Lunch and Learn: Inclusive Pedagogy

On Tuesday, October 19, 2021, the Center for Educational Resources (CER) hosted a virtual Lunch and Learn: Inclusive Pedagogy. Karen Fleming, Professor in Biophysics, and Mike Reese, Associate Teaching Professor in Sociology and CER director, each presented strategies that are important to them in helping to make their classes more inclusive:

  • Recognize that everyone comes from a different place with different experiences. Fleming mentioned The Privileged Poor, a book by Anthony Jack, that addresses the struggles faced by less privileged students after being admitted to elite universities. She explained that taking students’ backgrounds into consideration and embracing differences is vital to their success.
  • Try to instill a growth mindset. In her teaching, Fleming acknowledges to her students that the work is difficult, it can be a struggle at times, and it’s ok if you don’t get it right the first time – this is all part of learning. She tells her students that everyone has unlimited potential and encourages them to keep practicing and they will come away with new skills. Fleming stressed the importance of trying to get students to internalize this way of thinking and offers her students a great deal of positive reinforcement throughout the semester.
  • Show the humanity of science and diversify materials. Fleming described how she makes an effort to showcase diverse scientists who are working in the field – people of color, women, etc. Students need to see role models and images of people that look like them. Like Fleming, Reese explained how he also makes an effort to display photos of diverse experts in the fields as he discusses key findings or theories in sociology..
  • Learn students’ names. Reese acknowledged this can be a challenge if the class is large. He suggested instructors print out the student photo roster from SIS and/or bring tented name cards to the first class for students to display on their desks (if teaching in person) to help learn names. Reese stated that students are more engaged and come to office hours more often when he makes an effort to learn their names.
  • Use non-competitive grading strategies. Reese noted that this was one of the recommendations in JHU’s Second Commission on Undergraduate Education (CUE2) report. Using straight grading, rather than curved, is one example. Another example is to add a standard number of points to every students final score if they overall average is lower than expected, which might suggest the test was more challenging than intended.
  • Conduct a mid-semester survey. Reese described how he administers a brief mid-semester survey that is anonymous. He tells students ahead of time that he may not be able to address every concern, but will do his best to support them. Once submitted, he summarizes the results for students and outlines any changes he plans to make.
  • Explain the purpose of different components in your class. Reese gave the example of something basic like office hours. First generation students may not understand the purpose or value of office hours – it is a chance to ask for help but also discuss career goals with instructors. Taking the time to explain resources that are available to students has proven very useful.
  • Follow the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). UDL is an approach to designing instruction in flexible ways in order to reduce barriers to learning. For example, instructors can provide alternatives when giving an assessment – some students may take an exam, others may submit a paper, etc. Reese acknowledged that this often means more work on his end, as he will be grading different types of assignments. He noted that although the format may be different, he is assessing students according to the same learning objectives.

The presentation continued with faculty attendees offering comments and suggestions of their own:

  • One faculty member explained how she thinks very carefully about what language she uses with students to mitigate her own implicit biases. She thinks about how certain words (i.e. binary language) may unintentionally signal something to students and is careful to avoid this whenever possible. Fleming agreed and stated how important it is that we all regularly examine our own biases; we should be open with students and let them know we are making an effort to communicate without bias. Reese mentioned the Harvard implicit bias test which is a tool that can help all of us discover our own hidden biases.
  • Another faculty member shared how she has found success with specifications grading to help instill a growth mindset. With specifications grading, students have multiple chances to succeed and are given lots of feedback to help them reach their goals. The faculty member also pointed out that using specifications grading is another example of a non-competitive grading strategy as students are only graded on the work they choose to complete.
  • An engineering faculty member has made an effort to proactively host events that feature speakers of varied races, cultures, and identities in order to show students who make up this particular field of study.
  • Another faculty member stressed the importance of using live captions and how beneficial they are to students and how much students appreciate them.

Towards the end, there were a few questions from the audience:

Q:  Regarding growth mindset, what exactly do you say to students?

A: Fleming responded that she tells her students everyone can be successful with whatever task they are working on, that practice is important, and failure is ok. Some students feel that if they don’t succeed quickly, they are a failure and may lose motivation to persist on difficult topics. She described how she explains the process to students like a journey – you will get to a better place than you are now and you will become more confident with time and practice. Fleming gives her students lots of encouragement throughout the semester.

Reese added that he consistently provides feedback to students throughout the semester and continually shows them examples of their success.

Q: What about students’ own biases? This comes up in teaching evaluations.

A: Fleming explained how she includes a discussion about implicit bias with her students at the beginning of the semester. She tries to make her class a positive, inclusive environment and asks that students do the same by honoring and respecting others’ opinions. She also discusses stereotypes of scientists and asks students not to evaluate her in that way.

Q: I find that most of the time, female students do not speak up. What can we do about this?

A: Reese responded that if working in groups,  a best practice is to ensure no group contains a minority of underrepresented minorities. For example, with groups of 3 there should be 0,2, or 3 woman in each group. He also suggested giving students multiple ways to participate, such as sharing questions through different modalities (email, chat, raising their hand to comment).

Q: Can we expand the time on assessments to accommodate everyone?

A: Reese replied yes, giving everyone more time will lower the pressure for everyone on that assessment. However, there are rules that still need to be followed. Reese suggested working with Student Disability Services if there are specific questions about accommodating students. Another option would be to allow students an alternative to a timed assessment.

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Lunch and Learn Logo, Pixabay

 

Quick Tips: Alternative Assessments

Throughout the past year and a half, instructors have made significant changes to the way they design and deliver their courses. The sudden shift to being fully remote, then hybrid, and now back to face-to-face for some courses has required instructors to rethink not only the way they teach, but also the way they assess their students. Many who have previously found success with traditional tests and exams are now seeking alternative forms of assessment, some of which are described below:

Homework assignments: Adding more weight to homework assignments is one way to take the pressure off of high stakes exams while keeping students engaged with course material. Homework assignments will vary according to the subject, but they may include answering questions from a chapter in a textbook, writing a summary of a reading or topic discussed in class, participating in an online discussion board, writing a letter, solving a problem set, etc.

