Going Big, Online (Pt 1 of series)

Large college classroom, full of studentsSo you taught a large face-to-face class (150+ students) and you now find yourself having to redesign it for an online environment, perhaps permanently. First—I can empathize with you. While I never went completely online with my classes of 275+ (what my institution called a “supersection”), all but the class meetings and some office hours were in an online environment. And I prepared most of my class meetings for online delivery just in case it was every needed.

I taught these supersections of Introduction to Sociology every semester for a decade. I’ve probably made every mistake—interactional, technological, about classroom management—that someone could make. I’ll share some of them in the next few weeks and also some of the techniques that worked well for me and for others I know who have taught large sections online.

Zoom screen with 25 people participatingSo in a series of posts, I will offer some suggestions if you didn’t make the transition during the spring but now find yourself faced with a fall large class. Let’s start the series with some questions:

-How familiar are you with the course management system offered by your institution? Can you get more training now—preferably before the course begins, if you don’t feel very comfortable with it?

-What other software can you use for your course, which is supported by your institution’s IT staff? (You really don’t want to be using software not supported during this kind of transition, with several hundred students, trust me on this. Been there, done it, lots of tears!)

-How familiar are your intended students with the course management system? Other software you want to use? Or are your students likely to be new to all or some of them? I usually taught first-year students, so they were new to our course management system and many had not used anything similar in high school. Some had a steep learning curve.

-Will you have any pedagogical help? A graduate student assistant? An embedded undergraduate peer tutor? Academic coaches? Beg and plead for all the assistance you can.

-Does your institution have an Academic Support Center? An Instructional Technology Support Center? Online Library staff? What hours will they be open during the term you are teaching? How can you and your students interact with these crucial staff members?

-Do you have required pedagogical experiences such as laboratories, service-learning, or observations in the face-to-face class? Will you transition all of those experiences in some way to the online experience?

-To the best that you can know it now, what is your institution’s plan for reopening? Are there policies being created about, for example, you being able to meet with small groups from class, in an open area, or could you reserve a smaller classroom? Will you be allowed to have in-person office hours as well as online office hours, if you wished to do so?

-Is there a chance that you could be told to deliver face-to-face AND online content for the same large section, with students choosing which content delivery they want to have on any given day, based on their health status and other choices?

-What is your institution’s plan if you get sick (and not necessarily just from Covid-19!) and are teaching online (especially important if you have no assistance)?

-What instructional materials will you use?

-Open educational resources? If so, have you read through them all? Do you have the ability to add notes/make changes to any which might conflict with how you teach the material? [I have found that students struggle mightily when what I am sharing is contradicted or even slightly different than what the text says. The last online text I used allowed me to line through any text I didn’t want them to read and insert a “text bubble” with what I wanted instead. It really helped!]

-What online resources do you have available? Does the text have online exercises or applications or visuals which you can assign? Again, have you looked at them all/watched the ones you are likely to assign?

-Are all the visual materials chosen accessible? (This will be the topic of a post in this series, so if you are not sure – I’ll help.)

-Have you looked at your selected resources on screens/monitors of several sizes? Think from a large, gaming monitor, to a standard monitor, to a phone—students should comfortably be able to access your educational materials using any of these technologies.

-How likely is it that most of your students will be enrolled in online-only courses? There can be an increasing amount of “screen fatigue” with more classes taught that way (it can happen to you, too!). Think about that as you contemplate the amount of work you are assigning.

Text says: "Make the plan, execute the plan, expect the plant to go off the rails, throw away the plan"And of course, other than knowing what CV-19 is going to do in your area, the biggest set of questions is: What is your institution’s plan for the fall? When will it be decided? And how flexible is it/will it have to be?

Here’s how I see the series unfolding, but if people suggest other topics, it could change. Some of these might be longer than usual, but to make the series useful, making it be over too many weeks won’t help much. If people would like me to do the series at a faster rate, just let me know in the comments, I can do that too!:

Week 1:  Some questions to think about

Week 2:  Designing for and with accessibility

Week 3:  Backwards designing your class, for its content and the changed circumstances of Fall 2020

Week 4:  Assessments that engage them (and you!)

Week 5:  Communication: tone, honesty, and humor

Week 6:  What classes might look like come fall and building student engagement for different options

Week 7:  I can’t believe I did that–but I did–please learn from my failures  (I might choose to weave these through each post, again, in an effort to share my pedagogical tips out quickly.)

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual pedagogical consulting, dissertation editing, or coaching about writing.

Now, it’s your turn

Closeup of typewriter, with the words "The end"You made it. You pivoted to teaching, learning, advising, counseling, teaching labs, and even physical education, online, with little or no time to breathe. You had to do it—and you did. Many of you did it while also becoming teacher to your own little ones, who were home with you.

