234. Education in Prisons

Education provides a pathway to a more secure and comfortable future for individuals living in poverty. This is especially true for those who are incarcerated. In this episode, Em Daniels and William Keizer join us to discuss the challenges and opportunities associated with providing education in prisons.

Em is a researcher who focuses on education, corrections, criminal legal reform, and abolition. She is the author of Building a Trauma-Responsive Educational Practice: Lessons from a Corrections Classroom. William is a Founder of Frontline Professional Development and Co-Founder of Revive Reentry Services and the Revive Center for Returning Citizens. He is a former state prison Adult Education Instructor, and in addition, he himself was formerly incarcerated.


John: Education provides a pathway to a more secure and comfortable future for individuals living in poverty. This is especially true for those who are incarcerated. In this episode, we explore the challenges and opportunities associated with providing educational in prisons.


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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

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


John: Our guests today are Em Daniels and William Keizer. Em is a researcher who focuses on education, corrections, criminal legal reform, and abolition. She is the author of Building a Trauma-Responsive Educational Practice: Lessons from a Corrections Classroom. William is a Founder of Frontline Professional Development and Co-Founder of Revive Reentry Services and the Revive Center for Returning Citizens. He is a former state prison Adult Education Instructor, and in addition, he himself was formerly incarcerated. Welcome back, Em, and welcome, William.

Em: Hello.

William: Thank you.

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

Em: I’ve just got water. I’ve got boring room temperature water with no flavor in it.

Rebecca: That’s a disappointment.

Em: I know, I’m sorry. I set the bar very high, and then I didn’t even get over it. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: How about you, William?

William: I am water and lemon in a spill proof cup.

Em: He’s got a sippy cup. [LAUGHTER]

William: I’m a little clumsy sometimes, [LAUGHTER] Em knows. I take every precaution.

John: And I’m drinking a peppermint spearmint blend today.

Rebecca: Oh, that sounds nice, John.

Rebecca: I have Scottish afternoon tea this afternoon.

Em: Mhmm.

John: Very good, appropriate. Because it’s afternoon and I’ve already had a lot of caffeine I’m doing a non-caffeinated route.

Em: I did have coffee earlier, just so people know that I haven’t abandoned the caffeine train. I just tried to finish it before, and I can’t have a tea right after a coffee. It’s too much liquid. [LAUGHTER]

William: I second that.

John: In an earlier podcast, we talked to Em about the general topic of trauma-responsive educational practice. Today we’d like to focus more on the topic of education in prisons. How did each of you become involved in teaching in prisons?

William: You know, it’s funny, as I was preparing for the podcast, it dawned on me that I actually started my career in education in a carceral setting, teaching life skills at a juvenile detention center, clear back in 1989. From there, I worked as an intervention specialist and a special education teacher in public schools. But around 2004, I’d been teaching life skills classes at a state work release program when I was hired to teach adult education in the state prison in our area. And I’ve always worked with marginalized populations. And so for me, it was just kind of a natural progression. I guess I’ve always just landed right where I’m supposed to be.

Em: Yeah, I started after Bill, but I also started out outside of academia, I started working in a community organization, helping people during the Welfare-to-Work years, as they were trying to transition people off of welfare. I worked for a small agency that did workforce development, and didn’t know anything, but learned quite a lot, and then continued working in just such a variety of different teaching and learning spaces, eventually coming to working in the prison for several years when I was living in Oregon, and had also worked in alternative high schools and left the prison in Oregon and then moved to Spokane, Washington, where I live now to work as a Re-entry Education Navigator, and my job was to try to help people who were coming out of prison who wanted to go back to school, and did that for several years… met Bill during that time, and feel like that whole experience of seeing what happens to people before they go to prison and what that education looks like, and then during prison, and then what happens when people come out of prison and want to continue education or enter education has really given me a fairly unique perspective on higher ed in prisons.

Rebecca: For those that aren’t familiar, can you describe some of the challenges facing both students and instructors within the prison system?

William: I think one of the significant challenges is to create an environment where students feel safe and respected, where they can settle and become ready to learn, especially a place where they can feel insulated from all the distractions that come with being locked up. It’s tough because students in a carceral setting are trying to learn while they’re dealing with stuff like maintaining a relationship with their significant other outside of the walls, or maybe family issues, family stuff, sick kids, whatever, because you’re powerless over what happens on the outside and it eats at you. Then you have internal distractions like prison politics, you may have issues with staff or with other individuals that you’re locked up with. And it makes it hard for students to try to settle and learn.

Em: Mmhmm. First, I’m going to say I think educational trauma plays an incredibly significant role for students in prisons, because so many of them have been denied public education or actively ejected from public education before they come to prisons. So they’ve already had a lot of really significant harm around education. So they come in with a lot of those barriers. And then when you look at the demographics of who was in prison, you see also many people who have disabilities, especially undiagnosed learning disabilities, the incidence of traumatic brain injury is anywhere from three to five times higher in the population in prison than it is in general populations. And that also presents significant barriers… addiction and the impacts it has on the brain, especially alcohol, provides really a lot of issues. So there’s just a number of barriers that show up in population, and are connected to reasons why people come to prison. So there’s that piece, and then some of the more logistical issues. It’s hard to describe how few resources there are, when you work in a prison setting. When I go into a prison, I’m like, “Well, I might be able to have a pencil and a piece of paper.” And that’s really the resource that I might be able to have. If I’m going in as a volunteer or something like that, if there’s programming inside, I probably have a little bit more, but there is no access to internet, not active internet. Some states and some facilities are working on a secure internet, where people can get on to certain sites, information and what not. And there are certainly, like, librarians and information management people at colleges, two- and four-year schools, do an outstanding job of trying to update resources that sit on a server. So they’ll put together sort of a secure server full of information and then they’re always trying to update those resources. But again, it’s still static, it’s not dynamic information. So the lack of access to resources is profound. There are certainly technical issues around funding, always around funding, Pell is being reinstated for people in prisons next year. So the scramble over the last couple of years, and will continue into next year for colleges and programming to try to adjust to people being able to have access to Pell again, and the benefits that that brings, but also the resistance of institutions to change and adapt so that people can get the most out of their Pell funding. To say it is very strong is an understatement, and that’s a whole other topic. Funding for programming is always challenging. And Pell is just a whole other big thing. There are all kinds of different issues around programming. So access, what materials you can bring in and bring out, who gets to come in and come out, what you get to talk about, all of these things. So there’s programming issues, and then probably, in addition to having to make an effort for students like a really, really big significant effort for students, the extreme cultural differences between, what you need for education, because education is inherently supposed to be a liberatory exercise, like it’s a movement toward liberation. And you are trying to do this in an institution that is designed to control and constrain and to hold people captive. So the cultural clash there is deep, it’s very deep. And because the corrections institution is really the one ultimately in charge, educational entities really have to walk a lot of lines that feel like compromise all the time.

John: One of the things you mentioned in the book, Em, was Eurocentric ways of knowing are built into our educational system. How might we adapt our approaches to education to better accommodate those from cultures who rely on alternative ways of knowing?

Em: Well, I would reframe that it’s not an accommodation, that it’s a rebalance… like, this country, it did not start out as a European country. And to say that European and Eurocentric ways need to accommodate other ways, I think is maybe a mis-frame. And I think that looking at all of the people and all of the representation of all the different people around the world who are living in the U.S. and go to school here, and pay taxes here, and are citizens, and all of this… this is really about how do we open our own minds and our own hearts to the way that we see the world? And understand that that is not the only way to see the world. And people talk about that a lot, but I’m, like, “This is more than just entertainment. It’s more than just a holiday.” It’s fundamentally, people see, they experience information. They take in information differently. They respond to it in their bodies differently. They respond to it in art and creativity. The way that they think about information is very different and those differences, while they certainly do present opportunities for us to push ourselves and stretch ourselves, that’s what we should be looking for. Because every time we push ourselves and stretch ourselves, it makes us better. It makes us more fully ourselves that we get to try to experience the world in all of these different ways. And I think that, when you look at the hallmarks of Eurocentrism, the production, quantifying things, wanting efficiency, wanting to make sure everything can be measured in a particular way, all of those kinds of things, none of those things are inherently wrong or bad. But when they are the only thing, the only way that you know the world, the only way that you even consider that could be possible to know the world, I think that that makes us all smaller. It makes us all less than what we really are. And I think that that piece of it, like really pushing ourselves and challenging ourselves to think about knowledge differently, is one way for us to step into a more fuller version of ourselves.

William: Yeah I agree, I agree. I guess in the literal sense, the Eurocentricity that’s embedded in our education system, really misinterprets and misrepresents the historical journeys of many marginalized populations. I think it forces those populations to use more informal ways of learning about their journey, like song and dance, and storytelling and art, just to get a more accurate understanding of who they are. And that shouldn’t have to happen. I think, really, the three things that are important for me are what’s being taught, how it’s being taught, and then how it’s being assessed. And we have to have a broader brush to be inclusive, otherwise, we’re just perpetuating that marginalization.

John: And that’s a critique of our educational system in general, but I think it may have even more weight in the prison system, given the large proportion of marginalized individuals who are in our prison system, it would seem to create even a greater amount of harm in terms of providing effective education.

Em: I agree. I think that one of the ways… like Bill talked about this earlier, building these relationships and building trust. And I think that when we think about what people need in a classroom to learn, and what they need in themselves, and in order for people to learn in a way where they are able to grasp that knowledge, connect it to something that means something to them, the things we really want students to do that there has to be sort of this calmness in the body. And that comes when people have some feeling of both physical safety, and I would say more settling than demanding that they label themselves emotionally. And one of the reasons I say that is because when you get students who have been really harmed by public education, and specifically when you’re talking about people of color who have been harmed by white supremacist entities or Eurocentric entities, and that can be white teachers, sometimes it’s not, sometimes it can be teachers of color, but it’s often white teachers, like asking them to be in a prison classroom, and they’re a person of color. And now there’s a white person, another white person in an authority role, and they’re supposed to just automatically trust them. That can be a big barrier. And it’s not something that you can talk about very often because race in prison, even though race is present in every single thing in every single interaction, always, it’s not talked about. When I was working there, race was one of those issues, like, you didn’t want to talk about it, you did not ever want to really have any conversation. I don’t know, I feel like that’s a mistake and not acknowledging it when we go in like the positionality, especially for white people, the positionality and the sort of inherent power that comes into that, like not acknowledging that and talking about it, at least amongst ourselves, is a mistake.

Rebecca: It seems particularly challenging when we’re thinking about these power dynamics that you’re talking about when it’s layered in a prison system where there’s already kind of a teacher-student relationship that has a power dynamic, but now there’s also a prison authority, telling teachers what they can and cannot do in this space as well. So how do you help students reach a feeling of being settled or overcome some of those barriers around power to actually have learning happen?

William: I think it’s super tricky, because with correction staff outside the classroom, it’s all about that absolute authoritarian coercive kind of power. And here’s the thing, often, new hire teachers, including me, receive their orientation training in the same sessions as corrections officers and other corrections staff. So there’s an expectation that we go in and behave like corrections officers in the classroom, see where in reality in the classroom success is found through compassion and collaboration and not coercion. So earning a student’s trust and respect by developing that teacher-student relationship goes a long way. If you ever have to exert your authority in the classroom, for example, enforcing classroom rules. I know from my own experience as a teacher that if you develop that relationship, you can gain compliance through respect and you don’t have to resort to threat of punishment.

Em: Mmhmm. I had that happen… When I was working I spent a lot of time building relationships with my students. And I had a very unique situation, I can’t imagine in today’s climate that I could ever have such a situation again, but, really focused a lot on building relationships with students, and also trying to walk the line of teachers are expected to be corrections enforcers when they’re in the classroom, like that is the expectation from the institution. And because teachers rarely get training that is not corrections offered training… Until this book, any training that was given was the program would put together some training. But the conversations around power and… What does it mean to be a teacher and be expected to be complicit in these dominator power dynamics? And what do you do with students who don’t have the ability to withdraw consent? And how do you navigate that? How do you not abuse that power? And that has been a question that we have not talked about. Education doesn’t have that question very often about, what do we do to maintain our own ethical core when we are in these positions where we are expected to wield power? And I think that, what Bill was talking about, where you’re building relationships with people so that they understand how you make decisions. They understand that a yes is always going to be a yes, and a no is going to be a no, and that doesn’t change based on the person. It doesn’t change based on, you’re having a bad day, you’re still going to make your decisions in the same way. People are going to know when they come to you, if you tell them yes, it would be a yes, and if you tell them no, it would be a no. And I think that we underestimate the importance of that, that consistency. I know that when I was at the prison, I had corrections staff who would come to me sometimes if they were having issues with a student, and they were someone who was in my class, they would come to me and they would say, “We know you have a good relationship with the student, can you talk to them about this or that?” And it didn’t happen all the time, but it definitely happened where they saw that I had a relationship that was not based on dominating the student and forcing them to do things. But it was based on trust and openness, as much as we can be open, and that I can at least have the conversation with the student where they might not even be able to do that.

William: Right, and I’ve had the same thing occur, and I think the big difference is that when you develop that relationship, that students begin to understand your motives for saying yes or saying no…

Em: Mmhmm.

William: …and that you do have their best interests at heart when you’re doing that, and you’re not just about asserting your dominance. It’s about trying to be that individual that is, again, working in their best interest.

John: And earlier, William, you mentioned how you received the same training that was provided to the guards. So it sounds like that could provide some insight for the correctional staff, who may perhaps be able to learn more effective ways of dealing with those who are incarcerated.

William: In a perfect world, that’s really all I can say. That institution has been doing things the same way for a long, long time, and is super resistant to any kind of change, especially in a more compassionate direction.

Em: Mmhmm.

John: Well it perhaps could lead to some gradual evolution in a better direction, at least.

Rebecca: Real slow, real slow. [LAUGHTER]

John: Really slow, but if perhaps instructors are better prepared in providing that sort of role model, it certainly couldn’t hurt, and it certainly couldn’t hurt the educational purpose. What are some effective strategies in providing trauma responsive educational practices in a prison environment?

Em: I think that the three things Bill and I always come back to over and again, and he’s always been the one to bring us back to that whenever things have gotten really difficult or challenging, is you prioritize the relationship, you maintain the dignity of everybody who is involved in whatever is going on, that’s yourself. I’m going to leave the word respect out of it, because respect in prisons is code for obedience, and I’m not interested in perpetuating that. So I think maintaining dignity, and then also strengthening connection. I mean I know, teachers, we have all had those moments with those students who are just… they feel intolerable. You’re sick of them. They have been irritating, they have been annoying, they will not leave you alone. They pester, pester, pester, whatever it is. And I think that on a free campus, you have a lot more latitude in how you work with students like that. And you get to leave, like you get to go. But in prisons you don’t really have the same amount of latitude. And losing your temper once can just destroy a relationship, and you don’t usually get second chances. People do not usually give you a second opportunity to regain their trust. So when I talk about strengthening connection, I think in that moment when you are disliking them the most intensely, you have to find something to appreciate about them, and you have to tell them that. So whatever it is, they have nice handwriting, or they’ve been speaking up in class, even if they’re irritating you to death, you have to find something to remember that these are people who are trying to learn, and that our job is to help them learn, and they are in a position that is so much more intolerable than ours. That’s something that we bring in when we accept the responsibility to teach inside, I believe that’s part of our responsibility, is to do that.

William: Absolutely, well said. Really, the only thing I think I can add to that is just to really be mindful to ensure that nothing that you say or do has a potential to re-traumatize individuals.

Em: Mmhmm.

William: Because, again, absolutely do no harm. But also, like Em said, you only get one shot with a lot of these students. And it’s part of the culture, you only get one shot. And if you do something to offend, or to re-traumatize, which is going to be perceived as offending, you may not get another chance to build that all-important relationship that you need to help them be successful.

Em: Mmhmm. To just add something to what Bill was saying, is that we talked about this a lot when we were prepping is… What would be helpful for people when we talk about strategies? And we aren’t going into more detail, because, well, we don’t have enough time and you can also read the book, but partly because some of the strategies are things that teachers have to develop for themselves. Like we can give people guidance on, How do you handle yourself when you go in? I assume that people who are teaching are professionals, and they may or may not have taught in prison before, but they’re professionals and that they have some experience and they have knowledge. And you know that they have their own strategies. So some of this is like, “How do you adapt your strategies?” Instead of telling you, “You have to do these things.” Just give you enough guidance, give teachers enough guidance, so they can see how their own strategies can fit into this very different environment. So I just wanted to say we’re not trying to avoid talking about more detail, it just feels like it’s not always helpful, you can get really into the weeds on it, and it’s not always helpful.

Rebecca: One of the things that I’m sure has impacted education in the prison system significantly is COVID-19. Can you talk a little bit about what that impact has been?

Em: That has been a disaster, like a disaster, as much a disaster as it has been for free campuses and for K-12, you just magnify that, because you have millions of people who are basically trapped in a building where they have to share ventilation. They are totally reliant on people who come in from the outside for protective gear, they may or may not be able to maintain social distancing. They have no way to ensure that people that they are around are vaccinated, or will get vaccinated, or can get vaccinated, and that includes prison staff, any staff who come in. And I’m going to refrain from more commentary about what happens in prisons to people, because those aren’t my stories to tell, but everything that’s happened outside of the prison, you can just magnify that by whatever amount you want to, and it probably still isn’t as bad as what happened inside.

William: We just lose that ability to provide the consistency that that population of students needs.

Em: Yeah. About education specifically, prison programs, because of the lack of technology and the lack of access, have almost entirely been face-to-face programs. There’s been like a little bit of, they can have a tablet, and you know, you update the tablet, but none of it is online, like the tablets aren’t connected to each other, you have to bring them in and plug them into a server and do the updates and things like that. So I think there’s a tiny, tiny, tiny bit of movement on that front, not very much. But most of the people that I know who teach, they can maybe get inside occasionally, but the minute there’s an outbreak they can’t come in anymore. So students, for the most part, have lost the last few years of access to education, in addition to being in a terrifying environment where they don’t have the ability to really care for themselves in the way that we do.

William: I don’t think we can overstate the importance of that face-to-face contact. I mean them seeing you on a daily or weekly basis and being in that physical presence. Because it’s everything you do, it’s your body language when you’re with them, it’s your facial expressions, it’s micro expressions. Everything you do is your message to them about why you’re there and what your motives are, and that you’re there to work in their best interest, to be an advocate for them to learn and to grow. Because that’s really, when we boil it down, that’s what we’re talking about, is we’re talking about individuals who are trying to better themselves through education. And it’s just, it’s a population that’s rife with trauma and negative educational experiences. And I think that that face-to-face time is just so important to support their success.

Em: I have a lot of colleagues who have been doing fantastic work through correspondence, or doing packets and things like that, because correspondence is a little bit different than doing packet work. And there certainly are people who benefit from having more time and people who are introverted, or have maybe some different needs in learning who like the asynchronous learning piece more, or they have more time to maybe reflect and things like that. So I don’t want to say that nobody has gotten any benefit at all. But I agree with Bill, like, my bias is certainly that face-to-face learning is… there’s so many benefits to it. And I think when you look at the literature around trauma, one of the big benefits when we talk about trauma responsivity, is that somebody has a settled body, like if you’re settled in your body, you can be in that space, and other people respond to that. Like mobs, you get one or two people who are just completely hyped up and doing all this stuff, and that’s contagious. Well, the same way that that kind of chaotic, high-level, excited energy is contagious. So also is the settled, calm, deeply grounded energy, is also contagious, and that can be really important when you’re working with folks.

John: There’s a lot of research that shows one of the best ways of escaping from poverty is through education and higher education. I would think that would be especially true for people who are incarcerated. As a society, are we devoting enough resources to provide educational services for those who are incarcerated? And what changes should be made to provide more resources? What are some of the most pressing needs for addressing some of these inequities?

William: For me, I just would like to see more resources devoted toward putting more teachers in the classroom. In my last teaching job in the county jail, my class size would be, sometimes, over 25 students. And it’s so much harder to… and I keep going back to developing these relationships because, to me, that’s a foundation for everything else that comes. But I would like to see more education staff and smaller class sizes, to help create those relationships that foster success and students.

Em: I agree, I think, definitely more teachers. I think that, like roughly half of the states in the country don’t offer education inside, or education is not mandated, and that may have changed a little bit. But last time I checked, it was, like, 28 states did. So it’s roughly half that do not mandate education. The demographics aren’t different, the people who go in, 60 to 70% of them don’t have a high school credential. And two thirds of people who are going into prisons are existing on, just subsistence, 12,000 a year or less, like very, very high rates of poverty. So absolutely. But I think we also have to think about re-entry, and 95 to 97% of people come back to the community. So if we’re thinking about education while people are in prison, but we’re not doing anything to make sure that people can have access to education, can have access to housing, and access to jobs when they come out, then, I don’t think education is ever a waste, but I think that it’s very short sighted, it’s not a good way to talk about lifting people out of poverty. I would say one thing people should be thinking about are background checks. Background checks are probably one of the biggest roadblocks to people getting housing, to people getting credit, to people getting jobs, sometimes getting into college, being able to spend time with their kids when they’re at school. Background checks impact people in so many ways and forever, because we don’t have any expiration date on them. So I’ve heard stories of people who got hired by a university to be a tenured professor, and then somehow it comes up that 25 years ago they had a conviction on their record and the university’s like, “Oh, sorry, our policy is that we can’t have you.” And I’m like, “Well, that person’s been working there for years, what are you talking about?” But it happens. So I think that that is one area where, because it’s so deeply entrenched, and it’s connected to employment law in a lot of ways and to public records, it’s such a tangled problem that people really don’t even want to think about it. But it is a huge roadblock for folks. So if we are going to invest in people, and we’re going to give them education that they should’ve gotten earlier in their lives and should’ve had access to. If we’re going to give them access to more education, then we’re just doing them a grave disservice if we are not making it easier for them when they come out.

Rebecca: Are there things in the education system we should be working on that happen, perhaps, before people end up incarcerated? So avoiding some of the traumas and things that are happening in the education system early on.

Em: Well… I feel like that is a very difficult question to answer because I have the same critique of our K-12 education that I did of higher ed, that it is very Eurocentric and that people of color, and people with disabilities, children with disabilities, who need to relate to information differently, who may need to consume information differently, all of that stuff, like, they’re not just treated as if they are trying to learn things, they’re treated as if they are wrong, as if they are deliberately challenging the authority of a teacher. And then they’re punished, they’re punished, because they can’t or won’t assimilate into these Eurocentric ways of understanding the world, which again, are not wrong, but are not the only way. And nobody should be punished because they understand information in a different way from somebody else. And that is a very broad statement, and I know that there are individual people who make an effort to try to not punish, or who try to have students learn in different ways. But systemically, the system itself does that. I mean, think about it, so if you are a black student, black parents, and demographically, perhaps you have a single parent household, we’ll say, and this could happen with any student, I’m picking a black student for a reason. So they have a single parent household, and the parent has to work a couple of jobs. So not only like if that parent is going to come to school and interact with teachers, which they definitely want to do, they have to deal with their own trauma from having been discriminated against and potentially punished because they were a black student in a white system. So they have that from their own childhood, from their own adulthood, from their own lives. And they have to try to come into a school which may have harmed them when they were young, and try to bring themselves in and do the things they need to do for their children. And so that’s a barrier that white parents, perhaps, don’t face. And this is a very general example, and I am not saying that all white parents or all black parents would have these kinds of experiences. But it is an example that I’ve heard from many students and many parents that this happens. And again, it’s just something that we aren’t addressing. And I’m very hesitant to say a whole lot on the topic of K-12, because I don’t teach in K-12, which is part of the reason I don’t feel like I have a lot other than a general observation, I don’t have a lot of direct experience that I can speak to. Bill, I think you taught more in K-12 than I have.

William: Yeah, having worked in about, I think five middle schools, and seven different high schools in different parapro and professional instruction capacity. What I can say is looking back, if I had access to Em’s book, to having a better understanding of trauma and the impact of trauma on how students learned. I felt that I was fairly effective as an educator, back in my time in the public schools, but had I had access to that I could have been more, I could have done more, I could have been more effective. Because for me, introducing a trauma-informed perspective into my instruction, I think it’s a game changer, I really do. I think that students who couldn’t be reached before, could be better reached, better understood. And even within the constraints of the framework of public education and the way it is right now, I think that teachers who adopt a trauma-informed approach into their teaching can’t be more effective. I can’t say enough about it, honestly.

John: There’s certainly a lot that we as a society can work on to provide a more inclusive environment all the way through for everyone, but let’s turn back to one of the things that is addressed in Em’s book, which is the importance of bringing joy into the educational experience, so we can end on a, perhaps, a little bit more upbeat note. Could you talk a little bit about that?

Em: One of the things I love about being in any kind of learning space is getting to learn with people. And I think that that’s learning from them, but also getting to learn with them. So I’m teaching how to make a widget, or write about widgets, or something like that. And I have a way that I do that, so I kind of teach from that perspective and maybe I have different strategies. But what I get to learn is, when that person, when that thing, whatever it is clicks in and they have that lightbulb moment. What I get to learn is how they understand it, and I get to learn how they see it and I get to feel that excitement that they feel because they, maybe opened up a new little neural connection for themselves, or maybe something they knew in one way they now know it in another way, and I get to share that with them. And that’s something, like people love working with kids because that’s what’s happening all the time. There’s so much they don’t know that everything’s like,“Oh my god, I can’t eat dirt.” That is exciting for a child because they didn’t know they couldn’t eat dirt, and, I mean, maybe they’re just going to eat dirt anyway, because it’s fun, because it makes your parents mad, but it’s really exciting, everything is exciting. And I think that we lose that as we get older and we get into adulthood and we take on adult responsibilities, and there is no structure in our society that encourages us to keep learning and to keep our learning muscles strong. And so we kind of forget just the joy and the pleasure that we experience when we’re being expansive together, when we’re expanding our minds together. And we’re opening ourselves up to learning with other people and learning from them. I think we forget that, because we’re not allowed to do it, or we don’t have places that we think we can do it, or we just get sort of swept away by circumstances of our lives.

William: And I take what Em said, and I want to frame that in a carceral setting too, because seeing the face of a student who’s learned something that they never thought they could learn, or seeing them begin to understand a concept and watch that light bulb go on. And just to know that something is happening that’s combating some of those past educational negative experiences that they’ve had, that they’re finding out that they have the ability to learn, that they can learn, and that they’re excited about it. And to be able to share that excitement with them, to me, that’s the joy of education, because like Em said, the instructor and the learner share that. So yeah, just knowing that the ability to learn is there. It’s amazing.

Em: I had a student once, this is not when I was in the prison, but I had things like this happen when I was in prison. And we were talking about getting jobs and doing interviews and things like that. And I had a group and we would do a group interview, and then I would interview them one on one in front of their classmates, which was a small class, and it was a cohort so it wasn’t like it was a bunch of strangers. And this one student was just terrified. Like, didn’t want to even get in the chair at the front of the class to do the group interview just where the class was sort of asking questions. And all they could do was just sit in the chair. And the class went around and they all asked the question, and I don’t even remember if the student really answered anything, but they did stay in the chair the whole time. And when they got done, that moment of recognition… And of course, the rest of the class was very supportive. If they could answer that would be great, but if not just overcoming their fear of sitting there. And that moment when the student realized that they had stayed in the chair, that was such a moment of success and triumph and joy for them. And all the class got to share in that we all got to support and cheer for this person, even though it was really, really hard. And that’s something that you would not necessarily consider a learning that you could measure. That what? Somebody would just, like, sit in a chair? That’s not a piece of learning that you can quantify, you can’t put a grade on that. But when I ran into that student years later, and they were working as an educational assistant at the local community college, and they had gone through however many interviews they had to do to get that job. And if they had not done that, they would not have ended up on that career path. And I thought, “Oh, this is one of those things that you need for people to be able to do.” But you shouldn’t have to put a grade on that, a number or a letter. This is part of what it means for us to be human together, and to be in this space together, and to support each other, and care about each other. And I always remember that whenever we talk about what is learning, and joy in learning, and that piece of it. And I saw things like that happen, I would have students who would fail two or three tests in a row, but they would get one or two points more on each test. And so the whole class would just celebrate, because the person was obviously starting to get a little bit better either at taking tests or remembering information or learning how to study or whatever that was. And I think that those are things that our current education system doesn’t give us time for. And I think especially when you’re talking about prisons, and just the level of educational trauma and denial and rejection that those students have gone through, of anyone who needs that kind of attention and care, I think that our students who are inside really do. And joy as an antidote to trauma, Bill mentioned ability to learn, but I think that when you look at what trauma does to the brain, the stress chemicals and keeping us locked into fear and survival, but when you talk about joy everything just opens up. When you are having those joyful moments everything just opens up, and I can’t help but think that those moments of joy and what happens in your body really is an antidote to some of the impacts of trauma.

Rebecca: That was a great story, Em. So we always wrap up, though, by asking, What’s next?

Em: Hmm. So for me what’s next, I’m working on a book chapter for a handbook on prison education, a friend asked me to do a chapter on that. So working on the chapter on that. But beyond that, I am starting to put together, like a companion or guide for the text, Building a Trauma Responsive Educational Practice. And I just started thinking about what that would mean, and what are the things that would be most important to unpack? And what would I want people to take away from that. And then, of course, my consulting business, I’m going to be talking to Princeton in May, which is very exciting. And I’m going to be doing a training session with John Jay College, which has two or three programs around corrections ed and teaching and working in prisons. So I’m pretty excited to be doing that later in the year. But yeah, I think the companion book is starting to take some shape in my head, so I’m excited about that.

Rebecca: That’ll definitely keep you busy.

Em: Yes.

Rebecca: How about you, William?

William: For me, a couple of things, I am working on a re-entry survival guide, which is kind of a workbook manual for people coming out to help them through just some of the beginning pitfalls of re-entry. You know, how do you get your ID? How do you get connected with your state services if you need them? Job hunt, finding housing, things like that. And then I’m also looking at putting together an in-service training, a lot of it based on Em’s work to take into the public schools. Because I think that if students have an opportunity, say at a secondary level, to be exposed to educators who have a trauma-informed perspective, a trauma-informed approach, then hopefully we can mitigate some of the high prison populations that we have now, and maybe go a long way to having some of those students skip going to prison. [LAUGHTER]

Em: Mmhmm. It would be at least nice to be able to reduce the overall level of connection between education and prison. Like people are always going to make mistakes and screw up, and part of abolition is imagining… What would it be like to be able to make a mistake and screw up and not have to go get locked in a cage? So part of the work of abolition is imagining that and I think for me, too, part of that work of abolition is… What would it be like if education wasn’t a pipeline to prison for so many people? What does that mean? How would education have to change? How does society have to change? And I think that’s work that is very interesting to me, and necessary.

John: Well, thank you both. You’re doing some really important work, and we thank you for sharing it with us.

William: Thanks for having us.

Em: Well, thank you, too. Yeah, and I welcome if people have questions or want to learn more, I’m happy for them to reach out to me. I think you can put my email in the show notes.

Rebecca: Thank you both.


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.


231. Include Instructors in Inclusive Instruction

Educational developers often recommend teaching practices that assume instructors are in a position in which they can cede some of their authority to students in order to increase student agency and motivation. Not all instructors, though, are in this privileged position. In this episode, Chavella Pittman and Thomas J. Tobin examine strategies to adopt practices that are inclusive of our colleagues as well as our students.

Chavella is a Professor of Sociology at Dominican University, the founder of Effective and Efficient Faculty, and is the host of the Teaching in Color podcast. She has written extensively about issues of race and gender in higher education in scholarly and general interest publications. Tom is a founding member of the Center for Teaching, Learning, & Mentoring at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the author of Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone: Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education and several other works related to teaching and learning.

Show Notes


John: Educational developers often recommend teaching practices that assume instructors are in a position in which they can cede some of their authority to students in order to increase student agency and motivation. Not all instructors, though, are in this privileged position. In this episode, we examine strategies that are inclusive of our colleagues as well as our students.


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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

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


John: Our guests today are Chavella Pittman and Thomas J. Tobin. Chavella is a Professor of Sociology at Dominican University, the founder of Effective and Efficient Faculty, and is a host of the Teaching in Color podcast. She has written extensively about issues of race and gender in higher education in both scholarly and general interest publications. Tom is a founding member of the Center for Teaching and Learning and Mentoring at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and the author of Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone: Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education, and several other works related to teaching and learning. Welcome back, Chavella and Tom. It’s great to have you back on the podcast again.

Tom: Thank you much, John. Glad to be here.

Chavella: Yeah, thanks so much for having me again.

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

Tom: I am not a tea person. Although I did just restock my cabinet from black tea to green tea. So, we’ll see how that affects my ability to write and function throughout the day. I’m drinking distilled water today. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: A good choice for the body for sure. How about you Chavella?

Chavella: I am drinking water with electrolytes. I participated in a bottle share this weekend. And because I’ve been running a lot more this winter, I can get a little sensitive to dehydration. So, I’m drinking water with electrolytes. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: I think a first on the podcast. [LAUGHTER] John, how about you?

John: I am drinking ginger peach black tea.

Rebecca: And I have Golden Monkey today.

John: Back to an old favorite.

Rebecca: It is, it is. I don’t always have it in stock.

John: Advocates of inclusive teaching often encourage faculty to share their power and authority with the students. But you both wrote a February 7, 2022 article in The Chronicle noting that this does not work as well for all faculty. Could you share this argument with our listeners and tell us a little bit about how this article came about?

Chavella: As many things, it came about as a result of my frustration, if I’m gonna be honest, which I always seem to be. On a fairly regular basis, I see folks putting forth ideas like you should do this, you should use that. But it’s often attached with some elements of, for example, during a pandemic, people saying… If you’re still having deadlines for students, then therefore basically you don’t care for students, or you’re like an evil person. And seeing people make these individual level attributes that ignore the structural context of teaching was getting really frustrating for me. And I was having a conversation about it with some folks and Tom was one of those folks. And I said, “I have to write about this, and who’s interested in writing with me about this?” But the general argument is, absolutely, that a lot of times, people perceive teaching as individual choices, and therefore they’re making individual level attributions, not realizing that these aren’t just individual level choices. What we can and can’t do, how students respond to the various things we do, are very much so in the context of our social statuses and identities.

Tom: Absolutely. And as Chavella has said, I stepped in to work on this with Chavella, because… two different sides of the same coin for me. I have been an advocate for universal design for learning for a very long time, trying to lower barriers for our students. At the same time, I was one of the people Chavella was a little mad at, in that my research was moving in the direction of how does Universal Design for Learning underpin all of our other diversity, equity, inclusion, social justice efforts on our higher education campuses? And I was at the same time also advocating for, “Hey, all instructors, please share your power with your students, please be vulnerable,” all that kind of thing. And I was doing that in a blanket way. So the conversation that we were all having when Chevella said, “You know, not everybody can do that.” That was a moment where I came up short. And I thought, I haven’t even really examined this aspect of inclusive teaching. So it turned out to be a really good platform and conversation. When Chavella and I were first having one-to-one conversations about what do we want to actually say, it struck me …and listeners, you might remember the old Highlights magazine for children. And there was always the Goofus and Gallant segment in that magazine. Goofus was the young man who could never do anything right. And Gallant was the one who always did things perfectly and had perfect manners and it was meant to teach children how to do and be in a socially acceptable way. This is kind of the ninja-level Goofus and Gallant article from me and Chavella. I’m playing the role of Goofus. I am the person over 50, white, cisgender, heterosexual male with gray hair. I tick a bunch of boxes for unexamined privilege. And we wanted to contrast that unthinking and unexamined exercise of privilege with the experiences of women instructors, instructors of color, people who are in other precarious places like part-time instructors, and talk about how what is simple and easy for me becomes dangerous, challenging, or a bridge too far for other instructors.

Chavella: I was gonna say thanks, Tom, for admitting that you were in the group of folks that I was frustrated with. I wasn’t gonna out you, but… [LAUGHTER] It’s that level of reflectivity and that level of honesty and the willingness to look at yourself that I’m super grateful for and that we’re trying to encourage people to do, is to actually pause and ask yourself these sorts of questions.

Rebecca: I think it’s really important that we stop and reflect about these sorts of ideas when we’re really in the business of trying to advocate for students. If we want student success, we need our whole community to be successful and included. One of the topics that you brought up in your article was about flexibility in the classroom, specifically around deadlines. But I was curious about whether or not other conversations around flexibility came up as, Tom and Chavella, as you were talking with each other about this article. A lot of things that we see around inclusive practices include things like giving students agency around the format of their projects, or assignments, and other things like this.

Tom: When we were drafting the article—of course, the article can be only so long for The Chronicle—the very first example that came to my mind was, Rebecca, you’re talking about being flexible with formats and giving people choices about how they show what they know and take in information. That’s Universal Design for Learning. That’s one of my areas of expertise. It was one of the first things that occurred to me. And I thought, “You know, we’re not really this kind of reflective with UDL.” It’s kind of ironic, too, because even teaching approaches that center and address learning variability tend also to frame instructors as a homogeneous bloc, who uniformly have status and power that they’re able to transfer to learners. For example, UDL began as a way for K-12 teachers to lower barriers for students with disabilities. Now, because UDL began in an environment in which adults are teaching children, that power, respect, and status dynamic, they’re simply assumed to be tilted heavily toward the teachers regardless of their other identity characteristics or intersectionality. So when UDL began to be adopted beyond the special education curriculum, and in higher education settings, those assumptions about instructor authority went largely unexamined. And so our colleague, Jay Dolmage, suggests that UDL should encompass both learner and instructor variability. And he calls this the intersectional theory of Universal Design for Learning. And so classroom and teaching authority means that students recognize you, the instructor, as having the right and duty to ask them to participate in learning activities and to manage a classroom that’s conducive for learning. The challenge there is that students can perceive, in higher education, that they have greater power than their instructors because of the instructors’ institutional and structural identities, things like age, race, gender, employment status, ability profile, and you name it. So that give and take, that being reflective about who has the authority and power to share and give up extends to lots of other types of flexibility.

Chavella: You’re right, Rebecca, that is absolutely something that we discussed. And the piece that he shared, we had lots of conversations about that. And even just beyond the statuses, or related to the statuses, even assumptions about what technology faculty have access to. I talk about this all the time, the fact that people assume that because I’m faculty, I have access to all sorts of technology, I have access to all sorts of wireless internet connectivity. But I happen to live in a community of people that look like me, which means that our infrastructure isn’t the same, right? So I’m supposed to be having all this variability for students that I may not even have myself. So lots of assumptions layered into what faculty have, even as it relates to UDL.

Tom: And that’s something that Derrick Bell calls “interest convergence.” We tend, if we’re in a dominant culture group, we tend not to say, “Oh, yeah, we should be concerned about our colleagues who are having a more challenging time of things,” unless and until it affects us, right? This is the, “not in my backyard,” or, “I’ll wait until it affects somebody in my family,” kind of thinking. And that interest convergence can really get in our way, because we just assume, “Oh, if it doesn’t affect me, it must not affect many folks.” When the reality of intersectional thinking is that it affects everybody. And it’s useful, not from just a social justice perspective, to take a step back and think about how all of the instructors at an institution are situated to be able to do the work that we’re asking them to do in a safe and effective way. But it’s also a bottom-line business continuation conversation. This has to do with… Are your instructors going to want to come back and teach another semester if they’re contingent? Are your instructors eyeing the door? as Lee Bessette said in another forum. Are they looking to skip to another institution or find another place that gives them a little bit more psychological safety or a little bit more explicit support. So it’s not just the social justice aspect of things, but it’s also the keeping the lights on and making sure that you have talented people working with your students, consideration here as well.

