedagogy, she decided that she wanted to do a video log of different pieces of advice that she had collected and created. And a lot of folks went in lots of different creative ways. So the prompt was: respond how you like, and we got a really varied bunch of contributions from everybody. And we’re in the process of editing that right now as we’re recording this interview, and we hope that that’ll be coming out soon.

Rebecca: Sounds like a very caring way to address everybody’s needs during COVID-19, including all the authors’. [LAUGHTER]

Tom: Well, absolutely. And the flexibility is almost the key here is that we’re trying to model, in our advice, the kinds of strategies that we’re asking people to adopt, and really the overarching idea is that students are coming to us from lots of varied circumstances. One of the things that the pandemic has done for everyone is shown that everybody has barriers to learning. And whether those barriers have to do with disability, whether those barriers just have to do with time&helliip; people are working, they have family responsibilities, their kids are home from school and they’re taking care of them. All different kinds of barriers. And if there are ways that we can address those barriers, help to minimize them, help to lower them, and help to reach out to our students as human beings first, that’s going to actually make our lives as instructors and support staffers, smoother, easier, and it’s going to mean that we’re not as bureaucratic about things as we might have been previously. We’d thought about a number of different titles for the collection, you know, “The road back from COVID-19,” and we didn’t really want to focus everything on the virus. We wanted to focus on the interpersonal dynamics, on the interactions, on the caring that we saw people engaging in, that emotional and affective labor that really marks the best teachers and instructors. And so I think it was Tori Mondelli who came up with the title of Pedagogies of Care, because that was the thread that ran through all of our approaches to this collection and to how we wanted to work with our colleagues at our individual institutions.

Rebecca: One of the things that I’ve appreciated about the conversations I’ve observed on Twitter and other spaces is how much the focus has been on humans: students as humans, faculty as humans, and that faculty and staff have barriers just like students do. And that’s something that hasn’t really been highlighted in the past in a lot of conversation about disability or universal design or any of these things that tend to be very student driven. And so it’s nice that the conversation has actually widened to be more inclusive.

Tom: Yeah, and this is the myth of the faculty super person, right? The students can have all these challenges but faculty members have got it together, right? We are super and awesome and always good and always on and always perfect, which is baloney. We’re human beings as well. And it’s actually how I got started in the field. Dial back 23 years, it’s 1997, and I’m at a two-year college in Pennsylvania. I’m a 27 year old kid with just about almost have my doctorate. And I’m tasked with creating online courses for this community college. I help them adopt Blackboard version one. That’s how long ago that was. Your listeners can’t see me, but all this gray hair, I earned it. And one of my business faculty members came to me, Marty, and he says, “I would like to teach online, not because I think it’s the next world beating thing or the thing that’s the best for me. But I see the handwriting on the wall. We’re moving in this direction. And I want to know how to do it.” And I said, “Sure, I’ll help you.” The only problem, Marty in his 40s, had gone blind due to complications from undiagnosed and so untreated diabetes. Now that meant that he didn’t, and I’ll put air quotes here, he didn’t know how to be a blind person. He didn’t walk with a cane. He didn’t touch type&helliip; couldn’t read Braille. And so I said, “Oh, the literature will save me.” And I went back to the literature and there was no literature. And so, by good grace and good luck, I got connected with Norm Coombs at Rochester Institute of Technology. Norm is a faculty member who has been blind since birth. He was a great big advocate for the rights of faculty members and instructors who have disabilities. And his advice was essentially “Good luck, kid.” But along the way, he also turned me on to a lot of different ways that I could help Marty, and we did actually get him to teach his business courses online. This is in the days before JAWS and screen readers, and we ended up getting some graduate students from a local university and using them as Marty’s eyes and ears. He memorized what the Blackboard interface, the LMS interface, looked like. And when his students would send him things or put discussion messages on the posts, the graduate students would read them out loud and Marty would say, “Here’s my feedback. Here’s the grade,” and the graduate students would put those things in there. It was wildly successful for about the three semesters before we realized we were violating FERPA privacy laws about eight different ways and we had to stop. It was that failure, though, that really caused me&helliip; and to your point, Rebecca&helliip; it caused me to look around and start seeing people who we weren’t serving well, or maybe not at all. People with those military deployments, those weird work shifts, the family responsibilities, the people who weren’t even in our classrooms because they couldn’t get there. And if I had my way I would teach all of my courses face to face. But that means that I’m leaving out a big number of people whom we could otherwise be serving well, and so I’ve been an advocate for using technology to lower barriers for years and years and years. So, thank you for letting me take off on a little bit of a side note there, but it’s actually the absence of scholarship and research about instructors who have various barriers. And it’s not just disability barriers. It’s instructors who are single parents, folks who are the adjuncts among us, contingent faculty members who are trying to put a life together by moving from among four or five different institutions. These are all barriers that we should be talking more about and surfacing. And that kind of advocating on behalf of, and trying to bring visibility to, a lot of people who aren’t really visible right now, that’s one of those driving impetus behind the Pedagogies of Care collection.

