132. Pandemic Pivoting

The unexpected shift to remote instruction during the spring 2020 semester in response to a global pandemic disrupted established teaching patterns, forcing many faculty to rapidly learn new tools and techniques of engaging their students. In this episode, Dr. Betsy Barre joins us to discuss what we’ve learned from this sudden shift to remote instruction and how we can better prepare for the uncertainties of the fall semester.

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

Show Notes

Transcript

John: The unexpected shift to remote instruction during the spring 2020 semester in response to a global pandemic disrupted established teaching patterns, forcing many faculty to rapidly learn new tools and techniques of engaging their students. In this episode, we discuss what we’ve learned from this sudden shift to remote instruction and how we can better prepare for the uncertainties of the fall semester.

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

Betsy: Thanks, I’m happy to be here.

John: Today’s teas are:

Betsy: I am not having tea, but I am having a raspberry lime Spindrift. I actually would love to have tea, but I just didn’t get downstairs in time, so I have my Spindrift here.

Rebecca: That sounds good. I have an English breakfast.

John: And I have oolong tea today.

Rebecca: Oh, you’re switching it up a little.

Betsy: Sounds exciting.

John: Amazon helps. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Betsy, we invited you here today to talk a little bit about the work that you’ve been doing at Wake Forest to help faculty prepare for pandemic teaching. Can you talk a little bit about what the Center for Advancement of Teaching’s approach has been and what it will look like leading into summer and fall courses?

Betsy: Sure, I can talk more about what we’ve done, sort of what we’re planning for the future is still in process, as I’m sure it is for many institutions. One of the great things about Wake Forest is that our Center for the Advancement of Teaching is not the only office that has been working with faculty and faculty development and digital technology issues, academic technology, etc. So one of the first things that we did when we knew we were transitioning to online, or transitioning to remote teaching, let’s be specific there, is that we pulled together the offices that were adjacent to our office. So we pulled together the Office of Online Education, the Office of Academic Technology, which is an Information Systems RIT wing at Wake Forest, and also we had a number of librarians who did work on digital pedagogy. So we pulled all of us together and created a kind of super team that would support faculty, and that was really helpful to do that really quickly because it expanded our reach, the numbers of folks who could work with faculty and integrated it, so faculty didn’t have to go to a million different places, there was one place that they could go. We had about 850 faculty or so that were teaching that we had to work with and there were about 10 of us on our team. So, it’s a better ratio than some schools, but it’s still a pretty not ideal ratio, and so we tried to streamline things as quickly as possible. So, like many schools, we created a keep teaching website that had resources, but we also created a blog that had daily updates. So every day, they could subscribe to an email and get it in their inbox every morning that would have daily updates, but also resources, tips, things we’d heard from faculty, etc. That turned out to be really helpful and we’re still keeping that going, and it’s been helpful as they’ve been teaching. We also, though, really wanted to encourage them to share their expertise with each other. So, that week that we had off to help our faculty prepare, we did a series of open labs, where we were there to answer questions, but they could also share with each other what they were doing. And then sort of unexpectedly, a few things that we did that have gone really well is that those of us that are on social media saw some faculty talking on Facebook about this, we thought, “Hey, let’s just create a Facebook group,” and that group has been incredibly active. We have like over 300 faculty that are in that group now and some of our professional staff and it’s been a way of communicating. We’ve tried to communicate it outside of Facebook for those who don’t like Facebook, but certainly it’s been a wonderful way of building community that I think will live on after this, and so that has been nice. And then of course, our one-on-one consultations that we’ve always done, but we set up a easier streamlined system for requesting a consultation, and it would cycle through all 10 of us and sync up with our calendars, and so we found that to be really successful, and as successful as we could be in this trying situation. Summer and fall, a much more interesting wrinkle, that we’ve been working on. Once we got faculty up and ready to go, we now could transition to thinking about how are we going to support faculty in the summer and fall. And one of the things we’ve been saying all along, many institutions have, is that what we did in the spring where we had one week to transition is not really robust online teaching. At the same time, we don’t necessarily have the staff and resources to transition all of our courses online for the summer in a robust way, but we have more than a week. So we’re trying to hit some sort of middle sweet spot where it’s not exactly what we would ideally do with online education at Wake Forest, but it’s better and more intentional and takes more time than what we did for remote teaching. So currently, we’re planning for those who have volunteered to teach in the summer to run a three-week course for them to take asynchronously online to learn more about teaching online, and then we’re also gonna offer all 10 of us to do one-on-one consultations and some minimal instructional design work with them. Fall is still up in the air and we’re not really sure what’s gonna happen with the fall, but I think we’ll probably know in the next few weeks what we’re planning.

John: It’s interesting to see how similar the approaches of various institutions have become and a lot of it, I think, is social media made it easy to share some of those thoughts. We also have a Facebook group, we’ve also done lots of meetings and we’ve had a number of people working with us from our campus technology services in providing support and workshops, and it’s been nice to see everyone come together to help so many faculty make this surprise transition that they never expected and didn’t always entirely welcome, but they’ve been really positive in terms of how people have approached it.

Betsy: I agree.

Rebecca: One of the things that I saw you guys doing that I thought was really interesting was “Ask the CAT,” can you talk a little bit about that program and how it works?

Betsy: The name of our center is the Center for the Advancement of Teaching. We still haven’t decided at Wake Forest if we want to do cat or CAT, but we often joke a cat would be funny because then we could have all these funny cat jokes associated with that. But outside of the blog, we started getting some really simple questions that we realized would be helpful for everyone to hear the answer to. And so early on, a few people asked some questions, and we said, “Can we turn this into a sort of Dear Abby letter that we can then publish responses to, really quick responses on our blog?” and they were happy to do that, and then we turned it into a formal themed series in the blog where people can submit online, ask the CAT questions, and they can do it with a pseudonym, so there’s no stupid questions, any sort of challenges they have, and it’s gone pretty well. And we hope to continue to do that because I think we’ve seen on the Facebook pages, I’m sure you all have as well, is that often there are many similar questions, and so when they see us answering another question, faculty get ideas and say, “Oh, I could do that, now that makes sense.”

Rebecca: It seems like the ability to have a little bit of anonymity there in asking the question might allow for some questions that really need to be asked actually be asked.

Betsy: Yeah, sometimes they’ll just ask a simple tech question and we try to expand it a little bit beyond that to say “Okay, that’s great. Here, I’m going to give you your answer, but before I do, let’s talk a little bit about pedagogy and how you might think about universal design,” or something unrelated to the specific tech question.

John: Rebecca mentioned that you had won an award for your work on Rice’s Course Workload Estimator, which is something we recommend to our faculty regularly and people find it really helpful. How would you recommend people interact with that tool during situations like the pandemic, especially for people who are adjusting very rapidly from one mode of instruction to another?

Betsy: Yeah, so one of the things I shared with Rebecca before we started is this actually is really great timing for you to ask about this, because Justin Esarey is the co-author, co-creator with me and I… he’s my husband actually, we did it together… one of the things we’re thinking about doing in the next couple of weeks is actually revising it in a number of ways. We’ve had a long standing interest in doing it, just haven’t had occasion to do that, and there are some changes we’re going to make that aren’t specifically about online, but one of the changes we’re hoping to do is to actually create some categories that are related to traditional online assignments. And again, these are going to be guesstimates. I always tell people, this is an estimator, it’s not perfect. It’s just our best guesses. But to create some estimates of “How long would it take to have a discussion board if they have two posts, 500 words,” sort of things that we’re used to assigning in online education to hopefully help in that regard. But one of the things that I think is a reason this estimator is important is one of the things we’ve seen, and I’m sure you all have seen as well, after about the second week of remote teaching is that some students started to complain about workload, how much work these new remote courses were. And I think part of that is because faculty were incorporating more accountability measures into their courses, so they may have been expecting that work, but never were really holding the students to account to do that work. And so now students actually have to do and show their work, and so whereas before they might have been able to just show up in a lecture, study on their own time, or not study as the case may be, not do the reading as the case may be. Now, if they’re having weekly reading reflections, they actually have to do the reading and that significantly shifts how much work they feel they have to do. So that’s putting it on the students, but it’s certainly the case, and part of the reason we made the estimator, is that as faculty, we’re not really good at estimating how much time our work takes. And that’s true in a traditional setting, it’s true for me, that’s why I created the estimator. I am a humanist, and so I assign a lot of reading and I never really knew, like, how much time it would take them to read, and so that’s what motivated me to investigate the research on that. I think it’s particularly true that we’re not good at estimating how much time things will take when it’s a new assignment or activity that we’ve never assigned, and that’s what we see in this scenario, many faculty are introducing completely new activities and assignments that they’ve never done before. And they often might think, “Oh, yeah, I should give them discussions in a discussion board,” without taking into account how much time that will take, or “Oh, I really want them to make sure that they connect with me each week, in this way,” or “I need to make sure we have these office hours and they need to watch these videos, but since they’re watching the videos, now, we can have some discussion in class because the videos are no longer part of the class time.” And so we think we’re pretty good at sort of keeping track of that, but it turns out one of the things we found with our estimator is that when we asked faculty to play around with it, that we were often very wrong. Faculty were often very wrong about even their own estimates about how much time they thought they were expecting of students. So, I think it can be a valuable check. It’s not perfect, it’s not exact, but it can be a valuable check on our intuitions about how much time we’re expecting of students, particularly with some of these unique activities that we’re asking them to do online, and I also think there’s some really creative strategies by our friends in online education to help us think about a traditional assignment and how to make it a little bit more efficient, discussion board a little bit less time intensive, that we can talk to faculty about as well.

John: With the pandemic, I would think, some of those calculations based on online classes where people intentionally were in online classes might be a somewhat different situation when people are in households where there’s more people in the room perhaps, or where they’re sharing network access, or where there’s more distractions and noise than the people who had intentionally chosen the online environment.

Betsy: Yeah, I think that’s a really thoughtful insight. Absolutely. I think we’ll hopefully get to talk about this later in our conversation today, is that there are a variety of changes that take place here that are not just about the modality, but thinking about our students’ situation, how long it takes to learn the technology if they’ve never learned it as well. Like, “How do I upload this? How do I take an exam?” And so if we give them a certain amount of time for an exam, recognizing that they didn’t choose to do it, they also don’t know the technology as well, and so how do we account for those adjustments as well, for sure.

Rebecca: Yeah, I agree. I think all of those little extra things that now students have to do, including learning the technology or just getting used to a new system or a new rhythm, they all take time. In a semester, we think that’s what the first couple of weeks of the semester are, but then like this semester, we had two sets of those.

Betsy: Absolutely. And I mean, the fact that we are still sending out posts giving suggestions, means that some faculty are still changing things, they’re still adding new things, because they want to try something new or something didn’t work, and normally, we encourage that, but in this scenario, it’s particularly challenging for our students if new things keep getting piled on over five courses or four courses that they’re taking.

Rebecca: If we’re thinking in a traditional context where there’s in class and out of class work, and now everything is remote, how do we think about dividing up that time or what kind of time they should be spending on what kind of activities?

Betsy: I think this is a really good question. And again, my colleagues in online education who think about this question a lot have more subtle distinctions to make about this, but I actually was just having a conversation last week about what accreditors require and how to think about, quote unquote, contact hours in an online environment, and incidentally, one of the things we found actually, unexpectedly with our Course Workload Estimator… again, the motivation was for me as a humanist to basically answer the faculty question of “How much reading should I assign?” was a very narrow purpose, how much reading should I assign? But what we found is that the biggest usage were people who were instructional designers in online programs, who were interested in this question of “How much time is faculty contact hours, is it actually comparable to the face-to-face courses?” So it is connected, and so I’ve been talking about this a lot, and one of the things that, at least the federal guidance suggests, is that one credit hour is about 45 hours of work for students. So over 15 weeks, one credit hour, you do two hours out of class for every hour in class over 15 weeks, and so it’s about 45 hours. They don’t really enforce it, it’s a complicated question or a comparable amount of work, but that’s an easy way of thinking about it. It’s about 45 hours of work for a single credit hour and then 15 of that is expected to be in the presence of the professor. So traditionally, that would mean 15 of that you go to class, 30 of it’s at home. That’s the traditional model that we think of, but in online, of course, it’s different because everything is at home. So one thing, you could just say, “Well, everything’s at home. So then professor never needs to be engaged,” like, you can just say, “I’m going to record all my lectures, put them all up, and then I’ll grade your exam at the end.” Of course, we know that that’s not good pedagogy, online or otherwise. And so I think the way to think about this is, of the 45 hours of work your students are doing, are at least 15 of those hours, somehow engaging with the faculty member? But that could be, for example, a discussion board where the faculty member is in the discussion board engaging and providing feedback. It could be one-on-one sessions where you work on a paper together with the student in an office hour. There are a lot of ways you can imagine faculty presence and engagement that don’t have to be “Let’s have a synchronous video conference session.” But there are some good reasons for that too, particularly in the remote environment where students want some continuity to what they’ve already done. But I think that there should be more flexibility and I think there often is in good online program about what counts as those contact hours, but without just saying, “Oh, as long as we have a video, that counts as a contact hour.”

Rebecca: Along these lines, do you have any advice about designing learning activities and assessments when we have no idea what the modality might be in the fall?

Betsy: That’s a good question. I’m sure that many other people have been asking that question, I myself am teaching this semester, so it has been interesting in helping all the faculty but also teaching myself and figuring out what’s working and what’s not. And I think Derek Bruff at Vanderbilt had a, I actually liked this language that he shared initially about creating pivotable courses. He ended up changing it, he didn’t like that one as much, but I actually like that, like your course could easily pivot. And I think for me, one of the things that I saw was that my course, even though it was a face-to-face course, heavy discussion course seminar course, I had built in already some asynchronous activity outside of class, they were already annotating the text via Hypothesis, which is a really wonderful tool for those of you that don’t know about that in the humanities or any text heavy discipline, Hypothesis is wonderful and in that sense they were already used to and had learned how to annotate their text digitally in the face-to-face course. When we transitioned, it was easy. Okay, we’re going to be doing that. And that was already built into the course. I also think getting all of our courses so far as possible into a digital environment, whether that’s an LMS, or Google or whatever you prefer, can be an easy way too, because a lot of the time we spent with faculty was just getting them to like, “Oh, how do you collect assignments? Okay, let’s get you into the LMS. Here’s how you collect assignments. Here’s a way that you can think about sending a message to students that’s not just through email.” And so at the very least, if we all get in our LMS, or another digital environment, if you don’t like the LMS, and then think of some activities and engagement that our students can engage in at home with each other, or perhaps with you that’s outside of the regularly scheduled class time, you’re already making it easier to shift. But I also think one thing, and we may come to this when we talk about grading, one thing I’ve been thinking a lot about is I had to scrap one of my activities in my course when we transitioned to remote and I’ve been thinking about the particularly challenging situation for those faculty who had a semester-long assignment. So luckily, my assignment was at the second part and so they haven’t started it yet, we can just do something else, because that would be difficult. But if you have many semester-long assignments, that disruption can be really difficult, but if you could organize your course another way to make it pivotable is to organize it in modules, like really intentionally, not just in Canvas, but actually say, “Okay, we’re going to work on this unit as a self-contained assignment that will be done in two weeks. So that way, if we have to take off in week three, you’re already finished with that assignment in that module.” And then there’s one module that’s remote and then if we come back, hey, we get to start another module that might be face-to-face, and so it gives you some flexibility. If you design your course in a more modular way to prepare for disruptions rather than thinking about it as multiple whole semester-long assignments.

Rebecca: It’s interesting that you say that, Betsy, because I’m not teaching this semester, but I’m planning for my fall class, and I teach web design primarily and I was thinking about teaching agile design. So I decided that I would teach it in an agile fashion, which is really what you’re describing. [LAUGHTER]

Betsy: Yeah, that’s smart.

Rebecca: So, I started mapping out what that would look like in these little sprints to work on a larger project, and we would do maybe two projects, one that was collaborative and one that was individual, but in sprints that would rotate between the two projects. So I’ve been mapping out what that might look like, and my real reasoning for that was, specifically if something was going to be disrupted or if it was going to be online, I thought it would be a little easier to help students through the project if it had these clear checkpoints and finishes to things before starting something new.

Betsy: One of the things that made me start thinking this way, and this goes back to the question of how we’re preparing for fall and all the scenarios that all the institutions are thinking about, Beloit college just decided that they were going to actually teach their fall semester in two seven and a half week sessions, essentially. So basically, students will take two courses for the first seven and a half weeks, and then two courses for the second seven and a half weeks. Certainly it’s a lot of work on the part of faculty to transition their 15 week course to a seven and a half week course, but it also is creative because it means that we have to start late, only two classes are disrupted rather than all four and if you have to leave in the middle, only two classes are disrupted. So, there is a way in which it allows for some flexibility. You can even be as dramatic and radical as going to a block schedule like they have at Colorado College or other schools where they have one course at a time. That would be more work for our faculty and may not work as well, but I did like the idea of thinking, “Okay, let’s just prepare for our face-to-face courses to be seven and a half weeks as an institution.” And then it’s the opportunity to experiment with that kind of pedagogy anyway, because some schools have May terms and other things. And so we are not, at Wake Forest, certainly planning that, but it is an interesting fun thought experiment to think about.

John: One issue that we’re talking about on our campus is how faculty should administer final exams, and grading and assessment, and there’s a lot of concern over people trying to give timed exams and put other limits on students. What are your thoughts on how we should deal with assessing students as we move towards the end of the semester?

Betsy: Yeah, that’s a great question. So, there are a number of issues at work here. One is the challenges the students have at home and thinking about good universal design principles of giving students as much time as possible if it’s not one of your outcomes. If doing things quickly is not one of your outcomes, that’s an important thing to think about. Often, also, what’s in the mind of people, though, is academic integrity. And so part of the concern of a number of faculty is: “Well, I’m usually proctoring it in person. So, how do I give an exam in a way where I’m not going to be there in person?” And then that raises all sorts of interesting challenges associated with technology and the privacy concerns with those online proctoring systems, and so certainly we’ve been thinking a lot about this too, and how to give advice. One of the first easy answers that anybody who’s in pedagogy is going to say, is come up with different designs for your assessments. And I think, absolutely, we should start there. I don’t need to give a timed exam in my course, there are ways I can write the question where I’m not worried about academic integrity issues. So, there are certainly ways in which that’s possible, but I do want to be mindful of my colleagues in intro languages, or my colleagues in intro math, where there are some recall outcomes that are really important for them. And so I think I always want to just be careful to not say, like, “Oh, how dare you have any recall outcomes because that’s just not good pedagogy.” I don’t think that’s necessarily true, so for those colleagues who have recall outcomes, it becomes a more interesting question. On our blog, we have a post on this that we could share, if you’re interested, where my colleague, Anita McCauley, who’s amazing, posted a flowchart of ways of thinking about, “Okay, if you have an exam, what are ways that you can think through how to do something differently?” And one of the first parts of that flowchart that I really like is, if you’ve already assessed it before, you may not need to assess it again, and so particularly for my colleagues in Spanish and other intro languages, maybe they’ve already assessed their ability to conjugate verbs. Do you need to have it on the final in a cumulative way? That was just something that often has not been on the table and talked about and I think it’s worth saying. But, beyond that, they might be somewhat different outcomes where they have to recall but then explain why the verb was conjugated in that way, and so there are ways you can see whether they know it or not, that they can’t just get on the internet. And so being mindful of the challenges there but also saying that “Let’s try as hard as we can to come up with alternative assessments.” Then the questions of how much time to give them, again, always come back to say, like, “Is speed one of your outcomes?” and almost always it’s not; almost always the reason there are timed exams is because they’re in the timeframe of the class. So there’s 75 minutes for them to sit in the class and take the exam and that’s why there’s a limit. It’s not because speed is actually an outcome. So now they actually have some more flexibility where they could give them more time and the technological tools allow them to give them more time, and you can extend it as far as you want. I will often say, instead of giving accommodations to a student to get extra time, give the whole class extra time, especially as they’re learning new technology. If folks are still committed to traditional recall exam and worried about proctoring…. we, for example, at Wake Forest,have not bought proctoring software… and we’re not using it for a variety of reasons, and so one of the things I recommend is if you absolutely are still committed to that, then you can do a synchronous session just like you would normally where they’re taking the exam, and it’s you, not some outside vendor or AI etc, as you would in the classroom.

John: I’m not sure if the problem though, is just due to recall type exams because I can speak from my own experience. Last week I gave a test which were all applications in econometrics and copies of the questions (where there were many different variants for one problem, there were seven variants), most of those problems ended up on Chegg within about 15 minutes of the release of that, and answers were posted. Many of them were really bad answers, which helped make it really easy to find these things…

Betsy: [LAUGHTER] Yes, yes.

John: …within less than an hour of the time the exam was released. So even when people are doing some problems, there are some issues, or even when they’re asked to write essays, there are people out there who are willing to provide those responses for them.

Betsy: Oh, yes. And actually, that will be true in face-to-face classes, too, if you’re not doing in class essays. That’s the one level of academic integrity that you just are never going to be able to catch if you pay somebody to write your essays for you or take your online exam. My background, incidentally, is as an ethicist, so I think a lot about questions of academic integrity. I always get mad at my students when I give this lecture like, “This is an ethics class, you need to take this seriously.” But it is true that the empirical research on student behavior in this regard is not heartening. Let’s put it that way. So I really appreciate all the literature about “We need to trust our students,” and there’s a certain framework of what happens when we come into a course where we don’t trust our students, but the empirical literature about what students admit to have done is really not heartening, and so I do think it’s okay for us to think about these questions that you’re thinking about, John, which is, “Okay, we’re creating conditions where they’re tempted,” and that’s something also we don’t want to do either is to create the conditions where students might be tempted, particularly for students who do have academic integrity, because then they’re at a disadvantage if they choose not to engage in that kind of sharing of resources. What did you do, John, how did you address this?

John: I’m just dealing with it now, I was just grading those today.

Betsy: Yeah, it’s tough.

John: So right now I’m trying to identify the students and I’ll be having conversations with them. Because there were so many varieties of questions out there, it’s going to be pretty easy to identify which student did which. One interesting thing is, someone took one of the answers and ran it through a paraphrasing tool so that the “error terms” in the equation became “blunder terms” in the equation, which was a pretty obvious paraphrase. It was interesting.

Betsy: One of the things I’ve appreciated about this moment and having conversations like you and I are having right now is that it’s encouraged some faculty to think in different ways about assessment. They have a standard way of assessing “This is the kind of thing that I’ve done for years,” and now I have to think, “Oh, what could I possibly do differently?” So one thing I just keep coming back to, when I think about my own courses… there are challenges with this… there are problems with this, because it can be stressful for students… but I think oral exams are often some of the most effective ways to see whether a student knows something is that you, face-to-face, come to my office hour, and let’s talk about it. Tell me, and I’ll ask follow-up questions. That’s a way to really tell whether a student knows something, and so you can still do that virtually. Now that takes more time, especially if you have a big class, but thinking sort of outside of the box in that way of “How can I verify?” is important. I have a couple colleagues that are ethicists too, who have devoted their life to this issue of academic integrity and it consumes them. In some ways, I understand that, because it’s a real violation of trust, and it harms other students. But at the same time, too, I worry sometimes that it becomes so consuming for us that we lose track of all the other things that we should be thinking about with teaching, and so, in this scenario, where it’s as crazy as it is, this is why I think the pass-fail designation that many of our schools have done have made things easier, because we also know empirically that students are less likely to cheat when it’s a pass-fail environment. I think the fact that many of our schools did optional pass-fail means that we’re still in this wrinkle space where many of our students still want to get the good grade, and so they’re taking it for a grade and there’s still temptations. But thinking of ways to make it less high stakes can be another way as well to reduce the likelihood of academic integrity, but it is going to be a challenge that there’s no quick and easy solution for. I don’t have your solution, John.

John: Well, I don’t either, right now.

Betsy: Maybe somebody will… that they can tell us too, who listens to this podcast.

John: One thing I am also doing is I have scaffolded assignments where they have to develop things from the very beginning up to their final projects, and there it’s much more difficult for academic integrity problems to show up because they’ve been guided and getting feedback all the way through and that tends to reduce it, but when you’re trying to test some other things that they’re not using in their projects, but might need to know in the future, there are challenges there.

Rebecca: I think another question that’s come up quite a bit is how to grade fairly just over the course of the semester, either this semester or a future semester when there might be potential for another outbreak or something, when students are not in optimal work conditions, there’s distractions, they might be sick, they might be dealing with family members who are sick. So what do we do to make sure we’re fair?

Betsy: Again, coming back to me as an ethicist, I think a lot about academic integrity, but also about grades and what it means to be fair, and there’s some people who would make the argument that there’s certain notions of fairness… that it’s impossible to grade fairly, even in normal situations, especially if we’re taking into account differences in student background, etc., that they’re always going to be disadvantaged students in our classes. And so thinking about what a grade is, is really important. And again, I’ve been heartened by the fact that these challenges have led so many of our faculty to start thinking in new ways about “What the heck is a grade and how do I want to think about my grades?” And I do think that one way of thinking about fair grades is actually not the model of “Well, we need to take account of all these challenges the students have,” one way of thinking about their grades is that all the grade is, is a measure of their performance. Now, you could say that that’s unjust for other reasons, but that it’s at least I’m treating all the students the same. So this is maybe the difference between equality and equity. So like we’re treating them all equally, that’s a measure of performance and mastery, so it’s ensuring the integrity of the grade. But what’s interesting is that most of us don’t actually grade that way. Most of us have all sorts of other things in our grading scheme that are about behavior, rather than about outcomes. So like, “You have to show up, you have to turn these in by this due date, you have to make sure you participate in class,” and I have those in my typical grading scheme as well, and those we’ll refer to as behavioral grades. And there are some educational theorists, as you two probably know, that would argue that you should never grade on behavior, you should never have behavioral grades. I think we could have a much longer discussion about this. I sort of think there are some good reasons for doing it in the context of higher ed at least. But I think in this scenario, this is if there’s any scenario and this is what I wrote about in one of our first blog posts, if there’s any scenario where that would be unfair, the kind of behavioral grading, it would be this scenario because some of our students did not choose this, they’re in different time zones, they can’t make it to our class, they have to deal with things at home. They were already in the midst of the course too, so it’s not as if we say, “Well, wait a year and come back to us when you’re ready to take the class fully,” because they were ready, and we kicked them off campus. So there is all sorts of other complications here to the traditional model of like, “Well, wait until you’re ready to take a class.” They can’t, they were already enrolled, they already paid, we’re not giving them refunds. So in this context, being as accommodating as possible, and making our courses as accessible as possible, is really important. And some people have even argued, this is why we should give them all A’s like some people have argued, not just pass-fail, but actually all A’s would be a better approach. Because to say like, “Look, you’ve done some work this semester, let’s move on and give you all A’s,” of course that creates challenges for some of our colleagues, who are going to say “What about the integrity of the grades for future courses? Is that fair to students who take it a different time and don’t get the A?” So what I have argued for, but it’s again, not a perfect solution, is really dropping any behavioral grades that you have in these scenarios, at least for this context, and then really focusing on your mastery outcomes, but also being reasonable about the number of outcomes students can master in this scenario. So I actually dropped two outcomes from my course completely, completely dropped them. Now, that’s easier for me to do in an intro religion class than it is in an intro calc class where they’re prepared for the next course. So I always want to be mindful of the differences of my colleagues in different disciplines. But, if you are able to drop outcomes, you can drop them and still be rigorous with the outcomes you still have and being a little bit more compassionate and sensitive to your students. But doing mastery based grading also can be helpful in the sense that, for me, students get multiple shots at showing mastery, and so this would be like specifications grading if you want to read more for the fall, so they have multiple opportunities to show. So, if they have a bad week or an assignment doesn’t work well, they can try again, and as long as by the end of the semester they showed mastery, that’s enough. It’s not about averaging over the course of the semester, and so I already had a mastery based grading system in my course before I began this semester, so I wasn’t recommending to people in this transition, “Oh, completely revise your grading scheme,” that would be not helpful. But if people are thinking about the fall, you know, it might be worth considering thinking about that. There are downsides to mastery based grading too, so I don’t want to act as if it’s this, like, solution to everything, but it might be worth investigating a little bit and maybe incorporating some aspects of mastery based grading into your teaching.

John: And we did have an earlier podcast episode on specifications grading with Linda Nilson.

Betsy: Oh, wonderful.

John: So we can refer people back to that in our show notes as well.

Betsy: Yeah, it’s wonderful.

John: One of the issues with equity, as you mentioned, is that that problem became, I think, much more severe when students were suddenly sent home. On campuses, at least there’s some attempt to equalize that, that everyone gets access to high- speed internet. There’s computer labs in most campuses spread out across campus, and we also don’t have as much of an issue with food insecurity, at least for our on-campus students while they’re there. Suddenly when students are sent home, all those things disappear and the issues of inequity, I think, become a whole lot more severe and it’s something, as you said, we need to be much more mindful of.

Betsy: Yeah, one of the things that I really appreciated from Tom Tobin’s book on universal design, he has a distinction. I don’t actually know if it’s his… it might be his or it might just be generally in the literature on universal design… is distinguishing between access skills and target skills that you want your students to learn versus things they have to know or be able to do to access your material. What I really appreciate, as it helps us think about something as simple as like having a good internet connection, that should not influence their grade, because it’s not one of our target skills. That’s not what we want the grade to be reflecting, whether they had good internet connection. What we want the grade to be reflecting are the target skills that we’re interested in. So I think the way to think about equity here is to focus on any place where things that are irrelevant to your course outcomes are getting in the way of students being able to learn and demonstrate their mastery. That’s where you want to be lenient, that’s where you want to come up with solutions. So for example, in my first-year writing courses in English as a second language, if the thing that you’re assessing is not grammar, if the thing you’re assessing is the way they develop their ideas, the grammar can be a barrier. So there are ways in which you don’t want to grade on that, because your target skills are really about developing ideas. And so that’s a sort of inclusive teaching practice that’s really important in this scenario. What are the things that make it difficult for the students to show up in our Zoom session? And how am I going to create alternatives for them? One thing that we have suggested to our faculty is if you’re doing Zoom sessions, of course, they should be optional. But we also suggested recording it. So the students who couldn’t be there could watch it setting aside the problems with privacy, of course. We can talk about that too. But there’s another wrinkle there too, which is that then that means some students get the interactive, quote, unquote, face-to-face engagement, but the other students only get to watch recordings the whole time. So, one of the things we’ve also said is for equity is also to think of other ways you can engage with those students who can’t come to the Zoom sessions in a way that’s asynchronous or that perhaps at a separate time without overly burdening the faculty member as well.

John: One of the things I’ve done is I’ve shared my cell phone number because all the students have cell phones. [LAUGHTER] I’ve only done that once or twice before in senior-level classes. But this time I’ve done it with all my classes. I did get a phone call coming in right at the beginning when we started recording, and I sent back a text saying I’ll contact you later. But, that has helped because some students do have issues with being able to use Zoom.

Rebecca: And there are certainly tools that you can use to allow you to provide a number that’s not your actual cell phone number that students can still use your phone or texting to communicate.

John: You could use Google phone or you…

Betsy: There’s another one, though, that I’ve used in the past maybe five or six years ago, it’s used in K through 12 environments. Oh, Remind… Remind is the one. Yeah, so I actually used that when I started to realize my students weren’t checking email anymore. I was like, “Oh, this isn’t gonna work, emails not going to work anymore. So I need to find some other way to connect.” But that’s great to be as accessible as possible to your students, but recognizing also that equity issues for us, as faculty. Some of my colleagues can do that more easily than other colleagues who have three kids at home that they’re homeschooling. And so that’s a part of the challenge of this scenario as well, it’s not just what we know is good teaching practice, but also the labor implications for faculty too… that are significant.

Rebecca: Following up on that, that’s a really important consideration is the balance of fairness between both faculty and students because it’s certainly not a situation that any of us signed up for, but we’re all trying to manage. And it’s really possible that we might be in a similar situation in the fall, maybe not exactly the same in that we’ll have a little warning, but it still could happen. So, how do we think about balancing the ability to pivot and make sure that we’re thinking about the ability of teaching remotely without getting too much burden on faculty, but still have really good learning opportunities for students?

Betsy: Yeah, that’s a great question. So I think part of it is trying to think about efficient ways of development. So I was, and you, too, may feel the same way, that that week that we had to transition, I have never seen so much learning happening in a week and so much effort and work and those of us in faculty development probably would never have dreamed. I mean, I don’t know, maybe we would have dreamed that that would happen, but it was a really remarkable thing to see that faculty teaching other faculty can accelerate this in a way that often the model of one instructional designer with one faculty member for six months, that model like that’s how much we need, well, maybe not, now. Maybe we see that if you have to get it done, we’ll get it done, and we can have one-to-many trainings, we can have faculty training each other, we can accelerate that, in some ways, I think is important. But support is also important. So, making sure that we’re supporting faculty as they’re learning what things they can do, and also what we often do in faculty development is talk about efficiencies. So, it’s not just “We’re going to give you a million new pedagogies that we know work, but we’re going to give you a pedagogy that’s actually going to save you time,” and that is really powerful with our faculty and I think we can do the same thing here. So, if we know that there’s a faculty member who has children and has had a hard time with this transition, because they can’t do synchronous Zoom sessions, maybe we talk with them about other alternatives that might be easier for them that they can prep in advance, that will make that transition easier without having to show up at a set time for those synchronous sessions with their children at home. So, it doesn’t solve it, but I do think we should work really hard to come up with the most efficient ways of making the best outcomes possible given the resources that we have. And I think adjusting resources… so we’ve talked about at Wake Forest, outside of teaching and learning, some of our staff, their jobs are no longer really needed, so let’s transition them to other places where we need support. I think you could do the same thing with faculty as well. So, maybe those who have the capability of teaching more or have taught online before, maybe they do more in the fall, but then they get a leave in the spring. There are ways in which you can move things around. Again, I’m not a Dean making these decisions, but being creative about making sure to share the load equally. One question that has come up here, which is really interesting, is that for our faculty who teach more as part of their load, in some ways, this is certainly harder on them than those who have a more balanced teaching and research pipeline, because most of the effort here is in revising courses. Of course, if you have a lab that you have to shut down, certainly that’s a lot of effort. But, making sure we’re mindful of the differential impacts of this transition on our faculty and figuring out ways, not that we’re going to pay them for it, but figuring out ways that we might be able to balance the load moving forward once things go back to quote unquote normal, if they ever do go back to normal [KNOCKING SOUND] …knock on wood here.

Rebecca: I know one thing that I’m thinking about, having small children, is that I’m thinking about all the things that require a little less cognitive load that I’m doing right now while I have a toddler at home, and then when I think I’m going to have daycare again, I’m going to take advantage and do the things that actually require a lot more cognition. And I’m planning to do those at those times, including things like recordings or things like that, that I know I might need to do just to have it in the wings just in case something happens in the fall.

Betsy: I think this is an opportunity for all of us in higher ed to think creatively about how we distribute workload and how we think about the semester and timelines. So, even before this happened, our team read the book Deep Work, and we were just talking about how to create space in our daily work to do intensive deep work, and one of the stories he tells in the book is about a faculty member who stacked his courses so that they were all in one semester. So you know, you have a two-two load or three-three load and he decided to do six in one semester, and then none in the next which normally that sounds crazy, but there’s a way in which that could be really helpful in certain contexts and I think this is an opportunity to think about that. So, those who are doing really intensive work, building online courses, maybe they do a number of them, because it scales, economies of scale, like they do a number of them in the fall and then in the spring, they don’t have to teach… you know, ways of thinking about how to balance this, and then it also would allow us as faculty developers to work with a smaller cohort of faculty, rather than having to work with every single faculty member. Now, I don’t imagine we’ll do that, but it is an opportunity to think of these creative ways of making the workload more equitable as well.