Research paper:  Students can apply their knowledge by writing a research paper. To help ensure a successful outcome, a research paper can be set up as a scaffolded assignment, where students turn in different elements of the paper, such as a proposal, an outline, first and second drafts, bibliography, etc. throughout the semester, and then the cumulative work at the end.

Individual or group presentations: Student presentations can be done live for the class or prerecorded ahead of time using multimedia software (e.g., Panopto, VoiceThread) that can be viewed asynchronously. Depending on the subject matter, presentations may consist of a summary of content, a persuasive argument, a demonstration, a case study, an oral report, etc. Students can present individually or in groups.

Reflective paper or journal: Reflective exercises allow students to analyze what they have learned and experienced and how these experiences relate to their learning goals. Students develop an awareness of how they best acquire knowledge and can apply these metacognitive skills to both academic and non-academic settings. Reflective exercises can be guided or unguided and may include journaling, self-assessment, creating a concept map, writing a reflective essay, etc.

Individual or group projects: Student projects may be short-term, designed in a few weeks, or long-term, designed over an entire semester or more. If the project is longer term, it may be a good idea to provide checkpoints for students to check in about their progress and make sure they are meeting deadlines. Ideas for student projects include: creating a podcast, blog, interactive website, interactive map, short film, digital simulation, how-to guide, poster, interview, infographic, etc. Depending on the circumstances, it may be possible for students to partner with a community-based organization as part of their project. Another idea is to consider allowing students to propose their own project ideas.

Online Tests and Exams: For instructors who have moved their tests online, it may be worth considering lowering the stakes of these assessments.  Instead of high-stakes midterms and finals, replace them with weekly quizzes that are weighted lower than a traditional midterm or final. Giving more frequent assessments allows for additional opportunities to provide feedback to students and help them reach their goals successfully. To reduce the potential for cheating, include questions that are unique and require higher-level critical thinking. Another consideration is to allow at least some of the quizzes to be open-book.

It’s worth noting that offering students a variety of ways to demonstrate their knowledge aligns with the principles of universal design for learning (UDL). Going beyond traditional tests and exams helps to ensure that all learners have an opportunity to show what they have learned in a way that works best for them. If you’re looking for more ideas, here are a few sites containing additional alternative assessment strategies:

https://www.scholarlyteacher.com/post/alternatives-to-the-traditional-exam-as-measures-of-student-learning-outcomes

https://teaching.berkeley.edu/resources/course-design-guide/design-effective-assessments/alternatives-traditional-testing

https://cei.umn.edu/alternative-assessment-strategies

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Pixabay

Strategies for an Inclusive Classroom

This summer, the Center for Educational Resources offered a multi-day Best Practices in University Teaching workshop for JHU faculty to learn about evidence-based teaching practices. Participants explored topics such as best practices in course design, active learning strategies, and various assessment techniques. One of the many sessions that generated a great deal of discussion was the Inclusive Pedagogy session, which addressed the importance of accommodating the needs of diverse learners in a supportive environment.  The session was led by Dr. Karen Fleming, a professor in the Biophysics department who is also nationally recognized for her efforts in raising awareness on overcoming biases and barriers to women in STEM.  I played a small role in the presentation by providing a brief introduction and overview of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a research-based educational framework that helps remove unnecessary barriers from the learning process.

During the session, participants were encouraged to examine their own biases by reflecting on an unconscious bias test they took just before the session. Many were clearly dismayed by their own results; Fleming reassured them that we all have biases and that accepting this fact is the first step in addressing them.  She then shared a real-world example of unconscious bias toward women in STEM that is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The shocking results of this study, which show that even women faculty in STEM display a preferential bias toward males over females, resulted in an engaging discussion. The dialogue continued as participants then debriefed about a video they watched, also before the session, which featured a teaching assistant (TA) stereotyping various students as he welcomed them to class.  The video was intentionally exaggerated at times, and participants were eager to point out the “over the top” behavior exhibited by the TA. Participants were inspired to share personal experiences of bias, prejudice, and stereotyping that they’ve encountered in the classroom either as students or instructors.

Toward the end of the session, the focus shifted to thinking about strategies that would mitigate instances of biased behavior and instead encourage a more inclusive classroom environment. hands reaching toward each otherAs a culminating exercise, we asked participants to consider the principles of UDL as well as ideas and discussions from earlier in the session to complete an “Inclusive Strategies Worksheet;” the worksheet would contain concrete strategies that would make a measurable difference in terms of inclusivity in their classrooms. The participants were very thoughtful in their responses and several of their ideas are worth sharing:

  • Administer a pre- or early-semester survey to get to know the students and build community.
  • Include a “campus climate” section in the syllabus with language expressing a commitment to respecting diverse opinions and being inclusive.
  • On the first day of class, have students create a “Community Agreement” to establish ground rules for class discussions, online discussions, and group activities. This can be revisited throughout the semester to adjust what is working/not working.
  • Acknowledge that there may be uncomfortable moments as we face mistakes and hold each other and ourselves accountable. Encourage students to “call in” when mistakes (intentional or not) occur, rather than “call out” or “cancel” so that we may learn from each other.
  • Work collaboratively with students to develop rubrics for assignments.
  • Include authors and guest speakers with varied cultures, backgrounds, and identities. Include images, readings, examples, and other course materials that are diversified. If opportunities are limited, have students do a reflective exercise on who/what is missing from the research.
  • Share content with students in multiple ways: research papers, videos, images, graphs, blog entries, etc.
  • Increase the number of active learning activities to enrich the learning experience.
  • Offer options to students: vary the types of assignments given and allow for a choice of ways to demonstrate knowledge among students when possible.
  • Follow accessibility guidelines: ensure video/audio recordings have closed captioning and/or a transcript, for example.
  • Create opportunities for students to discuss their lived experiences in the classroom and/or on assignments.
  • Provide opportunities for students to participate anonymously without fear of judgement (i.e. using iClickers or Jamboard).
  • Conduct activities that engage students in small groups so they get to know one another. Encourage students to use these connections to identify study partners. Consider switching groups throughout the semester so students meet additional partners.