John: The timing of this seems very appropriate because as you suggested before, many of these barriers became much more visible both in faculties own lives and also being on a college campus makes it easier for those barriers to be invisible, that we don’t observe different socioeconomic differences in quite the same way because we’re in the same environment. Students on college campuses at least appear to have equal access to technology through computer labs and college provided WiFi. But there’s a lot of hidden barriers there, as you’ve talked about in many different ways, but I think now is a really good time to be providing these resources because people are thinking about them in ways that many faculty have been able to avoid.

Tom: You bring up a good point because it’s really easy to sort of hide inside the ivory tower, because you see students only in controlled circumstances. And with the pandemic, now everybody’s teaching remotely using Zoom and other remote instruction tools like that. And when you start seeing into students’ living rooms, and seeing how other people live, it’s kind of eye opening in a literal sense. And it also means that we’re at a moment where people are going in one of two different directions that I’m seeing. They’re either going in the direction of compassion, and understanding, you know, that my students are human beings just like I am and our goal for this course is to get them from “I don’t know yet” to “now I know.” But the other direction is also pretty prevalent where you’ve got instructors saying “Now is the time where I really need to tighten up and get hard and maintain my standards, because I’m in a situation that’s way beyond my control and unlike something that I’ve ever seen before,” and both of those are very natural reactions to a situation where you’re in unfamiliar territory. So, in this Pedagogies of Care collection, one of the aims of all of it is to help to show that that road of compassion is one that actually solves more problems for us as instructors. One of the biggest challenges that we’ve had as instructional designers and public thinkers for years is that we have the data to show that the best way to ensure academic integrity is actually to build a culture of academic honesty in your class, not setting up panoptical surveillance of your students and assuming that they’re cheating. But why do people still use those other methods of surveillance? Because there’s the promise of, there’s the illusion of, control. There’s the illusion of “I’ve got this all set,” and you’ve both been teaching for a while and so have I. If I go back to when I was first an instructor, I was the worst professor in the world because I had a legal pad filled with reminders to myself: “tell this story,” “make sure they understand this concept,” “do these things.” And I was so focused on the content itself, that I forgot to actually interact with my students. [LAUGHTER] It was just a big lecture, it was a bunch of information presentation. And I can’t tell you how many of the same questions that we all struggled with, when online teaching was brand new back in 1997 and 98. they’re coming right back up again, from people who didn’t think they had to pay attention to technology-mediated instruction, and now everyone must. So that’s one of the things that we want to address in the collection as well. So, I appreciate where you’re going with your thinking process there.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about UDL and what it is, and how faculty might start thinking about universal design for learning, moving into the fall?