John: And faculty, as human beings, tend to keep doing things the same way as they’ve always done them until there’s some sort of disruption. This certainly has been a fairly substantial disruption, and I think a lot of people, as you said, have learned how to use new tools and at least from what I’ve been hearing, many people now having discovered using Kahoot for quizzing, for example, or using Hypothesis. I’ve been giving workshops on Hypothesis for a while on campus, but not many people adopted it. All of a sudden, I’m getting all these questions about using Hypothesis where people are using it for peer review of documents, where they’re using it in the LMS or more broadly, and I’m hoping that this will continue in the fall. What sort of reactions have you been getting from faculty who are trying some new tools?

Betsy: Yeah, I mean, there’s so many who have said, “Oh, wow, I can totally use this in my face-to-face classes,” and that’s really exciting to hear, that they’re gonna keep it, they’re gonna keep the strategies in their face-to-face courses, or if it needs to go remote, of course, as well. As well as, “Oh, now I know how to use Canvas, so I’ll actually use the gradebook.” Things that are going to be nice for our students as well. Students have been asking for to have a place where they can see all their courses together. I think there was a kind of fear about these technologies in some ways and now that they were forced to do that, “Ah, it’s not so hard.” Now some things are difficult, some things are challenging associated with developing a really well designed online course, but some of these little tools that they have to use in this environment can be helpful in what they’re traditionally doing in their face-to-face courses and I’ve seen many of them say they’re going to do that which is such a wonderful thing to hear as well as pedagogical decisions they’ve had to make about assessment, about universal design, about academic integrity, grading, all the things they’re learning there can also translate back to their courses too, even if we don’t go remote.

Rebecca: And I think all those like crossover areas are ways that faculty can be more nimble. The word pivoting has been used a lot, but I think also being nimble, “I’m using this tool or method and it works both online and in person, so it doesn’t matter which modality I’m using” is something to think about. I did want to just ask one last question related to grading and evaluation, and that’s about motivating students to achieve our learning outcomes when there are so many other things in the world right now that we might be thinking about.

Betsy: Yeah, that’s a great question. I often like to quote the former Secretary of Education that said, “There’s only three things that matter in education; motivation, motivation, and motivation.” [LAUGHTER] So motivation is super, super important when we think about how students learn. We can design the coolest evidence-informed course and design, but if students aren’t motivated, it doesn’t matter. So thinking about our student contexts, and their motivation is really central to their learning, let alone how we’re going to grade them. And so there are a number of things we know that lead to motivation. Sort of important is the students have a choice and that they have some agency or ownership over what’s happening, and so I know a lot of my colleagues at Wake Forest did this and I did as well, is when we made this transition is to ask the students, “So what’s going on with you? What’s your preferences for how we restructure the course? How would you like to learn moving forward?” and to keep being in conversation with our students. And what I did, for example is, now again, I had the flexibility to do this in a religious studies course, but I basically threw out that project at the end of my semester, and so instead had time to say, “What do you want to read about? What things about religion do you want to know about?” And so we’ve been reading about religion in violence, religion in COVID-19, just things that they’re interested in, and that has allowed me to help a little bit with motivation is to just engage with the students a little bit more, but it’s tough. Typically, I think a lot of times we think of there’s carrots and sticks related to motivation, so you can certainly use sticks if you wanted to with grades, but that often has unintended negative consequences. So the more you can do carrots, which would mean thinking about what do they want to learn. I also think that my students, at least at Wake Forest, really miss each other. It’s a really communal place and they really miss each other, so creating opportunities for them to engage with each other, even if I’m not there. There are lots of little interesting activities I’ve seen people suggest where they get together and have video chats in groups, and then record them for the professor. Creating opportunities for them to spend time with one another… They will just want to spend time with each other, whether it’s about learning or not, but if you sneak in the learning, that can be something that will motivate them too, but the reality is some of our students, there are too many other more important things on their plate and we need to acknowledge that, and so I’ve tried to make my students feel that it’s okay to say that, that I’m not disappointed in them if they don’t do as well or if they choose to take it pass-fail that like, “Look, this is just a religious studies class. It’s one class among many. There are many other more important things happening right now. Yes, we want to help you learn if you want to learn, if you want to complete the course and get the credits you get, but we all know that there are other things that are taking our attention away right now, and that’s understandable,” and being sympathetic about that, I think, can also be motivating because they’re not demoralized if they don’t do well. “That’s okay. She understands. I’ll give it a try next week.”

Rebecca: I think that humanity piece is key, both for students and for faculty, and it makes people feel like they have a sense of belonging but also that belonging is often motivating.

John: We always end with the question. What’s next? Which is a question on everyone’s mind right now.

Betsy: I think for me, and maybe this is unique to me or my colleagues who are in teaching and learning centers and in faculty development. What’s next is I want to have some time to reflect back on what I’ve learned about faculty from this transition, and what I’ve learned about faculty development from this transition, and we talked a little bit about this in our earlier conversation, but I was really struck by what I saw on that week off that we had to learn how to improve. I mean, again, I need to spend more time thinking about this and what we’ve learned, but one of the things that was really striking to me was how important having a dedicated time to talk about teaching was, like, “This is a week where you’re going to work on your classes, faculty,” and often we talk about “How do we motivate faculty to do professional development?” We think about funding, we think about course releases or making it enticing in other ways, but my hypothesis that we learned through this transition is that time and dedicated time and a sort of cultural commitment to saying we’re going to take two days to focus on our teaching. What if we did that every year, and there are some schools that have a faculty development day, but what if we took three days every year where everybody got together and talked about their teaching. And I think that’s just one example of something that I would like to reflect on, but I think there are many other things that have happened in the past three weeks that can help inform the way we think about faculty development and I’m really excited to think about that as we, as a center, think about how we work with faculty going forward.

John: Things like that Facebook group that you mentioned, and we have a similar one, has been really helpful in building more of a community than I’ve ever seen before.

Betsy: Absolutely. Yep, I completely agree.

John: Well, thank you. This has been fascinating, and we wish you luck.

Betsy: Thanks for inviting me. It was great to talk with you all.

Rebecca: Yeah. Thank you 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 Savannah Norton.

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129. Pandemic Planning

The sudden switch from face-to-face to remote instruction in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic caught many faculty, students, and colleges by surprise. Until a vaccine is available, regional or nationwide campus shutdowns may occur during the fall semester. In this episode, Dr. Josh Eyler joins us to discuss what faculty and institutions can do to help prepare for future transitions to remote learning. Josh is the Director of Faculty Development and a lecturer in Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Mississippi. Josh is also the author of How Humans Learn: The Science and Stories behind Effective Teaching.

Show Notes

Transcript

John: The sudden switch from face-to-face to remote instruction in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic caught many faculty, students, and colleges by surprise. Until a vaccine is available, regional or nationwide campus shutdowns may occur during the fall semester. In this episode, we discuss what faculty and institutions can do to help prepare for future transitions to remote 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: Today our guest is Josh Eyler, the Director of Faculty Development and a lecturer in Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Mississippi. Josh is also the author of How Humans Learn: The Science and Stories behind Effective Teaching. Welcome back, Josh.

Josh: Thanks very much for having me. I hope you’re both doing well.

John: It’s good to see you again. Our teas today are:

Josh: I’m just drinking water today. [LAUGHTER] Hydrating.

Rebecca: I have Lady Grey.

John: And I have Irish Breakfast Tea today. Most of my teas are up in the office safely locked away.

Josh: [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: By contrast I have a really good array, so I’ve been having a bigger selection since then.

John: We’ve invited you here to talk about the situation we’re now in. This is only the second time that Rebecca and I have been recording from different locations because of the social distancing that’s taking place now, the second time during this event at least, and we’d like to talk a little bit about that. In the last few weeks, most colleges throughout the country and much of the rest of the world have suddenly had faculty transition from their usual instruction to remote instruction, with very little planning and prior notice, and many times for the very first time for faculty. How has this been going at the University of Mississippi?

Josh: I think it’s been going as best as can be expected. The faculty have really done heroic work, they’ve taken it very, very seriously and are really placing our students’ well being and welfare and learning at the center of the process. You know, it’s hard to learn… and that’s true for me as anyone… it’s hard to learn new modalities in such a short time. And they’ve all handled it with such grace that it’s been really inspiring, and so we dealt with hiccups and technical difficulties and things along the way. And the scale of it with 800 faculty is pretty enormous, but it’s gone relatively smoothly as far as that goes.

John: I think our experience is about the same and we have, I believe, about 800 faculty and I’ve been really impressed with people who had never used Blackboard, or Zoom, or Collaborate, or other tools, to step up and learn that within a really short time. One thing that was somewhat fortunate is it hit right before our spring break, which gave people some time to, not so much take a break, but to learn some new skills really, really quickly, and I’ve been really impressed with how they’ve stepped up.

Josh: Yeah, me too, and I hear similar stories from across the country. I mean, in many ways, faculty were given zero time with very strict parameters. It reminds me of that scene in Apollo 13, where they have to take bits of things that are around the cabin and make the carbon monoxide filter. It’s very, very similar, I think, in that faculty were given very strict parameters in some ways, technological capacity and frameworks that they hadn’t worked with before and said, “Okay, now we have to meet our students and help them through this crisis,” and they’ve all handled it just so brilliantly, I think.

Rebecca: As someone who’s been sitting a little bit on the sidelines because I’m not teaching this semester, it’s been really interesting to see faculty from across institutions and across departments working together to troubleshoot and help each other out. And the communities that have formed online of faculty across the country and across the world has been really impressive to me. It’s sad that it took a pandemic for that to occur, but I hope that some of these communities will maintain.

Josh: I do too. Yeah, and I’ve noticed that as well. I think that the community building has been an important element of this, I think, where higher ed recognizes that we’re all in this together, and we’re all in a very similar situation, so how can we work together to make this the best experience possible given the circumstances?

John: There’s that nationwide Pandemic Pedagogy Facebook group that I’ve seen lots of people have been joining. In our institution, Donna Steiner created a local Facebook group for people to share issues and stories and so forth, and just this morning, someone asked how they can work without a document camera and someone posted an image they found elsewhere of a document camera created by a smartphone wedged in between two cans of soup, [LAUGHTER] holding it in place above paper that then works through Zoom or some other application. It was impressive to see people coming up with interesting and creative solutions, sort of like as you described in that Apollo situation. So what have been some of the most difficult transitions for faculty and for students as well that you’ve observed?

Josh: Well, you know, the scale of this is one of the biggest obstacles across the university, helping folks, just that kind of scale. Within that there are subsets of obstacles. So for example, my wife is in the art department, art and art history. She teaches drawing and 2D design, so that’s a very difficult transition to make, much the same way that lab courses and sciences are hard to transition. So, there have been very specific kinds of obstacles as well as just the mass transition to unfamiliar platforms that we were talking about a second ago. So some of those have been, I think, really tricky. For students, you know, I think students and faculty together are wrestling with the disruptions, the emotional and psychological turmoil, a lot of the stress that comes along with all of this. I do think that students in particular are struggling with now taking five courses in an environment that they weren’t expecting, that are probably using different technological tools that the students may or may not be familiar with, and navigating all the syllabus revisions and all of the workload revisions as well. And so it’s a lot, and it’s one of the reasons that, I know that in our workshops that we were holding for faculty, we were strongly recommending asynchronous courses and asynchronous modes as the most equitable for students who were suddenly juggling all those things together. Not to say that you couldn’t have synchronous elements, but that those should probably be optional for the students who couldn’t be at the same place at the same time. And so yeah, they’re juggling a lot.

Rebecca: I think one thing that’s been overlooked by a lot of faculty is actually the complexity of students learning so many different tools because faculty aren’t using something consistent across classes. I think that learning curve is actually pretty substantial and can be really overwhelming, especially because a lot of faculty assume that students, just by nature, know how to use these digital technologies, but like all of us, if it’s not something you haven’t used before or aren’t familiar with, especially in this way, using it as a learning tool, for example, then it’s new.

Josh: I think we make those assumptions too often about students and technology, and the best metaphor for this comes from Todd Zakrajsek who said, “We all grow up in a world with cars, and yet we still have to learn how to use them.” So just being in a world that has technology and having been in that world from birth does not mean that they don’t need to learn how to use some of those tools, and so I think that’s important. The other obstacle for faculty working remotely, we all were just talking about with partners and with children in the same house, and I think that there’s a lot of work-life balance conversations right now, a lot of equity discussions, and I think that’s really important on the faculty side, as well, that we think about. A great piece in The Chronicle about not buying into the over productivity hype about this time. We need to take care of ourselves and our families and our students, and so that’s a baseline that, if we hit that, that’s good, that’s productive, and that’s on target. There’s so much that people are juggling right now.

Rebecca: Yeah, I think that people who are in caregiving roles, whether they’re parents or if they’re caring for older parents or family members, are in that predicament of complete life work overhaul… upside down… and it’s really challenging to balance all of those things but then expecting to then do all kinds of extra productivity is crazy. And when you see things like that on social media, I’m thinking, “What? I can’t get an hour and a half of work done, like what are you talking about?” [LAUGHTER]

Josh: Exactly. I don’t want to see what famous works were written during quarantine. I just want to get up in the morning and make it through the day.

Rebecca: I was like, “Oh, I got to read one whole article today, that’s huge.”

Josh: [LAUGHTER] Right, exactly.

John: In my case, I thought the default option would be to move entirely remotely, but fortunately we had a little bit of notice in my class, so I brought the issue up with my classes, and actually they preferred, at least as an initial position, to continue meeting synchronously, and they stated they all had the technology. I said, if anyone has any barriers to let me know, and it will be optional, and there’ll be other mechanisms if you can’t, but one of the things that I know they were concerned with is… at least a couple of the students said… they chose to take face-to-face classes because they have tried distance learning and it didn’t work well for them, and they preferred to maintain that type of consistency. And I said we’ll keep revisiting it, and I’ve been revisiting it at least once a week, and so far that’s what they want to do, but things may change if they start facing more barriers, but I am providing a mechanism for doing that, and I think it’s important to see what your students would like too, and to work with something that works for everybody.

Josh: Well sure, and I think the most important thing that you just described about that plan was your communication with them. And so I know many folks who are teaching small seminar-based classes where they all as a community decided that they could meet synchronously, and that works as long as it continues to work. So, I think that as long as there are ways for people to communicate that and they feel comfortable communicating that with faculty. On the other hand, the 200-person intro bio lectures is a little bit trickier. So yeah, I think just as long as we allow students the flexibility, which you are doing, so I think that’s great, then helping them to retain as much sense of normalcy of the learning environment as possible, because you are right, students didn’t ask for this any more than we did, and many of them want to be together in the classroom talking about Shakespeare or learning about evolution.

John: And it helped that they all had good broadband access, and they all had devices that made it possible for them to maintain that sort of normalcy up to this point, at least.

Josh: That is a relatively… well, it’s not a new addition… but it’s an issue about inclusive teaching that is getting a lot of spotlight for very good reason: that many students can’t access the internet in such a way to participate in synchronous courses and lots of other overlap between equity, class, and technology, I think, that are really important, and we may have let slip away from the conversation before this, but now it’s front and center for us to think about as a community.

Rebecca: In terms of inclusivity, one of the things that I’ve been exploring that I was surprised about is accessibility, which is an area that I focus a lot of my own attention on in general. So I’ve been doing some analysis of some of the accessibility practices that we’re doing, how to make sure that faculty are keeping up on these things, and so I was exploring a little bit what the students’ side of some of these experiences are like. I had just assumed, for example, as an instructor, because I’ve never been in the student seat of this particular thing, that the Blackboard app would have the same accessibility features as the Blackboard website, for example, and they don’t. We might not know that students are relying on their phones, for example, to get more accessible materials, and if they use the website they can get them, but if they use the app, they can’t. And if we don’t tell them that, they don’t know.

Josh: Right. Accessibility is something that I’ve spent a lot of time with as well, and I do know that it often plays second fiddle in some of these conversations, and it’s also having a spotlight cast on it right now.

John: On Twitter, you initiated some conversations about how we plan for this, should this continue into the summer and perhaps fall. You mentioned three scenarios. One is that we reopen, we go about business as usual sometime between now and the fall, and then we see spikes a bit and things come back again. Or a second one where we’re sheltering in place, or a third one, which is we go back to normal, which, you note, is probably the least likely of those scenarios at this point.

Josh: I know a lot of people are desperately hoping that that’s the case and deep down, so am I, but I also know that it’s much less realistic. And I’m certainly not a scientist, but I follow a lot of scientists, I read their work, and I trust in what they’re doing as experts. And so most of the models show that because it’s a seasonal disease, that even if we minimize the cases during this first wave, that it will spike again sometime in the fall or winter, or both, which suggests that, without knowing the intricacies that biologists know about that, it strikes me that higher ed desperately, at this moment, as soon as possible, needs to just start planning for contingencies. What would our enterprise look like in all those different scenarios? And so I think it ranges from planning for fully online courses from moment one, for both the summer and the fall, to planning face-to-face courses with contingency plans, solid, not the sudden emergency shift that we just did, but solid, well developed contingency plans in the event that we need to resort to social distancing for some period of time. And there is some discussion of the possibility of localized intermittent social distancing, so the kinds of things, in other words, that would affect some colleges but not others, and at certain periods of time, and then that would flip flop. And so the idea that you might be teaching in a classroom and then have a month where you’re not, and then you have another month when you’re in, that’s fully possible, given the range of different models that scientists have put out there. So, I think without knowing what’s going to happen, to really build a bright future for higher education we need to have really well developed plans for all the possibilities.

John: I’ve been reading quite a bit about this, and there’s some question about the seasonality of this, because one of the things that’s happening is it’s hitting the northern and southern hemisphere pretty much equally, so it doesn’t seem to vary that much with temperature as many other types of flu, for example, have varied.

Josh: Exactly, yeah.

John: There’s a lot of unknowns about this, but we should plan for contingencies now. What are some of the things that faculty can do to get ready for such eventualities in either the summer or the fall?

Josh: Well, I think, and this is an important role that teaching centers and instructional designers can play too. One thing that should happen as soon as the semester ends, is to really assess what worked and what didn’t for their particular courses. I have a friend from Rice and I saw that she was saying that she found this tool that works so well that even when she goes back to teaching normal face-to-face courses, she’s still going to use it. That’s really important information to know and to be thinking about… so, assessing what worked and what didn’t and building on the successes. I have another friend who is essentially doing mini-podcast sessions for his students and then tying activities to it. So he’s a tried and true medievalist, no technology for him, just recording his voice and then activities tied to it. And so something like that, assessing what really would work and then since there’s now time to plan, tying it to the most effective teaching strategies for these environments. So, let’s assess what you were most comfortable with and what really worked for you, and now let’s add to the mix ways that you can more effectively design assignments and activities and other assessments utilizing those tools that work. It’s got to be a very quick assessment of pros and cons and then proactive planning pedagogically.

Rebecca: It seems to me, then, it would be really useful to be thinking about this now as a faculty member, because you could be asking your students for their feedback on what’s going on, and obviously, you could be doing it now so that you could make some adjustments and things as the semester goes on, but also for future planning moving forward.

Josh: Right. I think that’s a really important component of this, hearing not so much what students felt about the teaching, because I also think faculty need a break on the normal evaluation structures that are in place, but I do feel the faculty should be free to get whatever formative feedback they want about their teaching. But, I do think that feedback at an institutional level from students about all the mechanics of all this, what worked, what didn’t, what failed, what really flew under the radar as being a super successful tool, something like that, that’s really important, and that can definitely help with the planning as well.

Rebecca: So one thing that I was thinking in terms of having student voice involved, not just at the institutional level but in your own classrooms, might be about particular tools or what parts of the things that they did helped them feel more a part of a community or reasons why they might not have felt like they were a part of a community. Not really putting it on you as a teacher about like, “What did I do well or not as a teacher,” but rather, “What kinds of structures might work well in circumstances to help facilitate some of the things that we miss when we’re not face-to-face?”

Josh: I think those are fantastic ideas, and this ties back into the teaching center conversation, because I think that one way that we could help is to help faculty design those surveys. Some LMSs have a function where you can kind of load survey questions into a cloud and faculty can pull them out to build their own tool. So, I think that kind of feedback is going to be critical, and the teaching center can take some of the burden off of individual faculty by helping design some of those instruments, or at least advise on ways to do it because I think an individual faculty member getting that feedback for him or herself is essential in this case, and that’s separate from a kind of formal teaching evaluation or formalized summative feedback as well.

Rebecca: What are some of the things that you’re hoping, as we plan for the future and we have time to actually plan for a circumstance like this moving forward, that you hope teaching centers roll out that maybe they weren’t able to roll out when there was such a time crunch?

Josh: I think you sort of highlighted it a little while ago. I think that there’s an open door for universal design for learning and accessibility in ways that are more holistic. So those conversations tend to be either very specific or isolated in different kinds of workshops, but here, I think you can lead with some of that, and you can also lead with inclusive practices, and I think that that’s kind of an open door for work that teaching centers can do. Not that there hasn’t been interest or that that hasn’t been happening, but given what we see, and over the course of this crisis, we can now lead with those elements because it becomes clear how central they are to the work. I’ve said it a million times, it feels like, over the last two weeks, that at the end of the semester, students aren’t going to remember content as much as they are the community that you built and the care that you showed and the work that everyone did together, and so I think that that has helped to really frame some of these issues in a really important way. So I think that’s certainly true. I also think that, and I’ve experienced this myself, and I know that I hope it will continue, and I strongly believe that it will. A lot of this work for teaching instructional design sometimes gets taken care of in silos in different corners of the university. And I know here, those get broken down completely. I was working with people I hadn’t even met before, and I mean that seriously, I had not met them and they are amazing, and we worked together. We met at 7:45 in the morning during the transition week, and we met at 5:15 every night and we’re in constant communication in between there, and really deployed to prioritize the work that needed to be done that day, and that, I hope, is something that continues, that certainly different instructional designers and different folks within teaching centers have different areas of expertise, and so it can be kind of liaisons with STEM or humanities or whatever, but coming together and seeing it as one project, improving teaching and learning across all corners of higher ed. I hope that that continues.

John: One of the things we’ve been doing is we’ve been having open office hours for faculty where we have people from many support areas all coming together. Rebecca and I have been there as well as some other people working with us. Some people from our campus computer technology services have been there and some of our instructional designers have been there, and when people have elaborate questions, we send them off into a breakout room where they work with someone over a longer period, and the others’ shorter questions are answered by whoever is best suited to answer that particular question, and that’s been working really well, and it’s been really nice to see that cooperation.

Josh: Yeah, I completely agree. I think people are recognizing that teaching centers have a lot to offer in terms of thinking about policy as well. The pass-fail debate is a great example of this. On the surface, pass-fail is a policy issue that connects to the catalog and the handbook and lots of other things, but beneath that there have to be people on campus who have an awareness of the research on emotions in learning, on how grades have an impact on learning, even in the best of circumstances, and related issues to that. And so I think teaching centers have gotten called on both to contribute to those conversations and even shape them at some universities as well, and I hope that that is a recognition for the work that teaching centers do that continues.

Rebecca: Yeah, one of the other things that came up in the Twitter conversation that you started, Josh, was about the need for trauma-informed pedagogy moving forward related to this particular instance. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Josh: Sure. I’ll admit it right up front, I’m in no way an expert on that. I learned a lot from Karen Costa, who actually brought that up in that thread, and so she’s taught me a lot. I think trauma-informed pedagogy is, if you imagine a Venn diagram, it’s in the overlap between inclusive teaching and the way we understand that emotion affects cognition, and so it occupies that middle space in a really important way. Normally when we talk about trauma-informed teaching, we’re talking about developing teaching practices that would provide access to students in our classrooms who may have experienced trauma in the past. And content warnings or trigger warnings are the most visible elements of that conversation nationwide, but there are lots more. But here we are actually seeing not just nationwide, but worldwide trauma. And so now it’s moved from, in faculty’s minds, “Hypothetically, I may have students in my class who have been affected by trauma and so I should prepare for that,” to many, many students who we will see in our classrooms from this point forward will have experienced a global trauma that we need to now account for. So, that moves beyond what we know genuinely helps decrease an emotional response. In the book that I wrote, I have a chapter on emotion, and there’s a piece of that chapter that deals with what happens when our emotional responses surpass our ability to regulate them. And everything we know about cognition at that point is that it shuts down, and so we have to help students mitigate that response in order to get back to learning. So, that’s at the core of trauma-informed education. Empathy is at the core of that, but there’s more specific things that those who do this work and write about trauma-informed pedagogy know with much more depth than I do, but creating space to make meaning from what is happening. One of the major tenets of trauma-informed pedagogy is that those who have experienced trauma can get caught up in a spiral of helplessness when confronted with the work ahead, in other words. So, helping them process that, making meaning of what has happened globally rather than ignore it, and building the meaning making into the work, accessibility issues, understanding absences and understanding some difficulty with deadlines as the responses spike. So I would encourage folks to go out and look at the experts. I learned, again, from Karen Costa. She writes a lot about this, but The Body Keeps the Score is a book that I know a lot of folks who do this work really recommend, not strictly about teaching, but it’s a very insightful book about what happens to a body that has experienced trauma, so that’s definitely something to look into. But, I guess the moral of the story here is we’re going to have to be much more attuned to that work going forward.

John: One strategy that a number of people have suggested is having a discussion forum or some form of reflection where students are able to share their thoughts and their reactions and their concerns. Do you think that would be helpful in this context?

Josh: Yeah, I think so, but with a caveat that most faculty are not clinical psychologists. And so certainly reflection is a key principle of trauma-informed pedagogy, there’s no doubt about it. I think working with folks who know this area of research in designing a reflection assignment is absolutely key, because those of us who are not clinical psychologists would not be prepared for what could happen if we delve into that, and then it opens the floodgates of emotional response that we are not ourselves trained to help mitigate, and so that can happen in any semester, in which case, we work with folks to try and get students to the right resources. But in this particular case we want to be careful about the construction of those assignments, not that we shouldn’t do them, but that we need to be attuned to that.

John: And also to be aware of what types of support services are available on campus for those who are experiencing trauma and difficulties.

Josh: I think that’s very important to think about. I know my university has them up and running, but certainly it’s not the same as it was for students when they were on campus. So, those folks are doing heroic work, but the situation has shaped that work in a very specific way.

Rebecca: I think one thing that’s surfaced a lot in the conversations, with our faculty anyways, and I think I’ve seen in other conversations that are more national and more global in nature, is so much more awareness of the basic needs of students not being met: food, shelter, etc, health care, and also the emotions that play into learning and really having to deal with the basic needs and basic emotional needs before getting to the work of learning. We’re all now in this space trying to figure out what exactly that might mean in our individual classes or subject areas. I think it’s something that we’re all more aware of than we had been prior to this.

Josh: Well, and I think that this situation has brought that to light in a way that, once it’s a part of the conversation, I don’t think you can ever undo it. And so there have been folks who have been screaming this from the rafters for a very long time, Sarah Goldrick-Rab in the Hope Center and Jesse Stommel, and so many people have been doing their part in calling attention to this. But now, I think you’re absolutely right, Rebecca, that there’s more widespread recognition, not just that those things are realities for our students, but that they have a significant impact on the work that students can do and the learning that can happen. And so marrying those two together has been critical, I think, both to help them over this obstacle. I’m hoping very hard that it continues to be a part of the way we see our work as teachers in the classroom, that this didn’t just start happening in early March, it’s always been a part of our students’ experiences of education, and so we need to keep that in kind of the forefront of our minds.

Rebecca: I think another thing that surfaced along these same lines, that pandemic has caused us to confront, is perhaps we all try to cram too much into our classes in the first place. And really thinking about how much content is there and what’s absolutely necessary as we try to scale back and shift gears and things like that. I know that there’s a lot of conversations about what can be edited or cut, and perhaps those were critical conversations that maybe should have happened previously, but are now happening out of necessity.

Josh: I think what you just ended with there is exactly the point, in that many of those conversations and, you know, I’ve led course design institutes and this is always something that we talk about it, you can do an exercise about trimming content, but until it becomes an absolute necessity, it lives in a kind of theoretical space. “Well, that’s a great idea, but you know, I still had to teach Moby Dick.” But now folks were faced with what is absolutely critical for students to know, and what can I dispense with in terms of supporting their learning, and so I think that, I hope too, has a long lasting effect.

John: Many people have been teaching the same way for 20 or 30 years, but when faced with this, they’ve had to significantly revise what they were doing. Might this provide a nice opportunity for faculty to grow and expand their tool sets so that they can be more productive? You talked about that a little bit before, but maybe we should leave the conversation on the bright spot of the opportunities this may present for the future in terms of faculty development and faculty discovering new ways to work with their students.

Josh: Sure, I absolutely think so. There are tons of stories of folks who didn’t know about something that existed, discovered it, and now are doing really fun things with it that are helping students. What I think we would envision, hopefully, is that folks would find things that they are really drawn to that, when they return to the teaching modalities that they’re most traditionally teaching in, that they utilize those tools that they found that help their students to learn, that we can take lessons from this time, and that should be one of them, I think, that we can stretch our conception of what good teaching is, or what can help us teach effectively, and really think about that for all of our teaching purposes going forward.

Rebecca: Do you think there’s other big lessons from this that we can take forward to stay on more positive notes?

Josh: The fact that we have placed students at the center of this conversation, I think, is an important lesson, and it’s one that I hope higher ed doesn’t forget. Also, something I said recently, but I’d want to echo here, is that the silos have really broken down in ways that are beneficial for higher ed, people who normally don’t work together are working together in trying to craft the best possible way forward, and I think that that’s an important lesson too. I’m sure you both know this well, that making change in higher education is really hard, and often the most daunting prospect is, that’s the way things were always done. And that’s a different office, right? That’s a different silo that takes care of that, and both of those have kind of been fractured, the way things have always happened can no longer be because we’re in a new reality, and the silos just don’t exist anymore, and so I hope that higher ed can take that lesson forward.

John: Tear down some of those silos a little more permanently, perhaps.

Josh: Right, right. Absolutely. And it’s also showing just how permeable those boundaries were from the beginning, I think.

John: One thing that’s come up with some students and some faculty is a question of whether we might lose weather-related cancellations in the future. I know sometimes people get excited when there’s a snow day or something similar, but might this mean those days will disappear?

Josh: Yeah, that’s a hard one to say. I think that here’s the likely outcome if we go all the way back to the planning scenario. A likely outcome, I would hope, in planning for contingencies is that folks are told to build their face-to-face courses with these kind of hybrid fallback models. And so going forward, it is possible that those will exist on a wide scale in higher ed, so if there is a snowstorm, faculty could get guidance just to kick those contingency plans into effect, or they may say that that’s optional. When the snowpocalypse hit Northern Virginia a few years ago, I think that they all had to develop contingency plans because they were canceled for weeks at a time, and I know that when Hurricane Harvey hit Houston when I was at Rice, there was a lot of talk of alternate assignments, digital resources that we could find, so things like that. So, this is something that I think individual campuses have been thinking about when the situations have arisen, and now we’re talking about those decisions on a much wider scale. I am an optimist by nature, I wear rose-colored glasses, I freely admit that. But the fact that you have a school like Tulane, whose former president was writing in The Chronicle last week, that came back from Katrina, and is a thriving university. We have institutions, even groups of institutions that have faced major crises before, and they have come out even stronger on the other side. If we continue to work together in higher education, we can have that same recovery on a broader scale. So the fact that these institutions have succeeded, that gives me a lot of hope, I think, for what we can do as a community, and a recognition that this isn’t the end or even beginning of the end. It’s a way of rethinking what we used to think of as normal and learning lessons that we can take forward.

Rebecca: Sometimes it takes a big disruption like this for us to realize that we need to think in different ways and that little boost in that direction isn’t always a bad thing.

Josh: As long as we capture those lessons and learn from them, I think that we can build a bright way forward, definitely.

Rebecca: So I think then in terms of snow days, if they’re going away, then we just need to make sure we build in rest days or something into our schedule going forward.

Josh: Well, I’ve worked almost exclusively in the south. So I haven’t had a snow day since I was in high school, I think. But yes, I agree.

Rebecca: We just really want just one.

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

Josh: I just wish everyone luck. I mean, everyone’s trying their hardest in working this out, and we’re going to get through it, and we’ll move into the next terms with clear eyes, I think, as to how to move forward.

John: So we always end with the question, as you know. What’s next?

Josh: That’s the most loaded question at this time, I think. I don’t know, but what I hope is next is recovering and rebuilding. That’s what I hope.

John: Thank you. This was wonderful, and thank you for doing it on such short notice.

Josh: No problem at all, I appreciate the invitation. I hope you both are well.

Rebecca: Yeah. Thank you so much, Josh. This was a really good conversation, an important one to have right now.

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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 Savannah Norton.

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124. The Missing Course

Graduate programs provide very strong training in how to be an effective researcher, but generally provide grad students with little preparation for teaching careers. In this episode, Dr. David Gooblar joins us to discuss what all faculty should know to enable us to create a productive learning environment for all of our students.

David is the Associate Director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching at Temple University, a regular contributor to The Chronicle of Higher Education, and the creator of Pedagogy Unbound. He is also the author of The Missing Course: Everything They Never Taught You about College Teaching.

Show Notes

Transcript

John: Graduate programs provide very strong training in how to be an effective researcher, but generally provide grad students with little preparation for teaching careers. In this episode, we explore what all faculty should know to enable us to create a productive learning environment for all of our students.

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

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Fiona: My name is Fiona Coll. I teach in the Department of English and Creative Writing here at SUNY Oswego and this is my turn to sit in as a guest host.

John: Our guest today is Dr. David Gooblar. David is the Associate Director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching at Temple University, a regular contributor to The Chronicle of Higher Education, and the creator of Pedagogy Unbound. He is also the author of The Missing Course: Everything They Never Taught You about College Teaching.

John: Welcome.

David: Thank you so much. I’m happy to be here.

Fiona: Today’s teas are…

David: I’m drinking green tea.

Fiona: That sounds delicious. I have a cup of wild orange something that’s quite delicious, but not as memorably titled as one might hope.

John: And I have a pumpkin spice Chai today.

David: Wow. Okay.

John: A little out of season but I wanted to try it. We invited you here to talk about The Missing Course. This book is intended for those of us that never received formal training on how to teach, which applies to most college faculty, and maybe we could start with this question of why don’t faculty receive more formal training while they’re in grad school, since most people do end up in teaching careers?

David: It’s a great question. And one that’s not that easy to answer, I think. To me, our graduate programs, almost across the board, almost across all disciplines, still sort of operate with an outdated model of the industry that they’re training students for. And I’m not sure that the model was ever actually something that applied to all graduate students, or even most, but there’s this idea of an academic career as being a tenure-track career where you teach two courses a semester, and the rest of your time is for research, and you are evaluated on your research and scholarship. And so our graduate programs still, for the most part, train students for that career. And what is clearer and clearer to more and more people is that that career is for a very slim minority of people who get PhDs. And as you mentioned, the job for most PhDs if they managed to stay in academia is, for the most part, teacher. And so I do think as well, there’s this notion that teaching is something that content knowledge is enough preparation for, so that if you know something really well, obviously, you’ll be able to teach it, that is not something that needs training in and of itself, that it can be a sort of byproduct of scholarship. And really, anyone who’s had a teacher [LAUGHTER] should be able to see the holes in that logic, that there are better teachers and worse teachers, and that doesn’t depend on how well they know their subject, that depends on how well they know how to teach. So this struck me as a big hole in our education system, and something that I thought would be, at the very least, a good frame for a book about teaching.

