Thursday, June 23, 2016

Cal. State Univ. Course Redesign with Tech. - Day 3 Summary

The highlights of yesterday's sessions included one on inclusivity, a student Q&A panel, an accessibility presentation, and a sneak peek into assessment data from last year's CRT projects. I'll touch briefly on my takeaways.

The most broad pattern was that much of the day didn't seem to focus greatly on technology specifically, but just best practices for teachers to improve student success in general.

Consider whether/how your incorporation of technology will impact inclusion (sensu lato). The most obvious example would be: if you post videos of all of your lectures, do all of your students have equal access to the technology needed to view those videos?

The presentation focused on how we can engage the diversity of students (again, sense lato: age, ethnicity, sexual orientation…) in our courses. I focused my attention specifically on how we need to use examples, case studies, language that is inclusive. One goal is to make material relevant to students, and to do that we need to know about our students and where they are coming from (both literally and figuratively). One practice that I use, which I think addresses this need, is to use exit tickets (brief written responses from students at the end of a class period) to ask students:

  • How can you envision the material from class today being relevant to you (or to society)?

This approach not only makes students try to imagine how to apply the material but also provides me with a list of examples of how the material is personally relevant to all of my students. I can use these examples/case studies in the following class period as part of a review, as well as in the following semesters. This approach gives me the opportunity to view the course material through the lens of each student's self-identity, rather than relying on my perception (through the lens of my biases) of student identity.

Student Panel
With questions from the faculty redesigning their courses, topics ranged widely. The opinions of three students, who were willing to attend an academic conference during the summer (i.e. not necessarily representative of all students), suggested that faculty should:

  • Use e-mail to communicate with their classes (as opposed to social media)
  • Tell students in advance what will happen each class period so they can prepare
  • Be personable - make yourself human (i.e., divulge a little personal information - do you have kids? what are your hobbies? Not extensively - no oversharing - but show that you're more than a brainiac)
  • Be sympathetic to the student condition (potential influences of housing and food insecurity, necessity of work and family commitments, etc., on their attendance, appearance, performance)
  • Not be overly concerned about how they (faculty) dress

The top three student suggestions with the broadest consensus:

  • Provide not-filled-in lecture slides in advance of class, for students to take notes on
  • Audio and video record and post each lecture
  • Provide opportunities for virtual office hours, particularly at times students are most likely to need it (evenings, just before high-stakes assessments)

After a fantastic side-by-side comparison by a visually impaired student of the efficacy of using a screen reader to navigate a poorly-designed vs. well-designed syllabus, the importance of making syllabi accessible was clear. The question I asked the presenters after their session was: why is the focus (at least on my campus) always about accessible syllabi? The answer, as I had predicted, was: because it is something that every faculty member is required to produce. So, it is an easy starting point. But, the conversation will be moving beyond just a myopic focus on getting faculty at least to make accessible syllabi.

One of the pain points is (and will be, for the immediate future at least) how to make visual media accessible. The short-term solution: double-code everything. This is the same principle as using meta-tags for providing text descriptions of graphics, so that individuals who cannot see them can read about what the image contains/describes. When teaching, instead of using non-specific/non-descriptive phrasing like, "See how these photos show Donald Trump's hairstyle changing over time?" a more accessible version would include the instructor actually verbally describing what they see. This improves accessibility for all, which is the goal of accessibility, because it makes clear (to all of your students) the pattern you're hoping to point out. A second solution, which will take longer to roll out, is to use 3-D printers to make tactile models.