Chavella: It absolutely is a retention issue. Part of what makes this particular issue frustrating for me is because it’s not like faculty with marginalized statuses haven’t been saying this all along. We’ve been saying that all along, “I can do that thing in terms of ability, but it’s going to have different consequences for me, or it’s going to play out different, or it’s going to take more energy for me, or I’m going to get more pushback from it.” So we’ve been saying that consistently. It’s just that the mainstream communicating about the scholarship of teaching and learning hasn’t been echoing that, hearing that, reflecting that. So it very much so becomes a retention issue when you situate it such that you have to do these things or you’re not a good teacher. And then people are having all the push back and sort of emotional energy. And I got a lot of responses after this piece came out from faculty with diverse and marginalized statuses saying, “Thank you,” like, “Basically, I’ve been yelling into a vacuum about this, and no one has heard me.” So for sure, definitely a retention issue.

Rebecca: I know we often don’t hear about a lot of examples of how marginalized faculty are impacted, in part because they feel like they have to be silent about it because they are unsafe, maybe they won’t get tenure and promotion, maybe they won’t get renewed. Do you have any examples that you collected related to UDL that you might be able to share that weren’t included in the article? Because I know that’s the section that got cut.

Tom: And I’m actually looking at the draft where we have those selections here. And with regard to Universal Design for Learning, the challenge that we found was the classroom dynamic shift, where Universal Design for Learning is asking at its core for the instructor to create various paths for the students to be able to move through the instructional space. That’s not actually all that controversial, and it doesn’t open up a lot of risk for folks with marginalized statuses. Where we get into the challenge is at the more approaching-expert level of universal design for learning. We want to move our students from being expert students, the people who know how to cram and know how to study for a test and can tell me back the things that I told them in the classroom. And the risk becomes we’re trying to create expert learners. We want students who can create new information, encounter new situations and apply what they know, and be open and more vulnerable with us. And that requires that openness and vulnerability from us as instructors as well. Part of the challenge with that is, if there’s not a lot of implicit or unearned respect and trust, then you have to establish what that trust looks like. And for folks who have fewer trust resources to be able to build from, that becomes tricky. So I’d love to pick Chavella’s brain here, too. And we’ve got a couple more examples in the kit as well.

Chavella: Yeah, I was gonna say that that beginner part, I think there are challenges for faculty with marginalized statuses. The idea of sort of opening up different paths, the issue becomes… and again, when you think about the scholarship of teaching and learning in general, you’re going to have moments of like, “Oh, yeah, that makes perfect sense.” We know from the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, that when you do things that are innovative, or non-traditional, that you can get a bit of student resistance. So UDL requires you to do things that are innovative and non-traditional. So even if it’s just how students submit work, whether they’re doing in writing, or whether they’re doing an audio file, or doing some sort of visual presentation, those actually all open up paths to resistance for faculty with marginalized statuses, just by the virtue of the fact that they’re doing something different. Those things get rewarded for faculty that have dominant statuses, they’re seen as experts. Now we’re questioned, our expertise becomes questioned: “Why is she doing it? That’s strange. I don’t understand that. I’m confused by that.” So I would say that all sorts of teaching choices require students to actually view you as an expert. And if you have some statuses that are marginalized in society, those are all things that students will use to decide that you’re not credible. But we know that those are the practices that are supposed to be done. We know those are the ones that are good for learning. It’s just a matter of who’s doing it that makes it a little bit more challenging.

John: What are some ways in which we can make it safer for faculty to experiment with some new techniques? Or what are some ways that faculty who are in a marginalized position can address some of these challenges? Or might, in some cases, it be better to not try and to use teaching techniques that work best for them in their environments?

Chavella: I would say probably a little bit of mix and match. I’m always like, “There’s no silver bullet.” I wish there were. “There’s no magic wand,” I say that all the time. But it’s probably a little bit of mix and match. Like, if you have your energy, you’re trying to get your scholarship together, maybe not doing things you know students are going to resist, it doesn’t mean that traditional practices don’t work, you can do the traditional stuff. But that might not be the right timing for you. But at the end of the day… I was getting ready to say it doesn’t have anything to do with the marginalized faculty. And part of what I mean is, it’s not their responsibility. The institution should be making changes, the institution should have chances where you can try something innovative and your course evaluations don’t matter. The institution should have an understanding of the ways in which bias gets involved in your student rating, so whether it’s because it’s innovative or you have a marginalized status. I think that a lot of the folks that do this work and our own colleagues need to understand that the way you do things might be different from someone else, and then not to shame, or guilt, or assume that the other person’s way of doing it is less valid or less excellent when it comes to teaching. So all of the sort of, like, needing to be done parts are things that need to be done on the part of the powerful and of the institutions. But I absolutely tell diverse faculty to be intentional and be thoughtful about what they’re doing and what the consequences are going to be for them. And just be very aware that they might get a different outcome, and it might require different resources for them.

Tom: And the flip side of that is also true, that there’s a whole bunch of “don’t do” things that seem kind of intuitive to a department chair, or a dean, or a provost. Because when we hear, “Oh, well, we have to make safer spaces for people with intersectional identities, marginalized identities. And we have to empower them from an institutional perspective.” The first reaction from a lot of folks, especially if they are from dominant-culture backgrounds themselves, is to start looking for the people in their institution who fit the definition… “I’m going to go ask my black colleagues how to work with them.” And the chances are that most of your colleagues, your women colleagues, if you’re a man, your black colleagues, if you’re a white person, they don’t know any more than you do how to do this well. One of the things that I really benefited from is Chavella, this is her research area, she is a trained facilitator. Bring in people with expertise to help you and your institution to come up with policy, practice, and models that suit. Too often we just turn to one another and say, “Well, what should we do?” And that sort of uninformed guessing isn’t helpful and can actually perpetuate harmful situations.

Chavella: Absolutely. One of the other things we talked about as having some frustration is people identifying this as a gap. Like Tom said, this is my area of expertise: the intersection of structural oppression and the scholarship of teaching and learning. But some people will see this gap and be like, “Oh, all of a sudden I see my privilege now.” And then they rush to fill the gap. No, no. No, no, no, no, no. You don’t have the expertise for that, you don’t understand that. So the people with the dominant statuses, that rush to suck up all the air in the room because they see the new shiny thing that they want to pursue. First of all, a lot of times they’re sharing misinformation or things that are misguided, that are actually going to be more harmful for the group that they purport to help. But they’re also silencing the people who actually already have this expertise. So there are a lot of faculty developers and folks that do Scholarship of Teaching and Learning who have some expertise, who look like me, who are people of color, LGBTQ folks, but a lot of us are being drowned out. So that definitely falls in the category of “don’t,” which is, don’t center yourself by trying to fill the gap and sucking up all the air in the room. [LAUGHTER] Look around and actually identify who those folks are and work with them.

Tom: Yeah, am I allowed to say that most people doing land acknowledgments now aren’t actually working with their First Nations colleagues to make things better? That’s kind of what we wanted to do in the article, was to not call people out for doing things poorly or not doing things at all. What we wanted to do was to say, “Here are ways to think about and act that move you away from performative work into intentional allyship. What actions are you actually taking, so that you are using the privilege that you’ve got, even if you aren’t from a dominant perspective? What actions are you taking that help your colleagues? What actions are you actually taking?” And in the article we talk about how I started, when I first got my PhD I thought, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m going to be the cool professor, and have my students call me Tom.’ And I didn’t realize at that point that me having them call me by my first name meant that some of my women colleagues who were insisting on being called “Dr. So-and-so,” then that was, “Well, why are you being so formal about it when Dr. Tobin says, ‘Call him Tom’?” And I came to realize pretty quickly that they didn’t have that assumed authority. And so if I said, “Please call me Dr. Tobin,” and we were all Dr. So-and-so in the department, that made for a more level playing field. And it also meant that I was showing respect for my colleagues, even in my own classroom, because I was explaining why I was asking for that formal, “please call me Dr.,” as well.

Chavella: And that’s such a good example. And in the research that I do, where I’m collecting stories and information from faculty with marginalized statuses, that happens to be one of the things that comes up all the time. And I know that people think that the titles are a small thing, but they’re not. And so in the article, one of the things that I’m always, when I’m trying to describe to other people, or make it clear to them that there is an intersection between structural oppression and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, is I’m always talking about this idea of a force field. So all those things make it clear that there is teaching authority, professional authority, that there’s some expertise involved. And a lot of times privileged faculty don’t realize, that force field just automatically exists for them, it doesn’t exist for other folks. So having your title is a marker that sort of provides a force field for faculty with marginalized statuses, so that they can do the work that they need to do. They don’t have to worry about people testing the fence, trying to get over the fence, trying to ignore the fence. So very much so, people think that that’s a small thing to be called by your professional title. But it is a reminder to students, and then they behave accordingly, if they’re referring to you by your title. And again, it just gives you the space to be able to do your work when you’re a faculty member with a marginalized status.

Rebecca: One of the things that has come to mind as we’ve been talking today is how often narratives around almost the same circumstance can be different at various tables. And that one way perhaps, to show some allyship is to make that visible in conversations when it occurs. So if there’s an evaluative conversation, for example, around promotion or tenure, and something comes up about teaching, and it’s maybe a different narrative around some of the same techniques, because maybe the teaching evaluations come back negative because they often do. That conversation is different, we can point out, “Hey, this is actually a good practice. And that the research says that these evaluations are often not accurate.” And to try to point to the fact that these narratives are inconsistent. It happens so often, and we observe this all the time. And often people don’t speak up.

Chavella: No, they don’t at all. [LAUGHTER] There are a couple things going on at once. One is people see teaching as this very private activity. So very few people talk about their teaching in general. And then a lot of the folks that are doing the evaluative pieces don’t really actually know anything about the scholarship of teaching and learning. [LAUGHTER] If we’re being honest. They just know what’s normative. So I work with campuses doing all this stuff. I train people how to do inclusive teaching, and how to do the reflective pieces around identifying your own privilege and making it clear about their teaching choices. But I also work with institutions about how they evaluate, and really making it plain to them, how what they’re doing are the most common practices, and then put them in conversation with the best practices. And those are usually opposite. So a lot of the people that are doing the evaluative pieces, absolutely. They don’t know anything about the scholarship of teaching and learning. So the more of us who know, engage in those conversations and have those narratives, I think it could make a huge difference. Absolutely.

Tom: And back to the idea that the changes we want to see are structural and institutional ones. When Jean Mandernach and Ann Taylor and I were doing the research for our book, Evaluating Online Teaching, from back in 2015, we couldn’t include a lot of the horror stories that we heard about how institutions would often hire adjuncts to come back the next term or move people forward on the promotion and tenure line, based only on student ratings of teaching. And so there was that one signal that, as Chavella has mentioned, we know is imperfect and riddled with student bias. And we also know that student ratings of teaching—you notice I never say evaluations, because our students are not qualified to evaluate us—they can share what their experiences were like. And we have to look at those experiences through the lens of what are the biases that they are expressing through that rating system. So when we have just the one signal that we’re making an employment-based decision on, that’s where that bias really creeps in. The other side of that is also true, that when we’re asking peers, or our department chairs, or our Deans to do observations of our teaching, unless there’s a structure in place that asks for very specific teaching behaviors to be observed and then evaluated, then we’re going to bring our own unexamined and unintentional biases, and some intentional ones too, into that process as well. So in the book on evaluating online teaching, we tried to be very clear that even someone who’s never taught online before, can still give a meaningful and legally defensible assessment of our teaching, so long as they understand what they’re looking for, and what we count as teaching behaviors, versus what’s just bias from the face-to-face classroom. And we talked about things like voice tone, pacing, eye contact, use of humor, all those kinds of things that even in the face-to-face classroom, we might be using as proxies for observable teaching behaviors, because we don’t know what those are, or we haven’t done the research or read the research about Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, like we’re coming back to over and over in this conversation. Move that into the conversation about all of your instructors coming from various types of backgrounds, level of preparation, and level of implicit authority that is granted to them by students, dnd you come up with a very similar argument. The challenge for us as administrators, is to be very clear about what we are assessing and measuring when we think about the assessment of teaching quality,

Chavella: Obviously, I cosign all of that. [LAUGHTER] I cosign all of that. I feel like I’m always sort of on a rooftop yelling all of those things over and over again.

John: One of the things we’ve observed at the teaching center is we have a wide variety of young faculty in many departments who are trying to do new things. But their pushback is coming from other people in the departments. Our administration is, in general, quite good at recognizing some of these challenges, but that doesn’t always translate down to the senior faculty in departments. And I think Rebecca and I, at various times, have both had to urge some caution to faculty in trying to get some support for the things they do and some buy-in. What are some ways we could address that issue at the departmental level?

Tom: One thing that we mentioned in the article, and it’s a shameless theft of mine from a colleague at Westmoreland County Community College in western Pennsylvania. He called it the get-out-of-jail free card after the card in Monopoly that allows you to pass through the game more quickly. What we recognized was that our contingent and adjunct instructors who are just coming back from semester to semester, as well as our people who are on the tenure line but not yet tenured, often felt that they had to be very conservative, not take very many risks. And they wanted to do innovative teaching practices, felt perhaps not comfortable doing them as much, or as soon as they wished to do so. So the get-out-of-jail free card, we call that a provost’s letter. We asked our provost to be willing to write a letter that went into somebody’s promotion and tenure packet, or went into somebody’s employment history packet for the adjunct folks, that allowed people to collect, but not have count, the student ratings, any peer observations, anything that was formatively or summatively evaluative of their teaching, for one particular semester, or one particular class where they wanted to do something experimental or take a risk. That provost’s letter, you could apply to do it once every… in our case it was three years when I was in Chicago. And that provost letter changed the academic tenor of the conversation, because people felt that they could take a risk every now and then. And we started to see more people, not only just the faculty members and instructors who were newer to the field, but also those who had been there for a while. It wasn’t so much a case of, “Oh, these new people that are showing me up or they’re taking risks that I would never take.” We saw some of our more seasoned faculty members start saying, “Oh, well, if they can do that, and it actually lowers barriers, not only for the students, but also for me, then I want in on that as well.” And so that was one concrete thing that we’d encourage your listeners, get with your faculty senate, get with your administration, and see if there are ways that you can provide little islands of safety or security for people to do things that might be risky for them in their current roles or in their current progression.

Chavella: I’m thinking about it because I deal with this all the time… the, “What can you do?” Because as we mentioned earlier, I see this ugly endpoint of this. So I see the faculty with marginalized statuses who are about to not be renewed, because they have taken a chance, regardless of whether or not what they did was effective or not, the colleagues are the ones that are gunning for them. Your teaching content is different than what they want. They take offense to that. You’re not lecturing the way that they might do it, like you’re doing something a little bit more active. So they’re gunning for you. And what I would say departments could do that would link back to what Tom was saying a second ago, is you have to have an ally in your department that’s gonna do what I refer to as these collaborative teaching observations, where the person is observing your effectiveness versus judging whether or not you teach exactly like them or not, because that’s a lot of what the review is. So any shift that you can do in a department to get them to realize the evaluation isn’t a matter of… Am I a clone of you or not? And are you actually achieving the things that you have set out to do? Would be an improvement. And honestly, I’m thinking if you even ask the department to ask that question in their evaluation processes, I feel like that might be the punch in the gut that would make them realize, “O-M-G, all we are doing is reproducing ourselves.” I think it would produce a movement that would benefit everybody, not just faculty of marginalized statuses, but any and everybody who’s trying to do great teaching and do a little innovating here and there.

Tom: And that circles us around to one other practical thing that you can do at the department or institutional level. And that is provide anonymity. Get an external group to your institution, bring in an outside consultant, bring in people from another university, and have them offer everybody at your institution, or everybody in your department, an anonymous way to provide feedback about their feelings of safety and their feelings of power in the classroom. You will get an earful. Especially if there’s no way that that information could possibly pass its way back to the department chair’s ear with a name attached to it, you’ll get a much better sense of the comfort and the privilege that people feel that they’re exercising, and the threats, we heard Chavella talk about the force field that many people experience and how it malfunctions a lot. You’ll get a better sense of what your baseline is. And you can start having open and honest conversations. We started this conversation by saying this is an issue that not a lot of people talk about because either A, they don’t feel like they have the power and standing to do so safely. Or conversely, if you’re from a dominant-culture identity, you don’t want to dive in on a conversation like this because you’re afraid that you’re going to say something wrong, you’re going to offend somebody. Here’s the newsflash: You’re going to get it wrong, you’re going to offend a couple of people. It’s still worth having the conversation. And as long as everybody is practicing from a space of goodwill, having that conversation and seeing it as a necessary step toward better diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice, that’s what we want people to be able to do.

Chavella: And actually, I’ll take what he just said a little bit further, in terms of asking the question of, Is it safe or not? I would say just assume it isn’t. I feel like as academics, we want to do all the climate surveys and the folks that are privileged sort of know in their heart, ‘Oh, nothing bad is going to come out of that.’ Nope, you’re going to find out stuff that you probably aren’t going to want to accept. So in a lot of ways, yes, that’s important to do to get the specific examples from your campus in your department. But in a lot of ways, I say skip that step altogether. Assume that folks do not feel safe. Read the literature, because they’re those of us who write these things. We’re on the margins, right? We’re on the margins in our institutions, we’re on the margins in terms of writing. Read what we’re writing and assume that is going on on your campus and start coming up with solutions for what you see in the literature. So don’t wait until you can identify validated results on whether or not you have that problem or not, just assume that problem is at play and get the solutions going.

Rebecca: Yes, yes, yes. Sign me up. [LAUGHTER]

Chavella: Yes. [LAUGHTER]

John: While I don’t think this would eliminate the problem of bias in student ratings, might it be useful if departments at least reconsidered the questions in their student ratings so that they actually focused on teaching techniques that are demonstrated to be successful? So that at least it would more closely proxy what we’d like. Students may not be able to evaluate how well an instructor is doing something, but perhaps questions such as… Does the instructor provide you with feedback on your work? Are you allowed opportunities for revision? Are you given opportunities to express yourself in multiple ways? To perhaps address some of these issues where we’d like to see faculty moving, and perhaps to overcome some of the resistance. Because if all faculty knew they might be evaluated in sending it relates to effective teaching practices, maybe that could move the needle a little bit.

Chavella: I’m always sort of a one foot in and one foot out on this. I’m like, “Ah, we kind of know they’re broken.” So I’m not sure if that’s really where I want people to expend their energy. I want people to expend their energy fleshing out that image of people’s effective teaching, so it’s not just the student perspective. I don’t know if I would encourage people to do that. And I’m not sure how much you can actually improve the questions. Because even the examples that you just gave, some basic psychology research shows that cross-racial interaction people misattribute. So you’re like, “Oh, did they give opportunities for feedback?” Well, the feedback that students might want from a woman will look very different than the feedback they want from a man. You see what I’m saying? So, like, a male faculty member could give two sentences of feedback. And the students are like, “Great! I got feedback from whoever.” But then when a woman does it, if it’s a woman of color, there’s two sentences, all of a sudden, they expected more so to them that’s not feedback. So even the questions that people come up with to avoid bias at the end of the day, we’re all human, we’re going to see each other through these gender, race, social class lens. So yes, so I agree, I think it should be much more about student learning. But I definitely think that we should expand whose voices are included, in addition to what we’re looking at when it comes to teaching effectiveness.

Tom: Indeed, and don’t even get me started on student ratings. We’ve been yelling at the top of our lungs for the past 42 years, that we know how to do psychometrically valid student writing instruments. And then every college and university says, “Oh, we’re going to do our own.” And so the challenge is we’ve had organizations like the Idea Center that’s now part of a larger corporate entity, they’ve been doing the research on what are questions that students can use for ratings that are as neutral, and single barreled, and psychometrically valid as possible. So I’ll second what Chavella is saying here, and let’s go beyond just the student ratings. We, ideally, would train all of our instructors, to understand psychology, to understand statistics, to understand the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, all those things. But what we hire people for is they’re good chemists, they’re good art historians. So we don’t have enough time, people, money, or effort to be able to bring everybody up to expertise in all of these areas. What I’d much rather see is I’d much rather have three or four big ideas that everybody gets behind, and then they figure out how they’re going to do so in their own circumstances. Rather than trying to make everybody feel like they missed the boat, and they didn’t get training, and therefore, they’re at a beginner level in something. We’ve got experts in our campuses and around us, who can help us with the framing of these kinds of conversations, especially when they’re difficult, perhaps especially because they’re difficult. We should not ourselves need to feel like we need to become miniature overnight experts in how to have conversations about intersectional identity, or race, or gender in the classroom, in order to be able to take some actions that help to support our colleagues, create community, and find good ways to enact policies and practices that enshrine those things in the life of our colleges and universities. Alright, I’ll get off my soapbox now. You get the idea.

John: It’s a good soapbox to be on, though.

Rebecca: I really appreciated thinking about the systemic issues that we need to address and thinking through the institutional and departmental level challenges that we need to get on board with and address. But I don’t want to lose sight of some of the really practical reflection points that were in the article.

Chavella: You know what, though? I was going to say, they’re not disconnected. But I think that people think that because it’s a structural thing, it means we can’t tackle it, it’s going to take like one year of faculty senate meetings and changes the handbook. It doesn’t require that at all. And so I think those structural things are very much still connected to really practical pieces… easy, actionable… you could do it tomorrow, or at least by the end of the week. [LAUGHTER] I know that’s true, because this is what I teach campuses how to do.

Rebecca: That’s a really good point. Chavella, for sure. As I was reading the article, I was reading the student incivility section and just starting to think about the kinds of practices we often recommend around establishing belonging and community and wondering “Hmm, what kind of privilege do I bring to that space?” And so that was a moment of deep self reflection for me that went beyond just the incivility piece, but the sense of belonging that we had been heavily advocating for, especially throughout the pandemic, but obviously before that as well.

Chavella: Honestly, even just hearing you say that means that the article did its work, because that’s the question we want people to ask all the time. I don’t think we want people to ask if or when does my privilege come into play? But assume that it does and figure out: “How does it come into play?” …and then make some adjustments. So what did you come up with? Like I want to know, when you think about the things that you do, like what did you come up with in terms of like how my privilege play into how you do sense of belonging? I don’t mean to put you on the spot, I’m sorry. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Yeah, I’m not sure if I’ve come up with adjustments yet to be honest, I’ve started thinking about the kinds of activities that I do, the ways that I try to include multiple voices, but also the access to the technology I have to be able to do that. The fact that the institution has given me the ability to teach online synchronously during this time, because of my own disability status. I think about how that might change in person, and what kinds of things that I might do differently. And even the kinds of questions that I’m asking, and whether or not other folks would be able to ask the same kinds of questions. I have a lot of technical skill, I teach web design, I have a lot of technical skill. And there’s a lot of privilege just from that position [LAUGHTER] that I bring to my teaching space that many other faculty don’t have. So I’m often very aware that the kinds of things I do are not necessarily things that other people can replicate in other scenarios. They’re really based on the very specific contexts I’m teaching in, my own position in that context and my own expertise in particular areas. But I also know the kinds of things that I shy away from as a female instructor. [LAUGHTER]

Chavella: Right? Exactly. My brain got stuck at what you said at the beginning of it. So even if we think of this as an illustration, just talking about the pandemic, and sense of belonging, a lot of our faculty with marginalized statuses either structurally or institutionally, right, people who are contingent, or folks of color, women, that did not have options about whether or not they could be online or not. And could you imagine being from a community that’s disproportionately affected by the outcomes of COVID-19 in a classroom, with students where you don’t have a lot of power, and then trying to establish a sense of belonging… the actual physical distance that’s required to keep you, your family, and your folks safe. Imagine that being interpreted by students as you having distance, on top of the fact that you’re different from them, they’re already going to perceive distance, regardless of whether that’s there or not. That’s like basic psychology research. So I got stuck there. So I think you’re absolutely right. These are the questions we want people to be asking of themselves, and making adjustments to make sure that not only might your privilege be affecting how you make students belong, but also your colleagues who might be different from you, because then it becomes: “Well, professor so and so does XYZ.” So it’s about being really mindful of what you’re doing, and how that might make your colleagues be perceived as well.

Rebecca: Yeah, definitely. There’s been so many situations where I have definitely acknowledged my privilege. During the pandemic I have stable internet, I have technology, but I’m able to use my camera, I’m not in a situation where it’s unsafe for me to use my camera and my microphone, and all of these sorts of things, and how many other faculty who might be more contingent than myself have had a much more difficult time across many institutions and trying to speak up to get them some of the support that is necessary so that they could function safely. But, also just recognizing that I can’t really imagine what it would be like not to have the privilege that I have. And that’s an important thing to, I think, acknowledge. It’s difficult to imagine that.

Chavella: Yeah, and another thing popped into my mind, this is what popped in my mind immediately before I asked you a question. So sorry about turning it back on you. The idea of a sense of belonging in the classroom, and one of the inclusive teaching practices I teach folks how to do is to have an inclusive teaching statement. But even if people don’t do that, let’s not even talk about that. Let’s just talk about regular scholarship of teaching and learning. And the whole idea that you’re supposed to have guidelines for how you interact in the classroom for the students. Even that… I think that a lot of our faculty with privileged statuses don’t do that, or my version of don’t do that. The way that people do that people say, “Oh, follow the golden rule, or in this classroom, we’re going to treat each other with respect and with civility.” They’re super vague and they’re vacuous. And when you’re a person with a privileged status it means something completely different for you. And when you’re having students who also have privileged statuses, that all means something very different for you. I think, all practices from the rooter to the tooter, essentially, people should be thinking about them in the context of their privileges, but a sense of belonging is absolutely one of them.

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

Tom: I’m thinking about what I’d love your listeners to do next… it is first to do a little listening. Find a way to ask your students, ask your colleagues, ask your administration, questions about how people are supported in the teaching that they do. And then a second action that follows along from that is to determine what kind of action you can take in order to either exercise your own privilege in concert with and communication with other folks, or to find allies who can help you to make an argument for making positive change. So those would be the two things I’d love people to take away from our conversation today.

Chavella: And I would cosign that again. [LAUGHTER] But the “listen” piece, in particular, I would say if by the end of the week, you could find an article or two to read, if you could check out a podcast episode or so… like my podcast is simple and easy to hear about some of these issues. But there are people that are writing about these items. Just learning a little bit about these things on your own and figuring out how you can make slight changes to your practices would make a huge difference. And obviously, I have a book that’s going to be coming out that’s all about all of this, sometime in the near future.

Rebecca: Well, we can’t wait to have you back to talk about it.

Chavella: Yes, I’m looking forward to it. Lots of laughing… that is serious topics sometimes, but I do lots of laughing. [LAUGHTER]

John: Well, thank you. It’s great talking to both of you again, and I think this will cause a lot of people to reflect on their practices and think about how they can be a little bit more inclusive of their fellow faculty members.

Tom: I hope so. Thanks for having us on.

Chavella: Yeah. Thank you so much, y’all. Have a good one.

Rebecca: You too. 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.

John: Editing assistance provided by Anna Croyle, Annalyn Smith, and Joshua Vega.


229. Inclusive History

Most history textbooks provide a narrative that is filtered through the lens of the dominant culture. In this episode, Vanessa Holden joins us to discuss how the study of history can be enriched by including a wider variety of voices and perspectives in historical narratives and in our classrooms. Vanessa has a dual appointment in both the Department of History and the program in African American and Africana Studies at the University of Kentucky. Her research focuses on African American women in slavery in the antebellum South, the history of resistance and rebellion, gender history, and the history of sex and sexuality. Vanessa is the author of many scholarly publications, including the recently published Surviving Southampton: African American Women and Resistance in Nat Turner’s Community. During the 2021 academic year, she was selected to be the inaugural Distinguished Visiting Scholar at SUNY Buffalo’s Center for Diversity Innovation.

Show Notes


John: Most history textbooks provide a narrative that is filtered through the lens of the dominant culture. In this episode, we explore how the study of history can be enriched by including a wider variety of voices and perspectives in historical narratives and in our classrooms.


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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

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


John: Our guest today is Vanessa Holden. She has a dual appointment in both the Department of History and the program in African American and Africana Studies at the University of Kentucky. Her research focuses on African American women in slavery in the antebellum South. Her areas of interest are the history of resistance and rebellion, gender history, and the history of sex and sexuality. Vanessa is the author of many scholarly publications, including the recently published Surviving Southampton: African American Women and Resistance in Nat Turner’s Community. During the 2021 academic year, she was selected to be the inaugural distinguished visiting scholar at SUNY Buffalo’s Center for Diversity Innovation. Welcome, Vanessa.

Vanessa: Hi, happy to be here.

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

Vanessa: I’m not. I’m drinking water. I’m a coffee person, I’m sorry.

Rebecca: So you got the water, you got the coffee, all right, all right. As John always says, that’s our most favorite tea on the podcast. [LAUGHTER] How about you, John?

John: I’m drinking iced tea today for a change. Because it’s such a nice, warm, wintry day here with a blizzard going on outside.

Rebecca: Hey! It’s in the 30s, it’s a heat wave.

Vanessa: Oh, that’s like beach weather in Oswego.

Rebecca: Totally.

Vanessa: Yeah.

Rebecca: And I’m drinking cinnamon spice black tea today.

Vanessa: Ooh!

Rebecca: It’s very warming, kind of the opposite of John’s situation.

John: So we’ve invited you here today primarily to discuss your work on inclusive teaching. But first, could you tell us a little bit about Surviving Southampton and the research that you’ve been doing that led up to this book?

Vanessa: Sure. So Surviving Southampton is about America’s most famous slave rebellion, what historians often call Nat Turner’s Rebellion, but I’m really keen to assert should be called the Southampton Rebellion. Mostly because that’s what the people who lived there and lived through it called it. And that’s mostly what it was referred to until historians got a hold of it in the 20th century. And what I do for an event that’s been written about, almost since it happened is I actually just asked the question: How were women and children involved in this really important moment of violent resistance? And of course, when I started to look for women in the archive, I was led to a number of other communities of people in Southampton County who’ve been mentioned, but largely understudied and not looked at. So I do have a chapter that specifically deals with enslaved women. But I also look at free people of color in the county—Southampton County, Virginia had the third highest population of free people of color at the time in Virginia. I look at children and children’s involvement and resistance. And I really center survival not just as endurance. We use the word survivor to mean somebody who endured a natural disaster, a crisis, a tragedy, but it’s also a word we use for the bereaved. So if you’ve read a death announcement, or see a notice on Twitter, it sometimes will list who the deceased is survived by. So I also take time to look at the ways that African Americans were rebuilding systems of resistance, even as trials were happening for rebels, really violent backlash to the rebellion was happening. So even in the midst of really the most oppressive moments of the slave regime, black people were strategizing about how to continue to resist slavery. And really, women are at the center of that labor of survival.

Rebecca: These narratives are often not discussed, especially K12 but also at the college level. How do we start bringing these voices in more? Obviously, your book is helping with this, but how else can we start doing this?

Vanessa: Yeah, I am a very public-facing scholar. I work a lot with public history projects and community groups, and have a real heart for working alongside K-12 teachers. I’m convinced that they’re all geniuses, that they take on mammoth feats every single day in the classroom. And really through my work with the digital humanities project Freedom on the Move, which is based at Cornell right now, but we have a team of scholars who are at universities all over the country. The project’s main goal is to find and digitize every extent runaway slave ad. Right now we’ve got about 44 or so thousand ads in the digitized archive, and a little over 10,000 have been fully transcribed. But through that project, I’ve had the opportunity to work with teaching hard histories and work with focus groups of K-12 teachers, and really hear how impactful dealing with these particular sources can be for K-12 students. That learning about the history of slavery from the point of view of people who were resisting slavery, reading thick descriptions of folks who were fleeing to find family members or striking out for freedom really transforms the way that students are able to access what is and should be a very difficult, painful history. And also thinking about really age-appropriate ways to approach that history, that often students can find people their age who are listed as fleeing from slavery. And that really helps them think through, at an age-appropriate way, the real injustice of slavery and the dehumanizing nature of enslavement while acknowledging moments of resistance and, really, triumph of humanity. So I think some key ways that I’ve seen educators who work with K-12 students bring this history to them is highlighting the ways that people their age experience these difficult histories, and giving them a chance to work with primary sources, to go to the documents, work with them to get through some of the stilted 19th century language to get at experience that hasn’t been interpreted for them that they can really exercise their interpretive skills to understand better.

Rebecca: I love the hook of finding a way to connect. And doing that through finding people of the same age is such a great idea.

John: Have you or this project done any work in having some of the students do some of those transcriptions?

Vanessa: So yes, and that has been a key part of one of the branches of developing the project, is thinking through the accessibility of our crowdsourcing platform. So right now, Freedom on the Move is a crowdsourced database, anybody can log in to freedomonthemove.org, create an account and begin transcribing, or pulling information out of the ads—what data scientists would call coding data, but what historians would call really mining sources for information. And we’ve run into a couple of interesting things working with educators, because the team initially was only researchers. And we sort of imagined that there would be classroom applications. And we’ve really learned from this misstep of not having educators involved from the very beginning. Because, of course, the things that researchers care about are not the things that are most useful in the classroom. And the transcription platform is built for an educated adult public, you don’t have to be a specialist to do the transcription by any means. But there’s a real difference in what, say, sixth graders can read and understand and transcribe, and what someone who is an adult can read and transcribe and understand. One thing that we were pushed to do actually was, and this really was an educator critique, was create a glossary. Because, of course, these documents from the late 18th through the 19th century include racial terms. And we have advertisements in the archive from Spanish speaking areas, from French speaking areas, from English speaking areas. And these racial terms are archaic. They’re considered offensive and racist now, and also students have little or no familiarity with them. And so one of the ways that we had to really provide educators with a tool they could point to, to help students understand this language, understand its context, understand why we don’t use it now, involved us going back and doing the work of writing out a glossary of terms with, really, annotations for how to best understand why enslavers are using the language that they’re using. To get students and user participants to critique the documents, read the documents with a critical eye that these are things produced by enslavers about enslaved people, it’s not the way they maybe would’ve described themselves. So finding both subtle and overt ways to cue in participants, and also teach critical skills, interpretive skills at the same time. So there’s a lot of intellectual work that goes into these sorts of projects. But ultimately, I think it helps students really engage with the sources in really fruitful ways. And we’ve had educators take this in all sorts of directions, to creative lessons, to lessons where students are writing bound poems using the ads and really attending to the emotional affect of this material. Instead of shying away from the fact that this is difficult, leaning in and saying, “Yeah, it should be difficult. And let’s actually do the care work of processing what’s difficult.”

John: Many textbooks, though, do not take this approach, where they leave those voices entirely out. What sort of harm is done to students, when there are these glaring omissions in history?

Vanessa: You know, there’s like a whole series of podcasts you all could do on the textbook industry, and how textbooks happen, and what is and isn’t allowed. And of course, we’re living in a contemporary moment where what reading materials are provided to, particularly K-12 students, where they’re being deeply scrutinized. There are a new wave of bans on materials. And interestingly, a lot of those revolve around the language of discomfort. And I think often the way that issues like racism, sexism, ableism, classism can be approached is with the language of emotion and feelings. So particularly very young people, it’s explained to them, “Oh we don’t use these words that are racist, because they’ll hurt someone’s feelings.” And sure, yes, feelings are a part of that. But the other reason we don’t use these racist terms, it’s not just that it might hurt someone’s feelings, it’s that those terms dehumanize someone. And when that happens, that opens the door for very real violence, and very real physically, financially, materially detrimental consequences. The first step actually is that language, but it’s the steps that follow that language that are the issue. And so I think sometimes, because so much can get wrapped up in only dealing with the first piece, when it comes to feelings, the other pieces get maligned. So then it becomes about well, nobody should ever feel bad ever. And a lot of times that I’ve talked to my own students who often, even at the college level, they’re encountering these sources for the very first time, they’re encountering an in-depth discussion of American slavery for the very first time, some of them have never really heard in any detail the types of violence that were involved in American slavery, that just are omitted, they sort of know slavery was bad and that’s where the lesson stopped. I give them a moment to pause before we really get into the semester and I just acknowledge that this is really difficult material to read and to process. That they’re going to learn about things that they haven’t learned about before, and they’re going to have a feeling about it. And then I say that that’s actually pretty great, because that actually just means they’re human. They shouldn’t learn about the Middle Passage or slave auctions or physical violence, and just be sort of okay with it, or have no emotional response to that. Then in those moments when they’re having an emotional response, that’s just a moment where they are being empathetic human beings. So at those moments where a student learns something that makes them uncomfortable, learns something that ignites an emotional response. It could be sadness, it could be anger, it could be disbelief, it could be a little bit of denial, it could be a whole range of things. That’s actually a moment to pause and acknowledge your own moment of really human empathy, your moment of discomfort. And then to push forward that, “Oh, this is the place where I actually should be paying attention. That, here’s the point at which I’m learning things I didn’t know before. Here’s the point at which I haven’t experienced that before.” I also like to do an exercise that involves watching an episode of Colonial House. Are you both familiar with the series from PBS?

John: I am not.

Rebecca: No.

Vanessa: It’s an early reality television series where they get people to agree, I don’t know how they get them to agree to this, but they get them to agree to live using only materials and technology for a particular historical period for a summer. And then they film them and find out what happens if a bunch of modern people go pretend it’s the 1630s. So there’s this great episode of Colonial House where the overwhelmingly white participants are upset because churning butter is really hard and the corn isn’t coming in. And it turns out building a colony in 1630s Massachusetts isn’t so great, and it’s pretty smelly, and difficult or whatever. And then some Wampanoag people who are descendants of the original inhabitants of the Cape in Massachusetts show up in their traditional clothing. And their point of view of this experiment is very different than the participants. The participants are there thinking they’re doing this educational thing with their kids, even though it’s hard, they have a really positive perspective about what they’re doing. And when the Wampanoag show up, some of them are moved to tears, the way that they’re viewing this little re-enactment experiment is deeply emotional, and deeply hurtful. And they make the point to the participants, you know, “You’re out here playing, but you’re re-enacting this moment, this kind of point of no return for people like us where we were about to lose our homelands, we were about to lose everything.” So I have students engage with a form they’re really familiar with, reality television, before they’re engaging with each other around these topics. And we kind of talk through how this is an iconic period in American history, the Colonial Period. And Americans throw around that word “colonial” like it’s a type of architecture or a type of clothing. Americans don’t really think about it as a system of oppression, even though a key moment of our history is throwing off colonial rule. And we talk about it, it’s the exact same experience. The people who are playing colonists aren’t there with evil intentions, they think this is like a summer learning thing. And they’re confronted with a community of people who can look at the exact same thing, and say, “No, this is actually really harmful. And here are all these things you haven’t thought about at all.” And it creates a really helpful moment because, of course, in an African American history course we’re going to talk about the American Revolution, we’re going to talk about the American Civil War, we’re going to to talk about westward expansion, we’re going to to talk about all sorts of moments that they probably have watched movies about, they’ve maybe read really celebratory accounts of, or just accounts that are just like, “Well, that was just meant to happen, that people moved westward, that just happened. And moving on.” That doesn’t account for other people’s experiences. So it gives them a moment to look around the room and say, “Oh, I might be sitting next to someone for whom a moment in American history that I’ve always thought was celebratory for them is actually a horrible thing to remember. And it involves all these other dimensions that they just have never been asked to think about before.” And so give students a moment because, of course, some of the people on the show get really defensive. And so rather than have them start to learn difficult things and get defensive with each other, they can actually talk about these people on the TV. So we get a lot of that out of the way before we get to, “Okay, now you’re reading a slave narrative, and you’re learning really horrible things. And you see some place names you recognize, when you get into it.” Now, we have this common text to come back to and say, “Oh, there are different ways to remember this. There are different perspectives about what exactly happened. And the version I learned has particular consequences.”

Rebecca: I really love the idea of having something to try on that conversation without it feeling like it’s actually a conversation about you. It’s safe to have a conversation about something that’s not you, like the TV show, as a way to work through those ideas, and deal with some of those emotions that you were talking about that certainly come up that make you be defensive about certain topics, potentially. I love that you have that grounding and shared moment with each other. I’m sure it actually helps make everything else be far more productive during the semester.