Fiona: That hole you describe, the missing part of graduate education, is something that produces a phenomenon you describe early in the book, which is your sense of surprise at discovering a community, a community of people interested in teaching as itself an intellectual and technique oriented discipline, I suppose. And it’s an amazing feeling to happen upon a group of people who are thinking the way you are. And I do wonder if you could maybe expand on what you talk about early in The Missing Course, which is a discussion of how your own view of teaching evolved from that initial focus on content coverage that you’ve just described. Could you tell us about your own transformation in that respect?

David: Sure. I don’t think unlike most people, in that I wasn’t trained to teach at all, I was thrown into the classroom. And to some extent, that’s not the worst way to begin to learn something, is to be thrown into it. But I of course did what most people do, which is that I sort of mimicked what my professors had done. And so my background’s in English, I’m not sure I would have been conscious of this, but my idea of what an English professor does in the classroom is to go and be brilliant about books in front of students… to go talk really smartly about the book in question. And I guess the idea is that you’re modeling interpretation, but you’re not really showing students how you arrived at your interpretation, you’re just showing them the fruits of it. So I would prepare, I was a very devoted teacher as a grad student. All my preparation went to uncovering smart things to say about texts. And what the students would be doing never entered my mind at all, for sure. And so this is kind of how I taught and it seemed to be successful. I don’t know how I was measuring success, but it seemed to go okay. Until I, as an adjunct at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, was given (as adjuncts are often given), a course in which there was no real content to teach. It was a skills-based course, the course was called Rhetoric in the Liberal Arts. And I was meant to teach students how to write academic papers, how to critically read, critical thinking was a big part of it. I was supposed to promote an understanding of the value of the liberal arts sort of broadly. And there were a couple of essays that I was given to teach, but for the most part, there wasn’t really a central text to teach. And so my old method of being brilliant about texts really quickly showed itself to be insufficient. I really scrambled. I had no idea what I was doing. I remember that semester so clearly, because I worked very hard to figure out day to day, there was such panic, “How am I going to fill the class period?” And I guess what I came upon is that it was the students that were my material, rather than material that I needed to explicate for students. Actually, it was these human beings in the room that I was tasked with improving, or helping to develop, or helping them to see things. And that’s just a completely different idea of what teaching is… and it changed my life. It changed how I see the job and the job became increasingly important to me. Because, and you’ll forgive me for rambling, but if the job is saying something interesting about books, well, that’s something that I think can be mastered pretty easily. If the job is help a new set of human beings to reach their potential or grow in ways that they didn’t think were possible, that’s an endlessly fascinating, endlessly challenging, and mostly difficult task. And that, to me, is something worth devoting yourself to. So that really, really sort of turned me on to teaching as a discipline in itself.

John: When you started to change your focus to students, what were some of the first things you did to focus on the students you had, instead of your earlier approach?

David: I think a lot of it comes down to, maybe strangely, trying to find out more about the students themselves. And I often tell faculty now in my role at Temple that the beginning of the semester is really a time to learn about the students in your room and to win their trust. If you’re going to be asking them to do things during the semester, you can’t assume that they’re going to trust that you’re doing it for the right reasons, you’re doing it in their best interest. So, forging that relationship is really the most important thing we can do at the beginning of a semester. So that starts, I think, by turning the tables a little bit. Usually students come into a class and they know the deal, which is that they’re there to find out the professor’s rules. They’re there to read the syllabus, “What’s this class going to be all about?” And the professor sets the course… and the students, if they’re good students, they sort of follow. And so I really like to advise faculty to try to switch that around, and from the very beginning, try to signal at every turn that the course is for the students’ benefit, and this should be their course. And therefore the opening weeks should be about finding out about them, and what they want to get out of it, and why they’re taking this course. And even if the answer to that is “it was required,” that’s good knowledge for you to have too. So, sort of going from there, from trying to find out who these people are, what their goals are, what challenges they foresee, how they want you to help them. That to me is the starting point and signals to them and to you that the point is the students, not the stuff you came up with beforehand.

John: Are you doing that through class discussions, or are there specific activities that you use to try to elicit information from the students?

David: Yes, certainly, I like to do a lot of class discussion and that’s going to depend upon your class size, for sure. A lot of class discussion. I also like to do a sort of initial, no- stakes writing assignment where I ask students for their goals for the course. And this helps me, of course, see more individually, and in a way that doesn’t make them say things out loud, which can be a problem for shy students or for students who maybe need a little more time to formulate an answer. To see what they’re going for, I ask them sort of what things have helped them in the past, you know, what their best teachers have been like, what challenges they foresee. I have to teach writing, it also helps me see their writing level really early on, so I can see where to sort of aim my writing instruction, what kinds of things they might need help with. So, a sort of diagnostic, low- or no-stakes writing assignment can help. But, a lot of it is trying to just be human in the classroom, and be actually curious about these people, and make that a subject of the early class periods in a way that, I hope at least, that the students will get to know each other as well. Is that gonna help as well with motivation down the line?

Fiona: You focus on teaching as this drawing out process from students as opposed to the fill the cup model, which is perhaps the older lecture-based content delivery model… but you do, you focus on this drawing out and you pay some attention to the verb “elicit.”

David: Yes, I do love that verb.

Fiona: It’s a very good verb. But part of the way you use that verb is to turn your attention towards active learning techniques…

David: Yes.

Fiona: … in the classroom. And could you give a brief sense of what you feel are the most important evidence based nuggets to know about active learning as a technique?

David: Sure. I’m increasingly convinced that more than any particular strategy or technique, the most important thing for teachers is to have a solid understanding of how people learn. And what we know about how people learn is that it doesn’t work by pouring knowledge into people’s heads. You don’t learn by someone giving you knowledge. We learn by actively revising our preconceptions. And so even just to have that as your starting point, that students aren’t blank slates to be filled up. But students come in with all sorts of ideas, usually wrong ideas, but all sorts of ideas about our subjects. The job is then to help them hold those conceptions up to the light, see that they’re lacking in some way, and revise them. So I try to let that guide whatever strategies I use in the classroom, so active learning strategies is a really vague term to refer to anything you do in the class where students are doing stuff. So, there’s nothing wrong with lecture per se, but lecture that assumes that just telling students information is enough is going to fail. So if we lecture we want to lecture in a way that elicits… there’s that word… that elicits students’ attention, that intrigues them, that sort of draws them in, that can work really great. We’ve all had really good lecturers in the past. And usually they’re the ones that get our attention, that present us with a puzzle that we try to solve. It’s us, as students, who do the learning, we, we can’t do the work of learning for our students, students have to do it. So, if that’s our guide, then that can sort of help us chart class periods. Active learning strategies are often a combination of trying to get students to see what their intuition is, get to see that the intuition is in some way insufficient, and try to solve that problem. If what I initially thought was wrong, how can I be right? That’s often what I’m trying to do with an active learning strategy is help students do that, if that makes sense.

Fiona: Most definitely. And one of my absolute favorite parts of The Missing Course is the sheer number of practical, applicable ideas for this nurturing, motivating, eliciting process you describe. It’s wonderful just as a resource for ideas, the book is fantastic. Do you currently have a strategy you’re trying or that you’re feeling very excited about? Do you have an anecdote from your recent teaching to put something into focus a little?

David: One thing that I really love that I’m kind of endlessly fascinated by is this idea of naive tasks. I do mention that in the book, but it’s something that I often talk with faculty about. It’s particularly helpful if you do need to lecture if you have large classes, or if you teach in a discipline that is very content heavy, and you have a lot that you need to tell students. The idea of a naive task is you give students a puzzle, or a challenge, or a question that they’re not yet equipped to solve. And you give that to them before you give them the information that would equip them to solve it. The example that I always use comes from a guy named Donald Finkel who wrote a great book called Teaching with Your Mouth Shut, and he writes of a physics professor who gives his students before a lecture, this challenge, which is that he wants them to picture a canary in a very large sealed jar. And the jar with the canary inside is on a scale. And the problem is this “if inside the jar, the canary takes flight inside the sealed jar, does the reading on the scale change?” So, I put the challenge to you two, what do you think? Does the reading on the scale change if the canary takes flight?

Fiona: I’m feeling very elicited at the moment.

David: Yeah.

John: I read that, and I wondered that, because I don’t think you answer the question in your book, do you?

David: Oh, good. I’m glad I didn’t. I don’t remember. You got to make the reader do the work. So, what’s your intuition? Does the weight change when the canary is flying in the air inside a sealed jar?

John: My intuition would be no.

David: The weight stays the same, there’s still a bird in a jar, even if it’s in the air?

JOHN and Fiona: Yeah.

David: And does your intuition change if the jar is open, does that change things?

John: My intuition would change, then, I would say no in that case.

David: That the scale would change?

John: My intuition was that the scale would change if the bird took flight.

David: Okay, that is correct. In a sealed jar, the amount of force pushed down by the bird’s wings is exactly equal to the weight of the bird. That’s how flight works.

Fiona: Of course, right?

David: And so that would keep the reading on the scale the same. If the jar is open, the air can escape.

Fiona: Yeah, right.

David: So, this is a great example of a naive task for students who have not yet learned the laws of weight and mass and force. They have to struggle with this, and it’s kind of an intriguing puzzle. It’s a challenge. And in trying to answer it, and of course, you can sort of prod them along and help them consider the various factors, they’re engaging with the material in a way that they’ll want to know how this works after working on the subject. You’re priming them for your lecture. So I often like to work with faculty and I give them this example. This is always my example, because it’s one I remember. I actually don’t know very much about physics, but I can tell you this. And then I ask them to try to come up with naive tasks for their own discipline. And that’s sort of like “What’s a puzzle? What’s something intriguing that you can give students that they won’t be able to do yet, they won’t be able to solve yet or you think they might not be sure about?” and try to give that to them before you give them the information that would help. So I do like that idea of that the timing of when we give students activities can matter, and can make it more effective when we do tell them things. That’s been something that increasingly I talk to faculty about.

John: And the nice thing about that, too, is not only does it make them curious and want to know the answer, activating that curiosity, it’s also forcing them to activate whatever prior knowledge…

David: That’s right.

John:…whether it’s actually correct knowledge or any misconceptions they may have, but it makes them consciously aware of what they know and what they don’t know. So, they’re not only primed to find out more, but they’re also ready to make more connections and try to integrate the materials.

David: Yeah, ideally, it will leave them in a place of sort of dissatisfaction with their current model of how things work, which is where you want them.

Fiona: You do describe the learning process as a process of revision… revising, exactly as you’ve described, preconceived notions or prior knowledge, updating it, expanding it, refining it. But, as you suggest, this doesn’t feel easy to students. There’s a lot of pushing of comfort zones…

David: Right.

Fiona: …There’s a lot of truly difficult risks sometimes involved for students.

David: Yes.

Fiona: And so how do you approach that piece, the effective piece, or the willingness of students to maybe trust your methods or to actually engage in these essentially revising oriented activities? What do you do about student motivation?

David: It’s a very important factor. I mean, what we know about student motivation and a lot of this I take from the great book How Learning Works from a lot of folks at Carnegie Mellon that came out maybe 10,12 years ago. Their chapter on motivation sketched three main factors from the literature that govern motivation in educational context. And the first two are probably maybe the more apparent. One is value. The more students value a goal, the more they’ll be motivated to pursue it. That seems obvious. The second is efficacy. If students feel like they’ll succeed, they’re more likely to be motivated to pursue something. That makes sense to me too. The third one, which is maybe less obvious, is the extent to which students perceive that their environment is supportive. It’s a very important factor. If, as you say, we’re asking students to take risks and significant learning does involve taking risks, they’ll be more motivated to pursue those risks if they feel like they’ll be supported if and when they fail. We want them to be comfortable with failure. We want to give them the sense that they’ll be supported. So, how do we do that? That to me is again, part of this opening weeks of a semester trying to cultivate trust. And part of that is through signaling to them at every turn that your intentions are for their benefit to help them, not because of your agenda. But part of that, I think, is also trying to cultivate a supportive community between students, among students, kind of apart from you. I mentioned in the book a number of times research by the sociologist Polly Fassinger who tried to sort of pin down what are the most important factors that govern why students participate in class. And what she found, maybe surprisingly, is that more important than anything that the professor does is the students’ sense of their peers as being a supportive group. And that makes sense to me, that students wouldn’t feel comfortable opening their mouths if they felt like they might be the object of fun or they felt like maybe they weren’t in the mainstream of the class. Again, a lot of this work is best done early in a semester. Cultivate community. Often that means trying to encourage students to bring in informal parts of their lives to class, get them to share bits of themselves, get them to, if not become friends, become comfortable with each other as people they can talk to and share an experience with. If I’ve got that, if I’ve got a class that seems to genuinely like each other, respects each other, wants to find out what other people are thinking might want to learn from each other, that makes my job so much easier. And I think most professors can think back to classes they’ve had where the students really gelled. And those to me are the best classes, and not just because it’s pleasant, but it seems to magnify the possibilities for learning if students want to be there, and usually what makes students want to be there is not that they like you so much, but that they like each other.

Fiona: Could you give us an example of a relatively community building activity you can do early in a semester?

David: Yeah, what I really like to do, and it does take a little bit of time, but I think it’s worth it. This is an idea that came from a colleague and friend of mine at the University of Iowa, Ben Hassman, he calls it question roll, and it’s a way to take attendance at the beginning of each class. And it’s certainly easier with a smaller class, but you can do it with larger classes with a little bit of finagling. Instead of just calling out people’s names, you ask a question, and you go around the room and everyone has to answer the question as their way to signal that they’re there. And the best way to do it is for these questions to be absolutely easy to answer. They should be like “What is your favorite movie?” or “What’s something that your parents cooked for you when you were a kid that you have fond memories of?” And so they’re often informal. I like to make them have nothing to do with class content. You can, of course, make them be lead-ins to discussion, but I like to give students an opportunity to speak up that is so easy that they’ll speak up. Basically, I think there’s something that happens after someone speaks up for the first time in a class period that makes it more easy for subsequent times. So, that’s one reason to do it. The other thing is that if you do it regularly, students get to know each other, they remember that so and so likes spaghetti. They remember that so and so likes comic book movies. And so that’s a kind of easy ritual that helps students bring a little bit of their outside lives into the class. And again, signals to them that this class might actually matter to those outside lives, class might be something that they want to do not just because they have to, but because it’s something central to their goals and ambitions.

Fiona: And I’d imagine that’s an approach that also includes you in that learning community, right? You learn?

David: Of course, I have to answer the question.

Fiona: One of the chapters in your book is devoted to what you call teaching the students in the room. Could you give us a little bit of an overview of that approach?

David: Sure. I do think that if there’s anything that teaching is about, it’s about helping particular people develop and learn. And so that is going to change. This is what I was talking about earlier, that’s going to change depending on the human beings in the room. And so I do think that as much as most professors are preparers and were good students themselves and like to do lots of preparation to make sure that they have every “T” crossed and “I” dotted before entering the classroom, there’s a limit to what you can do without meeting and understanding the people you’re going to teach. And again, it’s that idea of thinking of the students as the material rather than the course content or the text. So I do think it’s important that we do more than just tweak our teaching, depending on who’s in the room, but we try to leave a lot to the particular people we have in our classes.

John: One of the things you described is something I’ve been doing recently which is starting with a shell of a syllabus and letting the students pick some of the content on that. And I’ve done that to a varying degree, but I found a dramatic increase in the amount of student engagement when they have some say over the course concepts. Could you talk about some examples where you’ve used or heard good examples of that type of tactic?

David: Yeah, I do love that tactic as well. I recommend to faculty to make a list of things that they absolutely have to have in their courses that are non-negotiable that have to be in their classes, and things that aren’t on that list give to students to decide. This is, again, a way to get as you say, greater engagement, have students have a sense of ownership in the class. I’ve had real success when I taught a survey of American Literature. And I gave students as the assigned text one of these big Norton Anthologies of American literature, these huge 1200 page, very thin paged, big books of poems, and short stories, and excerpts from novels. And what I did was I left slots throughout the semester, throughout the calendar for poems, but I didn’t choose any poems, and I had each student assigned to a slot on the calendar and I said “On your slot, we are going to read the poem you choose. You’re going to introduce it for the class, talk maybe five minutes about it, but then we’re going to talk about it, you’re going to put it on the calendar.” You can do this with bigger classes through voting, through putting them in groups to choose, there are ways to do it. And then I had as the first writing assignment, the first essay for students to justify why they chose the poem. “Why should your classmates read this poem? What’s so good about it?” And the reason I loved how this worked in that particular class was one, of course, that it had that engagement that students owned part of the class, they had their little patch of land, but it also made them read the book. They had to look through this anthology that otherwise they would have just flipped to what I assigned, this made them browse and look for a poem that they could pick and I think it made them think about, “Well, what makes a good poem? What kinds of poems do I like?” Certainly, some students just picked very, very short poems, and we were grateful for that too. But I think students surprised themselves. They discovered things they wouldn’t have found otherwise. And they thought a little bit about, “Well, what’s my taste in poetry?” which is a wonderful thing to encourage, at least in my students. I’ve also had success, I do this all the time now, with letting students determine policies for the class. I do it all the time with technology policy, using technology in class. This is easy for me to give to students because I don’t care at all about what students do with their phones or laptops. I’m not a stickler, other professors feel differently, and that’s fine, of course. But that was an easy thing for me to offload to students because I don’t care. And what I found is that inevitably, students come up with a technology policy that is more strict than anything I would have come up with. I asked them to think about what really annoys them about people using phones in class and come up with regulations, and they tend to regulate pretty heavily when left to their own devices. And it works better if the rules are coming from them than from me. I just don’t like to play policeman, that’s not a role I’m suited for. So policy is a good thing to give to students, whether that’s a technology policy or late policies some professors do, they leave it to students to come up with. And that’s another thing where you’d be surprised that students are not that laissez faire. Some tend to be quite strict when they suggest late policies. But sort of going through your syllabus and looking for “What can I give to students to come up with?” And I think that you’ll see that there are sort of outsized effects from letting students decide. Student ownership is, I think, a really helpful concept for professors.

Fiona: And a totally practical question. So is this an activity you do on the first day, first week kind of thing? And then do you codify it in a formalized syllabus in some way?

David: Yes. So, usually, if I do a technology policy activity, it’ll be on the second day, it’ll be sometime in the first class periods. And what I usually do is I put them into small groups and have them brainstorm possible challenges with using technology in class and possible rules that they want. And I tell them I want them to think about their experiences as students, that they are veteran students, they’ll know probably better than I what comes up from a student’s point of view. And then I open up a document on the screen and I say, “Call out your suggestions.” And I type them as they call them out on their transcriber. And sometimes I have them vote if there are some things that are different, but often they kind of find consensus. I sort of try to guide a discussion, we find consensus. It’s a sort of constitutional document that I add to our learning management system. It lives there for everyone to see and I almost never need to refer to it. But there have been times where I do refer to and I say, “Let’s remember the rules we put in place.” And again, it helps that they’re not my rules. It helps enforcement if I can say “This is what you came up with, do we want to revise them? Maybe this doesn’t work anymore, that’s fine.” I would much rather be their learning coach, for lack of a better term, than to be Nurse Ratched in enforcing rules.

John: The only problem I’ve ever had with this strategy is the secretary keeps nagging me for a copy of the syllabus a week or two before the semester and I say “We won’t have a syllabus until after we meet” and I just open up a document which has the learning objectives and broad categories, and then we spend that first class period just working it all out.

David: I tend to make a distinction between the syllabus I give to the people upstairs and the sort of living document that governs what we do in the classroom. Some people make appendices to their syllabus. I think there’s things that the college needs to know, and I think that’s appropriate. And there’s things that the college doesn’t necessarily need to know.

Fiona: I wonder if I might turn the direction of our conversation towards the way that you talk about faculty and teachers themselves in this book, because many of the ideas: that learning is a process of revision, of challenging your preconceived notions about how something might work, you actually suggest that teachers themselves do the same sorts of processes in terms of their own experience as learners of teaching.

David: Yeah.

Fiona: Could you talk a little bit about how you ask people to revise their teaching?

David: Sure. I think you’re right that how I think about students learning influences how I think about giving advice to faculty on improving their teaching. And I think it’s important to remember that most of us did not have a rich education on how to teach. And so we sort of have to teach ourselves as we go, which does mean that it’s a process of revision. It’s also the nature of teaching that it’s such a complex pursuit. The product in question, the thing that is produced by our teaching, is spread out over a whole semester and diffused by how many students we have. And it’s very difficult to assess how well we did. And you can come out of a classroom thinking “That was a great class, I did wonderfully.” And you can come out of a class period thinking “Oh, that didn’t work well,” and equally have no idea why it worked or it didn’t. So, I do think it’s important for faculty to know that it’s a difficult process and to give attention to trying to assess, trying to evaluate, trying to stay on top of what they do that’s healthy and works, and what they do that doesn’t work. So, I do try to encourage what we might think of as good writing advice for teaching. And that’s thinking of a drafting process when coming up with a lesson plan, just as I tell my writing students to write a really bad draft as their first draft just to get something down, knowing that you’ll come back to it. I do the same thing with teachers I work with, I say, “First just fill the class period. Come up with a class period and then try to be critical in looking at what you came up with. Does that meet your goals? Does that do what you think students should be doing? Does that engage students?” And keep going back to and going back to it. The other thing that I think is really important is after a class period, or after a unit, or certainly after a semester, writing down how you think it went before you forget. I find that, especially in August for a fall semester, but even in January, if I’m teaching something I taught before, I am always kicking myself for not having taken good notes on how I changed things from what I wrote down, because our lesson plans don’t often survive a class period intact. And so trying to keep good notes, trying to see teaching as a sort of career long pursuit that you’ll benefit from having an archive of notes to self. Just sort of developing those habits I think are really important. I try to be aware of this whenever I talk teaching, but certainly when I was writing the book, that most faculty members are, without a doubt, overworked and underpaid, and almost without exception, not given enough credit or time for their teaching. And so I think it’s all the more important that we try to come up with strategies that help us to be better teachers that don’t keep us up all night grading, and that don’t add to our considerable anxiety and stress. I think we need to sort of navigate within what’s still a pretty unfair system for most faculty members when giving advice. So I really try to be aware of that.

John: Talking about that issue of the effort required for grading, you do recommend giving students the right kind of feedback. Could you talk a little bit about how we can do that? We know that students benefit from having feedback. But the more feedback we give students, the more time it requires. What type of feedback would be most helpful for students without overburdening faculty with the work of grading?

David: That’s a really good question. I think the most effective feedback comes at a time when students can still use it. So, too often I think we give students feedback after the fact, we give students feedback on their essays or on their assignments when we give them their grade, and then we’re already moving on to another unit. Often, because of time constraints, it might take us a month to grade a paper. And we’ve already moved on for a month to another unit when we’re giving them feedback on something they did last month. And so that can tell them a little bit. But most students, it doesn’t help them that much to find out that a month ago, they made an error with a too long paragraph or something. So I really try to give students feedback while they’re still working on something. And so the way to do this without doubling your work is to give them much less feedback after the fact. So I think it’s entirely appropriate to give just a grade and very minimal feedback at the end, if you give lots of feedback in the middle. So when I teach writing, I have all of my students, for their essays, they have to turn in a rough draft, and this is after a number of checkpoints where they’re working on components, but they turn in a rough draft at a midway point. And I meet with them one-on-one. Again, this is something that can be adjusted for bigger classes. But I try to give them feedback at that point, like really extensive feedback. That’s where they hear from me the most. And why that’s effective is, well one, because they still haven’t gotten a grade, there’s still something they can do with the feedback, but two, it allows me to be much more of a coach rather than evaluator. And that’s where, at least personally, where my strengths as a teacher lie. I’m much worse at justifying a grade than I am at giving advice on how to improve work. So I never answer in those conferences, questions like “What grade do you think this will be?” Or if they ask me that, I say, “Well, it’s not done yet. This is a draft, I don’t grade rough drafts. Here’s what I think you need to do for this to be better.” I try to sort of strenuously resist being evaluator there. But I do think looking for ways that you can shift when you give feedback to earlier in the process can help you keep that feedback formative. I think it’s useful to have this distinction between formative feedback, which is feedback designed to teach, designed to help students grow and learn, and summative feedback, which is feedback designed to deliver a verdict on their performance. Summative feedback is important. Certainly an engaged student will want to know whether their work met the grade. Certainly we have institutional pressures that want us to give them a summative grade at the end of the semester. But to me, formative feedback is so much more valuable, it is teaching rather than just grading. And so looking for ways whenever possible to make our grading formative, I think, is good practice.

John: Do you recommend giving some sort of light grading though, even just “They completed this or not” just to provide incentives for those who may not be as intrinsically motivated?

David: For sure. 34:21 Yeah, I think that can help. I think that it’s worth considering the ways that our grading policy, like how much weight we give to each element of the course itself, is a rhetorical signal that tells students what we value and so I think, unless you’re able to do away with grades altogether, and most of us are not because of our institutions, it’s worth looking for ways to use that to help us teach, for sure. And extrinsic motivation is not worthless, even as most people, I think depend on it too much. But if you’ve got the grades yeah, I try to use them strategically.

Fiona: Could I ask about the chapter which you’ve entitled Teaching in Tumultuous Times, which in many ways pulls together all of the threads we’ve been discussing. What it means to meet students where they are, what it means to work as a learning coach in order to develop long-term, perhaps civic oriented ways of being in the world, but also opens up into issues of inclusivity in teaching and what it might mean for teaching to be a space in which we can actively address some of the more alarming directions that the world is tending at the moment. Could you talk about teaching in tumultuous times?

David: Yes, I believe very strongly that teaching matters. And I believe that because of my experience in the classroom. I really think that the transformations that can happen through working closely with young people are real, and they are incredibly meaningful to me. And once I realized that teaching is the pursuit of helping people develop, or change, or learn, it then became inevitable that I’d have to be committed to helping every single student develop, or change, or learn. And I recognize that I am not going to be successful in reaching every single student, but my practice needs to be committed to helping every single student. So what that means on the one hand is student centered teaching, as we’ve been talking about what that means, on the other hand, is looking closely at our status quo of teaching and realizing that it doesn’t serve every student equally well. I think it is decidedly the case that our normal way of teaching rewards students who can navigate the school environment, it rewards students who have better preparation, it rewards students who are mentally healthy. It rewards students who are physically capable and we want to ask ourselves, “Is this what we want to promote in our classrooms?” It’s not what I want to promote. And so that sort of led me into thinking about inclusive teaching practices, which I talk about not nearly long enough in that chapter, but as part of that chapter. I do think if we’re committed to helping every student learn, we need to think about making our classrooms more accessible. We need to think about practices that unwittingly, unwittingly, privileged students who have had better schooling, we need to think about ways that we are reproducing inequality. The other part of that chapter, or one other part of that chapter, has to deal with talking about politics in the classroom. And to me these things go together in a sense, because they are, as you implied with your question, they’re kind of about taking responsibility, or seeing that teaching does produce changes in our students and trying to be responsible for creating citizens. And I think that’s kind of a difficult pill for some professors to swallow, who say, “Well I teach chemistry. I don’t produce political thinkers,” but I do think that we have more influence than we know. And it’s worth thinking about what kinds of thinking we’re encouraging in our students. For those times when politics do come up, and they do come up more frequently than you think, it’s worth thinking through what we’re trying to achieve and what we’re trying to avoid. What really helped me in writing about politics in the classroom, and you’ll know this if you’ve read the book, is coming across some material from philosophy of education on the concept of indoctrination. And I really like this because indoctrination is one thing that everyone can agree we don’t want to do. And so it helped me to clarify my thinking to get clear on what we’re trying to avoid. So there are a number of philosophers who have worked to define more closely this concept of indoctrination, and what they’ve come up with is that indoctrination requires us to use our authority to inculcate an uncritically adopted belief. And so keeping that in mind that we have authority that can be used for ill, and that we want to avoid as students adopting beliefs without examining evidence without being critical. That helps me think about how I do want to talk about politics. So I want to privilege open mindedness rather than closed mindedness. I want to foster students to have more control rather than me having the control, I want to work against the authority that I might have. So things like that, I think, came out in that chapter. It’s a chapter that I get asked about probably most of all, I think these are subjects that are on a lot of teachers minds. And I think for good reason.

Fiona: The other piece of this puzzle is, of course, how the authority you just described that inheres in the figure of the teacher in some way in the classroom is itself not evenly distributed. So different sorts of teachers do and don’t match students’ ideas of what an authority figure is, what a professor looks like, what a teacher looks like.

David: Absolutely. Right.

Fiona: And so I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how these techniques you suggest also are risky?

David: Yes.

Fiona: For professors or for teachers who are already themselves in some way at risk just by trying to be in a classroom in the role that we call teacher.

David: Yeah, I think that there’s a real problem in advice given to teachers that ignores the many kinds of teachers that there are and ignores the, the huge differences in power that belong to different kinds of teachers. I learned this very vividly when I worked with grad instructors, all novice instructors, particularly young women struggle with authority in the classroom with students not respecting them, with students openly challenging them. And it’s something that I think we need to take very seriously. So it’s worth remembering that there’s no one size fits all teaching advice. You need to take a teaching approach that works for you particularly as a teacher. But it’s also worth remembering that no matter how powerless any one faculty member feels, institutional realities ensure that students have less power, at least within the institution. There are many other kinds of power, and those are real as well. But as long as we have the power to grade students and the power to fail students, we have to remember that giving students more control, giving students more power where we can, is almost always going to benefit us, no matter our position. And so that’s a difficult thing to get across, particularly for me as a white man, relatively healthy, relatively young, though that’s less and less each day. So I do try to be aware of that, that what works for me is not going to work for every teacher. And that’s pretty clear to me. And so no teaching approach is going to work if it makes the faculty member uncomfortable, if it makes the faculty member feel like they’re going to lose the room, as it were. So this is things that anyone who gives advice, which I guess it’s something that I’m doing professionally now needs to keep in mind, for sure.

Fiona: It also points to the importance of collaboration and community building among teachers, which is something that all of your work points towards, and your suggestion that we take co-teaching opportunities if they come along, or at the very least sit in on each other’s classes.

David: Yes.

Fiona: Which is something that I don’t think we think about as an actual pedagogical strategy.

David: Yes.

Fiona: But which seems so, so important, both in terms of what you described, which is seeing the classroom from the students’ perspective, but also seeing another teacher…

David: Absolutely.

Fiona:… In their environment dealing with what they’re dealing.

David: Yeah, I often think that so many of the problems that afflict teaching as a profession, so many of the reasons why teaching isn’t taken seriously as a discipline. So many of the reasons why students and learning is not understood as well as it should be, has to do with how private connectivity teaching is, how thick our classroom walls are. And actually the traditional independence of tenured faculty, which tells everyone else to stay away and “don’t tell me how to teach.” I do think that we do ourselves a disservice when we don’t pay attention to community, where we don’t try to learn from other people who are doing the same thing we do. Almost every other profession tries to take advantage of this. And so it’s a really strange and terrible tradition that we don’t get in the habit of seeing other teachers. It’s really amazing actually that you can go your whole career as a professional teacher and never, unless you’ve been required to evaluate someone for promotion, never see the inside of someone else’s classroom.

John: We’re starting to introduce an activity this semester where faculty will sit in on other people’s classes and then get together informally, and I think more and more colleges are doing that, but it is a relatively recent phenomenon. And I think it’s one we can all benefit from. One of the things you suggest, and we just talked about a little bit, is breaking down some of the barriers caused by that authority figure in the room. One of the ways you recommend doing that is by letting people know that you don’t know things.

David: Yes.

John: Could you talk a little bit about that strategy?

David: Yeah. And this is something that I often get pushback from faculty of color, from women faculty, but I get a lot of mileage out of self deprecation as a teacher. And again, this isn’t gonna work for everybody. But I do think that in that pursuit of students feeling like they own the class, part of that has to be me, giving up some of my ownership. It doesn’t need to mean inviting disrespect, but it does, to me at least, mean showing students one that I don’t know everything, which is pretty easy, for me at least, but two, that learning is a process and that you’re never done. And it’s not just that I’m not so smart, but that anyone, no matter how much they’ve learned, they’ve got more to go, and they’re going to make mistakes, and they want to keep learning. So I’m trying to encourage this to my students. A lot of it comes from being a parent actually and trying to encourage this in my children, this idea that I can always learn more and that curiosity is the best engine. So I do try to model uncertainty. This is quite common advice, but I do tell faculty all the time that it’s very powerful to tell students “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.” When students ask something, to not feel the need to pretend like you know everything, I think, is really powerful and can take away, in fact, some of that anxiety that young instructors have about being found out, which is something I certainly felt very strongly when I was starting out. If you take away from your concept of teacher this idea that you have to be the supreme authority, it can actually, maybe paradoxically, increase your authority a little bit because you’re no longer aiming so high. You don’t need to know quite so much. You can be a sort of fellow searcher with your students. And that’s a great place to be, where you’re part of that community of looking for answers of learning. You can model along the way for them.

John: And you could also work with them perhaps in trying to explore how you would find an answer to model that more explicitly and get them involved in finding the answers themselves.

Fiona: That sounds great.

John: One of the problems we had in preparing for this is in reading through the book, there were just so many wonderful things that we wanted to discuss that it could have taken days to go through all of this.

David: That is wonderful to hear. Thanks for saying so.

Fiona: We do end by asking “What’s next?”

David: I’m very excited about what I’ve been working on. I’m working on what I see as my next book. We’ll see if it gets there. But I’ve been thinking more and more about what I think of as one of the most important and most persistent problems in higher education, which is inequality of outcomes. We still have quite shocking completion rates in America. These numbers can vary depending on how you measure or what you’re looking at. But typically 70% of all White students in universities graduate within six years. That number for Black students is 40%, which is shockingly low, I think. For Hispanic students it’s at 50%. We see similar gaps for first generation students, we see similar gaps for students with disabilities. We see similar gaps for academic achievement for women in STEM still, we see similar gaps for low income students. So it’s something that I’m looking at in my research. Most universities are aware of this problem and are tackling it, or trying to tackle it, in one way or another with diversity and inclusion initiatives. And what’s really interesting to me is that for the most part, these initiatives don’t tackle teaching. They very often target students support networks. There are financial incentives, of course, but they don’t really tackle teaching. And I guess my intuition is that there’s a lot we can do in the classroom to affect these outcomes. My initial research so far has borne that out, that actually there’s been quite a lot of research in the scholarship of teaching and learning in the past decade on narrowing academic achievement gaps within particular classes. And I guess my running thesis is that by changing teaching approaches, we can do something about these broader completion gaps. So that’s the big picture project. I do think it’ll take a number of years to turn into a book, but that’s where I’m working right now. And I’m finding it very exciting, I think it’s something that’s really important.

Fiona: Your work is exciting and inspiring to us, we look forward to hearing about the developments in this newest direction.

David: Right, thanks so much.

[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. Editing assistance provided by Brittany Jones and Savannah Norton.