Do you have additional strategies to share? Please feel free to add them in the comments.

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Best Practices in University Teaching Logo, Pixabay

The Hazards of Teaching for the First Time

This post was submitted by Atousa Saberi, a graduate student in the Johns Hopkins Teaching Academy who reflected on her first-time teaching experience.

I would like to share my learning experience as a PhD student teaching my first undergraduate course during fall 2020: Natural Hazards.

Teaching this course, I wrestled with several questions: How can I engage students in a virtual setting? How can I make them think? What is the purpose of education after all and what do I want them to take away from the course?

About the course setting

Fall semester 2020 was a unique time to teach a course on natural hazards in the sense that all students were directly impacted by at least one type of disaster – the global pandemic. In addition, the semester coincided with a record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season on the East Coast and fires on the West Coast.  I used these events as an opportunity to spark students’ curiosity and motivate them to learn about the science of natural hazards.

As a student, my best learning experiences happened through dialogues and exchange of ideas between classmates and instructors that continued back and forth during class time. This experience inspired me to hold more than half of the class sessions synchronously.

To focus students’ attention, I motivated every class session by posing questions. For example, which hazards are the most destructive, frequent, or deadly? What is the effect of climate change on these hazards? What can we do about them?  Some of these questions are open ended and may sound overwhelming at first, but to me, the essential step in learning is to become curious enough to engage with questions and take steps to answer them. Isn’t the purpose of education to train future thinkers?

The course included clear learning objectives following Bloom’s Taxonomy to target both lower- and higher-level thinking skills. I designed multiple forms of assignments such as conducting readings, listening to podcasts, watching documentaries, completing analytical exercises, and participating in group discussions. To motivate the sense of exploration in students, instead of exams, I assigned a final term paper in which students investigated a natural disaster case study of their own interest.

The assessment was structured using specifications grading. The method directly links course grades to achievements of learning objectives and motivates students to focus on learning instead of earning points (Kelly, 2018). Grading rubrics were provided for each individual assignment.

Lab demonstrations

Just as a picture is worth a thousand words, lab demonstrations go a long way to supplement lectures and to improve conceptual understanding of learning materials. But is it possible to perform them in a remote setting?

Simple demonstrations were still possible. I just needed to get creative in implementing them! For example, I used a rubber band and a biscuit to demonstrate the strength of brittle versus elastic materials under various modes of deformation to explain how the choice of materials can make a drastic difference in what modes of deformation a building tolerates during an earthquake, which impacts the survival rate during an earthquake.

I also used a musical instrument, my Setar, as an analogy for seismic waves. Just seeing the instrument immediately captured the students’ attention. I played the same note at different octaves and reminded them how that results in a different pitch due to the string being confined to two different lengths. This is analogous to having a short versus long earthquake fault and therefore higher or lower frequency in seismic waves (Figure 1). Students were also given an exercise to listen to the sound of earthquakes from an archive to infer the fault length.

Figure 1. Comparison of seismic waves to the sound waves generated by a string instrument. (a) length of two Earthquake faults (USGS). (b) music instrument producing analogous sound waves. The red and green arrows show the note, D, played on the same string in different octaves.

Freedom to learn

Noam Chomsky often says in his interviews about education that students are taught to be passive and obedient rather than independent and creative (Robichaud, 2014). He believes education is a matter of laying out a string along which students will develop, but in their own way (Chomsky & Barsamian, 1996). Chomsky quotes his colleague’s response to students asking about course content, saying “it is not important what we cover in the class but rather what we discover” (Chomsky & Barsamian, 1996). I was inspired by this perspective and decided to encourage the enlightenment style of learning in my students by giving them freedom in their final term paper writing style. I encouraged the students to pick a case study based on what they loved to learn about natural hazards and gave them freedom in how to structure their writing or what to expand on (the science of the disaster, the losses, the social impacts, the aftermath, etc.). I was surprised to see so many of the students asked for strict guidelines, templates and sample term papers from previous semesters, as if the meaning of freedom and creativity in learning was unfamiliar to them!

Student perceptions of the class

I administered two anonymous feedback surveys, one in the middle of the semester and the other at the end. The mid-semester survey was focused on understanding what is working (not working) for students that I should keep (stop) doing, and what additional activities we could start doing to better adapt to the unexpected transition to online learning. I learned that students had a lot to say, some of which I incorporated in the second half of the semester, such as taking a class session to practice writing the term paper and hold a Q&A session.

The end-of-semester survey was more focused on their takeaways from the class, and what assignments/activities were most helpful in their learning experience. I specifically asked them questions such as, “What do you think you will remember from this course?  What did you discover?”

The final survey revealed that by the end of the semester students, regardless of their background, comprehended the major earth processes and reflected on the relation between humans and natural disasters. They grasped the interdisciplinary nature of the course and how one can learn about intersection of physics, humanities, and international relations through studying natural hazards and disasters. They also developed a sense of appreciation for the role of science in predicting and dealing with natural hazards.

