Monday, February 17, 2020

Honors at GCC and Inclusivity

"Learn communication strategies that influence diverse audiences. Express ideas and concepts precisely and persuasively in multiple formats, and employ writing conventions suitable to research and/or creative processes."

     Above is one of the learning outcomes in the honors program here at GCC. As both an online teacher and an honors instructor, it should come as no surprise that creating content that is accessible (and inclusive) to all learners is at the forefront of my mind. So when I set out to design a project for honors students in my Survey of Gothic Literature (ENH235) class, I wanted their presentations to include all audiences and to get at meeting this learning outcome.

     Creating a video screencast and using YouTube's Classic Studio to edit closed captioning seemed to be the best combination of accessibility goals and Universal Design for Learning principles--the videos would be accessible to students who are deaf or hard of hearing and also create benefits for all other students:

  • students absorb more by reading,
  • students who have English as a second or third language can listen and see the words, and
  • any student can pause the video and record important vocabulary in their notes.
     I met with students in person or via Google Meeting to explain the project. When I explained that they would need to caption the videos, that this meant more than just the auto-captioning from YouTube, and that one of their learning outcomes was to be able to communicate with diverse audiences in multiple formats, I was happy to get lots of head nods of agreement at the value of including all students.
Image from student video presentation used with permission.

     I believe students in this class are meeting this learning outcome by using a video format and writing (or editing) their closed captions. They are creating content that is inclusive of all learners and, I think and hope, learning a variety of other skills as well. 

Sunday, February 9, 2020

What's Inspiring Me Now

     The best a teacher can hope for and try to encourage is for her/his students to go off and become successful and, someday, to check back in to report on that success. Is there a better feeling? It turns out, there is. I know because I'm experiencing it right now.

Social Media Plus

     Fortunately, because of social media, it's easier than ever to stay in touch with former students. And while there are many, many I get to see become successful by earning their bachelor's degree, a master's degree, or even a PhD--some have gone on to become college professors, have written textbooks, books, have started families, have become politically active--there are a couple who have been speaking to me via their social media presence in ways I'm less familiar with. They're inspiring me to be more thoughtful in my own life. They're encouraging me to consider their passions like I once did in the classroom, I hope, for them.

    One is Tarrin who was a student of mine in 2003-2004. She is a certified Spiritual Director. Tarrin has been popping into my life in various ways lately. I started following her posts that had spiritual messages. Then we ran into each other at the Santigold concert at the Van Buren. Shortly after that, I spotted her business card in my favorite coffee shop: Esso Coffeehouse and Roastery. And lately, I've tuned in for some of her Monday tarot readings on Facebook. I do believe in synchronicity, and I think our crossing paths is meaningful. I'm trying to listen to what messages might be helpful--and this is a challenge for me because of reasons that would make another blog post or 200. Regardless, I've been seeking balance, and Tarrin has provided some hope to me. 

     Another is Sara. Sara is a talented athlete from a team I coached in 2011. She has just started a business in personal training with a small home gym. Sara's business social media is filled with inspiring photos of women working out, encouraging messages laid over her business logo, and thoughtful words of encouragement in her posts. Folks, I'm not even there working out with her, and I am finding inspiration from her and what she's doing. I have made some changes in my life--also regarding balance--and I am crediting Sara partly for those changes. 

When the Student Becomes the Teacher 

     There is a trust between teacher and student, unspoken. Students become vulnerable and open themselves up to learning and, as part of learning, failing. The teacher is vulnerable when she tries her best but may also sometimes fail and fail in front of a lot of people. Or expose herself as a giant nerd. The list could go on. But I find myself listening better when as a student, I have that trust--trust in the expertise of my teachers and trust that they have my best interests in mind and want to see me succeed. Some of that trust I give to teachers immediately because I don't know them, but I trust the profession. Tarrin and Sara get all of the trust because there is a history and, importantly, a relationship. How powerful is the combination of trust, relationship, and inspiration in changing lives.

     It is truly a pleasure getting to learn from those I once taught. It really is the best feeling.