[MUSIC]

113. Podcasting for Professional Development

This is a live recording of a session in which we discussed podcasting for professional development on November 21, 2019 at the Online Learning Consortium’s Accelerate Conference. This episode provides a behind-the-scenes look at the Tea for Teaching podcast and an introduction to how to start your own podcast.

Show Notes

Transcript

Rebecca: Today we’re recording live from Disney World at the OLC Accelerate Conference. Today’s episode is a behind the scenes look at the Tea for Teaching podcast and an introduction to how to start your own podcast.

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[MUSIC]

John: Today’s teas are:

Rebecca: Well, I was supposed to have my favorite tea, but my co-host forgot to bring my tea. So I have Awake tea.

John: I specifically said I would be providing the tea. I thought she would be packing it. In the envelope you’ve received, we would have had two teas, but there was a communications gap. But you do have one tea which is one of my favorites. It’s ginger peach black tea from Tea Republic, which is what I’m drinking today.

Rebecca: Like our podcast, we want this session to be conversational. So we encourage you to ask questions throughout the session, rather than leaving them at the end. Ask for clarifications, ask for insider knowledge, or share your own perspective. Judie Littlejohn, who is wearing the Minnie Mouse ears, is assisting us today and has a microphone available to you to ask questions. We ask that before you ask a question though, if you can state your name, and then she’ll also collect your actual written name so we don’t spell it incorrectly in our transcript. Don’t worry, we’ll edit the episode so that we all sound great because we do heavy editing. So, please help us make this session and this podcast episode really useful by participating throughout. And we have a link at the very end to the digital resource and all the things that we’re going to talk about in much more detail if you want to visit that later.

John: So, we thought we’d talk a little bit about how we got started. We’ve been running a teaching center at Oswego for a while. We’ve been working together for I think, five years or so. A couple years ago, we both came to the idea that a podcast might be rather effective. And we both been listening to podcast for a number of reasons. I travel back and forth every summer to Duke and I do a lot of things in SUNY. So I’m driving across the state quite a bit. And podcasts were convenient way of just keeping myself entertained, but also doing some professional development work while driving.

Rebecca: And the summer before we actually decided that we were going to do this podcast in the first place. I had had a baby and I was desperately looking for intellectual stimulation. So, I spent a really long time and many hours listening to every kind of possible podcast, I listened to stories, I listened to research, I listened to teaching podcasts, I listened to Teaching in Higher Ed, Design Education Today, and many, many others. That was all I was doing day in and day out because I couldn’t do anything else having two hands full.

John: At our teaching center, we normally offer about 300 workshops per year. But we noted that a lot of faculty weren’t able to attend because of time conflicts in their schedules, because they were adjuncts working at multiple institutions, or they were commuting over large distances. While we record these workshops as videos, busy faculty often would find it difficult to sit down at a computer and watch a recording of the workshops.

Rebecca: So, when we came back in the fall of 2017, we both were trying to explore ways to address that issue. And we said, well, what about a podcast? And we thought we’d experiment. So, this was all meant to be a small little experiment. The small little experiment started with needing a brand. I’m a designer, a graphic designer… So, everything needs a brand. You got to start there. That’s the only way things can get done. It was kind of challenging to come up with a name.

John: We did actually asked for suggestions from our faculty. And they came up with maybe six or seven names, none of which we both liked.

Rebecca: We had these roundtable sessions on a regular basis that were really popular called Tea for Teaching and at one point, one of our colleagues said, “Well, why don’t you just use that?” And we decided to do that. it was a format that I had brought with me from another institution. So, it’s a name that has traveled with me a bit. So, we decided to do that. But, of course, now that means we’ve had to rebrand our roundtable discussions on campus.

John: This picture up here, and we’ll include a link to that in the show notes [included in slide show in the show notes file], shows a table in our conference room that we use when we did the tea for teaching sessions. And we’ve got probably a couple hundred different types of tea there.

Rebecca: Just a small selection, in case you’re not sure what you might want. For some, there’s too many choices. You spend your whole time trying to decide what it is that you’re going to drink during the discussion. We checked immediately and found out that teaforteaching.com was available… we got it… and then of course, we failed to check all of our social media, and it was not available. So, we use our personal Twitter handles and teaforteaching.com. So, this is a memorable lesson: that you need to make sure that you check all platforms for the name that you’re choosing for something ahead of time. But, of course, we were just doing a little experiment, so it wasn’t going to be a big deal. We decided from the start that we’re going to use an interview format and that meant that we needed to have guests. So, we started initially by reaching out to faculty that were on our campus that we knew that we’re doing interesting things. And, specifically, we started with our teaching award winner, and that was Casey Raymond.

John: He recorded a couple podcast with us. But, our very second guest on the show was Judie Littlejohn, who we knew, but she drove to campus. We were a little nervous about doing something online at first… we were just getting started. So, she visited us and was our second guest. And then our first guest that we didn’t know was three months later, actually, Doug McKee, who’s a host of the Teach Better podcast. He’s also an economist at Cornell, and I had followed him on Twitter, and I saw him post something about the Active Learning Initiative. And so he was on episode 12. And Judie was episode 2.

Rebecca: I think we have another one of our guests in the audience today.

John: And we also have Michelle Miller, who’s been on now for four podcasts as of this week. The most recent one just came out on Wednesday, which was on Neuromyths and Evidence-Based Practices. actually an OLC-sponsored study that originated at OLC a few years ago.

Rebecca: So we’ve had a number of guests that we’ve selected from articles and books in the Chronicle or what have you that we found or tweets that we found interesting and then we pursued… and as our guest list has evolved, we’ve been really excited that we’ve been able to highlight our local faculty in the mix. So, we have both local, regional, national, and international guests. And it’s really nice because we’re able to elevate our local faculty, which was important to us from the beginning. This is also a moment just to remind everyone that this is supposed to be interactive, and no one has asked a question yet.

John: If anyone has any questions at any time, just raise your hand and Judie will get the microphone as close as she can. It’s only a 50 foot cable. If you’re further than that, you can come up to the microphone.

Rebecca: Make sure you ask questions as it relates to the topics that we have a nice dialogue during the actual episode that’s released.

STEVEN BORAWSKI:

Steven Borawski. I’m from Tiffin University. I’ll be the first brave soul, I guess. I just got interested in podcasting… been listening forever. And one of my kids wanted to make one. And so I’m kind of curious, when you started to realize you had something more than just an experiment… when did it get kind of serious for you guys?

John: Within the first month or so when the number of downloads went from being in the dozens to being in the hundreds? We were kind of surprised by that. And by the end of the first month, we had downloads in I think about 35 or 40 countries. And that was not anything we anticipated. We expected originally it would be mostly people within our institution, or within the SUNY system, because we did have people from other SUNY campuses on at first as well.

Rebecca: I think it was also a moment of success when we had some faculty who hadn’t come to any professional development workshops before, who came up to us and said that they had listened to an episode and found it really helpful. As soon as we had one of those interactions it’s like “Big win… we need to keep doing this.” And we both had those kinds of experiences multiple times over. So, it’s been really rewarding in that respect, because it was really for our own local campus is why we did this. It wasn’t to have a bigger audience, although we have a bigger audience than that.

John: And we’re thrilled by that. And that makes it easier to get new guests. And we didn’t want to invite too many guests who were nationally known until we had a reasonable size audience. And once we started getting some nationally and internationally known guests, we felt much more comfortable asking people. But, one of the things that’s really amazed us is how, when we’ve asked people, they nearly always have said yes.

Rebecca: Which is great. [LAUGHTER] From the start, we mentioned that this was going to be an experiment. So, our initial recording studio was just our office… there was just this little tiny table in the corner of our office… We could close the office door. We put a little sign on the outside that says recording in progress. There was a big window and people could kind of see in and see what was happening. And early on we were doing a lot of our recordings, coincidentally I think, in the morning, it wasn’t intentional. And so we didn’t realize that our office is on a major thoroughfare, apparently. So it became really obvious in our recording with Robin DeRosa, which we recorded in the early evening after she gave a workshop on our campus. So, we heard noises like this: [sound of toilet flushing]. The women’s bathroom is located behind our office. [Blender sound] Our office is located adjacent to the cafe. [LAUGHTER]

John: …which is a Starbucks with a grinder and a blender and other noisy things there.

Rebecca: [Sound of a noisy cart rolling past] …that apparently receives deliveries at the exact same time we were recording. So luckily, Robin has a great sense of humor. [LAUGHTER] Because we had to stop every five seconds to allow for all of those noises to occur. So we weren’t getting those constantly in the background. And we were laughing pretty hard by the end because it was getting quite ridiculous.

John: There was one time where Rebecca started a sentence about three or four times and at no point did she get the whole sentence out. And it took me probably an hour to rebuild it from the different fragments of sentences into something that sounded like a complete sentence. And that podcast particularly it took about an hour and a half to record and it became about a 38 minute podcast once we removed all those second starts and other noises. So, that was the problem that we had. One of the first things we did is we made sure that the microphones we use were dynamic mics, rather than condenser mics. They’re not powered, they don’t pick up noises as well from further distances. They’re based entirely on proximity. They’re based on the pressure of the sound wave. So, using a dynamic mic is a really good thing to do if you’re going to set up a podcast and record in the sort of environment we normally have. There are other mics that work really well in a studio and capture sound much more accurately, but we don’t really want all that sound to be captured from our office.

Rebecca: So, we have a small upgrade in our location. And I mean small. We’re in a borrowed space for our recordings, which is an old recording booth for an actual TV station. So, it’s just like a teeny, tiny little closet essentially, that we have strung up all kinds of fabric and things on the walls so that it absorbs some sound.

And there’s a couple of things that we do to make people a little more comfortable. We usually start with a little informal chatter. And literally, it’s that just a little informal conversation to get people to feel a little more comfortable. Most of our guests have never been recorded before, so they’re pretty nervous. And we have now noticed that there’s all kinds of nervous tics that people have. Our favorite one is the rubbing of the pants. [Sound of hand rubbing against fabric] So, it’s like this on your leg constantly while you’re talking, which is really loud when you’re recording. We try to remind folks about some of those nervous habits and just get them to feel comfortable.

John: And the chairs that we borrowed for this room. squeak whenever people turn or fidget and when people are really nervous they turn and fidget a lot. So, we do a fair amount of work on the editing there. [LAUGHTER]

JUDIE: We have a question.

CLIFFORD STUMME: My name is Cliff. I do a little bit of podcasting and online content creation myself. And usually the success metric for that is how much ad revenue am I creating… how much are sponsorships paying? When you guys are working on this, the first thing that comes into my mind is there’s got to be a lot of like professional development or career benefits that go along with it. And maybe this is something you’re going to be talking about later. But, I’d really like to know what kind of personal benefits that you’ve seen from it, whether maybe opportunities to speak or whether you guys just do it for the love of helping the people who listen.

John: We started doing this primarily as an alternative to some of our workshops, although we haven’t really cut back on workshops that much. And, mostly, it’s just been a lot of fun that normally when we do workshops, and we have maybe 10 or 15 people there and we talk about ways of implementing various strategies. We get to hear little bits and snippets of what people are doing. When we’re dealing with a podcast, we sit down and record with them, typically for an hour or so. Sometimes it’s a little bit less, but we get to explore what they’re doing in much more depth.

Rebecca: I think it’s a really great opportunity to get to know so many really great researchers and teachers, both on our campus and nationally. And it’s been a really great opportunity to hear what people are doing. And, I think one of the benefits but also maybe one of the problems with doing this podcast is we have all these really great ideas of things that we want to do in our classes and no time to do it. Because, every time we interview someone, we think, “Oh, wow, let’s do that too.” And I think we’re in a constant cycle of redevelopment, which is good, but at the same time, I get like maybe a little too excited about all the cool stuff we hear about.

John: Yeah, and I do the same. I had students write a textbook last time based on hearing about open pedagogy, and quite a few other projects like that.

KIM BENOWSKI: Hi. I hope you can hear me, I hate talking on microphone. So, I probably would not be the one podcasting, but I work with a media team and whatnot at my university. I’m Kim Benowski from Cornell, and a lot of the media work that I’ve done with faculty… and there’s many faculty that want to come prepared. So, they often want to pre-write a script. They want all the questions and such. I’m wondering how you deal with that. Because in my experience, when we’re making videos, the unscripted is often so much better, more authentic and genuine, especially for a podcast. I was wondering how you handle that and if there are certain things that you do to coach your faculty in advance like, “When you come expect X, Y, and Z.” I ask them not to prepare, if you want to bring bullet points, that’s great, but how do you apply this in the podcast?

John: That’s a really good question. What we do, basically, is we share a Google Doc with them with questions that we’d like to address and we leave it editable so they can modify that if there are things they’d like to emphasize that. We tell them we we want to keep it conversational. Many times people bring notes and sometimes they start reading from the script. And it doesn’t sound quite as good. So, we discourage that. And if they start reading from a script, what do you normally do?

Rebecca: Then I ask a really like, bizarre question that’s not on the script. That’s my job.

John: There have also been a few times when we said “That sounded like you were just reading from the script. Let’s redo that.” One of the things we tend to do to put people at ease, though, is we tell them that because this isn’t live, we edit it thoroughly. And if there’s something you said that didn’t sound good, just say it again, just start over. And we’ve had podcasts that were an hour and a half or an hour and 40 minutes, edited down to 38 minutes with the start overs removed. And we’re not perfect in terms of our presentations, and many of our guests… it’s the first time they’ve done this type of thing. So there’s lots of arms, there’s lots of breathing noises. There’s lots of other things. There’s people who will say “like,” “you know,” “sort of,” “kinda like” all the time, and we just simply remove all that before it goes out.

Rebecca: Yeah, and in case you haven’t noticed we’re not very polished. But, when you listen to the episode that will come out. It’ll sound way more polished.

John: …and shorter.

Rebecca: John’s really good at doing that. But also, if you don’t like talking and being recorded, neither do I. I’m actually quite introverted and really hate this. But, it’s possible you can do it.

TRACY MENDOLIA-MOORE: Tracy with Western University. My question is: “How much time are you investing after the podcast… in the editing? Like, on average… I’m sure there’s more or less, but on average, how much time are you investing in that?

Rebecca: Too much.

John: Too much. On average, it’s probably about 20 hours a podcast.

JUDIE: Would you repeat that, please?

John: On average, it’s probably about 20 hours a podcast.

Rebecca: But, that’s because John is like obsessive. The average person would never edit it to that extreme.

John: But that also includes generating the transcript and cleaning up the transcript as well.

Rebecca: While we’re getting over to the next question, do you want to talk a little bit about our setup and how to deal with some of the noise?

John: If there’s basic noises like a room hum or static, there’s noise filters.

Rebecca: What about people who pop their Ps all the time, john, like your co-host.

John: Yeah… So, if you look at the microphone there, you notice that little thing at the top, that’s a pop filter. so that when people…

Rebecca: …pop their Ps…

John: …like that directly into the microphone, that cuts it down a little bit. And the rest is just cutting out a little bit of the initial tone and dampening it down and softening it a bit.

Rebecca: And if you want to annoy your co-hosts, you make sure that you have lots of annoying sentences that have a lot of pops in them.

John: And another thing we were having problems with at times is when the microphones were on a table like this, people would tap the table or bump the table or drop things on it. So, we have shockmount on the microphone, so that they’re all suspended basically in elastic.

TAYLOR KENDRICK: Hi, this is Taylor Kendrick from Samford University. Thank you all for hosting. I was curious about when your very first podcast went out. You said you had a very good response. What were you doing for getting the word out? “Hey, we’re here.” So someone would listen.

John: We shared it on our local campus email, we’ve got about 1200 people on our email list and we also shared it in a SUNY-wide Facebook Workplace group… so that all of SUNY has access to that. And it also got shared by some people in SUNY, who put it out in news releases, and so on. And from there, it just sort of spread. We’ve posted on Twitter, and we have a Facebook group. And so we shared it on social media, and it just gradually kept getting bigger and bigger.

Rebecca: I mean it started off a little slow, but it has grown pretty rapidly since then. So, we talked a little bit about guests who have never been recorded before and don’t always know how to have their space setup. So, John, do you want to talk a little bit about some of the things that we do for that?

John: Sure. We do send out suggestions to people to use the best mic they have available and to try to make sure they have a solid network connection. We remind people not to be rustling papers when they’re talking, or if they’re using the laptop microphone, which we discourage… but if they’re using their laptop microphone, we ask them not to be typing or scrolling on the laptop when they’re doing it because then you get this dragging sound and so… And some guests, we had to remind 10 or 12 times to do that, because they put some notes up on the computer, and they were scrolling with a touchpad…

Rebecca: …you mean I should do that right now?

John: And that would be an example. But basically, there are other issues. We had a podcast not too long ago where we had someone who was outside, we had someone else who was in a new apartment. So, the person outside we were getting wind gusts coming in and a bird behind them. And the person who had just moved into a new apartment ended up having bare walls and a bare floor and it was like an echo chamber. So, it was an interesting challenge to clean all of that up. There are some nice de-reverb filters you can use to do some of that.

Rebecca: So, we try to remind guests, especially if they’re remote to find a space that maybe has carpeting or some other absorbing materials around to make the space a little bit better. And then also to preferably have a microphone that’s not attached to their headphones so that we don’t end up carrying them through their headphones.

PIERRE BORQUE: I have three questions. I’ll ask them. I can ask them to answer and then the second one you can answer My name is Pierre Borque. I’m from the École de Technologie Supérieure of the University of Quebec provincial system in Montreal. So, my first question is: Do you have any idea of how large your audience is and how do you know that?

John: We get downloads statistics, and we’re generally getting about 3000 downloads a month right now… or a little over, I think the last month it was 3300 or so. So, it’s grown quite a bit.

Rebecca: We also have pretty good traffic on the website, too, but I don’t have the latest stats on that.

PIERRE: My second question is, how many podcasts have you done?

John: We just released our 108th, which is Michelle’s podcast on Neuromyths…

PIERRE: So, how do you generate new content? Are you sort of… the same subjects keep sort of coming back? What’s your strategy for generating new and interesting content?

Rebecca: We find people that we want to talk to. [LAUGHTER]

John: And we also look at Twitter to see what people are posting about. When new books come out, ee look at that… we look at reviews… we look at The Chronicle to see interesting studies that people have done or interesting books that are being posted or talked about or interesting issues. We also look at Inside Higher Ed, and we’re getting more word of mouth where people are recommending people as possible guests to us as well.

Rebecca: I’m pretty sure our attendance at this conference was a scouting adventure. [LAUGHTER]

PIERRE: My third question is for our administrators of which I used to be one up till very recently. Have you identified to your administrators any impact or any benefits in your own institution of hosting this podcast? Has it helped students, faculty, some specific benefits that you’ve cited for your own administrators by hosting this impact? I would like to see some examples.

John: We hear from lots of people about changes they’ve made in their classes and they sometimes talk about how it’s impacted their teaching. The evidence on that in terms of the feedback cycle is not as complete as we’d like. But that’s true with most of the workshops that we’ve been doing. I think the main thing is we’re reaching faculty who we otherwise hadn’t been reaching. And that’s also often times has made them come in for other workshops when they can..

Rebecca: It’s a little challenging to breakdown that specific data from the kind of stats that we can get from the each episode because it just kind of regional data. So it doesn’t tell you: “This is a person from SUNY-Oswego.” But, we’re able to make some guesses about where they’re coming from.

John: We’ve had at least two or three people said that they became interested in doing open pedagogy project because of the podcast we did with Robin DeRosa, and they’re doing them this semester. Actually, two or three people mentioned that specifically, but we have now nine new faculty doing open pedagogy project as part of a SUNY-wide grant. But, I think that podcast inspired at least some of them to consider doing that. And I know Michelle’s podcast on retrieval practice has induced more people to consider doing more work with retrieval practice in various forms. And people do come up to us and tell us about that or send us emails about that. And we do see it in other workshops, where they’re talking about how they’ve implemented some of these things.

Rebecca: And I think our administration really values it. I know that our Provost as well as our Diversity Officer have mentioned it to faculty that they’re considering hiring and those that are newly hired. We even, at new faculty orientation, had quite a few faculty come up to us. It was like, “Oh, we’re so glad to finally meet you.” Because they had been listening, which is a really bizarre experience, right? [LAUGHTER] Wait, you’ve been listening? What do you mean? Who are you? [LAUGHTER]

John: And it’s sometimes really strange at a conference when people come up and start talking to you about something. And then it will be obvious that they’re talking about a podcast episode. They listen, and they feel they know us because they’ve been listening to us for 100 hours or more.

Rebecca: …and our voices are familiar., yeah.

MICHELLE BAKER: Hi, my name is Michelle. I’m from Penn State University. And I’m wondering, on the technical side of things, what software do you use for all of the editing that you’ve been talking about? And my follow up question to that is you’ve talked a lot about reducing sound. I’m wondering do you also add sound effects and music and if you do, where do you find that?

John: In terms of adding it, and that’s an easy one. We licensed some music from one of the sites that that provides these sources. And that’s recorded and just fixed. And we just do that. That’s the intro and outro. In terms of editing, we use Adobe Audition for most of our editing. And we do have a campus license for that. In terms of things related to software. When we have remote guests, it’s a little more challenging, which is why we postponed that a little bit when we first started, because our network was not always stable, and our guests often don’t have stable network. So, we do end up with some drops of data or sometimes people disconnecting, or the quality of the voice just fades away. So, what we used to do, up until about three or four weeks ago, we were using Zoom for Voice over IP. And on our local side, we were using Audio Hijack, so that our voices would be recorded in our local mixer directly from our microphones, but we’d take the incoming voice from our guests as a separate channel so we’d be able to edit our guests and us separately, so we normally sounded pretty clean (unless there were carts going by or toilets flushing), but the guests audio varied a bit depending on network speed and noise and other issues. We just recently moved to SquadCast. And the first time we used it was with a podcast with Kristen Betts and Michelle. What that does basically…

Rebecca: Thanks for being a guinea pig.

John: …it’s a double-ender recording session. It’s a web based app. It records each end of the podcast separately to the local computer and streams it in the background. So, you get the highest quality audio from each end of the podcast. And you can have up to, I believe four different sites connecting at once. We used it with 3 in that one. So, Kristin Betts was on one channel, Michelle was on another, and we were on a third,

Rebecca: It starts getting a little complicated when you have more than four people. It’s like hard to follow who’s talking. We’ve done a couple where there’s a few more guests than that, and it’s really challenging to edit. It’s challenging to listen to. So, I think for us kind of the max. As we mentioned earlier, we started off as an experiment. We’re well over 100 episodes now. So, clearly, it’s not an experiment anymore. It’s a thing we do. [LAUGHTER] And probably no one’s more surprised about this than I am. And John just keeps saying “It’s growing, it’s growing, we got to keep doing it.”

John: And we have had pretty steady growth. Each month it’s gone up. We’ve been over 3000 for the last four months. And we’re certainly on track for that, again, we have listeners in every state. I remember, there was that last state, it took about five or six months to get to but we finally got it. I think it was… Arkansas.

Rebecca: It was. Yeah.

John: Arkansas was the last state. And when we finally got that person, it was great. And now we see a teaching center there actually has this on a website. We’ve got notification of that recently. So we’re now getting a reasonable number of downloads from every state and we have over 100 countries.

Rebecca: Yep. And I think a lot of the evidence that we had that we mentioned earlier is really anecdotal and when faculty reach out to us or send us messages, we try to keep all of those stash those stories and things that we have those that we can report back on. We also are really proud that from the very, very beginning, our podcast has been accessible… meaning that we made sure that the website itself is accessible but also that we have had transcripts since the very first episode. We think that’s really important and we’ve maintained that and we continually improve the site and do things to increase the accessibility. Originally, we were using YouTube for those transcripts, and then a lot of human editing from there. But now we’re using otter.ai, which actually comes with some capitalization and punctuation. [LAUGHTER]

John: Yeah, because YouTube was really good in terms of its accuracy. But you just got a stream of words, and it didn’t identify the speakers. It didn’t put in punctuation or capitalization, and it was a real pain, just adding those things. Otter.ai is slightly less accurate, but putting in all the punctuation and putting in the capitalization… and identifying speakers. It recognizes my voice, Rebecca still has to be trained again, so that it will recognize her. But our guests come in as an identified speaker 1, unidentified speaker 2, and it’s really easy to clean that up. It makes it much easier and it’s probably cut 30% off of the transcript editing time.

Rebecca: and I think otter.ai is free for 50 hours a month.

John: 50 hours a month… per Gmail account. And if you have multiple Gmail accounts that makes it pretty large,

LUVON HUDSON: Hi. Luvon Hudson from Central Piedmont Community College. And my question is simply… I don’t know if you can recommend, or if you have advice around, maybe like a sweet spot, if there is such thing, for the length of a podcast, a lot of my faculty don’t really like to sit long. So, I don’t know if that translates into the same thing for podcasts as well. I’ve heard you say 38 minutes twice. I don’t know if that’s maybe your sweet spot, because I do know that transcription and things like that kind of add into that backend work. So, do you recommend that or is that even a factor? Is it more just around the content and the quality of what you’re talking about?

John: It varies a bit with that, but we generally schedule hour-long recording sessions. Sometimes, they go a little bit longer, but we try to keep the actual recording to an hour, including some conversation in the beginning, some setup and so forth. Most of our episodes are between 30 and 40 minutes. We do have longer ones, but the longer ones in general had a lot of really rich content that we just couldn’t cut or we wouldn’t want to cut. I don’t know what the optimal length is. And that’s one of the questions, actually, in the survey. We’re curious. But I know, I tend to prefer not to listen to podcasts that go over an hour. For me, most of the podcasts I enjoy the most are between 20 and 50 minutes, because that’s nice for a reasonable commute.

Rebecca: I’d say we have a lot of faculty that commute and they come from two different cities into Oswego and the shorter one is like a 30 or 40 minute commute. So trying to keep to that one I think is key for our local audience.

John: I should say that one thing that I do is I listened to all my podcasts initially at 1.5 times and now I listen to them at double speed. And it’s really a little disconcerting when we talk to someone who I hear on other podcasts, and all of a sudden they’re really slow speakers because I’ve gotten used to hearing him at double speed.

MARIE BAMAS: Hi, I’m Maria from Middle Tennessee State University. When you guys started really getting into this and refining it and making what you had started out with better in terms of like the software or the hardware and your content? Did you go to other conferences? Did you do most of your research on the interwebs? I mean, like, how did you refine it and get all the information and kind of like, make it as best as it could be like what it is today?

John: That’s a good question. All the above, except we haven’t really had that much formal training on this. Mostly, if I’m noticing a noise problem when I’m editing, I just do a search on the web, or I look at the help in Adobe Audition, or I’ll look at some of the LinkedIn learning discussions of how to do these things. There are so many YouTube videos on removing pops and clicks and other things. And there’s YouTube videos on pretty much every type of thing and I use those a lot when I’m trying to deal with a different problem that I haven’t dealt with before. Adobe Audition keeps getting better. One of the things that happens is, we mentioned the first podcast that were relatively short. The very first one, I think it probably took maybe an hour to edit because I wasn’t hearing a lot of the noise there. One of the things that happens is, the more you edit these things, the more you notice. The noise in the office we had lived with for years. So, it was just background noise that we didn’t notice. But when you start hearing it from headphones, and you start using better headphones, you can hear that noise much more clearly. And so you just become more adept at observing things and cleaning them up.

Rebecca: I think in terms of content, we got some yeses from people that we were surprised said yes. So, then we just started asking more people that seemed like a stretch, and then we kept getting yeses. So now it’s like nobody’s a stretch, we’ll just ask. Sometimes we get ignored. Sometimes we get yeses. Very rarely do we get nos. So it’s been really great.

TAYLOR: Hi, this Taylor again from Samford University. Going back to the issue of what your shows are about and your content, was your original idea to do PD (professional development) specific just for your university or with particular subjects or was it always “These are people we want to talk to.” Because I’ve thought about doing PD specific for my university on topic versus guest.

Rebecca: Yeah, it specifically has always been about teaching and learning. So, we run the Teaching and Learning Center on our campus, and so it was meant to substitute for some faculty instead of going to workshops and things that this would be a supplement or an alternative in the way of being more accessible in alternative format for folks who might need it. I think it’s always focused on being a professional development specifically for faculty, although I think we have a mix of faculty, staff, and administrators who listen,

John: But, it’s primarily interviews with people who are very skilled in the specific thing that we’re talking about. So, we find people who are doing interesting things, interesting applications, or interesting techniques, and then we interview them. So, it is professional development, but it’s generally professional development using experts on that particular topic.

Rebecca: And think we tried to find a mix between people who are doing research on particular topics as well as faculty who are implementing things in their classes so that we have examples as well as research to back some of those things up.

JUDIE: Do we have time for one more?

Rebecca: Yeah, I think we have time for one more.

LUVON: Typically at our school, we normally have to go through our communications and marketing department. Do you have any issues having to do that?

John: We didn’t tell anybody. We just started doing it. [LAUGHTER] And by the time we had a national and international audience, they were actually pretty pleased with it. So, I don’t think our Dean or Provost discovered it until we had been doing it for a few months. And they started hearing about it from other people.It’s gotten some good favorable reviews from the administration, but I think we found it easier just to do it without going through those channels.

Rebecca: Well, and then, actually, our communications office did a feature story on our hundredth episode. So I think we’ve got buy in now.

John: Yeah.

Rebecca: After 100 It’s a thing.

John: Yeah. So we did it. It worked and then we got the buy in.

Rebecca: Always. [LAUGHTER]

John: We may edit that part out .[LAUGHTER] But we did have our Provost on the podcast.

In that document that we shared with you, we have details on setting up your own in terms of microphones, hardware, low-budget ways of doing this more expensive ways of doing this. So, there’s a lot of resources there. And if there’s anything we can help you with, just send us an email and we’d be happy to give you some assistance.

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

John: I’m going to DIsney World… I’m going to continue with the conference, go back and work with my students for the rest of the semester.

Rebecca: And I’m going to be on sabbatical in the spring. That’s what I’m going to do… and so look forward to some recordings with some guest hosts while I’m away. I’ll still be recording some, but we’re hoping that some of our previous guests will come in and guest host while I am away.

[MUSIC]

[APPLAUSE]

John: Thank you.

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

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

108. Neuromyths

Faculty design their classes based on their perceptions of how students learn. These perceptions, though, are not always consistent with the science of learning. In this episode, Dr. Kristen Betts and Dr. Michelle Miller join us to discuss the prevalence of neuromyths and awareness of evidence-based practices in higher ed.

Kristen is a clinical professor in the online Ed.D. program in Educational Leadership and Management in the School of Education at Drexel University. Michelle is the Director of the First-Year Learning Initiative, Professor of Psychological Sciences and the President’s Distinguished Teaching Fellow at Northern Arizona University. She’s also the author of Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology and a frequent guest on this podcast.

Show Notes

  • Miller, M. D. (2014). Minds online. Harvard University Press.
  • Online Learning Consortium
  • Betts, K., Miller, M., Tokuhama-Espinosa, T., Shewokis, P., Anderson, A., Borja, C., Galoyan, T., Delaney, B., Eigenauer, J., & Dekker, S. (2019). International report: Neuromyths and evidence-based practices in higher education. Online Learning Consortium: Newburyport, MA.
  • Mariale Hardiman
  • Tracey Noel Tokuhama-Espinosa
  • Dekker, S., Lee, N. C., Howard-Jones, P., & Jolles, J. (2012). Neuromyths in education: Prevalence and predictors of misconceptions among teachers. Frontiers in psychology, 3, 429.
  • Alida Anderson
  • Macdonald, K., Germine, L., Anderson, A., Christodoulou, J., & McGrath, L. M. (2017). Dispelling the myth: Training in education or neuroscience decreases but does not eliminate beliefs in neuromyths. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 1314.
  • Universal Design for Learning,” CAST website
  • Mchelle Miller, “65. Retrieval Practice” – Tea for Teaching podcast, January 23, 2019.
  • Vygotsky, L. (1987). Zone of proximal development. Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes, 5291, 157.
  • Michelle Miller, “86. Attention Matters” – Tea for Teaching podcast, June 19, 2019.

Transcript

John: Faculty design their classes based on their perceptions of how students learn. These perceptions, though, are not always consistent with the science of learning. In this episode, we examine the prevalence of neuromyths and awareness of evidence-based practices in higher ed.

[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 are Dr. Kristen Betts and Dr. Michelle Miller. Kristen is a clinical professor in the online EDD program in Ed.D. Educational Leadership and Management in the School of Education at Drexel University. Michelle is the Director of the First-Year Learning Initiative, Professor of Psychological Sciences and the President’s Distinguished Teaching Fellow at Northern Arizona University. She’s also the author of Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology and a frequent guest on this podcast. Welcome, Kristen and welcome back, Michelle.

Kristen: Thank you so much for having us.

Michelle: Hi, it’s great to be here again.

John: Were really pleased to talk to you. Our teas today are…

Kristen: I’m drinking Apricot Oolong, a green Tea. Nice for the afternoon.

Michelle: And, I have a wonderful hibiscus tea.

Rebecca: And, I have… big surprise… English Afternoon tea.

John: And, I have ginger peach black tea.

We invited you here to talk about the study that you both worked on together on neuromyths and evidence-based practices in higher education. Could you tell us what prompted this study?

Kristen: Sure. As a lifelong learner, I decided I would enroll in a wonderful program being offered at Johns Hopkins University several years ago in mind, brain, and teaching led by Dr. Mariale Hardiman. In one of the courses, I read several articles that looked at the high prevalence of neuromyths in K through 12 education. And, one of the things that caught me by surprise was: One, I was a K through 12 teacher early in my career. I was, at the time, a professor in the School of Education, and in looking at some of the neuromyths, they actually looked like things that I had studied as part of professional development. And, I had not assumed they would be neuromyths. And, so it really intrigued me in terms of: Why is there this high prevalence and why are we not more aware of some of the evidence-based practices that are out there? Not just in the United States, but clearly these were studies that were taking place internationally. So, I decided to start looking at this through the lens of higher education, because that’s where I work and it’s my area of expertise, and I reached out to Dr. Michelle Miller. I was at the Online Learning Consortium conference. Her focus is on cognitive psychology. So, I approached her after the session and told her about this interest in looking at neuromyths within the field of education… really, across disciplines, in trying to see was it similar to what the findings were in K through 12 education, and what was really being done to integrate evidence-based practices into pedagogy or even andragogy. So, we decided to connect and start looking at this. I had a wonderful PHD student who I was working with at the time as well, who is from Armenia, very interested in this topic, and we quickly grew our small group to include a total of ten researchers from the total of seven different institutions nationally and internationally across three countries. And, everybody brought different expertise, everyone from two-year colleges, four-year colleges, public, private. And, we also were very fortunate because we were able to find, really some of the seminal researchers in the area of mind-brain education science, such as Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa. And, we reached out to the researchers who actually conducted the studies looking at neuromyths like Sanne Dekker, and we reached out to a Alida Anderson who worked with McDonald et. al. in their 2017 publication. So, it quickly grew from a point of interest in trying to identify what was happening in higher education, to really a much broader international study.

Michelle: Oh, and just echoing what Kristen has said here, we first did meet through the Online Learning Consortium, first at a conference and then they set up calls where we got to talk to each other and realize that even though we came from somewhat different academic backgrounds and published in some different areas, we really had this common ground of interest in how do we bring more evidence-based teaching to faculty in higher education and really throughout the world. And, to me, as a cognitive psychologist, it’s just an inherently fascinating question of, even though we live in our own minds, why do we not sometimes understand some basic principles of how the mind and how the brain works? So, that’s just an intellectually interesting question to me. But then it does take on this tremendous practical importance when we start to look at teaching practices throughout the world and bringing that really quality evidence-based design of teaching and learning experiences for our students.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about how, once all of these researchers are now together, how did you put the study together and how was it conducted?