Pink flower, gently opening; above it, says "It's time to take care of yourself"But as the academic term winds down, I worry about each of you. How will you decompress? What do you need to decompress? How will you heal your body and soul from the stresses of the last two months? All while knowing that the next few months might not be necessarily that different. Staring into a future that is so uncertain brings its own stresses. So before you focus on the future (summer and fall academic terms): Stop. Breathe. Take care of yourself. Take care of your loved ones. Do nothing for a while. Turn off the notifications on your phone(s).

Just be.

COVID-19, Transitioning to Online Learning, and Emotions: Yours and Your Students’

I had planned on this week’s post being about how a leader can help build a community of teaching practice. But current events have made me rethink that topic and I’ll shift it to a future post. Sorry for the length – I hope these thoughts can help.

Image of COVID-19 virus; image from CDCThe coronavirus is shaping—at least for the near future—higher education. Many schools are canceling face-to-face classes and shifting them online. For those faculty who have taught online before, this can be stressful, but for those who never have, it must be unnerving, frightening, and overwhelming. There are lots of resources if you are in that situation (I’ll put some of them at the end of this post) but what I want to talk about is the emotions of shifting classes online—for you, the faculty member, and for your students.

Your Own Emotional Work

Text: Be scared and do it anywayIt is okay to feel overwhelmed with teaching online. It can feel that way when one chooses to shift to online classes; being forced to might only amplify the emotion. This suddenness only complicates the situation. Recognize that you are not alone in feeling overwhelmed. I also understand that at this moment, knowing others are feeling the same way doesn’t help all that much, necessarily. What you likely feel you need right now is a technological elf who will come and set up your classes, not just solidarity with others who are feeling stressed! So know yourself—what do you need to minimize feeling overwhelmed and begin to shift to making forward progress on the transition? Within reason, give yourself what you need to begin to work through this.

If you are wondering if your students’ learning experience will be different now, the answer is “yes.” But different does not necessarily mean “worse.” You might end up liking the fact that students will have to do more “conversing” in online discussion groups than they would have done in class (where conversations are often dominated by a few individuals). So don’t deny your concerns but also don’t let them get in the way of brainstorming creative ways to finish the academic term.

LMS imageIf you have not taught online before nor played around in your institution’s learning management system (LMS), it’s time to start. If you need to create an account, do so immediately. Most schools are ramping up IT support, so call if you need help. Remember, you will not be the only person asking for help and it’s okay to seek out experts. Your goal is to get online quickly and “correctly” (i.e., in ways that students who have used the LMS before will be expecting), so don’t be worried about bothering them. And by the way—write down your institution’s IT numbers and your LMS’ help hotline numbers, so that you have them handy.

For me, feeling comfortable would entail making several “to do” lists (one for each class and a master list). While not everyone feels the same way, I feel less overwhelmed when I write down tasks that need to be done. What might be on the master list? All tasks that I will need to double-check for every class (e.g., did I create dates for the beginning and ending of all assessments?; did I post the revised syllabus in several places online for each class?, did I post a notice about how grading might change due to the coronavirus, etc.).

Everyone will be different—are you someone who would like to do the same task for every class before you move on to the next task? Or do you want to finish one class before moving on to the next one you have to get online? You might have to redefine what “finish” means, however, depending on your particular institution’s timeline for shifting to online classes. “Finish” might mean setting short-term goals (e.g., have content for the next two weeks of classes for all classes posted) versus working on one class’ content, when that class may extend for six or eight more weeks.

Everyone will be stressed—your students, university staff tasked with helping make these transitions to online teaching and learning, university administration, and you. So be kind. Rethink the pedagogical necessity of every assignment. Give yourself permission to eliminate some, given how the virus has changed the social context of learning.


Communication Anxieties

Three thought bubbles with words, "Frequently Asked Questions"Consider writing your class a letter and “pin” it to the opening of your class. The tone of the letter should be “we’re in this and we’ll get through it, together.” Let them know you understand that many are worried about their own families, their economic status, their health and that of their loved ones, and how this shift to online learning will impact their grades. Let them know that you’ll be around more—answering questions, reading discussion threads, and so on. If you want to create a “Frequently Asked Questions” discussion board (something I would encourage you to do now and which I did in every hybrid classes I taught), link directly to it in your letter. Tell the class that you will try to log into that FAQ at least twice a day and you’ll respond to questions and clarify any misinformation which might have been posted. Let students ask anything they want and let other students respond—but once a day, post your answers/clarifications. That way you don’t have to respond to each student’s posting. But I would encourage you to reply directly to any post which does have incorrect information, either about institutional responses to the coronavirus or to your specific class. Be gentle as you correct information, don’t be overly aggressive with the student.