Tom: Yeah, absolutely. There’s four different ways that I talk about UDL a lot, and one of them is the least helpful for most instructors. And that’s the neuroscience behind it. When we learn anything, and it sticks, we have to activate three different chemical pathways in our brains. So there’s the acetylcholine uptake pathway through the hippocampus, there’s the norepinephrine cycle through the frontal cortex. And then we have to stimulate the amygdala in order to reduce fear response and actually put things into long-term memory. If you go around telling people that their eyes glaze over or they run away, so I usually don’t start there. What I usually do is, the folks at CAST, C_A_S_T, the Center for Advanced Specialized Technology in Boston, they are the neuroscientists who figured out in the early 1990s that those three brain networks correspond to: the how, the why, and the what of learning. So they figured out that if you design learning interactions, to give people a “Why,” “Why am I learning this,” right? So if a pipe underneath your sink breaks at eight o’clock at night, it’s just around dinnertime, and there’s water gushing out, what’s the first thing you need to do? You need to turn off the water. If you don’t know where that shutoff valve is, you have to figure that out. Most people these days, they would turn on their phones if they don’t know, and they say “Where’s the shutoff valve?” Usually under a sink. But having that “why,” having a reason to learn something is the reason that we stay engaged. And if you can give people more than one way to stay engaged, that’s what the folks in CAST talk about multiple means of engagement, then having the choice that leads everybody to the same goal means that people feel that they can have a measure of control, have a measure of agency in their learning. So that’s one of the three principles. The next one is the “what” of learning. You need to have some content to learn, some information. And so if you’re teaching a microbiology course and you’re talking about the cellular energy transfer process, you might be talking about meiosis and mitosis. Well, people have to be able to experience what that looks like, or see a description of how that process works in meiosis and mitosis and the difference between the two of them. So, you have to have multiple ways of taking in the information. So, perhaps that microbiology Professor might have a video animation that the textbook publisher provided, and might also have a text-based description of each of those processes as well. So, students can use one, both, or make a choice about where they’re going to get the information and how. So, that’s multiple means of representing information. And the third part of universal design for learning, and this is the part that no one’s using yet, and it’s most powerful, is multiple means of action and expression. When we learn anything, we have to have a way to show what we know with which we are comfortable. And the way that we’ve been failing folks, that we’ve been letting them down, is asking everybody to demonstrate their skills in exactly the same way. Mark in the bubble sheets on this final examination. Write out your thoughts on the exam and tell us what you know, when a demonstration might be something that would be equally valid to show that someone has internalized the concepts for your course, but is not necessarily a written format. So, we’ve got multiple means of staying engaged, multiple means of representing information, and multiple means of action and expression – that’s allowing students to write out the traditional three-page essay, or it’s allowing students the choice to take out their phones and take the selfie camera and put it to good use and narrate what they would have said in an essay as though they were doing a news report. So long as you can grade both of those according to the same criteria, you have the same learning objectives, the same demonstration of skills, then give students the choices there. So, those three principles: multiple means of engagement, multiple means of representing information, multiple means of action and expression come together into universal design for learning. And you know what? That was a long explanation. And people’s eyes… well, they still kind of glaze over when you talk like that. So I and Kirsten, in the book, try to simplify it even further. And at its root… this isn’t the whole thing, but it’s a wonderful place to start&helliip; Universal Design for Learning is really just “plus one” thinking. Think about all the interactions that your students have. The interactions that they have with the materials, yes, but also the interactions that they have with one another, that they have with you as the instructor, with support staffers at your college or your university, and with the wider world when you ask them to go out and talk to people in the field. All those interactions. If there’s one way for it to happen now, make one more way. And that is a very UDL approach to things and then you can start getting into the details of the three different principles and how to apply them. But that’s a quick overview of UDL. And what I love about universal design for learning is that it is a mindset. It’s a framework. It’s not a set of practices that you do, it’s a way of thinking about the interactions that you create. So if you’re a fan of active learning, or the flipped classroom model, or any other specific way of teaching, you don’t have to change what you do, or how you do it. You just have to think in terms of being more inclusive and doing that “plus one” thinking.

Rebecca: How common are these UDL practices in higher education right now?