Kristen: I have to say it was not easy. Thank goodness, we reached out to some of the original authors. The survey instruments that looked at neuromyths and general knowledge about the brain. And, what was so interesting is almost all the studies were truly K through 12 focus, so the questions were very different. Even looking at lexicon, “girl and boy,” where we would want to look at male/female. So, we had a look at absolutely every question and make sure that we were able to revise that question within the framework for the lens of higher education. So, it was not an easy process, just in terms of time, because we had to go through so many iterations. And, I think that really helps with the integrity of the research. We had two pilot studies, even down to looking at the Likert scales that we used. One of the things that really stood out was the primary study that we looked at, which was a 2012 study by Sanne Dekker and several other researchers. They had a Likert scale that looked at correct, incorrect and I don’t know. There was a study by McDonald and colleagues in 2017 and they changed it to true and false. So, we decided early on, we would go with true and false. And, when we did that pilot, we ended up with half the participants stopping midway and simply putting, “I’m not sure if it’s true or false…” and they just didn’t complete the survey. And, I think, just looking at how we phrase the questions, it really affected the participation of our respondents. So, we went back, we modified some of the questions based on that, and we change the Likert scale. And, I think being able to have the ability to say whether it was correct, incorrect, or you didn’t know took away from saying it was true or false, because you can base it on knowledge or what you perhaps had been exposed to. And, we ended up having a wonderful pilot making some additional changes. And the feedback that we got, even after sending out the survey, we had a flood of emails saying “Can you please send us a copy of the study, we’re really interested?” So, we really looked at everything. And, I would say one thing that stood out most; and again I go back to the time we spent over two years on this study from point of inception to where we actually send out the survey, collected this study and then published it, was when we looked at the neuromyths, what we quickly realized was we needed to examine evidence-based practices as well. And, we looked at all of this from a metacognitive perspective. The prior studies that were done, looked at what they called “endorsing neuromyths,” and we weren’t so much looking at endorsing, we wanted to look at awareness, because all of us were involved in teaching… professional development. And, so it was a matter of trying to identify what the gaps were, what were instructors, instructional designers, and professional development administrators aware of and, if there is that gap, how could we develop a study where people would say “Wow, I also thought that was correct, but it’s incorrect… but, I would love to find out what the response is and how I can change my knowledge or understanding.” And, so we looked at absolutely everything and wanted to create a study that people would pick up and say, “This is where I am now. Gosh, after going through this in reading the report, this is where I am and my circle of knowledge needs to continue to expand, as things continue to expand through mind-brain education science.”

Michelle: As a collaborative effort, I haven’t been involved really in a study of this scale and scope. And, it’s simply the level of collaboration. You just heard about one of the iterations of the survey instrument that we put together and just how that piece of the study came about. But all the way through the analyses, the writing, it was such an opportunity, even apart from what we were able to share with the rest of the world, just from my own niche piece of the study as well. The opportunity, as a cognitive psychologist, to start infusing what I feel is more attention that needs to be paid to cognitive psychology and learning sciences. The opportunity to infuse that into this field in this area of thinking was also really exciting as well.

Kristen: So, in terms of how it was conducted, we sent the survey out for the Online Learning Consortium. When we originally started, we were just going to look at instructors, we were looking at neuromyth prevalence in instructors because all of the other studies that had been done were primarily K through 12 teachers and pre-service teachers. (although the McDonald study looked at a wider range). Once we started to bring together our team, then we started thinking, “Gosh, well, it’s not simply the instructors. It’s going to be the instructional designers, it’ll be anybody conducting some type of professional development as well because no course is truly an island.” There are so many people today involved in course design, course development and so the Online Learning Consortium was such an amazing partner for us and they touch on absolutely every part of that population. So, we reached out to them early on and said “We’d love to collaborate with you. You’ve got an extensive membership and listserv. Would we be able to develop this survey instrument, send it out through your membership, and ask them through snowball sampling to share it with others who may actually be involved in higher education, in one of these roles.” And, they could not have been a better partner. They’re just incredible to work with. So, that’s how it was conducted.

John: And, we were actually part of that snowball. I sent it out to a list of about 1200 faculty, staff, and professional development people on my campus alone. How large was your ultimate sample?

Kristen: We ended up with approximately 1300 respondents. And, then we actually looked at the full study, we ended up with 929, who met the criteria for inclusion. So, one of the things we wanted to make sure when we looked at the criteria for inclusion that they worked in higher education. You’d be surprised. So many people complete surveys, but they don’t necessarily meet the criteria. Even when you explicitly state you have to be within higher education: teaching or one of these areas. So, we had a total of 929 who met the criteria, and of those they also had a complete 95% of the questions for the neuromyths, and also for the evidence-based practices because we didn’t want to have any gaps. I would say it was an incredible response rate, especially for those completing the survey. They filled out I would say the majority of everything within the survey itself. The respondents were just incredible as well, because you talked about the cross section of participants, but we ended up with really an incredible number of instructors and that was broken down into full-time, part-time, instructional designers, the professional development administrators and it allowed us to run a lot of different tests that we’ll talk about when we look at the findings.

Rebecca: I think one of the things that’s really interesting about how you discuss the setup of the study is thinking about how many different individuals play a role in perpetuating myths, or even perpetuating good evidence-based practices too. That administrators is where funding comes from, so you have to have everybody in the institution on board with what you actually want to essentially Institute.

Kristen: Well, what’s interesting, and you bring up such a great point. One of the top neuromyths out there is learning styles. And, so when you’re looking at learning styles, this is something that almost seems to permeate. It doesn’t matter when you started teaching, whether it’s K through 12, or higher education at some point if you’ve been involved in education, you’ve come across learning styles. Now there are learning preferences and there’s lots of wonderful research on that. But this concept of teaching to learning styles, I think, unfortunately… we talk about this in section seven of our report kind of got mixed in with multiple intelligences. And, that is not at all what multiple intelligence was about, but it was almost the timing of it and so, having been a K through 12 teacher, I remember going through a professional development where we learned about learning styles and how it was something to look at in terms of teaching to learning preferences. And, even to this day when I do presentations, and I know Michelle has run into this as well, especially when we co-teach some of the OLC workshops, somebody will inevitably raise their hand or type in the chat area “Are you kidding? Learning styles is a neuromyth? We just had somebody on our campus six months ago, who taught us how to do an assessment to teach to learning styles.” So, it’s still out there, even though there’s so much in the literature saying it’s a neuromyth. It’s still prevalent within education across all areas.

John: So, you mentioned the issue of learning styles. And, that’s something we see a lot on our campus as well. We’ve even had a couple of podcast guests who we edited out there mention of learning styles and then had a chat with them later about it. I won’t mention any names because they had some really good things to say, but it is a really prevalent myth and it’s difficult to deal with. So, you mentioned learning styles. What are the most prevalent myths that you found in terms of neuromyths?

Kristen: When you look at the report, the first part of our survey had 23 statements. We had eight statements that were neuromyths. If you look at the K through 12 studies, they had many more neuromyths, but we had eight. And, I will tell you, the top five neuromyths in higher education, very closely parallel what you find in K through 12. Now our prevalence is not as high, but it still shows that instructors, instructional designers, and administrators are susceptible to them and that goes back to awareness. So, the top one: listening to classical music increases reasoning ability and that’s really that Mozart Effect. Another one: individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning styles. Some of us are left brained and some of us are right brain due to hemispheric dominance and this helps explain differences in how we learn. So, that’s really that concept of “Oh, I’m right brained. I’m left brained.” And, this again, is something that goes across higher ed and K through 12. Two other really big ones: We only use 10% of our brain. And, if you look at section seven of the report, you will find all of the responses, literally evidence-based practices or research-supported responses to make sure that people aren’t simply saying, “Oh, it’s incorrect. Well, we want people to know why it’s incorrect. So, they can reflect on that and change their understanding, really the rationale and the research behind it. And, then lastly, it is best for children to learn their native language before a second language is learned. This, again, is a big neuromyth. And I think one of the things I’m hoping that will come out of this study, because we talked about this really when we go into evidence-based practices, is this concept of neuro-plasticity, the fact that the brain changes every time you learn something new. When you’re engaged in an experience, the brain is changing. And, sometimes the brain is changing at a cellular level before you might even see that change in behavior, and so we’re able to see now through technology through f-MRI through fNIR so much more than we were able to see before. So, really keeping abreast of what’s happening in the research should be informing our practice because we have more information available than ever before. But, somehow we need to get that into our professional development training, seminars, and workshops or into the classes that we’re teaching in our schools of education or into our onboarding. But yeah, these are the top five neuromyths in terms of susceptibility, and they cut across higher ed and K through 12.

John: In your paper, you also provide some crosstabs on the prevalence by the type of role of individuals, whether they’re instructors, instructional designers, or administrators. Could you tell us a bit about how the different groups due in terms of the prevalence of these neuromyths?

Kristen: Well, the one thing I will say is, everybody is susceptible to neuromyths, so it wasn’t as if there was one group, and I know that’s always in the back of someone’s mind, “Gosh, who’s the most susceptible?” Well, we didn’t find any significant differences, and one of the things that we wanted to do as well was to really be break the participants down and look at other factors. So, when we look at full-time versus part-time faculty, is one group more susceptible to neuromyths. And we found no significant difference in terms of gender, in terms of age, in terms of working at a two-year institution, a four-year institution. And I really think that talks to the amazing reality of the opportunity to integrate professional development in looking at the learning sciences and mind-brain education science in the opportunity to decrease that gap. So, it wasn’t one group over another. But it’s everybody who has this opportunity to increase this awareness across all of these areas.

John: Didn’t you also find that some of these myths were less common among instructional designers relative to faculty,

Kristen: We found with evidence-based practices, when we looked at significant difference with evidence-based practices, instructional designers actually had in terms of percent correct, higher awareness of evidence-based practices. It wasn’t a large difference, but there was a significant difference and Michelle can certainly talk to this point as well. But, this is really the importance of having an incredible team when you’re looking at course design, course development, and part of that may have to do with, when you look at instructional design, there is so much new literature and research that’s getting infused in to that area, and so that may have something to do with it. But, I think there’s lots of additional studies that we could do to follow up.

Michelle: Kind of circling back to the point of the design and delivery of instruction in a contemporary university or college is fundamentally more collaborative than it was in prior eras. And, so I think we definitely need to have everybody involved start to really break out of that old school mold of class is identified with the teacher who teaches it and that’s what a course is. And no, courses reflect, today, everything from the philosophy and the support that comes down from the top to the people that the students may never meet, but who put their stamp on instruction such as instructional designers. And, this is something that I get pretty fired up about in my just practical work as a program director and just being involved in these things in the university, that there are still faculty who you say, “Hey, do we have any instructional designers who are working with us on this project to redesign? Is anybody assigned to help us as we develop this new online degree program or something?” …and you sometimes still get blank look.? Or you get “Oh, aren’t those the people who you call when the learning management system breaks down and that’s their specialty?” I mean, this report, I think, just really hammers home that idea that instructional designers are a key part of this collaborative team that goes into really good quality higher education instruction today. And it isn’t just about the technology. I think that they’re getting exposure to and staying abreast of what’s going on in research that relates to teaching and learning. And, what a great opportunity for faculty to not just rely on them for technology, but to learn from them and to learn with them as we build better courses together.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about the awareness that you found in general about evidence-based practices? So, we focused a lot on the neuromyths, but what shook out when you started looking at the evidence-based practices?

Kristen: Well, one thing that stood out was awareness was much higher. And, that’s really exciting. I think that’s a huge testament to the professional development that we are offering. But, there were still gaps in areas where there certainly could be a lot of improvement. So, a couple of examples that I’ll give because we literally spent months looking evidence-based practices, and we wanted to make sure that we could support them. So, for example, when we look at percent correct, where most individuals across all three groups were not as aware, like “differentiated instruction is individualized instruction.” So, we know that this is incorrect. But most of the respondents did not put that that was an incorrect statement. So, they either stated it was correct, or they didn’t know. So, again, this is an area that we certainly want to explore. Because differentiated instruction is something that really, I think, adds to the classroom. And, there are other ones. For example, we’ll look at Universal Design for Learning. So, one of the statements we had in there actually comes directly from the CAST website, and it says “Universal Design for Learning is a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn.” Well, the instructional designers, they were the most aware. So, 87% of them got that correct. Of the professional development administrators 74% got that answer correct. For the instructors, 58% got that correct. So, you can see the difference in the responses and when we share this nationally or internationally…. when we talk about the study, you’ll have a lot of individuals who’ll say “No, universal design for learning, that’s about accessibility.” Well, it certainly is about accessibility. But, most importantly, it’s about learning and how humans learn. It is probably the most dynamic and the most powerful aspect that we can add into pedagogy or into andragogy. But just by looking at the data here, it may not be something that everybody’s aware of, and that’s again a great opportunity to integrate that into professional development. So, there are a number of things. I mean, it’s exciting because when you look at it, there are 28 statements. And, as I mentioned, overall, the awareness was much higher across all three groups, compared to neuromyths or general knowledge about the brain.

Michelle: Just to jump in here, again, from my kind of cognitive psychology perspective, those evidence-based practices that we’re talking about also include, specifically, some items that are related to memory, a topic that’s really close to my heart. So, I think those are just fascinating as well. So, for example, we asked a variation on a classic question that many cognitive psychologists have looked at: “whether human memory works a lot like a digital recording device or a video camera.” So, is your memory basically taking in information that’s in front of you? And, here again, we’ve got 69% of our instructors saying, “Oh, yeah, that’s right. That’s how it works.” And, that is not how it works. 79% of our instructional designers identify this as an incorrect statement and 74% of our administrators, and we have a few other related things such as we asked people whether testing detracts from learning. And, as Tea for Teaching listeners know, that goes to retrieval practice. Testing doesn’t detract from learning, testing builds up learning. So, these are some as well that I think it’s very interesting to tap into what people know and really think about while these maybe seem like inside baseball, or very metaphorical or philosophical questions, if I’m an instructor, and I believe these things, that students are basically just running video cameras in their heads… well, that is going to lead to some different practices. I might be very puzzled as to why I got up and gave this lecture and the students eyes were pointed at me and yet it didn’t end up in memory. So, those are some of the items that I was particularly interested to see when we got all the numbers in.

Kristen: You know, I would say one thing: when anybody reads the report, what we want them to do is look at how it’s presented in terms of the tables, because everything is looking at the percent of correct or accurate responses. So, as Michelle said, when we look at “human memory works like a digital recording device,” 69% of the instructors got that correct. 79% of the instructional designers got that correct. And, 74% of the administrators got that correct. So, that means we still have a fairly large percentage, basically 20 to 30% that either got the answer incorrect, or they didn’t know. And, even looking at these responses, do they actually know why they knew it? Or did they guess or did they make that assumption like, “Oh, that’s got to be right.” And so, really, the intentionality of this study was awareness, really bringing out statements from the literature to help anybody who’s involved in teaching, course design, professional development to look at these questions, and really think “Do I know this?” And, “If I know it, how do I know this? Is it based on some type of research or literature? Could I defend that? If I don’t know with certainty, where do I find that answer? And how can I learn that? And, how can I integrate those practices?”

John: On the day when your report came out, we shared that on our campus to everyone on our mailing list. One of the nice things about the report is that it has all the questions and also provides references for the answers explaining why the specific answer is true or false. And, it’s a really great resource and we’ll share a link to that in the show notes. It is long. When I shared it two people sent back email saying “Maybe we should use this as a reading group for next semester.” And it’s not a bad idea, actually. But, much of that is appendices and so forth. And, it’s a really informative document. I believe in your survey, you were asking people about their participation in professional development, and you looked at the relationship between participation in professional development and the prevalence of these myths. Is that correct?

Kristen: We did. So, one of the things that we wanted to look at was trying to find out if educators were involved in professional development, whether it be neuroscience, psychology or in mind-brain education science, did that actually increase their awareness of neuromyths, general information about the brain, and evidence-based practices? And it did. We found that that it was definitely a predictor and it was found to be a significant predictor and so, for us, again, it looked at what a wonderful opportunity to be able to say that training does have a positive impact. And, that was really the crux of the study… and it’s interesting, you talked about the length of this study, because originally we had thought about doing two different or three different studies. So, we do one on neuromyths, one on evidence-based practices, one on professional development. Then when we brought the data in, the question was: “Do we separate them out into three different long articles or three different reports?” And, we collectively, across all disciplines said, “No, we need to bring them together.” Because first and foremost, it’s about awareness. You can’t really talk about evidence-based practices, until you’re aware of what the neuromyths might be. What are some of the fallacies that you might actually believe? What are things about the brain that you may or may not know? And, once you’re there, and you have that understanding, you can then move into the evidence-based practices, because it’s all really connected. So, when Michelle talks about memory, you can’t really talk about memory without having some understanding of the mind or the brain. And, so we decided collectively, we would bring it together as hopefully a seminal piece that would really present anyone with a continuum as to: “Where am I? What am I possibly doing in my classroom?” …being able to really do that self assessment and then find the answers, as you said, in that section seven, and realize that they’re not an outlier. I mean, chances are anybody that goes through this is going to fall within that span in terms of their understanding and knowledge.

Michelle: And, what I hope is coming out here is that this study is unusual, not just in its scale, its scope and that we focused on higher education, but that it is so explicitly geared to not just identifying gaps in knowledge or awareness, but addressing those. It’s not like we came along six months later and said, “Oh, by the way, here’s a really nice resource we put together.” It is one stop, it’s right there. And, what an exercise that was, as well. Kristen, I think you’ll remember back just saying, “Okay, in a paragraph… this item, all of us look at this and go ‘oh my gosh, that’s wrong’ or ‘that’s right.’ Why is that? and what are the very best empirical sources that we will trace back to, to demonstrate that?” So, we are trying to provide that and also to really be a model to say: next time that you get that handout or that workshop that says, “Oh, here’s some great stuff about the brain.” What are they backing that up with? Can you trace it back to the solid research sources that makes some of these really powerful principles for learning, and make other things just misconceptions.

Kristen: One of the things that I would say was probably the most exciting and the most challenging. We had 10 researchers, we had 10 researchers from different fields: people from nursing, biomedical engineering, psychology; we had people who work in the area of neuroscience, education (as I mentioned), and we needed to come out with a collective voice, writing a report that would be understood across disciplines. And, so when we wrote section seven, all of us had to be reviewers and we vetted it multiple times. Not just within our group, but outside, to make sure when you read about neural pathways, it actually made sense. Because to write something where somebody would not understand or not be able to connect would be a challenge. And, we wanted people to walk away. I know one of the things that we were looking at: Why neuromyths? Well, a lot of the research out there looks at the fact that when you teach, your teaching and your pedagogy is based on your knowledge, and in your understanding of how people learn, and so we wanted to really look at this area in terms of awareness, because it may impact pedagogy. Our study did not do that. And, I want to make sure it’s really clear. Our study was not designed to say, “Oh gosh, the awareness of neuromyths wasn’t very high in this area, therefore, you must be integrating neuromyths into your teaching. That was not the intentionality of our study and that’s not something that we’ve ever said. There are certainly recommendations we put in the study to look at. If there is a high prevalence of neuromyths,how does that affect pedagogy? But ours was simply looking at awareness and could professional development address gaps? So, we could do this across all different groups that would be involved in course design and delivery.

John: That’s one of the things I really like about it, that you do address all these things well, you provide the evidence, and it’s going to be a great go to reference for those of us when faced with neuromyths, with issues about evidence-based practices. We can just go and grab some of the citations and share them back out or refer them to the whole document as I’ve done several times already. These things are really common even in professional development. I was at a session not too long ago, where there were two neuromyths presented during the session. One was the learning styles thing. But the nice thing is, unlike other times when I’ve seen that done, there were two of us who went up and waited until everyone else talked to the presenter. And, we were both ready to do it after other people had gone so we didn’t embarrass her, but it’s starting to get out there. And, I know on our campus, we’ve got a growing number of people who are aware of this partly because of the reading groups we’ve had, where we’ve had a growing number of participants… and that all started actually with Michelle’s book about five years ago now when we first did the group. You came out, you visited, people wanted to do more, so we started a reading group. We’ve done four additional reading groups since then. We’ve had many of the same participants, but it’s spreading out wider. I’m hoping we’re making a difference through these reading groups.

Michelle: And, that’s so gratifying as an author and as a researcher, and I remember well working with your group in Oswego and the great ideas I took away as well. So, I’m a big believer in virtuous cycle. So, maybe we’ve started one.

Kristen: I think what really came out of this study is the passion that everybody has for student success. Everybody from those that are offering the professional development, the instructional designers that want to make sure that the students are successful, even though they might not be teaching the course. And, then the instructors themselves… and so to be able to work with that many individuals who are not only subject matter experts across their disciplines, but so passionate about making a difference. But I think being able to integrate all of this new research relating to neuroscience, psychology and education, it’s going to transform not only how we teach, but it’s going to transform pedagogy, andragogy, and this whole concept of learning.

Rebecca: I really appreciate the bringing it together and that you decided to keep it all together and not to make three separate reports. I think it’s actually really important to understand how these are all connected and related. And, I think that’s one of the most unique things about the report. I think the community is probably very grateful that we have this resource available now.

Kristen: Oh, thank you.

John: One of the things I’ve often been concerned about is how some of these neuromyths, particularly the left brain – right brain thing, and the learning styles belief, often serves as a message to students that they can only learn in certain ways or they only have certain types of skills, and they’re not able to make progress in other ways. And, it can serve as a barrier and can lead, perhaps, to the development of a fixed mindset in students which may serve as a barrier.

Rebecca: …or not even allow those students to feel like they can enter particular disciplines.

John: If people become more aware of this, perhaps it could lead to more opportunities for our students or fewer barriers placed in the way of students.

Rebecca: …or maybe even just more inclusive pedagogy in general.

Kristen: You bring up such a great point. So, if you believe in learning styles, and you believe that you are truly a visual learner, Michelle and I’ve talked about this a lot, it almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. But you probably are an incredible visual learner because you’ve been told you learn better in this learning style, so you’re going to seek materials in that learning styles. So, the challenge with that, especially when you’re looking at younger students or anybody during their education, you’re precluding really other ways to enhance your learning. So, when you look at Universal Design for Learning, it’s so important because you’re looking at multiple means of engagement, representation, action, and expression. And, when you’re looking at learning styles, if a student believes they’re a visual learner and suddenly asked to go in and take a Spanish oral exam, it could trigger, all of a sudden, stress. Well, what do we know about stress? And, Michelle can talk more about that. But, when you’re stressed, it affects working memory. And, so just that thought of, “Oh my gosh, it’s an oral exam. I’m a visual learner. How can I perform well on that?” And it’s really creating, as you talked about, a barrier or it may decrease, possibly, performance. I know that Dr. Tracey Tokuhama-Espinoza is very passionate about this. And, you’ll see in her presentations, she’ll come out and say “Neuromyths do harm.” And so, I think it’s certainly something that needs to be explored. And, Michelle, from a psychological point, I’d be curious to find out what you have to say as well.

Michelle: When you say “self-fulfilling prophecy” and things like that, it also kind of reminds me of a placebo effect, in a way… and learning styles, and continuing that as an example, yeah, I might go: “Oh, visual learning. It is absolutely me,” like “Now I feel like I can tailor all this to myself. I’ll just find teachers, opportunities, and disciplines that are right there in visual learning.” And, I might have some subjective impression that that’s helping me, or from the teacher’s perspective, I might feel like “Well, I brought in some different materials and engaged different modalities and, what do you know, because of learning styles, we’re doing better.” Well, there’s lots of different reasons why that might be happening. An individual may walk away, and maybe they weren’t individually harmed. I just feel like… just like in modern medicine, there’s sort of a promise that we can do better than mere placebos. I think that ought to be the promise of modern pedagogy as well, that we can do better than simply trying to build up expectations or giving people a false sense that they have something based on science that’s going to help them individually do better. And, I hear so many kind of missed opportunities that really kind of get me activated as well. I think about, for example, the energy that goes into faculty professional development. These things come from good impulses. I really believe that. I believe that people who really pursue something like learning styles or things like that, they want to do better and they want to be more inclusive, but that effort is directed down the wrong path simply because of this gap in knowledge and gap in information in getting the right information to the right people at the right time. And, I can’t stand the thought of faculty, especially as limited as faculty time is and as spread as thin as faculty are, to think that they might try to pick up on some better information about teaching and learning and go down the wrong path. I never want that to happen again. And, maybe our report will be a step in the right direction.

Kristen: I’ll say one thing that we’re trying to do with the report, is really to align the report with best practices and evidence-based practices. So, when you look at the concept of neuromyths the wonderful study that was written by McDonald (and this was in 2017) and her colleagues, the title is “Dispelling the Myth: training and education in neuroscience decreases but does not eliminate beliefs in neuromyths” and so professional development is not a silver bullet. Simply offering one workshop that’s going to address neuromyths is not going to necessarily get rid of neuromyths. So, we have to do what? We have to look at spacing. We have to look at interleaving. So, with professional development, how do you take information related to evidence-based practices and integrate spaced practice into our own professional development? How do we integrate interleaving? How do we integrate low-stakes assessment? So, maybe when faculty or instructional designers come in, you do a quick self assessment and find out what that baseline knowledge is, and then at the end to say, “Okay, at the end of professional development, we need to get to 95% or higher.” But, they’re able to actually test their own knowledge. So, we need to kind of turn professional development upside down and make it active learning and really engage everybody in what we’re looking at within pedagogy and andragogy.

Rebecca: Yeah, I always find it really ironic that a lot of training and things on evidence-based practices is not using evidence-based practices… or using really traditional formats: lecture or getting lectured at and not really engaging with the material. And, it’s no different when we’re working with our students. And, if they’re practicing in a way that’s not going to be effective for them, and they’re not successful. They could spend tons of time on something and just not really make progress. The same thing can happen with our faculty and staff who are designing curricula and what have you as well. They can be really invested.

Michelle: Absolutely.

John: We do have an excellent podcast on retrieval practice. In fact, it’s one of our most popular episodes. We’ll share a link to that in our show notes. We don’t yet have any podcasts on interleaved and spaced practice, but I’m sure we’ll be asking Michelle to come back and talk about these things at some point in the future, if she’s willing. So far, we’ve been focusing on the types of neuromyths that are common. What can we do to reduce the prevalence of these neuromyths?

Kristen: Professional development is certainly key. But, I would look at things such as onboarding, making sure that when people are getting hired on, that they’re really introduced to evidence-based practices from the very beginning. And, even individuals that would say, “Gosh, I’ve been in instructional design for 20 years, I’m familiar” …there may still be those gaps. And, it’s almost like adaptive learning. Everybody that comes in very much like the Vygotsky’s work of zone of proximal development, they may have all been teaching for 20 years, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t have neurodiversity in terms of experience, knowledge about different practices. So, it’s important that it’s from the very onset of when people get hired and making sure it’s understood that we’re committed to best practices, evidence-based practices and what we do builds upon the literature and the research. Not only do we introduce it here, but we move it forward and integrate it into our pedagogy and what we’re doing in our classrooms.

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

Michelle: Conference season is upon us. We’re recording this fall of 2019. I’m gearing up to go to the Online Learning Consortium’s Accelerate conference in November. And so, I will just personally say come find me if you’re there and you want to talk more about this. I will be presenting on a related but different topic having to do with our ongoing Attention Matters project, which is also the subject of another Tea for Teaching episode. So, I’m really working on getting ready for that, and also the upcoming POD network conference. So, for those educational developers who will be attending that, I’ll be speaking there and hopefully having lots and lots of sidebar conversations with plenty of other people who are interested and fired up about these very topics. So, I/m working on those. I’m working on what I will now call a forthcoming book. It’s under contract with West Virginia University Press, tentatively titled Remembering and Forgetting in the Age of Technology. So, maybe someday in the not too far off future, we’ll be talking about that project as well.

John: We should note that this podcast will be released during the OLC conference. In particular, it’s coming out on Wednesday of the conference.

Kristen: Oh, that’s exciting.

John: And, I should also note that we’ll be presenting there as well. I’m hoping we’ll get some people to listen to this podcast because we’re presenting the next day. So, we might get some new listeners. [LAUGHTER]

Kristen: Oh, that’s exciting. In terms of projects that I’m engaged in and working on. We’ve just launched a new lab in our School of Education at Drexel University. So, we’re bringing everything together and trying to align projects coming up for 2020. But it’s a lab called ELABS, Education, Learning, and Brain Sciences Research Collaborative. So, we’ll be looking at different studies related to the learning sciences and mind-brain education science. I am wrapping up an article with several researchers at Drexel University, some of our PhD students, that looks at immersive virtual reality and practice as well as transfer of learning. We also have a report that I’m working on. It’s an update to research that I conducted earlier on online human touch. So, I’m wrapping up that study and putting together an article there. And, then also looking at two publications for books looking at neuro plasticity and optimal learning. One would be for students to really understand neurodiversity, neuroplasticity, how you can optimize the stress response, and then looking at neuroplasticity and optimal learning from the instructor or instructional design perspective. How do you integrate this into your practice? So, those are the initiatives that I’m working on.

Rebecca: Sounds like lots of things for all of us to look forward to.

John: Thank you very much for joining us. This was a fascinating conversation. And, we’ve been looking forward to this report since I first heard a bit about it when you initially did the survey, and when I saw a preliminary presentation at all see last year.

Kristen: Well, thank you so much for having us. It’s such a pleasure to discuss this topic with you. And, I’m looking forward to listening to many of your upcoming podcasts that clearly is connected to this report.

Michelle: Thank you so much. It makes all the hard work worthwhile and we love the opportunity to get the work out to exactly the people with the power to spread it to faculty and instructional designers and leaders in universities today.

Rebecca: 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.

107. Project NExT

Faculty beginning their teaching careers often rely on the teaching methods that were inflicted on them when they were students. These practices are not always consistent with evidence on how we learn. In this episode, for Assistant Professors from the Math Department at SUNY-Oswego join us to discuss how our math department is transforming its instructional practices through the use of professional development opportunities provided by the Mathematical Association of America.

Show Notes

Transcript

John: Faculty beginning their teaching careers often rely on the teaching methods that were inflicted on them when they were students. These practices are not always consistent with evidence on how we learn. In this episode, we examine how one department is transforming its instructional practices through the use of professional development opportunities provided by its national professional organization.

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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: Today we are joined by four assistant professors from the Department of Mathematics at SUNY Oswego. Our guests are:

Sarah: Sarah Hanusch.

Rasika: Rasika Churchill.

Jessalyn: Jessalyn Bolkema.

Zoe: And I’m Zoe Misiewicz.

Rebecca: Welcome everyone!

John: Our teas today are:

Rasika: I’m having Earl Grey.

Jessalyn: I just poured myself a cup of lemon ginger.

Sarah: I’m not having any tea today. I’m not much of a tea drinker.

Zoe: I’m not having any tea today either. I just haven’t unpacked to that point yet.

Rebecca: And I have… English afternoon.

John: And I have Bing Cherry Black Tea. So, we invited you here to talk about Project NExT, which is something that people in our math department have been involved with. Could you tell us what Project NExT is?

Sarah: So, Project NExT stands for New Experiences in Teaching. It’s a program that is sponsored by the Math Association of America that brings new mathematics faculty…so you have to be in your first or second year of a full-time job…but they bring these new mathematicians in from all over the country to teach them about active learning.

Rebecca: How did your involvement, or the department’s involvement, with Project NExT get started?

Sarah: I learned about it as a graduate student, and was highly encouraged by a lot of people to apply. And so I kind of brought it into the department by saying, “Dear Department Chair, will you pay for this?” And since then, in part because of my starting it, we’ve encouraged everyone we’ve hired to apply. And as a result, there’s now five members of the department that have either completed or are still in Project NExT.

Jessalyn: Yeah, I will echo that experience. It was something that I was aware of as a graduate student, in part because some of my mentors had gone through Project NExT…it’s now 25 years old…just celebrated 25 years. And so for me, it was something that I knew I was interested in. And in fact, when I visited Oswego for a campus interview, and the department said “Oh, yeah, we have Project NExT fellows on the faculty, and we would be happy to support you in that,” that was a really exciting and encouraging thing about the department.

Rasika: For me, actually, I didn’t heard about that before. But, when I got the job offer, it came with that. I said “Yeah, sure.”

Zoe: I was just hired this past year and so I’m doing Project NExT, but I think I can already see the effects that it has had. It was a program I already knew about, I really wanted to participate in. So, as I was going through the hiring process, one of the first things I would ask the chair at a place was “Would you support an application for Project NExT?” …because it does require a bit of funding. And so seeing that there were already multiple Project NExT fellows in this department was also a good sign for the department as a whole when I was thinking of what sort of department I’d want to be at. And so I think it’s just showing that it’s already been recruiting people who are interested in it already, at this point.

Sarah: I was just going to clarify a little bit about how the funding for it works. There’s actually no fee to participate in Project NExT. The way it’s organized is that you attend special sessions at three of the national conferences in mathematics. So, you attend two math fests in the summer, and then the joint math meetings, which is in January. And so these are big nationwide meetings in mathematics. And so the idea is that you’re going for some special sessions during the meetings. And then your first year, you go for a couple days pre-conference for the really heavy duty workshop. So, the financial commitment from a department is just the funding to go to those three conferences.

Rebecca: You mentioned active learning. Can you talk a little bit more about how those workshops and things are structured?

Zoe: There were a lot of workshops about active learning and just using evidence-based pedagogy, so saying not only active learning is good, but we have evidence to support it and here are some of the things that you could do in terms of active learning. And all the sessions obviously are structured with that in mind. So, we’re not just sitting there listening passively to someone tell us about active learning, but they really make sure you’re doing something, whether it’s a fun little game like building a marshmallow tower, or some other interactive activity in each session. The sessions aren’t only about active learning, there’s a lot about inclusivity and diversifying the profession. So, a lot of sessions on that, or maybe I just chose sessions on that. But, there’s also a whole professional development stream. So, there’s stuff about how to get started in your career in terms of grants and so on. It’s really a lot of everything in there.

Rasika: It’s categorized like if you interest on the tactile learning, so are you interest on the group work, are you interest on some other…you know, inquiry based and mastery grading and so forth. So, depending on your interest, actually, they give more opportunity to listen, go talk with people and have a conversation: what they had, what they tried and what failed and what succeed. Which is like a really nice thing for us, as a beginner, to see what people have gone through and what I should expect, and so forth. Actually, I was interested about the whole program.

Sarah: So, they do some three-hour breakout workshops where you get to go based on what your interests are. So, I did one that was focused on teaching future educators because that’s my background, but I doubt any of these other ladies chose that same session because that’s not their expertise and not what their job is going to be about fundamentally.