What I learned

Even though universities like Hopkins often train Ph.D. students to focus on producing publications rather than doing curiosity-driven research, I found that teaching a course like this led me to ask the kind of fundamental questions that could stimulate future research. This experience helped me develop as a teacher, as well as a true scientist, while raising awareness and sharing important knowledge about natural hazards in a changing climate in which the frequency of hazardous events will likely increase. I captured students’ attention by making the learning relevant to their lives, which inspired their curiosity. Feedback surveys revealed and reinforced my idea that synchronous class discussions, constant questioning, and interesting lab demos would hook the students and motivate them to engage in dialogue.

I am grateful to the KSAS Dean’s Office for making teaching as a graduate student possible, to the Center for Educational Resources for providing great teaching resources, and to Dr. Rebecca Kelly for her continuous support and valuable insights during the period I was teaching, to Dr. Sabine Stanley and Thomas Haine for their encouragement and feedback on this essay.

Atousa Saberi

References:

Kelly, R. (2018). Meaningful grades with specification grading. https://cer.jhu.edu/files/InnovInstruct-Ped-18 specifications-grading.pdf

Robichaud, A. (2014). Interview with Noam Chomsky on education. Radical Pedagogy, 11 (1), 4.

Chomsky, N., & Barsamian, D. (1996). Class warfare: interviews with David Barsamian. Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press. 5

USGS (2020), Listening to earthquake: https://earthquake.usgs.gov/education/listen/index.php.

Image Source: Pixabay, Atousa Saberi

Expanding Students’ Research Skills with a Virtual Museum Exhibit

Morgan Shahan received her PhD in History from Johns Hopkins University in 2020. While at Hopkins, she received Dean’s Teaching and Prize Fellowships. In 2019, her department recognized her work with the inaugural Toby Ditz Prize for Excellence in Graduate Student Teaching. Allon Brann from the Center for Educational Resources spoke to Morgan about an interesting project she designed for her fall 2019 course,“Caged America: Policing, Confinement, and Criminality in the ‘Land of the Free.’”

I’d like to start by asking you to give us a brief description of the final project.  What did your students do?

Students created virtual museum exhibits on topics of their choice related to the themes of our course, including the rise of mass incarceration, the repeated failure of corrections reform, changing conceptions of criminality, and the militarization of policing. Each exhibit included a written introduction and interpretive labels for 7-10 artifacts, which students assembled using the image annotation program Reveal.  On the last day of class, students presented these projects to their classmates. Examples of projects included: “Birthed Behind Bars: Policing Pregnancy and Motherhood in the 19th and 20th Centuries,” “Baseball in American Prisons,” and “Intentional Designs: The Evolution of Prison Architecture in America in the 19th and 20th Centuries.”

Can you describe how you used scaffolding to help students prepare for the final project?

I think you need to scaffold any semester-long project. My students completed several component tasks before turning in their final digital exhibits. Several weeks into the semester, they submitted a short statement outlining the “big idea” behind their exhibitions. The “big idea statement,” a concept I borrowed from museum consultant Beverly Serrell, explained the theme, story, or argument that defined the exhibition’s tone and dictated its content. I asked students to think of the “big idea statement” as the thesis for their exhibition.

Students then used the big idea to guide them as they chose one artifact and drafted a 200-word label for it. I looked for artifact labels that were clearly connected to the student’s big idea statement, included the context visitors would need to know to understand the artifact, and presented the student’s original interpretation of the artifact. The brevity of the assignment gave me time to provide each student with extensive written comments. In these comments and in conversations during office hours, I helped students narrow their topics, posed questions to help guide analysis and interpretation of artifacts, and suggested additional revisions focused on writing mechanics and tone.

Later in the semester, students expanded their big idea statements into rough drafts of the introductions for their digital exhibit. I asked that each introduction orient viewers to the exhibition, outline necessary historical context, and set the tone for the online visit. I also set aside part of a class period for a peer review exercise involving these drafts. I hoped that their classmates’ comments, along with my own, would help students revise their introductions before they submitted their final exhibit.

If I assigned this project again, I would probably ask students to turn in another label for a second artifact. This additional assignment would allow me to give each student more individualized feedback and would help to further clarify my grading criteria before the final project due date.

When you first taught this course a few years ago, you assigned students a more traditional task—a research paper. Can you explain why you decided to change the final assignment this time around?

I wanted to try a more flexible and creative assignment that would push students to develop research and analytical skills in a different format. The exhibit project allows students to showcase their own interpretation of a theme, put together a compelling historical narrative, and advance an argument. The project remains analytically rigorous, pushing students to think about how history is constructed. Each exhibit makes a claim—there is reasoning behind each choice the student makes when building the exhibit and each question he or she asks of the artifacts included. The format encourages students to focus on their visual analysis skills, which tend to get sidelined in favor of textual interpretation in most of the student research papers I have read. Additionally, the exhibit assignment asks students to write for a broader audience, emphasizing clarity and brevity in their written work.

What challenges did you encounter while designing this assignment from scratch?  

In the past I have faced certain risks whenever I have designed a new assignment. First, I have found it difficult to strike a balance between clearly stating expectations for student work while also leaving room for students to be creative. Finding that balance was even harder with a non-traditional assignment. I knew that many of my students would not have encountered an exhibit project before my course, so I needed to clarify the utility of the project and my expectations for their submissions.

Second, I never expected to go down such a long research rabbit hole when creating the assignment directions. I naively assumed that it would be fairly simple to put together an assignment sheet outlining the requirements for the virtual museum project.  I quickly learned, however, that it was difficult to describe exactly what I expected from students without diving into museum studies literature and scholarship on teaching and learning.