Vanessa: I mean, there’s a great moment where one of the participants says, “Oh, I never thought that I was being an imperialist.” And then inevitably a student of mine will say, “The name of the show is Colonial House. [LAUGHTER] Like, what did you think?” So then he kind of really gets it like, “Oh, you’re using these terms to describe, I don’t know, buckle shoes and funny hats and architecture, but you’re not thinking about, ‘Oh, I’ve re-enacting a process of incurring on other people’s lineage.’ Like, that’s what I’m re-enacting.” It’s not just churning butter. It is a lot of butter turning, but it’s not just that. [LAUGHTER]

John: I also really like that approach of letting people look at it through this third-party lens. We’ve talked about that in some other situations, where that’s really effective when their own personal emotions and feelings are not put at stake in the same way. But I imagine some difficult conversations will come up during your class. How do you help prep students to deal with those issues when someone is offended by something that someone else says because they weren’t considering other perspectives?

Vanessa: I try to… and this is some work that I do in the first few weeks before students, I think, are even really aware, because the first few weeks of class are all about setting the stage, not just material that they need to know, but also practices that I want them to engage in throughout the semester. So I begin to set up early a culture of common texts for the class. So that first documentary clip screening that I show, it becomes a common text. It’s the first day of classes, sometimes they think, ‘This is just a throwaway exercise,’ or ‘Dr. Holden is just trying to engage us or whatever.’ But I start to build into this culture of, we have common texts in this course that we go back to. Part of learning in my field, at least historical methodology, is work with historical sources. So I begin to build piece by piece that in this class, it’s less about you talking about your own opinions about things, and more about us discussing common sources and common texts. So I’ve had, of course, a number of situations. Sometimes it’s students speaking without thinking. Sometimes they are in the middle of having an emotional response to something, dnd so what comes out of their mouth hasn’t taken into account all the other things we’ve read. Sometimes though, I’ve actually had a couple situations a lot earlier in my career, where students are just trying to test me or test my knowledge or see if they can knock me off kilter a little bit by saying something just outrageous just to see if I’m going to take the bait or engage. And typically what I do is turn the whole class back to the common texts. So I had a student once make a really disparaging comment about a group of Thai immigrants who were actually being forced to do unfree labor in Hawaii on pineapple plantations, because we were talking about contemporary cases of unfree labor and slavery. And the student just off the cuff said, “Well, these people aren’t Americans, why should we even care about them?” Which immediately resulted in gasps for the rest of the class. And so I said, “Well, let’s answer that question. Okay, this half of the class go back to this document, this piece of the class go to this document, and this piece of the class go to this document, let’s interrogate this. A: Why aren’t these people Americans? How is it that people who are not Americans are ending up in this labor situation? B: What is the landowner getting from this? And C: What connections can we make? Why should we care?” And this took the wind out of this particular student’s sails, because I think they really hoped I was going to really go in and yell at them or say something out of pocket. And instead, it was up to their classmates. And what came out of that, A: Really made clear that the class as a whole was not going to accept this. And B: Got students back into the documents in a way that felt way more immediate, I think, than it would have if they felt like, “Oh, clearly everybody in class with us agrees that this is horrible.” And it also set up some expectations for appropriate ways to handle disagreements in class. I do that a lot. Teaching the American Civil War here in Kentucky is always interesting, because the Commonwealth did not secede from the Union. But it’s a very contentious topic. And what folks often know is what family members have told them or things they read themselves in historical fiction or more pop historical texts. And seeing the primary documents for the first time can be kind of startling with just how explicitly racist people of the 19th century really were. And so I found myself in a number of situations making clear, we’ve got to go back to the sources. And I’ll say this, my subject position in the classroom is something that I have to be very aware of, as a woman, as a person of color. Sometimes students expect somebody like me at the front of an African American history course or an African American studies course. But when I’ve taught broad U.S. courses, I’m not who they think is going to teach them American history. And it would be silly for me to not be aware of that. But oftentimes, that means my pedagogical practice has to be really transparent, I have to be really clear. This is what I’m asking you to read, this is why I’m asking you to read it, and this is what outcome I expect for there to be. And some students are surprised that I’m that transparent about pedagogical practice. But in a time and place where student evaluations are as biased as the research tells us, I think it’s really, really important.

John: This might be a good place to transition into a discussion of inclusive teaching practices. And one aspect of that might be that sort of transparency about what you’re doing in class and why you’re doing it. Could you talk a little bit about your philosophy of teaching and how you go about creating an inclusive environment in your classroom? Some of that has come through already, but what are some other specific steps you might take?

Vanessa: Sure, I approach my classrooms as a collaborative space. Of course, there’s a power differential, and my job as a professor is different than students’ jobs as students. But I find that, actually, the more transparency, the better. So clearly laying out expectations, but also being really clear about what my expectations for myself are. So students are often surprised that I’m pretty upfront, “Here are the ways that I am available to you. And here are the ways that I can help you outside of those hours I’m not available to you.” Modeling healthy boundaries around what is my obligation to this course, allows them the leeway to say, “Oh, one of the things I need to do is set up what my boundaries are around my coursework.” [LAUGHTER] I’m very clear. I don’t expect that you are only thinking about my class all the time. So you should just know that that’s not an expectation I have for myself. So let’s talk about the times when I am thinking about this course. Beyond that, I offer them as expansive a menu as possible of inclusivity policies. And I think when students think about accommodation in class, they often think only of visible disability and that’s it. And so in my syllabi, in my first day of class presentation, I make super clear that anybody can be eligible for accommodation, and the ways to go about advocating for that for themselves, that there are processes involved. So I mention everything from care responsibilities, I have a number of students who are parents, I mention military service, I have a number of students who are in ROTC, or they’re in the National Guard. I talk to athletes in my classes. I talk to students who may be figuring out for the first time that they have learning needs that are now becoming apparent in their first year of college, they just, it hasn’t been diagnosed, it hasn’t been looked into, tested, treated, all those things, and then give them all the resources I possibly can to access those services. And I’ll say that it actually lends itself to really good classroom management, because it opens the door for students to talk to me early and often. I can’t tell you how many times I have students who are parents that are surprised that I note care responsibilities, particularly for young children. And I just say, “Look, as your professor, obviously I can’t help you with the direct physical care of your children. But when a two year old has an ear infection, they have an ear infection. So here are ways you can get in touch with me, here’s how we work on how your assignments work. This is something you can bring up to me as a mitigating circumstance for assignments.” I also bring a sense of, and this is where common texts come in too, that nobody’s joining the course because they know everything that we’re going to cover already. That everybody is at a space of learning and a space of growth. That this classroom is an opportunity to ask questions, it’s an opportunity to sometimes get things wrong, it’s an opportunity to be called in about various prejudices you’ve never really interrogated before. And to really set up the expectation that what’s important is not that you know all the right things to say every single time. But what’s important is that you’re open to learning, and that you’re open to understanding. And I think that setting up that environment as collaborative is really important. That it’s as much about the questions that they ask as the lecture terms that I talk about. To really be clear that students have agency in their own learning process. And some catch on, and some lean in and some don’t, that’s just the nature of classrooms. But affording them that agency then has resulted in some really fascinating takes on the material I have to cover.

Rebecca: So one of the things that you’re describing, Vanessa, is in your classes, students are doing history, right? [LAUGHTER]

Vanessa: Yeah.

Rebecca: No matter who they are, they’re doing the practice of history, because they’re looking at primary documents and things. But we also know that there are students who may not come to a particular class or a discipline because they don’t see themselves represented or people like them representing the field. How do we help to bring students in through the door, and also keep them there, so that we do have a wider perspective in each of our disciplines?

Vanessa: I feel like I’m really fortunate because I end up with, at least in my African American history courses, I end up with a pretty self-selecting population. So, typically, I end up with students who already have some subject interest in African American history. So they’re not particularly surprised, for example, that we’re going to talk about slavery at some point. In my general American courses, then that can be a little hit or miss. But in my AFAM courses, students tend to, like I said, expect somebody who looks like me at the front of the classroom, expect to talk about these issues. Something that I find is that students often arrive on campus with a pretty limited view of what’s available on university campuses. There are some majors that have professions directly related to them. So they know if I go pre-med, then I’m going to become a doctor. That’s a thing. I know what that is. If I major in history, there’s less of a clear, professional path. And that’s true with a lot of the majors that are available on university campuses. And we know from this side of the desk, like, “Oh, no, there are all these applications for all these different types of inquiry. They’re all these different ways to think about the world.” But students often are just trying to figure it out. And I just find a lot that students don’t realize what can be known, if that makes sense. They’ve taken history courses, because they have to in high school. They can be pretty cursory. And that’s not the fault of educators, it’s often the fault of a whole other set of mitigating things like standardized testing schedules and what textbooks are available and these sorts of things. I know I was told frequently growing up that the kinds of things I was interested in in U.S. history, just couldn’t know them. They just weren’t knowable. There were no sources for that. So I think sometimes when I go to these major fairs, or I’m trying to reach students at our black students center and say, “You know, you could take whole courses on this.” Some of it is just about showing up in spaces where students are already, being visible on campus. I’ve gotten more interest in my classes just walking through the classroom building and having students say, “Wait a second, who are you and what do you teach? I didn’t even know that there were black professors in the history department.” Meanwhile, we have like eight tenured black professors in our history department. So not just assuming that students know what’s available to them. I also think there’s something to be said for university advising. This is different at every institution, but the sorts of courses that advisors are slotting students into sometimes has way more to do with whatever the core curriculum demands. So for example, now that my African American History course to 1865 is part of our core curriculum, I know that that’s going to get that course in front of the eyes of way more students, and students who would have self-selected into the course, had it been part of that core. And so I also think that there’s something to be said for really solid intro course teaching, because that’s the place where you can really capture students’ interest and give them a sense of what’s available to them.

Rebecca: It’s also the place where we often rely on part-time faculty, it’s a different experience, often at the first year, not always, but that happens more often than not that introductory classes may be taught by faculty who aren’t there all the time, or who are new to the field. And not that that’s a bad thing, necessarily, but it’s not always engaging students with the people they might be working with as they go through all four years.

Vanessa: Well and I think students have really very real and understandable considerations. I know at my institution, a lot of our students, they’re very career minded. We have a number of students who come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, they do not have the extra funds to just play around in elective courses, they’ve got to get things done. I get it, I understand. I’m not going to disparage them for that. That makes a lot of sense. So sometimes the kind of exploratory moment of, “Well, who’s in what department? Do I see myself in this? Is there a way that I can learn the histories that apply to me?” That’s not the priority. And I get it. I think, as a faculty member, and I’ve talked to my colleagues about this too, what we want to pivot and do, really, with real intention is find ways for us to serve students better with the kinds of offerings we make. And that has meant actually putting in the time and the paperwork to make sure that our courses fulfill particular requirements. We’re in our first couple of years of having an African American Africana studies major at U.K. We had a minor for a while, and now we have the critical mass of black faculty to really provide an Africana course progression in the history department. And so these things really do matter. And I think as faculty, that’s also something to think about when we’re advocating. I’ve seen, I don’t know how many job ads for scholars of color, for research areas around minoritized people, and that’s fine. But it really does take more than one person to step in. To really serve a student population, you really have to have a whole constellation of folks. And so tackling issues of diversity and inclusion on this side of the desk are super essential to tackling those issues for our students.

Rebecca: So I’ll be your next student, I’m going to sign up. This sounds like a really good course to take. [LAUGHTER] I’ll be moving.

John: I was thinking throughout this that Vanessa and I worked at the Duke University Talent Identification Program for several years, and I never got a chance to sit in on any of her classes. And I was just thinking, I wish I could do that now.

Vanessa: Oh, man, I was a baby. He met me when I was a rising junior in college.

John: At first, but I think you also did it into graduate school, didn’t you?

Vanessa: Oh yeah, yeah and I did teach some of my own courses, which was a lot of fun. It’s always fun in the humanities, because it’s this area that I found students, particularly students who are slotted into the gifted track, they end up doing STEM things, sometimes the social sciences, sometimes, but they found the humanities challenging in ways I don’t think they expected because you can’t evaluate them in the same way. And they were just so much fun. So much fun to work with.

John: Now, you went to SUNY Buffalo in 2020, as this visiting scholar. It may not have been the greatest time to be able to do as much outreach and meet quite as many people. Could you talk a little bit about your experience at the start of this pandemic?

Vanessa: Sure. So a couple interesting things that were just happenstance because, of course, we couldn’t have possibly seen any of those coming, except for in a broad sense that like pandemics are possible. But what that would even look like most people didn’t really think about. So two things. So in 2018, I agreed to develop an online course for African American Studies, as a part of a graduate certificate program in diversity and inclusion. It’s an accelerated course that runs for eight weeks. And it’s exclusively online and asynchronous. And so back in 2018, I said, “Oh, yeah, yeah, I would do that.” I developed it over the summer of 2019. And then ran it for the very first time spring semester 2020. And ironically, it wrapped up right at spring break, just in time for everything to shut down. And then the other course I had was full of senior seminar papers that now they couldn’t leave their houses, let alone go to archives, it was a complete mess. So I have this completely online course. I did all of this work, thinking through asynchronous pedagogy and thinking through… How would I cover an intro to African American studies that quickly? How do I make sure that the rigor is at a graduate level, but also accessible to undergraduates? And I put in all this time and work. And now for the first time since then, I’m actually going to teach that course the second half of this semester. But I’ll be interested to see for students what the differences are, because initially with the course, actually, the learning curve for students was pretty steep. I think there’s an assumption that students, at least before this pandemic, there is this assumption that students just are born with devices in their hand, and they just automatically know how to use whatever random teaching platform exists. Honestly, this move to more online teaching, or even platforms like Blackboard or Canvas. What you make available on those platforms, there’s a whole sharp learning curve for students, they don’t necessarily know the functionality of the Canvas website, and they don’t know where to find things. And you really have to teach them to use the course, if that makes sense. And so I’ll be interested to see if there’s any difference now that the students that I’ll most likely have in this course will have had, at least part of their education has happened online, remotely during the pandemic. I’ll be interested to see if they’re more adept at it, or if it feels too demanding, because it’s assuming conditions of a different time and place. So we’ll see. It’s designed to be really, really flexible, because it was designed for people who this is the one thing that they’re doing this semester towards their certificate, and they might have a full time job or whatever. The other thing about the start of this pandemic is in 2019, I got invited to apply for this program at Buffalo. I moved to the University of Kentucky from another institution. So even though I was going up for tenure, I wasn’t eligible for sabbatical yet. So I knew that if I wanted some time away, I had to go find the funds somewhere else. So this was a great opportunity. Looked like a great time to get involved in a different intellectual community. And I knew western New York was gorgeous. And it was like, “Yeah, this will be wonderful.” And then the pandemic happened. [LAUGHTER] So I moved up to Buffalo and I spent time in Buffalo and came back and forth to Kentucky. It’s actually only eight hours by car between the two places. You know this but Buffalo’s about as far west as you could get without being in Canada. And yeah, Buffalo is such a cool city. And I got to experience none of that. [LAUGHTER]

Vanessa: I did eat wings while I was there, and they are better. They’re different there than they are other places. And I had a lot of great colleagues. But there just wasn’t the opportunity for the kinds of collegial bonding or collaboration. My cohort was wonderful. And I was putting the finishing edits on my book. It was really good for me to have that time out of the classroom, sort of dodged dealing with early pandemic stuff. I will also say that New York’s approach to the pandemic, very different than Kentucky’s. Initially in Kentucky, we had a lot of really common sense measures around safety in the pandemic. And that eroded pretty quickly in ways that New York was way more cautious. City of Buffalo was way more cautious, for example I had to quarantine for 14 days every time I left the state and came back and I experienced two different types of availability of testing. In Kentucky we had really good testing really quickly. Experiencing the pandemic and two very different states was a little bit of reality whiplash. I felt like I was beaming down to a new planet each time I would go from place to place. And then I experienced that again, just this fall, I gave a talk at my graduate alma mater at Rutgers and I got off the plane in New Jersey, it was like I was on a different timeline where the pandemic was still happening, versus Kentucky where very few people wear masks in public and mandates are few and far between. So it’s been a wild ride. It was a really weird time to have a fellowship like that. I think I still got quite a bit out of it. And I enjoyed my time up in Buffalo. I really wish that it had been a non-pandemic time. And I did get to go to Rochester and see Susan B. Anthony’s house and Frederick Douglass’s grave. So I felt like I got to have my one big field trip, but I’d have been doing a lot more field tripping had I been there any other time.

Rebecca: Definitely a weird time to be doing things. [LAUGHTER]

Vanessa: Yeah, just figuring out travel in general. We had pretty early access to vaccines in Lexington, and so I was vaccinated relatively early, but New York did not. So I would go from an area where the city has really high vaccination rates to then New York where they just were not available yet.

John: Interesting times.

Rebecca: Yeah, definitely.

Vanessa: I told my students sort of jokingly, “History is way more fun to study than to live through.” [LAUGHTER] We’re all ready for some precedented times. It turns out, yeah, living through a historic global pandemic, not fun, not a fun time. And they all chuckled. That’s why I always sort of scratch my head when people find out I’m a historian and they ask me, “Oh, well, what time period do you want to live in?” And I’m like, “Oh, yeah, no I’m good. We’ve got enough going on right here. Yeah, I’m good.”

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

Vanessa: So it is been since the 1930s, that we’ve had a synthetic work about slavery in Kentucky. And so currently, I’m the Director of the newly started Central Kentucky Slavery Initiative. It’s a project to both tell the black history of our university from its founding in 1865 to present, and a multipronged research initiative to study slavery in the bluegrass. So we’re working on a history of African Americans in Bourbon with one of our partners right now. We’re working to make some public documents more accessible to community members. In collaboration with and partnership with our local county clerk’s office. We have a number of research projects going on African American contributions to the University of Kentucky. And my hope is to take really the broad range of research that’s happening across a project right now, and do a project on slavery in Kentucky. It’s famous for being one of the hubs of the internal slave trade, but the depth of knowledge about that sort of stops there. So I’m going to do work where I’m at and delve into this archive. I’m a Virginia specialist, and when I got here I was bowled over by the amount of material that still exists here. In Virginia there are a lot of burnt counties, because lots of cities were burnt to the ground in the American Civil War. But this place didn’t secede, so they have all of their documents. And I think it’s really powerful, particularly for descendant communities, to have a lot of what they often already know from oral histories and community historical memory, acknowledged, preserved, and presented in accessible ways. Not just for researchers, but for community members, for communities that have their roots here, but have moved on to other parts of the country. So yeah, I’m Kentucky focused and the Bourbon project doesn’t hurt. I’ll say that’s one of the perks of living here.

Rebecca: Sounds like a great project and a really worthwhile endeavor and a good way for us to be thinking about the different spaces we live in, and the records that are kept, and what’s here and what’s not.

Vanessa: Yeah, I try to keep things as local as possible wherever I’m teaching. Because if students can recognize street names, or they recognize names from buildings in the work that we’re doing, it just makes it feel so much more present.

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

Vanessa: Thank you. 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.


John: Editing assistance provided by Anna Croyle, Annalyn Smith, and Joshua Vega.


228. Trauma-Responsive Practice

Typically, faculty have little knowledge of students’ personal histories, including any trauma that they may have experienced. In this episode, Em Daniels joins us to discuss ways of constructing a trauma-responsive educational practice. Em is a researcher who focuses on education, corrections, criminal legal reform, and abolition. She is the author of Building a Trauma-Responsive Educational Practice: Lessons from a Corrections Classroom.



John: Typically, faculty have little knowledge of students’ personal history, including any trauma that they may have experienced. In this episode, we discuss ways of constructing a trauma-responsive educational practice.


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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

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


John: Our guest today is Em Daniels. Em is a researcher who focuses on education, corrections, criminal legal reform, and abolition. She is the author of Building a Trauma-Responsive Educational Practice: Lessons from a Corrections Classroom. Welcome, Em.

Em: Hi. Nice to be here, and thank you so much for inviting me.

Rebecca: We’re so happy that you’re joining us today. Our teas are… Em, are you drinking any tea?

Em: I am drinking tea today…

Rebecca: Woohoo!

Em: …and I’m drinking it in a mug. Should I tell you what I’m drinking?

Rebecca: Yeah.

Em: Okay, so I’ll actually hold it up. So this is a Steven Smith Teamaker, and it’s a Lord Bergamot.

Rebecca: Sounds good.

Em: And it’s a black tea. And I’m just going to tell you I like it very strong so it is very dark. And it’s in a mug that my mom gave me a number of years ago for my birthday.

Rebecca: Love it. How about you, John?

John: Mine is a bit more boring. I’m drinking a Twinings English breakfast tea in a little thermos that I picked up at the Twinings store at EPCOT a couple years back.

Rebecca: And I have some very strong Scottish breakfast tea, even though it’s afternoon, in my T-rex mug, [LAUGHTER] which is my favorite.

Em: That’s a great mug.

Rebecca: Thanks.

John: And it was a great image on the screen for those of you who are listening.

Em: Yeah, it’s a little green cartoon T-rex with very small arms, and… Are those sunglasses?

Rebecca: I think they’re just really big eyes.

Em: Just really large eyes, and I think that there is steam coming up from the teeth. I don’t know how he’s going to get the tea up to his mouth with those short little arms.

Rebecca: I think it’s going to fly maybe? [LAUGHTER]

Em: It might be like a flying mass of liquid towards the mouth.

Rebecca: Definitely.

John: Which may have been why they became extinct.

Em: Exactly. Or why they were angry, if they were angry. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: We’re just solving all the problems of the world right here right now.

Em: All the problems in the world, bring them here, we will solve them.

Rebecca: We invited you here today to discuss Building a Trauma-Responsive Educational Practice, but we know that you wanted to start our conversation today with a gathering practice. So will you lead us through that, Em?

Em: Yeah, so one of the things I feel it’s really important for all of us, when we’re talking about trauma responsiveness in the classroom or anywhere is for us to try to remember for ourselves what it felt like to learn. To have a moment where we felt completely immersed in learning and in joy and all of that connection. So what we’re going to do is we’re just going to remember that together, and know that our remembrance of that, whether we’re physically present or not, we get to share with each other. So if you want to close your eyes, you can close them, I’m going to close mine because it’s easier for me. But what we’re going to do is we’re going to sit, and we’re going to take a moment, and anybody who’s listening, remember a moment of learning that was incredibly meaningful for you, doesn’t matter when, doesn’t matter where. It doesn’t matter what you were learning, or who you were with, but a moment where you felt uplifted, an epiphany. Just that feeling of opening, and excitement, and joy, and fun. All of the things that we love about learning. Remember what that felt like in your body. What your face felt like, what your skin, your hand. Could you feel your heart pounding? Were you smiling so your teeth were drying out because you were smiling for such a long time? Just all of that warmth, and maybe there was a tingling sensation around your hands and your head. I want you to just remember what that felt like in your body, and I want us to remember that this is what we hope, and this is the feeling that we seek as teachers, and where we want to bring our students and where we want to be, and we want to bring our students there with us, and all the people that we’ve worked with. So let’s try to hold on to that as we move through this conversation, and hopefully, as you move throughout the rest of your day, like that feeling of a deep connection of joy, and fun from learning something that was meaningful to you, and now we’ll come back to the podcast. Thank you for letting me do that.

Rebecca: Thanks for having us start with something very positive. [LAUGHTER]

John: We need more of that today, or at any time.

Em: Yeah, that’s the reason to do it I think, is to remind us that learning itself, the moment when we have that, whatever that is, that is a moment of joy, that is the moment of connection with other people, with ourselves, with the world around us. And that gets really lost. It gets really lost in all of the other things that swamp us.

John: And that is something that comes out throughout your book. But first maybe we can go back and talk about how this book project came about?

Em: Yeah, I’ve been thinking about this book for probably 17 years. I went to grad school at Portland State University and I thought I wanted a degree in Peace Education, but started out thinking I wanted a degree in Conflict Resolution. And I realized that I was more interested in the intersection of conflict and education. And I knew there was something we could be doing better, and I didn’t know what it was. I had no concept, no framework, nothing like that when I was in school. I just knew there was something. And so this idea has just been on my mind, like, ‘There’s something that we’re not doing or we could be doing better,’ and so this has just been sort of pursuing me throughout my career. And went to grad school, got done, taught in an alternative high school, moved into community education, worked with community college for a number of years. Part of that work was student services, part of it was teaching in a prison, I taught in the Oregon women’s prison for several years, and then left that job. I also worked in corporate training and doing just adult education in almost every single venue you could possibly think of, every different type of student. I moved to Spokane in 2017, to work as the re-entry education navigator so I worked with currently and formerly incarcerated people who wanted to come back to school. And in 2018, I met a man who’s now like a brother to me, his name’s Bill and we started doing presentations on… we called it at that point “the culture of incarceration.” He’s a formerly incarcerated person and the re-entry education navigator position was very new, and I wanted to try to help out people in the organization understand some of the barriers that people who are coming out of prison face. And Bill had been an educator for a very long time, so we have just incredibly complementary set of skills and knowledge. And as we continued to talk about incarceration and the incarceration of education, we started realizing… Well, we’re not really talking about prison culture, because that isn’t relevant to anybody outside of prison other than people who have survived prison, and that’s something that we wanted to talk about. It wasn’t like, “Oh, we’re going to take you on this tour of how terrible it is in a prison.” So we came across a TED Talk by Nadine Burke Harris, who wrote The Deepest Well. She was talking about the impacts of trauma across childhood development, I think is what her talk was about. But it got Bill and I both thinking about… Well, this is what we see in classrooms and adult classrooms. And so that sort of started the conversation, and we immediately started researching. And oddly enough, one of the only people that we found in western research who has done any sort of scientific study of the impact of trauma on learning is Dr. Bruce Perry who just wrote a book with Oprah called What Happened to You? Dr. Perry was a big influence on us because he wrote an article in 2006 called “Fear and Learning.” And we found a handful of other practitioners who were doing the work, but not really much in academia at that time, that was 2018. So we did a lot of presentations on this, quite a number, and did that through the rest of 2018 and part of 2019. Early in 2019, I met a friend at the National Conference for Higher Ed in Prison. And in early 2019, she asked me if I thought about writing a book, she wanted to introduce me to an editor. So I was not seeking a book contract or anything like that. And she said, “Well, let me introduce you,” sent her a couple sentences. The editor said, “Will you send me a proposal?” So did that in late 2019, and ended up with a book contract in late 2020, completely unexpected, and had given myself a deadline of Spring of 2021, had barely started writing when COVID hit. We went into lockdown, lost those three months. So I really wrote the book from June of 2020 to June of 2021. It released on December 17, 2021, and I really don’t remember very much of last year. [LAUGHTER]

John: That’s probably not a bad strategy in general.

Em: Yeah, I don’t remember very much of it at all. When I got the book, when I got my author’s copy in the mail, I read through it, I was like, “Did I write that? I can’t even remember writing that.” [LAUGHTER] So that’s the sort of long story and more immediate story about how this book got written.

John: And we should probably note that there’s an awful lot in this book. We’ve decided to break this discussion up into two podcasts. This first one, where we’re going to be focusing on the trauma-responsive educational practice. And then a second one that’ll be released later, that will focus primarily on the issues of teaching in correctional facilities and the challenges associated with that. So what is trauma? And how do we define it?

Em: Well you started off with a very small question. So thank you for that. [LAUGHTER] Thanks for not throwing me a hard ball right out of the gate. And I think in the interest of time, what I’m going to say is I think we have to, especially when we’re talking about teaching, one of the things I did have to do when I was writing was I had to maintain a very narrow focus. Even though learning seems like a very broad focus, I had to maintain a very strict discipline and narrow focus. So I’m always going to talk about trauma through the lens of learning, and part of that is because I am not a mental health professional. I’m not a disaster management person, and I don’t want there to be any question of the perspective that I am talking about, and would not want people to think that I am talking about health care or mental health. Trauma, I think there are two things. One of them is: What happened? And the other is: How does that impact us physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually? So the “What happened?” and this is my opinion, is not as relevant for a broad range of things that we would consider trauma work. I think it’s relevant in terms of physical health, and therapeutic work, and the things that an individual person may need to do to help themselves. I think in terms of what I know about you, Rebecca, or John, and what happened in your past, in order for me to be able to be an effective teacher, I don’t feel like I need to know those things. There may be exceptions to that, other people certainly are going to have different opinions, I just don’t think that it’s relevant for me to know what happened. What is relevant is for me to have an understanding of how that impacts your ability to learn. Whatever happens, how it impacts people is different. So if the event was domestic violence in the family, if it was unrest and your family had to flee a war and come to the United States, if you were in a car accident, all the different things that could happen, it’s like an infinite number of things. Trauma is really how humans have evolved. We don’t even know what a not-traumatized brain would even be. We don’t even know. We’ve evolved, we all have historic and intergenerational trauma. So understanding the impact of that, and I should make a caveat here, is systemic trauma and oppression are in a little bit different category, because those are consistently ongoing. And we do need to understand what is currently happening, so that we can address those issues. I created a diagram called “multiple points of entry to trauma work” for this purpose, so we could see all these different ways that we could work with trauma. And all of those things are connected to acknowledging and having some understanding of systemic and historic trauma. When I’m thinking about the definition of trauma, I’m going to look at the book for a minute. Chapter 3 is really about what we talked about, trauma and how that connects into learning and education. And there’s two lists there on page 30 and page 31, that look at this sort of extensive categories of things that can happen to people. But trauma really, in a very brief thing, is something that happens that we’re not prepared for. We’re not able to cope with it emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually, we’re not able to cope with it. It can cause disruptions in the brain. Some people recover from that, and have very little long-term impact, and some people have a lot more long-term impact. So there’s so much we don’t know about the nature of trauma and how it works, and why some people are able to come back fairly quickly and some are not. Certainly personal resilience. Resilience is a very popular word, which is often about the strength of the individual and does not address the systemic issues that force people to be resilient. So even though internal resilience is absolutely necessary for us, and sort of recovery from trauma, whatever that means, is a function to some degree of our internal resilience, it is also a function of our external support. And I would say when you talk about people who are subject to ongoing systemic trauma, that certainly has to erode some of the internal resilience and even if they have strong external support, it’s more for them to have to work to accomplish to move forward. I know that that’s not a specifically sciency description of it. But I think that for teachers, if people want to do their own exploration, a deep dive into what is trauma in terms of science, and all of that, then I absolutely would encourage them to do that. And remember that when you’re in your classroom, that may not be the capacity that you are being called on to bring forward.

Rebecca: So you talked a little bit about the impacts of trauma in terms of what happens to your brain or body, mind. Can you just talk a little bit about what some of those things are that an educator might want to just be aware of?

Em: Yeah, so a lot of what we know about the impacts of trauma come out of, obviously, disaster management, but they come out of domestic violence, sexual violence, and harm mitigation. A lot of the language that we have to use is all grounded in that. So when we look at the impacts of trauma, just sort of the way we think is framed through this mental health and harm mitigation perspective. So I’m just letting teachers know that’s something I’m attempting to do is open that conversation as we are moving forward and getting people to think outside of that, and sort of broaden the way that we approach that. So what trauma does is the body goes into an instinctive response: flight, freeze, fawn, fight, all of those things, we have all these different responses. But for people who have longer term trauma, or something that’s very, very deep and is maybe triggered, or whatever, what happens is it tosses the body back into the fear response state, and that either low-level or high-level of arousal, Dr. Bruce Perry puts it on a continuum from sort of calm to fear, and you can be along that spectrum. But we’ll say people who have long-term trauma, they’re just constantly in a low-level threat response. The body is always aroused looking for threats everywhere. And people may not even be conscious of this, it may just be the way that they’re used to living, it’s familiar. They’re used to having sort of very quick responses to things, always being alert, looking around. I don’t even want to say you can tell physically, because you don’t know people could have gotten very good at controlling their physical responses to that. But inside of them, there’s always this tension of… Where’s the next threat coming from? So the chemical response is that the body and the brain are flooded with cortisol and adrenaline and all of these stress-related chemicals. And those chemicals in the brain make it very difficult for the amygdala to communicate with the prefrontal cortex, which is where our center of higher learning or higher function is. And the hippocampus, which is supposed to regulate that communication, gets hijacked with all these chemicals. I know that’s not a very sciency explanation. But that’s the best the lay person can do, is to say that the communication is very interrupted. So your centers of higher reasoning should be able to communicate with your fear center pretty quickly. So it can assess, “Oh, is that a threat? Is that a threat? Oh, it’s not a threat, you’re fine, move on.” But it’s not able to do that. The communication can be really weak, it can not be happening, all of the things that can go on. This is very important, whether it is actually a threat or not, your body is acting as if it is a threat. So that means that if someone is sitting in the classroom, and their body is constantly perceiving a threat, their ability to access their centers of higher reasoning is compromised. And it doesn’t mean people can’t do it, it doesn’t mean that everybody has the same reaction. But it’s just a lot harder. So that’s one of the impacts, is the ability to sort of assess whether something is a threat or not, so that you can let your body settle and calm itself. And also, even being able to access your standards of higher reasoning is a lot harder. One of the results of having long-term trauma impact is that people’s relationship to time can get a little skewed. Their ability to assess and say, “Oh, this is going to take me this long, this is going to take me this long, let me sort of figure that out.” That can get a little bit, I don’t know, wonky, a little bit. Not even messed up, it’s just different, people perceive time differently. I mean, think about what people say when something really terrible is happening to them, their sense of time. Either, it’s low to the point that it feels like everything has stopped, or it’s just, blink, and the thing is over. So the perception is really huge. And that may or may not come back in the classroom in the way that it needs to, for people to, like, turn in assignments on time. Those are a couple of examples. Clearly, when people are on a sort of low-level threat response, their ability to connect with other people and make meaning of information can also be very compromised. And they can really have a hard time with it. Certainly they can learn or they can uncover that ability in themselves. But it takes a lot more work and time, and I know teachers are often short on time to do that.

John: So when we’re dealing with students who are experiencing trauma, we know that they’re not going to be able to acquire information or make connections as easily or form relationships as easily. What can we do to be responsive to that? How can we address the challenges that that presents?

Em: There are three things I think that any teacher can do at any point. One is prioritize relationships. The second is preserve dignity, treat students with respect. And the third is to try to strengthen connection. And I realize, as I say this, the pressures that teachers are under to deliver content to students are enormous. And that in and of itself, is a significant part of the system that we’ve created for ourselves that appears to be failing. And I don’t mean failing as in individual teachers are failing, but the system is failing students. When we look at the school to prison pipeline, and we look at the education rate of people who are incarcerated, and we cross-section that demographically, we see black and brown people, we see disabled people, we see poor people. And they are, I don’t want to say they’re being ejected, I don’t know what other words to use. But these students are not succeeding, and they’re ending up incarcerated. So the system that we have created is failing large, large swathes of people. And I would say that it’s only really working for a small section of students. And that piece of it, where we’re so focused on delivering content, and requiring students to learn in a very specific way, and not only learn in that way, but be able to act in a very specific way, be able to repeat and regurgitate in a very specific way, if they don’t do it in this very narrow way, they are punished. And that way is not focused on relationships, it does not prioritize human dignity. It does not look at connections between students, between students and teachers, between teachers and other teachers. Those are not the priorities. And I feel like if a teacher wants to try to work with students who are suffering trauma, and that is showing up in the classroom, then you can’t just change the content, you can’t just change the method of delivery. You have to change the whole way you think about your purpose in being there. And I’m acknowledging how difficult that is to do in the system that we have right now. Even if you can only do it with one or two students, and try to really strengthen your relationship and connection with them, and treat them with dignity and accord them the respect that they deserve as fully functioning and capable human beings, that does go a long way. It may not resolve all of the problems, but it does go a long way towards helping those students have a better experience.

Rebecca: To me, it sounds like a focus or a shift from dumping content into brains, to focusing on trying to foster that love for learning that you had to think about at the beginning of this conversation, and become lifelong learners and help develop those skills to help learn on their own rather than depending on a classroom situation to learn something.

Em: I mean, I think that human beings are learning creatures. That’s part of the reason we’re on this planet. We can’t not learn, it’s foundational to our nature. As we age physically, as we develop physically, we learn. We’re constantly soaking in information, trying to make meaning of it. What does that mean? What does that mean? What does that mean? How does that relate to my experience? And when people are traumatized, especially as children, and I should also say that most of the research we have around trauma is on children. And I think that that’s absolutely necessary. But those children are being raised by adults. And they’re being raised by adults who have not been in any way expected to, or talked to, or taught to address their own unresolved harm, the things that happen to them. And when we have things that are unresolved, even if we’re able to just pick up and go on with our lives, those things don’t go away. They live in our bodies, they live in our minds, and they come out. I think I can recommend Dr. Lee-Anne Gray’s book. It came out in the fall of 2019, it’s titled Educational Trauma. I was very grateful that it came out because I was like, “Oh, I don’t have to define that, Dr. Gray has done that.” So Dr. Gray talks about the harm that happens in classrooms to children. This theme that we talked about like the banking method of education, which Freire and hooks talked about extensively. And we’re not even talking about at this point, the racial aspect of our current system and sort of how that has been set up to really prioritize one way of understanding and interacting with the world. And not only prioritize that way, but punish anybody who can’t fit into that way. So Freire and hooks both talk about banking method education, which is what you reference, Rebecca, the decontextualizing and silo-ing content as if you could take it… It’s like, Can you take a B vitamin out of the thing that actually creates the B vitamin? Maybe you can? Is it going to be as good? Is it going to be as good for your body? I’m not sure about that. Maybe eating the food with B vitamins in it is better for you. Perhaps not the best metaphor for learning, but I was thinking about B vitamins. Out of context, the fact that we can take a B vitamin and not have to eat a meal rich in B vitamins, says that we can take a B vitamin. So having content compartmentalized is not necessarily a wrong thing, because it is helpful to be able to study things sometimes, sort of in their purest form. But it’s just completely out of balance that we wouldn’t think about all these other different ways of knowing the world. We think about cognition, that is our holy grail of teaching. What about other centers of learning? What about nature-based learning? What about movement-based learning? Why is cognition the only thing that we focus on? And if we do anything else, it’s like a side note, and it’s not considered as important. So I think that those things when we’re talking about that, and you’re talking about students who are historically disadvantaged and punished in education, they are students who don’t necessarily interact with the world in the same way as our frameworks would demand that they do. So when teachers are looking at… What am I going to do? How am I going to work with these students? That’s why it requires that type of shift away from content delivery, content, and the teacher centered as the sole expert, to this more open and level field, which is: I value your lived experience, you’re a human being who is fully worthy, who has dignity, who is worthy of my respect, as a full and functioning human being. And let’s think about… How do we increase our connection with each other?

Rebecca: So you started hinting at some pedagogical practices we could consider in terms of relationship building, and you’ve mentioned dignity. Can you offer some specific examples of practices we can adopt, emphasize, or build on maybe things that we already do that we could just start moving in that direction, without it feeling like it’s such a impossible heavy lift?