Many students might worry about how to communicate with you privately. While it will be easier on you if you ask them to contact you only within the learning management system (LMS), recognize that many will not, either because they forgot or that they may not know how to send an email within the LMS. So check your campus email frequently as well as the email within the LMS. Be gentle in your replies to those using your campus email—don’t snap at them (even if you might feel it every now and then). You might consider adding an email signature that explains how to write an email in the LMS or add an attached slide showing how to do it.

Chalkboard-like image that says, "Announcements"Some students will want to know everything about the changes to the course—right now, if not yesterday. And while you might share their concerns, you might well not have all the answers. I suggest you be transparent—share what you know officially as soon as you know it. That might mean that you use the “Announcement” tool which most LMSs have as your mechanism to share “official updates.” If it is easier, just copy and paste all news that is meant to be shared with students right there. The tool will send it out to all students or will show it when the students next log on to the LMS. Be sure to include the date and maybe even the time when you posted the content—things are moving fast in terms of the virus and how institutions are coping with it, so it will help to identify when the information was posted.

Recognize that some students will struggle with your answering their questions with “I don’t know that yet either.” They might feel the need to have firm answers to their process questions in order to be able to settle in, concentrate, and learn. So expect a few students to keep reaching out to you. Again, be kind with your replies—they are trying to cope in ways that make sense to them about an event where there are so many unknowns.

Stay in touch with students, more than you might otherwise. Let them know that you are “out there” and are wanting to know how they are feeling and how things are going. Open that communicative “door” often. Those who reach back are many of those who need you the most, at that moment. Be there for them.

Desk with computer and phone on it; text says "Online office hours"Consider having more online office hours than you might have had in-person ones, not fewer ones. I used my LMS’ Chat tool for a ‘live” experience or tell students you will be in an “online office hour discussion board” during the following hours. Tell them any question is okay—that you’ll answer what you can and crowdsource some tech questions which you might not know how to answer. Then send those questions to your IT staff for answers! Know that you might sometimes be alone, but having the hours will mean a lot to students, even if they don’t use them.

Technology Anxieties

Expect that students—especially those who have not enrolled in hybrid or online classes before—might struggle with understanding the in’s and out’s of your institution’s LMS. Hopefully your institution will offer a “quick introduction” for these students. But have the URL ready to send to any student who might need it. You might even consider adding it as a part of your email signature. Or consider creating a few “pertinent links” which you include at the start of every communication you have with students. That way students can easily find what they need to locate, thanks to you.

Be generous with your deadlines and your procedures for students turning in assessments. Yes, students should upload a written document via the Assessment tool, but many might not understand how to do that. Please, this is not a time to believe all the hype that this generation is hyper-connected and therefore should know everything about technology. Take the time to explain each step (PowerPoint or other presentation slides can be a lifesaver for this kind of knowledge-sharing). But in case someone doesn’t do it correctly, give students an “out.” Perhaps tell them that you require them to upload assessments via the assessment tool but you will also allow for a grace period (determine how long you want it to be and put it in the directions of the assessment) where a student could send the assessment to you via LMS email. Yes, it will likely mean that some students send it to you twice, but if it calms their anxiety, it will be worth it.

Consider what content you decide to “open” to students and when. Students new to the software may not think to look for due dates, so consider guiding them by only opening the content which is only needed during the first week of online teaching and learning. As students get more comfortable with the software, you could always open more content for those who might want to work ahead.

Consider a “technology bonus.” What do I mean? Think about giving all students in the class bonus points (maybe even a substantial one) for coping with new technological ways of having to learn. Yes, this could be an artificial ‘bump’ in grades, but so what? These are unusual times and offering this makes you seem humane and understanding of their concerns.

A few additional technological pieces of advice: 1) Think in small bites of information. What might have worked for your 75 minute in-class slide presentation/talk will need to be posted in sections, once you start adding in audio and text. Best practices say to think in 5-15 minute sections, with 10 minutes being ideal; 2) Caption everything. It’s the law. But especially if you are having to create content at home, with a less-than-stellar microphone, you will want to caption the content in case the audio is not that great. And realize that students who might be stuck in dorms or their homes might have to listen to your content when others are around, so they might need the volume to be lower than they’d like. Having content captioned will help everyone to master the content you want them to learn. Be sure you explain to students or show them how to turn on the captioning though – different technologies do it differently.

Learning Anxieties

Stressed studentMany students will be worried about how their learning (and your teaching) will be impacted by the shift to online teaching. Talk with them about this in your letter to them and your posts. Some students who are very verbal in class might be worried that they are not strong writers and therefore might do less well on discussion board assessments which you might be creating. One way to minimize their worries is to post a few examples of strong, good, and weak discussion posts written by you, so that all students can see exactly what level of detail, engagement with texts, and length of response will earn what kind of grade. Be encouraging with all students, especially on the first discussion assessment you create. Gently guide but let them know you are proud that they made the transition and are trying to show their learning in this (potentially) new way.