Assessment Data
Based on survey results of students who have taken courses redesigned as part of the CRT program, the following best approaches for faculty using technology to redesign courses were distilled by the Chancellor's Office (n.b. these are still preliminary results and from attitude/opinion questions, not from measures of student success like DFW rates):
  • Record and post lecture videos
  • Flip the classroom by pre-recording short lectures students must watch before attending class
  • Use clickers to maintain student engagement and collect formative assessment data
  • Provide digital collaborative opportunities, e.g. via shared Google Docs

My reflections on these preliminary findings:
  • I'm extremely happy to find that many of the approaches I've focused on over the last three years are represented in this list
  • Only one of these four practices involve in-class instructor (or student) use of technology. My initial reaction to this is that faculty probably resist having to rely on technology in the classroom and are most comfortable (not surprisingly) using the technology outside of class. I just ask faculty to remember that not only does having tech failure occur during class help us show our students that we, too, are human and fallible, but it also helps us model adaptation to adversity to our students

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Cal. State Univ. Course Redesign with Tech. - Day 2 Summary

Yesterday's program involved CSU faculty presenting on best practices in Course Redesign with Technology (CRT) and then a vendor faire and breakout sessions on various classroom technologies. Here are my biased impressions about the content, particularly related to the products the vendors offer, ridiculously distilled into a few points:

  1. Captioning technology can provide more than just monospace font family letters on a black background on your video (including interactive text transcripts, and a text search feature that graphically shows students the density of the search results as a function of temporal position within a video). I'm looking forward to using
  2. Faculty care a lot about academic dishonesty (i.e. cheating on online quizzes/exams), and the CSU system has contracts with two vendors (ProctorU and Proctorio) that use technology to administer and proctor online assessments
  3. Digital collaboration and feedback are ways for faculty to leverage technology to, presumably, improve student engagement and faculty efficiency. The former (demonstrated via Zoom yesterday) might involve videoconferencing for faculty office hours, to support students who can't be physically present during your scheduled office hours, for example. Zoom also has a shared whiteboard feature, and meetings can be recorded (e.g. for distributing to those who couldn't even attend remotely). The latter might involve enhanced ways to provide verbal (recorded) comments on student written work.

I have two mild concerns (just to play devil's advocate) related to these last two uses of technology:

  1. Isn't cheating really just collaboration? Identifying and/or preventing cheating perhaps should not be our focus; rather, maybe we should encourage it - this might give us an opportunity to control and appropriately channel the efforts some students go through to get good grades on tests.
  2. I regularly hear faculty use the phrase "meet the students where they're at." I think I appreciate where this sentiment is coming from, but I also wonder the extent to which we're pandering and exacerbating existing trends…we need to strike a balance between support and rigor.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Cal. State Univ. Course Redesign with Tech. - Day 1 Summary

Now that day one of the California State University (CSU) Course Redesign with Technology (CRT) 2016 summer institute is behind us, I'm going to summarize

Principles & Practices & Problems & Questions & Goals

Principles (emergent principles of efficacious CRT)
  • CRT can help engage students (but active learning ≠ employing ed tech - active learning can be computer-free)
  • Thus, it is critical to develop a sense of when to use tech and when not to
  • CRT is being leveraged broadly by faculty in high-enrollment classes to improve workflow efficiency (at its most simple, management processes like taking roll, distributing and collecting assignments)
  • In a flipped or hybrid course, an instructor can run the course remotely (e.g. while I'm traveling to conferences, or sick, or… I can provide students with reading and video lecture assignments, as well as digital collaborative group assignments…as long as I have cell service or wi-fi where I am)

These last two points can be leveraged as the "carrot" for expanding CRT efforts beyond early-adopter faculty

Practices (best practices distilled from my experiences in CRT + talks yesterday)

1) Setting student expectations is critical. Tell them regularly that your course will be unlike any they've ever had before. Explain (with or without data) that your goal is to teach them skills (not just content) they need to know to survive in any workforce, such as:

  • becoming lifelong self-learners (i.e. practicing how to educate themselves)
  • information literacy: how to find and assess the quality of information
  • work effectively with others
  • make evidence-based decisions

and therefore that your course will not be based on rote memorization and information regurgitation on exams

2) Spend time at the start of the course talking about how to take notes, especially for videos! Students will watch videos passively (like T.V.), so it is critical to get them practicing taking notes during videos. Richard Levine: it might be a best practice to have public viewing of pre-lecture videos with a TA present, and/or to ask students to watch pre-lecture videos in groups

3) Make online lecturing "interactive" - Ji Son: break up pre-lecture videos by inserting questions (using, for example)

4) Be prepared, have a backup plan, be flexible. Model to students how to adapt when problems challenges opportunities arise. Flexibility includes not being tied to a single workflow or app (a point I'll make again below): students, many of whom are digital natives, will probably discover (or already know) more efficient methods of doing things on computers/tablets/smartphones than the instructor is aware of. This one is really difficult, but try to accommodate this diversity.