Em: I was thinking about this, I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about this, because talk about pedagogy is always very challenging. Because the approaches that are needed when you talk about once people get out of K-12, so that’s any sort of approach to adult learning once people are out, the range of practice and approach that’s needed to serve adults on that is extraordinary. It is extraordinary. And I have taught students who left school in fifth or sixth grade and their last experience was they got their GED 30 years ago in school, and they’re coming back and they’re wanting to learn about computers, or they’re wanting to learn about something else. And then students who are getting ready to go on to Master’s degrees or who are working on Master’s degrees. So the range of pedagogical approach is really broad. So I try to, when I’m talking about pedagogy, do two things. One is talk about large best practices. So using UDL, Universal Design and Learning, using TILT, Transparency in Learning and Teaching. Really looking to the disability community to have them help us figure out what do we do around accessibility, not only accessibility and content, but also looking at issues of disability justice, like when we are talking about education. And looking to leaders, black and brown and indigenous leaders in education, and other people of color to look at… How do we decolonize? How do we bring some kind of balance into not only curriculum and content, but in the way that we actually engage in education? I think that those are very broad best practices for people. And I know that what people often want is the details. And that is the part that I can be a little bit reluctant to get into. Because it really depends when you are working with somebody who has not been in school since they were in fourth grade, and they’re trying to get a GED and they’re in their 40s, you have a very different approach than if you’re working with a PhD student, or if you’re working with somebody who wants a degree in welding, or somebody who’s just like a freshman, English 101. So those are all really different. What I can do is I can look at the framework that Bill and I developed. So we put together a trauma responsive educational framework. And I think that it has some helpful ways to approach this. And it also reinforces that teachers already do a lot of these things instinctively. Because learning is, to me, the low-hanging fruit around trauma-responsive approaches. Because in order for people to be able to learn, they have to have this state of sort of internal calm. We talked about earlier and all of the symptoms and things that can happen in the body. Bessel Vander Kolk and Resmaa Menakem—Resmaa in My Grandmother’s Hands and Bessel Vander Kolk in The Body Keeps The Score—they really brought forth this idea of being able to settle the body and expand the nervous system. So when you settle the body, and you bring it back in, you’re calming the vagus nerve, that helps it settle and the chemicals to recede. And it may not be a lot for some people, it may be a lot for other people. But I think, and again, don’t know that we have a lot of research on this, but that settling at the body I think is the pathway towards this state of internal calm that we know that students need to have whatever learning center they’re trying to access. They need to have that sense of calmness in their body. So in order to do that in the framework that Bill and I put together there’s a large outer circle and a smaller inner circle. And the inner circle is the internal container, and the outer circle is the external container. So the internal container is the teacher. And in this framework we’re talking about the teacher is the person who sets the emotional tone, not necessarily the content expert, but the person who holds the emotional tone of the room. And then the external container is all the stuff that you put together—your classroom agreement, your expectations of students, their expectations of each other—it’s all in the container that you build together. But without a teacher who is settled in their own body who has done some of their own work, it can be very difficult to get the tone of the room to the place where the students can calm themselves. And to work in that regard, teachers do a lot of things. Bill and I talked about high-impact experiences, these are experiences that can help people settle their body. And it’s things like, safety is a bit of a problematic word, but I don’t have a better word so I’m going to use it. So I’m going to say physical and emotional safety, with an emphasis on physical safety, because there are people who have never known emotional safety. So we don’t really have accurate language around that yet. I would say that we’re talking about being settled, instead of helping people feel safe, we could talk about them being settled. And that way, you don’t have to worry about how they’re labeling their emotions. It’s not my business how you label your emotion. But what I can help you do is settle your body, and then my expectation can be, “If you’re going to be in the room, then you’re going to be able to settle yourself. And here’s what we’re going to do to help with that. And if you feel like you can’t do that, okay, then here are some strategies. And here are the options.” We can talk about settling and safety, consistency, instability, dignity, and respect, giving people the full respect that we all owe each other that we owe ourselves for just being humans on the planet. Personal autonomy and a rigor in learning. You want to maintain a rigorous learning environment that is not a punitive learning environment. So those are high-impact experiences. And a lot of teachers do those things already. So now it’s just like. “Oh, okay. So this is one of the ends, I’m trying to get to using these means,” not the only end, but one of them. And then high-impact skill areas are things that I think helps students learn how to expand their nervous system. So as the body unclenches and relaxes, the nervous system can expand. And I think that those moments, we talked about those meaningful learning moments, those lightbulb moments, I think that’s when we have a moment of expansion. And we can connect this a little bit metaphysical as well as maybe physical, maybe a little tiny part of our brain likes that we created a new connection in our brain. And maybe that connection connected us to somebody else in some way. These skill areas are making meaning and creating connection, helping people with time awareness, not forcing them into anything, but helping them to become more aware of, like, “Oh, this is where I’m situated in time. This is how I can sort of think about time.” Decision making. I had students who I would ask them, “Why did you make that decision? What was your process?” And they’re like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” never even realized that they could actually take a moment and walk through making a decision. They have been so reactive their whole lives, that they didn’t even know there was a process happening. So critical thinking and integrating experience. I think that a lot of times we want students to think critically, and I don’t know that we make specific connections to the reason it’s important to think critically is so you can integrate this experience into your own lived knowledge. You want to be able to assess things, but assessing them outside of some kind of context… Like, why? That’s why people hate statistics. Because the specific connection to their own lived experience doesn’t always get made. And so you’re just being asked to look at a bunch of numbers that from everything that we know, is just a bunch of lies. You’re like, “Oh, you can just manipulate that. And you can just lie like crazy.” And I’m like… Well, statistics are useful. But you have to help people understand that in their own lived experience this is how this piece of information is useful and not just go memorize a bunch of random numbers. That doesn’t work if people don’t retain it, and they don’t understand how it can be useful. And then the last piece there is creative expression. So anytime you can bring creative expression into the classroom in any kind of way, it’s just generally an expansive practice, I think. Those are my pedagogical recommendations, even though they’re not specific.

Rebecca: I think that they’re helpful as I was thinking about the experiences we’ve been having during COVID-19 in the classroom, and some of the observations we’re making of students, like, time was a thing that… as you’re talking, I’m thinking, ‘Yes, mm-hmm,’ time seems completely elusive during the pandemic. [LAUGHTER] I’m making connections about specific things that we’ve talked on the podcast about during the pandemic and observed of students. And that bringing an awareness to some of these things is really helpful, actually.

Em: And for ourselves too. I see the conversation happening, where educators are over here in this one bucket, and they’re like, “We are about to die, we’re so burned out, we’re so overwhelmed.” And I’m not even talking about K through 12, I’m just talking about higher ed. Those poor K through 12 teachers, I don’t know how we’re going to come back from this for them, with children with the adults, I don’t know, especially in education and health care, those two areas. And then we have students over here. And the one thing that teachers don’t necessarily do is have this very deep understanding that if they’re able to tend to their own pain and suffering, they do an enormous service for their students. So if you’re going into the classroom, I mean, I’ve heard stories here and there about teachers who have just really lost it. And the level of abusiveness is egregious. When students come into a classroom, and they come in expecting to learn, especially in college when they’re paying to be there, or their parents are paying for them to be there, there’s a certain amount of vulnerability that comes in, even if it’s very small. You come in, and you’re hoping to learn and when the person that you’re supposed to be learning from in that particular position that you’re looking to as a teacher is cruel or abusive. I’ve heard about teachers who will refuse to meet with students, all of the communication is asynchronous, they will not schedule a Zoom, you have to email them, all of that. And I can kind of get why teachers would not want to do that. I’m like, that’s just negligent. And it’s abuse. You’re being abusive to your students. And if you’re in that bad of shape, then you need to go talk with your department chair, and you need to help yourself. That’s really critical that you help yourself because nobody goes into teaching, wanting to be like that in the classroom. So when people get there, I ask myself, like, What happens to them? I don’t really need an answer. But what happened. Because they certainly did not go to all the work to come in and be a teacher to act like this. And to treat people this badly. I think that remembering in this time… and I don’t mean, on the weekends I just get to lay around the house, or every night I go and I play video games for three hours. That can be helpful for us to check out, give ourselves a break. But if that is literally the only thing that you know how to do is check out, then you’re doing yourself an incredible disservice. And I would really encourage you to get some additional support. And if you don’t know what that means, you need to talk to somebody. If you don’t know how to do anything other than check out, whatever that looks like for you, then you need to talk to somebody and find some other ways to help yourself navigate this incredibly stressful and traumatic time that we’re all going through.

Rebecca: Can I just say that that’s a good reminder to have compassion for everyone around us, our colleagues who might be going through a lot, ourselves who might be going through a lot, as well as our students.

Em: Yeah.

Rebecca: And putting that dignity piece up front, no matter who that person is, in those relationships is key. We’re talking mostly in that power structure of teacher to student, but I think it’s also across department chair and faculty, across faculty to other faculty, faculty to staff, staff to staff, etc.

Em: Yeah, I mean, everybody, we’re all really, really struggling. And the pandemic alone is bad enough. And there are a lot of other aggravating factors. And we came into the pandemic already really worn down, a lot of people came in really worn down already. And we have had no break, we’ve had no time to re-group and get our breath back. Even if you are a very resilient person, your internal resilience is only going to take you so far. Sometimes the best you can do is say, if you’re interacting with a student or whatever, just be honest and say, “I don’t have it in me to do this right now.” I feel like I’m getting angry and I don’t know why. I want to cry and I don’t know why. So let me just go take a walk around the block, or get a glass of water, or go cry for a few minutes into my pillow, like whatever it is. I think none of us have answers for this. This is an unprecedented time in our lived memory. We’re all really struggling and our reserves are very close to gone. I think we have to do what we can. But I think that teachers, even though teaching is not always seen anymore as a revered institution, I feel like it’s really been relegated to a throw away. And I used to hear this a lot when I was working in tech: “If you can’t do, teach.” And I just always felt like that was one of the worst statements I’ve ever heard. That, oh, if you can’t do the thing then go teach it. It was one of the most disrespectful and just really uninformed, very ignorant. But it is still very prevalent. So I think that we do bear such a responsibility, and I think the content delivery is part of it. But because people come in, and we’re exposing this part that is so intrinsic to us, as humans, we’re sort of opening this vulnerable part of us. Even though as adult educators, we don’t always think about that, especially when you’re outside of the liberal arts. People who are working in aerospace, two-year aerospace degrees so people can get jobs at Boeing, they’re not thinking about, ‘These students are coming in really vulnerable.’ But I worked with those students. And I’m like, “Oh, but they are.” And they come in, and they need a lot of help and support because they don’t really know how to learn, and they aren’t really feeling good about themselves. Sometimes that can be really helpful. But other times, the teachers are just not thinking in that way. And I think that we are given a great responsibility, people are trusting us to see that little vulnerable part of them, and to care for it, and to take it in our hands, and treat it with love and with care. I think that it’s very hard to do that right now. It can be very hard.

John: And that’s especially true, I think, in the context of people who are incarcerated, they are already dealing with a lot of trauma, and then adding the pandemic to that, I imagine makes things quite a bit worse.

Em: So for people who have not been incarcerated, I’m not going to speak from the experience of someone who has been but from observing what’s happened, I just want to be real clear about that. From observing what’s happened and talking with people. Imagine if you find out that there is a deadly plague ravaging the country. And you are locked in an institution with a closed ventilation system with people that you cannot get away from with thousands of them, including staff, who are coming in and out every day. I don’t think anybody who hasn’t been through that can imagine the level of terror.

John: And prisons have been particularly hard hit with COVID.

Em: Yes, they’ve been incredibly hard hit. This is a very large problem, the culture of correction does not lend itself to care. And so there was a lot of pushback around, even masking, I live in Washington. So the level of conflict around masks and vaccines, especially in the correction system, you’re caring for a vulnerable population of people. And I mean vulnerable as in, they literally cannot protect themselves. If you don’t bring in masks for them, they don’t get masks. If you are exposed to COVID and you don’t tell anyone, or you’re not vaccinated, or you don’t wear a mask and you come into work, they can’t get away from you, they don’t have the option of social distance, they don’t have the option to take care of themselves in the same way. They’re relying on the people who come into work to take the precautions necessary to keep them as safe as they can. And the culture of correction does not lend itself to caring about people who are incarcerated. And I don’t think that that has ever been more clear than it has been in the last year.

Rebecca: One of the things that, in higher ed, we might be in a position where we can have a culture of care. But a lot of times when we bring up those kinds of ideas, sometimes faculty might say things like, “I’m not a therapist.” And so how is being trauma responsive, different from being a therapist?

Em: So that’s a really great question. When Bill and I were first doing this work, and I reference him often because this work wouldn’t have happened without him, this specifically, like talking about therapy, was an early conversation both between us and between people we were working with. Educators don’t see themselves as therapists, they don’t necessarily see themselves as healers because healing is another word that is applied to trauma very often. And I think that when we talk about healing, we’re using this sort of physical analogy to physical healing that is not complete when you talk about trauma. Because healing the physical body, you have markers that you don’t have when you’re talking about healing trauma. So wanting to move educators out of a role where they are expected to see themselves as healers in some way, because we don’t even know what healing trauma means. We don’t even know what that is, that’s such an ambiguous term. And then in terms of therapists, even if you are a trained mental health professional, if you’re in a classroom and you’re teaching, you’re not acting in your role as a trained mental health professional. So you are not there to be somebody’s therapist. Clearly if there is an emergency and you need to do harm mitigation. Let’s not split those hairs, right? Because clearly you would be expected to help with harm mitigation or de-escalation. But you’re not there to act in a role as somebody’s therapist. So one of the reasons that I created the approaching trauma work, the points of entry diagram, was to address that exact question: If teachers are not therapists, then what is their role? And how do they think about working with people who have a lot of trauma? And I would say that it is through settling the body and expanding the nervous system. We don’t have a word for that role, a “settler” and “expander,” I don’t know, we don’t have a good word for that. It can happen in a lot of different places. If you’re somebody who is a legal professional, and you are talking with clients, if you’re doing intake with clients, you can do that work there. If you are working frontline on a government institution, and you’re a social worker, you can do that work there. Anybody can be around other people. And if they are settled in their body, then that will influence the people around them. And that is often a helpful thing. So that work can happen anywhere. I don’t know how we label that role. But I would say that if you are a teacher and you want to work with trauma, then you don’t need to assign yourself a title. You’re a teacher, you’re an educator, you’re an instructor, you’re guiding people, however you think of yourself in that way. Part of the work that you do is helping people settle their bodies and expand their nervous system. And if you want to think about trauma work, I would suggest that you do it in that way. Now these other points of entry, the one that touches all of them, is acknowledging and transforming historical and systemic harm. But all of these other ways, individual personal exploration, that’s a whole variety of things that individual people can do, restoring and strengthening community, creative expression, all kinds of creative expression, harm mitigation, containing harmful behaviors, rebalancing relationships with nature. And then integrating the trauma-informed care approach, I think of that more as systemic change, because trauma-informed care has, a lot of times, been focused on systemic change. You can combine all of those different pieces as part of a settling and expanding practice, without centering yourself as a therapist or in charge of somebody else’s well being.

Rebecca: Thanks for those reminders. So we always wrap up by asking, What’s next?

Em: Well, I think what’s next is we’re going to end up at some point talking about higher ed in prison. What’s next is I am just going to work to bring more people into this conversation. This is the first book on trauma and adult learning. I did write it through the perspective of my experience working with incarceration. But I think there’s a lot of other people who have different perspectives, who could be writing about this. But what I really want to do is get us writing and thinking about it in a way that gives a lot more of us access and permission, if you will, to say, “Oh, I can help people in this way, and not put myself in charge of their well being. But I can, in my role, have maybe a positive impact on them in this way that I wasn’t thinking about.” So that’s I think what’s next.

John: Well, thank you. We very much enjoyed talking to you. We’re looking forward to our next conversation.

Em: All right. Well, thank you very much.

Rebecca: Thank you.


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

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

John: Editing assistance provided by Anna Croyle, Annalyn Smith, and Joshua Vega.


226. Rooted Jazz Dance

Our disciplinary practices have histories that are important to acknowledge and share with our students. In this episode Lindsay Guarino, Carlos Jones, and Wendy Oliver join us to discuss jazz dance, its roots, and how instructors can decolonize the curriculum.

Lindsay is an Associate Professor of Dance and Chair of the Department of Music, Theatre and Dance at Salve Regina University. Carlos Jones is a Professor of Musical Theater and Dance and Associate Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at the State University of New York College at Buffalo. He is also a performer and choreographer whose works have appeared on television, film, and regional theater. Wendy Oliver is a Professor of Dance and Chair of the Department of Theatre, Dance and Film at Providence College. Lindsey, Carlos, and Wendy are co-editors of Rooted Jazz Dance: Africanist Aesthetics and Equity in the Twenty-First Century.



John: Our disciplinary practices have histories that are important to acknowledge and share with our students. In this episode we discuss jazz dance, its roots, and how instructors can decolonize the curriculum.


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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

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


Rebecca: Our guests today are Lindsay Guarino, Carlos Jones, and Wendy Oliver. Lindsay is an Associate Professor of Dance and Chair of the Department of Music, Theatre and Dance at Salve Regina University. Carlos Jones is a Professor of Musical Theater and Dance and Associate Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at the State University of New York College at Buffalo. He is also a performer and choreographer whose works have appeared on television, film, and regional theater. Wendy Oliver is a Professor of Dance and Chair of the Department of Theatre, Dance and Film at Providence College. Lindsey, Carlos, and Wendy are co-editors of Rooted Jazz Dance: Africanist Aesthetics and Equity in the Twenty-First Century. Welcome Lindsay, Carlos, and Wendy.

Lindsay: Thank you.

Wendy: Thank you.

Carlos: Hello.

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

Carlos: I am, I’m drinking chamomile.

John: Very nice.

Rebecca: Nice and relaxing.

Carlos: Yes.

John: Lindsay?

Lindsay: I have a big tall glass of ice water. Exciting. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: But energizing.

Lindsay: Yes, it is. Refreshing.

John: A nice ice water on a nice cold wintry day here in upstate New York.

Lindsay: Yeah, right? [LAUGHTER] It’s cold here too in Rhode Island.

John: And Wendy?

Wendy: I’m typically drinking jasmine tea.

Lindsay: [LAUGHTER] How appropriate.

Rebecca: Typically? Hmm.

John: Typically… but today?

Wendy: Meaning my cup is empty.

Rebecca: Oh, no, that’s so sad. [LAUGHTER] And I have English breakfast tea.

John: And I am drinking, and I think a first, the same as you: English breakfast tea.

Rebecca: John and I never drink the same kind of tea.

John: It’s a matter of principle. But this time we didn’t have a chance to coordinate that. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Yeah, we’re not in the same place. So we’ve invited you here today to discuss your new book, Rooted Jazz Dance: Africanist Aesthetics and Equity in the Twenty-First Century. Can you tell us a little bit about how this project came about?

Lindsay: Wendy and I co-edited another textbook called Jazz Dance: A History of the Roots and Branches that was published in 2014, and Carlos was a contributing author to that book. That particular book really positioned jazz within its roots. We went to great lengths to study the history of jazz from its roots in West Africa, and then looking at the continuum and the things that impacted the continuum. The conversations that emerged from that book were readily acknowledging the roots of jazz. Many people previous to that time weren’t necessarily saying the roots of jazz were West African. They maybe had that knowledge, but it was just not central to their teaching, or to the discourse in general. The conversations really shifted to look at: “Okay, now we know that the roots are here. We know that this is because of enslavement that we got jazz to this place, that it’s embedded in our American culture, but what do we do with that as practitioners? As teachers? As educators? How can we make sense of that in the classroom? And how can we have the tools? Especially, I myself, as a white person, how do I do that responsibly?” So I remember distinctly Wendy and I having a conversation, we went out and had coffee and lunch, and I pitched her this idea for a new book, and in that conversation, we were like, “We need Carlos to do this with us, or else this book can’t happen,” and I think Wendy emailed Carlos, and Carlos was like, “Yeah, I’m in,” and the idea was born, it was that simple.

Carlos: Yup.

Lindsay: Am I missing anything there, Wendy?

Wendy: I think that was a great summary.

Carlos: And I said, “Yes!” And off we ran.

John: So how did you select the contributors for this project?

Wendy: Well, many ways. I think we started by inviting people from our first book, who are all jazz experts, to submit an abstract for this book. We knew that this book was going to have a different frame of reference. So we weren’t automatically going to keep the same authors, but we invited them to give us their ideas. Then we were in the midst of making an outline for the book because we didn’t want to just have an anthology of random articles about jazz dance. We wanted to have it make sense and have a particular pattern that led somewhere, that had a logical progression, and we did that. I think we must have revised our outline about 10 times at least, right?

Carlos: [CHUCKLE] Yeah.

Wendy: What we did was we looked at the abstracts we had and then if they didn’t all match up with our outline, we posted a call for authors on several websites where professional dancers congregate, and we were able to find people that way.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about how their traditional approach to teaching jazz might mislead students about the origins of jazz dance and why this book is so important?

Carlos: Well I think that most of us have learned jazz dance, either through, initially a studio system, meaning private studios, you know, go to class, take your children to class. Then moving through the academic system, higher education, particularly if we are getting degrees and moving forward. And what has been traditionally or typically taught throughout all the years, is a version of jazz dance that did not embrace, or incorporate or use rooted material. And if it was, it wasn’t specifically identified. That has been the really, by and large, the large expanse of that. Even, I would say, to what most people see presented either in television, film, on stage, what you would see has no real connection to the roots of where it began. So, that teaching of that jazz dance, many of us have experienced that. It’s not until you have these personal investigations, as we’ve done, to really go back and go, “where does this come from and how did we get here?” …do you then start to unearth all of that that’s happening. Now, that’s not to say that rooted jazz dance wasn’t going on, but it hasn’t necessarily been mainstream, or given the platform or the space to be seen and carried and moved forward. And there are many layers to how that has happened. I would say that is how the traditional approach to teaching it has happened in our country since, I’m going to say, you know, the mid-20th century, when it began to be popular and began to be used as a commodity that shifted it and changed. So there was a split in who owned it and who moved it forward. The voices that carried it forward or have the means, capacity, power, etc, to move it forward, moved it forward without acknowledgement of those people that were the innovators in the beginning, which were primarily African American people and it was rooted in African aesthetics. So that is the training and the teaching that has happened throughout.

Wendy: Also in higher education, the dance departments were predominantly oriented around modern dance in the early part of the 20th century and jazz dance wasn’t really part of the curriculum at all. So it was pretty much ignored in colleges and universities for a long time. When it did become more popular in higher education, probably in the late 70s or so, I think the kinds of jazz dance that were being taught were mainly from a white perspective, rather than a black perspective and the majority of people teaching in higher education (not only in that time but also today) are still white. So that really skewed the presentation of the material.

Lindsay: Also adding on to that, one thing that is worth noting is when you look at jazz music, where that’s situated within academia, jazz dance never found its grounding in the same way. So jazz music has been part of institutions for decades now. There’s festivals, there’s conferences, there’s journals, there’s all this energy around jazz. It also goes without being said that it is also moving towards whiteness. The very act of putting jazz music in the academy stripped jazz music from its black American culture, and from a place where it’s social and communal. And although there have been movements in a direction that is honoring the black American roots within music, a lot of the jazz music programs in academia are more white than black. When we look across the whole spectrum, we have jazz music, which has been growing and increasing in stature over the years. For some reason, jazz dance never found its foothold. It just became marginalized over time, and we make that very direct connection in the book to racism. Jazz reflects racism in America.

John: For our listeners who are not as familiar with the history of jazz dance, could you provide a little bit more information about where jazz dance got its start?

Carlos: Ok. Wooh, this is so dense. So in the interest of time, I’m going to try to move through this very quickly. There’s no doubt that enslavement, and the movement of Africa migrating to the country, came in contact with other cultures, and that is the birth of jazz. That happened because of exchange of ideas and so forth. You really can connect it back to early spirituals, because of all that communal, and work within the family unit and the soul and the spirit, and joy. And then connect it into early forms of entertainment in terms of minstrelsy, and Ragtime involved and moving forward. As it evolved, and we get to what we know is jazz, true jazz, which is coming into the early 20th century. And we have that explosion, and you get to the 20s, and Harlem Renaissance and all this stuff. It is amalgamation of all those experiences up to that point. So that jazz, that movement that occurred and that happened, speaks specifically about jazz movement, dance, comes out of that. It’s birthed out of that experience of African Americans who are having the opportunity coming off of the late 1800s, and so forth, and have an opportunity as we move into the 20th century to explore and be and have a culture that is vibrant. Their communities where now they’re growing in education, and they’re having all these experiences. So they have these places where they dance, and they can go and be free, and be in their own environment, which many of us have heard about… those nightclubs, and the Savoy ballroom, all of that jazz stuff happens there. And that’s when the innovation aligns with the music and it goes, and we build these steps which we call rooted, that are happening, swing, lindy, etc, going that way. What happens is, as our country begins to love it, and it’s massive, and everybody’s enjoying it, and there’s opportunity to make it into a commodity to sell and be commercial. And we put it into platforms, as I spoke before, television, film, musical theater at that time. And then there became a few people that decided it needed codification: to teach it, and train it and move it forward. As they did that, they began infusing Eurocentric forms: ballet, etc, and so forth. That primary space of that, and I’m talking about jazz dance, again, the movement, actually factors it, that’s what we call the continuum now, because we live on a continuum of the jazz dance and what it looks like… fractures it and begins to have all of these offshoots of what people call styles of jazz, as it fits that venue. Musical theater, jazz, commercial jazz, club jazz, these things are happening as people start infusing other things on top of it. That’s what gets translated forward, and we started teaching it in studios and we started teaching it in different ways, but what gets left behind in that process, are those rooted African-American and Africanist aesthetics. That gets left behind in favor of these other things, which seem to be, for lack of a better term, more refined. And so we move that technique out, and now we’re seeing something that looks more akin to ballet, or modern, or other things, and it gets commercialized and moved into other forms. And also, our music changes. So we’re going into the late 20th century, and our music changes, and jazz music goes one way, and as we electrify a little bit more, and rock and roll, and soul and all that comes in. So jazz in a social form, jazz dance, as we sell it, in our commodity, follows that path. It leaves jazz music and follows that other path. So what you see today is that… stuff that was created, so that we fit in Broadway musicals on a Broadway stage. That does not necessarily mean it held on to the roots, or something that is in a commercial, or something that you see on TV, or even on the concert stage. So that’s a real quick sort of pathway. Again, it’s more detailed, and we have this jazz tree in the book that you can look at that really talks about all that. It really illustrates how it fractures out.

John: And there happens to be an excellent book on that coming out very shortly. [LAUGHTER]

Carlos: Right, exactly.

Lindsay: I was going to add, Carlos, the tree is such a helpful analogy for someone that isn’t familiar with jazz because the tree shows the roots in West Africa, but then the influences that come in later are European. But then there’s also all of this movement because of the Diaspora, the way that the enslaved were bought and sold across continents and through the Caribbean, into South America, into the southern part of North America. Then from there, the very core, the trunk of the tree, all the way from the roots till today is still situated in blackness. And as you get into the branches, that’s where we see these European cultural ideologies that are really centering other forms and decentering the black American roots.

Carlos: And that’s really important to really note what Lindsay just said because what happens is, and this cycles back to the question you just said earlier, where we have been giving tribute or homage or paying close attention to are the branches, versus the trunk and the core.

Wendy: And in that image of the tree, we also included dance forms like tap and hip hop, which aren’t exactly the same as jazz, but they come from the same roots and the same trunk of the tree.

Carlos: Correct. In fact, early tappers were called jazz dancers, because they danced to jazz music. They just had rhythm on their feet.

Lindsay: Those histories are one and the same. And I think what’s also interesting for us is the way that we carry this type of embodied history in us. And as we’ve made our own efforts to decolonize the knowledge that we hold in our bodies, that’s equally as important as discussing the history and the theories and all of the things. So how can we dismantle these ideologies? How can we interrupt the conventions that reflect something other than what the rooted core of that idea is, what the essence is? And I know for myself, when I was working on our first book, I really started questioning… oh, this thing that I’m teaching in the studio is really centering white American ideology. And I had to strip away a lot of the layers because I knew it was there, I was taught all of these things. It just wasn’t at the center, it wasn’t at the forefront of my practice. And so I think that those are the conversations that we keep having are, “How do you get to the essence?” And that’s also, I think, where the elusive, transformative, transcendent power of jazz is. So the closer we get to that, I mean, that’s the juicy part.

Rebecca: The tree image is really useful for people outside of the discipline, as was a personal story that was shared on a recent podcast episode of Rough Translation by LaTasha Barnes in an episode titled “May We Have This Dance?” where she talks about exploring the Lindy Hop that she had learned in her family. She’s a professional dancer, and then traveled to Sweden to learn Lindy Hop. And she was kind of like, “Why am I doing this?” And so hearing that story not too long ago, and then hearing your description of the branch really brings that all to life in an interesting way.

Carlos: I think I would say too that, by the way LaTasha is also a contributing author in the Rooted Jazz Dance book, but that was so poignant for me, because I think that is the experience of many people, particularly African Americans, because you would think that we would understand and be perpetuating moving forward the experience and the rootness of our ancestors. And that maybe my fellow authors who are white, had different experience in, as Lindsay said, decolonizing their body and their training experience. But that’s not the case. I had to do the same thing too, because what I was taught as I moved through, was through the lens of whiteness, and that’s all I knew. And so I knew that it existed like LaTasha did, and I had that experience in my family, but it was something over there. That wasn’t what I needed in academia. And that wasn’t what I was asked to bring forth in academia. So it was like learning a whole new language and leaving a part of me out. And It wasn’t till then I went back in to re-investigate, when I finally really went back and invited it back into my life, went, “Oh, that’s what I was missing. I left a part of me away.” So I think that that is very much all of our experiences, regardless of cultural background.

Lindsay: And the irony with that, is that there is this dance form that’s an indigenous American language here, and yet, it’s been marginalized in a way that, we’re placing value on a form that’s coming from a different country. We have this form that, like Carlos is explaining, that’s rooted here, it’s rooted in our very American experience, and yet, we value other things.

John: How does this affect the students who are learning dance? You’ve talked about this a little bit, Carlos, but in general, what’s the impact of having this misappropriation of the roots of jazz dance on the students who are studying it?

Carlos: Well, I think the impact, depending on where you look at it, first of all, the art form continues to move forward without all the information. And so you get more, more, more, more of those branches and black fracturing out. So that’s one of the impacts. I think, for the student, although they may not know this, they have missing information. And we want students in education, regardless of your field, regardless of your subject, to have inquisitive minds, and think and ask questions and have full information, not a single information. And I think that, in line with how we’re looking at education across the board, about decolonizing classrooms, having inclusive practices in our teaching, gives us more information, even to students where the information may not be the primary culture. If you’re always only studying about you, then you are sort of myopic in your space. So I think that’s what it does with jazz dance. And I think they lack richness, and what they can then produce and teach and move forward because again, they only have part of the information. So I think that’s some of it.

Wendy: I think this relates to the topic of whitewashing, where you get incomplete information. But it’s not just that the information isn’t complete, but the power structure is such that all of the glory and credit goes to white people for making an art form that really began with African American culture. So the problem isn’t just missing information, it’s how the imbalance of power and how some people got credit for something that was perhaps not only inappropriate, but it was misleading in a very negative way. And now we’re having to correct the problem. So I think it was harmful to our dance community to not have these things out there on the table, because now we’re having to go back and say, “Uh! We got that one wrong, we got that one wrong,” and make amends to the best that we can. But the problem is that jazz dance has kind of run away in a certain direction. If you look online under the term jazz dance, you’re probably not going to see a lot about the Africanist aesthetic, unfortunately. So the preponderance of dancers believe that jazz looks a certain way, and that way is more balletic, more white. And that’s a problem because what those dancers are doing is something interesting, something that could be very artistically valid, but it’s not really what jazz is or was.

Lindsay: One of the things I think students struggle with, there’s that initial, like, they’ve been deprived of knowledge. They come into higher ed and all of a sudden they’re learning things that they had never been taught before, and they didn’t realize the things that they didn’t know. So oftentimes that’s met with just shock and some anger even, but after that, for me and my teaching, sometimes it gets a little bit messy. For some students, they really take ownership of that and run with it and they want to be responsible, and also innovative, recognize that jazz isn’t this thing that happened in the past, and to do it today we need to be anchored in this era, we can move it forward and still be responsible. And this is resistance that… I don’t know if resistance is the right word, but we’ve encountered this even within our jazz community of dance educators, where there’s the questions that come up about, “Well, maybe I shouldn’t be doing this form. What is my role? If I’m not African American how do I engage with this art form that wasn’t mine to begin with? Where does ownership lie? What does it mean today, to not be black and to participate in this?” So it’s prime time to have this conversation. It’s not only relevant, it’s necessary, and I think it’s ultimately where we need to go as educators to be more inclusive in our spaces and recognize the needs of our students.

Rebecca: One of the things that was really standing out is something that Carlos said earlier about the personal, cultural, and familial experience of feeling other, like outside of. And maybe a need to help students recognize that their personal experience is valid and an important part of how they interpret and understand what they’re learning and that it belongs in the academy. It’s not that it doesn’t belong here, but historically, in many fields, like we’ve said, your personal experience is not relevant to this ivory tower in some ways. And something that, Lindsay, you’re saying that is resonating with me is also thinking about what it means to be a steward of a particular kind of cultural form. I’m a visual artist, so many of the things that you’re talking about resonate with me in a similar way, it’s just a visual form that I tend to work in.

Wendy: I’ve just been reading a book about culturally relevant teaching in dance. It’s Nyama’s book, McCarthy-Brown, and there’s a whole section on, for instance, how to teach ballet in a culturally relevant way. It’s a white art form, but maybe your students are predominantly non white. What do you do with that? How do you make it relevant? And a lot of what she has to say about that whole project, and not just in ballet, but in all dance forms, it’s really about getting to know your students and understanding where they’re coming from culturally and allowing that to be part of the curriculum in some way, shape, or form. So I think for jazz, for some people, there may have been black vernacular dance in their growing up. And for others, it’ll be something they’re not at all familiar with. So it could be an interesting exchange amongst students and with the teacher’s guidance.

Lindsay: Rebecca, I was just going to say to that point you made, you had alluded previously to the LaTasha Barnes NPR podcast. And she used that term, “cultural surrogate,” and I just thought that that was so perfect for what we do, especially as a white person, you’re carrying this form with respect and honoring the tradition, but knowing that, for me, these aren’t my elders, my ancestors, and recognizing what the role of my ancestors possibly was.

John: This discussion seems to be part of a broader issue in which we see a lot of whitewashing of much of the curriculum in all academic disciplines, where the focus tends to be on the supremacy of Western cultural traditions, Western Europe, and so forth. Should people in all disciplines focus on decolonizing the curriculum within their disciplines?

Wendy: Sure. Well, there’s so many diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts right now, on campuses across the country, that I believe that administrators in higher education, even college presidents, have finally realized that we cannot move forward in the 21st century without doing that, exactly what you said. We need to do that across the college and across the curriculum. And I think colleges are taking this on, but it’s an extremely slow process, unfortunately, because it takes time to create new courses, get them through all the proper channels and approved, and then find appropriate people to teach them, and so forth. Plus, there’s the whole business of changing people’s minds about what the curriculum should be, because they’re so attached to… Oh, teaching all about the Greeks and the Romans and the beginnings of Western civilization, and, “If I have to teach about something else, some other continents, that gives me less time to do the things that I am familiar with,” and so forth. So I think people are having a hard time making the shift, and it’s probably not going to happen within the next five years, but it’ll happen over time.

Carlos: Yeah, I think that it is important that we look at it across all disciplines. I’m not so utopian in my thinking that it’s going to happen overnight. I do think it’s going to take time, but I also want to encourage people that I think that small things can happen soon, quickly, and you can make those efforts which can make a world of difference. And also, I like to look at the positive side of things, and as you can introduce something, I think people have a fear of it changing, or we’re not going to do it in its pure form. And I think you can support what needs to happen within that discipline, but have different viewpoints on it. And what I think that does is, it empowers people to take ownership with their own self within the space, which then helps them feel that there is a place for them, and then they have a better educational experience. I’m talking from the student point of view right now, “I’m engaged, I am important, I do matter. This is important and so I can be successful.” And I also think this is important to understand that because we see things from different perspectives, it doesn’t mean the object changes, and I think, Rebecca… artists, we look at it, we see different things, and I think that that happens, whether it’s English or math or science, whatever. We can see something happen from different perspectives, which is undoubtedly colored by our background and our culture and stuff. And it’s still what it is, we just see it from a different thing, and how do we articulate that and come up with the same message, but we all have a different sort of way of saying it. So I think that’s also what we have to realize… is when we are talking about being inclusive in our teaching and moving beyond that and decolonizing, we’re not saying, “Change it.” It’s how you recognize that people have different views of how they see it and experience it.

John: It’s enriching it, not limiting it.

Carlos: Exactly, exactly. Yeah. And how fun is that when you talk to someone and they say, “Well, I saw this,” and you go, “Oh, I never saw that.” Now you have two or three more ways of looking at it, and it’s still the same thing.

Rebecca: Carlos, you mentioned small things we can do. Can you give some examples of small things we can do within the classes that we’re in control of?

Carlos: Absolutely. I think, well, to go back to what I just said, in terms of how you talk about what you experience. We have had a tendency to say, “Okay, you’re going to answer it, and you’re going to answer it, and you’re going to do it in this way.” But maybe I am from a culture that we have a real, real, real big oral tradition. And so we’re very skilled at telling information or talking about what we experienced, or what is happening, or working through the process, because we always do that. So we can get to those finer details, through language, or through talking about it, as opposed to writing it down. There are different ways that cultures experience moving information forward. So you can make an exercise where you change up how we do it, and that will undoubtedly diversify, decolonize. Maybe it’s the music, maybe you’re doing it in music, or maybe you do it in art. I know that the African American culture likes singing and rhymes. That’s where the jazz comes from. So why not add that? Or allow someone to do that as they answer your question. Very simple. Something like that.

Rebecca: Lindsay or Wendy, did you have other examples of ways to improve the inclusivity of the classroom?

Lindsay: I would just say, representation matters. Look at the sources that you use. Are you using readings from mostly white scholars? What video clips are you showing? What information, what source material are you giving your students? Are you actually representing the students that are in your class? Do they see themselves in the work? And then I think that we also have to take responsibility ourselves, like… What is your positionality in relationship to the work that you’re teaching? What is your identity? And how can you be aware of your own identity in relationship to all the students in the room. I would also just add reach into the community and have the conversation. So I think that within our book, we have this community where we’re having these conversations around this work, but at my institution, I’m part of other cohorts where we’re talking about race, and teaching, and how we can be more inclusive and more anti-racist. And this work doesn’t have to happen on your own, it doesn’t have to happen in a silo, the action is more real, and you can be held accountable if you’re doing it within community.

Wendy: Just as an example, I’m teaching a section of a course which is beginning ballet, and I’m having students read three articles and write a paper on the articles. I was looking for articles that would talk about ballet in different cultures, and also with people who aren’t white. So I found something on the Final Bow For Yellowface, which is an organization that was created a while back, and it’s been working against stereotyping agents in ballet, particularly in the Nutcracker. And then there’s an article on a Latina dancer, who’s dancing in this country with a ballet company. And then a woman named Chyrstyn Fentroy, who was a black ballerina who wrote about her experiences in a top ballet company and how she was experiencing whiteness in that company. And all of these articles are just a way to say to students without even having to say anything… Look, a lot of different people do ballet. Ballet may have been a white form when it started, it is not anymore exclusively a white form. Here are some examples of people who have succeeded, and although there are still issues and problems within the world of ballet, it is much more open than it used to be. I mean, people do it all over the world. It can look different depending on who’s making the ballets and who’s dancing them. So there’s room for a lot of different kinds of people within even the supposedly whitest of dance forms, I think. And then with other dance forms, you can certainly do the same thing, just find ways of representing, as Lindsay said, who’s in your class, looking for ways to make sure that people know that their culture is represented in this art form.

Lindsay: And I would just add without making assumptions about people’s identities, I think it’s important to talk about their identities, and that’s something that I think maybe comes more naturally for those of us in the arts, where there’s a lot of self reflection and conversation that happens. But I think it’s really important from the beginning of this semester to talk about identity culture, and then not have to make assumptions about anyone in the room.

Rebecca: I found that one of the most interesting responses I had from students by providing different material for them to digest related to design was an article that had them look at the idea that some fonts and typefaces misappropriate other cultures. Their minds were blown.

Wendy: Oooh!

