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4 Posts authored by: John Martin

The problem: a focus on faculty

I run a successful twice-weekly faculty engagement program called Active Teaching Labs that gets instructors sharing how they use (want to use, fail to use, figure out how to be successful in using, etc.) technology in their teaching. Since we're a Canvas campus, just about everything we talk about we try to tie back to its implementation in Canvas.

 

This is all well and good. We've developed an environment where people feel comfortable sharing successes and frustrations. Often, they ask about students — what do students think about [x,y,z]? I've been trying for years to investigate this question, but I'm in the "Faculty Engagement" service here, not in Student Engagement [sigh...].

 

Helping faculty understand their students

The good news is that I've successfully made the case that knowing more about students helps us help faculty, so I'm embarking this semester on a fellowship where we talk to students about their learning habits and practices. We're developing relationships that are somewhat new to our generally-faculty-facing Academic Technology department — to student-facing organizations like Residence Life, the Center for the First Year Experience, and others. Since our goals are to improve teaching and learning, they tend to align with their goals of supporting students, so they're often willing to work with us.

 

When we're able to identify and connect with a group of students, we survey them with questions like: 

  • What have you learned about learning?
  • How did you learn it?
  • What were your best/worst class learning activities? (and why?)
  • Advice to instructors?

After we survey the students, we meet with as many groups of them as we can schedule to unpack and clarify the results. We find that the survey primes them to think about their learning, and sharing the results back with them gets them talking back and forth. 

 

What students say

They hate Canvas "Discussions" btw, and mention of the Canvas "To Do" list elicited an exasperated "Murder!" from one of the students in last night's discussion. I find these things fascinating because, while I agree that Discussions is terrible (an online forum ≠ a discussion; calling it that makes people think it should work like one, but it cannot because it has a whole different set of constraints and affordances! But I digress), I would not have suspected a strong reaction against the To Do list.

 

This isn't a research project by any means, and we won't be publishing or sharing any meaningful results, but rather it's a means to get insight from students in order to learn from them. And yes, we realize that students are not necessarily experts on good learning practices; part of the reason we're asking them is so we can develop useful faculty-created interventions such as Week 0 Modules, and integrating Universal Design for Learning into course design and activities.

 

How do you get student feedback?

In our faculty development programs we encourage instructors to get formative feedback from students as often, and in as many ways as they can — from reflection elements in assignments and activities like the Muddiest Point (on post-it notes, or in Canvas's graded pseudo-anonymous surveys), to forums in Piazza, to SGIDs or class representative councils — but we know there are many other methods that we don't know about.

 

  • What do you use? What has worked and not worked? 
  • Have you done any large-scale surveys? (best questions?)
  • How can instructors build mechanisms for feedback into their Canvas courses?
  • Other advice?

Thanks!

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.

 

BUT...

 

Issues

We think we've got a good thing here, but we still struggle with several issues. Maybe you can help us out with ideas?

  • How to prepare for the questions we don't know about in advance? Inevitably, instructors come to our sessions with a secret desire — so secret that they might not know about it themselves until something in the session sparks it. So secret that they might not share it with us until they fill out an evaluation, disappointed that we didn't answer it.
  • How to reach faculty too busy to come to professional development sessions? At our R1 university, teaching is (sadly) not valued as much as research, so faculty naturally focus on what earns them tenure. 
  • What titles draw people in? Because we recognize they're busy, we've been balancing "teach better" with "teach faster" — trying to share tips and tricks to be more efficient so they can teach well without spending too much time doing it!

 

So, this blog post has two goals:

  1. share what we do, and
  2. 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?

 


HELP!

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!

 

Thanks!

John

 

The Active Teaching LabI just want to send out huge thanks to the entire Canvas Community! You and your contributions to this community have been instrumental in the success of one of UW-Madison's Faculty Development programs, the Active Teaching Lab.

 

The entire Spring 2017 semester of UW-Madison's Active Teaching Lab has been focused on Instructors' stories of teaching with Canvas tools. Each week we hear the trials, tribulations, and successes of instructors making their way in Canvas as our university transitions from D2L. We've sustained a voluntary attendance of ~17 participants per week with a ~20% return rate. Our faculty are hungry to hear the experiences of our early adopters and to see how they navigated through issues that arose. We wouldn't have been able to do it well without you! Although many complain about the unresponsiveness of the Canvas development path, many more continually find solutions and workarounds in the Community forums.

 

You can find some data and more information here: Active Teaching Lab | Teaching Academy and see what they're like by accessing all five of the past semesters of Labs — including takeaways, videos, and links to our Activity Sheets — in our eJournal here: Active Teaching Lab eJournal | Open Textbook 

 

Thanks again!

John

As UW-Madison transitions from D2L and Moodle to Canvas, I've been hosting weekly Active Teaching Labs that feature:

  1. early adopting faculty sharing their stories (successes, challenges, frustrations, workarounds, etc.) of using Canvas tools.
  2. Independent, guided, hands-on experience through Activity Sheets (example) on each theme.
  3. Quality Q&A and discussion about the pedagogical aspects of the tools and their use —informed by the hands-on experience.

It's been moderately successful with about ~15 coming each week. Afterward, we create a simple recap with takeaways and videos of the lab. I invite you to check them out on our home page, or YouTube playlist.Spring 2017 Labs schedule

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