Tom: Ah, not common enough. The data that we have suggests that it’s about 10% of college courses that actually use any kind of inclusive design methods, including UDL. And we would love for that number to be higher. Because Universal Design for Learning&helliip; Yes, it does require work up front… it’s work that pays you back, many, many fold. So, when we’re thinking about Universal Design for Learning, that’s actually the hardest part of the conversation to have with a lot of college and university instructors. Because they say “Do I have to do absolutely everything and set everything up ahead of time?” And the answer is largely “Yes, there is work involved.” And once you design those choices for your students, you can start in three different ways. One: where are the pinch points in your course? Where do you… that microbiology professor&helliip; where do your students always get the concept of mitosis and meiosis confused and they send you the same email 700 times every time you teach the course? That’s a wonderful place to start doing some plus one thinking. Where do your students get things wrong on tests and quizzes, everybody, and you end up having to reteach, again&helliip; a good place to start doing some choices, or to give them information in more than one format to help reduce that reteaching load. And where do your students say, “Hey, Professor John, Professor Rebecca, that was a great lecture, but I still don’t get it.” And when they’re confused, that’s another good place to give them more options for engagement, more options for how they take in information. And if people start there, it doesn’t have to be “Oh, I have 30 half-minute videos in my course. And now I have to caption all of them.” It’s just looking for those pinch points, starting small and starting in the places where you already have identified things aren’t going the way that you wanted them to go. So, how common is UDL in higher education? Ah, right about 10% adoption right now. That number is climbing. It was a buzzword in higher ed, maybe a couple years ago, 2015, 2016. And I’d like to advocate that it not be a buzzword. It’s not like, you know, “my President went away to some leadership conference, and every year that person comes back with a new thing that we’re all going to try, and UDL was one of those new things.” [LAUGHTER] Instead, I’d like to say that Universal Design for Learning is one of those toolkit issues that everybody should have in their panoply of strategies that they’re going to use when they’re designing and when they’re teaching, because it helps with persistence, retention, and satisfaction for our students. Students who have choices and feel that their instructor is helping them to move through their own education with a sense of agency. We’ve got 35 years of data that show that students who have that feeling, they stick around better, so more students who are there on day one are there to take the exam. They retain better. More students who are with us this semester will come back next semester, and they’re more satisfied with their experience, they’re more likely to tell their friends, “Hey, come to this college or this university.” So, the idea of how common is UDL? We haven’t had as much of a head start, as the folks in K-12 have, it’s only really been a big thing in higher education for the past four or five years. But, we’re getting there. So I’m happy to be an evangelist for it. And I’m really grateful to see how people are applying it in small ways and then moving from those small beginnings into larger and larger iterations as word spreads. You’d be surprised, you’d be absolutely surprised. One person in a faculty meeting says, “Hey, you know, I made this one change. And now I don’t have to reteach the hard concept in our field every semester.” And then that person just sits back and is quiet. And everyone else in the faculty meeting goes, “What did you do? How can we get in on that? Help us, please.” And then UDL takes root. So, there are some good things coming out of it.

Rebecca: Tom, what do you think the biggest barrier is for faculty to get started with UDL?

Tom: The biggest barrier is really the investment of time and effort, as well as misunderstandings about what it is. So imagine for a minute&helliip; I’ll ask you and John a quick question. You both teach at SUNY Oswego. When was the last time that you had an accommodation paperwork from a student with a disability barrier?

John: I get them every semester.

Rebecca: I get them less often.

Tom: Ok.

Rebecca: But, I also teach in the arts.

John: I usually teach three to four hundred students at a time. [LAUGHTER]

Tom: Ah yes, but you’re both familiar with that paperwork, right?

Rebecca: Definitely.

John: Yes.