I also needed to find a digital platform for student projects. Did I want student projects to be accessible to the public? How much time was I willing to invest in teaching students how to navigate a program or platform? After discussing my options with Reid Sczerba in the Center for Educational Resources (CER), I eventually settled on Reveal, a Hopkins-exclusive image-annotation program. The program would keep student projects private, foreground written work, and allow for creative organization of artifacts within the digital exhibits. Additionally, I needed to determine the criteria for the written component of the assignment. I gave myself a crash course in museum writing, scouring teaching blogs, museum websites, journals on exhibition theory and practice, and books on curation for the right language for the assignment sheet. I spoke with Chesney Medical Archives Curator Natalie Elder about exhibit design and conceptualization. My research helped me understand the kind of writing I was looking for, identify models for students, and ultimately create my own exhibit to share with them.

Given all the work that this design process entailed, do you have any advice for other teachers who are thinking about trying something similar?

This experience pushed me to think about structuring assignments beyond the research paper for future courses. Instructors need to make sure that students understand the requirements for the project, develop clear standards for grading, and prepare themselves mentally for the possibility that the assignment could crash and burn. Personally, I like taking risks when I teach—coming up with new activities for each class session and adjusting in the moment should these activities fall flat—but developing a semester-long project from scratch was a big gamble.

How would you describe the students’ responses to the project? How did they react to the requirements and how do you think the final projects turned out?

I think that many students ended up enjoying the project, but responses varied at first. Students expressed frustration with the technology, saying they were not computer-savvy and were worried about having to learn a new program. I tried to reassure these students by outing myself as a millennial, promising half-jokingly that if I could learn to use it, they would find it a cinch. Unfortunately, I noticed that many students found the technology somewhat confusing despite the tutorial I delivered in class. After reading through student evaluations, I also realized that I should have weighted the final digital exhibit and presentation less heavily and included additional scaffolded assignments to minimize the end-of-semester crunch.

Despite these challenges, I was really impressed with the outcome. While clicking through the online exhibits, I could often imagine the artifacts and text set up in a physical museum space. Many students composed engaging label text, keeping their writing accessible to their imaginary museum visitors while still delivering a sophisticated interpretation of each artifact. In some cases, I found myself wishing students had prioritized deeper analysis over background information in their labels; if I assigned this project again, I would emphasize that aspect.

I learned a lot about what it means to support students through an unfamiliar semester-long project, and I’m glad they were willing to take on the challenge. I found that students appreciated the flexibility of the guidelines and the room this left for creativity. One student wrote that the project was “unique and fun, but still challenging, and let me pursue something I couldn’t have if we were just assigned a normal paper.”

If you’re interested in pursuing a project like this one and have more questions for Morgan, you can contact her at: morganjshahan@gmail.com. 

For other questions or help developing new assessments to use in your courses, contact the Center for Educational Resources (cerweb@jhu.edu).

Allon Brann, Teacher Support Specialist
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Morgan Shahan

Lunch and Learn: Working with Teaching Assistants

Lunch and Learn LogoOn December 16, 2020, the Center for Educational Resources (CER) hosted a Lunch and Learn: Working with Teaching Assistants (TAs). Rebecca Pearlman, Senior Lecturer in Biology, and Reid Mumford, Instructional Resource Advisor in Physics and Astronomy, shared strategies for how to best work with TAs to support student learning. Mike Reese from the CER moderated the discussion.

Pearlman manages a mix of graduate and undergraduate level TAs in the Biology department each semester and has worked with hundreds of TAs during her career at Hopkins. Mumford manages approximately 30 graduate level TAs each semester as well as a group of undergraduate learning assistants who help with classroom tasks but do not take part in grading. The following is a combined list of strategies that the presenters shared during the presentation:

  • Set clear expectations – This could include a contract, job overview, checklist of duties, etc.
  • Provide tips for TAs so they are prepared for the semester – This may include training documents, resources, and tools they will need.
  • Take advantage of technology – Google Forms for identifying availability, Doodle polls for arranging meetings, Blackboard site to store answer keys, Slack/MS Teams to communicate among the instructional team.
  • Build community – Take an interest in the TAs and get to know them. This helps to establish positive relationships between the instructor and TAs and among the TAs themselves.
  • Meet weekly – Review upcoming course content, monitor progress of each section, ensure TAs understand their upcoming tasks. Mumford also uses his weekly meetings to provide feedback and encouragement to the TAs.
  • Designate a head TA, if possible – If you have a large number of TAs, it may be beneficial to designate a head TA to help you manage the rest of the group. With his large number of TAs each semester, Mumford relies heavily on his head TA to make sure weekly instructions and tasks are assigned appropriately.
  • Consider feedback from students – TA evaluations can offer helpful feedback to both TAs and instructors. Pearlman noted that student feedback is especially helpful if she needs to make decisions about rehiring a TA. She can pull quotes directly from the evaluations. Mumford noted that he always meets individually with each of his TAs to review their evaluations.group of people having a discussion in front of bulletin board

There were some questions from other faculty members after the presentation:

Q: To what extent do you use undergraduate TAs?

A: Mumford responded that by policy, all of the TAs in his department are graduate students. He went on to say that he finds that experienced TAs are valuable, but it is harder to change their behavior. If they are first year TAs, he has more of an opportunity to shape them.  He does hire undergraduate learning assistants who assist with day to day tasks in the classroom but do not take part in any grading.

Pearlman stated that it seems to vary by department, but in biology, they have a mix of graduate and undgraduate TAs, and all of them participate in grading. She enjoys working with both populations, noting that the undergraduates tend to be self-starters, while the graduates bring a wealth of knowledge from the lab.

Q: To what extent is it useful for TAs to TA twice?

A: Pearlman responded that the undergraduate TAs often stay with her for years. They help each other and learn a lot by continuing in the role. They enjoy teaching the material more than once.

Q: How do you select your TAs?

A: Pearlman replied that the graduate level TAs are assigned to her department, but the undergraduates apply for the position. In the Fall 2020 semester she had 50 students apply for 18 positions. She uses a Google Form to ask them questions such as “why are you excited to be a TA? – or “what can you bring to the position?” Pearlman says she does review their grades, but they are not necessarily a priority; it often comes down to who is available at the right time.