5) Gamify education to engage students (e.g. Mary-Pat Stein from CSUN recommends; Estelle Eke uses mobile tech to run in-class student "competitions" where students are placed in anonymous pairs and compete against each other to answer a series of questions.

Problems (things to discuss with colleagues and cohorts)

1) A recurring concern across the day: faculty use flipped classroom approaches and students don't come prepared to class, even with low-stakes, frequent assessment to attempt to motivate students to do the work in advance

2) Students coming into a course with one or both mindset issues about the class topic:

  • I already learned it (thus, we faculty need to make the topic new/different/advanced/relevant)
  • I already failed to learn it, so I can't (fixed vs. growth student mindset)

3) Alternative conception that a flipped class means faculty can cover less content AND that it requires students to do more work.

Questions (do you have answers? please post a comment!)

1) Is a consistent classroom approach good or bad? Each day, the structure of my class is (to date) exactly the same. An "entry quiz" formative assessment, followed by discussing the answers to those questions. Then, brief mini-lectures on topics as necessary, followed by student activities/active learnings, followed by an "exit activity" (reflection, exit ticket, summative assessment)… Pro: students know what to expect. Con: students know what to expect.

2) How many apps/approaches constitute too much redesign at once for students who are new to tech-redesigned courses?

3) Should students be placed in groups or form their own groups?

4) For the flipped classroom approach (with pre-lecture videos), is it important for the student to see the instructor in the video (e.g. with Learning Glass from SDSU) or is screen capture with audio voiceover OK?

Goals (for me, for the future, inspired by presentations yesterday)

Simple (but very complicated): to teach a CRT class that doesn't rely at all on using any specific, proprietary apps or technology. I don't like relying on developers to keep their apps in existence, or updated for new operating system releases, or their availability on all possible operating systems and tablet/smartphone/computer platforms. This goal is part of the principle that faculty teaching tech-redesigned courses maintain flexibility: critical for dealing with unexpected issues that might arise one day during class. Plus, I'd like to keep student costs as low as possible, and divesting from specific apps, websites, platforms might help long-term success when, after using a free app for three years (and becoming highly dependent on it), the developer decides to start charging for it. Yes, this has happened to me!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Cal. State Univ. Course Redesign with Technology - Day 1 Plans

I'm currently in San Diego at the California State University's summer institute in the Course Redesign with Technology program. I'm a '16-'17 Proven Lead instructor, and some of you reading this are deciding whether to join my cohort as a Proven Adopting instructor.

You can see my e-portfolio (in progress) here:

Faculty are opting to join my cohort (along with biology discipline co-Lead Nicole Bournias-Vardiabasis) for one of two reasons:

  • Interested in pedagogical methodologies/approaches that I (we) use, or
  • Interested in developing a cohort of disciplinary colleagues who are actively participating in course redesign
If you are at the CRT institute and are interested in joining this cohort, please point your web browser to:
and join in the conversation. This will be one location (both now and after we depart San Diego) we can have active discussions.

Today (Day 1 of the institute), we're meeting at lunch with prospective cohort members. I'm looking forward to meeting with the Proven Adopting faculty! This evening, we have an opportunity to go to dinner together. I'm proposing to leave at 5:15 from the Sheraton Bay Tower lobby and to walk (1.5 mi each way) to Issara (Thai), if you'd like to join in. It seems like this is a good approach to wise spending of our dinner per diem, since we can share entrées if we decide to do so:

- Joe Ross