Jessalyn: I will add, I attended two workshops that stand out to me in retrospect. One on making active learning intentionally inclusive. That was all about inclusive pedagogies and ways to incorporate group work in the classroom in a way that benefits all students and allows all students to participate fully. I also did a longer breakout workshop that was building a toolkit for student-centered assessment, that was all about learning objectives and exam structures from a more experienced instructor. And then there are also facets of Project NExT that extend well beyond the physically meeting in person. So, as Rasika mentioned, there are lots of ways that you can navigate the workshop according to themes that are of particular interest to you. So, if tactile learning or kinetic activities are of interest, or you’re really focused on educating future teachers or whatever that might be, you might be encouraged to declare a goal for yourself in your first year related to one of those areas of interest. And then we’ve got little email exchanges that go on for people who’ve declared interest in one of those goals like “this email list is all about mastery based grading, check in when you’ve tried something. check in with your questions.” So, there’s a little bit of accountability built into that structure that these people know what you’re trying to do, and they’re going to check in with you on it. But, then just the larger structure of email lists is that you have this cohort of other new instructors who will fire off questions like, “Oh, I’m teaching this class next semester I’ve never taught before, what textbook might I use?” or “I had this really strange interaction in my classroom, and I’m not sure how to handle it” or “I think this part of my syllabus is just crashing and burning. Help! Has anyone been here before?” And so you have this sort of communal resource and the community experience of brainstorming and problem solving together.

Sarah: …and included in that they assign each of us a mentor. So, a more experienced instructor that’s a mentor is assigned to each person in the program currently, and it’s always someone that is outside of your department. In fact, they will not allow anyone to be a mentor who has a fellow in their department. So, as long as we keep having fellows, we won’t have any mentors here. But, what’s nice is when you do send emails out on that list of “I’m trying this and it’s not going well, help!” you do get responses from your peers. You also see responses from all of the mentors for that cohort, which I think is also valuable because sometimes they have a little more experience than your actual cohort.

Rasika: We have a group that people who are interested on the inquiry based or tactile work, they have their own little Zoom conversation whenever they have time together. You get to know all different schools, what they’re doing and, you know, share your experience.

Rebecca: Would you all like to talk a little bit about how Project NExT has influenced your own teaching?

Rasika: For me actually, I was really interest on the tactile experience from this Project NExT. So, I decided to do some activities this semester starting as a beginner and also some group work. And also something that… not exactly what I’m getting from the Project NExT, but it’s like I will say, part of the SUNY Oswego Reading Group, that I was so interested on the book that we are reading. And I decided to give a couple of pages for the students every week to read, and I assigned them 5% for the final grade that they have to read and write half a page to one-page report for me and tell me what they think. Do they think like it’s feasible for them to change and try and do the things in that nature? So far, it’s really going well, and I have good comments from students saying that “you are opening up different ways of thinking…that we were stuck and never complaining about everything. But, we are now having, you know, in a broader way of looking at the things about growth mindset and so forth.” So, I was speaking here and there like chapters from some interesting books. So, that’s what my experience so far this semester, as a beginner.

Sarah: I think for me, it just gave me a lot more lesson plans and ideas to draw from. I already had a pretty active approach to my teaching, but it just opened a broader view of what kinds of things could work well. Especially in some of the more tactile things available that can be helpful for helping students to learn.

Jessalyn: Within my own teaching, I think it’s been really easy or natural to draw on resources from Project NExT in setting up my class or setting up lessons. When I taught Calc I, on day one, we made zip lines out of ribbon and key chains and measured average velocities and it was fun and it was memorable and it got students working in groups and they reported at the end of the semester. “Hey, remember when we did zipline? That was fun!” and I 100% would not have pushed myself to do something that involved or non standard, I’ll say, without thecontext of Project NExT saying “Oh, just try one new thing each semester.” I completely overhauled the Calc II class to be entirely mastery based grading in response to some of my own frustrations with how I had been setting up my class. And Project NExT supplied a whole lot of resources, a whole lot of people, a whole lot of information and motivation to try something like that, which I think was helpful. As far as department culture goes, I think the fact that we’ve had this many Project NExT fellows and continue to have Project NExT fellows gives us a shared language to talk about teaching. Some shared frame of reference on “Oh, yeah, you know, this person who tried this technique,” or “Have you heard anything about…. “”…Oh, hey, this came through on my Project NExT list.” That I think has encouraged just our conversations about teaching and being intentional in how we’re structuring our classes, or how we’re handling things.

Sarah: I’m experimenting with mastery based grading this semester because of the information you and John got, from your experience in Project NExT. And so your experiments with it last year has led me to experiment with it this year. So, it definitely has changed just how we even hear about new things to try.

Jessalyn: That’s delightful. I appreciate that it’s trickling around.

Sarah: It is trickling for sure.

Zoe: So, I’d say it’s still obviously fairly early. We’re only one month into my first semester after going through the first part of Project NExT. But, I’d say a lot of it has been both an affirmation of things that I have been doing and also it’s sort of given me the confidence to do the things that I was doing even more fully and to advocate for these approaches, even though I am brand new in this department. So, I’m not afraid to send to the whole department email list like “we need to be more positive toward our students and not say that it’s all their fault if they’re struggling. we need to take responsibility for that.” Or just to try things that may or may not work well. For example, I’m doing mastery-based grading just of the homework in my general education math course. And I’m using an online system that,it turns out, is not that great for mastery-based grading of that course, even though I’ve used it for other courses. Students, I think, still benefit from it, but it’s not quite as effective as I might have hoped. But, I’m just willing to try these things and willing to speak up about things, so those are the main impacts in my courses.

John: Could you tell us a little bit about how you’ve implemented mastery learning technique?

Sarah: I think we’ve all done it a little different. Why don’t you start, Zoe, since you were just talking about it.

Zoe: I’ve done it only in the homework, so not in their exams. So, the homework is done online, it’s 15% of their grade. And so for each little subtopic, they have to do a little quiz. It’s five questions: three medium, one easy, one hard, and they need to get at least 90% on it. And they can try as many times as they want, but they do have to keep trying. And so, in courses like college algebra…is the one that’s most similar to where I’ve done it before…the material all builds on itself and it divides nicely into little component and there, I’d say it’s going well. The students complain about it at the beginning, but already after I asked them to reflect on their first test performance, a lot of people said, “Oh, it’s actually really helpful that I had to go back and keep learning these things until I fully understood them.” Whereas in the first couple of weeks, there’s always a bit of pushback about “Why do we need to get 90% on this. It’s too hard to get 90%…couldn’t it be lower?” And then once the results come in, they see it’s worthwhile. The other course I’m doing is similar, the gen ed math course…it’s also their online homework…15% of their grade, but that textbook just doesn’t break down the material into as nice sections and the questions are longer and the grading of the online system is pickier. So, that one has some issues, but the same basic idea.

John: Are you using publisher provided questions then, and tools?

Zoe: Yeah, publisher provided questions and tools.

John: Are you allowing unlimited attempts or is a limit on the number of attempts?

Zoe: Yeah, unlimited attempts, and flexible deadlines too. So, I do say they need to achieve a certain amount before each of the test. But, the idea is that if you haven’t yet mastered something, you can still go back and do it several weeks later. As you keep practicing the material, we keep building on it. So, it’s not that you have just one chance and you’re done. The goal is to get them all to understand it fully by the end of the semester.

Jessalyn: My approach to mastery based grading in my first implementation was to go totally off the deep end, and just structure the whole class with a mastery-based grading scheme. So, what this meant was that I did away with midterm exams, everything was broken down into learning objectives roughly correlated to the sections that we were intending to cover in the textbook. And the primary mode of assessment was quizzes. So, my students had quizzes that they could retake as many times as they needed to. And each quiz had three questions and I wrote problem banks of many many questions for each quiz. And in order to earn an A at the end of the semester, the expectation was something like, “Oh, you need 18 of your quizzes to be three out of three and the rest of you two out of three.” So, it was not a points accumulation scheme, it was just quizzes and repeated quizzes. They also had online homework through web work and that was unlimited attempts. There were deadlines, and they just needed to… there was sort of a threshold percentage associated to an A or a B, or a C. And then I had a few more other activities and elements going on. But, primarily, the structure involves these mastery quizzes. And I owe a great deal in the structure of this class to Laura Taalman from James Madison University, who shared a lot about how she structured her class that way and so I sort of borrowed and adapted from her setup for my experiment.

Sarah: So, my class is pretty similar to Jess’s. The main difference is I’m doing it in a proof-based course, so it’s fewer questions. She had three questions per objective. I have one, because they’re a little bit longer questions. The only exam in my class this semester is the final and that’s only because I’m required to have some common questions on a final exam. So, I had to have a final exam…instead I’m doing weekly quizzes. Each week, we add one to two new objectives. There’s about 20 for the entire semester. So, our first week we had two questions on the quiz. The second week, we had four questions on the quiz, but questions one and two were the same objective as one and two from the first quiz. So, the questions are just going to grow cumulatively…so our last quiz will have about 20 questions on it. Although I did tell them once everyone has mastered a question, it’s just going to say mastered, it’s going to be no new question writing and at some point, I’m going to recycle some of the early ones.

John: Your building in some interleaved practice and spaced practice as well.

Sarah: But, the idea is that once they have mastered a question, they no longer have to do it again. They’ll have the questions for practicing and for getting ready for the final. In addition to these mastery quizzes, I’m having them write a portfolio, which is going to have a little bit more of that interleaving practice and making sure that at the end of the semester, they still remember how to write some of these early proofs and it’s also to focus on the writing aspect. So, to help make sure they’re really using the language precisely. Sometimes with a quiz when it’s timed, you’re a little more flexible, but I want to make sure that they have that precision of language down by the end of the semester. So, I’m sort of balancing those two aspects of it that way. They have “unlimited attempts” in air quotes…restricted by what? …there’s 12 times I could quiz during the semester…13 for something…So, restricted to…they need to do number one all semester long. They can have all semester to do it, but we are eventually going to run out of time.

Rasika: So, for me, I haven’t tried to mastery based grading yet. Maybe in the future.

John: Are there any other new techniques any of you have used in your classes?

Sarah: I’ve done a lot of experiments with this idea of embodied cognition, where you actually have students sort of using their bodies to experience things mathematically. One way that we did this with my pre-service elementary school teachers, I give them a bunch of clothesline, and I have them make a circle. So, you may think, “Okay, no big deal.” But, what happens is, it’s not good enough until it’s a perfect circle. Part of this is to elicit the definition of a circle, because to non-mathematicians, I’m going to pick on you for just a moment, Rebecca, how would you define a circle?

Rebecca: One continuous line that’s in a loop.

Sarah: So, a lot of times they come up with something like that. Well, how does that distinguish, though, a circle from an oval. So, it’s not really a precise definition of a circle, right? With the precise definition is being it’s all of the points that are a fixed distance from the center. But, what happens is, by forcing them to make their circle better and better and better and better, they actually all know that’s the definition of the circle. Maybe they don’t remember it, but they know that there’s this radius thing involved. And so by not allowing them to sort of quit until they actually are in a perfect circle, the only way to do that is you have someone stand in the center, and you take another piece of clothesline to measure your radius, and you move everyone in and out as appropriate. So, that activity of physically making the circle and by having to have that person in the center, and that radius gets them to say the definition of the circle properly, first of all, but they get to experience it in a way that they don’t get to otherwise. And that’s an activity that I never would have thought of without going to Tensia Soto’s session at my first Project NExT meetings.

John: It is certainly safer than giving them all compasses with sharp points where they can stab each other, which was how people used to do it.

Sarah: We still do compass and straightedge constructions in geometry, but again, that doesn’t actually help you really understand what the definition is. I think doing this physically actually helps them understand why a compass works. I know that sounds silly, but it really helps make those kinds of connections. I have another activity where we take clothesline and I make a triangle on the ground, and I make them walk the interior angles of the triangle and you spin 180 degrees and it, again, helps them experience that the sum of the internal angles of a triangle is 180 degrees. And again, that’s something that, the first time I did it, it was baffling because first of all, it’s hard to turn the interior angles. Your instinct is to turn the exterior ones, but you end up backwards. From a geometry standpoint, it makes sense, but somehow that physical aspect just really changes things.

John: It makes for a much more memorable experience, where they’re seeing things from a different perspective. And I think that’s really useful.

Sarah: I agree. That’s why I do it.

Rebecca: Does anyone else want to chime in about how having so many fellows from Project NExT has influenced the larger department? Because you’re not just five people in your department, you’re how many?

Sarah: There’s 14 of us tenure/tenure-track now. I do think it’s changing the way some things are done. It’s slow going. I think everyone would concur with that. Jessalyns’s smirk is definitely confirming that. It’s slow going, some of us would like change to happen faster. But, I do think change is happening. I think there’s a lot of respect from our colleagues that we are trying new things. I think a lot of them have a “You can do what you want, but don’t make me change yet.” But, I think we’re starting to get them a little bit, too.

John: If your students are more successful, that often convinces people and sometimes when students say, “I did this in this other class and was really helpful,” that’s often really persuasive to other faculty. But, it’s convenient that you had so many people all come in at once, because that’s not typical in most departments that have such a large cohort, in a short period of time.

Sarah: We have had a lot of retirements, one right back on top of each other. So, we have had an influx of young faculty in our department, which…that alone…to have so many in this program as well. Definitely.

Rebecca: I think it really helps to have models of ways that you can do things because if you didn’t learn using these methods or you didn’t have exposure to that as a student, you have no way of knowing how those really play out unless you have examples. So, it sounds like Project NExT played that role for you, but then you are playing that role for other faculty in your department.

Jessalyn: Thinking about department culture more broadly, not just among discussions and relationship among faculty, but in terms of the student experience, and this engagement that we’re having from our majors and the sort of activities that we’re involving them in. I think there has been a Project NExT influence there as well. Sarah, you and John started the Putnam Competition before I came even and a lot of other conversations and gatherings have come out of that, like we’re getting together with our majors and talking about preparing them for graduate school if that’s something they want to do. The math club or other organizations have taken on a different role in the department and I think a lot of that comes out of some of the ideas in Project NExT, like hearing about how another department celebrates their students participating in something like the Putnam Competition. But, it also comes out of the relationships you build in an active learning classroom and the way that we connect with students when we are trying new things. And we’re being honest with them and saying, “Hey, I’m trying something new. And I’m going to want your feedback.” The community that you build in a classroom flows into the community that we support and foster as a department.

Zoe: So, it’s a bit hard for me to talk about departmental culture change in the one month that I’ve been there not having seen it before I did Project NExT. But, I can certainly talk about how the department seems different from other departments, just in the willingness to embrace new ideas. And there’s also a sense that these ideas are just supported. Even if we haven’t had an explicit conversation, I know that there will be support for trying something new that was suggested in Project NExT. And it seems, when it comes time to make policies, that we have almost a majority just of Project NExT people. Obviously, we need a couple more people, but there are other people who haven’t participated in the program who would still support these sorts of initiatives. Knowing that that base of similar views is there, makes a big difference in what sorts of ideas we would even suggest or consider.

Sarah: I think a lot of our Project NExT fellows have also been very active with doing undergraduate research with students.

Rasika: I think even like talking to colleagues. For me, like I have a personal experience, because my husband is also a mathematician and teach at SUNY Oswego. If I learn something new, I share with him of course, he’s not a Project NExT fellow, but…

Rebecca: So, it sounds like the program’s working really well. You’re all really excited about it. It sounds like it’s engaging all of you. So, glad that you’re able to share it with us.

Sarah: The MAA has definitely done a lot to support improving teaching in mathematics and I do think it is a program that other disciplines could look at and possibly model. I will say they have put a lot of money and a lot of investment into making this a success. It is well run and has been well funded, which is a testament to how important professional organization views it.

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

Sarah: Well one thing that’s next is we’re trying to get one of our other new faculty, his application was rejected last year. We’re also hiring two people, hopefully this year…So, possibly trying to send them next year as well.

Jessalyn: Another immediate thing that’s next is that our two current NExT fellows will be attending the joint math meetings in January and maybe organizing some Project NExT sessions or at least attending some sessions.

Zoe: I’ll be helping to organize a session on getting started in math education research, which I was made part of because I said it was something I wanted to do, but it’s not something I have any background in. So, I’m finding it a bit of a challenge to assist in this organizational process. But, I also, possibly for Math Fest next summer, helping organize a session on reducing math anxiety, which is something that a previous NExT fellow who I follow on Twitter help organize this session. So, having attended NExT, I think, gave me the confidence to respond on Twitter to this senior mathematician and say, “Oh, yes, I’m interested in this topic.” And so that will come later. And that’s something I actually feel like you could contribute to in a meaningful way, unlike math education.

Rebecca: Well, thanks so much for joining us. This has been really interesting.

Sarah: It’s our pleasure.

Jessalyn: Yeah, thanks for having us.

Zoe: Thank you very 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.

John: Editing assistance provided by Brittany Jones and Kiara Montero.

106. Leveraging Faculty Expertise

Teaching centers with limited resources often find it challenging to be able to meet the needs of all faculty. In this episode, Chilton Reynolds and Tim Ploss join us to discuss how the Teaching, Learning, and Technology Center at SUNY Oneonta has leveraged its impact through the use of a faculty fellows program. Chilton and Tim are instructional support technicians in the Teaching, Learning and Technology Center at SUNY Oneonta.

Transcript

John: Teaching centers with limited resources often find it challenging to be able to meet the needs of all faculty. In this episode, we examine how one teaching center has leveraged its impact through the use of a faculty fellows program.

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[MUSIC]

John: Our guests today are Chilton Reynolds and Tim Ploss. Chilton and Tim are instructional support technicians in the Teaching, Learning and Technology Center at SUNY Oneonta. Welcome.

Chilton: Thanks.

Tim: Thanks for having us.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are…

Chilton: I’m drinking English Breakfast right now.

Tim: I’m drinking dark roast coffee.

John: We have a lot of that type of tea on this show.

Rebecca: Yeah [LAUGHTER]

John: And I have a ginger peach white tea today

Rebecca: I have lady grey. Look at that! Multiple episodes in a row that I’m not drinking my normal tea.

Chilton: What is your normal tea?

Rebecca: English afternoon.

Chilton: English afternoon, there you go.

John: All through the day.

Rebecca: Yes.

Tim: It’s still morning, I think, right?

John: She drinks it morning, afternoon and evening.[LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Right, yeah.

John: We’ve invited you here to talk about the Faculty Fellows program at SUNY Oneonta. Could you tell us about this? What is it and how did it get started?

Tim: Our director Michelle Rogers-Estable came on two, three years ago. She wanted to have a program where faculty like to do deep dives on software that faculty know really well. She wanted to have a support system setup for that kind of software. And of course, Chilton, myself and our other colleagues in the TLTC are pretty good with software. But we can’t do a deep dive on every flavor of it out there, because they would just be too much. So, our director wanted to have the cohort of people who could peer teach faculty how to use software deeply. And so we set up the Faculty Fellows Program. And faculty receive a stipend from us to be Faculty Fellows. And basically that makes them consultants that we can call when we have other faculty who want to know how to use a particular software that we have faculty fellow experts in, we can put them in touch with those faculty and they can learn how to do deep dives on deep software.

Chilton: And the thing I’ll add to that is that we like to have actual narratives of how faculty are using the software. So we learn software all the time, we learn how to use them, but to actually have narratives from faculty on what they’re actually doing with it in the classroom or doing with it for their research or how they’re using it is really powerful for other faculty to be able to hear. So, when they hear about something from us, they might not really get an idea of what it is, but when they hear from other faculty members they’ll be like “Oh, that’s what that means. I can do this with this, I can actually do some statistical analysis with this, or I can do better video conferencing with my students.” So, to have those narratives from their peers, I think, is really powerful as a part of that.

Tim: Yeah. People don’t want to hear from us level nerds. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: How many fellows do you have? And what’s their time commitment over? Is it a year?

Tim: So, currently, we have five Faculty Fellows and it’s a year-long commitment. We do half years if people have other obligations, but usually it’s for a year.

Chilton: When we start off I think our first year we had three… Is that right?

Tim: Yeah

Chilton: And then we moved it to five. Second year and now in the third year of this, we’ve continued with five

John Kane: Do you select the software packages or do faculty propose them when they’re applying to be fellows?

Tim: Faculty propose them based on their own expertise. And we go like “yeah, we don’t know much about that software. So yeah… [LAUGHTER] come show us.”

Chilton: In the beginning of last year, we did a call and said “Hey, what’s something that you things like you’re an expert on that you would be willing to share with other people.” And they submitted on different things and we chose from that pool to be able to do that. And as far as the time commitment…

Tim: Its a year-long commitment, in the broad sense, but as far as time commitment, as far as what they do in exchange for the stipend, is they do a couple of broad trainings for us a year. They show up at events that we host, where we’re showing off all the various things that we do, giving people an idea of how we can support them. And so we have the Faculty Fellows show up for those events. And then they’re kind of on call as consultants to us and other faculty as needed.

Rebecca: Can you give us an idea of what kind of software that Faculty Fellows have been the experts in over the last couple of years that you’ve been doing this?

Tim: The big one where we’ve seen high demand, high response has been Qualtrics Survey Software. We have a couple of faculty in psychology and another one in fashion marketing, who have done deep dives since graduate school in doing surveys and Qualtrics was their software choice back then. And that’s what they’re our experts in and it’s been fairly popular.

Chilton: We started that with just Qualtrics, but it turns out they take all that information and actually put it into SPSS. And so they started off as Qualtrics, but they’re really now Qualtrics ,and SPSS, statistical analysis experts. Because it turns out there’s a lot of faculty that are interested in doing more statistical analysis of things, especially qualitative data, being able to code it and then they’ll get some information out of that, which they haven’t been able to do in the past.

Tim: And we’ve got another faculty fellow who’s an expert in Articulate Storyline software that gets a lot of like “Oh, that looks really interesting.” And then people kind of back away when they see that it takes a little bit of time to work with, but we’re working on that. We certainly could use more interactive online content in our online stuff, online classes. That’s getting better. [LAUGHTER] But that one hasn’t quite caught fire the way Qualtrics did.

Chilton: We also have one for Zoom actually, for video conferencing. That faculty fellow has been very supportive in talking about how he’s currently using it in the classroom and giving some ideas on that. And then our final one right now is on Web 2.0 Tools. We have a faculty member who teaches online educational technology, and so is interested in using lots of different types of tools for Web 2.0 and so she’s been focused on helping support faculty when they want to do a deeper dive into a lot of different softwares that are interactive.

John: How do you work with the fellows? Are you working with them individually? Are they going off on their own and just checking back when they need assistance? Or does that vary depending on the fellow and the tool they’re working with?

Tim: I kind of think of them as consultants for us. We’re pretty broadly known across campus as the people to contact when you need help with software. And that is we, the TLTC, Chilton and myself. And we can’t do deep dives into every kind of software out there, so when it’s appropriate, we usually contact the fellows. Either we ask them for help, or we ask them to take over working with a faculty member or a staff member on the software that they’re interested in.

Chilton: Yeah, so we don’t have faculty contact them directly. We’re kind of the..

Tim: …first contact point naturally, I think, just because it’s software and technology.

Chilton: Yeah.

Rebecca: How have other faculty responded to having this program available or working directly with other faculty?

Tim: We haven’t really assessed that. [LAUGHTER]…. So I can’t give you anything more than just like, off the cuff, it seems to be working.

Chilton: Yeah, we’ve had faculty that are happy when they find out there’s somebody they can go talk to, so we call it “anecdata” [LAUGHTER]…… but it’s anecdotal. But our anecdata on this is that they are happy to be able to go talk to somebody who has used it extensively in their research, who’s used it extensively for a while to be able to talk with them about it. So, I think specifically about the Qualtrics fellows right now, when somebody finds out that they can go talk to them, when we’ve had them do presentations, there’s been a lot of feedback to say “we’d love to do more with them.” That’s kind of how we came across the “Oh we should do something with them on SPSS as well” because we did a presentation on how to use Qualtrics. And they were talking about moving into “How do you actually analyze all this data once you get it?” And they’re like, well, we can do that too. And we said to other faculty, like, “We would love to hear more about how you do that.” And so that’s where we started talking about doing more deeper dive into statistical analysis with all this data as well.

Rebecca: Do you find that the faculty who are engaged with this program are focused more on their own research or is it more about using technology in the classroom?

Tim: Certainly with Qualtrics, it’s their own research. Articulate Storyline is more… online classroom. So yeah,I think it’s balanced. It totally depends on the software. But Qualtrics is certainly inherent to a lot of faculty research. And so that makes sense that that’s where that ends up. Zoom i think is being used more for keeping track of students who are away on internships or otherwise off campus so that they can have interactivity face to face with faculty.

Chilton: Yeah, with our student teachers traveling around a lot that’s where it’s taken off a lot for us has been in the education department and so it’s been good to have faculty be able to talk with. But again, that’s mostly in the classroom, not as much for research.

John: Do you get more applicants for fellows positions then you have positions opening or do you generally end up with about five applicants per year?

Tim: We’ve had to turn down a couple of people in three years.

Chilton: We’ll say this year so far, we’ve just continued with the same fellows we had from last year. There’s a lot of positive feedback on those and so we haven’t put out a call this year. We’ve just continued the same fellows that we had from last year. And we’ve talked about doing a call possibly next semester to maybe add one more in and that’s still to be determined.

John: But you expanded the scope of what they were doing as in the case of adding SPSS to Qualtrics?

Chilton: Correct.

Tim: Right.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about some of the challenges of running a program like this?

Chilton: Our faculty fellow for Articulate Storyline is actually in the health center and she’s created a whole training online. It’s a full course that’s all about safe practices for students and so it’s really student focused outside of the classroom. So, I think the biggest challenge that we’ve had with that one specifically has been that she has really great examples, but they’re not classroom examples. And it’s a really large project that she’s done. So it’s overwhelming for some faculty, when they hear about it. They’re like “That sounds great. That sounds magnificent. I’d love to do that.” But, the amount of time she’s put into it is much more than a faculty member is willing to put into it. So, we’re in the process for this year trying to find some classroom examples… smaller, more manageable examples… for faculty so that it can be more useful for them and we can hopefully get some more faculty be involved in. That’s one challenge. The other big one was, last winter, we wanted to have, we call them “Tech Talks” on our campus where we have faculty talking, and we wanted to do one that was highlighted all of the Faculty Fellows. So, we invited all the faculty fellows to come for one day, we had different tables for every single one, all five of them in one room, and the day of had a huge snowstorm and nobody showed up, but the five faculty fellows! So it was a great, fascinating conversation that we had among the seven of us in the room, because it was all people that were passionate about the tools they were using. We just went around the room and shared because even the faculty fellows didn’t even really know what the other faculty fellows were doing. So, to have everybody just kind of have a chance to share was great, but we just missed an opportunity to be able to widen our audience with that. So we will not be doing that in January next time. This year we’re going to try and do that at a more appropriate time for non-snow events and see how that goes.

John: We do something similar. We have about nearly 100 workshops typically in January, but we use Zoom with all of them. So, that way people can participate remotely or present remotely if they’re stuck in a snowbank somewhere.

Chilton: Yeah, just as a side note, do you ever have it where there’s multiple presentations going at the same time when you’re trying to Zoom them all at once?

John: We do. We have three accounts, I have my own and then we were able to get our CTS to provide two others. We run, typically, three simultaneous sessions or up to three at a time.

Chilton: They have to be in separate rooms then for them to work though

John: Yes, we reserve a block of rooms from the campus. And since it’s in January, and there’s no other classes going on, we’re usually able to find space.

Chilton: Yeah.

Tim: Nice.

Chilton: I think that’s going to have to be on our radar for moving forward. I’ve always envisioned them being in the same room so people could kind of wander around in one room, but that wouldn’t work for something like that.

John: Ours are more full workshops, they’re not just about specific technologies. It’s various teaching methods and so on.

Chilton: Yeah. Very nice.

Rebecca: It’s almost like a little mini conference.

Chilton: And what do you call yours?

Rebecca: Winter Breakouts.

Chilton: Oh, nice.

John: And we do another set of spring breakout workshops right after the spring semester. Those tend to be the time when we can get the most faculty attending.

Chilton: Yeah,

Tim: Right

Chilton: Yeah, we’ve had something that’s happened in January that we’ve called boot camps up until this year. It’s to help prepare people for some training they’re going to be doing later in the semester. And we realized we need to rename those now, as we’ve changed the focus of what we’re doing there. So it’s no longer really a boot camp, we get people prepared. It’s more in that vein of what you’re doing, where it’s just kind of like a mini conference. So I’m always curious to hear other names so we can figure out what would be good to call it for moving forward.

Rebecca: Ours is clearly super uniquely named. [LAUGHTER]

Tim: We’re totally stealing it. [LAUGHTER]

John: We inherited it and people have gotten accustomed to it.

Chilton: There’s a lot of power in the name of that and once they know it, then yeah.

Rebecca: If it’s not broken, you can’t change it. [LAUGHTER]

Chilton: Yeah [LAUGHTER]

John: Although this year, for the second year in a row, we have to do truncated spring ones because CIT is earlier relative to our semester. So, we only have a few days squeezed in there between our semester and the start of the SUNY Conference on Instruction and Technology.

Chilton: And we’re in a similar boat. So, you do your spring training after the end of the spring semester.

John: Yes.

Chilton: So even though it’s June and officially it’s summer, right?

Rebecca: We do it in May.

John: Yeah, it’s late May, first week of June, depending on where the semester falls because a lot of people have kids and they take off during the summer or they travel or they go to other places. And usually, though, there is a week or so after finals have ended where a lot of people are still on or near campus.

Chilton: Yeah, we start with the same thing. It feels weird to call it spring when it’s now summer break for students. Even though it is still spring, but then we do…

Tim: Yeah, commencement is usually at the end of that week.

Chilton: Yeah, so we’ve done some stuff in there too, and called it Spring Boot Camp. Actually, we had a Spring Boot Camp this past year. And then did some stuff before the start of the fall semester and called that our Summer Trainings. It just always feels weird to me to have a spring thing when summer break has started. [LAUGHTER]

John: Although fortunately, it doesn’t really feel like summer here typically in late May or early June.

Chilton: A good point.[LAUGHTER].

John: We’ve sometimes have had snow flurries during that time.[LAUGHTER]……That helps.

Rebecca: Yeah.

John: When I first heard about your program, what I liked about it is it lets you extend your center by providing a network of faculty. And it sounds like a growing network of faculty who can help support other faculty, which gives you a bit of leverage in reaching more people and providing a broader range of support.

Chilton: Well said!

Tim: Yeah, that will be a summary right there. [LAUGHTER]

Chilton: And that was what we’re excited about with it… was the fact that it was bringing in more faculty to be able to engage with us in some different ways. And, honestly, some of them don’t need our services a lot because of the people that are out in front of things and are exploring things in new ways. And so some of these faculties we wouldn’t see otherwise. And so to be able to engage them into our center, it’s a great way to be able to support them and feel like they can be supported when they’re out in front of even us on some things.

John: Those are people you’d like to connect to and have as part of your activities.

Tim: Yeah.

Rebecca: I imagine that some of those fellows, although not technically fellows anymore, continue to be a network of support for the center and continue to engage.

Tim: Yeah, once we know who to call… absolutely.

John: We do the same thing, but we’ve never had stipends to give them… So, that way, at least you can feel a little bit better about sending people to other people for assistance.

Chilton: Well, another part of that too, is it gives them something they can put onto their vita, it gives them something that they can talk about and be able to have a name for it and be able to have a stipend kind of gives it a little bit more weight for them. So even if it doesn’t show up to you’re going to trainings, you still have something that you can kind of be able to tout as a part of that.

Tim: Right. It’s shocking that, yeah, money has value [LAUGHTER]…. Was that too blunt?

John: As an economist, it certainly seems reasonable. People respond to incentives. [Laughter]….. Are there any other topics we haven’t addressed?

Chilton: The only thing I would add is that, at this point, we don’t have any past fellows yet. We’ve continued to retain them and keep using them. So once we’ve got them on the hook so far, we haven’t let them go. Because we’ve been really happy with the feedback that we’ve gotten, and they seem to be happy with the support they’re getting from us. So we have no past fellows.

Rebecca: Just a growing cohort

Tim: …a growing cadre.

Chilton: Yeah, a growing pool.

John: So, we always end with the question, what are you doing next?

Tim: Oh, I don’t have my Outlook calendar handily available, so I don’t know what I’m doing next.[LAUGHTER]…. But,I think I’ve got something. [LAUGHTER] I think we’re going to try and expand the fellows program so that we can have more areas of expertise available to us and to have a better finger on the pulse of what faculty value as far as technology in the classroom. That’s a nice side benefit of the program.

Chilton: Yeah, and then outside of that, we are getting deep into accessibility in our center. So our Provost just put out a statement that all syllabi have to be completely accessible and posted on Blackboard by next semester. So, we are getting sucked up by that now, in a good way. A lot of time is spent on going around to the departments and individual faculty. It’s amazing how when you just say syllabus, everybody then interprets that to mean other documents as well. So people are looking at not just their syllabus, but then also other things as well and try to make them accessible.

Tim: Yeah, and that’s an okay interpretation.

Chilton: Yes. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: That’s a desirable interpretation. [LAUGHTER]

John: Sometimes it just takes a little initial prompt to get people thinking about these things.

Tim: Yeah, that. We’ve got a migrate people from turn it in over to Safe Assign in Blackboard, we’re having some revisiting budgets… that redundancy isn’t helping anybody. That’s boots on the ground stuff.

Chilton: Yep.

Rebecca: All important work that needs to be done.

Tim: Yeah, absolutely.

Chilton: It’s exciting and keeps us busy. I’ll say that. I think that’s it, anything else?

Tim: And we’re keeping the OER ball rolling.

Chilton: Yes. So open educational resources are moving along on our campus and really, we’re trying to support that.

Rebecca: Well, thank you so much for joining us and sharing this program with us.

Chilton: Yeah, thanks for having us.

Tim: Our pleasure, thank you for having us.

Chilton: It’s fun to be here.

[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.

103. Commitment Devices

Students, and faculty, generally have good intentions when planning to work toward long-run objectives. It’s always easier, though, to start those projects tomorrow instead of today. In this episode, Dr. Dean Karlan joins us to discuss how commitment devices may be used to align our short-term incentives with our long-run goals.

Dean is a Professor of Economics and Finance at Northwestern University, Co-Director of the Global Poverty Research Lab at the Kellogg School of Management, President and Founder of Innovations for Poverty Action, co-founder of Stickk.com and Impact Matters, and a member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors at the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dean is the author of many scholarly articles and several books related to economics, including my favorite introductory economics textbook.

Show Notes

  • Dean Karlan
  • Innovations for Poverty Action
  • Stickk.com
  • Impact Matters
  • Global Policy Research Lab – at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern
  • University
  • Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab
  • Karlan, Dean and Jonathan Morduch (2018). Economics. McGraw-Hill.
  • Giné, X., Karlan, D., & Zinman, J. (2010). Put your money where your butt is: a commitment contract for smoking cessation. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 2(4), 213-35.
  • McGuire, S. Y. (2015). Teach students how to learn: Strategies you can incorporate into any course to improve student metacognition, study skills, and motivation. Stylus Publishing, LLC.
  • Momentum – the app for targeted giving that Dean mentioned
  • The following study, referenced in the podcast, examines the problem of suboptimal fertilizer use of fertilizer in Kenya. Both were just cited in the Nobel statement on the 2019 award to Abhijit Bannerjee, Esther Dulfo, and Michael Kremer. Bannerjee, Duflo, and Kremer were Dean’s professors at MIT. Bannerjee and Duflo were on this thesis committee. (The Nobel announcement came after the podcast was recorded but two days before its release.)
    • Duflo, E., Kremer, M., & Robinson, J. (2011). Nudging farmers to use fertilizer: Theory and experimental evidence from Kenya. American Economic Review, 101(6), 2350-90.
  • Artz, Benjamin and Johnson, Marianne and Robson, Denise and Taengnoi, Sarinda, Note-Taking in the Digital Age: Evidence from Classroom Random Control Trials (September 13, 2017) – the study about note-taking that John mentioned.