Rebecca: And they continuously over the semester kept bringing this up, like, they had never thought about that. It’s interesting how one very short article [LAUGHTER] can have such a big impact on the way students see something.

John: This book project came together during the neverending pandemic that we’re working through now. Could you tell us a little bit about what it was like putting this together and working on this during the global pandemic?

Wendy: Kind of like what we’re doing right now.

Carlos: Yeah.

Wendy: We all got on Zoom and talked. And then we went to a couple of conferences before Zoom, where we got to meet with people in person, but a lot of it was done on Zoom.

Carlos: Lots of phone calls.

Wendy: [LAUGHTER] Yeah.

Carlos: Lots of phone calls, and late night questions, and sending things back and forth as you edit, and you look at it. Yeah, a lot of that.

Lindsay: Also just the way that the pandemic, especially that March of 2020, to June, July of that year, how it forced us into isolation, but I think it also kept us connected. And it forced us to really deepen the work that we were doing, I can see the way it comes through in the pages. I’m not sure what the book would have been if we weren’t doing it in a pandemic. So I think that there are some aspects of it that allowed us to take really full and complete ownership of what we were doing. And, like I said, build within community because no one wanted to be alone during that time period and this was a way for us to stay connected.

Wendy: Also the killing of George Floyd was big. That really impacted our discussions as well.

Lindsay: Mmhmm.

Carlos: Yeah, I would say I think that some of the racial, civil unrest was actually a focusing thing because we began looking at the chapters and what people were trying to contribute, and it was a barometer for staying on task, like, “Well, no, that deviates out, this is where we need to be, because this is what we have to answer, and if we don’t answer that, we can’t move it forward.”

Lindsay: It really did crystallize some things though. I remember, Carlos, being on the phone with you one day, when we were having that conversation about how people were talking about the roots of jazz. And everyone says the roots are West African and European, right? And I remember us having that conversation where, “We’re not talking about the African American component. How can we be saying this?” That became a through line in the book, Carlos, right? And Carlos really pulled that apart for me and opened this whole channel where we were like, “We’re not talking about those 400 years in between 1619 and the jazz era, and that’s where the jazz happened.” So I think for us, it really did crystallize a lot of things and gave us permission to talk more openly about them.

Carlos: So I think that’s what the pandemic did for that. And as a side note, to bounce off of that, what I think is important to say is, that’s very important, because it’s very easy to be idealistic. It’s lofty to say, “It came from Africa,” or, “It came from Europe,” and have these places which are really wonderful, rich spaces for information, and we know that things came to this experiment we call America, United States. But what we often don’t talk about is what happened in that time, because it’s painful. But we have to talk about it because out of all of that pain was so many wonderful things that happened, so many wonderful things that happened. Jazz dance is one of them.

Rebecca: So we always wrap up by asking the very loaded question… What’s next?

Carlos: I think what we are excited about, and Wendy and Lindsay please jump in if I’m missing something, is moving this information forward. So immediately, the book is being released. How do we move forward? How do we have conversations like this? How do we keep having people have it and take it and move it forward? I think people are excited about getting into the curriculum and the class. So I think that that’s what’s immediately next… Can we keep this energy moving and having these greater, deeper conversations?

Wendy: I’d love to go to conferences with the three of us and present on the book. It’s not just about our work, I mean, a lot of other people wrote for the book, and I think there are a lot of good ideas in the book. Some of it has practical applications and could be used in the classroom, some of it’s more theoretical. And the idea is that if enough people in higher education and elsewhere begin to grasp these ideas, and get an idea of how to implement them themselves, that we could change the way jazz dance is approached across the country. I mean, that’s a pretty big ambitious goal.[LAUGHTER] I’d love to see us at least instigate that concept, so that eventually, everybody understands that the roots of jazz dance are West African, and that it developed because of a particular situation in our country. So eventually, hopefully, it will be taught in a fuller, more complete way.

Lindsay: There’s a part of jazz that is so personal, and this is actually something that came up in the book, where I remember at one point us feeling like some of the chapters just weren’t hitting home. And we were trying to guide the authors, and then we realized that there were just some places that people needed to talk in the first person. It’s not like our traditional scholarship, where we’re always distancing ourselves or looking at it from a distance, it really does need to come from that place of who you are, how you feel, all of those things coming together. And so I guess my hope is that, moving forward, people will take that ownership as an individual to go in the studio, and to figure out what jazz is, what rooted jazz is, in their own body, in their practice, but then also bring it back to the community. Because as much as jazz is about individuality, it’s also about community. So how do we bring that back together, and grow as a community with some shared values and shared understanding?

Carlos: I think that even cycles back to an earlier question you had, when you were talking about how we decolonize or be more inclusive. And traditional scholarship and those working in diasporic art forms or diasporic information, Africana Studies or philosophy or whatever, the scholarship hasn’t been viewed in the same light as something else because it is different, the viewpoint is different. As Lindsay said, it’s personal, it’s about that journey, because, talking about jazz dance, that is the birth of it. It was about how we experienced it as a community, and how you shared that information when you hit that dance floor at any of the clubs, ballrooms, Savoy, whatever. How you shared that, and what information and electricity happened there, that is the essence of it, it is so deeply personal. And so to stand out and look at it from way at a distance isn’t true to the essence of what it is.

Lindsay: And one more thing that we didn’t really discuss that I think is important off of Carlos’s last point, is the way that we really do call for people to explore the jazz music continuum. It’s so vast, it’s so relevant today. There’s just an endless wealth of music that you can look to for inspiration. And jazz dance comes from jazz music. I will say in my own practice, when I was dancing to pop music, it was easy to take it in a direction that wasn’t jazz, but when you turn on jazz music, there’s something else that comes from there that will keep you tethered to that essence. So in that similar call, we hope that people will take that step back into the studio and look at their practices. I hope that we return to just celebrating the music that gave birth to the form.

Rebecca: Thank you so much for sharing some of the history of jazz and your stories around the book. I know there’s a lot of valuable information within our conversation for people across a wide variety of disciplines.

Wendy: Thank you for having us.

Carlos: Thank you very much. This has been a joy

Lindsay: Thanks for the invitation.

John: Well thank you. It’s great talking to 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.

John: Editing assistance provided by Anna Croyle, Annalyn Smith, and Joshua Vega.


219. Rigor

In academia, the term “rigor” is often code for gatekeeping and exclusion. In this episode, Jordynn Jack and Viji Sathy join us to discuss ways of creating challenging courses while providing the support and structure necessary for student success.

Jordynn is a Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is the author of three books and numerous articles that focus on the rhetorics of science, technology, and gender in a variety of contexts. She is also the Director of the Health and Humanities Lab at UNC-Chapel Hill. Viji is a Professor of the Practice in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, the Director of the Townsend Program for Education Research, and the Director of the Academic Leadership Program at the Institute for Arts & Humanities, also at UNC-Chapel Hill. Viji is a national expert on inclusive teaching and is a co-author (with Kelly Hogan) of a forthcoming book on inclusive teaching which will be part of the West Virginia University Press series on teaching and learning, edited by Jim Lang and Michelle Miller.


  • Jack, Jordynn and Viji Sathy (2021). “It’s Time to Cancel the Word ‘Rigor.’The Chronicle of Higher Education. September 24.
  • Nilson, L. B. (2015). Specifications grading: Restoring rigor, motivating students, and saving faculty time. Stylus Publishing, LLC.
  • Object Lessons The Atlantic
  • Hogan, Kelly A, and Sathy, Viji (2020). “Optimizing Student Learning and Inclusion in Quantitative Courses.” in Rodgers, Joseph Lee, ed. (2020). Teaching Statistics and Quantitative Methods in the 21st Century. Routledge.


John: In academia, the term “rigor” is often code for gatekeeping and exclusion. In this episode, we examine ways of creating challenging courses while providing the support and structure necessary for student success.


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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

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


John: Our guests today are Jordynn Jack and Viji Sathy. Jordynn is a Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is the author of three books and numerous articles that focus on the rhetorics of science, technology, and gender in a variety of contexts. She is also the Director of the Health and Humanities Lab at UNC-Chapel Hill. Viji is a Professor of the Practice in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, the Director of the Townsend Program for Education Research, and the Director of the Academic Leadership Program at the Institute for Arts & Humanities, also at UNC-Chapel Hill. Viji is a national expert on inclusive teaching and is a co-author (with Kelly Hogan) of a forthcoming book on inclusive teaching which will be part of the West Virginia University Press series on teaching and learning, edited by Jim Lang and Michelle Miller.Welcome Jordynn, and welcome back Viji.

Viji: Thank you.

Jordynn: Thanks. Nice to be here.

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

Jordynn: I’m drinking coffee.

Rebecca: Ah coffee… rebel. [LAUGHTER]

John: It’s one of the most popular teas on this podcast. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: How about you, Viji?

Viji: Well in honor of the podcast, I decided to actually make tea. I had a birthday recently, and someone gave me a thing called “Chai Box” and it had teas that you can actually boil and strain and all of that. So I thought I would go through that process and have a nice hot cup of tea with you.

Rebecca: Sounds wonderful.

John: It does.

Rebecca: I wish we were in the same space so I could try some. [LAUGHTER]

John: And I am drinking Tea Forté Black Currant tea.

Rebecca: And I have a black blend called East Frisian.

John: One of your new favorites.

Rebecca: It is, yeah.

John: We’ve invited you here to talk about an article you co-authored earlier this semester in the Chronicle entitled “It’s Time to Cancel the Word ‘Rigor.’” And you raise a number of arguments about the common use of that term rigor in academics. Why is a focus on rigor so harmful?

Jordynn: Well if I can speak, I guess, to the humanities side of the question, I think the term rigor often appears when we have conversations that also entail curriculum, how to uphold a standard of mythical proportions, I guess I would say, of what students used to learn and how they used to write and how they used to perform in class that goes back centuries, honestly. So the complaints about students not meeting some standard are the reason why first-year writing exists. The idea that incoming students at Harvard weren’t writing well enough is why we have first-year writing. And that goes back over a century. But I think in my discipline particularly, there tends to be a concern, mostly about the range of students that now attend university. And I think that’s one of the root causes of this discourse. The idea that… I don’t think anyone wants to say it explicitly, but people seem to think that by admitting more students that have a wider range of backgrounds, we’ve somehow lost some standard that used to be there. And even though we know that this is a myth, it still persists. Often it’s coded language for: “some students don’t belong and others do.”

Viji: Yeah, and I guess I would add, it’s a similar idea in the sciences, I think. In our case, and as we wrote about, I think of this as… these are obstacles for students. And that’s not what we want to be as educators: obstacles. And so I’m really trying to help people see that this kind of language isn’t helpful to students, it isn’t helpful to faculty. It is code, like Jordan talks about, that really privileges a traditional view of education. And that’s not where we need to be right now. We need to be in a place where we support our students, the students we have in our classroom, not the ones that we aspire to have or think we have or any of those kinds of things. It’s actually: Who’s in our classroom, and how do we best serve them? And I think for a lot of people, they just haven’t really examined the notion of rigor and where that comes from.

Rebecca: One of the things that I was thinking about when I was reading your article was also how much this language also appears before they’re our students—when they’re prospective students or are part of the admissions process as well—that their application doesn’t show enough “rigor” or their prior education isn’t “rigorous” enough, to almost prevent certain kinds of students from being our students in the first place, which is really disturbing on so many levels. And we often hear faculty using this language of rigor when they’re complaining to one another about the scaffolding or the support that different students may need in their classes. How do we respond to our colleagues across the university, faculty as well as administrators and staff, who may be using this language?

Viji: I think a big part of it is to not shy away from saying, “We absolutely want to have a challenging course, high standards.” There’s other versions of language that indicate that you want to really push your students, in a healthy way, towards understanding the material with support from you, not as their adversary. And so I think that’s really what we want to encourage people to think about… that this isn’t an obstacle course to build for our students and see who makes it to the other side, it really is a coaching process. It’s a process where, when they succeed, we’ve succeeded, or vice versa. Really, we’re thinking about this as a shared endeavor. And the more students who succeed, the better that reflects our ability, or our perception of how we’re teaching. I never want to be seen as somebody who keeps students out, and if only a small number of students actually meet the learning objectives, that’s a poor reflection on me, not on them. And so I think that’s really what we want to do… is really flip the idea that this is not about you putting up obstacles, but rather you constructing devices, assignments, grading, all of those kinds of things that actually support your students in their learning.

Jordynn: I think to the admissions question, at least in our institution, we’re a state university, we have a mission to serve the state. And I think that’s kind of a persuasive resource we have at our disposal is that we admit students from every county, in our case in North Carolina. We have programs that encourage and provide support for students who are first-gen, we have programs in place to allow all students to succeed or to encourage all students to succeed. And I think sometimes people perhaps assume that we’re in a different role than that, like somehow, our mission is instead to be this super elite institution where we’re only admitting the best and only the best will survive the obstacle course. We’re not Hogwarts. [LAUGHTER] We’re a state institution that’s here to serve the population of students that we have. And I think, for a lot of us, appealing to that mission can be an effective way to counter the idea that we’re instead trying to uphold this elite standard.

Viji: Jordynn’s point is really a poignant one in that this is a source of pride for our campus that we admit a large number of in-state students, and our university is the flagship university in our state. So for both students and faculty, we do think of ourselves as top, we’ve got top students and top instruction happening. That’s why I think we come from this perspective of…  How do we serve these top students who are very diverse in their needs and in their experiences as they come to us? And that we take that on as a challenge, because that’s our job, is to serve these students.

John: One of the challenges that many new faculty have when they come in is they do want to use more inclusive teaching techniques. But some of the people who are evaluating them critique them because they are using inclusive-teaching practices, and they are having more students being successful, which tends to be reflected in higher grades. What can we do to help those colleagues when they’re faced with barriers in those who evaluate them?

Viji: Well, I can take a stab at it, and Jordynn you want to add if you’d like. I think one thing is that we could better educate everyone about the process and what we mean to have an inclusive classroom, to have high standards but help your students meet those standards. And I think the proof is in the pudding. I jokingly tell my students every semester, “If 100% of you make A s, I will be so happy, I will be so happy. If you meet all of the requirements and you do well in the course, that makes me really happy and I’ll retire,” that’s what I tell them, “I’ll retire when that day comes.” But I think just thinking through… How do we show our colleagues that we are asking our students to do really difficult things, and they’re meeting that challenge? That’s what we want to educate our peers about, not the grade distribution, but rather… What did the students do to earn that grade? And how did you scaffold the learning experience so that they were able to do that? And I think when we showed those
learning outcomes and the actual student work, that’s when I think we can really have very meaningful and productive conversations about how to make this happen in more classes, or how to actually highlight this kind of instruction which should be rewarded, not punished.

Jordynn: Yeah. One thing that we learned in our department when we did an assessment of student learning outcomes, was that in courses where there’s more structure, students produced better writing. And those courses happen to be first-year writing classes where each project is introduced, scaffolded with various milestones that students complete. There’s a clear sense of what the assignment parameters are beyond, “Write an essay about this topic.” And we found that students actually produced stronger arguments in those assignments and were better able to marshal evidence to support their arguments. And it wasn’t surprising to me, but it made an argument to the department that this approach is effective. And ultimately, in the report that we wrote up based on this required assessment cycle, we argued that the literature courses needed to adopt some of the pedagogy from the writing classes that was producing these effects. And so I think teaching evaluations might be another way to show that, although that’s more subjective. But for better or for worse, departments are required to have some kind of assessment of student learning outcomes. And I think that’s one place where some of these innovations in teaching can be demonstrated in terms of their usefulness.

Rebecca: We started talking a little bit about what these inclusive practices might be to move in this direction. Can we talk a little bit about expectations and what that might look like, maybe from the start of a syllabus or the course structure, and then maybe move into a couple of details?

Jordynn: I think in the article we kind of took a humanities/science perspective and that’s not a clear split. But I think overall, I’m attracted to approaches that make clear the expectations for students, such as specs grading, which is something I’ve gotten interested in lately, where you lay out, “Here’s what you need to do to get an A in this class.” And there’s different approaches to that, but basically for each unit or for each component of the class, “Here’s what the expectations are.” And then to model, in my case, “Here’s what an effective example of this writing assignment looks like.” And we look at them in class and discuss them so that it’s not this abstract idea, like, “Oh, there was an A paper that exists out there, but I have no idea what it is.” So for each component of the class to be really intentional about making the expectations clear, and then providing structure to support students meeting those expectations.

Viji: Yeah, I think that transparency part is key. You don’t want students to have to guess what is the ideal outcome. And that’s when we know people will make assumptions that are incorrect, and may be hard to come back from. So Jordynn’s example of providing a model is ideal because students can see that model. I’m guessing it’s actually an anonymized student paper, that’s something that is actually like a student product that they can critique, to see examples of that kind of peer work that happens. But it’s really helpful to students to see an example. The criticism I hear sometimes about those kinds of approaches is that it takes the creativity out of what a student might produce, because they may be trying to tailor it to the model that they’ve been provided. And in that case, I think… Only in the examples you provide, right? So you could provide a range of examples that meet the criteria, and students can see the leeway that exists, and encourage them to be creative in those endeavors. But not providing anything… I don’t know if you’ve been watching The Great British Baking Show, but there’s a thing called a “technical challenge” in the show. And it’s a piece where they have some instructions for the bakers and the ingredients, and they’re required to produce this thing. And it’s often something they’ve never even laid eyes on. But the instructions, if you see them, sometimes they show you and it’s like two steps, like, “Make the dough. Decorate it.” [LAUGHTER] And you see them really struggle, because they’ve never even laid eyes on this. They don’t even know, they have to guess based on the materials that are available, “Is this something that I should roll up?” But there’s all kinds of things that they have to guess. And remarkably, because they’re who they are, they figure it out. But why are we making our students do this kind of exercise where they have to guess what the right thing is when we actually have in our mind examples of what the right thing is and that we can provide to them, that gives that structure that Jordynn’s talking about? Structure is so important for inclusive teaching, that we don’t let people try to figure it out, that we actually give them some guidance about how to do things so that they feel confident that they can go into an assignment, understanding what might be required of them, that they have expectations about, say, the time commitment involved in an assignment, how they’re going to be evaluated in that assignment. There should be very little guesswork on the student’s part. Yes, they may not exactly know how you have applied the rubric to their paper, but they have a rubric to look at to sort of check off, “Did I do this, did I include these things, do I feel like I’ve sufficiently provided evidence for certain things…” These are kinds of waypoints that students really benefit from. And I think it produces a higher-quality product from the get-go when you give this kind of structure to students, and then it keeps your grumpiness to a minimum. And I’ve done this and I speak from experience when I’ve given students very minimal structure. And I see the variety of interpretation for an assignment and I think, “Oh, gosh, I should have been more specific about what I wanted.” And then it just keeps everybody happier. You can provide those kinds of guidelines without hampering their creativity. And, in fact, really producing something that is more along the lines of the learning experience you hope for them to have out of that assignment.

Jordynn: I would just also add, at least in my courses, I try to design a realistic problem situation that students are in so that it’s not just me dictating what the expectations are but discovering them together. So for instance, the course I have coming up is a History of Writing class. And there’s a series of essays published in The Atlantic called Object Lessons where people take a commonplace item and write about its history, and often they’re writing technologies. So their assignment in that class might be, “You’re going to write one of these object lessons essays.” So we look at some examples. There’s a history of these writing desks that women used in the 19th century where they would compose their correspondence, for instance. So, we read a few examples, and then we generate the criteria together. So what makes a good object lessons essay in The Atlantic? What’s goi ng to be likely to get published in this series? So then we develop the rubric together, we develop the specifications for what a good essay will look like, and then they’ll see, “Okay, well, this author approached it in this way, this author approached it in a different way.” So there’s leeway there. They all kind of fit a general sub-genre of writing. But it’s not like I’m developing these arbitrary requirements, like, “It has to be this long, and it has to use this citation format.” But together, we’re developing a sense of how to effectively address this situation. And so I think that addresses some of the concerns sometimes that highly structured approaches are too one-way, like, the instructor is just determining what could be still relatively arbitrary set of criteria and making them clear to students. That’s better than nothing. But it can still be ineffective for students if you’re arbitrarily deciding, like, “It has to be exactly 500 words. And I’m going to make it clear that every citation has to be exactly correct. And you can’t have any misspelled words or you’ll get a zero.” That approach is transparent, but it still might not be inclusive.

Viji: What’s nice about that is that it conveys the ambiguity sometimes of the work and how it isn’t always cut and dried, even from the perspective of the evaluator. And so it’s really helpful to students to kind of peel back what’s happening and seeing, “Oh yeah, this example resonates so much with an example I use in my class where students have to craft an interpretation around the standard deviation.” And we talk through different examples, and they see why some are more limiting than others. And it really does open up this discussion of what makes a better interpretation of a standard deviation and why.

John: One of the things you point out is that a lack of structure is not terribly equitable, because our students come in with very different preparations, depending on whether they’re a first-generation or a continuing-generation student and the type of preparation they had in their local school districts, which varies a lot based on the average income within their community. So adding structure will not only help all students, but it will particularly help those students, I think, who come in less prepared to play that game of higher ed, who come in with less clear expectations about what we expect of our students. What are some other examples of ways in which we can build in more support for those students who come in with less preparation for the hidden curriculum of higher education?

Viji: I’m going to start by… something I’m heavily involved in that I love both the idea and the implementation of it at this stage. We are in the process of incorporating a new general education curriculum on our campus. And I was part of the coordinating committee that helped think through how this curriculum might look. And now we’re in this phase of rolling out a course that does exactly this. It’s a first-year thriving course, and it’s about thriving in college. And the goal is for students to take this course in their first year, it could be spring or fall, but to really unhide that hidden curriculum of college, and particularly at a research university like ours, where students may not be familiar with the kinds of resources that are available to them, how to navigate the research university, what exists for them to really seize as part of their experiences in college. And a big portion of this is the science of learning. Because many of our students have been through many different types of classes, but don’t actually have a lot of knowledge about effective study strategies, good note taking… there’s all kinds of things that people have just been winging it. And because they are top students in our state, their method has worked for them up to this point. But oftentimes, it falters in college because it is a bit different. And some students are better equipped to handle the kinds of things we’re asking them to do in college, because of their preparation, or the methods that they’ve chosen have really served them well. So we don’t want people to bump into good practices, we would like to be able to educate them about this from the start. And that’s one thing that I’m so excited to see our students be able to take advantage of, and it will be for all first-year students, it’s a required course. And it will really help, I think, our students not only see good practices, but also point them to places they can go in the future, like using our Learning Center to get ongoing academic coaching, to really think about all of the libraries that we have and the services they offer, to really serve them well throughout their time at UNC.

Jordynn: Yeah, this makes me think about also the research on transfer, which suggests that it’s often really difficult for students to apply something abstract to a new situation. So let’s say they take this course, they learn about study techniques, then they’re in your history class, for whatever reason, they might not necessarily think back to that first-year course and say, “Oh yeah, I learned this technique.” So we have to prime them and cue them to draw on what they’ve learned previously, in order for it to transfer. So I was just working on my course design for next semester. And we’re doing a pilot of Canvas, the learning system. And I noticed that the modules that have been pre-designed have these troubleshooting sections that are for technology. But listening to this makes me think I need to repurpose those for troubleshooting the assignment. Like, I was reading through one of the readings that I assigned and it uses terms like “autochthonous.” And reading it, I was like, “I don’t know if my students are going to know this.” But will they know, “Oh, you can look up terms in a dictionary?” Which seems
obvious, but it’s not something you remember to do when you’re reading a difficult text. So troubleshooting, like, “If you’re having trouble understanding this text, here’s a good reference dictionary that might have terms related to our class.” Or, “How should you study for this test that’s coming up? Here’s a reminder about this study technique that you probably learned about in your first-year thrive class, and here’s the link to the Learning Center handout about it.” Like building in those kinds of supports the way we would for technology support. So the metaphor of troubleshooting, I think, is really helpful and something instructors should be conscious of. The same thing happens in writing all the time, like, “Well, they obviously learned how to cite sources in first-year writing.” Well they did, but you’re asking students to cite in Chicago, and they haven’t seen Chicago before. They’re not going to recognize that what they learned about MLA or APA transfers to learning about Chicago. And they won’t know how to do it unless you give them some resources and some support. You can’t just have this expectation that something they’ve learned before will automatically pop into their brain when they’re in the moment of working on something.

Rebecca: Jordynn, what you’re saying is reminding me of different experiences I’ve had with students when they get panicky about something they’ve not seen before, like, “Ah! I don’t know what this is, I’ve never seen it before!” And then as soon as you start panicking, all the things you know somehow have disappeared out of your brain, they’re no longer accessible. [LAUGHTER] So having those little reminders about those basic things is really helpful. Because when you are really under a high-stress situation, which you might have self-imposed, potentially [LAUGHTER], you still have that place to go back and re-center and go, “Oh right, right. I know that.” But those little cues can be useful. I know that in conversations I’ve had with students who hit that moment of like, “But I don’t know how to do this!” Yes you do, let’s walk through things that you do know how to do. And all of a sudden, you can just see it on their face like, “Oh right, okay.”

Viji: Yeah. And the reminders, they’re more than reminders, it’s actually reinforcing the learning, which we know is really helpful. We know things like recalling previous information is helpful for really storing it long-term. So you’re really just actively producing that retrieval over and over again, by bringing it back in other classes. But it also conveys who you are as an instructor and how you’re supporting your students. And they read between the lines sometimes when you provide these kinds of things. They come to you, and they ask about other things that you could offer advice about. It really opens the door, and it gives them permission to say, “Oh yeah, I don’t actually have to know all the words, I can look them up. That is something that they’re not assuming that I know all of these words, because they’ve told me how to use a dictionary when I’m reading the text.” So it really does give students permission to say, “It’s okay if I don’t feel 100% confident in doing this, my instructor expects that not all of us are going to know the terms.” So these are the ways in which we support our students in our communications that really help them see that we want them to succeed.

Rebecca: Another example of that is also modeling that, as a faculty member, when things come up. I teach a lot of classes where we’re doing code stuff, and I obviously am not a walking code dictionary, I can’t just recall everything. And so I often get asked questions that I can’t quite remember, I know enough to be able to look it up. And so I’ll demonstrate, “Here’s how I’m going to look this up, these are the search terms I would use.” And I have found that students are shocked the first time I do that, like “Wait, she doesn’t know everything?” But also I think they find it helpful, because they’ve said things like, “Oh, I wouldn’t have thought to look like that, or I wouldn’t have gone there.” And then by the end of the semester, I had students this semester who’ve been telling me, “Oh, I have that open all the time while I’m working on my projects now.” Good, good.

Viji: Rebecca, that’s a great point, and I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t just say that not all faculty members can  do that. We have colleagues who, if they falter in what they know or don’t know, that students will really judge them harshly for that. And so I think it’s amazing when we can do it, but realizing that some faculty members are not going to have the ability to do that very comfortably in the classroom.

Rebecca: Definitely, definitely.

Jordynn: Yeah, I’ve been called wishy-washy on evaluations before for what I felt was being inclusive in terms of negotiating with students… What are the parameters of this assignment? What should be the length for this? Or when do you want it to be due? I think sometimes students want more authoritativeness than sometimes I feel is suitable or appropriate. And so that’s something I’m constantly negotiating. And I think if I were in a different body, you know, maybe as a senior male professor in my department, maybe that wouldn’t read the same way. But it has happened on occasion, where I think some students also just feel comfortable with, “Here’s what you need to do.” If you’re used to the obstacle course, you just want to know what the hoops are. “Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.” And so taking a step back from that approach is uncomfortable for some students and also can reflect on how the instructor is evaluated by those students.

John: To create this inclusive environment, what are some things faculty should avoid doing in their classes?

Jordynn: Well, I think for me, assuming students should know X is, to me, a problem. So of course, there’s prerequisites for some classes and things that you would assume students already know. But, at least in my department, students don’t proceed through the curriculum the way we think they do. So we have this idealized path, but because of the difficulties they have in scheduling courses, or just the different paths students take, like, maybe they decide later on to become an English major, and they have to go back and take some of the earlier courses. We can’t just assume, “Oh, they must have learned this in X class.” So that’s for one, something that can really alienate students, when you think, like, “Well, they must have read X,” or, “They must understand this concept,” or, “They must know how to do this thing.” And to me, my principle is that I don’t evaluate anything I haven’t taught. So sometimes I have to be reflective about that, like… Am I trying to evaluate something that I haven’t taught them implicitly, because I have these kinds of assumptions? But for me, that’s a big one. It comes across in the attitude of the instructor sometimes too, like, “Well, obviously, you all know this,” like, “If you don’t know this, why are you even in this class?” I’ve been in situations like that, too. [LAUGHTER] It’s like when you go into a fitness class and you need to get back in shape. And they’re like, “Drop and give me 20 push-ups.” And I’m like, “Well, I can’t do a push-up right now. So I guess I’ll just walk out the door.” So having these rigid expectations about what they already know, before you’ve even taught them anything.

John: Now in some classes, particularly in STEM disciplines, there is some assumption of prior knowledge, but students don’t always have that knowledge when they come in. Are there ways we can support those students, while still allowing those students and the rest of the class to advance to the higher-level materials?

Viji: Yeah, I think you’re bringing up a great point, John. And Jordynn has mentioned this now a number of ways and times, that just because you do something once, doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve learned it. And that’s what we keep saying, it’s true of learning. There are very few things where you do it one time, and you’ve figured it out for the rest of your life. And I think we need to remember that as educators. And the way that I remind myself of this is every year or two years or whatever, I pick up something that I’ve never done before, that is hard for me. Right now, it’s playing the guitar. And I take a break from it, and then I come back and I’m like, “I don’t remember how to do that chord, again, I have to re-remember the fingering.” And then it’s just important to remember that they’re doing this not just for your class, but they’re doing this across multiple classes across multiple terms. They may have had that course three semesters ago, rather than just last semester. So of course, they’re going to have differing levels of recall about the information. Plus they’re not walking encyclopedias, they don’t remember every fact that was ever told to them. Neither would we. I mean, if I think back to my college days, and you tell me to recite a fact I learned about a particular course, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with some ideas. And I hate to say this, but I barely remember some of the instructors’ names, and I saw them every day, or every other day, for a whole semester. So we have to have realistic expectations about what can be recalled, versus… what can we give them so that they can go back and reflect on, pull back that information, to remind them of it over and over again, so that it does become a bit more cemented. And a big part of that is just recognizing the unrealistic expectation, that just because they saw it once before, that they will be able to hit the ground running with it in your course. And that you do need to provide some of these ramps on to the material. And that can include sometimes a period of time at the beginning of the semester where everybody’s just practicing some of the foundational skills that you might presume that they’ve had, but again, might be rusty, and they all need some practice with it. And I think peer instruction is a great example of where you can ask people who feel less rusty to help those in the classroom, or have students who’ve recently completed the course come back and help students. And that is another way to sort of keep that recurring practice going beyond the semester of learning that content.

Jordynn: Yeah, I agree. My difficult thing that I picked up recently was I took a weaving class. And it was a six-week class where I learned from start to finish how to make this sampler of different weaving techniques. And from the very beginning where you have to warp the loom, to using the shuttle, I don’t think I could do any of it now. But I think if I went back to the class and retook it and the instructor showed me again, “Here’s how we did the warp.” I’d be like, “Oh yeah, okay, I remember.” Some of it would come back to me, some of the techniques are embodied almost, and I would be able to pick it up again. So it’s the same thing. It’s like the baking example, like, “Make the dough.” Well that’s really difficult, but if you reminded me of the steps, I’d be able to make the dough if I’m a baker. So I think, similarly, it goes back to providing scaffolding and supports for whatever the assignments are, so that we can practice and then we can go through the steps again. And over time, if you do repeat that type of task, eventually there’s going to be some development. But you can’t just put the task out there and expect people to remember how to do it.

Viji: John, you started with a question about, “What should we stop doing?” And I have to say this just to get it out there, people should stop grading on a curve. People should stop assuming that a certain percentage of students earn an A, earn a B, C, D… whatever it is, however you’ve designed your course, that is not the way to, quote/unquote, “sort” your students, to have some predetermined thresholds for grades. There are a lot of really poor reasons for doing that, aside from the sort of quantitative side of things. Like people vary from semester to semester, and you could potentially have a really outstanding group one semester and still force people to earn bad grades. To the more principled ideas that you should actually have standards that you want students to meet, and evaluate students on those standards, and then decide, “Is this A-level work, B-level work?” And if you’re doing this collaboratively with students, that they really think through what that looks like for them, too, rather than just saying, “I already know what my grade distribution will look like, because I’ve designed it that way at the

Jordynn: I would say to stop nitpicking, too, at least in my field. I had a student in my class say, “Well, I got a B on this paper because I didn’t put the date in the right format that the instructor wanted.” [LAUGHTER] I was like, “Okay, she took a letter grade off for a date format?” Like, I get that maybe there’s some cases where really specific things are really, really important. But when it kind of seems arbitrary I think that’s another way of just saying, like, “Well, I can’t have all As. So I’m going to find relatively minor things to critique students on that will help me to distribute the grades differently. And if it has to be the format of the date, or a period in a citation, or something like that.” Personally, that’s not what I want to be spending my time on, and I don’t think that’s the most productive use of my feedback to students. And it also ends up having an effect that’s pretty uninclusive.

Viji: Yeah. And your comment reminds me, too, of some discussions we’ve been having about flexibility and offering more flexibility to students, particularly now. And we have some resistance. And I’m speaking “we” collectively as educators, about, like, upholding deadlines for things. And when I say, “But where in your syllabus is this one of your outcomes, to hold people to deadlines?” Because that’s often the underlying rationale is, “When are they going to learn how to turn things in on time? [LAUGHTER] In the real world, you have to turn things in on time.” And I want to say, “Really? I mean have you never asked for an extension on something and been given grace on it and felt so relieved about it?” And then secondly, that doesn’t sound like a learning outcome. That sounds like maybe a skill, you’re trying to help them with professionalism, and maybe part of professionalism is completing work in a timely manner. But I think a lot of times, it’s really just a matter of convenience for all involved to turn something in by a date. And so really examining… What are the things you think you’re really asking or upholding for your students? And why that is. And if it truly is, like, “I really want to help students stay on task and get things turned in in a timely way to get feedback,” then explain to your students why deadlines exist and why you have those kinds of approaches in your class.

Jordynn: Yeah, the number of professors who write their conference papers on the plane or the night before in the hotel room. Or if you’ve ever done an edited collection, you’re lucky if 30% of people turn in a draft on time. How often are deadlines extended because no one’s submitted the paper or the abstract for the CFP? Like, we’re the worst at upholding our own deadlines, but then we try to turn around and enforce them on students. And it’s really nonsensical.

John: There are cases, though, where deadlines could be useful. That if students are going to be doing things later in the class that depends on the development of skills that they need to have first. How do you deal with cases where it’s important that students master skills to be able to move on to higher levels with the class? Or they’re working in group activities where all the students need to have developed skills to move forward, and some of the students are lagging behind?

Jordynn: Well, I give the grace period for all of my assignments where there’s a window where the assignment is open and that’s the suggested deadline. Like, “We do have to move on to the next unit, so here’s a five-day window, and it opens this day.” And then I have a clause like, “Okay, if you’re really struggling, you’re having something going on, just come meet with me and we’ll work something out.” So there’s two layers, like, there’s flexibility that applies to everyone and then there’s, “Okay, something major is going on in my life.” And increasingly, that’s happening a lot. And one of the benefits, I think, of our remote learning switch is that it’s kind of changed my whole pedagogy where I have more things built into the course management system, whereas I used to just use it in a really minimal way. So now I have modules that you can work through on a more self-paced way. And it’s better if you’re doing it in the same timeline as the rest of the class, because we are using class time to talk about elements of that. But I think, in the long run, having built those materials will allow students to proceed in those extreme cases where there was something else going on in their life, and they just can’t be in class. I think it’s not ideal for students to take an incomplete and then try to finish a course later or make up the work in some way. So anything you can do to avoid that outcome, even if it means creating an alternative pathway, I think is worth doing.

John: That can work really well in smaller classes, but how does that scale when you have hundreds of students in the class? Just as an example, one thing I used to allow students to do, this was way back when I first started teaching large classes, I had weekly exams and so forth and let students replace those by submitting a video project. And I let them do that up through the end of the semester. And then there was one semester where I had about 120 videos to watch [LAUGHTER] in the last week or so of the semester, and that became a little bit overwhelming. Now, perhaps there were some ways of doing that differently, but it’s a lot easier to do that in smaller classes. How can you maintain that sort of flexibility in a larger class?

Viji: I think that is the million dollar question a lot of people are asking themselves. It’s almost like a universal design-for-learning type of question, where it’s like… How do we do this so that it’s accessible to lots of people? And I don’t necessarily need to know rationale, reasons for why something might need to be late. I think the grace period is a great example where just everybody gets it. Like, I don’t need to know why you need the grace period this time, you just get it. I’ve also heard of the notion of “oops tokens.” Life comes up, and you just can’t turn in the assignment or take the quiz, and that’s okay. I’ve got a few of those built into the semester. And the way that I implement that in my learning management system is to have a column that is just those passes that we give to students. And so we know we’ve kept track of the passes that they need, like, they contacted me to say they can’t turn in assignment two, great, that’s out of, let’s say there’s five oops tokens, that’s a one for them in that column for that semester. And then we just keep track of it that way. I think there are some ways, but unfortunately, I don’t think our learning management systems, our technology, has really incorporated flexibility in its approaches. And that’s where I think I’m personally very interested in how technology can help us be more flexible in keeping track of things like this. I mean, it is helpful to say, like, “Okay, best due by a due date, that is the ideal timeline to get good feedback to be able to move forward.” But then there’s also the, “It is not going to be late, you can absolutely turn it in, here’s another deadline. And then maybe there’s just one that’s a wide open, like, “By the end of the semester, I just need to see something from you.” And so then students aren’t panicking, that they’ve got a “late” marked by their paper because it got turned in anyway. So really just thinking through how to leverage some of our technology to do that. But I say that saying, I don’t think our technology is ready for flexibility yet, it isn’t where it needs to be. It can do things like drop a grade in a grade set or something like that that can also be helpful. But I would love for it to be more flexible in the way that it can calculate grades, like even offering different grading schemas that students can choose. And then it actually projects those grades for students so they’re not having to do the calculations themselves and second guessing where they need to be on something to be able to earn a certain grade. So I think if anybody out there works at any of these learning management sites, I want to talk to you about how we need to be better about really using good pedagogical approaches, and baking them into the systems that we have. I think this is the biggest challenge for faculty. Their heart is in the right place, oftentimes they want to do these kinds of things, but they can’t figure out how to do it at scale. So if we can get technology to help us, then I think we could actually capture a lot of this challenge.

Jordynn: Yeah, I think the course management system has a baked-in pedagogy that’s not always the most progressive. And it’s often content delivery, a term that I hate, with some kind of quiz, and then they add assignments in. But sometimes the default settings revert to this kind of model. So I noticed in this Canvas pilot that we’re doing, the collaborate tool is, for whatever reason, either disabled or really opaque in terms of how to use it. But that’s the number one reason why I wanted to try something different, was to be able to offer built-in ways for students to collaborate in a Google Doc or to use Google Drive without sending them to some totally different site, which gets really confusing to students. And the built-in assumption is that that’s not the primary thing that instructor wants to use this for. Yeah, I mean, I don’t know to what extent they actually talk to instructors who are trying to build in different approaches to teaching, but it seems instead there’s this kind of default, like, you’re just going to be uploading notes and videos for students to watch and then answer questions about and that’s your pedagogy. So yeah, it’s pretty problematic in that way. Figuring out contract grading, also, which is an approach that I often use, has been really difficult for me, which is a totally different approach where I’m not marking each thing and giving students grades but that they’re trying to meet specifications for what it means to earn an A in that class. And so something more holistic like that is just really hard to enact.