Friday, March 8, 2019

3 Skills Required for the 21st Century Teacher

     Some of you might remember that Tenisha and I did an episode on this topic in Season One of Two Profs in a Pod. You can find that episode here:

     I'm going to discuss 3 skills I think are necessary for teachers now that we did not discuss in this episode--so you can listen to the episode, too!

Number 3

     An important skill to know and be able to apply is UDL. UDL stands for Universal Design for Learning. UDL's goals are to create "expert learners" who are strategic and goal oriented, resourceful and knowledgeable, and purposeful and motivated. Instructors use the UDL guidelines to help students access information, build knowledge, and internalize learning by providing multiple means of engagement, representation, action and expression. There are definitely elements in the guidelines that instructors may already do: giving choices to students, developing self-assessment and reflection, and supplying background. Still, the guidelines are full of strategies that help all students learn. They are a valuable resource to help instructors help all students. As we move all our students to credit classes, taking a look at these guidelines and setting a goal to up our game in this skill area is a good idea.

Number 2

     Another important skill instructors should have is the ability to craft lessons and learning experiences that cause just the right amount of struggle for students. In fact, "students do better when given room to struggle with difficulty," according to a study cited by Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel (2014), authors of the book Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. The trick is getting that struggle just right and scaffolding to assist students if the struggle pushes them to too high levels of anxiety where learning starts to fail and students start to quit. Knowing that point for each student is important. Allowing students to struggle and getting students comfortable with that feeling (without failing to experience it) will help them later when they encounter those same feelings in other situations like more advanced classes or their work.

Number 1

     A final necessary skill for 21st century teachers is being able to implement technology and teach technology to our students. Particularly in community college where we get a lot of first gen students and some students who may be less prepared in all sorts of ways, it's important to introduce them to and have them practice with basic tools they may end up using in life or work. Even something as basic as Google Docs and its basic workings give students something they can use for a long time. Practicing with new tools forces them to gain more flexibility and makes them more at ease when trying whatever new tool they might need to learn at work. Being comfortable with trying new software or web tools gives those students an advantage in life.

These are just my thoughts. Disagree? Agree? Leave a comment!

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Small Gestures

     A long, long time ago when I attended high school for its excellent social atmosphere and academics were easy and less important, I was kind of a mess of not knowing what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go or maybe even who I wanted to be. There was something I did know: My counselor at the time, Dr. Brown, was not going to give me a psychological compatibility test that would show me the type of man I should look for as a husband. As a 9th grader, I was mortified, and if high school was going to prep me for boyfriends and marriage, I wanted nothing to do with it. Luckily some of my friends recommended I just go see their counselor, Mrs. Paluch, and so I did.
     Rosie took me under her wing and gave me some sense of purpose by suggesting we start a peer mentoring program and recommending me for Anytown, U.S.A., a leadership camp focused on diversity. One time Rosie even took me to a reading at A.S.U.--Adrienne Rich! These were all valuable experiences in my life, and I could not be more grateful to Rosie for seeing something in me that maybe I couldn't see at the time, for caring about me. At a basic level, she saw me.
     While I currently work with adults, I try to remember that teachers can help and inspire people of any age. I try and see strengths in my students and recommend books or documentaries or the Honors Program here at GCC. Doing so is my way of giving back and honoring the teachers and mentors who aided me along my way. Rosie was  a true gift to me in high school. I don't know how many Dr. Brown orphans she adopted, but I often feel gratitude that even though it may have meant a greater workload for her--and I know that now--she never said anything about that. She gave her time, so my experience was better. I hope I have done and can continue to do the same for my own students.

“Seek opportunities to show you care. 
The smallest gestures often make the biggest difference.” 
John Wooden

Monday, March 26, 2018

Designing Better Digital Learning Experiences

Originally posted on Center for Teaching, Learning & Engagement, Feb. 22, 2018

Recently I attended the Instructional Technology Council's eLearning Conference in Tucson. The final keynote was given by Maria Andersen, "the principal consultant at Edge of Learning and the CEO and Cofounder of Coursetune, an edtech company that builds curriculum design, management, visualization, and collaboration software." She shared some tips about course design based on studying the engagement in MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses). I want to share some of those tips with you.