Tom: So, it’s usually “give this student extra time on a test” or “set up some individual accommodation for the student” that is different from how you treat all the other students. Because our disability services areas are often understaffed and overworked, that Disability Services paperwork often comes to you like in week two of the semester. And it’s almost always a surprise, right? And you think, “you know, I did all of my prep for this course. And now here’s this paperwork that says, I have to do all this extra work just for this one student.” Now, I’ll be charitable, I don’t think either of you, or any of your listeners hold that kind of mindset. But there’s a lot of people who say, “You know what? I’m mad about this. Is this student faking a disability? Is this a real thing?” I hear these kinds of questions from people and it kind of breaks my heart because the answer is these students are struggling and they’re trying to get a level playing field and they’re doing their best to be good students in your class. And that mindset of “Well, this accommodation paperwork is just a thorn in my side or it’s extra work,” that’s what people think about when we all say, accessibility. So, if I come to you and I say Universal Design for Learning, it’s easy to make the mental mistake of thinking, “Oh, that must be about students with disabilities and that accessibility paperwork, that’s a bunch of work” and it makes me kind of frustrated, and the emotions that come up for a lot of people are negative ones. Now Universal Design for Learning has nothing to do with accommodations, individually. It really has nothing to do with Disability Services. It’s all about constructing interactions so that we are reducing the effort and work that’s needed to engage in the conversation in the first place for students. Universal Design for Learning has the good benefit of reducing the need for individual accommodations. Fewer of your students will need that piece of paper to come to you and say treat me differently. It doesn’t mean we’ll ever get rid of the need for those accommodations, but it does help to reduce them quite significantly. Because, if you’re giving people information in more than one way, if you’re helping them stay engaged in more than one way, and you’re giving them options for how they demonstrate their skills in more than one way, then, by definition, fewer people are going to have to say, “You know what? I can’t write that essay because I have a physical disability barrier, or I can’t do this project because I have this time crunch and I have personal family care obligations, so please treat me differently.” But that’s the biggest barrier is people mistake UDL with disability accommodations. And so when I talk about Universal Design for Learning, I actually don’t&helliip; I know there’s lots of people listening, but don’t hate me on this one&helliip; I don’t talk about people with disability, not first, and not only. What I talk about is mobile devices. Absolutely everybody in college and university has a smartphone, just about. Now granted, there are lots of people who don’t, but the latest Pew Research and Pearson Research surveys show that between 90 and 95% of college and university students have smartphones. Does that mean that they all prefer to work on their smartphones? No. Katie Linder at Kansas State University now, when she was with Oregon State University, they did a huge nationwide survey in the United States and Canada, and found that by and large college students prefer to learn using their laptops or desktop devices. But, oftentimes they don’t have those or they don’t have access to those. So, they’re trying to learn using their mobile devices. With the COVID-19 pandemic, everybody got thrown into that same situation where everybody needed to be remote. And it was “Let’s be remote students with whatever devices and whatever connectivity we have at the moment.” So, the challenge there is with Universal Design for Learning, when I talk about students and their mobile devices everybody understands that, everybody knows how students are tied to their mobile devices. And it applies to everybody in the course. it’s not “Oh, this is just for those students over there, that small percentage of our population with disability barriers.” No, Universal Design for Learning is design that helps absolutely everyone in the class to lower access barriers, rather than just accessibility barriers. And in fact, I chop the end of the word off when I’m talking to people. I seldom talk about “accessibility” anymore, and talk just in terms of “access.” And that is what helps to address that main barrier, Rebecca, that you talked about.

John: For someone who wants to get started, what would be a relatively easy way of providing the thing that’s missing most, the multiple means of expression?

Tom: So, for example, when we talk about multiple means of action and expression, this can be as easy as helping people with drafting content. So, if I’m teaching a chemistry lab, and I would like for my students to understand how to mix reagents safely, I might create a video that shows how to mix these two chemicals together in order to create a component for a chemical experiment, and if my students are remote or they’re at home, they might not be able to do that process themselves. But, I still want to know that they know the process well. And in a single-stream course, I would say, “Please write up five paragraphs where you go through the five steps of this process and send it to me, and I’ll grade it based on how well you’re following the safety protocol and how you’re well you understand the process of mixing reagents.” In UDL, a plus one way to do that is to use the same criteria, you still want to see those five steps. But you might ask your students to take the choice: write it out in a word processing document, or do an audio podcast where you walk people through the process and describe all the steps of the process in that audio file. You’ll notice two things in that sort of first way of doing multiple means of expression. First, we’re using the same grading criteria or the same learning objectives for the activities. So that the instructor can give a grade or give feedback in the same way regardless of how the students choose to perform that activity. Second, and this is the fun part, the students still get to demonstrate their knowledge, but they choose how they do it. And both of the choices lead them to the same goal. You’re not giving choice just for the sake of choice, but the choice actually helps students to demonstrate needed knowledge or information so that they can move on to whatever is next. I teach English Composition courses. And it’s really difficult to ask students to demonstrate APA format in any way other than doing a word processed file. I cannot tell whether someone has Times New Roman 12 point font, double-spaced one-inch margins, all those things, unless there’s a word processed document. For those of you who really didn’t like English composition, I’m very sorry if that was just traumatic for you. [LAUGHTER] But, in that case, the format is the requirement. So I don’t give my students a choice. I say “On your final essay, you have to demonstrate that you know APA format by writing it correctly in APA.” Does that mean that my students don’t have any choices as they’re writing? No. When they’re drafting, when I’m not concerned about their APA format, but I am concerned about them being able to structure things with a thesis statement, giving details, evidence and examples, following a rhetorical mode. In those instances&helliip; writing instructors don’t hate me here&helliip;I don’t care whether they write that in a word processed format. What I care about is “Can they state a thesis statement? Can they demonstrate those details, evidence, and examples?” So, I give my students the choice between writing it in Microsoft Word or turning on the camera on their phone and just talking to me about how they want to compose a particular paragraph or a section of their writing. All the while knowing that the final product does have to be a word processed document. So, multiple means of action and expression can be something small, it can be a draft. But, wherever you have an opportunity to give students those options and choices that all lead to the same outcome, and you can grade them the same way, do so. Your students are going to feel like they have more of a choice. Like they have more control, like they have more agency in your class. They’re likely to stick with you better. And it’s an engagement strategy, par excellence. So, thanks for the question. It’s a really good one.