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

Viji: I want to bring it back to this conversation of rigor and say—and you all know this—my colleague, Kelly Hogan, and I have been talking about inclusive teaching for years now. And while we do receive some critical remarks about it, nothing like this article about rigor has actually produced. Somehow we pushed a button that some people really, really didn’t want us to push. And it’s been eye opening to me because it’s very much the idea of inclusive practices. But with this explicit idea that rigor should not be attached, like, we should actually not use that word. So it almost feels like there’s some people out there with an alert for the word rigor. And then when that pops up, they get right into it. It’s been interesting for me to see. This is definitely a hot button issue. And although I think inclusive teaching approaches can help ameliorate some of them, it opens my eyes to the ideas that we have a lot of different people who have different ideas about education, some of them are actually educators, and some of them are not. So thinking about, holistically… What other things are we not challenging that we should be because the underlying assumptions are gatekeeping in the very worst ways by turning people away, which is not what we want to do. And really helping people to see that these practices, these terms, are perpetuating privilege that really, as educators, we should absolutely challenge. I think this is something that we don’t stand for, to say that only those who have could continue to have, and that we really want to level the playing field and help all students succeed. So those are the kinds of things I’m thinking about… What else is out there? I’ve said rigor. What else can I say to make sure that people know that these are not what we want to be doing in our classrooms today?

Jordynn: I guess for me, the elephant in the room is the effects of COVID on generations of students. I have elementary-age kids, and it’s affected them in certain ways. And then obviously, kids who are in high school right now, the students that we have in college who are coming in with two years, three years of disrupted learning. That’s a huge opportunity, I think, as well as a challenge for thinking about inclusivity because the range of effects for different students is so vast. And I think, relatedly, the experience with COVID has brought up questions about standardized testing. And I think that’s another important place to think about inclusivity and to think about the rigor assumptions that shape who gets into college. And the kind of temporary moratorium for some places on using those scores, opens up an opportunity to question how the emphasis on standardized testing has shaped our students’ education, because it starts in kindergarten now. And, you know, we’re holding students to one very specific, relatively narrow standard about what constitutes learning. And I think especially with the effects of COVID, it should become apparent that it’s just unfair to keep doing that when students have been out of class, they’ve been learning virtually, students have lost parents and loved ones. And just sticking to this old model where everyone has to meet this one really narrow standard… we can’t keep going that way with everything that’s happened.

Rebecca: You’ve both brought so many really important topics to the table today. And thank you for writing your article and bringing up the word “rigor.” And I hope you find more [LAUGHTER] that we can start to tackle as a community.

John: In terms of the response you’ve received, this response is really bringing up some critical debates, I think, on a lot of campuses. And, again, as Rebecca said, thank you for writing this. I hope it spurs a lot of productive debates on many campuses.

Jordynn: Thanks for having us.

John: Thanks for joining us.

Viji: 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. Editing assistance provided by Anna Croyle.


218. Blended Learning

Although new to many as a result of the pandemic, blended learning has a long history of effective use. In this episode, Chuck Dziuban and Patsy Moskal join us to discuss how blended learning has been used at the University of Central Florida for the past two decades. Chuck is the Director of the Research Initiative for Teaching Effectiveness at the University of Central Florida [UCF] where he has been a faculty member since 1970, teaching research design and statistics. He is also the Founding Director of the university’s Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning. Patsy is the Director of Digital Learning Impact Evaluation, also at the University of Central Florida. Chuck and Patsy are both Online Learning Consortium Fellows and have been doing research on blended learning for quite a while now. They are also two of the editors of the recently released third volume of Blended Learning: Research Perspectives.



John: Although new to many as a result of the pandemic, blended learning has a long history of effective use. In this episode, we examine how blended learning has been used at one institution for the past two decades.


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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

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


Rebecca: Our guests today are Chuck Dziuban and Patsy Moskal. Chuck is the Director of the Research Initiative for Teaching Effectiveness at the University of Central Florida [UCF] where he has been a faculty member since 1970, teaching research design and statistics. He is also the Founding Director of the university’s Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning. Patsy is the Director of Digital Learning Impact Evaluation, also at the University of Central Florida. Chuck and Patsy are both Online Learning Consortium Fellows and have been doing research on blended learning for quite a while now. They are also two of the editors of the recently released third volume of Blended Learning: Research Perspectives. Welcome, Chuck and Patsy.

Chuck: Well, thank you, Rebecca. We’re glad to be here.

Patsy: Yeah, thank you very much. So nice to be here talking to you guys.

John: It’s great to see you back, Chuck. And it’s great meeting you, Patsy.

Chuck: Yeah, this is my third time. I’m honored.

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

Chuck: I am drinking lean green tea from a Christmas mug.

Rebecca: Perfectly in season.

Patsy: Yeah, I’m just drinking a green tea. My usual afternoon drink.

Rebecca: I think I’m accidentally drinking watered-down English afternoon tea. I think I put hot water in my cup without putting a teabag in it. And so it’s very light.

Chuck: You’ve always been innovative, Rebecca.

Rebecca: So it’s hot water. [LAUGHTER]

John: And I am drinking a peppermint spearmint tea blend, as it is late in the day and I had a lot of caffeine earlier.

Rebecca: Miss your blends there, John. Haven’t had one in a while.

John: Well, I’ve got some new fresh tea to make them.

Rebecca: I’ll have to stop over. So we’ve invited you here today to discuss blended learning. First, it might help if we start with the definition of blended learning?

Chuck: The definition of blended learning could take this and several other podcasts. The whole notion of blended learning has sort of evolved by complexity. It is diverse, it is interdependent, it is connected, and it is adaptive. I remember the early days with the Sloan Consortium where Frank Mayadas, who was adamantly opposed to blended learning, had wanted nothing to do with it. And Tony Picciano and I finally convinced him to fund a small summit in Chicago to begin discussing blended learning. And the first task, of course, was to define blended learning, and that was 30 years ago. And here we are, still defining blended learning. Blended learning is emergent, it is changing constantly. It almost defies definition. If you look at the literature, Oliver and Trigwell writing that famous article “Can ‘Blended Learning’ Be Redeemed?” and castigating it because it is not scientific, it has no specific definition and never will. To Rhona Sharpe saying its great strength is the fact that it is undefined and it allows every campus to develop its own model of blended learning. So blended learning definition is a very, very tricky kind of thing. It’s going to be some combination of online and face-to-face education, but it has evolved way past that, as you all know, in terms of doing this. I think basically—and I’ll let Patsy chime in in a minute—it’s become what Susan Leigh Star has called a “boundary object.” Boundary objects are something like critical thinking. If you go to the UCF or Oswego campus and you say to faculty, “Are you in favor of critical thinking?” “Oh yes, we are. Critical thinking is wonderful!” But then you get the group together, you get the faculty consortium together, the Faculty Senate, and they disagree. They fight vehemently over the definition of critical thinking. However, if you go back to their individual constituencies—rhetoric, physics, mathematics—they know precisely what critical thinking is. And that’s very much the way blended learning has evolved. It’s moving, it has changed the way we think about this and it is emergent. It will be emergent for the next decade.

Patsy: Just from an institutional standpoint, we do have a definition of blended learning. We actually refer to it as “mixed mode” on our campus. And it’s a combination of online and face-to-face, but it has to have some reduced seat time. So for instance, if it’s a three-credit-hour course, there may be one hour that is in a physical classroom space, with the remaining two hours being asynchronous online instruction. So, we have a newer modality that actually started in our College of Business to have large enrollment. And we don’t have classrooms large enough to fit even a fraction of the students. So, they looked at a mode that has less than 20% face-to-face. So basically, meet five times in a semester, splitting up a large class into five smaller groups, and they focused on making those active learning. And the remainder of the instruction, again, is online. So for us, it just has to have some reduced seat time capacity.

Chuck: Well, Patsy has given a great definition of logistics associated with blended learning. And then you have the educational implications of blended learning. There are great thinkers about this. Charles Graham has done a great deal of work on the kinds of blends, augmenting blends and supplemental blends and all of those kinds of things. Anders Norberg in Sweden who has done a marvelous paper on looking at blended learning simply from a time perspective… Do you want to be synchronous or asynchronous? So there are many forks to this kind of thing. What do you do with seat time? What do you do with educational philosophy? And as we talk about modality, and I will say now and people probably won’t like me, but course modality is one of the worst predictors of outcomes ever, in terms of doing this. When you look at any kind of predictive model, students don’t care about modality, we’re the ones that seem to be obsessed with it.

John: Could you tell us a little bit more about how the blended learning program at UCF got started?

Chuck: We started this whole thing with online learning. And Patsy and I began to collect data immediately. And the administration said, “Oh, this data is very informative, collect more of it.” So one of the studies we did is we looked at the presence of students who were taking online courses. And lo and behold, we found that the vast majority of them had a campus presence. All of these distance students that we imagined didn’t really exist. They were taking courses from labs, they were taking courses from the library, and they had a presence on campus. So it led to the conversation of… Well, if they’re here, can we somehow use the affordances of both modalities, of the face-to-face and the online learning? And what happened was, we developed, and Patsy’s already mentioned, this notion of, we call it “mixed modality.” We like to think that we invented it, but everyone else likes to think they invented it as well. And we stuck with mixed modality for a very long time, until Sloan began funding blended learning. And then we changed very quickly to blended learning. Patsy, what did I leave out about that?

Patsy: No, I think that’s essentially how we started doing blended learning. And we’ve never had enough classroom space, I’m sure every college is the same. So, part of the reason that we looked at online and blended was to increase access for our students, to help people, provide them with the means to be able to get an education. And it was very appealing for the administrators to look at the concept of blended learning. Again, if you took that three-credit hour and built one-credit hour with face-to-face, well I can fit three of those blended classes in one classroom over the course of the semester. So that’s an appealing use of maximizing the classroom space. And I think our past CIO, Joel Hartman’s, idea was to do that. Ironically, It’s a lot harder than you think because of the way scheduling is done. As you can imagine, departments don’t necessarily coordinate. We all know how it works functionally, sounds great, but when you try to put it into play at a university sometimes there’s things you don’t plan on. But we did have our Rosen School of Hospitality Management within the last, I’d say, five to seven years. And they’re down at our International Drive area because, not surprisingly, that’s where all the hospitality jobs are, so it makes sense. And they had a huge parking issue. So they had not been interested at all in blended learning until they realized they could use it for this exact reason. And then they jumped on the blended learning bandwagon and are now one of our biggest users of that modality. So it’s really interesting how, if you’re thinking outside the box, a lot of this comes to play.

Chuck: That’s an interesting story. There’s a great aphorism by the great philosopher, Yogi Berra, who says, “In theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice, except in practice there is.” And this is what’s happened and the fact is that although the Rosen College began their blended learning initiative out of a not-so-educational perspective, again, this logistic thing. And I will quote that our former CIO, Joel Hartman said, “If you ever think you’re going to make money with this, you’re in the wrong business. It’s not going to happen.” But the other thing has happened, the Rosen College has developed into a marvelous, marvelous educational system using the blended learning model. Maybe not for the right reason, but they have evolved,. and they’re doing things extremely well, because they’re a natural for the combination of hospitality management, face-to-face, and online learning.

John: So blended learning started there mostly because of limited resources and the need to use the resources more efficiently. How did it work? What does the research tell us about how effective blended learning has been compared to other modalities?

Chuck: Well, imagine yourself as a faculty member who has been told, voluntold, that we’re going to do a blended learning course. So now what you’re going to do is you’re going to have part of your course online, part of your course face-to-face. The first time, almost always, a faculty member starts, they start with this thinking: “What in my face-to-face can I offload to the online environment?” And they think about that, and that is usually the beginning of this. And then it begins to emerge when they say, “Ah, maybe this is not the way to think about it. Maybe I need to think about it in terms of which is most effective online, in which students do the best online, in which students excel in the face-to-face environment.” So what happens, John, is there’s an evolutionary development of faculty members, to the fact where they no longer think about this as two modalities. But they think about this as a constructed course with seamless boundaries. And that really happens over several semesters. If you’ve ever done it yourself, teaching the first course in any of these modalities, which we have, it’s a disaster. It just is not the way you think it is. We’re all pretty experienced at this, and we all know when it goes well. And we all know when it doesn’t. And nothing feels better when it goes well, and nothing feels worse than it goes badly. That’s the way it happens, it evolves. Now the outcomes from that is a story that we can talk about later.

Patsy: I think UCF… early on… we were lucky that we got involved with online and blended learning when we had enough resources to be able to do it right. And we had visionary administrators who recognize that it’s important to focus on the faculty development, it’s important to focus on research and try to use research to help inform the process. And so all of those units were put into place early on. And the late Dr. Barbara Truman actually led the Faculty Development Initiative. Dr. Steve Sorg, who’s retired, led the Center for Distributed Learning, and then Chuck led the research arm of our beginning part. So in faculty development, one of the main drivers and we’ve always said, “Don’t let the technology drive the instruction, but let your instruction drive the technology.” So, as part of the faculty development, faculty are encouraged not to just figure out what to put online versus face-to-face. But really think about redesigning your course from the ground up. What are your learning objectives? What are your instructional objectives? What do you hope to do? And then find the best tool… whether it’s online, face to face, active learning, adaptive learning, whatever… find the tools available that you can do well, and go from there. So I think that’s been part of it. And UCF also has a detailed process for quality review for courses. So if you’re teaching online or blended, you are required to go through the faculty development and get certified. But that gets you access to an instructional designer who helps you think through not just the technology, but the pedagogy behind it. You get access to graphic artists and we call them tech rangers who develop all kinds of great tools and games and simulations and all that kind of stuff. For adaptive learning, we actually have instructional designers that focus on personalized adaptive learning. So they know the software and the instructional components of adaptive learning and how to do it well. That’s the big carrot, they get incentivized to come through the program. But I think, once they get in, they actually like some of the stuff they found. So, in redesigning their course to be online and/or blended, they find tools that they then want to incorporate in their face-to-face courses as well. So that’s historically been what we’ve done, what we’ve seen. And it served us well, I think, to maintain quality across the institution.

Chuck: Well, what you see also is, that Patsy didn’t mention, is in our training of faculty, they experienced the blended learning course. They actually are involved in a course that is blended learning. So they understand, as students, what they are confronting in terms of this. So it is, again, evolutionary in terms of a changing process. And I will say that every faculty member who comes in from whatever department thinks that the pedagogy and unique problems associated with their discipline is in fact unique. That what you have to do in rhetoric, what you have to do in physics, is vastly different than any other discipline. And we are special and we are unique. At the end of this course, they realize that there is common ground, mostly all common ground in terms of what constitutes effective instructional things. And they’re able then to look at all of these technologies we present to them and be able to evaluate them, “Is this technology really a solution looking for a problem, or is it something that can actually help me become more effective in my instructional design?” And it is, again, an evolutionary process. And you’ll see a coming together of faculty during this experience. And they don’t all buy it. We’re instructionally design oriented. And I always remember an incident of someone from rhetoric came into my office and threw a copy of Derrida on my desk and said, “What is this instructional design stuff? When you understand deconstructionism, we will talk.” So I read the book and said, “The book deconstructed and disappeared. Now, what do you want to talk about in terms of doing this?” But the point is, you have to respect the values of the discipline. And I say that with tongue-in-cheek, but you absolutely have to respect the value structure of any discipline you’re working with. If you tell them they’re doing it wrong, you’re not going to get far.

Patsy: We also rely on something called “web veterans.” We have our web vets, which are faculty who have already been through the process. And not surprisingly, I think anytime you have a new initiative, there are those people who jump on board, the first people out of the gate who love to test drive stuff. But they become the experts, and they know how to do it well, and they know the pros and cons. And they also add credibility. So faculty listen to other faculty, particularly those within their discipline, or STEM listen to other STEM faculty and so forth. But it’s much more credible than having an instructional designer telling me how to teach when you’re not in my classroom, as Chuck said. So I think it’s really helped. We have a faculty advisory board that really helps direct what we do and think about the evolution as we’re now in a state of evolution, I think, and with COVID, are going to be in a state of evolution. I think that really has helped.

Chuck: Well, we’ve all taught, we’ve all taught for a long time. And there’s a great deal of difference between teaching a few courses, and teaching year after year after year after year over the long haul of this, and we’ve all taught and we’ve all taught semesters. And I think all of us experience this excitement, and anxiety at the beginning of a semester. You say, “I really want to do a good job, and I’m all excited and I’m nervous.” And at the middle of this semester you say, “My god, will this thing ever end?” You’re trying to get through it and trying to work through this sort of thing, and at the end of it you feel a sense of completion. And that rhythm is so important to understanding the instructional process, not only with technology, but as a faculty member in general. And we have to respect that teaching a long period of time is a difficult task. And you all know that classes are very much different. What goes well one semester does not go well the other semester. We’ve all experienced that, we’ve all experienced that.

Rebecca: I’m living that.

Chuck: Absolutely, and it’s draining, Rebecca. It is draining because you contribute a great deal of emotional intellectual energy to this task. We all do. We were talking about boundary objects. Equality is a beaut, it is a beaut.

Rebecca: You’re talking a lot about some really important resources that are in place at your institution: a pretty expansive support system of technology support, instructional design support, actual technology [LAUGHTER], peer support, time, professional development. That leads me to think that perhaps one of the biggest mistakes people make, or institutions make around blended learning, is not putting enough resources into the system?

Chuck: Yeah. But again, I think you have to be careful with, “If I had more money, I’d do a better job.” The whole notion is not only that, but commitment at the administrative support level, and all particular levels, and basically saying, “We value the teaching enterprise, and we’re going to do everything we can to celebrate that.” That is critically important, because money alone doesn’t do it. You know that as well. I had a friend once who said, “If you had all the money and everything you wanted to do your job, two weeks later you’d come back and say, ‘I don’t feel fulfilled.’” Because it takes much more than that.

Patsy: Well, and it’s easy to hear us talk about all that we have in place now. But understand, we started in 1996, so we didn’t start with all of this. We started with instructional designers with TV trays and laptops, meeting people at the campus coffee shop or in their offices. And it started small and grew as the initiative and the institution grew. So over time, it’s easy to add resources. But I think one of the common mistakes is just underestimating the amount of work it takes to produce a quality online or quality blended course. And not meaning to be a Debbie Downer, but segueing into what we’ve experienced during COVID, we’re very careful to make sure to differentiate what we had to do from an emergency remote instruction, and say, you know, “That is not the quality online learning that we have worked so hard to put into place for the last few decades.” So I think that’s very different, in terms of just trying to survive and keep the doors open, so to speak, for students, with everyone… those who have never been through any training, those who’ve never had any online-teaching experience in the middle of a pandemic with kids at home and scant technology resources… students who don’t have any technology resources, who have major job issues, family issues, in the least-conducive-to-studying room and try to expect everyone to excel. I think that’s really the fact that it does take a lot of work. And so I think that maintaining realistic expectations, as Chuck said, it’s not a one-and-done kind of thing. It’s not a one-and-done when you teach face-to-face either, right? The first time you teach any class, it’s not the best time you teach. You evolve, you learn, you adjust, and continue to try to, hopefully, improve every time you teach. I think that’s true of any of the online or blended modalities as well.

Chuck: Steven Johnson has written a wonderful book called Where Good Ideas Come From. It is just a really, really good book and he has three adages in terms of this. One is… What is the adjacent possible when you start this? What is the reasonable next thing you can do? You can’t do it all, so do the thing that you can do and do it well. That’s the adjacent possible, it comes from a biologist named Stuart. The second thing is a slow hunch. You have to be in it for the long haul. If you look at Darwin, he was in it for the very long haul. And he didn’t even know what he had for several years until he came up with it. You have to commit to the long haul to do it, not a quick fix. None of this is a quick fix. And the next thing is a liquid network. You need to be supported by a network around you to prop you up as you go along. And Rebecca, when you said this in terms of resources, one of the resources is you are in this for the long haul if you’re going to do this. So it takes an institutional commitment, and that always is not there.

Rebecca: What are some of the most promising areas of development in blended and online learning?

Patsy: We’ve had good success using adaptive learning, we have an adaptive learning initiative. We started in 2014, I guess. And again, we learned it takes a lot of work, we use a content-agnostic platform, so Realizeit is our enterprise solution. We do have, our math department uses ALEKS as well. But it takes a lot of work. Faculty want control, and you get control, you have to redesign the course. But you have to actually design all of the content for a lot of it, or at least the majority. And trying to import from another sounds great, but it always still requires work to get it to work well. Though, that’s one of the things that we’ve had good luck with. I think we’re going to see a lot more blended learning post-COVID. We’ve never really promoted synchronous online learning and haven’t seen a big drive to do synchronous until everyone had to do Zoom. And now I think there’s some faculty that are going to run for the hills as soon as they can get out of Zoom mode and never want to look back. But there are some who were already asking, “You’re not going to get rid of Zoom, are you? Because I found it’s really great for me to do these discussions…” So there are people who’ve already, again, figured out instructionally how they can use this effectively, and do it from a distance. And when you’ve got students who might be geographically dispersed or have to worry about traffic, we have parking issues, all of that stuff comes into play. So I think we’re going to see a lot more blended learning in general in the future. And not just in instruction, but also in the workplace. We’ve seen pilot testing in a hybrid work environment now with so many days in the office, so many days remotely. So, I think that’s one thing.

John: If you’d like to learn more about Realizeit and adaptive learning at UCF, we did a podcast with Chuck a while back, episode 30, on adaptive learning, and we’ll include a link to that in the show notes.

Chuck: Oh my God, way back to episode 30. We are dinosaurs, aren’t we?

John: Since a few of our listeners might not have been listening back in the primeval times of episode 30, could you briefly explain why adaptive learning might be useful in supporting students with diverse educational backgrounds?

Chuck: I think you really have to ask yourself, “What is the problem we’re trying to solve in the United States of America?” I’ll get it from a different point of view. I think a problem in the United States is that if you live in a lower economic quartile, your chance of going to and graduating from college is 10%. The odds against you are nine to one. I think blended learning and adaptive learning and some of the things that we’ve learned during this pandemic, are going to help us a long way to begin to solve that kind of a problem. That is, we know that many of our underserved students live in an environment of scarcity. They don’t have enough resources, they don’t have enough time, they don’t have enough transportation, they don’t have enough support from their families. They have simply no opportunity to engage in the university the way we’ve constructed it in the years past. They can’t do it. So we also learned, and very much from several papers and the notion that, if you fix the amount of time that a student has to learn, what they are going to learn is going to become the variable. If what they learn is constant, then the amount of time they spend learning, surprise, is going to be the variable. We’ve confronted this, it’s a difficult challenge for universities. But I think one of the real affordances of what we’ve got is to begin to look at… How can we, as universities, eliminate this horrible educational inequity, which exists in the United States of America? That’s a real affordance that we’re going to learn. John Carroll’s great paper, “A Model of School Learning,” said 60 years ago that we have to find another way, that the students do not start from an even playing ground. And you take an underserved student who comes in and one domino falls, their car breaks, or they can’t get childcare, the entire system collapses on them. They miss one class and they’re behind, they miss two and they’re lost. The optimal choice is to drop out. That is not the choice that we want. And I think the things that we’ve talked about today are going to really help us address these very serious problems in our country. You know it, we are wasting millions of minds in the United States, and we can’t do it anymore. I don’t know if blended learning and adaptive learning will solve it all, but it’s going to go a long way to help, I think.

John: And that issue of income inequality and the growth of that is really troubling. We bring so many students into our campuses, and then we just let them fail out without providing support so that they can be successful. And it’s a waste of resources, and those students are ending up burdened with a lot of debt once they leave, without getting the benefits of that education. And I agree, this is one of the most critical things we need to work at.

Chuck: Let me address the debt problem, too. That’s a huge problem, John. Right now, the accumulated college debt in the United States is $1.7 trillion. That is mind blowing. If that were a GDP, it would be the 13th largest economy in the world. We have got to do something about this in this country, we have got to find a way. And like you just said, tragically, if you drop out, you’re in debt, and you’re in debt for nothing. And Pell Grants are wonderful, but Pell Grants are two semesters. One semester, you get on probation, you have one more to get off probation. If you don’t get off probation, you’re no longer Pell eligible. Do you know how hard it is to bring up a whole semester of Ds in one semester? It can’t be done, can’t be done.

John: One of the things you mentioned is that blended learning is likely to be adopted more as a modality moving forward as colleges have experimented with a wide variety of modalities. But for many campuses, this may be the first time they’re doing it. What are some of the most common mistakes that faculty make when they build that first class? You mentioned before, Chuck, that these classes, the first time you teach them are often unsuccessful. What are some of the things faculty should avoid doing when they build that first blended learning class?

Chuck: I mentioned earlier that when they begin, they view this as two separate modalities and what of my face-to-face… what of the gold standard can I offload? And the thinking of, “I’ll offload the unimportant stuff to the online environment.” It’s wrongheaded thinking. In terms of I think what they have to think about really is, “Are there students in my class who can learn better online? Are there students who function better in the face-to-face environment? And can I somehow encompass that?” And it’s all the things that we wrestle with all of the time in all of the courses. In all of my courses that I’ve taught, I wish I did everything well. Sadly, I do not. I wish I were excellent at everything. And some things, I just cover material. And I think faculty have to come to terms with, “When am I covering materials?” It’s a very introspective kind of thing. And I think you’re not necessarily ready for it the first time because, as Patsy said, I think the first time you’re in survival mode. I think Patsy will agree that the first time you do you say, “What have I got myself into, and why am I doing this?” It is evolutionary. That is a mistake to think about that. And I think a mistake is to think it’s going to go well the first time, it hardly ever goes well the first time. It’s like the first time we ever taught a course. I didn’t know anything the first time I left Wisconsin and came to then-FTU, I didn’t know anything about teaching. So I lectured for three hours. My God, I don’t understand why they didn’t lynch me. And I didn’t know any better!

Patsy: I think Chuck’s right, it’s a lot of work. And so from the faculty perspective, I think trying to have realistic expectations and not look at it as, “Here’s the endpoint of where I want to go, but you have two weeks to do it.” That’s not going to work. Make sure you have enough time. If you have access to resources, I think that’s really important.From an institutional standpoint, we know it takes a lot of work to create an online class. Faculty would say it takes more work to create a good blended class. So you can either have the best of both worlds, but it could also be the worst of both worlds. And you don’t want that to be the outcome. So trying to have realistic expectations and then, from an institutional standpoint, make sure you have the support that you need, not just for faculty, but for students. Make sure that you have the robust infrastructure. And for us, what we found, especially like this last year with COVID, is that we did have a lot of students who were doing those courses, we have a very small number of fully online students that take only online. What our students do is really pepper their courses with a mixture of modalities. So they take an online and a blended and a face-to-face. And we’d like to think that the online and blended help reduce the opportunity cost for getting an education. So they can help them balance their life with education. But we have a lot of labs on campus. They were relying on the computers in the labs, they were relying on the Wi-Fi in their dorms, the laptops that they might have access to, and things like that. So I think just making sure that you have the infrastructure that’s necessary, that you have support to be able to handle any issues, questions, both for students and for faculty. From an institutional standpoint, I think it’s really critical. And if you’re going it alone and you’re a faculty member, and there are people who do that, understandably, if you’re in a situation, start small. Keep your expectations realistic, and grow your course as you learn, as you go along. So keep improving it.

Chuck: One of the strategies… UCF is a very selfish place. In all of these kinds of initiatives, what we do is we cherry-pick the best faculty we can find to maximize the effectiveness of what they’re doing. When we did our adaptive learning things, we had faculty members who looked and said, “Oh yeah, I want to do this.” And we knew they were the best faculty we had and we knew they would make it look good. One colleague in nursing, who has left us by now, she said, “I don’t want any of your tutorials. I just want to mess around with this, RealizeIt, and figure it out for myself.” And she did, and she was marvelous. And that kind of a model really motivates faculty. I would point out so far we have not talked one iota about blended learning. We have talked about blended teaching. That’s what we talk about. We call it blended learning, but we segue, to use Patsy’s word, right away to blended teaching. And that’s an evolutionary thing, Rebecca, that we’re going to have to deal with in the years to come in terms of what is blended learning, aside from the arrangements for teaching. And the other thing that has happened is, you can blend many things. We’ve talked about blending courses. You can blend a university, you can blend all kinds of aspects of this institution in terms of faculty, and students taking online and blended and face-to-face courses. Blending their locations, blending many, many things that people have written about. Our dear departed colleague, Karen Swan wrote about the blended university and several others have talked about that notion of expanding it behind the notion of just a course, that it is much more than that. That is blending a university culture.

Rebecca: Chuck, I’m glad that you brought up students because one of my next questions was going to be: How do we prepare students for this kind of learning? Sometimes they come into an environment. And I know we had a lot of students say this in the emergency teaching that we were doing, like, “I don’t know how to learn online, I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know how to balance my time, I don’t know how to manage different modalities and things.” So what are some things that we can do to support actual student learning in an environment that might be unfamiliar to them.

Patsy: As soon as you said that I gravitated towards the faculty I work with who teach predominantly undergraduates and a lot of freshmen. Now, I don’t want to say they parent them into success as much as they can. But in some sense, that’s what they do. I think it’s probably idealistic for us to assume that freshmen come in and are going to go from being handheld with what we do in K12, to instantaneously going to be able to jump into a course and know what they’re doing and take responsibility and all of that kind of stuff. So faculty are very strategic at using the technology to nudge them, remind them, try to provide some motivation for them to get involved. And I think that’s some of what is important, I think that that helps students ease into this. We find a lot of… maybe it’s because of Florida… but I think Florida requires our high school students to have some online learning experience. But even then, the high school online learning is not the same as what we do. Because again, there’s parent consultations, and there’s a lot more very structured, dedicated time with parents and students that you don’t get, I mean, we just can’t do in higher education. But I do think there’s some strategies. We are seeing a lot of colleges are trying to work to find out who is at risk earlier and hopefully intervene. So what interventions do we have? That really early identification, trying to identify students who are in trouble and making sure they get access to the help that they need early on is important. Some of the analytics work we’re finding, you’ll see, I think, a trend that’s going to continue, as we have more and more access to student engagement, student performance with both platforms and our LMS and all of that. Everybody’s shooting out analytics, right? I mean, we know we track people all the time now in terms of how they’re doing, where they are, and what’s going on. Some of that is helpful, it’s going to be important to sift through the noise to find what’s really helpful for those students who need help.

Chuck: Well, Rebecca, I would say one is you certainly cannot throw these students into the breach. That is the first thing you cannot do, absolutely. In terms of, “You are on your own, and you’re going to do this.” So what you have to do then is really be very introspective in terms of, “What is it I do well in my face-to-face? And how can I translate that into an online environment?” And you know very well, I would rather give a lecture to 5000 hostile politicians than to do a webcast, simply because I am not nearly as effective in that environment. So that’s something that you have to do. And the other thing I think you have to realize is that the student voice has become increasingly important in higher education. We came from a time— at least I did—when you went and you lectured and you left, and it didn’t really matter what students thought. That is no longer the case. They have a voice and they express it continually about the quality of education and they share it. And you must realize that culture is going on all the time. All of those things are coming into play that change the educational environment and blended learning. Clay Shirky’s got a great thing that he did several years ago about… we used to lecture and that was it. But then they wanted to email us and they became really annoying. They wanted access to us more than just our office hours. That was a big change for many of us. And then they began talking to each other about us. And then they began talking to each other more about us. And then they began talking to the world about us. And I’ve used this example all the time, just go on YouTube and pick any topic related to teaching, and a professor, a good professor, bad professor, drunk professor, stoned professor, and you will find videos. Students now share their voice, and they’re part of the voice. And I think one of the big problems that we have to face now is: How are we going to integrate the new, more powerful student voice into the higher education culture? And I don’t think we’ve even begun to address that. And I’ll tell you right now, it is not with student ratings. This is another opportunity, as my administrators say to me, “I have an opportunity for you.”

John: So as we’ve talked about before, last year there was that whole experiment with remote synchronous instruction, where both faculty and students were thrust into new modalities that they were not used to. And there’s a lot of evidence of some significant learning losses, and a change in learning practices that has led to some challenges facing faculty and students as we move back to whatever this new normal happens to be in the middle of a pandemic. How can we address the larger variance in prior learning that students bring into our classes no matter what modality they’re in?

Chuck: Well, what we just experienced is something we knew existed all of the time. What this new experience has done with this very nasty virus is it simply exacerbated those differences. And we are going to have to spend some time, I think, devoting our institutions to how we can recover students. Because clearly, in my mind’s eye, the most vulnerable among our students are the worst impacted by what has happened in the last year and a half. Yet again, John, it is not evenly distributed. Unfortunately, it is unfairly distributed. There’s a great book that I just read, called The Class Ceiling. There’s a distinct wealth advantage in this country, people who are exposed to resources and stuff did much better in this environment than people who are not. And we’re going to have to spend some time trying to recover from that. And frankly, I don’t know how at the moment, I really don’t know how. I hope it hasn’t been too disastrous for us, but it has not been a good scene. As Patsy has said, people have tended to conflate what we did in the last two years with online learning, and they shouldn’t be doing that, but they do it. You know it, you know it, and I know it.

Patsy: We’re also seeing enrollment starting to drop. And I think one of the things that’s going to be really important for institutions to do is keep track of: Who are we losing if our enrollment goes down? Because I suspect it’s going to be some of those people who are our underserved population to really are now, through impact of COVID, forced to do something other than go to higher education. Either they can’t afford to do this, or they have to work full-time more than before, care for family, something… but it’ll be really interesting to see. I don’t think we’re quite there yet. We’re starting to see trends. And I think I’ve heard that across multiple institutions in terms of enrollments. We knew enrollment was going down prior to COVID. But now we’re starting to see some of it is maybe more than we expected. So I agree with you, John, I think it’s going to be important for us to really track that and figure out what’s happening and how we can adjust our instruction and whatever we have to do to bolster and help students succeed, whether it’s due to our instruction, or just no fault of their own due to last year. I think we need to try to figure out how to do that.

Rebecca: There’s a lot of shifting expectations that have happened as a result of the pandemic, in addition to, you know, “What is online learning, right?” And what people have experienced as emergency teaching, but also just other expectations around time commitments, flexibility, taking care of mental health, like all kinds of expectations have just shifted wildly from [LAUGHTER] maybe the way that they were before from both the student perspective and the faculty perspective and the institutional perspective. So I think there’s a lot of shifting that’s going to continue to go on as we all try to adapt to what’s going on around us.

Patsy: Absolutely, I agree with that. I think a lot of human resources departments are going to have to figure out how they need to adjust [LAUGHTER] some of their long-set-in-stone policies because we are evolving. I’m not sure we know where we’re evolving to yet, not there. So we’ll find out.

Chuck: Rebecca, I think you’ve hit on the problem of the century, in terms of… How are we going to re-examine our institution in terms of what our value structure is, what we have been, and what we need to be in the future? I’ve read a wonderful book now called Subtract, where the point is made that every time we try to improve, we add something. We never think about jettisoning anything that we have done, and it may be time for us to begin to consider what are some things that we have been doing that are no longer effective and they need to go. It may be painful, but I I think it’s a lesson we’re going to have to address. It’s just a marvelous notion, you just never think about dumping something. We’re going to add in more… give us more resources, give us more faculty, give us more this, give us more that and we’ll do a better job. Will you? I don’t know, I don’t know.

John: One of the things that I’ve been really impressed with is all the research you’ve been doing on blended learning. And one outcome of some of that research, as well as the work of other people, has been that series of books on Blended Learning: Research Perspectives. Could you tell us a little bit about how this collection of research came about?

Chuck: Well, since I’m the old guy here I can tell you exactly how it came about. Frank Mayadas allowed us to fund three summits at the University of Illinois, Chicago, run by Mary Niemiec, dear colleague of mine. 30 of us got together and discussed this notion of blended learning. And what we did is we discussed, in three groups of ten, three topics: quality—God forbid, I’m glad I wasn’t in that one—and the second one, logistics, and the third one, research. And Tony Picciano and I were in the one: research. And we were in a two-day meeting and finally Tony leaned to me and said, “This is not going anywhere. Where are we going to go with this, in terms of research?” Then the next morning, he got up and said, “We need to do a book.” So the first thing we did is we entered the meeting, he said, “We’re going to do a book,” and we got those people who are interested in doing a book. And then, at that time Sloan was running a conference on blended learning, and so Tony and I went and made a pitch about this initial book that Sloan published in terms of blended learning. And there was tremendous interest in it, and all kinds of people submitted chapters. So we had a book that Sloan published. There was a book and it went out. And then it was successful. In this niche market, a book of 1000 is successful, it’s not like Shades of Grey. And then we got to thinking with Charles Graham, ‘How about doing another one?’ And we went back to Routledge and they said, “Yeah, we see that that book was successful. So we’ll do another one.” And we did the second in the series for them. And then thirdly, they came to ask, they said, “The book did so well…” whatever that meant “…we’d like you to do a third version.” And that’s the motivation for the third book. We got a trilogy on this because Frank Mayadas didn’t like blended learning. But he’s a convert now, he’s come around in doing this. And the last book, we really jacked up the quality because we added Patsy to doing this. And now we’re moving on to a book on analytics and adaptive learning. I’ve got to stop writing books. That’s how it happened. It happened by accident.

Rebecca: Many great things do.

Chuck: Oh, they do.

John: Are there any other things you’d like to add?

Chuck: I’d like to address the fact that I think how valuable your podcasts have been for education and the nation. And I think we’re talking about a classic example of what we’re talking about. Look what’s happened over the last years: the value and importance of doing podcasts. Obviously, yours is one of the premier, and I’m not stroking you, you know I don’t need to stroke you. But the notion of this is another modality for learning that we never really considered, right? And this is what we have to do. What are these things? Cherry pick the things that are really working.

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

Chuck: Patsy, what’s next for you? Cause I know what’s next for me.

Patsy: Well, yeah, what’s next… wow… is surviving COVID. That’s number one. I think that’s our top priority right now, making it out of the pandemic and figuring out where we’re going to evolve to, as we’ve already talked about. Chuck and I have this book that we’re just now working on, which is data analytics and adaptive learning. So that’s coming down the pipe. And I don’t know, for me, it’s like trying to figure out how to continue to help facilitate research and enjoy what I’m doing, trying to make a difference with as many students and as many faculty as we can. So yeah. That and counting down the days to retirement because I know that’s what Chuck’s going to say. But I have a lot longer, I think, on the track than you Chuck, right?

Chuck: This is my 52nd year at UCF, formerly FTU. I think what’s going to be in the future, for me, will be retirement, but it will also be trying to reflect on what we have learned in this educational enterprise and what we need to learn as we go forward with this. Personally, it is going to be, John, and you know about this, I will be moving over to working with our underserved communities to try to solve the problems of inequity that is so crippling our educational system, and we need to work on that. But those are the kinds of things. I guess I would say thank you for having us again, and we look forward to hearing what we had to say. Right, patty?

Patsy: Yeah, it’s been a lot of fun.

Rebecca: Thank you both.

Chuck: You guys are great.

John: One thing I do want to mention is that we also had a podcast with Chuck, where he did talk about some of the ways of working with this in Episode 115, where Chuck and Harris Rosen talked about the Tangelo Park project.

Chuck: Just as an aside, the Travel and Leisure Co. has adopted another community based on what we’ve done, John, in the Eatonville community. And we’re very close to a foundation in the Midwest doing the same thing. So we are making progress. Hard as we try to get people to replicate it. I think we’re at four now.

Rebecca: That’s great!

Chuck: Yeah, it is great. It is great. And it really does work.

John: Well, thank you. It’s great talking to you always. And we’re looking forward to sharing this with our listeners.

Chuck: We really appreciate your thinking of us. We really do. Go Lakers!

John: Go Knights!

Chuck: Take care, everybody.

John: Thank you.

Chuck: Thank you so much. Bye bye.