Mumford responded that graduate TAs are assigned, but for the undergraduate learning assistants, he relies on referrals from the graduate TAs. He specifically asks them to recommend  great students. He then follows up with an interview process. Mumford is able to choose his head TA and strongly considers diversity when choosing this person.

Other faculty shared various characteristics that they use to select TAs: enthusiasm for the subject matter, respect for others, patience with students, familiarity with course material, interest in teaching, and above average grades.

Q: What can I do about TAs who do not prioritize their TA duties, such as grading?

A: Reese suggested making expectations very clear but acknowledged that it is a struggle when the TAs have obligations to research faculty as well as their TA duties.

Mumford responded that he checks in with his TAs every week to try and keep them on task. If they are non-responsive, he escalates the issue to the graduate committee to handle. If it continues, he will also reach out to the student’s research advisor and discuss the situation with that person as well.

Pearlman suggested contacting the people who run the graduate program or the department chair for assistance. She also suggested bringing the issue up at a faculty meeting.

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Lunch and Learn Logo, Pixabay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surviving to Thriving: Reflections from Teaching Online

On Friday, December 11, 2020, the Office of the Provost, in conjunction with teaching and learning centers across Johns Hopkins University, sponsored a half-day virtual conference titled “Surviving to Thriving: Reflections from Teaching Online.” Faculty, graduate students, and staff came together to share ideas, challenges faced, and best practices when teaching in a virtual environment. Highlights from a few of the sessions are below:

Engaging Students in the Virtual Environment: A panel of faculty representing the School of Education, the Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the Whiting School of Engineering shared strategies for how building community, synchronous sessions, and using specific tools can help to engage students online.

Building community in an online course helps students feel more connected with each other and can lead to more productive learning. Strategies for community building shared by faculty include:

  • Using ice breaker questions at the beginning of every class
  • Learning student names
  • Setting up sessions to get to know one another (in breakout rooms, online discussion boards, Google Sheets)
  • Offering frequent feedback in multiple formats (email, audio recordings)
  • ‘Humanizing’ situations by admitting mistakes and struggles with technology

Synchronous sessions allow students to experience learning with their peers in a real-time, interactive environment. For students nervous about speaking up during live sessions, faculty members suggested giving them a choice to either use the chat feature or the microphone. One faculty member required his students, in a seminar style class, to ask at least one question during the semester, which helped to build confidence. Another faculty member described posting a ‘speaker list’ ahead of each class so students knew in what order they would be speaking. Not only were students more prepared, but the sessions ran more efficiently. Faculty discussed the challenges of holding synchronous sessions with students in multiple time zones. While most faculty recorded their lectures and made them available online, some offered to give their lecture twice, and allowed students to choose which session to attend.  Technology can be another challenge when holding synchronous sessions. Faculty suggested offering material in multiple formats in order to meet the needs of students who may be having technological difficulties. For example, post slides in addition to video.

There are a variety of online tools that can be used to engage students online. Faculty in this session discussed the following:

  • Padlet – tool that allows students to collaborate synchronously or asynchronously
  • Loom – video recording application that allows students to create and send recordings
  • Flipgrid – video discussion board tool
  • Slack – communication platform used for information sharing, individual and group communication, synchronous and asynchronous collaboration (similar to Teams)

(Note: Instructors are encouraged to contact their school’s teaching and learning center before deciding to use third party tools that may or may not be supported by their institution.)

Jazzing Up Online Presentations: A panel of faculty representing the School of Education, the School of Medicine, and the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences shared strategies for how to strengthen online presentations and keep students engaged. One idea is to maintain a balance between synchronous and asynchronous sessions to help avoid Zoom fatigue. Another idea is to keep sessions interactive by using breakout rooms, videos, knowledge checks, and other active learning techniques. Modeling online navigation for students is another way to help make sure they are staying engaged. For example, if referring to a particular discussion board post, share your screen with students and navigate to the post, read it with students, and discuss together. Consider using a different tool, other than PowerPoint, for your presentation, such as Genially or Sway. Lastly, don’t be afraid to put your personality into your presentation – pets and silly bow ties can make a difference to students!

Student Perspectives: A moderated panel of four students from across the institution shared their experiences with virtual learning this past semester. When asked what has been the most challenging aspect, several students mentioned Zoom fatigue. With the many hours of online lectures they were expected to attend, students reported that it was often difficult to stay engaged. Zoom fatigue also made it a challenge to participate in outside events or clubs since they are virtual as well. Other challenges: difficulty connecting and networking with people online and students living in different time zones.

When asked what techniques they wished more faculty were using, one student mentioned following best practices of online learning to ensure consistency across courses. Another student appreciated how one of her professors asked how students were doing at the beginning of each class. This was a small class, and the student acknowledged that it probably wouldn’t be possible in a larger setting, but that it helped to build community among class members. Another consideration mentioned is to build in breaks during the lecture. Other techniques suggested were the use of collaborative assignments, to help students keep each other accountable, and breakout rooms (in Zoom) with a structured task or purpose in mind.

Students were asked about the positive aspects of virtual learning. One student from the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) explained how students from all three SAIS campuses were able to participate in all classes together, and how beneficial it was for students to experience the others’ perspectives. Another student found it extremely helpful that faculty would record their lectures and post them to Blackboard for unlimited viewing.  Students also greatly appreciated the creativity and support of their instructors and teaching assistants.

Other topics presented at the conference include: student wellness, assessment, accessibility, and more. The Provost’s office has made the full day of recorded sessions available here with JHED authentication.

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Pixabay

Teaching Online: What Have We Learned?