John: I’ve been teaching at this program for middle school and high school students at Duke for about 30 some years now. Unfortunately, I’m not doing it this summer. I used to have a final project, a capstone project at the end of the course, it was basically a college-level course in micro and macro economics. I had them do a policy debate at the end. And then after reading a little bit about Universal Design, I gave them a choice and said “Here are some options, but basically you can find whatever way works for you. If you want to write a song, you can do that. If you want to make a video. you can do that.” I even threw in the option, since at the time I had just seen some of the YouTube videos on dance your PhD, I said if you want to do an interpretive dance illustrating the concept, you can do it. But these are the things you need to achieve. And it was so much more fun.

Tom: They lit right up, didn’t they?

John: They did. And the quality of the work and their engagement was so dramatically higher. And it was so much more fun for me too to watch what they were doing. The additional creativity that that unleashed was really amazing.

Tom: But, and that’s actually one of the joys of Universal Design for Learning when it’s done well, is that you can start with that plus one mentality. And that’s actually speaking from a position of control, where I don’t want to give people lots of lots of choices, because then I’ve got to grade lots and lots of things. And so starting out small with that plus one mentality is a way to dip your toe into the water of Universal Design for Learning. But really, the goal of UDL is to create expert learners rather than expert students. We in the K-12 and higher education system have so structured things that we have created students who know how to take a test, rather than students who know how to do an inquiry and how to explore and learn on their own. The goal for Universal Design for Learning is creating those expert learning strategies. And think about it. John, what’s the hobby that you’ve enjoyed over your lifetime?

John: Music, I suppose, is probably the longest one.

Tom: What instruments do you play?

John: Mostly keyboard but also bass and guitar. At one point, I played drums back in high school.

Tom: Oh, fantastic. Rebecca, how about you?

Rebecca: I embroider.

Tom: Ooh, embroidery. So, hand eye coordination, those skills, that takes a lot of concentration and effort. That’s awesome. And when you were learning those hobbies, who graded you? What tests did you have to take to prove that you could move from one level to the next?

Rebecca: Nobody.