Patsy: Thanks, guys.


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

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


214. Transformative Storytelling

From the earliest days of human society, storytelling has played an important role in transmitting and sharing knowledge. In this episode, Laura Colket and Tracy Penny Light joins us to discuss how storytelling can be used in higher ed to help us reflect on and understand the rich diversity and the commonalities that exist within our educational communities.

Laura and Tracy work together in the Department of Educational Services at St. George’s University in Grenada. Laura is an Associate Professor, the Director of the Master of Education Program, and the Associate Director of the Leadership and Excellence in Academic Development Division in the Department of Educational Services. Tracy is a professor in the Master of Education Program and the Director of the Leadership in Excellence in Academic Development Division. Laura and Tracy are co-editors of Becoming: Transformative Storytelling for Education’s Future, and together they founded the Center for Research on Storytelling in Education.



John: From the earliest days of human society, storytelling has played an important role in transmitting and sharing knowledge. In this episode, we examine how storytelling can be used in higher ed to help us reflect on and understand the rich diversity and the commonalities that exist within our educational communities.


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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

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


John: Our guests today are Laura Colket and Tracy Penny Light who work together in the Department of Educational Services at St. George’s University in Grenada. Laura is an Associate Professor, the Director of the Master of Education Program, and the Associate Director of the Leadership and Excellence in Academic Development Division in the Department of Educational Services. Tracy is a professor in the Master of Education Program and the Director of the Leadership in Excellence in Academic Development Division. Laura and Tracy are co-editors of Becoming: Transformative Storytelling for Education’s Future, and together they founded the Center for Research on Storytelling in Education. Welcome, Laura and Tracy.

Tracy: Thanks so much.

Laura: Thank you for having us. We’re happy to be here.

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

Laura: I am. I am drinking bush tea and if any of your listeners are from the Caribbean, they will know what that is. But it’s essentially like an herbal tea, lots of good stuff in here.

Rebecca: Awesome. How about you, Tracy?

Tracy: I am, Laura made me go get my tea just for this. So I’m drinking a tumeric and ginger tea.

Rebecca: Nice.

John: And I am drinking a Tea Forté black currant tea.

Rebecca: A good favorite. I’m back to my East Frisian today.

John: Very good. We’ve invited you here to discuss your new book. Could you tell us a little bit about the origins of Becoming?

Laura: So for me, this came from some assignments that I had given over the years for my students who were either wanting to become educators, were currently educators, had been educators for a long time, or were educational leaders. And I had just really seen the power of these different assignments. One of them was an educational autobiography statement, and another one was a teaching philosophy statement. And I started to see not just how powerful those were individually, but when those were written and reflected on in relation to each other, it became even more powerful. And so I knew that I wanted to somehow make this process more accessible to other educators more broadly. And then Tracy and I met and sparks flew, and we both had this shared passion for storytelling, for professional growth, and it really was just a perfect partnership. I’ll also mention that we also collaborated with our colleague Adam Carswell, who’s not here today because he’s running a school in the midst of all of this COVID craziness. And so he’s not here, but he was also involved in the book as well.

Tracy: Yeah. And similarly for me, I have been working with eportfolios for about the last few decades… and so reflection and storytelling…really just an innate part of portfolio pedagogy. And I remember one day, we were sitting in the office and thinking about the power of storytelling and sharing the different experiences that we’ve had with our different assignments. And we had this crazy idea that we should create a center and then I said, “And why don’t we just really aim high and write a book?” [LAUGHTER] So it sort of evolved from there.

Laura: The other thing that I’ll say, too, is that the origin of the title, Becoming, comes from a Paulo Freire quote. He says that, “Human beings are always in the process of becoming.” And I actually have that quote tattooed on my arm for over 10 years now. So when we were writing this, it seemed like that was a natural fit for the title. And speaking of Freire, we really were standing on the shoulders of giants as we created this book, because in addition to his significant influence, we also were influenced by people like Maxine Greene, who says “It’s simply not enough to reproduce the way that things are.” And bell hooks who reminds us that, and this is a quote of hers, “Professors who embrace the challenge of self-actualization will be better able to create pedagogical practices that engage students, providing them with ways of knowing that enhance their capacity to live fully and deeply.” And bell hooks’s book Teaching to Transgress actually had a big influence on me as I was imagining the assignments for my students that I mentioned earlier that became the foundation for this book, because in her first chapter she talks about her experiences as a student in relation to her approach to teaching which she calls “engaged pedagogy.” And so these scholars, and many more, really had a significant influence on the origins of this book. And ultimately, we see critical storytelling in terms of both uncovering our own stories, and also listening to and really hearing the stories of others. How that can help us to interrupt harmful patterns and practices in education and how this process can really be a spark for much-needed transformation in the field.

Tracy: It’s so interesting, I think that often we forget that our students have their own stories. And just encouraging them to know thyself. I remember one of my students created a portfolio and she had a page that was about “know thyself,” and I thought, “Oh, that’s so nice that that’s one of the things that she was taking away from the class.” But really encouraging our learners, and we work with faculty as well, to really dive deeply into who they are, what their experiences have been, and how that shaped who they are as either learners and/or educators or educational leaders is just really something to watch. And I certainly have had the experience working with faculty members who have these aha moments, they’ve never thought about their own stories or where their practices come from. And when they start to uncover those, they realize that they had a really powerful mentor or that they had maybe a terrible learning experience that caused them to shift their pedagogical approach. And it’s just such a nice thing to do in community… to reflect on stories as well as just to do for ourselves. And that’s really, I think, underpinning a lot of the work that we did with the authors in the book, and as we thought through the structure of the book itself.

Laura: I also want to mention our publisher DIO Press, and we chose them because we felt so connected with their mission as a progressive, socially-just publishing house, and it really aligned with what we were trying to accomplish with the book.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about the intended audience of your book, and also how your contributors were selected?

Laura: Sure, I will take the audience question. And it’s really intended for educators and educational leaders at all levels, all contexts, subject areas, engaging in this work individually, or even in a group as well. I can give a couple examples of how we’ve been using the book already. One is in the Master of Education Program. Our students this term, in one of the courses I teach, Education in a Multicultural Society, I created a project around this book. And so the students began by choosing groups based on the different sections in the book. So one is “Claiming Identity,” one is “Border Crossing,” one is “Anti-Colonial Ways of Being,” one is “Social Class, Politics and Education,” and then the last one is “Changing Pedagogical Practices.” So they went into groups based on the sections and did a bit of a jigsaw activity around it. Everybody read the introduction and conclusion chapter, but then, in their groups, they read the chapters in their section, and then designed a workshop for the rest of their colleagues in the program around what they learned from the chapters in the book and the implications for being an educator in a multicultural society. So that was a really powerful learning experience for them. And we are also now using the book in a new faculty-learning community that we have started at our university, where the faculty in the community are using eportfolios to reflect on their past and present and imagined futures in relation to teaching and learning. And so we’re using this book in that inquiry community to go through this process with all the faculty who are involved, and so we’re excited to see how that turns out as well.

Tracy: And in terms of how we chose the authors. We really knew that we wanted to have educators and educational leaders from across social locations and from different cultural identities. And, of course—I don’t know if you’ve done this before—when you put out a call for book chapters, you know, you get what you get. And we were just really fortunate that we knew people who we forwarded the call to, they forwarded it to their networks. Similarly, people that I knew from the eportfolio community sort of shared. So, the people that ended up contributing just turned out to be from all different countries, with all different backgrounds, K-12 educators, folks in higher education, educational leaders. So it was just a really fortuitous kind of a thing, and the people who answered the call are the people who participated in the book process itself. So we didn’t set out to target any one group of people, we really wanted a broad set of perspectives for contributing to the book. And then in terms of how the sections of the book unfolded, as people wrote their stories they just sort of logically fell into these really lovely buckets. And we were able to group them, even though there are a lot of similarities across the chapters and a lot of shared experiences, which I think was really something that came out of the whole collaborative process that we engaged in.

Laura: Yeah, and I did want to say something about that collaborative process, because it was really powerful. When we first put out the call, this was before COVID, so their first round, their first draft of their chapters, were all written before COVID and then we gave feedback. And as they were working on revising their chapters, that’s when the pandemic hit us. And so, their revisions included reflections on what was happening to them at the time, which was really powerful. But we also, once everybody had a somewhat final version of their chapter, we shared them with everybody, and we asked them to read across the different chapters. And people were commenting on them and asking questions, and it led several of the authors to cite each other, to shift and change their chapter based on questions that were asked. One of the authors even included all the comments from the Google Doc in her final published documents so that the readers could see that collaborative process and see the ways in which the other authors in the book were contributing to the conversation. And so, again, this is during COVID, so we had Zoom calls with all the authors as they were reflecting on this process, both in terms of their experience writing and reflecting on their own stories, and also reading the stories of others and what a profound impact that had on them professionally. So even just that collaborative process of creating this book already was really profound.

Tracy: It’s so interesting, because I’ve edited a few different volumes. And normally, I have to work really hard to get colleagues to integrate thinking from other chapters into their own. It seems in other contexts to have been much more difficult. In this context, it was such an organic process, and people were so inspired and moved by one another’s stories, that it made it really easy for them to pick up on the threads that occurred in the different chapters. And so it felt like a real gift to us, especially in the midst of the pandemic, to be part of this community of incredible educators who really were working together in a very deep way to put this book together. So it was just really wonderful. I got goosebumps just thinking about that process itself.

John: You’ve talked a little bit about how this has been used in a Master’s class, and you’ve talked a little bit about the benefits to the participants. What are you hoping this book will achieve in the broader audience?

Laura: Sure. So when we started out with this project, it was really guided by three main goals. One was to compile a broad range of personal narratives about learning and teaching in order to better understand both the diversity in experiences but also commonalities. Another was to better understand the connections between peoples’ experiences as learners and their experiences as teachers and educational leaders. And then a third goal was to be able to offer a collection of narratives around teaching and learning to support the professional growth of educators and educational leaders. So now that we’ve completed this book, we can already see the ways in which we’ve accomplished these goals, but even gone beyond them. And we really see three layers of potential impacts. So first would be, for anyone just reading the stories, we hope that it will inspire some change based on seeing how powerful connection and belonging and relationships are in the learning process. So even if someone just simply reads the book, we know it will have an impact for them. But also, the book provides a structure and guidance and motivation for readers to be able to engage in the reflective process themselves. So if people do want to engage at a deeper level, they can follow up the reading by reflecting on and potentially even writing their own educational autobiography, along with their teaching philosophy statement, and consider the implications for their future practice in teaching and leadership. And so, lastly, and I think ideally, people could do this work collectively. And so, as we mentioned, we saw in writing the book, how powerful it was for people to be reading each other’s stories and to be collectively reflecting on this impact on their learning and reflection that was happening through the process… so both in terms of writing our own stories, but also reading the stories of others. And so we really encourage others to read this book as part of a group if that is possible. For us, writing and editing the book really underscored how pervasive trauma and shame are in people’s learning experiences, sadly. But also how powerful connections and a sense of belonging and caring relationships can be in reigniting people’s motivation to learn. And so it became really clear that the need to be seen is really an essential human psychological need. And yet so many of the authors in the chapters of this book shared examples, some of which were prolonged, in which they were not only not seen, but they felt, and this is a quote, “erased.” They saw their culture erased in history books, they felt their identities were being erased in discussions, they felt compelled to erase their home language in order to survive. And as Browning, one of the contributors to the book said, “I walked in a world that challenged my being.” And that is just such a powerful statement to me. And we know that this is also grounded in literature, too. It’s not just these participants’ stories but, for example, Brené Brown describes shame, this is a quote from her, “as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we’re flawed and therefore unworthy of love, belonging, and connection.” And so while we as educators can’t control everything in our students lives, we do have the power to be able to help our students to understand that, even if they do experience shame, it does not mean that they’re flawed or not worthy of love and belonging and connection. And if we start to foreground empathy for our students and our colleagues, we can start to combat that shame. And so I think this is one of the big takeaways from the book that we hope people will be able to get from it by reading it.

Tracy: And I would say as leaders in our division, it’s really become part of the fabric of the work that we do with our colleagues as well. We want them to be able to articulate their professional missions. And we want them to have their work aligned with what is really important for them. We want that for our faculty colleagues, as well as our students. And so, I think weaving in this idea of reflection and storytelling and being true to ourselves and knowing that our past experiences can shape our future, but they don’t need to, especially if they have been negative or traumatizing in a way. And I think that’s really profound in this moment because we are in the midst of a pandemic, and I think we’re all collectively traumatized by that experience. And so, it’s going to have to play a role in the work that we do both with our faculty colleagues, and with our students moving forward. I don’t think we can just sweep it under the rug and pretend that we haven’t had these experiences. But I think to, again, have some empathy and understanding for how everyone is managing those experiences, how that impacts what we do in education, and how we can make things better as we move forward, I think that’s maybe one of the things that this kind of work can help to facilitate.

Rebecca: I think one thing that might be worth noting, as Laura pointed out about the idea of following along with reflection, is that there are built-in reflection questions into the book itself. So it’s not like it’s an unguided reflection, right? There’s plenty of guidance there that people might value.

Laura: Yeah, we really wanted to write this in a way that it could be a useful tool for the people who are reading it. You can just passively read it, but you can be much more actively involved as well.

Tracy: And I think that your point, Rebecca, about guidance and prompts is so apropos. I think oftentimes we say, “Have your students reflect on their learning.” Well, where do I start? What does that mean, do I just tell you what I did? How do I…? And we know in the literature that there is a real difference between surface-level reflection and deeper and meaningful reflection, and that that requires some scaffolds. Most people will start at the surface level, and then as we get practice, we become more thoughtful, more intentional about what it is we’re trying to do in the process of reflecting on our learning. And so one of the things that has been an outcome of this book project, and in the Center for Research on Storytelling in Education, is the recognition that we need to have activities and prompts available that academics can adapt, or leaders can adapt for use in their own context, and make it really simple. So we want to make sure that we have a repository of open educational resources that enables people to take up the practice of storytelling, but in a way that leverages the work that others have done already.

John: Do you think by having these stories from faculty, it might help reach faculty who don’t understand the importance of connections in a way that other types of narratives may not affect faculty as well. When they hear from colleagues out there about their own experiences, might that perhaps make a somewhat stronger connection with faculty to help them become more aware of the importance of connections and belonging in their classes?

Tracy: I think the academy can be a pretty isolating place for a lot of people. And we talk a lot about, you know, “What happens in the classroom, stays in the classroom.” It’s not uncommon for people to go in, shut the door, do what they’re doing, and then go back to their office, shut the door, work on their research. And I think what this highlights is that need for community and also the need to hear the stories that you’re not alone. And that was something we heard very often from our authors that they recognized in others’ stories, experiences that they had themselves had, maybe not even in the writing piece that they finished for the book. It surfaced those past experiences. And so, I think there’s a lot of value in hearing that you’re not alone, other people are experiencing similar things and we can work together to make the academy—we’re talking about higher education, but I would say this is true at all levels of education—a more welcoming place, a more inclusive and equitable place, so that we can all feel like we’re visible and that we can be heard and that our perspectives matter.

Laura: Yeah. We heard so many times in our conversations with the authors, something along the lines of “Wow, I didn’t realize that other people had had the same experience or had had a similar experience. I thought I was alone.” And again, these are people who have been in the field for years and years and years, and they’ve been keeping these stories to themselves. So the act of just opening up and starting to share ourselves and to really humanize this work is really, really powerful. So it helps to create connections, it helps to create more meaning in what we’re doing, and it just brings back life to what we’re doing.

Tracy: And it makes me think also, John, of the different stories we tell in education about what it is that we do. So I think what we’re seeing now is the use of storytelling in a lot of different contexts in education. I think about accreditation stories. So how do we make visible the learning that’s happening on our campuses if we’re speaking to accreditors? What do the stories look like if we’re talking to different stakeholders on the campus? And how can we create those spaces so we can actually have those shared conversations? So I think it has a lot of potential for a lot of different spaces when we’re thinking about education.

Rebecca: I’m glad that you brought that up, Tracy. I think one of the things that may not be obvious is perhaps what you actually mean by storytelling. So can I invite you to take a couple minutes and actually describe what you mean by storytelling in this particular book, what you’re trying to promote? I think we’ve kind of hinted at it here, but haven’t directly said it.

Laura: Sure, I can get started, and Tracy, I’m sure you can add, but we really think about storytelling in a broad sense. So in the book, specifically, we asked people to tell their stories of learning in relation to their stories of teaching. And so, we prompt them with questions around critical incidents that they might have had, or people or moments or experiences that had a particular impact on them. But also, in our practice, we engage in storytelling in all sorts of different ways. So one of the things we do, for example, is a three word story—and I got this from Tracy, who I believe got this from some of her former colleagues. But storytelling can be as simple as, “What three words describe yourself as an educator?” And you can stop there, but it ends up being a prompt for further discussion. And if whatever three words you choose, there’s a story behind each one of those words. And so there’s different ways to get people to engage with this. We’ve also gotten into digital storytelling, and people drawing pictures to represent it. So I think there’s a lot of different ways that you can represent your story. It doesn’t have to be a traditional story in the way we think of it. I think people can represent their story through art, through movement, lots of different ways. And so we definitely want to encourage that as well, and hear from readers of the book, different ways that they have told or are telling their stories.

Tracy: Yeah, I often used to encourage my students to tell their story. And I had an activity that I used with them that I adapted from my friend, Susan Kahn at IUPUI, that really comes from the work of Mary Catherine Bateson, where we want to develop these life stories and be able to tell the tales of the lives that we’ve lived. And I always created that opportunity for the students to represent their story in a way that made sense to them. So I did get collages, and I got traditional written stories. I’ve had students who’ve written songs and created videos. So we can tell the story in lots of different ways, and I think it’s the process. Then, of course, you have to think about the context in which you’re embedding the storytelling in and make sure that it fits and aligns with your outcomes, and all of the good things that we know we do with effective backward design. But really thinking about what would be powerful for the learners in our context in terms of storytelling, and then choose strategies that really suit that particular set of outcomes, and then the context in which we’re working. So I’m imagining that in a science class, telling the story will be different than the way my students do in my history classes, for instance.

John: Storytelling has been really important for most of human existence as a primary way of passing on information to future generations. But it hasn’t been used as extensively in recent years. Why have we moved away from that? And why, perhaps, should we do more of it?

Tracy: Yeah, when I saw that question, I kind of giggled to myself because in the eportfolio community, it hasn’t really gone away. In fact, it’s gotten more and more popular. Having worked with portfolios for about 20 years now, it’s always fun for me when I encounter folks on campuses who are like, “We’ve just discovered eportfolios, and we want to create digital portfolios.” So I think in some contexts, it has been around. And I’m Canadian, and certainly more recently, the power of storytelling is coming to the fore, particularly as we deal with reconciliation and indigenous cultures. And, of course, those cultures have a long tradition of storytelling. But going back to the earlier point, often we erased or intentionally didn’t acknowledge that those approaches were valuable. And certainly as a historian, the whole process of oral history is really becoming much more popular again. So I think the context really matters. It did go away in some contexts, and in others it was always there. But I think when I reflect on what happens in education, and I’m sure you’ve both experienced this, you know, you can be on a campus for a long time, and maybe worked on a set of projects, and then the context shifts, and now it’s a new flavor of the month, and we’re going to do this project. And then the context shifts again and it’s like, “Oh, we’re going to try this new thing.” It’s like, “Really? We did that 15 years ago.” But again, I think context matters. And so, going back to this moment of being in a pandemic, and all of the focus that we’ve finally been shining on social justice issues, equity, the way that students just don’t always experience inclusivity in the classroom, they don’t necessarily always feel like they belong. And I would say that’s true of faculty and educators at different levels as well. That this moment is giving us a real opportunity to leverage storytelling practices that, you’re right, have been around for a long time in service of more socially just educational experiences for everyone.

Laura: Another thing I’ll add, too, is that there’s a lot of power dynamics tied up into this, and the more that things become standardized and overly standardized, the less room there is for stories. Stories are still existing, but there’s sort of a grand narrative that the people who are in power, it’s in their best interest to keep that story alive. And so there’s a story about what it means to be a good student, or what it means to be a good school, or what it means to be a good teacher. And I think it’s really important for us to be able to push back against that and fracture that story and add more texture and bring those counter-stories in to question and critique that grand narrative.

Tracy: Yeah, I love that you said that Laura. One of my colleagues, Peter McLellan, has been doing some work on this in particular, and, “How do we train everyone to hear the story that is actually being told?” As opposed to, “How does it fit on the rubric that I’ve already predetermined I’m going to assess that story with?” And that does happen in eportfolios, especially. “Have the students achieved the outcomes in telling their stories in the portfolio?” And what he recognized is that with some of his international students, the rubric didn’t fit very well for the stories that they were telling and didn’t recognize or privilege the fact that they were coming from different places and had different experiences. So he really noticed a misalignment between the rubric and the stories that was really a detriment to the student. Like, you’re not going to get a good mark, because you haven’t basically fit into this box we have ascribed to students in our context. And so I think that there’s such opportunity to recognize where we are using those grand narratives, maybe unintentionally, to frame how we understand student learning. And let’s just jailbreak that altogether and try some new things where we really enable people to grow and learn in a context that really makes sense for them as unique individuals.

Rebecca: You’ve done this a little bit, but can you talk a little bit more specifically about ways that you can use storytelling in classes to advance student learning? So you’ve given an example, like in an education context, can we have a different kind of context to help our listeners see how it might fit for them?

Laura: I can give an example that could be used in any course, really, at the beginning of a course in terms of building community. So, like I said, I have students write their educational autobiographies, but it doesn’t have to be that document. It could be any kind of introductory letter, or who you are as a student, or what you’re bringing into the class, what you’re wanting to get out of the class. It could be any kind of introductory document that a student might create in order to build community in your class. But the thing that I do is I structure sort of a speed dating activity, where the students then have to share through the line. One, they can pick a word, a sentence from what they wrote, or just read directly from it, they can paraphrase, but they share something that they feel comfortable sharing from what they wrote. And they go down the line and listen to each other’s stories and listen to what each other have to say. It’s a really powerful way of building community in your class, regardless of the subject that you’re teaching.

Tracy: We’ve been using, as Laura mentioned, the three-word, or six-word, or professional mission-statement versions of storytelling with faculty. Particularly in terms of helping them to frame their experiences for their portfolios. And that’s been really powerful, because it helps faculty to really figure out how the evidence that they’re presenting does reflect the narrative or story that they want to tell about themselves as professionals. And so that’s been really helpful for students. So, I’m a history professor by training, and I used to just have my students attach a process document to their various pieces of work to tell me the story of, “What did you do to complete this assignment?” So it’s not about their story of learning, necessarily—although it is, because they’re telling me about the steps that they took—but it really helped me to then have a more personal connection to them, and places where they were really being very successful in their strategies, or places where perhaps they had a misconception or misunderstanding about what the process should be. And I always had them thinking about, “What does it mean to do history as an historian?” And so that just created these opportunities to have really interesting conversations with them about how they were finding literature in the library and research, how they thought they should be writing it up. And so, not a story of learning in the sense that we’ve been talking about previously, but a process where you can start to have that conversation and identify, “Oh, gee, a whole bunch of my students in my class don’t really understand how to use the library.” That’s an opportunity for learning in the context of that particular class. Imagine in physics, you could do the same kind of thing like, “Oh, you didn’t understand that the vector was going one way or another…” so you can tell I’m not a physicist. But we often talk about science in the context of medical education here, because we are at a medical school, and it’s really interesting that this applies in so many ways. Students can tell the story or document it on a video of how they’re learning to suture. And they don’t need to have a live patient, they can do it with a beanbag, or other kinds of things. And we’ve had great conversations with faculty here about, “Oh, that would be really helpful for me to know why they think they’re supposed to do it a particular way, and how I can sort of steer them in the right direction if they are doing something that really isn’t in alignment with the process that we’re trying to teach.”

John: The stories you selected for this volume are very inspirational. Could you give our readers just a couple of examples drawn from the narratives in the volume?

Laura: Sure. So this was really hard to just use a couple examples, because each and every chapter was really powerful. So we somewhat randomly chose a few to mention. The first chapter in the book was written by Browning Neddeau, and he is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. He’s also a gay Jewish man, and his chapter really illustrates the way in which our various intersecting identities can shape our learning experiences. So I have a quote from his chapter just to give you a couple examples of the stories he shared. So he says:

In kindergarten, I came home with a vest made out of a brown paper grocery bag and some poster paint prints. School taught me that this is how Native Americans dressed (past tense) and how Native Americans looked (also past tense). It was puzzling because many generations of my Potawatomi family were alive at the time, and none of us wore brown paper grocery bags with poster paint prints for clothing.

And he continues on to say:

In grade three, a paraprofessional/classroom aide in the school asked me to demonstrate Native American dancing to my peers. As I did, she encouraged me to look for bear tracks. This confused me because I was not taught that my people looked for bear tracks while dancing. I was taught that we stand tall to dance and are strong and pride-filled. I dance for my ancestors.

So his stories are incredibly powerful, but another reason I like his chapter is that there are really clear connections to his current teaching practice. So he’s now a faculty member at California State University, Chico. He is involved in teacher education, he has developed a curriculum that really honors Native American perspectives. And he’s also started a research project called the I See Me project where he works with undergraduate students who are considering a career in teaching. And he asks them to critically analyze their school curriculum to identify the places where they see themselves in the curriculum, the places where they don’t, and then supports them in developing a lesson that is more inclusive of their various identities. So he had a powerful chapter that’s definitely worth reading. Another one I would mention is Talar Kaloustian and hers is really interesting because she attended nine different schools across primary and secondary school in five different countries. And she’s not from the US, but a few of her schools were in the US. And so she offers a really important reflection on her experience as an immigrant trying to adjust to US schools. So I’ll share a quick quote from her too. She says:

Mine is a complicated educational autobiography: I attended nine schools, five different countries (six different cities) by the time I was 18. I lived through war, experienced constant interrupted schooling, faced multiple new languages that were not my native one, all while dealing with a family situation that would seem odd to many.

And then later on in her chapter, she talks about one of her experiences as she transitioned to the US. She said:

In LA, I enrolled in a local high school where the counselor at the public school saw that my transcripts were from countries like Lebanon and Saudi Arabia and India, she claimed that she was unable to confirm the integrity of these documents and promptly changed my status to ninth grade. I was almost 18 at this point.

And so again, she makes really clear connections to her current practice. She’s now a faculty member at the Community College of Philadelphia. She teaches English as a second language. And not only does she teach the language, but she really focuses on supporting immigrant students with adjusting to life in the US by forefronting kindness, because she noted, in reflecting on her past experiences and all the transition, that as challenging as it was, there was always somebody who stepped up and showed her an act of kindness that changed her trajectory. And she says in her chapter:

The opportunity to reflect on the key incidents of my own growth as a student, and the impact of this growth on myself as a researcher and a teacher, has led me to discover and learn about the critical role that kindness has played in my life.

Tracy: Yeah, and maybe one more. Our colleague, Antonia MacDonald, who is a literature professor here at St. George’s University, reflects on her experience growing up in a colonial education system in St. Lucia and then her desire for social justice and change-making in the Caribbean. But what I really love about her chapter is that, first of all, it’s incredibly insightful to read about her experience. I think everyone should know a little bit about that. And it’s something that we often have our students recognize that they aren’t really wholly aware that they’re part of a colonial system, or a post-colonial system. And so just surfacing that is really powerful. But she also reflects on her own desire to transform the Caribbean and to make it a more socially just place. That she recognizes her classroom isn’t a democracy, and that she does have power over her students. And so as much as she wants her students to become game changers, she’s really trying to surface that ability in them for themselves, as opposed to imposing her own views on them. And what I took away from her story was that notion that she’s really sensitive to the ethics of the work that she does, and how she doesn’t want to replicate that kind of a system whereby we just train students to think like us. And so really thinking throughout her chapter about the ways that she can engage her students to think for themselves and to themselves desire to make change, rather than her teaching them how to do it, so I really appreciate that in her story.

Rebecca: The collection together is so powerful, and so I hope people will engage and read through and it was interesting to think through our own stories, as you’re reading through other people’s stories to find connections, and to just maybe see your own story a bit differently than you did before. I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about the Center for Research on Storytelling in Education before we close out today?

Laura: Sure. It’s a research organization that is dedicated to building a community of educational scholars who are focused on investigating and understanding how reading, sharing, listening to, analyzing our stories of learning and teaching, can help educators and educational leaders to create more equitable and more engaging spaces and practices for teaching, learning, and leadership. So this book project, we’re engaged in broader research around this, but this book project was a piece of it.

Tracy: Yeah. I’ll say for me, if I have one hope for the Center, it’s that we can bring the practice of storytelling to everyone and to make it easy for them to engage in storytelling with either their learners or with their colleagues, depending on where they’re situated. And we’re continually collecting stories so that we can share those stories with others. Because, as you said, there’s something really empowering about thinking about your own story in connection to other people’s stories and feeling like you are part of a larger community and that we do have shared experiences and lots of differences. And so how can we learn from both as we move through creating practices for students and for colleagues?

Laura: I’ll also share that we got a grant last year from Spencer to host a conference on storytelling and education, and the pandemic got in our way, but we actually reimagined it in a way that I think was even more powerful than what it would have been otherwise. So because we weren’t able to host an in-person conference, we shifted it to be an ongoing virtual conference series. And so every month we hosted a different workshop or session on different aspects of storytelling in education. One of my favorites is actually the last one we did on the science of storytelling, and I really liked it because that’s not my area. I know that storytelling is powerful because of my experiences and the experiences of others, but to get to collaborate with a neuroscientist around this to better understand what’s actually happening in our brains when we’re hearing stories and telling stories and why it is that storytelling is so powerful for learning. So it’s been a really exciting conference series that we have been engaged in over the past year.

Rebecca: Are any of the materials from that series available online?

Laura: Great question. We have created a website, so there is currently a website that exists. But the last chunk of our money from that conference grant we are using to create a much more engaging and dynamic website where we’re going to turn all of those conference sessions into asynchronous workshops that people can go and complete on their own time, on their own or with other people. So all of those sessions that we did will be available to everybody more broadly, along with additional resources. We’ve created a guide for storytelling and bringing storytelling into the classroom, so that’s available as well. And we’re looking forward to the launch of that new website. We should be launching it in December or January, coming up.

Rebecca: Great, that sounds exciting. We always wrap up by asking, “What’s next?”

Laura: That was a teaser, so definitely we’re excited about the website that’s going to be coming out. We are planning to continue collecting data on people’s stories of learning and data about the experiences of educators who go through this kind of inquiry work. We are continuing to search for more funding to expand this research and play around with it a little bit more, to do some fun things with the data that are a little bit more creative and artistic rather than presenting it through regular writing and publications. But, like I said, we created a digital story, we want to do some other things around sharing this work through art. So we have lots of exciting ideas coming up, we just keep looking for funding, and we have more book ideas as well. So, yeah, I think there’s definitely some fun things that will be coming in the next few years in relation to this. Tracy, anything you would add?

Tracy: Well, and I think at the heart of all of that work, it’s about building community of educators and educational leaders who are interested in this area and learning from them. It’s not about us disseminating, like, “Here’s what you should do.” But rather, we’ve been really keen to collect not only stories, but activities that others are using in their context so that we can really build community. There’s no question that teachers who are doing this work in K-12, we can adapt those activities for higher education. And I already mentioned that we’ve been adapting some of the activities for higher-education leadership. So I think that the sky’s really the limit. We hope people will join our community and come on an adventure with us and we want to learn from them as much as they might learn from the work that we’ve done so far.

Rebecca: Well, thanks so much for joining us. This was really interesting, and I think gives people a lot of things to think about and perhaps encourages them to tell some stories.

Tracy: Thanks for having us.

Laura: Thank you so much for having us.

John: Thank you, I really enjoyed reading your book.

Laura: That’s wonderful to hear.


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 Anna Croyle.


201. Beyond Trigger Warnings

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



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


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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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


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

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

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

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

Rebecca: Right, being hydrated is good.

Nicole: Yeah, boring but useful, right?

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

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

Rebecca: Ah, an old favorite.

John: It is. It’s a wonderful tea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rebecca: It’s a good choice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John: It is.

Rebecca: I’m feeling the weight of it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole: Yes. [LAUGHTER]

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

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

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

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


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

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


175. Embracing Change

Faculty who had to shift to teaching online for the first time due to the pandemic were forced to confront their habits and typical ways of teaching in order to adapt to and support students in a new modality. In this episode,  Colin and Jonikka Charlton join us to discuss ways in which faculty and departments have embraced and resisted change during this transition. Colin is the chair of the Department of Writing and Language Studies at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Jonikka is the Associate Provost for Student Success and Dean of University College, also at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

Show Notes


John: Faculty who had to shift to teaching online for the first time due to the pandemic were forced to confront their habits and typical ways of teaching in order to adapt to and support students in a new modality. In this episode, we discuss ways in which faculty and departments have embraced and resisted change during this transition.


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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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


John: Our guests today are Colin and Jonikka Charlton. Colin is the chair of the Department of Writing and Language Studies at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Jonikka is the Associate Provost for Student Success and Dean of University College, also at the University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley. Welcome.

Jonikka: Thank you.

Colin: Thank you. Thanks for having us.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are:

Colin: I’m actually drinking blackberry sage, made by a company I don’t remember because I’m freezing, ‘cause It’s like 50 here. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: That sounds really warm. I’ll go with that.

Jonikka: I’m just a water drinker. Colin’s the tea drinker in the family.

John: I am drinking a chocolate mint oolong tea.

Rebecca: Well, that sounds good.

John: It is. It was a gift from my son.

Rebecca: I was gonna say, I think that’s a new one for the podcast, John.

John: I think it is.

Colin: That’s pretty cool.

Rebecca: I have a new one today, too. I have a Palm Court blend from Harney and Sons.

John: Ok. We’ve invited you here to discuss some of the challenges associated with teaching writing during a pandemic. But first, could you tell us a little bit about how your institution has handled and adjusted instruction during the pandemic?

Jonikka: Yeah, I guess I’ll start from kind of a wider institutional perspective. I was honestly really surprised and really proud of the institution, because when we switched to online really rapidly in the spring, we kind of stayed there. And so there wasn’t a lot of pressure internally, or even externally, for us to have a lot of students on campus. And in the valley, the households are generally pretty large. So there are extended families, large families, living in the same household. And so the threat, I think, was a little bit higher, potentially, than in some other areas. And people having barbecues and family get togethers all of the time, it’s really, really important. So in the spring, we were completely online, we started having to distinguish between asynchronous modality and synchronous modality. And then we pretty much kept that for the fall semester, there were probably maybe 8,10 percent, a mix of hybrid courses and face to face. And then now in the spring, I was just looking before we got on here, and it’s about a third asynchronous, a third synchronous, and about 18% is face to face and the rest are hybrid. And we’re really starting, even those hybrid, are starting online. And hopefully, if we get as many people as possible vaccinated, then we maybe can move toward the end of the semester, a little bit more people onto campus. But that’s kind of the way we have. We did a huge investment in online faculty development over the summer. And so the fall was when we got to really test and see how that worked and get some feedback from students, which I’m sure we’ll talk about a little bit today.

Colin: I can speak from the developmental, and, I guess, the program level. So we did tons of training, as Jonikka said. I think the bulk of the response at the very beginning, whenever that was, I feel like it was a year ago, but it’s actually just a few months. So the bulk of it was invested in technology, both in terms of trying to figure out how to help students get access when they were sitting in Burger King parking lots trying to get Wi Fi at the very beginning, but that disappeared so quickly. So it’s like having whiplash from rapid response kind of triage stuff, like, something happens, Spectrum gives everybody free Wi Fi. We don’t have enough bandwidth to have more than so many Zoom meetings or recordings, and then we get an extension and now we have unlimited hours or something like that. It’s like being part of a really gigantic cable company, they keep giving you more stuff to try to make sure everything keeps working, [LAUGHTER] except the cable company actually works in your favor in this case. So there’s a lot of technology stuff, a lot of blueprinting for online classes. For faculty support, there emerged a need for psychological and wellness and self-care support. But that really wasn’t as much at the front of what was happening. But you can tell that people were starting to need it because there was a lot of discomfort and just unfamiliarity. And a lot of people doing things they knew they had to do, but they didn’t know how to do them with the technology side of it. And then from the program side, department side, at least in our department, we backed away from a lot of that and tried to offer something as an alternative to talk about concepts, because a lot of the work was in the logistics of getting things built and getting classes built, making sure people understood that you have to tell students how to navigate your courses, because that was a new thing for a lot of faculty, right? And at the same time, I’m trying to basically, not reinvent the wheel, but trying to get people in the department to have a talk about what engagement is and what teaching is, which I know probably sounds weird as a thing to do. But we had to have that discussion in a very small, private, disturbing, communication, like difficult conversations kind of moment. I guess it was conceptual training that was going on or retraining. And then there was also institutional support, that, I think probably allowed us to do the other because I don’t think if we had had the technology part stripped away from us or we had to be responsible for ourselves, I don’t think we would have found the space to do the wellness stuff and the conceptual training. I don’t know how widespread that was. I know every department handled it a different way. But we’re a big department. And we handle so many freshmen that we just had to do it for the writing program and for the language programs and all of those things, which went from zero asynchronous to literally 100% asynchronous writing classes over the course of the summer. That was a big lift.

John: That’s a pretty dramatic shift from going from zero to 100%. How did the faculty adjust? How did they come out of those difficult conversations?

Colin: At the Dean’s level, at least for our college, we were told we could let the faculty decide what they wanted to do in terms of their own level of comfort and preparedness, right? And so you had a few people who wanted to know just how protected were they’re going to make the classrooms because they couldn’t teach with a mask on and they couldn’t teach online. And so they felt like they had to have a situation where they were going to be with their students, and even getting some of those faculty to understand that they could only meet with half their students once a week and the other half. because of the room size constraints, like those conversations had to happen. So those faculty were incredibly stressed. And so faculty were making their own decisions. And I was trying to coordinate all of that, so that at least made sense, so that there would be as little damage done. Plus, I live with Jonakka, and she says things like “You don’t have any synchronous classes for writing. Are you stupid?” like, “What have you done?” [LAUGHTER] And she reminds me that I must have made a mistake somewhere, but that’s what faculty chose to do. But when you talk to the faculty who chose to do that, who I couldn’t believe some of the faculty that asked to do that, it was because they thought they were doing the students a favor, because it would allow the students to arrange the rest of their schedule. We get through summer, we survive the fall, we have already made the schedule for the spring. And then about half of those teachers said, “You know what, you were right. I want to do synchronous, but is that going to hurt the students?” And so those faculty had even more adjustments to make, I think, because they tried the asynchronous for the right reasons, but they lost more students than they were used to. They had difficulty with assignment completion, and all the things you have difficulties with every time you do a new class, but just kind of multiplied. But we have 97 people in the classroom in our department, that includes all the TAs, all the part-timers, everyone. So 43 of those are first-year writing teachers. And they were incredibly happy that 10 people blueprinted the courses for online asynchronous and just went with it. So that’s also something that you don’t often see. In a big program, you see a lot of people doing a lot of different things and asking if they can stretch the syllabus a little bit this direction. And nobody wanted to do that. Everybody was so worn out and tired. They were just like, “This syllabus is great, and when it doesn’t work in three weeks, I’m gonna blame you guys and feel just fine about all of it.” [LAUGHTER] So what does that mean? I guess there were new stressors they didn’t expect. And there were collaborative moments that they also didn’t expect. So they leaned into the stuff that you would expect them to be resistant to because of necessity, but they also then had better discussions, I think, about the purpose of teaching writing online, how you talk to students when you don’t see them in real time, that kind of stuff. I don’t think those conversations would have happened. So yeah, every time they would get comfortable, then it would be a new issue that came up about why are students disappearing and that kind of thing,

Rebecca: …a pandemic… time to get uncomfortable with being uncomfortable. [LAUGHTER] Right?