Transcript

John: Students, and faculty, generally have good intentions when planning to work
toward long-run objectives. It’s always easier, though, to start those projects tomorrow instead of today. In
this episode, we examine how commitment devices may be used to align our short-term incentives with our long-run
goals.

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[MUSIC]

John: Today’s guest is Dr. Dean Karlan. Dean is a Professor of Economics and Finance
at Northwestern University, Co-Director of the Global Poverty Research Lab at the Kellogg School of Management,
President and Founder of Innovations for Poverty Action, co-founder of Stickk.com and Impact Matters, and a
member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors at the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dean is the author of many scholarly articles and several books related
to economics, including my favorite introductory economics textbook. Welcome, Dean.

Dean: Thank you. Thanks for having me here.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are:

Dean: A vanilla expresso. I’ve said it as “expresso” for the sake of our mutual
friend Matthew. [LAUGHTER] So we can show this to him and he will be very upset. [LAUGHTER]

John: …and I am drinking Bing Cherry black tea.

Rebecca: …and I have the Sally Lunn… Disclaimer: I’m not sure if that’s how you
say it… house blend tea from the UK. [LAUGHTER]

John: We invited here primarily to talk about some of the work you’ve done related
to behavioral economics. We know that students learn more when they engage in spaced practice, yet students tend
to procrastinate, as do most faculty. So we want to talk to you a little bit about why people tend to focus on
immediate gratification at the expense of long-run goals.

Dean: So, you know, the heart of it is human nature to some extent. And I think the
thing to realize, though, is that it’s not a universal truth, right? There’s many situations, and many people
who are more patient than others… that are patient in one domain, not in another. There’s a general sense, of
course, that we value things more today than we do tomorrow. This is kind of at the heart of economics, but a
lot of the issues that we’re doing research on, and some of the active policies that we’re working on, aren’t so
much about whether people are patient or not. It’s about whether they succumb to temptation, and there is a
difference. And the difference is this. When we talk about succumbing to temptation, what we’re saying is, if
you ask me what I want to do in a month, I tell you, I want to eat healthfully. I want to exercise. I want to
train for a marathon. And then when a month comes, and now a month from now is now today, and you say, what are
you doing today? And I go, “Oh, yeah, that chocolate cake looks really good. [LAUGHTER] And I ran out of time,
I’m not going to go to the gym today.” And I go, “I’m too tired. I prefer to go to the movies. And that
marathon? Yeah, kind of cold. I guess I kind of knew that a month ago. But I was out of mind. And so I’ll train
for that later.” And so the point is, my preferences change. And that’s something that economists historically
did not handle very well, this idea of preferences changing. And yet that is what behavioral economics has
done… is basically trying to build better models that take into account that reality of preferences
changing… and whether we call it preference and changing or not, is kind of a technical jargon thing. But the
basic idea that you can say you want A over B in a month, and then when a month comes, you say actually I prefer
B over A. And that’s a fundamental change in a lot of the ways that economists were thinking about things and
this applies in many domains. And the reality is, I might be really well disciplined when it comes to spending
money on one thing, for instance, like clothing, I have like almost zero temptations on clothing. But yet for
peanut M&Ms, I have a real big problem. [LAUGHTER] And I know there’s lots of people that are exactly the other
way around, right? And so it’s not something that we can attribute to someone as an individual characteristic
and saying, “You succumb to temptations, and you don’t.” Everybody has their different areas where they’re
strong, and they’re weak.

Rebecca: So when we want to accomplish something in our academic field, or we want
our students to accomplish something in what they’re studying, how do we get them to not succumb to that
temptation of doing the thing that seems immediately desirable.

Dean: So I think the absolute single most important thing is to help someone become
self aware. Once you do that, then there’s a few different paths that might work. And people are different. So
that path might be different. But the first step, that in most situations, is important for that kind of
weakness is to help people become self aware. And by self aware, I mean aware of the fact that if they don’t
change something about their environment, that they’re on a certain path, and they’re likely to engage in that
temptation behavior, and even though they say now they don’t want to do it, if they don’t change something or do
something different, they’re more likely to do it. And so what is that path that they could go down? Well, one
example, which is what you mentioned earlier, Stickk.com, which is a website that I started, that allows people
to write commitment contracts. So if I want to, let’s put it in the school work or the work context, suppose I
have a partnership with a co-author, and I am being derelict in my duty to write the introduction, we agreed I’m
supposed to take first stab at, and every week there’s something else comes up and I don’t get to it. So I go on
Stickk and I write a contract to my friend, my co-author, and I say if I don’t deliver it to you by next Friday,
I owe you $500. It’s still not a perfect contract, right? I mean, I could hand them a piece of crap that’s not a
very well written document, and he could say, “This isn’t good.” So there’s lots of wiggle room there, but there
has to be some level of trust with my collaborator… it’s a contract that the collaborator can call me out on
and say, “Look, we both know this is not what you said you would do,” so you still need some element of trust in
that agreement to make that work. But that’s the kind of thing you can do. And by making that concrete plan and
actually making it even more costly, beyond just continued shame, and scathing emails from your friends, it
makes you more likely to engage in the behavior you say you want to engage in. The punch line we use is it
increases the price of vice. Whatever your vice is, it’s a way of increasing that price.

John: So the goal is basically to align the short-term incentives with the long-run
goals.

Dean: That’s exactly right, to make it so that the prices you’re facing now are
aligned, are going to drive you to the behavior that you say in the long run you want to engage in.

John: So you’re changing the costs or benefits of the activity immediately through
some mechanisms such as Stickk.com.

Dean: Exactly. And of course, you know, I could write a contract with you just on
the side… just by emails and say, “Hey, if I don’t do X, I owe you Y. So, Stickk is a vehicle for making it
easy for people to do this. One of the popular options on Stickk is actually where I don’t give money to you,
but I give money to a charity that I hate. This might work really well if we disagreed on some political issue,
which I doubt we do. But I suspect over the years, we’ve talked about things we would have identified some
disagreement if we had one [LAUGHTER] that was stark enough on the extremes. But if we did, it would work out
really well. Because I could say, “Hey, I’ll send money to the charity on the other side of the political
spectrum, which you like, and I hate, and then you’re happy to enforce that. [LAUGHTER]

John: So anti-charities seem to be really effective.

Dean: Yes.

John: For example, I think you recommend for liberals, I haven’t checked recently,
but for liberals, you recommend the NRA or a Republican super PAC. And for Republicans. I think you recommended
the ACLU or a Democrat super PAC.

Dean: That’s exactly right. And we also have gun control, abortion, gay rights, and
super PACs on the two sides… and for the religious people in England, we offer up different football teams
[LAUGHTER] so you can support Arsenal or Chelsea or Fulham, and the money goes off to the team that you hate in
England.

John: What types of commitments do people make on Stickk.com.?

Dean: The single most common, it shouldn’t be a surprise, which is weight loss. I
mean, that is the biggest issue where this is highly relevant where everybody can think of someone who says they
want to lose weight, and somehow doesn’t do it. And every day, it’s like “Tomorrow I’ll do it.” Smoking
cessation is another very common one. And we have seen several randomized trials done not via the Stickk
website, but outside, but with the same exact contract structure that show that it became very effective for
helping people stop smoking if they agree to sign up for this contract. So smoking cessation is common…
exercise is common. There’s also a very large set of interesting contracts that people come up with on their
own, that are everything from dating… to marital relations… to work… to getting work done… So, flossing
your teeth…. Speaking more slowly to foreigners in New York City was one of my favorites. Another one of
my favorites just said “I will not date any more losers.” And the punch line that I really liked in particular
was that this person named a friend as the referee. The website allows you to name a friend who gets to
adjudicate whether you succeed or fail. So this person said that I will not date anymore losers, and Susie gets
to decide if any of my dates are losers or not. That was awesome. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Have you seen good success with people using Stickk.com?

Dean: Yes. But as a social scientist, I want to caution my “Yes.” So it’s very
pleasing to get emails… and I do get them fairly periodically from people telling me some story about
Stickk or I meet someone and they told me about how they used it to achieve a goal and wasn’t this great. And
that makes me very happy. In the back of my mind, as a social scientist, I’m always like, “Well, that’s great.
But did we cause that to happen? Or were you just the kind of person who was going to achieve that goal anyhow
and you used Stickk as your vehicle, but had Stickk not existed, you would have found some other way? Because
you were just a really driven person dedicated to overcoming your temptation problem. Now, that’s the whole
reason why we do run randomized trials, because we want to know, did we cause that to happen or are we just the
stepping stone along the path that was going to be taken anyhow. And there have been randomized trials done on
commitment contracts. And we do find very strong consistent evidence that for those who signed up, it is a very
strong tool that does lead to behavior change that would not otherwise happen. Having said that, take an example
of a study I did in the Philippines on smoking cessation doing a contract that was almost exactly like Stickk.
The difference was the money, if they failed, went to a local orphanage. It didn’t go to a charity they hate.
And there, we had a very large effect on likelihood of stopping smoking… about a 30 percentage point shift in
the likelihood they stopped. That’s a big, big treatment effect. But only one out of nine people said “Yes” to
opening the contract. Eight out of nine said, “Huh? Yeah, I know I told you I want to stop smoking. But I guess
I don’t really want to stop that badly… or I don’t think I can and so I’m not going to sign this contract
because I think that’ll just end up costing me money. And I’ll still spend money on cigarettes. And so I won’t
sign the contract.” So, eight of nine did not… but one out of nine did. And the idea was that they were taking
money they were spending on their cigarettes, and instead they’re putting in an account. So even if they kind of
stopped smoking some and went back, we don’t think of that as a bad thing even if they lose the money, because
they did smoke fewer cigarettes in the meanwhile… failed to stop… So it didn’t work. But they did smoke less
and the charity got some money. So one of the things that this makes me realize that goes back to the question
you asked earlier, which is helping people be self aware. How do you move the needle on that one out of nine?
Why is it only one out of nine? Is it that people don’t realize that if they don’t do something like this,
they’re going to probably just continue smoking, and they need to engage in some sort of change in their
environment? Change in the prices they face? Change in some peer influence? Change in something to help them
stop smoking… That it’s not going to just happen because they wake up one day and decide to do it.

John: You mentioned randomized controlled experiments. And I know that’s one of the
things you’ve done extensively with IPA (Innovations for Poverty Action). One of the things I’ve noticed in much
of the research in teaching and learning is often people do an intervention and they look at how it works for
the students who actually use that intervention, but they don’t get evidence on the counterfactual. So, you
don’t know how it would have worked in the absence of that intervention. So how might, perhaps, we think about
doing more randomized controlled experiments in educational research.

Dean: So I think there’s a lot of settings in which one can do them in education.
They do need large classrooms, or multiple classrooms or collaboration across universities in order to have a
sufficient sample size, but there’s lots of ways that one could do it. I’ll give you an example. We have a
Principles of Economics textbook that you mentioned earlier. And our theme very much in this book is kind of two
prong: one is it’s a very much a theme about economics is a good thing… that if you use it can help you
actually improve your own life and also help improve public policies. We’re trying to get away from this bad
image of being a dismal science and instead point out that economics really can be a path towards better lives.
But the other part is trying to be very grounded in empirical analysis and examples that are real, that provide
data and a crisp understanding of how these economic theories actually play out in real life. And one of the
things that we wanted to do in this is trying to understand, “Well, does reading the book help learning?” Kind
of a dangerous question for us to ask… a little scared… We haven’t done this yet, but we started a pilot of
it, where we wanted to get professors at different universities who are using the book to basically offer
students a little bit of like a raffle, where there’s a quiz that’s online that we can organize at the end of
the chapter. That’s where students have a bit of an incentive to read those chapters. And we can randomize which
students in which week get that incentive and they’re told, read chapter four, and go online, and there’s going
to be 10 questions on this website that the authors of the book set up and you just answer those 10 questions.
And if you answer them correctly, or eight out of 10 or something like this, then you get entered into a raffle
for an Amazon gift card. And what this allows us to do, because of all the electronic homework and problem sets
and things of this nature, is actually run a test of whether, assuming that that prize leads to an increase in
reading of the actual textbook, we can actually see the impact of reading the textbook on test outcomes. And so
this is an example of the kind of research that one can do. Why might we do this? Because imagine instead within
the alternative, which is just to take a final exam, and ask people ahead of the final exam, “Hey, by the way,
we just want to know who really read the book and who didn’t.” Suppose we got a list.. …we got, you know,
two-thirds of the class read it, one-third did not… and then we looked at the grades, and we said “Ah,
the two thirds of the class that read the book did better on the final exams and one-third did not…” That
would be a really bad analysis, that would be a really horrible thing to conclude and say, “Aha, that’s our
book, causing that change to happen, and improve test scores…” because anybody who was reasonable would look
at us and say, “Well, wait a second, the two-thirds that read the book, they sound like better students. They’re
more diligent, they’re more disciplined, they do their assignments, and so they probably just studied harder in
general and invested more time in the course. They maybe even went to the lectures when the other third didn’t
even bother going to lectures, all sorts of things are different.” And so you cannot just look at the difference
in test scores and say that’s caused by reading the book. And so that’s why we set up randomized trials in that
way, is to try to get at the causality question, not the correlation question.

Rebecca: So do you have any research or advice about motivating the students who
wouldn’t be those one of nine to sign a contract in the first place… to actually get them to commit to doing
better? Have you done any research in that area to think about that?

Dean: For it’s worth, we’re actually in the middle of setting up studies on this and
part of the idea is a little bit of a two stage process: let it play out a little bit without and see whether
they succeed or fail, ask people to make predictions upfront: “Will you succeed or fail?” Ask them upfront
say, “You know what? If you don’t succeed, how about in the future writing and commitment contract?” Because a
lot of people might say, “I don’t need to do a commitment contract, I’ll do it.” And then you say, “Okay, but
just in case, though… just in case. How about in a month, if you haven’t done it, then do a contract?”
They’ll go “Yeah, fine…. that’s fine, because I’ll do it. So it’s okay.” And then a month comes, and they
haven’t done it ad then you go: “You remember that thing you said… a month ago… you said you’d do it. You
didn’t. But you said If you didn’t do it, you’d write a contract. So here we are. [LAUGHTER] You want to do the
contract?” So we’re actually testing that out in a couple different domains to see if that’s a good way of
helping people become self aware. And it might be actually a really nice way of doing it. Because some people
will actually succeed in that first month. That’s good, that’s great. We want that. But we want to be there to
kind of clean up afterwards and pick up and help the people that are not able to achieve that goal.

John: One of the things we’re doing on our campus this semester is we have a reading
group of Saundra McGuire’s Teach Students How to Learn. And one of the things she suggests is that very sort of
intervention, that the best time to encourage students to commit to trying new strategies is after they’ve tried
their existing strategies, and they’ve been unsuccessful. So they’re primed to at least consider it.

Dean: That sounds great. I agree.

John: You talked a little bit about stick calm. Are there other types of commitment
devices that students might use to encourage behavior consistent with their long-run objectives.

Dean: So I think there are some in the social side. As an example, there’s studying
is the obvious… that we talked about, but there’s a lot of things that are the kinds of things that we all say
we want to do. But when the time comes, maybe is time consuming, or costly, like donating money to charity.
Right? There might be some cause… call it climate change… call it poverty in developing
countries… call it poverty in America, whatever the case is, and it’s something that is troubling to us.
Something that we feel like even if we contribute a little bit… it’s important, we can contribute a
little bit. That little bit can make a difference. And we want to be a part of that. But yet, when it comes time
at the end of the month, or worse yet, at the end of the year, when a lot of people do think about writing
checks and providing support to charities, they’re left with whatever is in their bank account. And why is less
in than their bank account than they expected? Well, let’s go back to the earlier conversation. Because they
were in a mall, and that shirt looked interesting, and they went out to one more dinner than they had planned to
in their budget, or they were at dinner and they had one more Margarita than they had planned to. These things
slip through, and they’re never thought about when you’re thinking about your overall budget and the end of the
month comes and you don’t have the money… or the end of the year comes and the money’s not there… And the
idea is, again, thinking about well, “What proportion of income do you want to be spending on charitable goods
and supporting other people and helping align those things you say you care about with your actual behavior of
what you’re actually doing with your money after paying for the things you really, really need, like rent and
electricity. So there are various tools for trying to do that… locking in automatic payments every month,
for instance, so that it just happens automatically. There’s a new app that I’m helping to do research with them
to help figure out how to promote called Momentum, which tags giving towards behaviors in your life or behaviors
in other people’s lives. So you can say everything I go to Starbucks, I want to donate 10% of my spending at
Starbucks to clean water in developing countries. Or you can say every time I buy clothing, I want to send money
to a homeless shelter in America. Or you can tack things to other people’s behavior. Every time Trump tweets, I
want to send money to the ACLU… [LAUGHTER]

John: That could get really expensive.

Dean: Well, you control how much. [LAUGHTER] …and It can do things on both sides
of the political spectrum. That’s just one example.

John: That discussion reminds me of a study I think you were involved… a
study on fertilizer and Sub-Saharan Africa?

Dean: Yes, this is research that was conducted under the umbrella of Innovations for
Poverty Action, but it’s not my personal research. And it was a striking example of how these issues of
temptation in financial management and planning for the future versus dealing with things today. This is germane
to people, whether they’re rich or poor. And in the case of using fertilizer, this is one of those cases where
if you go to most for farmers low income farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, most farmers do know that using more
fertilizer is better for them in the long run in terms of them earning more money. But if you go at planting
season when they need the fertilizer and you say, “Well, why aren’t using fertilizer?” The most common answer is
not that I don’t know to do it, but just that “Well, I ran out of money, cuz I just had three or four months of
the hungry season where I used up all my money.” And so what the researchers did is went to them at harvest when
they’re flush with cash and said, “Would you like to buy a voucher now, that is good for some fertilizer, and
you just come back in three months, and you use the voucher to get you fertilizer? And by the way, if you change
your mind, you feel free, you can cash this voucher back in for cash.” So it’s not actually a very strong
commitment. And farmers said, “Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.” …and sol they did that. And then
fertilizer use went way up.

John: So the notion is pre-committing to things and locking that in somehow becomes
the new status quo, and then it forces that change in behavior, it makes it more likely that you’ll persist with
that change in behavior.

Dean: Exactly right. And one of the other lessons we learned is that soft
commitments are usually probably better at than hard ones. If it’s too binding, it goes back to we talked about
earlier… if it’s too hard of a commitment, then people might be reluctant to agree to the commitment in the
first place. So you need for to be a little bit of wiggle room and some trust with whoever’s on the other side
of that commitment to say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I hear you. The circumstances are a bit tough. That’s okay. Don’t
worry about it.” Depending on who you’re doing this contract with and what the context is, you do need that kind
of wiggle room usually, for reasonable exceptions to apply.

John: And you mentioned the social aspect of it. One thing I was thinking when you
mentioned that was that I know some people who made commitments to go to a gym regularly. And then if one of
them didn’t show up, say Rebecca, the others would post a picture on Facebook saying “We’re all here. Where are
you?”

Dean: That’s awesome.

John: Can students perhaps sometimes leverage peer pressure to encourage behavior
consistent with their long-run goals?

Rebecca: Let’s note that when they backed off on that, I stopped going to the gym.
[LAUGHTER]

Dean: That is absolutely a hundred percent consistent and actually, thank you for
bringing this up. Because I should have said this earlier. When I say “increase the price of vice,” that doesn’t
necessarily mean cash price. That’s a good example of increasing the social price, the social cost of failing to
go to the gym. It’s a different form of payment, so to speak, is reputation and peer influence. But it’s very
much exactly in the heart of what we mean. And a lot of people in the Stickk website actually do not put money
at stake. They do put their reputation, they name a referee, and supporters who get informed whether they
succeed or fail. And that’s it, there’s no money. And we still get thank you emails from people about how it
helped them. You’ve got to know your type, and maybe that’s going to drive you more than 100 bucks. And so do
that instead of 100 bucks… .or both.

Rebecca: Just going back to the fertilizer example and I’m wondering if you could
set up something very similar in a classroom where students commit to something early on that has a little bit
of wiggle room to it, but might actually get them to follow through by the end of the semester.

Dean: There have been studies on things of this nature, getting students to give
them flexibility for when to do assignments versus getting them to commit to when their assignments are… and
when students are committed to when the assignments are rather than giving them flexibility,. performance tends
to be better.

John: And it doesn’t matter whether the commitments are imposed by the instructor or
whether they were self imposed. As long as there are deadlines with a penalty, students tend to do things. And I
think that’s true for us too… that if we have an abstract that needs to be submitted for a conference, I
suspect there’s a lot of them submitted right before that midnight deadline. So deadlines can be helpful, I
think, too.

Rebecca: I know I don’t do anything unless it has a deadline. [LAUGHTER]

John: I have deadlines every day.

Dean: I remember being told by a few different admissions panels in a few different
instances that you can definitely see, if you look at the likelihood of acceptance…. you see a strong
correlation between submitting the application early and last minute. These are two kind of difficult to get
into schools. And if you look at people who submitted a week to a month early, before the deadline… that’s not
a factor that’s used in decision making… but they do end up with a higher likelihood of getting admitted…
that these are students that have their act together… have everything in order and are stronger students
overall than students who submit at the last minute. So it’s not saying submit early and you increase your odds
of getting it. Just to be clear, this is not a causal mechanism, this is a correlation. [LAUGHTER]

John: That reminds me of another study we referred to. I don’t remember the exact
citation, but there had been all these studies (and we’ve talked about this in an earlier podcast)… there had
been a lot of studies suggesting that students who took notes by hand did better than students who took notes on
a computer or mobile device. And there was a randomized controlled experiment done maybe a year and a half or so
ago, where half the class used computers for half of the class. the other half took notes by hand, and they
found there was no significant difference depending on how any individual student took the notes. The difference
was, those students who chose to take notes by hand generally tended to be more successful, no matter what way
in which they took their notes. So it’s that self-selection issue that we see in a lot of these studies that can
be problematic in interpreting the results.

We always end our podcast by asking what’s next?

Dean: What’s next for us is coming October/November, we’re going to be releasing
over 1000 ratings of charities in America at Impact Matters, which is the other charity which I started, which
you mentioned briefly. Impact Matters is providing guidance to donors to help them choose good charities,
because there’s sadly no real good venue for doing this en masse right now. There’s way too many groups that are
focused strictly on accounting data and accounting data can be very, very misleading. But we are focused on what
matters: impact. Hence, our name: Impact Matters. And we’re going to be releasing 1000 ratings October/November.
I don’t know when the podcast comes out, but it comes up before then, great. Help us get this out there. We also
want to form student groups that help communicate and learn from what we’re doing so they can understand what do
we mean by impact. So it’s something that we want to form student groups on campuses about. So please do reach
out if you have any interest in getting involved or getting students involved

John: We’ll include a link to that in the show notes as well as contact information.

Dean: Awesome.

John: Thank you, Dean. It’s always a pleasure.

Rebecca: Thanks so much.

Dean: Thank you both. It’s great to talk to 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.

101. Change in the Academy

Change in higher ed often occurs slowly. In this episode, Dr. Blase Scarnati joins us to discuss how community organizing strategies can be used to formulate changes that can be supported, or at least not resisted, by all stakeholders.

Blase is a Professor of Musicology and Director of Global Learning and the Center for International Education at Northern Arizona University.

Show Notes

Transcript

Rebecca: Change in higher ed often occurs slowly. In this episode, we examine how community organizing strategies can be used to formulate changes that can be supported, or at least not resisted, by all stakeholders.

[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: Today our guest is Dr. Blase Scarnati. Blase is a Professor of Musicology and Director of Global Learning and the Center for International Education at Northern Arizona University. Welcome Blase.

John:Welcome.

Blase: Yeah, thanks so much, John and Rebecca. I’m so very happy to be here with you.

John: Very pleased to have you. Our teas today are:

Blase: I’m drinking my daily Chinese green tea Dragonwell Long Jing

Rebecca: Yum, Jasmine green tea,

John: I have Tea Forte black currant tea, again.

Rebecca: So we wanted to talk a little bit with you today about using organizing strategies to make institutional change. Change in colleges and universities, as we all know, can be a very slow process. [LAUGHTER] And you’ve worked on some ways to overcome this. Can you talk a little bit about your approach?

Blase: Yeah, we found that using community organizing theory and practice can be really a very powerful way to build a collaborative consensus for change. And especially around working to bring together folks around curricular change across campus, and especially across diverse units and disciplines. We adapt the work of political theorist Harry Boyte, who’s in Minnesota and I’m lucky to work with Harry quite a bit. He’s one of the founders of the field of civic studies, and his concept of Public Work, which is really a route that the citizens are co-creators of the polity. So that’s a very, very powerful idea. So everything that we have done here to bring about change is grounded in flat democratic practices, so that everyone is an equal collaborator, and co-creator in any sort of initiative. And again, at no surprise to anyone, that often runs counter to the hierarchical organizations of the Academy. So it can create a little dissonance, but it keeps the blood flowing. So we’ve used key community organizing theories and practices, such as power mapping, to understand the formal and informal power centers in your institution. And these are the people and committees and units that you’re going to need to work with to bring about change. So, one-on-one meetings, to build public relationships and coalitions and alliances towards common goals, especially with people that you don’t know, and cultivating practices of mutual accountability, learning to strategize action, and especially working with the well known cycle of organizing which mirrors our academic practice of research: where you do research, planning, action, and critical evaluation. And they ceaselessly follow and inform one another. A really good primer for all this kind of work, if you’re interested is Ed Chambers, the longtime head of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), a really powerful community organization that’s been around since the 40s, and the work of Saul Alinsky. His books, especially Roots for radicals: Organizing for power, action, and justice a continuum of books from 2004 and their multiple editions, is really particularly good.

Rebecca: I have a question. How does a faculty member of musicology come to this work?

Blase: I’ve wandered quite far afield and while I still publish and present in musicology, especially critical improvisation studies, jazz and reggae, and even country music… became involved in our liberal education program…. and in our faculty senate, been faculty senate president… was hired to be our founding director of our first-year seminar program, which I established, and started collaborating with newly hired, endowed chair, Rom Cole’s who came over from Duke University, he’d been there for 20 years. And we started collaborating around this community engagement methodology. And we kind of situated it in with working with our first-year students and community members and ultimately it proved to be quite successful.

John: Many systems have a whole lot of bureaucracies that are designed to thwart any type of change. Could you give us an example of perhaps how you work through that first- year program? What was the issue that you wanted to address? And how were you able to build that coalition and work towards that goal?

Blase: We’ve used community organizing strategies actually here on campus, I’ve worked with a number of folks around a couple of different initiatives: one’s the first-year seminar program, another with my colleague, Michelle Miller, who you’ve had on as a guest a number of times, and in our first-year Learning Initiative. And that’s more focused around kind of key gateway large-enrollment classes and changing the pedagogy to create much more interactivity. And the first-year seminar program as well, they were both really founded to help us really increase student retention. And also, I’ve done a lot of work around global learning. And we have our Global Learning Initiative, which I helped to co-create in 2010. And that’s an across-the-curriculum initiative where we established three themed student learning outcomes for all undergraduate programming in our liberal education program around diversity, sustainability, and global engagement. And they’re grounded in long standing campus values. And that also proved to be pretty successful. Just back to your question, though, around the first-year of seminar program, we were able to pull together some initial seed funding to establish a series of action research teams, which is kind of a framework we pulled up from K-12. But they were flat sort of umbrella organizations where we had students from multiple course sections coming together, and with graduate student mentor who had some background in training that we provided to them. So, work with community partners. So, we were trying to shift the boundaries of where the university was to embrace those deep centers of learning and knowledge in the community. And to create these sort of flat reciprocal learning spaces where faculty can learn from community members and students can teach. And everyone works around issues that fundamentally the community itself has identified. So back to Harry Boyte, who I mentioned, there’s kind of a spectrum of civic engagement. And a lot of what happens in the university and in the academy is labeled service, where they’re good projects that individuals, especially in the university identify and they go out in the community, and they do good, well enough, but this is kind of the other end of the spectrum, that public work corner of things where the work is at root, political… in the sense that has real impact on real people’s lives. And the only way that you can kind of move into that collaborative space is to have the community itself really determine what those issues are, that really are of concern. And so we were dealing with immigration… we’re here in Arizona… weatherization… water issues… food issues… a range of very powerful, impactful issues, and also working with elementary schools in town too, where the students would identify issues in their communities. Sunnyside neighborhood, for example, has a large undocumented population… there’s diabetes as a big issue… and also a large off-res native population as well. So it’s very, very invigorating work, it takes a lot of time, but the results can be quite, quite powerful. And it actually starts to attract and generate a lot of interest with colleagues and others.

Rebecca: You mentioned the gateway courses as well, at this first-year level and I heard something about changing the way faculty are going to teach? Sometimes that can be a challenge to get faculty to change. Can you talk a little bit about how you got the community on board… like the faculty…

Blase: Sure.

Rebecca: …to buy into the idea of changing their practices to be more effective, and how that was able to go through a systematic change throughout the institution?

Blase: Yeah, there was a lot of kind of the root method that we used in the first-year Learning Initiative with my colleague, Michelle Miller was that we had a target list of key gateway classes, I think, as I mentioned before,like Bio 101… traditionally, very, very large enrollment… they’re just the foundation courses that you need to get through… they have huge impact on a range of different majors. And traditionally, they’re taught in large lecture halls… you know, PowerPoint slides, and so forth. And the DFW rates were really quite, quite high. And also then, consequently having a really negative impact on progression to graduation and retention of students. So we started to work very, very collaboratively with those faculties. We talked to departments, we had a lot of one-on-one meetings with important colleagues, we kind of did some power mapping… and again, tried to figure out who are the people that we really need to be talking to, to ensure that when they start speaking about this issue, then their colleagues will pay attention to… or those that actually make decisions, in perhaps the hierarchy itself. And we spent a lot of coffee-shop time, so we would get off campus intentionally… you know, meet in their office or your office, you just kind of break the whole sort of standard thing, and you move yourself into a different space. And a lot of times working with these faculty, they’re kind of straitjacketed… I mean, they just have to get from point A to point B, the end of the semester… punch the ticket, and they have active research agendas. So how to really re-engage them deeply… and one of the most powerful ways that we found were to kind of work with groups of faculty around a single course, and especially with the idea of really kind of developing a syllabus of practice. So there’s kind of a common broader agreement about what this course might mean… what Bio 101 might mean over 11-16 sections, with maybe eight to 12 different faculty members. One of the key questions that we always ask when we meet people individually, or even in small groups, is “What have you always wanted to do?” There are a 1000 reasons never to do that, right. There are financial reasons, time reasons, resources, and manpower to help you do grading and so forth, and we were able to come in with some funding for peer teaching assistance, and just help to open that space up. They may be stuck in a large lecture hall. But yes, you can have students turn to the folks to the right and to the left and start to engage in a conversation. There are just thousands of different sort of pedagogies that can be really quite impactful, to kind of break down that “Just let me talk to you continually.” And the literature is really just filled with them. But I think from my perspective it all kind of grew from “What have you always wanted to do?” So you can really break through all the reasons not to, to touch the passion that is in most of us in the academy, and to really help folks connect to that and have that passion, drive that change. So they own it. It’s not my passion, it’s not my program, it’s not my funding… to try to achieve something that people will dutifully participate in. But now they own that process. And kind of another subtext to all of this… in Arizona, for example, in our institution, in about eight years, we lost 60% of state funding. So there were some radical realignments of what we are as an institution. We have 38,000 students, so we’re not a small institution, we’re one program short of Research 1, so it’s a very active community and campus. But at the same time, people felt the walls closing in. And they really felt a strong loss of agency. And they really couldn’t affect events. So one of the things again, in my vantage and perspectives gained working in the Faculty Senate helped them inform this as well. But we really decided that we’re going to focus on curriculum from the faculty side of things, there was great alignment with administration at the time, which was great. So from a faculty perspective, we own curriculum, that is our province, and our institution as part of our faculty constitution. So curriculum can be that space to really re-empower, reinvigorate and get people excited again, because fundamentally, they own it. And often, we’ve kind of deeded and passed things over either to administrators, or just let inertia take hold and carry things forward. Again, there was a confluence of interest in sort of a Venn diagram, if you will, between administrative interest around retention, the DFW rates, and a couple of these different initiatives that I was positioned in and the desire to reinvigorate faculty agency. So that also became a very powerful driver on campus.

John: If someone wanted to do this type of approach to make some type of change on their campus, how would you go about starting to develop that power mapping?

Blase: That’s really key and fundamental, because you have to really understand who and what you’re going to be confronted with, once you start to talk to colleagues about things that are of mutual interest. And there are a lot of different ways to power map and the Industrial Areas Foundation way, that I mentioned in Chambers’ book earlier, it’s really particularly useful. So, power mapping can help you determine where are the centers of power on campus and within that where is our support for any particular issue? And where’s the the opposition? And who do we need to engage in critical conversations, to move an agenda forward? So within all that, who are the key decision makers? And the formal decision makers, they’re easy to find… they’re on the org chart… they are in the committee structure. But the informal decision makers are much more difficult to determine. And that takes a lot more time and it’s actually a bit more nuanced. And a lot of conversations, especially outside of your usual circles are going to have to be pursued to help get a sense of who are those folks that when we’ve mentioned before, when they say something, or when they offer an opinion or offer their support will bring others along? How will the decision to adopt a particular issue be made? And again, the formal and informal decision making processes… and to build a coalition you need to determine who are potential allies? What motivates our allies and friends? And what risks are they willing to take? So, where are the lines? So that you can really always be positioned in the most powerful way to help move the agenda forward? Another part of that coalition is really who owns this issue on your campus? The Global Learning Initiative, like I mentioned, tapped into very long standing campus and are actually community and regional values around diversity and sustainability, and global engagement. Diversity on campus have Ethnic Studies Program, or Women and Gender Studies program, we have a set of commissions on campus that are very interested in promoting these… Commission on Ethnic Diversity, the Commission on the Status of Women, the Commission on Diversity, Access and Design and so forth. They’re all interest groups that have a strong say, and rightly so, have deep, deep expertise around these issues and want to be involved in any conversations. So, who do you need to talk to before you start? What kind of support do you need to bring this all about? Who will our action upset and at what costs? And then finally, the opposition… who will oppose us and why? And it’s really important to understand why because at some point, you need to try to get the opposition to a point where they’re not actively opposing you. They may they never be a supporter, they may never be leading the parade, but getting to a point where they’re just not going to just block and lock things up completely. So, what are their interests? What motivates them? What’s their relative strength? And who are their supporters? And once you have this map of supporters, potential members of the coalition, those an opposition in your institution, then you start reaching out, and building those public relationships. You go out and have coffee, you spend a lot of one-on-one time with folks, not to become their friend, but to establish those common interests that you have around these issues, even those in opposition. Where’s the common ground that you can build upon? Ultimately, at the end, end of the day, that’ll help lay out the pathway forward. But I want to talk about one-on-ones just briefly… Classic community organizing is that you just don’t meet with every possible person, especially with time being short, and you’re wanting to move an issue forward. The critical people are the ones in your power map, those that have actual decision-making powers and have influence. So, classical community organizing methodology is you’ll only usually meet with leaders of groups, because those leaders can bring the group along. Always keep that in mind. Sure, you meet with anybody that wants to meet with you. But, strategically, really make sure your time has maximum impact on things by always talking with people that can bring others along and can persuade, and ideally, they embrace… they own the set of issues. And they’ll be the champions. From my experience, that’s where a lot of the power comes from.