Conversely, other students might be excited to be able to write their thoughts versus having to talk in class. So expect that some students will blossom in online discussions. One tip: don’t say to such a student, “Why didn’t you share these kinds of insights in class?” You’ll be exhausted during this transition and these kinds of comments may come to you—so set your internal filter a bit higher, so that you don’t post them. Don’t beat yourself up for having such thoughts, if you do, but please police your public comments to students.

Beware of the Emotional Rollercoaster:  The Invisibles, the Not There So Much Students, and Other Worries

One of the worries shared by every faculty member who teaches online is that some students just never log on or others start well but then over time their engagement falls off precipitously. When you also see that same student in a face-to-face class, it’s easy to pull him or her aside and say “Hey, what’s happening?” But that’s nearly impossible online, for one specific reason—no matter how many check-up messages you send the student, if the student isn’t logging on, then the disconnect will continue. Here’s where you might want to ask your institution a strategic question about pedagogy: Will they have anyone (working remotely) whose job will be to contact students in other ways (likely via phone or text messaging) to assess what is happening with the student and perhaps coach the student through whatever technological or personal blocks might be happening to keep the student from doing better in the course? And if your institution does have this as part of its plan, how should you as a faculty member share information about a student who is concerning you?

Don’t assume these students “don’t care” about your class. That is usually not even true in a normal academic term, but this is far from a normal term. A student might have deliberately chosen face-to-face classes because of limited internet access, only to now have every class moved online. There might be economic or health or family pressures (or some combination) that have overwhelmed the student. Remember, some work-study students or those with campus jobs might now be scrambling to find work, while campuses are closed. They may not be able to prioritize online learning right now.

Female student, sitting on bed, looking morose, surrounded by books, notebooks, and phoneFor other students, the loneliness of having no social interaction with peers might engulf them and they might not have coping skills to manage the transition to online courses in addition to everything else going on in their lives. [An aside: you might want to find out if your institution will be offering online counseling services during the campus shutdown. If it is, always include the information on how to access that in all communication with your students.] If or when (hopefully, it is when!) a student returns to your online environment, again, be gentle and see if there are ways to adjust the schedule to help the student to succeed in learning your course content. Normally I am pretty firm about deadlines, but these are not normal times and kindness needs to outweigh steadfastness to norms.

If you can, check-in with seniors who are about to graduate whom you know, whether they are in your classes or not. They most of all might be on edge—worried about if the term might be canceled and they won’t be graduating, and/or worried about the worsening economy as the virus not only decimates people’s lives but our economy as well. Take the minute or two to write an e-mail, if you can—they will appreciate it. If you have advisees, try a mass e-mail to all and more detailed emails to those who have particular curricular issues that may be impacted by this health/educational situation. Let them know that you are thinking about them and that you will be ready to help once the coronavirus situation has been resolved.

Text: Be kind to others, be kind to yourselfMy overall guidance—be kind, be gentle…to yourself, to your students, to teaching and learning staff and instructional technology staff, and to your support system. While in one way you are figuring all this out for your classes, there are thousands of faculty just like you, making the same decisions, dealing with the same “What now?” feelings. Reach out–help is close by. Don’t go it alone. I am happy to help anyone, either sharing what I know or helping to connect you to others who know more than I do. Just reach out in the comments. Good luck.

Here are some resources which might help you. Thanks to all the scholars who are sharing, not hoarding, information.

Google Document put together by Teaching and Learning Centers across the country. Links can be accessed for help.

Google Document on Teaching in the context of COVID-19 (lots of useful links)

Google Document: Resources for Online Meetings, Classes, and Events by Facilitators for Pandemic Response Group and other collaborators

Barbara Smith’s Twitter thread: https://twitter.com/nanaslugdiva/status/1236005712020426752

Mapping Access’ Accessible Teaching in the Time of Covid-19 by Aimi Hamraie

Online Learning’s article by Saltz and Heckman on “Using Structured Pair Activities in a Distributed Online Breakout Room”

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Going Online in a Hurry: What to Do and Where to Start” by Michelle D. Miller

Dr. Paige Harden’s Twitter thread: https://twitter.com/kph3k/status/1237383704311476224

The Teaching Professor article by Molly Barnet and Linda A, PhD on YouTube and Creating Videos

Katie Linder’s free online community, “Keep Teaching: Resources for Higher Ed” to share knowledge about academic continuity (will require registration)

Online Teaching with the Most Basic of Tools—Email” – post on the Explorations in The Ed Tech World blog by Dr. Tannis Morgan

Sean Michael Morris’ Twitter thread: https://twitter.com/slamteacher/status/1236036921488367616

Some Resources for Online Teaching from the Wabash Center Resource Collection

InsideHigherEd article: So You Want to Temporarily Teach Online by Stephanie Moore and Charles B. Hodges

Some video captioning links:

University of Washington accessibility tips on captioning

Social Media Examiner blog

Google on how to caption YouTube videos

TechSmith blog on how to caption

How To Find Teaching Colleagues

So, you are still struggling to find a community of teaching practice. Now what? In this post I’ll offer some ideas about what to do and in next week’s post I’ll suggest what departmental leaders—chairs or heads—might do to create such a community.