On Friday, October 9, the Center for Educational Resources (CER) hosted an online session, “Teaching Online: What Have We Learned?” where faculty were able to share and discuss best practices based on their experiences teaching online.  Mike Reese, director of the CER and faculty member in Sociology, and Allon Brann, teaching support specialist at the CER, moderated the discussion, structuring it with a few guiding questions as outlined below:

What is something you are doing differently this semester online that you will continue to do when you are back in the classroom?

Jamie Young from Chemistry described how he is using tools such as MS Teams and Slack to build classroom community. He anticipated students feeling isolated in an online environment, so he set up spaces for casual conversation for them to communicate and get to know one another. He said it has definitely encouraged and increased conversation among students. When asked how he motivates students to participate in these environments, Young responded that he made their participation a very small part of their grade. Young and his TAs make it a point to respond right away when students post to these spaces so that students know this is an active space and that they are being heard. This level of responsiveness has also helped boost participation. Back in the classroom, Young plans to continue using these tools for informal office hours.

Rachel Sangree from Civil and Systems Engineering shared that she has been holding evening office hours and what a difference it has made in the number of students who attend.  Acknowledging that it is sometimes exhausting, she stated that she sees more students now than ever before. When we’re back in the classroom, Sangree plans to continue to hold evening office hours, but perhaps not quite as late as she offers currently.

Alison Papadakis from Psychological and Brain Sciences described how she has adapted the “think pair share” active learning strategy to an online environment. Students are split into groups and assigned breakout rooms in Zoom, then use Google Sheets to record their ideas and notes while they’re in the rooms. This allows Papadakis to monitor the progress of students without having to manually drop in to each of the rooms. She is also able to add her own comments directly to the sheets in real time as students work on them. It was noted that separate tabs are created for each group in Google Sheets, so each group has its own space to work.  Initially Papadakis was concerned that students would feel like she was ‘spying’ on them and wouldn’t like this method, but so far the feedback has been positive.  Jamie Young shared a tutorial he put together on this topic: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1uvRB38GHIKNaxQL-dN-9vpWgC43Yslssyz_jh2uPtno/edit

Francois Furstenberg from History shared how he is using the e-reader platform Perusall which allows students to collaboratively annotate their online readings. The annotations inform Furstenberg what parts of the readings students are finding interesting and are helping to shape the in-class discussions. He plans to continue using this platform when in-person classes resume. It was noted that instructors need to have copyright permission before uploading reading material to Perusall. If they have questions about obtaining copyright, they are encouraged to contact their university librarian.

David Kraemer from Mechanical Engineering mentioned that he mailed USB oscilloscope boards and a kit of devices to each of his students so they could perform “hands-on” experiments at home. He recognizes the value of these kits whether or not students are learning online, and plans to keep using them when in person classes resume.

Joshua Reiter from the Center for Leadership Education described how he adjusted his approach to assessments by breaking up large exams into more frequent quizzes throughout the semester.  Some of these quizzes were meant to be ‘fun’ quizzes for participation points, but he noticed that students were feeling pressured when taking them, defeating their purpose. Reiter changed them from individual to group quizzes, using the breakout room feature in Zoom.  Since then, he’s noticed a significant reduction in stress among the students.

 

What is something that you are still struggling with?

Several faculty members mentioned that their workload is significantly higher this semester as they do their best to recreate their lessons online.  Some feel like they are putting in three times the normal amount of preparation time and as a result, are experiencing technological overload, having to learn and keep up with so many tools. Many faculty mentioned that their students are feeling this way, too.  It was suggested that adding technology should be done in a purposeful way and that faculty should not feel compelled to use all of the available tools. Some faculty acknowledged that although it has been very challenging, they have learned a great deal about tools that are out there, and which ones seem to work better for students.

Similarly, a faculty member mentioned how difficult it is to multitask within the online environment; for example, keeping up with the chat window in Zoom while lecturing synchronously. Many faculty agreed, commenting that they feel pressured to keep up with everything going on and that it often feels like a performance. Someone commented that sharing concerns with the students helps to humanize the situation, while setting realistic expectations helps to take pressure off of instructors. One instructor mentioned how he purposely builds pauses into his lectures to allow himself time to catch up. Others mentioned that they use their TAs to monitor the chat window; if the instructor does not have a TA, he or she could ask a student.  Another general suggestion is to ask students what works best for them, instead of trying to monitor everything.

Academic integrity was another issue that came up. At least one instructor acknowledged multiple instances of students cheating since moving online, while others shared that they are concerned it may happen to them. A brief discussion followed, with instructors sharing strategies they use to try and mitigate cheating: using online monitoring tools, lowering weights of exams, making all exams open-book/open-note, and placing more emphasis on project-based work.

Some technical questions also came up, such as how to recreate an interactive whiteboard. The responses ranged from configuring Powerpoint in a certain way to using multiple devices. Jamie Young shared a tutorial he put together that uses Open Broadcaster Software (OBS): https://docs.google.com/document/d/1JXptPGjnAOiqbpvrXJPGWDcbqE_l95C6Cm0moYpaelk/edit?usp=sharing  Faculty are welcome to contact the CER for help with this and other specific technological challenges.

Anything you would like to share with others?

A few faculty members shared how they are taking advantage of the online environment. Andrew Cherlin from Sociology mentioned how much easier it is to schedule outside guests, such as authors, since there are no travel arrangements, logistics, etc. to be worked out. He has had several guests this semester already. Cherlin also described how he has taken advantage of Zoom to meet with each student individually for about fifteen minutes to check in with them and make sure they are on track. He acknowledged that this is not practical for large courses, but it has been very beneficial to those in his seminar style course.

Lori Finkelstein from Museum Studies described how being online has reshaped her assignments. She usually has students go out into the field to different museums to conduct research. This semester, students are taking a look at what museums are offering virtually and whether or not they are successful, what seems to be working, what is not working, etc.