#1--Improve Findability. Students can get really frustrated when they can't find what they're looking for. Is there a syllabus tab in the LMS? Is the syllabus there? It should be. The gist here is to make things easy to find. To accomplish this, you really have to think like a student. Or, better yet, have a colleague look in on your course and ask that person to give you some honest feedback about findability.

#2--Manage due dates. Maria asked a great question: "What happens in the course between due dates?" At that point, she showed a graph of when students were engaging in the course in relation to due dates. You can image where the spikes of engagement were. One regular due date a week isn't a way to get our students to engage more regularly with the course. I know. I've tried it. Over the semesters, I have added 2-3 due dates per week to get students coming back to an online or hybrid class.

#3--Invest time in discussions. Maria shared that students who post four times a week (in MOOCs) have the lowest probability of dropping the class. Those who never post are likely to drop. Those who lurk (they are there, but they do not post) actually have a low probability of dropping. They key then is to get students to a discussion and get them coming back to it throughout the week. Ah, we could be millionaires if we could solve this problem, right? How can we improve participation in this learning community? Here are a few tips to try:

a. An intriguing discussion title. Think "Discussion 4" vs. "Two Rulers and One Woman." It's a lot better. And it could be revised to be even more intriguing.
b. Consider posting announcements that point out good posts that everyone should read.
c. Consider giving students multiple prompts. Instead of one question, we can give them 4-5 to choose from.
d. Try smaller group discussions. Students have less to scroll through and read. They may be less shy to post. And there is a little bit more onus on them to post since a few people are waiting for them--there is no hiding.

I hope these few tips are useful to you. Are you trying any of them? How did they go? Let us know.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Advice for Difficult Situations

"Good advice is rarer than rubies." 
Salman Rushdie, East, West

First of all, I don't think I'm that great at handling difficult situations. But I know I'm getting better as I get older. This is a good sign. The fact that I'm getting better also informs my advice on dealing with difficult situations.

Difficult situations can be anything--challenges with work colleagues, the death of a student, troublesome neighbors. I would argue that we only get better at dealing with difficult situations by actually having to experience difficult situations. This is what I imagine anyway. Maybe there is some training that exists somewhere that I don't know about that would have better prepared me for all the difficult situations I've faced.

I think one of the most difficult situations I faced was when a student committed suicide. The days and weeks after in that classroom seemed pointless. And, it was hard to deal with my own grief while trying to be wise for my students. But nothing could have prepared me for how to deal with that situation except its happening.

This doesn't leave much room for advice. It reminds me of the time I went camping with a friend who
had been praying for more faith. And then on that camping trip we were plagued with some wild animals in our camp all night. I panicked, and so did she, but she gained more faith, or at least she better have.

My only advice, really, is to know that difficult situations will come and to be present. Instead of letting it weight you down, try and float on it. Imagine a sea where you're floating on your back. You're there, but you're not drowning.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

What is Your Favorite Book?

Recently a student asked me the question that English teachers get asked a lot--I imagine they do anyway.  "What is your favorite book?"

Oh no. This should be such an easy question, and the person asking the question figures he/she will get a really good book since clearly this English teacher reads voraciously and can offer up a good read. This thinking seems logical.  This thinking seems smart. It's an amazing short cut to a great book. But all I can think is oh no. Clearly I need a go-to that I can just casually throw out like it really is the best of the best and my favorite.

Instead of an easy answer though, I have to spend what feels like eternity in my mind sorting through the books I have read, putting them into categories, and deciding which rise to the top of all categories. What is the criteria for my favorite book? How do all of these books stack up to that judging?

Don't get me wrong. I like this question. I like it for the torture it puts me through. It's an impossible question. I can't choose one. If I'm lucky, I can give a list of top ten.

You're all really asking for my top ten list, right?

But even then, books are favorites for their overall goodness, for the time and place I read them, for the place I was in life. Books come in and out of my list of top ten, so it's not even a permanent list. Once and for all, I'm going to try and answer this question with my top ten list. These are, however, not in any particular order. I'm just not up for that mental task right now. But the books all moved me for varying and personal reasons. They all gave me a "book hangover," the intellectual and emotional equivalent of the bodily aches caused by too much booze.

So here they are. What is your favorite book?