If you followed my advice from last week, you might have found a few individuals who seem to care about pedagogy and using the scholarship of teaching and learning in their classes. First, a few suggestions about how not to communicate with these colleagues:

Text says "Snobs" with the red circle over it which symbolizes "No"-Don’t say “No one seems interested in pedagogy and teaching on this campus, except me. But I’m hoping I could persuade you to start caring about your teaching. Want to get together?” I don’t think most of us would say that, but I have seen someone come pretty close to it once. What you don’t want to seem is elitist or a better teacher just wanting to show up everyone else.

Two Caucasian females, whispering-Don’t badmouth your institution. What do I mean? Don’t start off your email with: “I can’t believe this place doesn’t have a Teaching and Learning Center—what is wrong with it?” Your goal is to find faculty who care about teaching. Those faculty may or may not agree with administrative funding decisions. Focus on what you want—finding people who want to talk about teaching—and only that.

-Don’t assume that they don’t care about their students. I think it’s better to assume that every faculty member does care about the success of their students. But people could well be overwhelmed with their teaching load, their advising load, work/life balance, health issues, family life, life on the road as an adjunct, their research, politics in the US right now, sleep deprivation, and so on. Also remember you are likely unaware of most of the ways they are helping students (because few of us know about how we help students because we don’t share our ideas), and you don’t want to alienate an ally. So be kind when you craft your message to colleagues.

If so, it’s time to see if you can pull them together. I’d suggest sending a group email (with addresses public) like this:

Black and white image of outline of human body; text says "Let me introduce myself"“[Sentence or two to introduce yourself.] Want to get together to share ideas about teaching? Let’s find a time when many of us can get together at (insert name of a good  place for relaxing conversations on or near campus). I know we’re all busy, but I hope that you can join us for exchanging ideas about teaching. I look forward to seeing you.”

Screen capture of a meeting polling software, which shows 4 individuals and what time they can and cannot make meetingIf your school’s email system allows you to add a poll about meeting dates (either via a 3rd party software like Doodle or an internal option), then I suggest you try that. Nothing can annoy individuals more than a protracted email back and forth between several people who are trying to find an acceptable time to meet. One more suggestion: be sure that the times which you suggest parallel your institution’s class schedule. You’ll likely get fewer people to come if your meet-up if it crosses two different class periods. I’d recommend sending one additional email invitation and then a reminder email only to those who said they are coming.

Another idea to consider is to see if your institution has a listserv for faculty and staff where you might post a similar message. These are usually moderated, so expect that it might take up to 24 hours to get posted and build that time into your dissemination schedule. Don’t forget that many staff teach/adjunct for their own institution and care about student success.

You might want to invite all individuals in your department/academic unit. Since they are your “closest neighbors” by inviting all of them, it will be less likely to be perceived as you “picked” only some colleagues and not others. A flyer or a more personalized version of the email would be fine to put in their campus mailbox.

Green couch. Text says "Small groups, because life is better when you're doing it together"Don’t worry if there are only a few individuals who come to your first meet up. Small isn’t bad—just don’t assume that others who couldn’t make it don’t care about teaching. There’s research, service commitments (committee meetings, etc.), and so many other reasons why a faculty member might not be able to make one specific date.

Keep trying…and remember, as I said last week, there are also online colleagues who would welcome conversations about pedagogy. Write to me—I’d love to start a conversation!

Next week I’ll offer some advice for department heads/chairs about how they can build a community of teaching practice in their academic unit. Till then, add a comment about how you have reached out to your institutional colleagues to start teaching conversations.

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual consulting, dissertation editing, or coaching about writing.


Building a Community of Teaching Practice

White male, alone in room, sitting on chair. His head braced on arms, elbows on knees. Dejected lookingIs this you? You are in an academic unit where conversations about pedagogy happen infrequently, if ever. You long to grab a cup of coffee or tea and sit and talk about teaching with colleagues. You feel alone and isolated and worry your lack of pedagogical conversations might be limiting your students’ success.

Red background, white font that says "Find your people"It sounds like you’ll have to find your “teaching people” then. So how to start? Let’s get the obvious out of the way first—is there a teaching and learning center on campus? The staffs of such centers are there because they believe in sharing the practice of teaching and want to partner with more faculty to examine teaching scientifically and to use the scholarship of teaching and learning in the classroom. Put differently, they are committed to evidence-based analysis of teaching and learning and then using data to implement changes in pedagogy.