Lester Spence from Political Science is teaching a course with instructors from Goucher College and Towson University. Students from all three schools are collaborating together as they work on group projects, something that would not necessarily be possible in a face-to-face environment.

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Pixabay

Building Community in an Online Course

Although a formal decision has yet to be made about the Fall 2020 semester here at Johns Hopkins, many instructors are beginning to prepare for the possibility of teaching online. Building community in an online course can be a challenge, especially if instructors are used to teaching in a face-to-face environment. The strategies below are meant to provide students with a sense of belonging, reduce feelings of isolation, and ultimately help keep them engaged throughout the course. 

Let students get to know you, take time to get to know them:

  • create a short video introducing yourself, including some personal details, not just academic credentials
  • convey enthusiasm for the course
  • create a survey asking students about themselves, their level of comfort with technology, what timezone they are in, etc.

Create opportunities for students to get to know each other:

  • use ice breaker activities: ‘introduce yourself’ discussion board forum, intro videos, etc. Relate the activity back to course content if possible (e.g,. “What is something innovative about your hometown?” used in an Urban Studies course.)
  • design activities that require student interaction: group work, peer review, etc.   

Create a safe and inclusive environment:

  • invite all voices to the room – listen to students, validate their points, and when possible, weave their examples into your lecture (Schmitt)
  • if possible, dedicate the first part of class to allow students to share challenges, coping strategies
  • if possible, hold some synchronous sessions to allow students to see each other
  • acknowledge and share your own struggles
  • remind students of the basic principles of netiquette when communicating online
  • facilitate a group discussion around setting ground rules and/or mutual expectations for dialogue and collaboration in class   

Communicate regularly/Be Present in the Course:

  • post daily/weekly announcements
  • send weekly email check-ins
  • remind learners about due dates, special events, share authentic news, share grading progress on assessments
  • encourage questions: set up a Q and A discussion board forum
  • make a commitment to respond promptly (daily, every other day) to student posts on discussion boards
  • consider using video in your communication with students at least some of the time, as they appreciate seeing and hearing directly from the instructor  

 

References: 

Schmitt, R. (2020, May 14). Fostering Online Student Success in the Face of COVID-19. The Scholarly Teacherhttps://www.scholarlyteacher.com/post/fostering-online-student-success-in-the-face-of-covid-19?fbclid=IwAR3v8lBQhOxT5fFU_q1HahnJVg6nCEvfGqeD_ZZHQ7gZHZkkH0LHuFGcX6g 

Amy Brusini
Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Pixabay

Navigating Grades During Covid-19 

Like many other universities nationwide, Johns Hopkins has made the decision to forgo letter grades this semester for its undergraduates. Faculty in the Krieger and Whiting schools have been instructed to use the special designation S*/U* this semester. On Friday, April 3, the Center for Educational Resources (CER) hosted an online session, “Transitioning to S/U Grading.” Jessie Martin, Assistant Dean, Office of Academic Advising, and Janet Weise, Assistant Dean, Office of Undergraduate Affairs, provided an overview of JHU’s updated grading policy which was followed by a question and answer sharing session, moderated by Allon Brann from the CER.  

Highlights of the grading policy for both KSAS and WSE faculty include: 

  • All AS and EN undergraduate students will receive S* or U* grades for the spring 2020 semester(The asterisk (*) distinguishes this semester from a regular S/U grade given during past semesters.) There will be a semester-specific transcript notation explaining that students were not eligible for a letter grade.
  • This applies to the AS and EN undergraduate students regardless of the fact that they may be in graduate level courses or in courses offered by other schools. 
  • There will be an option to assign a grade of I/U*
  • Faculty may have students enrolled in their undergraduate classes who are grad students and/or from other JHU schools and therefore have different emergency grading systems.  

More details about the policy can be found here:
KSAShttps://krieger.jhu.edu/covid19/teaching/
WSEhttps://engineering.jhu.edu/novel-coronavirus-information/faculty-undergrad-grading-faqs/
(Note: the links are different, but the information is identical for both the Krieger and Whiting Schools)

Session participants shared strategies in terms of how to move forward with grading this semester, which are summarized below:  

  • Consulting the studentsOne faculty member shared how she consulted with her students to help decide how to move her course forward this semester. She facilitated student discussions and allowed them a say in how things would be adapted. The outcome: course work has been scaled back, but no assessments have been eliminated. For example, instead of students turning in a full assignment, they now have to submit a list of bullet points highlighting the main ideas, or an outline instead of a full analysis. Lectures have been replaced by students working in groups through Zoom and then regrouping as a full class to report outThe faculty member has been very pleased with the results noting that because students were involved in the decision-making, they are working even harder because they chose this path.  
    Another idea related to consulting students mentioned by a CER staff member is to ask students how they are going to demonstrate that they’ve met the goals of the course.  
  • Using technology to monitor students:  Another faculty member described how Zoom can take attendancerecord how many minutes students are on a call, and even how attentive they are during a sessionShe also mentioned the detailed statistics provided by Panopto (lecture capture software) that records which video recordings students have viewed and for how longWhile it is possible to incorporate this information into students’ grades, this faculty member stated she prefers to use these tools in a more informal way to monitor students and flag those who are not engaged. 
    A CER staff member mentioned additional ways faculty are using technology, including: 
    • Embedding quizzes inside of Panopto as a knowledge check while watching video recordings. 
    • Creating a Blackboard quiz that is dependent on students having watched a video recording or attended a Zoom session.
  • Alternate grading strategiesA list of alternate grading strategies shared by the CER that may be useful in adjusting your approach this semester or in future semesters. 
  • Specific S/U grading approaches: A list of approaches shared by the CER that might be worth considering as you transition to S/U grading this semester.

What modifications, if any, are you making in order to shift to S/U? We encourage you to share your ideas in the comments section. 

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Pixabay