ETM Winter Academy 2020 Conversations Recap

Stewart, Brennan/ December 18, 2020/ Workshop/ 0 comments

Last week, ETM hosted daily hour-long conversations with participating staff and faculty at Seattle Pacific University, in conjunction with the Winter Teaching Academy. For more information about the Winter Teaching Academy, make sure to check out our previous post here:

During these open conversations, ETM, faculty, and staff came together to diverge on four key topics, reflecting the topics of the Winter Teaching Academy: Course Planning and Alignment, the Remote Teaching Template, Community and Belonging, and Course Climate. We’ve compiled the highlights of our joint findings within the sections below, organized by the sub-topical questions that were asked. 

Course Planning & Alignment

How course planning can help faculty do less work. 

What worked well for our faculty last quarter? 

For faculty who recorded their lecture content in advance, they found more time for planning activities and engaging with students during the actual run of the course. After adding captions to their media and providing information through multiple modalities, faculty felt comfortable with the outcomes their students were achieving, even if the faculty member was not completely comfortable teaching in a remote modality just yet. 

Working with the teaching template helped faculty frame their objectives more clearly, while identifying the length of time required to complete course activities. One professor noted how this felt more like being up-front with students about their course requirements. 

What was prioritized in our courses? 

Integrating both the course topic and a Christian perspective meant there was a TON of content to go over. Here, faculty discussed prioritizing essential readings, trying to make them as short and succinct as possible (50-70 pages of reading per week), and, if one particular issue was hard to cut, including content in a “going deeper” section, allowing students to dig into what they were interested in, time allowing. In one example, a faculty member found a large number of students not only read these “going deeper” readings, but utilized them in their final papers.  

Was there a face-to-face activity that translated to online learning? 

In the mindset of trying to “replicate” activities of traditional learning modalities, many faculty explored a plethora of digital learning activities. 

  • Breakout rooms were a mixed bag in terms of how well they were used. Some faculty found it beneficial to have students report back on the group’s findings to make sure conversations were happening. 
  • Faculty who used FlipGrid in their courses found the tool as a fun and engaging way for students to share more personal experiences in a stress-free setting. 
  • PollEverywhere was suggested by ETM as a live polling tool for professors to collect anonymous data from their students and display the results mid-lecture. 

What did we learn from a shift in modality, and what could transfer back to the classroom? 

Faculty concluded with discussing two ways they found gave students the extra push they needed to succeed in an online learning environment. 

  • Creating a short video for each assignment (in case students had questions or missed the introduction during live lectures) 
  • Inputting more “get to know you/each other” activities early on, when intentional, helped students interact and create connections beyond their roommates or friends also taking the course. Giving students the opportunity to connect with similar peers was a refreshing addition! 

Remote Teaching Template

How it helped my students succeed! 

In this session, we discussed with participating faculty the Remote Teaching Template (RTT), other department-specific templates, and asked what could be changed to make the RTT better for courses in the future. 

How did the RTT assist faculty in developing courses within Canvas? 

The biggest response here was that the template showed the full power of what a well-developed class can look like in Canvas, with all the work and maintenance that comes with it. It also helps make sure the whole structure of Canvas is utilized and student perspectives were considered, creating less confusion within the courses. 

What was the student feedback on this? 

While there weren’t student survey questions specifically asking about the course and its organization within Canvas, a few student viewpoints were clear. Because the templates aren’t required across departments, it’s difficult to measure their success in creating familiarity with similarly-structured courses. However, since the RTT is very student-view focused, discussions (and other high-traffic student activities) were utilized better overall. After further discussion, faculty feedback of the RTT asked for more opportunities within the template to build structured student connection. 

What parts of the RTT have faculty found beneficial? 

Faculty loved the Getting Started module, especially with first- or second-year students in each program, who were new to Canvas, online learning, and SPU as a whole. Not only did it set a friendly tone for the course, but also helped increase the use of multiple modalities within the class. 

The Overview and Summary pages were also highlighted as helpful for narrowing down what students need to be focusing on, as well as encouraging students to go and explore more. 

Lastly, for some faculty, seeing their pages ordered within the Modules tab helped them structure their learning and activities along a linear line of thought, helping guide their students from Concept A to Concept B through the structure of their course. 

What are faculty utilizing as the Homepage for their courses? 

While Canvas courses default to displaying the Modules, Pages, or Syllabus tabs for a course’s homepage, the RTT establishes an intentional Homepage for students to have a central landing spot for the course, as well as give some initial instructions upon first clicking into the course. 

The Homepage in the RTT acts as a guide for setting up a well-designed “Welcome!” page. Some faculty filmed welcome videos for their homepages, others wrote their welcomes in announcements or discussions. Well-structured courses linked their announcements, welcome note, and class information all within their homepage, utilizing functional, appealing buttons with links to the rest of their course content. 

Community and Belonging

Practices that helped faculty show up and create belonging for your students 

What was the hardest part about being present as an instructor in this environment? 

Oh, you mean the elephant in the room? Faculty found an array of problems with teaching in an online environment that ranged all over the spectrum. Students not turning their cameras on during Zoom class sessions (whether by choice or technical failure) created questions of who was actually participating. To this end, and with the support of the DSS office, encouraging camera use (but not *requiring* it) and moving into smaller breakout groups could see an uptick of students turning on their cameras and visually participating. 

It is, however, impossible sometimes to visit with all of the breakout groups to make sure every group is performing well. The larger size of some courses also created a roadblock for faculty to create personal interactions with individual students. In the end, faculty can also encourage students to share the responsibility of creating community within courses. 