Wordle about teaching and learning centers and key tasks they do for and with faculty and students-If your campus has such a center, go…now. You’ll find people who love to think and talk about teaching as well as lots of resources to help you. Unfortunately though, on some campuses, such centers are perceived to be for those who “don’t teach well.” Don’t let that false assumption stop you. Teaching and learning centers are for those faculty and staff who are dedicated to creating student learning and student success. That means they are committed to testing pedagogical ideas—and helping faculty to pick themselves up if they fail, only to try again. They will listen to your ideas, ask a lot of questions, and encourage you to try new pedagogical strategies when—and only when—they make pedagogical sense in the context of your courses.

But if your institution doesn’t have a teaching and learning center, the journey to create a community of teaching practice will be harder. What to do? Here are some suggestions:

Picture of ear and hand around it, in a "listening" position-Listen to students, before and after your class. Whose classes do they say challenge them? Excite them? Interest them? And whose do they say are boring or “the easy A?” Remember the names of the faculty who challenge and excite your students.

Busy hallway outside of classroom; full of people-If you can, walk around the hallways, listening as others teach. Do you hear individuals who—irrespective of disciplinary content—teach in ways you’d like to consider teaching? Maybe it’s that they utilize active learning or group activities in ways that you are not yet doing? Don’t be afraid to lurk, and not just in the building you normally teach in. Go to where faculty from other disciplines teach too.

-Does your institution give a teaching award? If so, locate the last few awardees and ask if you could sit in on a class or two. Then see if you can talk with them about what you observed. Ask them about other faculty who are innovative teachers.

Adams University Instructional Technology Center-Contact your Instructional Technology department (it might be called by another name). Ask for some faculty contacts who are using technology in what they perceive to be innovative ways. Feel free to explain why you are asking. If you are teaching hybrid or online courses, this might be your best, first option.

-If there are other institutions nearby, look up similar academic units on their campus. I think it would be a rare teaching and learning center which would turn down helping a faculty member at a nearly educational site. Admittedly, the center might be less able to share resources with you, but time talking should be fine.

Near bottom of slide are about thirty figures of people, all in black shadow. Above them are the icons for many online communities, such as Facebook, etc.-Look for online groups. Sociology, for example, has several Facebook groups devoted to pedagogical interests (see the end of this post for links to some of them). Usually, there are some screening questions before one can join, but the process is fairly painless. Often there are several posts a day. They might be from people asking for pedagogical ideas to teach a specific concept; others might be asking for classroom management tips, or the poster might be sharing how a pedagogical strategy “went” in class. Such groups typically have a search function, so that you can find past comments about a teaching strategy you are interested in trying in class.

Academic Twitter -- the blue bird that is Twitter's icon wearing a black mortarboard-Academic Twitter also is a great place to look for pedagogical conversations (in byte-size pieces, admittedly!). Look for some discipline-specific twitter accounts but here are some exceptional higher education accounts to follow:

@AcademicChatter – connect with grad students, ECRs, and senior academics

@BarbiHoneycutt – her account; lots of techniques on breaking up lectures, etc.

@CathyNDavidson – her account

@cirtlnetwork – Advancing the teaching of STEM disciplines

@deandad – Matt Reed’s account (formerly “Dean Dad” columnist at IHE, now uses own name)

@dgooblar – David Gooblar’s account (columnist at The Chronicle)

@Katie_Linder – her account

@KenBain1 – his account

@NEH_ODH – NEH Digital Humanities account

@PSUOpenCoLab – praxis-oriented lab focused on innovative, student-centered pedagogy

@saragoldrickrab – Sara Goldrick-Rab’s account

@teachingcollege – encourages engagement with scholarship on teaching

@ThomasJTobin – his account; going alt-ac; accessibility and universal design

@tressiemcphd – Tressie McMillan Cottom’s account

So readers, what are your favorite online sources to get pedagogical support or inspiration? Share in the comments. And next week, we’ll discuss how to start your own teaching circle/teaching support group.

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual consulting, dissertation editing, or coaching about writing.

Resources To Get You Started

Agile Learning – blog by Derek Bruff

Chronicle of Higher Education (some articles behind paywall)

Inside Higher Ed

SOTL by Design

The Teaching Professor

Facebook Groups – Sociology

https://www.facebook.com/groups/teachingsoc — Teaching with a Sociological Lens

https://www.facebook.com/groups/371311144336/ — Shared Teaching Resources for Sociology

https://www.facebook.com/Sociology-23816907516/ — Sociology

https://www.facebook.com/socimages/ — Sociological Images

https://www.facebook.com/sociologyatwork/ — Sociology at Work

Facebook Groups – Pedagogy

https://www.facebook.com/groups/lecturebreakers/ — Lecture Breakers

https://www.facebook.com/groups/48984828263/ – Curriculum & Pedagogy

Facebook Groups – Higher Ed






Departmental Politics: How to be a good “senior colleague”

Bed, with white linens. Red rose petals spread all over itLife in an academic department is not always a “bed of roses.” In fact, sometimes it can be downright fraught with tension and backbiting. In that sense, academe is like every other worksite—humans interact there, and humans don’t always get along well.