Jonikka: Yes.

Colin: Right. Learn to unlearn or learn to learn on a daily basis or…

Rebecca: …learn that you’re also a learner.

Jonikka: Exactly.

Colin: Exactly, and that it’s okay. I think that was the hardest part for our folks is, I set up teams and made people leaders that had never been leaders before for technology support to try to lift the burden away from the people you were expect to always go to because I knew what was going to happen. And that worked out great. But then they would also get lost in all the permutations of “Well, if you do it this way… if you do it this way.” So they burned through their need to explain how they do things in their class really, really quickly. Because you know how teachers do that thing there, unless I’m being unfair. It’s like, “Oh, let me give you three examples from my class about how great things go, or how terrible things go” …or whatever. They burned through all those anecdotes. And then they were left with the whole thing, like maybe the assignment really sucks and that’s why the students aren’t turning it in. Or maybe I was really boring on Monday and they just had to live with that. And that’s hard. [LAUGHTER] Is that not true, Jonikka?

Jonikka: I was just reminded, it’s really interesting to me that the writing program has a lot of really great teachers. It’s a very robust culture of teaching in that department at the institution. And so what I saw both there and across the institution was faculty who had their identity as being really great teachers who are able to engage students and their students come back and they do well. And so you saw a lot of those faculty whose students just disappeared, and then they were like, this has never happened to me before or not since I first started teaching. And so I think there’s that component of it, that it took us probably four or five or six months to get to that place when people realize I had a whole semester of this and I’m not having the same success I had before and I think we have to have conversations and find places for faculty to have those conversations and to know that it’s okay. It doesn’t mean that they were a fraud all along, or they didn’t do a good job and that sort of thing. So what you said reminded me of that.

Rebecca: It really is a different space.

Jonikka: Yes,.

Colin: Yes. And I don’t know how many of the teachers that were really stressed were stressed because of access. Because honestly, if you’re teaching face to face, and you have students that aren’t showing up, you have the same problems trying to contact them. I think we all have a sense that because we’re seeing people regularly, that we’re somehow seeing them more often, which is totally false. And so I had so many emails from faculty about how do I get in touch with students who won’t respond to me? And I’m like, I know what they were saying. But it’s a silly question, right? It’s like, “everybody who’s not here today, raise your hand” kind of question. You can’t get in touch with them, because they’re not paying attention to you. And you can’t make them pay attention to you if they’re not paying attention to you. But that reality was just heartbreaking for some of them. And we’re talking about people that are really just stressing over like having a 14% drop rate, because they’re used to having a 3% drop rate, or if like a DFW rate is like 3%. But our enrollment was up. What was it up, J?

Jonikka: it was like 18%, it was huge. We had a huge influx of new students in the fall, largest breaking enrollment and all of that. And so we also had the pressure of really huge classes. So that just exacerbated the whole thing, I think. We had lots of students who didn’t go to Austin, or they didn’t go to Rice, or wherever they stayed. A lot of that was that too.

Colin: And nobody wants to hear me say, and I’m the last person that wants to say it, but nobody wants to hear your department chair say, “Look, when you have a 16% increase in enrollment, you’re going to lose some people, because there have to be a high percentage of those people coming in who are somehow not college ready, or who are experimenting or who are at risk, and we have no way to help them or support them, because we don’t know why they’re here. Because this is unprecedented.” And so that doesn’t help.

John: Most studies have found that freshmen are much more vulnerable when they’re in online classes, the drop-fail-withdrawal rate for freshmen and even sophomore students is a lot higher than it is for upper-level students. Add to that a pandemic. And then you mentioned a lot of additional students coming whose plans were not going in the direction they originally anticipated, which just adds to all the stress. But having a drop-fail-withdrawal rate in that range is pretty low, actually.

Jonikka: Yes, it absolutely is. And he’s talking about like some really great faculty in his department. That’s not the case across the institution. And I remember back in April, May, as we’re having these conversations about modality moving into the fall… it’s great… and I’m supportive of the idea. And it’s kind of amazing, actually, that as an institution, we said faculty choose your own modality. A lot of institutions didn’t do that. But I was trying to be the consistent voice that was saying, “But could we at least make some more strategic decisions around classes that freshmen are going to take, because your sophomores, juniors, and seniors and your grad students, they’re going to be able to adapt in ways that our freshmen are not. It’s one thing for a first-year student to come in and have one class out of five or six on their schedule that’s online. But we’re in a situation where literally their entire schedule was online, none of the courses were organized in the same way, even though they may all be using Blackboard it just looks different, the whole classes operate differently.” And so I was really worried about that. And I was right to worry about that. Because as we moved into the fall, our first-year persistence rate from fall to spring is down about six and a half percent from where it normally is. And everyone’s really concerned about that. And of course, attention is also starting to shift to this year’s seniors and what that first-year experience is going to be like next year. We did a survey and I’m sure at some point, we’ll talk about the survey. But even the students who did well said this was not for me. Yes, my grades look okay, but I don’t feel like I learned what I needed to, so I’m going to stop out in the spring. And like, “I’ll catch you on the other end in the fall, when hopefully things are okay and we’re back in an environment in which I feel like I can learn.” And so that’s been really startling, I think, to some on campus. We’re trying to figure out what we have control over and what we don’t have control over and how you can shift an entire institution’s worth of faculty. We could not have moved and said everybody’s going to be teaching at a really high level. And I think too, the pandemic and what’s happened has just kind of uncovered some things about teaching and what was going on in classrooms that I promise you is going on in face-to-face classrooms. But now it’s been uncovered and people are concerned about it and more heightened awareness, I think, around it. But, that’s one of the opportunities too. I think it’s enabled us to say “Hey, let’s shine a light on and have those conversations about what teaching and learning really is about and how do we engage students?” And I was really happy when I heard a few engineering faculty say, “You know what, when we go back face to face, we didn’t know what we had, we didn’t know the opportunity that we were kind of squandering before in our face-to-face classes. Now they’re talking about flipping their classroom.” And I’m like, okay, that’s 20 years ago, or whatever. [LAUGHTER] But now you’re in that place where you see why that would be helpful to you, and what you could do differently when you go back face to face. That’s exciting to me. I haven’t been in the classroom in a while, but my first love and my first identification is as a teacher, and asking those things about learning and teaching and why we’re doing what we’re doing. I think it’s great that more people are doing that.

Rebecca: I think the same kinds of themes have come up in a lot of conversations that we’ve had over the last few weeks with guests about what’s happening between the fall and the spring and students timing out and faculty changing what modality they’re teaching in, and also just reflection upon what they might want to do in the future, too. So it’s kind of these interesting themes that are happening that may have not have happened otherwise, for sure. I know, Colin, you mentioned faculty choosing to be more synchronous, perhaps in the spring, can you talk about some other things that were learned from the fall that are going to improve the experience for everybody in the spring?

Colin: I think it’s across our department. And I think there’s a lot more people across the university, too that realize that there’s no such thing as a neutral delivery method anymore. And I think people like me and Jonakka knew that, because our training in teaching actually made us teach in different ties, even if we weren’t comfortable with them. The more people, I think, understand something that when I ran the writing program, however, many years ago, that was probably nine years, I remember telling people, your students who will turn in their assignments if you teach them how to do the whole course in the first week, and then just repeat over and over again. And a few people would do that, but very few people would do it because they do what teachers tend to do when they’re content focused, which is they say, “I can’t get through that many chapters of a biology book, if I take a week out to teach them how my class works,” or “I can’t have them read as many articles as I want them to read, because I’m taking this time out to basically train them metacognitively on how to actually take a Colin class.” Right? People complaining about that, they left my department and were replaced by strange little clones that wanted to say, “Hey, is there any way we can extend the first two weeks and just do an introduction about what online learning is?” And they got all these ideas and even like, I remember, we opened Blackboard a week early in the fall, but not at this spring. Our people were contacting their students and talking about how the course was set up. So I think there’s awareness. I don’t know how deep the awareness is. But there is an awareness with at least our people who teach 4000 freshmen a year that you’re not designing your class for yourself and your students, you’re designing your class for the students who go to four or five other classes, because they will drop you quicker than other people if they don’t feel like they have an anchor in your class. And sometimes that’s understanding how to navigate, sometimes that’s having a personal connection with a teacher, sometimes it’s knowing your peers’ names, whatever that engagement factor is, if they have it in your class, they will stick with your class, which means in a writing class, there’s more of a chance we’ll stick with their other classes, because we’re usually the ones that get dropped, I think. Either us or math, unless, J, you have different statistics. I think anecdotally, when we talk to students who haven’t been coming to class, and we find out they’re not doing well, they will usually stop coming to the writing class, because they feel like there’s no way to make it up. So I think there’s a sense across the writing instructors now that it’s not okay to build designs that work for 75% of the people. And then there’s this 10%, that will average out in the middle. And then there’s 10% that just don’t see how to get over the hump because they never have a success, or they never see an end product. And so they just cut that class. More like an algebra approach, you don’t understand the first three chapters of algebra and you feel like you’ll never be able to catch up because you have to know those things in order to move to the next. Actually, it’s a very forward thinking kind of threshold concept type of student that I’m imagining, because they really don’t feel like they can get enough under their belt to move forward. So I think we learned,as teachers, we’ve learned a little bit about that. I really hope that all the students that we worked with in the writing program, I hope that a large percentage of them took to heart what we said about having real conversations with their teachers and other students, there was a lot of conversations in our “Designing your life course” and in other courses where I saw students were constantly talking about setting up peer networks, or in our roundup and kickoff activities and that kind of stuff. They were constantly talking about the need to do that. But they had no idea how to do it online in online classes. They knew how to do it online. So as soon as people like me said, “I don’t care how you set up your community use WhatsApp, use whatever,” then it all went crazy. So there’s also I think, an understanding that students can organize themselves better than we can, or at least we should try to negotiate a way to organize ourselves that’s okay with the teacher and it’s okay with the students. Because nobody wants me teaching a Twitter assignment, because I don’t understand it. Like I don’t know how it works. But you also have to let students organize themselves in the peer network so that it will survive. And not just with team-building things because you don’t know how to run Zoom. And so you just force everybody into a breakout room because you somehow think that somehow is the same as having them work together in groups in classrooms. So I think we’ve learned quite a bit about design strategies, or at least design thinking, even if nobody’s going to call it that, but me. Maybe there’s a few other people at the university that will call it that.

John: You mentioned spending some time at the beginning of class, focusing on metacognition and helping students learn how to learn more effectively, is that something that’s widely done in the institution? Or is that something that’s becoming more widely done in the institution?

Jonikka: I would say it’s becoming more widely done. It’s very much at the heart of our first year writing program: metacognition, reflection, the whole thing. It’s just very built into the DNA there. And then we have a first-year experience course, that was kind of built on some similar kinds of principles. But I think some of the feedback from our student survey was that students felt their courses were completely disorganized. And they didn’t know when anything was due, they didn’t know when they were supposed to be working on something, or how to find what it was they were supposed to be working on. In some sense, that’s one of the easier things for a faculty member to address. Because it could be like a beginning of the semester video explaining how your course is organized or whatever. In terms of sticky teaching problems, that’s not terribly sticky, you can see a path forward to figuring it out and to helping students with that. My hope is that we can help those faculty transfer their understanding of that situation to their understanding of how to teach a project for a course, or when they make a big assignment. If it’s a writing assignment, or any other kind of assignment, that they recognize that the same metacognitive moves would be helpful for students. So I think that that would be an exciting thing to see happen. I don’t think we’ve had enough conversations yet about the feedback from students, both what we heard through our survey, but also what faculty may have heard through their course evaluations, or just their own experiences. I went to faculty senate before the break, and I had a number of faculty, and they were really good teaching faculty, talking about how they had gone through the blueprinting process and they had been asked to do all these assignments and stuff for every single learning objective and things like that. And they realized that they had gone too far, that they had overwhelmed the students. So now they were gonna back off after that. So they’re engaging in some metacognition themselves, which is good, and I think the more that we can encourage that in faculty, and then help them make the connection between what they’re learning and how they’re applying what they’re learning to the next iteration of the course, to what their students go through. I know I spend a lot of time having those conversations with my own faculty in my college. And now I’ll often say to them, I’ll try to find a gentle way of saying it, but like, I’ll say, “Would you think that’s okay from your students?” And how would you go about doing that with your own students and think about that for yourself. That’s my hope.

Colin: We also had a very small pilot for students as learners and teachers that at least that Alyssa Cavazos ran out of our Center for Teaching Excellence. And it was only five teachers, I believe, It may have been six, and I was one of them. But the other four teachers were from history, philosophy, I think it was physics, may have been just math, I cannot remember the other one. But they have never had a student observe them officially in a class. And we all spent an entire semester with a student partner, basically doing metacognitive work. And it did a number on me, and I know how to do that work. I respect student voices and I want them with me. And so it was really fun for me. It changed the other four people’s lives. And so there’s at least four other people in four other colleges, because we spaced them out around the university, who worked with a upper-level student about their classes and redesigning it and thinking about student reactions on a daily basis. And I hope we can scale that up somehow in a way that isn’t completely uncomfortable, but a little uncomfortable. Because the good parts are the uncomfortable parts. The good parts were where the students asked like, “How do we tell the teachers what we really think?” And the teachers were like, “How do I tell the student that I don’t really care what they think?” …like, those things happened at the beginning. And once they got over them, the conversations that happened as designers as co-designers were fantastic and amazing. And it was with people that are resistant, they wanted to be in the project. But they were not. They did not go into it thinking they were completely open to what a non- major student would say about their teaching as an observer that had been trained to observe. I hope that projects like that continue and thrive. And people don’t just let it go because things go back to normal and they don’t have something driving them to think about how to make their classes work better. It’s probably up to people like me and Jonikka to make sure they keep asking these questions and don’t just let them drop, right?

Jonikka: Well, we’ve been asking, the Interim Provost here and I, have been asking on a regular basis, like what will next fall look like? What will we basically have learned that informs what next fall looks like? And I don’t think most faculty were ready, at least before the break to have those conversations. Everyone is completely exhausted, students are exhausted, faculty, staff, everyone was just exhausted. And I think it’s gonna be a long while before we ever restore ourselves to some sense of space and ability to look at and reflect on the things that have happened in a way that enables us to move forward in a more substantial way.

Rebecca: One of the things that has come up in conversations I’ve had with arts faculty and writing faculty, here anyways, is the processing of what’s happening in a pandemic. That sometimes happens through writing or making in some way, or also the want to escape from what’s happening in writing or making. [LAUGHTER]

Jonikka: Yeah.

Rebecca: And that complex dance that’s happening and different people need some different things. Can you talk a little bit about how faculty in your departments tried to balance some of those needs, concerns, wants?

Colin: We had one faculty member who started a journal writing, like, initiative right at the beginning of everything. And it wasn’t because of this. He had wanted to start it and he was going to retire. And he just wanted to give it one last stab to see if he could recruit some people. The students that joined that I know and the faculty said that it was incredibly insightful, and they wanted to talk about their writing, and they wanted to journal and talk about what was going on. So that was really great for him as a faculty member. I know that there had to be a shift for… I know that this may be a weird way to answer the question, but it felt like there was a shift from faculty always pointing students towards more…. I guess what you’d call more scholarly resources, like a path that… I use that word with air quotes around it, but you need to learn more and so you go off and you look and reread more. And I remember, we were having a meeting and I was like, “Why? It’s a literacy narrative.” And you’re freaking out, because your students are doing a literacy narrative. And the high school students just got sent home, and their teachers aren’t making them turn their cameras on and they’re not talking to them. And then in the college version of the class, your students are able to do the types of work in the field that you would normally have them do, because we’ve got a pretty crazy experiential component to our first-year writing courses. And I was like, “Dude, they live with their families, just have them do interviews. Stop trying to reinvent the wheel and just own the space that you’re around.” And I remember somebody else saying, “Yeah, it’s like, when my students don’t want to turn their cameras, I say, well describe the perfect space, it’s at least a reason to get you to be creative and think outside of the box,” or whatever. And so students started drawing their own ideal spaces for their Zoom things when they left their cameras off. So there, I think there was a lot of shifting and deconstructing of the boundaries between what you see as your life and what you see as the real world and what you see as school. Not everybody’s comfortable with that stuff, either. But I think people had to find their own outlet or their own break to a certain extent. I give my students my cell phone, and then I labeled them by the course and the semester so I can remember them. But I had tons of students texting me in the middle of doing things in class because things weren’t working, or somebody didn’t show up, or whatever, or they needed me to come into a group. When I told people I was doing that, the people that were having trouble managing people in multiple rooms that were kind of privatized, they’re like, “Oh, my God, that makes so much sense. I’ll just have them go on R emind and tell me when things go crazy, or tell me when it hits the fan or whatever.” And so all these people that think they know technology and how to communicate really well, they didn’t really know how to communicate really well in the new classroom environment. So I think they had to find a way to do that. So your personal chats with your teacher, those went crazy for a while, I think mine are still too crazy. People having jam bands, you know, after class, or I think we had a few departmental after hours cocktail parties or something. We had all kinds of weird ways of socializing with some of the groups. Not a ton, though. I think, from what at least the writing program teachers told me was what they really missed the most were the unexpected, spontaneous conversations they have with students and faculty, which you can’t replicate by having Zoom meetings where everybody learns the song and plays together. Like you can’t force the hallway conversation, which is why I always go in and like Zoom bomb Jonikka whenever she’s in an important meeting. She’s right across the hallway, and those people don’t laugh enough. But I’m the only guy at the university doing that, [LAUGHTER] like stand up comedy to try to break the fourth wall with people, because there’s so much investment in just getting through meeting after meeting after meeting after meeting. So I’m sure there’s more clowns at our university than just me. But there’s a small cohort of clowns and Jonikka knows all of them.

John: You mentioned some of the problems with engagement or with students making connections with other students. What techniques have people tried or will be trying this spring to help improve the development of more community in either asynchronous or remote synchronous instruction?

Colin: I think there’s a move in our program to have a version of teamwork or the idea that students develop an ability to do teamwork, or work together to finish a project and have different responsibilities. It’s a complicated definition. But I think people are moving away from longer collaborative projects, and they’re moving towards more, do the work in class in a small group, get something accomplished, present on it, and then rotate out. And then having students form their own communities for projects outside of it as support groups. So there’s more small team work in class that actually has a product attached to it. So I’ll give you an example. There’s a difference between having students get into a group to deconstruct a reading and then piece together an interpretation of a reading, made from five different groups working with different passages from the text. That’s a very different exercise in a face-to-face class than what they’re doing when they have students create a message from scratch, using some kind of social media outlet, using a pandemic context and trying to create a flyer that would get people’s attention to do some activity. And then to have that whole thing go from prototyping and ideation all the way to design and testing. That’s not something that I think the teachers knew how to do, or wanted to do to start with. So engagement wise, it probably would make a lot of teachers that I know mad to say it, but they really do need to feel like they’re entertained, because they’re enjoying what they’re doing. Not necessarily entertainment just for fun sake, it’s that there’s a felt sense that they need to enjoy what they’re doing, if that’s you being a clown, and they actually will engage with you and learn something, and they just use you as the magnet, that’s cool. But if it’s doing small projects that have a finish line to them and during the class, then that’s fine too. Or if it’s having your students teach the class, which is what I was doing, having different groups teach every week, so that it’s not just me that’s responsible for distributing knowledge, it’s more people doing knowledge. Jonikka too, would tell me this probably isn’t as widespread as I feel like it should be. But there’s a need, I think, for students to be the knowledge makers. And I think that there’s more evidence from what I’m seeing in my department that people let students talk through their ideas as they were developing and that that made students more engaged. It’s completely counterintuitive to a lot of our faculty, because they think that what they really want to see is what happens when the students finally get it. And I keep telling them over and over again, “No, you want to see the process, you want to be with them while they get it, you don’t really care that they get it because at that point, you have to move on to a new idea.” But I think they’re having to flip their own ideas about those “aha” moments, because the moments don’t really work anymore. The moments are just like, “Oh, I got it,” but then that person’s muted, and they’re off on their own direction. And so I think there’s a lot of us working with students to set them up in pairs or small groups, and then kind of coaching them on how to be with one another. That sounded really weird, but coaching them how to be with one another and work together. So that when they’re off on their own, they will have that as a habit to come back to when they don’t have you. And I’m sure that’s what we do in face-to-face classes as well. But it’s really, really different in an online, especially in a Zoom, environment. But in an asynchronous environment, I always said that being online was two and a half times as much work. But the amount of matchmaking of ideas that I had to do online through discussion lists that basically quote one person and pull them over and have them engage with another person in a conversation. That was my entire life at teaching for that last semester. It was just trying to manage a conversation and create a community of people who were basically posting and responding and then leaving… this, “here’s what I think. I’m out of here.” So I don’t think we’ve figured out the perfect strategies for any of that other than you have to listen to your students. And when they’re engaged, you have to immediately ask them, even if it’s very uncomfortable in class, “Why did you say that?” or “Why did you feel like that was really cool?” Like, “How did you come up with that?” like, there was a whole lot of asking students to expose how they came up with ideas and why they connected things that I did, that I always do a couple of times in a class in a meeting, but not as much as I needed to do it here. So it was really more like “That’s a great response”or whatever. “Talk us through how you came up with that.” So a whole lot more of asking students to teach the rest of everybody what they just did, which I guess is kind of engaging by example. It’s a kind of having the students be models instead of always expecting texts or pieces of writing or reading to be the models for the students when they leave your classroom. It’s a hell of a lot more work. I’m pretty sure that this is the way Jonnika and I always taught because I’m very comfortable with it. But teaching people to do it when you’ve been doing it for so long, is incredibly hard. And then telling them that it involves a whole lot of trust on your part for students, and then finding out that that’s not actually something that people have a lot of… that’s kind of hard too to cope with. There’s not as much trust as there needed to be or assumed trust that you can ask students to pick up the baton, or whatever the metaphor is, and take the lead on explaining an idea, I thought that was a whole lot more prevalent than it was. And so there’s a whole lot more of that that has to happen. A whole lot more of trusting of students, a lot more work in the first-year experience to try to get people to help students become leaders before they’re sophomores. I think there’s a lot of work to be done there, that can be really fun. Why are you smiling, J?,

Jonikka: I was just about to say, I’m going to be the Debbie Downer here. I don’t think we do this really well. I just think across the board, we’re not doing a good job at creating community, and making those connections for students. And like I said before, I really think it’s not new to the online environment so much, I don’t know that we were necessarily really great before. And I do think more people were able to do it in person than are able to do it online. And I do think that the technology is causing us some trouble. So down here in the valley, certainly not all students have access to Wi Fi, many of them are driving up to the Burger King parking lot, or driving up to our parking lot, or whatever. So even when faculty are making the choice to be in a synchronous environment, they’re not necessarily doing anything engaging in that environment. Actually, our son was in some synchronous classes last semester, and he would talk about how the teacher would call on the students to respond to something or answer a question or something. And then the student would have to unmute themselves and say, hold on a second, I’m with the customer, or whatever, because they were at work. And they were just listening to class. And so they at least did unmute and respond. But it’s very hard to imagine how you create a community out of that when you’re not able to take advantage of the moments when you’re in real time with one another. And lots of feedback from our survey about the black screens in Zoom, and how awful it felt to everybody and a lot of empathy on the students’ part for the faculty member. Like I cannot imagine what it must be like to try to teach to a screen full of black screens. So it was uncomfortable for them, uncomfortable for the faculty member. And so I think we need to do a lot better job of lifting up those faculty who have found those strategies that are working for them and to recognize when it’s people like Colin or some of the people who… really a lot of that engagement comes from charisma on the part of the faculty, you can’t replicate that with everyone. So what are those strategies that people are using? I’ve heard some people, it’s a different app that they’re using, or something like that. But the kind of things are available to everybody that are in Blackboard and things like that, you saw all these people move to using discussion boards, and now everybody hates discussion boards. Because it’s the same rote practice, write a couple, read a couple. respond to them, there are memes about it now. So students are making fun of it, and rightfully so. It can be difficult, and then you put the faculty member in the position of “Okay, now I either have to read them and treat them with the respect that they deserve or I just take it as you put in your time and you did your task and we’re done.” I don’t have any particular examples that I can share with you, which is terrible, and more probably a sign of me just not talking with enough faculty members. But I just worry that it’s not enough yet. And even as we move into post pandemic, there’s going to be more of a mix of online and different modalities. And so it’s not like the conversation stops now. I think it’s just maybe we’ll have a little more peace of mind to have those conversations as we move forward. But that engagement piece is absolutely critical. And I’m certain it’s why a lot of our persistence rates, fall to spring, are down and things like that. I don’t know how long students will have patience for it, I guess is what I’m saying.

Colin: I have one practical strategy that I remember. See, you were a Debbie Downer…

Jonikka: There you go.

Colin: …but I remember the positives, so…

Jonikka: OK..

Colin: That’s why we’re married. I think teachers need to see the time in class, they need to completely redesign how they imagine that… I think ours is an hour and 15 minutes for a normal class… and never unimagine the potential for when they go back to different modalities. And it’s not just synchronous meetings, or asynchronous meetings, or asynchronous work with occasional voluntary meetings and that kind of thing is that the work that happens in class should probably be social and it should be structured and designed around community instead of being designed around: “This is a list of outcomes that have to be done before the end of this class.” More like these are lists of prompts of things that we’re going to try to address. Because the thing that I think made a lot of difference with some of our faculties… I coached them on how to do a green room… and maybe everybody was doing this and I just was too busy to notice that it was a trend or something… but not to have time before class and not to worry about seeing people in the hallways because they weren’t there. They weren’t any hallways and not to join your class early. But to literally have 10 minutes of a green room time at the beginning of a class meeting where everybody is mingling and talking and checking in with each other. And then to have 10 minutes at the end of class where you basically do the same thing, and people head off or they don’t head off. And what you saw when you started doing that in your classes, or what we saw, was that the students were showing up because of that time, and they needed that time, and they needed a different kind of entry into the class. And we had to coach them, it wasn’t an easy thing, it wasn’t a normal thing, because it’s not like being on your friend’s chat room or something. It’s still weird and awkward, and someone who forces everybody to do icebreakers and games, unless that’s just their thing, that’s going to be also awkward, but to have the time to talk to each other as human beings, and it not be like creepy, was incredibly important, I think, to have built into the class, as a normal part of being in the class because there were no breaks. Students were just going from class to class work to work. I had students get pulled over in cars, while they were in my class, doing presentations, like all kinds of crazy stuff happened. But in my classes, at least, they knew each other’s names, and they knew how to contact each other within the first few days, because we were doing those meetings. Now, they all told their friends that Colin’s classes are easy, because he doesn’t teach the whole time. But yeah, I was teaching, it was an experiment in social engagement, or whatever. But it, of course, changed what I could do during class time. But I think it was important for me to build that in. And I don’t think I will ever remove it again from my other delivery and modalities. The discussion boards are a joke, unless they’re an extension of an actual discussion. So if you’re not teaching your students how to have the actual discussion, then discussion boards are just going to be habitual writing behavior, and nothing new is going to come out of them. And so I think you have to learn how to be with your students that way. It’s probably not something a lot of people would be comfortable with, but I think it’s an actual practical strategy. You have to bookend your classes with at least the opportunity for engagement, where it’s low risk, but high impact talking with your students. Not in a conference, just talking with people.

Rebecca: I think that’s one of the key things that’s missing in online learning for students is just their general social community. So maybe we weren’t doing that in a physical classroom previously, but they had their actual social circles happening, they were able to connect with other students, and that existed for them. But when everyone’s in online classes, that part of the college experience is very difficult to facilitate. So that then became an academic part of college as opposed to just the social piece, I had the same kind of experience in my class, when there was that social time or whatever, they bonded a lot, and it helped a lot.

Colin: Yeah, I remember one student telling me, are we ever gonna stop changing group? And I was like, “Dude, all you have to do is say it. We’ll stop changing groups… keep the same group for two weeks. Two class meetings later, “Could you please get me out of this group, I cannot stay working with these people anymore.” [LAUGHTER] And I was like, “So I don’t know. What is the silver bullet?” They’re like, “Just go back to what you were doing before. I thought I wanted the same people. But my God, I do not want the same people.” But that whole class had a conversation about that and had a big joke about it, like who’s not going to be put in which group and they’re just like, “He’s gonna have to randomize everything, because if we start talking about who we like, and don’t like, [LAUGHTER] it’s gonna get really awkward really quick.” But you can have that conversation when the group has developed that sense of community. If it’s just me assigning names to stuff, then you’re not really having a conversation about why you’re doing it.

Rebecca: And each group is a bit different. I had students that asked for two different persistent groups that they just rotated between.

Colin: Yeah, now, that’s metacognition.

Rebecca: Ok. We can do that. I’m not sure how that’s gonna work. [LAUGHTER] But we can try that. And by the end, I think they thought, “Well, okay, that was an interesting experiment. Maybe we don’t want to do that again in the future, but you know…”

Colin: That’s great. I’ve got my aAclub, and I’ve got my B club, but I really can’t handle you guys today, so I’ll go with the B club.

Rebecca: Well, they had the project team, and then they had a different circle or whatever.

Colin: That’s great.

Rebecca: I could make it happen, so I did.

John: How have students on your campus responded to all the changes they’ve seen in instruction resulting from COVID.

Jonikka: I think one of the really interesting things that came out of our survey, which I’m curious to hear if any of you heard anything on your campuses, is that students consistently said they had more work to do in the fall than they had ever had to do before. And so every time I get a chance, I try to engage somebody in a conversation about this, because I think there are so many different complex things going on. I think, in many cases, students literally were doing more things than they did before. And part of that was a consequence of the online environment. So rather than having a discussion in class, they were having to write responses to the same kinds of questions that faculty might ask in class or something like that. So I think there’s actually more of that going on. And I think that faculty, through a lot of professional development things that we did were introduced to all these gadgets and tools and things, and then they started using them. And so they weren’t necessarily doing similar kinds of things in the face-to-face environment. Students when they’re going to class face to face… I think there was a lot of activity and a lot of work that was going on in class that they didn’t classify as work. It didn’t feel like work. But now because they’re having to do it while they’re at home or someplace else, now it’s homework or whatever. I read a little tidbit in The Chronicle at one point in the fall, it was kind of a national phenomenon that other people were reporting the same kind of thing. But I’m just really curious if we ended up having any deeper conversations about this, because I think it’s really easy for faculty to say, “Well, no I’m not” and for faculty to say, “Well, yes, you are.” but to have the conversations about what that lived experience really is like, and to be able to negotiate. Some of those faculty here did who said, “Yeah, I really did go too far. So now I have to rethink what is the most important things,” and maybe I’m hoping it leads to some like projects that are scaffolded, rather than 1000 little things that they asked students do, that are disconnected.

Colin: …or they’ll be a revolutionary cry for passive learning again, from students?

Jonikka: Well, we did hear a lot of that, we did hear some of that, like, just give me a few tests. And that’s it. I was like, “Oh, no, that’s not good, either.” [LAUGHTER]

John: We’ve been hearing a lot of the same thing. And I think the surveys done in the SUNY system are affirming that as well, that students do feel like they’re doing more work. And partly, I think it’s because in the past, when there was a lot more passive learning, faculty would give students readings to do and then assume that they had read them. And now as more people have moved to a flipped learning environment, they’re giving them what they used to give as a lecture, except now they’re adding some questions and some quizzes to it. Where now students are graded on having done it. So now they actually have to do the readings…

Jonikka: Right.

John: …in ways that might not always have happened in the past. I think some of it is faculty, were often assuming that students were doing all this work, because that’s what the faculty had done when they were students, forgetting that they were not a random sample of the student population. So I think there’s a little bit of recalibration, perhaps, that needs to take place. {LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Yeah, I think too the class time that you’re mentioning too Jonikka was definitely something that I experienced, I teach in a studio program. So our class time, if we’re in synchronous time, we’re in class for six hours a week. And then students are used to having homework. So workload in general, these students are used to work, they’re used to doing a lot, but I didn’t have so much complaints about too much work. But I think it’s too much independent work, because I was teaching, partly synchronous and partly asynchronous. And I am in the spring teaching synchronously and setting a time in class to do the same kinds of exercises and things that I would have done if we were face to face because I just needed scheduled time to do the activities and some of that guidance. And they were really asking for that. We started off with meeting only once a week at the beginning of the week, which they liked. And then they kept asking for a little more and a little more and a little more. And next thing, you know, I was pretty much teaching synchronously. [LAUGHTER] You know, not completely, but it got pretty close by the end of the semester, because it was helping them to have some structured time because they weren’t managing their own time. Although I would say this is going to take this amount of time, you’re used to being in class for six hours, we’re only in class for two, you have that four hours, that’s still class time, that’s not even homework time. So it feels like it’s a lot, especially if they’re not used to it.

Colin: There’s probably a whole book to be written about timely motivation too, because listening to what you were saying, part of the issue I noticed was that students who are usually coming to face-to-face classes, they will plan to freak out because they haven’t done what they needed to do. And they will come to you either at the beginning of class or during group time, or at the end of class. That doesn’t work in Zoom. I remember having conversations during the end of the semester about when you go next semester, talk to your teachers the minute you think there might be something wrong, so that you can figure out how you’re going to talk to them. Because I think you all need to learn how to talk to people more quickly. Because you’re waiting, and thinking there’s going to be a moment and then you look up and there’s nobody around you. Nobody in your family understands what you’re going through with those classes, your friends are freaking out and don’t want to show weakness, or they’re already messed up or upset or passed you. And so there’s no timely motivation. It’s just it happens to happen. But it doesn’t happen to happen online learning, at least it doesn’t in my experience. And so I don’t know that we can build those things in. But I think you could make a whole career out of trying to figure out how to recognize when you need to be timely and motivated for a student and not be really creepy about it. Like “Oh, tell me what’s going on.”

Rebecca: And we all know that those moments aren’t happening because we would have those moments with colleagues and they don’t happen in meetings now either.

Colin: Yeah. Okay, everybody take a beat. We need to talk about what’s going on with Jonikka. [LAUGHTER] That’s only gonna happen in my meetings.

John: And there’s a lot of stressors caused by the pandemic and I think that’s a part of it. People are feeling overwhelmed. It’s harder to stay focused. There’s so many things going on in the world that are very distracting and concerning to everybody.

Jonikka: Yes.

Colin: I’m distracted by the distractions.

Rebecca: We always end by asking what’s next? …which always seems really big as we’ve had these episodes during the pandemic, but what’s next?

Colin: I need season nine of the British baking show to come out very very soon…

Jonikka: That’s true.

Colin: …for my own wellness and sanity. [LAUGHTER]

Jonikka: I think for us, one of the big things that’s next is that we’re taking advantage of some of the CARES dollars and things like that, that are coming in to support faculty professional development on a scale that I have never seen before. So we’re trying to do something, this kind of series that is going to be focused on faculty teaching first-year students. And so really taking a different approach than we’ve ever taken before. And really focusing, I think, in some ways more on the affective pieces, like, “Who are these students? What has their experience been?” Well, honestly, that’s just good faculty development, but we’ve not really done it in those kinds of ways necessarily before. What are their experiences? How do they learn? And bringing students into that conversation too like, “What did it feel like to be part of classes that operated in these kinds of ways?” And so really getting to the heart of where we started this really just about the teaching and learning piece, and what does it mean? And what shared values and shared understandings of what it means for students to be actively learning in a class. And what does that look like different? Why is it so special and important for first-year students. So that’s what we spent at least the last 24 hours, feverishly,trting to figure out what we can do for that, and how we can build those student observers and feedback givers into that process as well. And try to get at least 60% of the faculty who teach the majority of their workload with freshmen to do that. So again, that’s something that Colln and I probably have wanted to do for 20 years. We could have done it any of those years. But it means something different in this context now, where we’ve got our next freshmen class is going to have had an entire year and a half of their four years of high school be almost nothing. I mean, we’ve got one 21 year old and one almost 16 year old. And so we’re kind of seeing it firsthand what’s going on with these students and what it means for them to learn and be in school. And so we’re gonna have to reckon with that as faculty. And so I think now’s a good time to have those kind of real fundamental conversations.

Colin: Even though I ramble a lot and talk all the time and, as Jonikka told me today in another conversation, for somebody who loves to talk about all the intricacies of things, there are things in my life that I absolutely refuse to talk about. I’m not the most comfortable social person in the world, especially when it comes to difficult conversations that affect things like equity and diversity and how people’s identity are tied to the teaching. And I can make a joke, and I can point out something insightful, and then kind of run away while everybody’s laughing. But I think this last year has taught me, kind of along the lines of Jonikka with the affective stuff and thinking about students that way, is that I’m going to have to be a actual active sponsor of difficult conversations, and try to get other people to do that with me, because a lot of the things that have been happening in different groups I belong to, it really is all about sponsorship, it really is like all of the conversations are about listening to people and trying to have a conversation when people need to have it instead of figuring out how to put it off until a time when you can deal with it. And at least this last year has taught me that you can’t put any of those things off, because in 24 hours, somebody could lose it, or somebody could solve the problem and move on to the next bit. And so I literally was thinking I better remember to tell you guys to have a good weekend when we’re done. And then and then Rebecca was talking, I was like, dude, I think it’s Tuesday. It’s Tuesday talk time Colin, it’s not Friday yet. [LAUGHTER] So I don’t have any sense of time anymore. But I think that might be a good thing. I wasn’t joking about the timeliness thing. I think Jonikka and me and other people that are in positions where we’re responsible for trainings, I think we have to make sure that part of those trainings, deals with people’s need to have conversations they really don’t want to have. So if there’s a conversation about merit, and how we’re going to figure out merit one year, maybe we should have a conversation about why you deserve a raise, and what’s good teaching, instead of worrying about counting things. And if we’re going to talk about shoving something to do with equity into a training session, why aren’t we talking about having it as part of every session? And what would that change? And who needs to deliver it? And so I think there’s a lot of challenging conversations about student perspective, about equity and diversity, and about what good teaching is, or not even that, I think it’s about what do we really want to see happen in a classroom that is successful? And what does that mean for the teacher and it’s okay for it to be something different for the teacher than for the student. That’s actually why it’s interesting, because they’re both getting different things out of it. But I don’t think we have the language for learning from each other. I don’t think we’re that advanced in having a language about how that happens between teachers and students. I know that there are experts that have affective terminological screens and they understand how to deal with the way the brain works. I don’t think people that are good at teaching and people that are good at psychoanalyzing have really figured out how to mesh the thing so that it works for everybody in a way that you can have that conversation. So when I say we need to train our students how to talk to their teachers, I actually mean that. I don’t mean we need to train them how to write an email that doesn’t offend their teachers, because it’s grammatically correct. I mean, literally, I wish I would have figured this out five years ago and taught Ian, our 21 year old, how to start a conversation with one of his college teachers, and how to think about how to start it differently with one than the other. Somebody should have taught him that in a writing class, probably one of my teachers, but I should have taught him that too. As soon as I realized that he needed to have that conversation with somebody else instead of with me. So I think there’s a whole lot of react to the student in front of you and just fix it right there. And not as much training in the listening part and the having the difficult conversation. And having a moment where you can trust each other, I think we’ve got a whole hell of a lot of work to do in that area. So that’ll be fun for the next 15 years of our life… be an affective czar of an institution. There’s not enough going on, right?

John: And the pandemic and the shift online has exposed so much inequities that our students are dealing with. And that’s particularly true for first-generation students. And that’s something I think that all colleges are now being forced to face in a way that they had chosen to ignore for a very long time.

Rebecca: So yes, many difficult conversations in the future [LAUGHTER]. Good call. Colin. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. This was really interesting, and I think has a lot of important things to think about, not just into the spring, but into the fall and many future semesters.

Jonikka: Thank you.

Colin: Thank you guys for talking with us and listening to us.


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.