How did you introduce yourself outside of live lectures? 

When students learn through repetition in multiple modalities, introducing yourself once in a live lecture may not be enough. Some ideas to increase students’ perception of relationship with their professor revolved around weekly announcement messages sent to all students, opportunities for one-on-one meetings, personalized video introductions, About Me pages, and Introduction discussions. When combined, any number of these will attribute to a student feeling like they KNOW their professor, which, in turn, increases their sense of belonging within the course. 

Course Climate

I can’t see you, so how do I know how you’re doing? 

How have you been called upon to trust your students in different ways? 

Sometimes faculty, unable to sense the climate of the course, assume the worst. Students’ cameras are off during Zoom lectures, and lecturers can only hope that, if they’re even paying attention, that they’ll speak up if they have a question. Without eye contact, how can you tell when students are lost? Are they really there? Am I just talking to myself? It’s easy to assume the worst, even if it’s not always the case. Some students are uncomfortable with how their peers perceive them and their surroundings. Others find having the entire class on video distracting to their learning. Even others have privacy concerns, now that the entire class is present in their bedroom, kitchen, basement, or wherever. How then can faculty avoid these issues altogether? 

One suggestion is to shorten the time that students are being lectured to, and instead make more time for group discussion or breakout groups, keeping students fresh with a change of activities. In such times as these, with students feeling more isolated than ever, a group participation environment creates an environment where they can identify with their peers. 

Trusting students during tests and exams is also difficult. Without an observer physically present, cheating seems like an all-too-accessible solution to an easy grade. A few participating faculty noted success by changing how their exams work. Rather than asking students for a solution they could find on the internet, successful online quizzes require students to show their skills, analysis, or thinking. In this scenario, some faculty even allowed students to have access to their notes. Students perceive this scenario differently as well. Students feel judged with too many restrictions, as if they are all already assumed to be cheaters, just waiting to be caught. By allowing notes and shifting what we’re asking on our tests, this skepticism is dropped on the student perspective as well. 

How have students actively communicated with faculty this quarter? 

Apart from discussion responses and paper feedback, online education allows for multiple avenues for communication. One staff member in our discussion about course climate mentioned that they took the time to email students individually, reaching out to let them know in a personal way that they were there for their students and to check in if anything was needed. There was a positive response from 15-20% of their students! 

Weekly announcements are also a great way to blast communication, as well as build rapport as being actively engaged with the course. Remember, communication in this environment is much more of a deliberate process than it was in a traditional classroom! 

Can you comment on some of the following ideas for taking the pulse of your course? 

In our discussion, ETM provided a few examples of practices that faculty could incorporate to increase interaction within their courses. In the list below, we will provide a brief definition, as well as thoughts from our participating faculty. 

  • Chat Storm: A professor asks a short-answer question, has students type their responses in the chat, but asks them to wait until everyone submits their responses all together. The chats storm in, and can be responded to. The chat can then be saved from Zoom before the lecture is over, if you’d like to give further feedback or review later. This was a new idea for many faculty members, who were eager to try this out next quarter. 
  • Polling: A professor asks a multiple-choice question for immediate response, and can share the results in real-time. This doesn’t have to be a knowledge check, but could be a “how do you feel” question. (i.e., Poll Everywhere). 
  • Survey: A professor asks a series of question for delayed response. Students may take their time to fill out surveys, which could include how their course experience has been. Students feel their input matters, and the professor can gauge if there are any issues quarter-to-quarter. (i.e., Canvas Ungraded Survey). In our discussion, we discussed the differences between polling and surveys, as the former requires a spur-of-the-moment gut-decision, while the latter can be more detailed and heart-felt. 
  • Course Q&A: A feature built within the Remote Teaching Template, which is an open discussion board where students can ask open questions to the professor or other classmates. In our discussion, we realized this feature is a work-in-progress, as sometimes it worked well, but other times students found emailing their professor to be faster and more private. 

In all, each of these involves ways to receive course feedback that’s not just verbal. The addition of multiple modalities offers the lecturing faculty the ability to take the climate of their course in new and more thorough ways. 

How has an online environment created or removed space for everyone to have a voice? 

While traditional strategies to ensure each student provides input in a course are difficult in an online environment (you can’t always call on the student sitting in the back corner who hasn’t yet participated), in many ways chat-based participation has emboldened students to speak more liberally over text than they would in front of a room full of their peers. Students don’t usually hang around after class to chat through questions or topics they want to explore more deeply, but leaving a zoom class open after a session has ended and allowing students to “hang back” can recreate a similar opportunity… but the informal “see you in the hallway and ask how you’re doing” simply isn’t there. 

One important discussion that came up provoked the idea that students avoided “office hours” that faculty had set aside for student meetings, if the students even knew they were available. In this scenario, students feel a bother to their instructors for disrupting their time to get work done, rather than recognizing that this time is created especially for them. First, several faculty members found it helpful to encourage participation in their office hours, as students appreciate them being offered as a support, even if they don’t feel the need to go. Additionally, changing the terminology to more relaxed language such as “drop-in hours” creates a more relaxed environment for students, insinuating that students can stay and ask questions for as long as they need, rather than booking a quick block of time they need to adhere to. 

The staff and faculty who attended our conversations found the discussions to be beneficial for their upcoming courses, building off of another successful quarter of teaching in a remote, online environment. If you’d like to explore more into this content, the Winter Teaching Academy is open for use and enrollment until January 31st, 2021.

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