I want to write a series of blog posts about departmental politics—several readers asked me to consider the topic and I found the request intriguing. I’ve decided to start with the role of senior faculty colleagues, because I know it best. Next week I’ll talk about “newer” faculty. Then I’ll turn to department heads/chairs, and lastly, I’ll talk about how to get help if you feel you are in a situation that is unmanageable.

If you are a senior faculty member (but not the chair/department head), are there things you can do (and not do) to try and lessen tension? I think that there are.

Blue circle in white square. It says "Breathe... & count to 10..."Don’t reply immediately to a new idea with criticism (especially if it comes from a junior faculty member). Even if you can see lots of potential problems should the idea be implemented, let the idea “sit.” Listen to what others have to say, first. I found this to be a very useful strategy during the last five years before I retired, even before I had officially announced my retirement date—I knew it was coming and I wanted to be a good departmental citizen. So I made a commitment to myself to pull back a bit from programmatic conversations, because ultimately, many of them wouldn’t involve me, long-term. I chose to only raise concerns if I knew or if I was worried that the idea (or more often, the implementation of the idea) might violate university or system policies or procedures. Then I would raise the issue, but I’d suggest—if possible—ways to implement the idea, just within the existing policies or help draft a request for a waiver.

Refrain from constantly referring to “when I started out teaching.” Some newer colleagues might not have been born when you started teaching—let that sink in and help you to self-edit. Your colleagues could choose to tune out if you keep harking back to “the good old days when….” The profession of teaching has changed in the thirty-some years I was a part of it—use of technology, class size, funding, availability of tenure-track positions v. number of adjunct positions, publishing requirements, and I could go on. So comparisons to “back in my day” often alienate instead of unify.

Quote about communication: "A lot of problems would disappear if we talk to each other instead of about each other"Communicate with your colleagues. Not to talk with them is a sign of disrespect. I had a colleague who would attend every meeting of our program faculty, but would never say a word. But then the faculty member would vote—often differently than the other faculty—and wouldn’t offer explanations or clarifications afterwards. It was hard to feel that that senior colleague was “one of us” when we never learned what was on his mind about the curriculum, the program, or the relationships between all of us in the program.

Don't be a jerkDon’t be a jerk. Understand that as a more senior faculty member, you have privilege, be it seniority/tenure, or likely a higher salary due to rank, a better office, and so on. Use your privilege if you see sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, etc. Don’t make newer colleagues have to do it—especially if they are the victim.

Students come first!Put the students’ needs first, then the needs of the program, unless there are extenuating circumstances. I understand that parents might need to start their teaching day later or end it earlier than those of us who do not have children to drop off or pick up from school. I taught an 8 AM section for years because I loved that hour and wanted to help out my colleagues and our program. But I never liked having senior colleagues (and not just them) who would just issue edicts, about, for example, the classes they wanted to teach next semester and were intransient about negotiating, even if it meant that required courses had to be taught at the same time, thus increasing students’ time to graduation.

And the cardinal rule to follow is,

White older female with glasses, holding finger to mouth as if "shushing" studentsDon’t denigrate students, even behind their backs. I realize we all can have a bad day and share something that happened in class as a way to vent—I get that. But if day after day, all a senior faculty member does is talk bad about students to other colleagues, it sets a bad example and can poison the learning environment for all.

How do you think senior faculty should act, in terms of departmental politics? Share in the comments.

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual consulting, dissertation editing, or coaching about writing.

You Mean You Don’t See My Paper Like I Do? . . . That Explains Everything!

Text with two errors circled in red; one is a typo/misspelling and other error is a word repeated twiceDuring the semester, students usually hated getting graded papers back from me (or so they said*). Largely this was because I noticed everything, grammatically-speaking. I would comment on where their writing was strong, to be sure, but I also commented on repetitive errors. I’d use bright colored ink and write with my calligraphy pen (until I started grading online and then I used Word’s comment function to write on their papers). Not infrequently I heard a student comment that “she bled” all over the returned paper (even though I never used red ink).

I know that there is a debate amongst those who teaching writing about how many grammar errors to call attention to, and over time, I found myself making fewer comments on students’ papers. I’d circle consistent errors and then write a note about them at the end of the paper. I also always started with one or two compliments, before talking about how their writing could be improved. After grading all the assignments, I would usually write a letter to the class with links to websites and the style guide manual which could show them how to correct writing errors that were made most frequently.

