How do you do Professional Development of Teaching? With >230 sessions reaching 3400+ educators, the Active Teaching Labs at UW-Madison facilitate teaching & learning development for the price of bagels & coffee. We've honed a one-hour highly-rated, dynamic, and respectful format that consistently draws campus educators without a need for stipends. During the campus transition to Canvas, the focus was on how to rebuild courses in Canvas. Now that campus is all Canvas, the focus has turned to pedagogical involving all sorts of technology, and problem-solving how to make them work well with a structure that is centered in Canvas.
We think we've got a good thing here, but we still struggle with several issues. Maybe you can help us out with ideas?
So, this blog post has two goals:
- share what we do, and
- pick your brain for good ideas we're missing!
WHAT WE DO. Our sessions are:
- SHORT: We find that people are willing to come to a 1-hour session (we add 15 minutes to the front on Friday mornings so they can get coffee and bagels), but much more time than that, and they stay away.
- STRUCTURED: Single-page paper Activity Sheets provide topic overview, researched solutions, and challenges for Beginners to Experts. The digital version (bit.ly/eliLab) offers links, shareability, and participant-provided resources.
- RESPONSIVE: Labs solicit and respond to participants’ specific interests in topics, allowing participants to share their own just-in-time questions, and solutions to each others’ challenges — building community connections across disciplinary silos.
- COLLABORATIVE: Participants learn from others' experiences and have structured time to contribute their own resources, ideas, and experiences. Expert participants learn from each other and also from novices through elaborative interrogation.
- SCAFFOLDED: Labs flow from a topic overview to shared and individual participant challenges, connecting them to educational research — and because they draw on social learning, result in individualized peer-supported development.
- MULTIMODAL: Participants can engage at their comfort level in person or online, and continue digitally afterwards.
EASY: Review some Labs
NB: Rather than provide a “polished” program, we model flexibility, vulnerability, and mistakes. Participants don’t see perfection (realistically impractical for instructors who teach new topics each class), but they see us try, fail, and get better. Our program similarly evolves — 2020 Labs are better than 2015 ones, and we feel some are still pretty bad, but participants love them. See them all (warts and all) in our eText: bit.ly/ATL-ejournal.
- We started in Spring 2015 by inviting different faculty each week to share a way they use technology to teach. They prepared a 10-minute overview. Participants dug into the tool for 15 minutes to get some experience. Then it was Q&A. Counter to ID law, we led with the technology, and then sprung T&L research on them — luring instructors in with Twitter, Google Communities, Wikipedia, etc. See our first Lab on Google+ Communities Lab for a good example of this iteration.
- As UW-Madison transitioned to Canvas, our focus shifted to address it, and the Hands-on Experience component was highlighted with Activity Sheets that welcomed different skill levels (EASY=no experience; MEDIUM=some; HARD= things we haven’t figured out yet). See the Canvas Navigations Solutions Lab for a good example of this iteration.
- When Canvas was familiar, participants wanted to focus more on Pedagogy (WHY) than Technical (HOW), but some still wanted step-by-step directions. We put these in the Activity Sheet (like this one), but now focus sessions on Teaching practice. See the Trigger Warnings Lab for a good example of this iteration.
- Recently, instead of inviting individuals to share a story on using tech to teach, we’ve been inviting 3-4 “ringers” to participate on a topic, we ask all participants what they want answered, and we discuss. It’s not a panel (panels= weird power dynamics); they sit with everyone else, and we carefully facilitate the conversation to address the questions. See the UDL and Rubrics Lab for a good example of this iteration.
EASY: Set the Mood. Show you Care. Model Vulnerability.
At UW-Madison Labs, we play Jazz (Pandora Herbie Hancock station) before we start so participants don’t walk into a dead room. The instrumental-only background music creates a welcoming ambience while encouraging attendees to chat with each other. We welcome them when they sign in, and we make sure they make a table tent (or name tag) so others can address them by name. If they come back, we say “Welcome back!” and ask them about their semester, week, etc. We have rolling slides up introducing the Lab, setting expectations, and sharing interesting T&L articles, upcoming events, etc. We have coffee and bagels for morning Labs, and cold brew, fruit, and cookies for afternoon ones. Supplying food suggests we value them.
- What do you do to put participants at ease and generate discussion that meets their goals?
MEDIUM: Let go of preconceived plans to follow participant needs.
We’ve found people often come to events hoping to get something specific answered — often not what the event page describes. But they don’t tell us what they want, and they leave disappointed (and tell us on evaluations), so now we ask! When we start, we ask them to introduce themselves and share what, about the topic, they want to discuss. We put that on a white board and check off the questions as we address them. We start with the basic, or most popular questions, and generally ask our “ringers” (or anyone) to share any answers or suggestions they have. We use the Activity Sheet to address the technical and pedagogical questions on the topic that we anticipated. We refer to it when we can, but often find ourselves going in unanticipated directions. There’s a lot of improvisation in this approach, and we rely on people in the room to help us figure it out. We often say “I don’t know. Does anyone here have thoughts?” At the end of the Lab, we ask them to fill out Reflection Sheets (not “Evaluations”) — this, and their initial questions bookend the Lab and subtly remind them of their agency in their learning. When we get unanswered questions, we respond to them on the Recap page.
- How do/can you personalize learning in sessions you lead?
- How do/can you promote participants’ agency and responsibility in addressing their own learning goals?
MEDIUM: Focus on the folks who most impact campus teaching.
Like many T&L development programs, we initially tried to reach tenure-track Faculty, but struggled to pull them away from research (what they get tenure based on). Recently, we’ve been reaching them through the TAs that help them teach, the support folks they go to for technical questions. We balance better (for students) and more efficient (for instructors) teaching.
CHALLENGE: Try new things. Break rules.
After 10 semesters, 230 Labs, and ~3400 participants (including those coming back multiple times!) We think we’ve got a pretty good framework that we can continue evolving. But each semester we shake things up by trying something new. Starting with technology (Ooh! shiny!) instead of the (boring) educational challenge to lure people in; now we almost always start with challenges. Double-sided, jam-packed paper (the sin of no whitespace!) Activity Sheets became digital (links work — no need to type them in!), and then crowd-sourced (participants now regularly add to the RESOURCES and LAB NOTES sections!). Video recording turned into YouTube live streaming (saves hours of editing/uploading each week) — but we still have not figured out how to live stream effectively (Picture-in-Picture for screen and discussion)
- Have you figured out live streaming?
- Any advice on engaging both face-to-face and online participants?
I'd love to hear your thoughts! How have you have dealt with these challenges? What are you doing that avoids some of the issues? Other advice?
My colleagues and I will be presenting on this topic at ELI 2020, so if you're there please stop me for a conversation!