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

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