Students in class, workingI came to rely on “peer writing workshop days,” scheduled into classes where I was requiring a significant writing project from students (individually or as a group project). These workshop days strengthened their papers, pre-grading. I’d require a “polished rough draft” be turned in—without any names—from each student or group, as the case may be. We’d then work to create a “look for these things” list and put them on the whiteboard in one column, so that all students had access to it. We’d put examples of “the error” and “the correction” in two more columns. Many of our examples were about the American Sociological Association’s citation style (ASA), which our program required students to use and with which they often struggled mightily. We’d also make a list of helpful versus less-than-helpful comments to use when they got to reading the other student’s paper. My favorite “less-than-helpful” comment shared by a student was “Never say ‘why in the (expletive) did you choose this topic?—when the paper is due in four days.’” I think that’s good advice, don’t you?

After our list was created, I would redistribute the “polished drafts” to each member of the class. We used an honor code—if students got their own paper or one they’d read before, they were to tell me and I’d give them another. The room would get quiet, as students settled in to read and comment on the paper before them. I would respond to questions, like, “I think this is wrong ASA style but wanted your opinion before I wrote it down—is it?”

It was during one of these workshop days in my Sociological Theory course when I learned that my brain works differently than most other people’s. A student walked up and joined a line of about five other students waiting to talk to me. He was about six feet from me. He held up the paper he was reviewing for me to see. I looked up just for a second and said to him, “Did you notice all the spelling errors on that page?” He just stared at me; then he blurted out, “How do you know there are spelling errors? You’re too far away to read it yet!!!”

The word "synesthesia," with each letter in a different color fontBut the thing is—I could see the typos very easily. They were in a different (red) font versus the rest of the paper being in black font. Only…they weren’t really in red; that’s just how my brain processed the page. When I said to the student, “oh, that’s a typo, it’s in red font” he just looked at me. They all stared at me like I was crazy. I said, “don’t you see the page that way too?” I had just assumed…and was wrong. I went home that night and discovered that I have a neurological condition called synesthesia. It’s not just typos which are in color. Spacing errors (too many or too few) appear to my brain to be highlighted in neon green. Other kinds of errors are highlighted in grey-ish blocks. I have to pay more attention to those to figure out what kind of writing or grammar errors they are, but I know that there’s something wrong.

This was a real learning moment for the class and for me. They were astounded that my brain was wired so differently than theirs were—but only about writing issues. As one student said, “Well, this explains everything about how you grade our papers, Dr. L!” Actually, I was taken aback, too. I had long suspected that there had to be a reason why I was so good at noticing writing errors, but I had never articulated how I see words on paper before to anyone else. Saying the words, “typos are in red font” and seeing that others didn’t perceive the text the same way, made things real for me in a way that they’d not been before.

My synesthesia has been a blessing. I didn’t have a choice—this is how my brain has worked, likely from birth. But my brain’s uniqueness has shaped how I have lived out my status as professor and now, as an editor. I can assure clients that they can be confident that grammar errors will be “caught,” due to my synesthesia. I just can’t return a manuscript until I have fixed all the errors which my brain shows me are there.

This has also helped me to re-remember that every one of us is unique. Many students might make errors—in following directions, in submitting assessments on time online, in creating presentations, etc.—because they process information differently than I do, than other students do. Talking with students before grading assessments that seemed very different than what I was expecting often helped me to discover information about the student—if the student chose to share information with me—that helped me better understand why the assessment was the way that it was. That didn’t always mean I would grade it differently, but it did mean that the student and I could strategize to see if there were ways to the student to manage assessments in my class. For example, one student consistently “read” my directions very differently than I meant them. So we made a pledge to meet the day after the student started to work on the assessment, to talk through what she thought I wanted, so that if it was different than what I did want, she had time to adjust her work. When these meetings proved to be successful, I immediately offered them to the entire class: “come talk with me about how you understand the assessment, before you begin it, in order to increase the likelihood of your success.”

Text says, "Your perception may not be my reality."Perceptions matter—be they based on brain functioning or any other reason. Help your students to understand how their perceptions are shaping their behavior and own your perceptions too. Once I knew I “saw” papers differently than my students did, I told them about it during the first few days of the term and shared with them that it meant I was likely to notice all their typos and spacing errors, perhaps more than any other professor had. They better accepted those comments and understood where they came from.

So what’s your “power” (I hesitate to call it a “superpower”—that would be overstating my students’ view of my synesthesia)? Do you share it with your students? How does it impact your teaching? Your professional life as an academic?

*Usually, I received 5 or more emails every semester from graduates thanking me for “making” them learn to write better. Many said that it took several years to realize how much they had grown as writers after taking my courses. Often they’d contact me after a boss congratulated them on how they wrote a report or a judge complimented them on how they wrote up a case.

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual consulting, dissertation editing, or coaching about writing.