Tom: Nobody, right? And if someone tried to do it, you’d laugh at them. Because when you’re into something because you’re engaged with it, when you’re into something because you have a choice or you get to go and have some control or agency over it, it becomes rewarding. It becomes, dare I say it, fun, sometimes. And I don’t mean to say that every single college course that people take should be an exercise in fun. It should, though, offer a way for people to catch fire, to light up, to understand, to bring a little bit of themselves into the scholarship, and the research, and the curiosity that they’re expressing. And that’s what Universal Design for Learning is really about. And it actually brings me back into the Pedagogies of Care collection. The academic climate that we envision in the Pedagogies of Care collection is one that is more open, more equitable, and more just. It reaches more people who want to learn. It provides them with choices, voices, and agency in how they take a path through our colleges and universities. Now, at the same time, we’re all helping to keep the lights on at our individual institutions. We’re now in a time of catastrophic budget shortfalls. We need collectively to be thinking about the best ways that we should be serving students, to bring them in and keep them coming back. One of the things that we haven’t been able to really figure out in higher education is something called the freshmen cliff. And I imagine that some of your listeners are familiar with it. But what it means is, if at my university, if we bring in 2000 freshmen, we’re probably only going to get about 1400 of them back as sophomores. The number one reason why those 600 students dropped out among them, it’s financial, and we really can’t touch that with our instruction. But the number two reason is time. And we can definitely touch that with our instruction, with our design, with the way that we teach our courses. We can help students to manage and juggle among lots of competing priorities. School is usually down toward the bottom of the list if caring for your family, going to work, and putting food on the table are top of the list. And that freshmen cliff&helliip; If we can keep more of those students who are freshmen to become sophomores, that actually costs us less in terms of dollars, in terms of resources, in terms of time, in terms of people. For every $10 that we spend bringing a freshmen into our institutions, we usually only spend about $2 on upkeep and maintenance supporting that student in the next years. But every time a student drops out, and we have to go find another one, that’s another 10 bucks. So in terms of just keeping the lights on, being sensitive to our budget crises, that Universal Design for Learning helps more of our students, and all of the caring ideas in the Pedagogies of Care collection help more of our students stick with us, feel valued, and move through their education with us in a way that they feel they have some control and agency. And of course, Universal Design for Learning helps us to address exactly that. It’s a tool that helps us reach more broadly, teach more inclusively, increase students’ persistence, retention, and satisfaction. We’ve got 30 years of data to show that engaged and active students who feel that they have choices and a say in their programs of study, stick with us in higher numbers. So, it’s not just that we have our rose-colored glasses on. I’m talking to you: Presidents, Provosts, Chancellors right now, these are mission-critical efforts. While our collection speaks most directly to individual instructors and designers, the issues for which we advocate are those ones at the C-suite level. We’re trying to create a new normal at colleges and universities in order to find and serve new populations of students and then keep them with us better than we’ve done in the past.

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

Tom: So the what’s next for me is I’m doing research on a book that addresses a problem that I’ve seen in terms of quality and it gets a little bit outside of my usual wheelhouse. We’ve all been to academic conferences where somebody who is talking to us about the latest way of keeping students engaged is standing there reading from a script and using a bunch of bullet points on a PowerPoint slide and reading them directly to us verbatim. Oh, my goodness, if I have to sit through one more of those. But that frustration is what is causing my new research in what are the real bare bones of how to give a good presentation? How do you present information? And it’s not just for people at conferences, it’s for instructors in the classroom. It’s for people who are doing research and grants. It’s for presidents, Provost, and Deans who need to share information with the people who are under their direct reports. So, I’m working on that book and it’s been lots and lots of fun doing the research. I’ve taken a bunch of photographs at conferences over the past couple of years here. And if you see me taking a photograph of your slides, it means one of two things: you are a rock star, or goodness, you need help. And it’s gonna be a fun book, I’ve been repurposing a lot of these things. I’ve been reading up on the literature of how to present information. And you can tell I’m an advocate for it. I did a little stint of radio voiceover when I lived in Chicago and really just fell in love with it. And I’m a big believer in communicating information in a simple way, that then helps people to get fired up and want to learn more about the details and the complexities behind it. So, I’m really grateful to be here on the Tea for Teaching podcast. And I hope that your listeners have enjoyed it. If you’d like to reach out to me, my website is just my name, ThomasJTobin.com. And I’d be happy to talk with you about whatever we’ve talked about here on the podcast or any other technology mediated teaching issues. So, thank you again for having me on.

John: Thank you. This has been fascinating, and we’ve long had you on a list of guests that we wanted to invite and this provided a nice convenient reason.

Tom: Splendid, awesome deal.

Rebecca: Yeah, we’re looking forward to seeing the Pedagogies of Care when it comes out.

Tom: We’re hoping that this will come out close to when the collection comes out as well.

Rebecca: Excellent. Thanks so much.

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

Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer. Editing assistance provided by Brittany Jones and Savannah Norton.

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