Rebecca: Blase, can you talk a little bit about how you identify those informal decision makers or those informal influencers?

Blase: Yeah, that can be rather difficult. At the same time, if you’re not already out, and a member of your broader faculty polity, if you will, where you’ve been able to come to know a lot of different people from across various colleges and units and programs, then you need to start talking with those people that have done that. So that can be part of your power mapping too. They can help say, “Well, you know, you really need to talk to this person, because when they speak people up and down the hallway will listen; when they get up in the faculty meeting, everybody will give them the benefit of the doubt.” Those are the kind of folks that you want to start talking with, and try to see Is there a resonance between your issue and the group that you’re working with and their priorities, and ideally, move that conversation as quickly as possible, up to 30,000 feet. Talk about common values that you have collectively, as faculty, as an institution, as community, because once you start getting into disciplinary ways of doing, then you can easily get mired in a turf battle. But if we talk about what’s common among all of us, it’s a lot easier to help pull and to submerge a lot of that trench warfare that we often discover miring us in the academy when we try to do anything.

John: At the start of our discussion, one of the things you mentioned was reaching out to students and to the broader community. That’s not something that always happens in curricular change.

Blase: Yeah.

John: How have you gone about doing that? And how has that added to the effectiveness of the change?

Blase: These days, I mostly work around global learning and with colleagues around those diversity, sustainable and global engagement values and issues, especially through the curricular frame. When this all started our Global Learning Initiative in 2010, it was based in programs and departments. So, it was a very formalized process where there were department teams that came together and worked on outcomes, and we used backward design and doing curricular maps to achieve the outcomes, and so forth, and assessment. But these days, as we continue to turn the wheel, we’ve begun to organize broad collaboratives around diversity, sustainability, and global engagement. Within them, we invite community members and invite graduate students, undergraduates, to come and begin to dialogue across departments, across disciplines. Just fundamentally, the strongest way to have something change in a hurry is have students and moms and dads begin to push that issue. That’s what ultimately will really move things and, to a lesser degree, the broader community. But just from my perspective, community members and students bring all sorts of pools in knowledge and abilities. For many of us, it’s a difficult issue. faculty were often caught in our frame of being credential. So we need to allow and basically cede control to this larger flat, democratic space where consensus can be built and really wonderful ideas can bubble up, it seems for administrators that can even be more of a challenge, to let go and trust your colleagues, that they’ll really do the right thing, without trying to put your hand in the back of the mannequin, and help to steer where things are going without being seen to do so. So from my perspective, the broader the group coming together to dialogue around curriculum, I mean, community members will really be talking about real world impacts and real lives, students will be talking about their aspirations: what do they need to really, from their vantage to be successful in life. And then faculty, we have our strong and deep disciplinary ways of knowing and doing, that we can help to shape and bring that together into a curriculum that can begin to capture really all of that.

Rebecca: So you talked a lot about bringing people together to form a coalition around some common ideas and values. Once you have that group of folks together, what do you do next, actually make the change happen. So you got people on board…

John: …to move it down from that 30,000 foot level to the nuts and bolts of actually moving forward.

Rebecca: Yeah… and be practical.

Blase: From my perspective, it isn’t you establish a group, then you go about working. It’s actually a continuum of work and practice. So you’re always recruiting new people, you’re always bringing more folks into the coalition. And that’s the big open set of doors, right? That’s the value. That’s the excitement. That’s the energy for change… the new thinking… and then concurrently, you keep working through how are we going to bring this to pass? At a certain point, you can tip everything, and you’ve recruited the key decision makers in the formal power structure, you’ve co-opted the curricular system, if you will, in a positive way. Because it’s our curricula system. But you build enough consensus that things begin to happen easily. So in my experience, it’s a dynamic continuum. Oftentimes, in the academy, many faculty like to put together maybe one course, or we do one initiative, and we work on it, and we do it really well. In my experience, what’s really succeeded, working with colleagues, is establishing almost a vortex of initiatives. A colleague of mine, who I’ve done a lot of collaborating with, Romand Coles, who came from Duke, he’s now most recently from the Social Justice Institute at Australian Catholic University in Sydney, we’ve written a lot about how to do a lot of this sort of stuff. And that’s all based on kind of civic engagement and agency programming for first-year students and others. And if anyone’s interested, they go on my academia.edu site. And you can find all of those articles. But he’s really fascinated by, coming out of biological sciences, the concept of eco tones were two sort of different biological systems, where they cross and where they meet. And that’s a very fructiferous and rich zone full of potentiality. And it’s a very exciting place to be… much like in the academy, oftentimes, the cracks between disciplines… exciting work and happen there. We tried to always sit and find that kind of eco tonal spaces, if you will, and really push and, instead of doing one project, for example, in our first-year seminar Action Team project, we set up 16 different umbrella organizations. Within each, they had multiple different working groups. Some of them lasted multiple years. Students took ownership, they developed their own leadership structure, working with community around very powerful issues I was discussing earlier: immigration, water issues, the undocumented and so forth, and others would last the semester. From my perspective, you want to saturate the airspace with activity. So back to what we’re talking about, as you’re organizing around an issue, you want to generate as much activity as you can… you kind of get a swirl of activity going, it becomes a locus… a center of gravity, that starts to pull others in, because “Hey, something’s happening, this is exciting.” What’s going on? There’s change, my gosh.” In the academy change is the rare animal, right? We don’t engage in it very much, and especially change that can touch people’s passion, beyond just disciplinary work and practice. So that can be a special pocket to try to position yourself in.

John: You talked a little bit about the first-year seminar program. Could you talk about one of the other things you’ve mentioned in terms of local issues, such as immigration, or the undocumented? What types of programs were put in, and how have they been working?

Blase: Yeah, I’m not working with our first-year seminar program any longer. It’s deeply political work. And as we changed presidents and wind s shifted, and the legislature became much more activist, sadly, our funding was cut. I mean, at the high point, we had 600 students working with more than 40 community partners each year, and we were showcased at the Obama White House in 2012. So it can be very strong, very, very powerful. There are a lot of really powerful pedagogies that you can help students… usually you never do this with first-year students, this is usually a senior project. Because first-year students are thought to be undirected, not to have that many skills, but they really can develop these skills quickly and develop voice, which is often what we were trying for. So developing agency… sets of tools to how to bring people together, and a voice in a sense of where as their particular passion, just key pedagogies or just democratic decision making in the classroom. While you may come in and have a framework around a set of issues, you might have the relationships with community members, and you might have a sense of the types of activities you want to do. There’s enormous latitude for having the class make decisions in common and the literature is replete with all sorts of ways to go about this. But just establishing that kind of democratic decision making on day one is really, really critical. We also use public narrative, which is created by Marshall Ganz at Kennedy Center in Harvard. And it really helps students begin to find their voice and agency through a couple of different steps where they start out with their individual story of themselves. They connect with others and what motivates us together as a group, the “us” collectively in the class and the community and provides an opportunity to strategize common action and going forward in the now. So there are a lot of different ways to go about this. But there’s some really good frameworks that help you do this. We’ve talked a lot about that collective way of bringing faculty and others together. But again, it’s the same set of democratic flat principles at work, even in the classroom. But you’re talking about specifics, and maybe just to kind of do a little quick validation. So the Global Learning Initiative that we mentioned, in three years, we were able to get 80% of undergraduate programs out of 91 programs in total at that time completed in our process of developing outcomes assessments and curricular map of learning experiences in study abroad because one of the parts of the Global Learning Initiative was to provide an optional semester that students could study abroad and not have them fall behind. So they would work with our Center for International Education and the center would develop reciprocal exchange relationships, and especially placing students in courses that our faculty had confidence of the experience, and data from Angelina Palumbo, or Director of Education Abroad here at NAU, we saw 136% increase in the number of students going abroad in over eight years from the beginning of that initiative until almost a decade later. Basically, those students that were involved in study abroad had an 87% graduation rate, which was 30 points higher, I think, than our average. The first-year Learning Initiative, my colleague, Michelle Miller, and I have written about FILI and how to do it and some of the impacts and you can find an article that she and I published on my academia.edu site.

John: Could you give us an example or two of how one of these programs was structured in practice?

Blase: Well, for example, in our first-year seminar program, we established an arts through all mediums action research team. Again, I’m Professor of musicology, so this was all very performative. We have a number of different courses, talking about public art, political art, visual sound art, poetry, then so the early days of slam poetry. so we had students organizing slam poetry events, and had hundreds of students attending it. We had the curriculum created for the first-year seminars, they were all topics courses, so we could easily populate a range of different topics. We were able to pull in allied faculty to teach them. The faculty often had community partners they are working with, or we had others who were working with and have established relationships with community… and others were able to kind of join in and piggyback on them. And key to all of this was embedding assignments that deeply foregrounded working with community as part of a class. That this kind of work, doing research with public and through publics was equal to any lab type research activity, or archival research activity that are done more traditionally. So, at least there’s a parallel sort of relationship. So faculty, were doing research with students. Students were doing research with community members and knowledge holders, creating multi generational experiences. So everything from K-6th graders all the way up through Navajo elders, and so forth. So it was a very, very rich learning environment within any one of our particular arts. And it was designed that way. So, that it was a very broad range of people, activities, positions, and knowledges, focused around trying to bring about change on a particular set of issues. One of our weatherization and sustainability groups was able to work with the community and basically with Arizona’s Electrical Corporation, to fund a $1.5 million dollar revolving loan grant program where people in our poorest parts of the city could apply to do weatherization upgrades, because we’re actually, even though we’re in Arizona, we’re at 7000 feet. So we have a full four seasons, and it gets quite cold and a lot of snow in the winter and quite warm in the summers. And not as much as down in the valley, but still helping the people put in more insulation to help tighten up windows and replace things and working on the same sort of weatherization projects on community centers and buildings. It was really quite exciting. So a number of our students then kind of spun off and some that were focused more on businesses. There was a Composting Action Team, where using bicycles to go around and collect compost from businesses and places on campus. And ultimately, the movers and shakers, the students behind that as they graduated, they started their own business, which was quite successful in town. So one of the important things that we were able to do with all this, because we’re in Arizona, and we’re talking about immigration issues, right? There’s no more lightning set of issues in our state than that perhaps. And the way that we have been successful is trying to build a very large table so that you can get very progressive, very left, folks sitting down with very right leaning. They’re Mormon farmers talking about water issues, having strong alliances with progressive urban gardeners in the city, and just finding those common spaces. So when we’re talking about immigration, we’re really trying to get away from people cartooning one another’s positions, and get to the point. So, what are the impacts of immigration, there’s huge impacts on policing and crime. And if undocumented residents don’t feel safe to talk to the police, then you lose all of the community members that can help break crime cycles, and help bring those that are creating havoc in our community at bay. So it proved quite successful. We adapted and pulled the methodology and the underlying sets of issues and a broad range of directions over about 15 years here to fairly good effect. There’s just a couple of things too that I do want to say that developed writing with my colleague Rom Coles. If you want to pursue some of this business, with your colleagues, with students, with community members, you need to be really pretty capacious with respect to human differences, to be able to work really with any and all who come. Some folks you may disagree with violently. Yet, if you can create common cause around an issue that’s greater than all of us, that’s the place to be. So we’re not just talking with people who think and act like we do. And sadly, that’s becoming increasingly the norm as we’re caught in our own bubbles. You need to exhibit radical receptivity. That’s my colleague’s phrase where we stretch ourselves to listen, attentively, really to open up and be altered in the relationship you develop with others who are different from us. And we also need to develop a musicality, really emphasizing the improvisational and the experimental. So that specifically we sought to really decentralize initiative and decision making in any of these projects, as much as possible. Make the space for those engaged in pursuing distinctive projects, processes and partnerships. Give them space, just to empower people to try to fail to succeed, to spin off on other topics and projects… to proliferate. Again, if we’re in that eco tonal space, it’s always so fructiferous and just overflowing with possibilities. So the proliferation, acceleration, increasing momentum that I talked about a little bit earlier, that does create this momentum that actually maintains itself through activity that’s constantly bringing others in, constantly feeding and generating additional interest to bring others along… Patience, accountability, commitment, those sorts of things, standard community organizing values, and a strong strategic sense that you’re able to look at a situation and realize you can’t generally go from here to there, you often will have to go through multiple steps to achieve those ends. And part of that is also something that collectively we’re losing… a sense of compromise, that just inherent and community organizing is you often will need to settle for half a loaf. And in a sense that can be viewed as a failure because you didn’t achieve what you wanted, but you achieved half of what you wanted, which is fine, because then tomorrow, you start in on the other half. So nothing is static, nothing is fixed. But you do have to be able to build and achieve to keep people together and to help move things forward. It could be evolutionary, and the leaps can be quite dramatic and fast and cover a lot of ground or perhaps not. Every community’s culture is different. And the issues will be resolved variously.

John: In the academy, one of the things we started with is that change often moves slowly. And partly, that’s because individuals have this bias toward doing things the same way.

Blase: Right.

John: It reduces a cognitive load and so forth. But one of the things that seems to be common with a lot of the things you’re talking about, is the sense of purpose that people gain from this. A few episodes back, we talked to Sarah Rose Cavanagh, who talked about how we can increase students’ motivation, using control value theory… that when there’s something that they value, and when they have a sense of control, they become much more engaged in their learning, and they tend to be much more effective. And their performance improves in classes. It seems like all these projects have that in common. Both when you have students working together, or working with the community, they have a sense of purpose, and they see the value of what they’re doing. And the faculty working in these initiatives see that they do have some autonomy in a way that they may not always feel that way in other environments or in other programs. I think there’s a lot of value in what you’ve been discussing.

Blase: Yeah, I agree 100%. And oftentimes, just how do you get people out of that inertia? And we kind of opened the conversation, that question that I found powerful was “What have you always wanted to do?” and allied to that is, if you are talking about those values that people care about… whether they’re faculty, community, members, students… that just pulls you right out of your day-to-day circumstance. I’m a musicologist, an historical musicologist by training, but I care deeply about sustainability issues and the planet. And that has little formal role in my research, as a musicologist. But that’s something that I care about as a person, as someone who is part of this country in the world. And so again, that just pulls me out of where I am. If I’m taking one step and then the next step, that’s the inertia. So how do you move people beyond that, to start thinking and imagining those new spaces… uniting the head, the hand, and the heart? How do you start to move people into different places, different experiences, and assembling things in different ways so that, that energy and excitement peeks through and informs everything you do, and others can catch that excitement. And hopefully, they can feed off of that, too.

Rebecca: We often talked about student motivation, and how faculty can motivate students. But we don’t always think about how we can motivate each other, and how we can work together. Those same strategies that work on students work on your colleagues too. [LAUGHTER]

Blase: Yeah, it’s so simple. You’re talking about community organizing, and a university, by definition, is a big community… there are sub-communities… you can use power mapping, in your department all the way up through working with folks across your state. It’s just they’re very supple, and as long as you are sound and what you’re trying to achieve, then you have a lot of tools to start to build a coalition to bring them about.

Rebecca: I like what you just said, because I think some folks might have thought initially, like, “Wow, you’re at a big school, does this scale, does this scope to a smaller institution or a smaller scale problem?” But I think you just defined exactly how to do that. You can try something really small, that’s more concrete, maybe in your department, and then move up to something much bigger.

Blase: Sure. I mean, you can start at wherever you are. And especially Honestly, I think the institution that I’m in now a big state research institution, that’s a harder nut than if you’re in a smaller space, or a smaller institution where you actually physically may know more people and have a better sense of the currency and where people, orientations, and motivations are. So yeah, I think it’s scales just variously. And you’re right, it can be applied in whatever frame that you decide to begin to tackle.

Rebecca: So Blase, we usually wrap up by talking about what’s next, even though you’ve already indicated, like a million things that you’re working on. [LAUGHTER]

Blase: Yeah, well, I’m really increasingly working with colleagues from other institutions to help them kind of acquire these skills and to understand community organizing theory and methods and how they might apply them on their campus in their situation to work with faculty, students, community… and especially around global education, but I’ve done a lot of work around civic engagement and agency, and in the past, first-year programs. And that lights me up… working with people that work with people, because that can be just helping to energize and get things going. I also have a couple of articles underway, one with JY Zhou of Stockton University, a colleague of mine that we’re writing about the community organizing theory and another framework that has a lot of resonance with that. And so hopefully, that’ll be coming out… and continuing our collaboratives here on campus faculty, student, community, collaboratives, and disciplinary articles. I’ve got a book chapter coming on Willie Nelson, and lots of presentations at conferences… the standard fare. But fundamentally this kind of work. It’s just so, so exciting. Thank you for the chance to talk about it with you.

Rebecca: Thank you so much, Blase

[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.

100th Episode Reflection

Today we reached our hundredth episode milestone. In this episode, we reflect back on several common themes that have emerged in a number of recent podcast episodes. We also discuss changes that we’ve made in our current classes in response to discussions with some of our recent guests.

Show Notes

Transcript

Rebecca: Today we reached our hundredth episode milestone. We invite you to celebrate with us and reflect on how our guests have contributed to how you approach teaching and 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.

John: Today’s teas are:

Rebecca: Golden Monkey, it’s a celebration day.

John: …and I’m drinking ginger peach black tea. It’s just another day.

We thought we’d start by talking about why we began this podcast series. One of the reasons for this is that we’ve observed that a growing number of faculty were not able to make it to our regular workshops on campus. And w e wanted to find a way to reach out and provide them with some assistance.

Rebecca: We have a lot of faculty who commute or have other family commitments and obligations and a lot of part-time faculty. So, we thought this was a good opportunity to provide on-demand professional development. We both had been really into listening to podcasts at the time, too. So I think that was a motivator. I’m not sure either of us thought we would actually make it to 100 episodes.

John: No, in fact, we were going to try this for a few months to see how it worked. And we both have been, I think, really pleasantly surprised at how well it caught on on our campus and more broadly. We now have listeners in over 100 countries and every US state.

Rebecca: John nudged me a lot at the beginning because I was a little resistant to the idea of doing the podcast. But we’ve been really fortunate to have really wonderful guests and to get to talk to some really amazing people. And it’s really the guests that we’ve had that have made the podcast what it is.

John: The only downside is that every time we have a new guest, I think both of us come up with some ideas that we’d like to integrate into our classes. And there’s a limit just to how much we can do at any given semester.

Rebecca: So, clearly, we need some episodes on prioritization and time management. [LAUGHTER].

John: …and people have often asked us for things on that, but neither of us, perhaps, are as good at that as we could be.

Rebecca: Or maybe the alternative is people who are really good at that don’t want to spend their time doing a podcast.

John: That’s true. Because whenever we’ve had people who we were told were really good at that , they’ve always just said “No.”

Rebecca: We’ve had a lot of informal feedback from our listeners and conversations and emails that really demonstrate that need for on-demand professional development in the way that you can listen to it on the go. But also, we have seen a lot of folks that are using the transcripts and things as well as reference. We had one listener who called in and left us a nice message that captures a lot of the sentiments that we’ve gotten internally. And so we want to share that little clip with you right now.

Carlo: Hi, Rebecca, and John. My name is Carlo Cuccaro. I’m an adjunct instructor… been teaching for 25 years for SUNY Oswego, primarily in the Counseling and Psychological Services, and Extended Learning departments. I also occasionally teach for Curriculum and Instruction. So, while I love teaching, I have to admit that my journey through the process of becoming a teacher has been interesting in that no one taught me how to teach. My role models were my former professors, and I use my own experiences as a student to kind of shape my approach to teaching. But I had to come to the realization that I really needed to become a more reflective instructor and look at a lot of issues around teaching and learning. And over the years, I’ve been able to do that in many ways, kind of on my own. But I have to admit and compliment you in that your podcast has become instrumental in my own journey as a teacher and my self improvement. As an aside, I’m a long distance runner; I run six days a week, on weekends I run anywhere from 16 to 24 miles, I’ve run 50K races and marathons. And so your podcast has kept me company on many a run. And I found myself stopping in the middle of a run to take my phone out and jot down something or record something that I wanted to remember from one of your podcasts, be it about using social media, or technology, or reflecting on attention span in students, or just overall pedagogy. There’s so many things I’ve taken from your podcast that have improved my teaching and I’ve been able to integrate specifically into my courses with really positive student feedback, and a good feeling about how I am growing as a teacher. So I wanted to thank you for all of your hard work, for your great guests, for you’re being just an amazing resource to me and to many others. Congratulations, and keep on keepin on.

John: We thank Carlo for his feedback. And we’re glad that this has been working for him and so many other people who’ve commented on how they enjoy the podcast on their drives, while they’re exercising, while they’re doing household work, and so on.

Rebecca: It’s that kind of feedback that I think motivates us to continue doing the podcast, there’s days when we’re overwhelmed and have too much to do and it can seem daunting to take on another interview or another episode. We certainly get a lot out of interviewing the guests, but it’s even more meaningful when we know that what everyone’s learning is improving classrooms for a lot of students.

John: We last did a reflection in Episode 62, and we talked about some of the major things we had taken away. But we thought now that we’ve had so many podcasts it might be useful, just to reflect back on some of the themes that have been bubbling up in our more recent episodes.

Rebecca: One of the things that we’ve heard from faculty in our conversations, but also from a lot of our guests as we’ve been chatting, is how underprepared a lot of faculty feel when they enter the profession to be a teacher.They’re prepared to be a researcher or an artist or what have you, but don’t necessarily feel prepared to help students learn effectively. They can do the same things that they’ve seen before, but don’t necessarily know the most effective strategies.

John: That’s partly because of the incentives that graduate schools face. They often get their prestige measured by how well they place their graduates in R1 institutions… and the tools that they need in R1 institutions are generally research skills. And there’s not always a lot of effort there on teaching either, on the part of the faculty or in the training of graduate students. There have been some notable exceptions and we’ve talked about some of those in past podcasts.

Rebecca: In Episode 84—Barriers to Active Learning, Lindsay Wheeler and Hannah Sturtevant talk a lot about their observations or the observations that their research team made of faculty in the classroom and the kinds of activities they were actually doing, and made observations that although faculty might even report that they’re doing active learning, it’s kind of limited. And so not knowing different ways to implement those strategies is often a barrier.

John: As our classrooms have become increasingly diverse in terms of the mix of students, with more first-generation students and a wider mix in terms of students from various socio-economic status groups, we need to be better prepared to provide a more inclusive environment that works for all of our students, and not just the traditional students of past decades. We had a very interesting discussion of the new MOOC that Cornell has put together, where Melkina Ivanchikova and Mathew Ouellet talked about the development of that MOOC. We also had a great discussion with with Amer Ahmed on inclusive pedagogy.

Rebecca: And some of the things that I thought were really exciting are some of the episodes that talked a lot about moving away from a traditional lecture format, and offered some other ways of thinking about operating in the classroom. Some of my favorites were episodes 74: Uncoverage by David Voelker, and Episode 70: Dynamic Lecturing by Christine Harrington. Both of those offer different ways of thinking about what content should actually be covered or uncovered in the classroom, and also ways to mix things up in the classroom so it isn’t just straight lecture.

John: And in particular, Christine Harrington basically reminded us that lecture can be effective when it’s done well, which involves making it much more interactive. But there’s also been a lot of podcasts recently that remind us that most students enter our classrooms knowing very little about how they learn. So quite a few of our episodes have been addressing metacognition, and how we can help students become more effective in their learning.

Rebecca: I think one of the things that we’ve had a lot of conversations about just as we’re picking potential guests to reach out to or with our colleagues on campus, is how important helping students learn how to learn is. They’re in our classes and we expect them to already know how to learn, and we don’t take the time to meet students where they’re at and know that that’s something that we actually need to talk about, and help them develop and nurture them through that journey of figuring out what it means to be a learner, and to be an independent learner. And so, I think a lot of the episodes that we’ve had that talk about metacognition… that’s really what’s at the heart there… is finding ways that we can start helping students recognize ways that they can be more effective learners. And the onus isn’t always on the teacher to be an effective teacher, but also to just make sure that students know how to learn and how the class is structured in a way that can help them learn.

John: Because the development of those goals will help them not only in their current class, but in future classes and throughout their life. One of our most recent episodes was Developing Metacognition by Judith Boettcher. And she talked about how that could be done in an online framework with project-based learning and problem-based learning.

Rebecca: I think that episode happened in a really critical moment for me in particular… that I immediately started having students set goals and do all kinds of things right at the beginning of the semester that I maybe hadn’t fully intended to do, because I became more and more aware that I’ve been trying to do things to help students develop their metacognition, but that had some specific tips and tools that worked really well for the kinds of things that I was already doing. And it felt like a really good way to integrate it.

John: …and another episode that I think had a lot of influence on you, particularly, was the episode I’m specifications grading with Linda Nilson. Could you tell us what you’ve done in response to that episode?

Rebecca: Yeah, I went all in this semester. So I’m not out so far, I’m unscathed in the approach, but I decided to go all in and structure my class so that it has specifications grading as the key way that I am doing grading on individual assignments and projects. I use some of the bundling techniques that she talks about, but not for the whole course. So there’s an essential bundle that everyone has to do at the beginning of the course. And then there’s a big project that students can choose different sets of specifications that they can meet in these collaborative projects for two-thirds of the class. And so far, that initial bundle that everyone’s required to do, all the students, although they were a little concerned and a little panicky about the idea that we have to keep doing it until they got it right. We’ve been doing a lot of revision, and students are really developing those fundamental skills that they’re going to need to do a more complicated project. And so that seems to be really effective.

John: And that podcast works very nicely or ties very nicely to the other podcast we did with Linda Nilson on Self-Regulated Learning, which focuses on how we can help students improve their own skills at learning.

Rebecca: I know that you’ve talked a lot about the ways you’re trying to raise students awareness of metacognition in your own classes. Were there some episodes more recently that have changed how your practices worked at all?

John: One topic that we revisited in our more recent podcasts is open pedagogy, particularly with the episode by Jessica Kruger on her Just-In-Time textbook, where she had a whole class write a textbook. I like that so much, I did it in my spring 2019 class. But I also have students in my introductory class this term working on a podcast project. So, I’m really excited about that. And many of the students are excited… many of them are really, really nervous about it. But I think they’ll get through that. I think open pedagogy is a topic that has come up as a method of really increasing student learning as well as student engagement. And my perception is that they are learning the topics much more deeply when they have to write about them and present them in a public form.

Rebecca: That goes to the idea of teaching others and so you’re going to be more prepared if you have to explain to someone else because you have to practice so I can see how students might actually develop those metacognitive skills in a sneaky kind of way in those contexts, because they might feel embarrassed if they aren’t successful if it is in public.

John: In terms of developing students skills, Michelle Miller provided two podcasts for us since our last reflection. One on her Attention Matters module, which is a module that they’ve used at Northern Arizona University and many other schools to help students learn about attention and focus and to improve their learning skills by focusing their attention. And Michelle also talked about retrieval practice in Episode 65, which was a really nice overview of the importance of retrieval practice in learning, as well as the discussion of a wide variety of techniques that people can easily introduce in their classes to help improve their learning.

Rebecca: And a good overview of a lot of these evidence-based practices was introduced in Episode 64 – How Humans Learn by Josh Eyler. Metacognition certainly comes up there as well, but also a lot of these other evidence-based practices to help students develop their learning skills.

John: One other theme that came up in many of these podcasts was the importance of reflection, we had an episode by JoNelle Toriseva: Episode 93 on Reflective Writing, which talked about this very nicely.

Rebecca: That episode had a lot in common with Episode 98, that we already mentioned (Developing Metacognition with Judith Boettcher), because there’s a lot of focus on goal setting, and I was really excited to see how effective setting goals was for students and how seriously they actually take that activity. So if you’re a little skeptical, I’d encourage you to check out both of those episodes and think about how to get your students to reflect on their learning and to set some goals.

John: More broadly, a lot of our episodes, since our last reflection, have focused on creating a positive environment within our classroom that provides students with an environment that’s conducive to learning for all the students in the class. A really good discussion of much of that occurs in our interview with Sarah Rose Cavanagh on Emotions and Learning, and the importance of emotions for learning and how we can use that to improve the amount that students learn.

Rebecca: Although that’s the only one that has emotion in the title, I think one of the things that’s really interesting that’s come up in a number of episodes is that emotions aren’t separate from learning. Emotions impact learning, and I think that’s something that a lot of faculty might be resistant to on a surface level. It might be something you immediately take pause to and think “Wait, that doesn’t apply to what I do.” We’re thinking we want to be rational and have debates that are based only on facts, but emotions play into how we interpret and interact with our environment and with information. And a lot of episodes talked about the role that emotions play. In Episode 77 with Lisa Nunn, not only was there a lot about metacognition, but there’s a lot about emotion and thinking about some of the anxieties and things for someone who’s new to a particular kind of learning environment, like a college setting, or how that setting might be really different from high school.

John: Cyndi Kernahan talked about ways of building a comfortable environment for discussing difficult issues involving race in Episode 89.

Rebecca: In that episode, and also in 82: Geeky Pedagogy by Jessamyn Neuhaus, there’s a lot of conversation about identity and the role that your identity as a faculty member, as well as identities of students play in these conversations, that has bigger implications and bigger complicated conversations that might be difficult or challenging to have. But understanding that we all have identities… that crossover and a lot of different places is important in our conversations. That was also true in Episode 96 – Inclusive Pedagogy.

John: One of the interesting things pointed out in Geeky Pedagogy is that the personalities and interests and motivations of faculty are not necessarily the same as those of our students. So she provides a really nice discussion of how we can use our own personality effectively in teaching students who might have very different motivations and incentives than us. Because the people who choose to become faculty are not random selections of people from the college body. And it’s sometimes a difficult adjustment in working with students who have very differ ent personalities, motivations, and interests.

Rebecca: Although I can’t point to a particular episode, one of the things that has been bubbling up in a lot of the conversations we’ve had on the podcast, but in also some of the other work that I’ve been doing with colleagues related to accessibility. And it ties into what you’re talking about, about that particular episode, is all these assumptions that we have. And we just don’t even realize that we have them, but they’re built into our environment, and they’re built into the Academy. And as we recognize what those assumptions are, we can start to figure out ways to dismantle those structures that prevent students from being successful or even prevent us as instructors from being successful in the classroom.

John: When we’re talking about classroom climate, we’ve also had quite a few episodes that have dealt with classroom climate in online, hybrid, or HyFlex courses. And specifically, in Episode 79 on Self-Learning versus Online Instruction, Spiros Protopsaltis and Sandy Baum talked about the importance of interaction within the online environment. That was also emphasized by Flower Darby in her discussion of her book Small Teaching Online, in which she talked about a wide variety of methods that we could use to keep our online classes much more engaging, and much more interactive and effective. And in last week’s episode, Judie Littlejohn talked about how HyFlex courses can also be used to provide students with a more flexible environment to meet the needs of students who cannot accommodate a traditional face-to-face course schedule.

Rebecca: And Episode 87: Social Presence in Online Courses is another one with Allegra Davis Hannah and Misty Wilson-Merhtens.

John: And I’d also recommend their podcast, The Profess-hers, which I listen to regularly, and it’s quite good.

Rebecca: There’s also a wide smattering of episodes that we can’t possibly detail out here. But one that stands out is Episode 73: The Injustice League by Margaret Schmuhl that talks a lot about ways to get first-year students to feel engaged and part of the larger Academy and getting them involved with activities, getting them integrated into the community, and the role that a faculty member should perhaps play in helping students become a member of that bigger conversation.

John: …creating that emotional engagement, again, that was discussed in these other episodes.

Rebecca: We’ve talked a lot about metacognition and classroom climate bubbling up as interesting themes. And neither of those are necessarily things that first come to mind, I don’t think, for faculty about what professional development as a faculty member is. So, I think that that’s kind of interesting that those are topics that come up and just about any conversations that we’ve been having. So John, where do you want to go next? What are some things that you’re hoping that we start talking about in the future?

John: Well, where I want to go now is to Disney World… I mean to the Online Learning Consortium conference in November, where I think you’ll be going, too. But in terms of future podcasts, there’s a lot of things that are left to explore, there’s so many new studies coming out that we’d like to talk to some of the authors of and there’s so many people doing interesting things that we’d like to talk more to.

Rebecca: I know that one thing that we’ve started having some episodes on, but not nearly enough is really about the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. All of the things that we’re talking about in evidence-based practices obviously come out of scholarship and come out of research. But we don’t always talk a lot about how faculty can start doing some of their own research in their own context with students. And I think that that’s an area that faculty are interested in, but don’t always know how to get started in.

John: We did have a nice episode on that, that we reflected on earlier with Regan Gurung. But that is an area that we should investigate more. And at the very least, it would be nice to talk to some of the people doing the research studies to find out more about how they did it and how perhaps other people might extend that research or where future research can go. So what are you doing next, Rebecca?

Rebecca: So, I’m going on sabbatical. And I’m really excited about studying accessibility further. I’ve been collecting data over the last year and a half in my classes about how students engage with, or relate to, the concept of accessibility and how they implement accessible practices in the design work that they do. So I’ve been collecting data… have done a very minimal analysis of it to see that things looks like they’re going well. But I’ve done a number of different interventions each semester, so I can do some comparisons. And so I’m looking forward to exploring that as well as putting together some resources for faculty who are doing projects where students are making things in public. So similar to some of the open pedagogy things, there’s a lot of people putting stuff out in public and having their students create things in public. But they don’t always think a lot about audience. And when they’re thinking about audience, they’re often not thinking about people with disabilities… or who might listen or interact with materials in a way that they don’t. How about you, John? What’s next for you?

John: Well, I’m actually doing two things new this semester. One is I have switched over to Lumen Learning’s Waymaker package, which is a personalized learning system, which we discussed in an earlier episode with Steve Greenlaw, who actually developed much of the economic material. And that’s been working really well, students are generally liking it. But I’m building a lot of materials week by week to supplement it and to flesh it out a little bit more. And the other thing I’m doing new is, in my online class, partly inspired by the open pedagogy podcast we’ve had before and presentations by Robin DeRosa and others, I used an open pedagogy project this spring. And we actually talked about that in an earlier podcast. And one of the things that, to me at least, came through was just how excited and engaged the students who were involved in that work. They really enjoyed putting work out there… something that they could show to their families, their friends, and so forth. And they learned about the topic much more deeply than if it was just a disposable assignment at the end of the class where no one other than the instructor would ever see that again. So, this time, I’m having students do podcasts on applications of introductory microeconomics. And I’m giving them the option of either keeping them within the class or sharing them more publicly. And some students are really nervous about that, b ut others are really excited about it. It’s early on right now. And I’m trying to scaffold the project to make them more comfortable. And I’m really looking forward to what they produce. And if it works well, this will be a publicly shared podcast that will involve applications of basic concepts in microeconomics to things in the news.

Rebecca: That sounds exciting… sounds like a future episode could be discussing that potential project.

John: We’ll see how it goes. I’m cautiously optimistic about it.

Rebecca: Sounds really similar to a lot of responses we get when we ask faculty to talk about the projects we’re working on.

John: it’s always easier to do it in retrospect, but so far, I’ve been really pleased with what students have been doing.

Well, thank you all for listening. We have some really great guests lined up for the next few months. We’re looking forward to our next reflection episode,

Rebecca: …and maybe one of our next guests will be you.

Most importantly, I think we need to thank all of the guests for the first 100 episodes because without those guests, we wouldn’t have a podcast and we wouldn’t have really great conversations or way too many things to do in our classrooms.

[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.