CTL Blog

October 15, 2020

Have you or a colleague developed a creative way to reach and engage students in a virtual classroom? Do you have a colleague who designed a test or other assessment of student learning that worked particularly well online?  Are you proud of something you, your colleagues, or your students did in our COVID-shifted covid classrooms? We want to celebrate your exemplary agility and resourcefulness in adapting to virtual learning environments.

Please nominate yourself or a colleague for a Faculty Forward Award by November 1

The nomination is a short, online questionnaire available here (https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScB9_k_XXcezLpH_UwKNTYRgdGX6B7Z8fC1EazFva25NKD3Kw/viewform?usp=sf_link) that asks what changes you or a colleague made to a class, what the best outcomes were, and what about this change you most want to share.  All instructional faculty (tenured, tenure-track, and temporary) are eligible. Please nominate by November 1, 2020.  Honorees will be announced by December 1, and recognized with a modest honorarium ($300 -  $500, depending on number of selected applicants) and a podcast or video profile to be shared with SDSU faculty colleagues. If you have any questions, please contact [email protected].

Upcoming Coffee Hour Topics: Join us Mondays at 3:15 PM here

Oct 19:  Mid-semester Student Evaluations: Designing Them and Using Them
Oct 26:  Tests and Assessing Student Learning: What’s Working
Nov 2: Service Learning in Lower Division Classes: Brainstorming for the Future
Nov 9: Planning Spring Classes: Starting with Learning Goals
Nov 16: Planning Spring Classes:  Inclusive and Equitable Teaching in Virtual Classrooms
Nov 30: Final Exams: Brainstorming session
Dec 7: Final Exam Makeover: Get help adapting your finals for online testing

Looking for Alternative Ways to Do Exams? Other Teaching Resources? Check These Out:

Respondus isn’t always a good fit.  And high-stakes exams in high-anxiety contexts (like COVID) may lead some students to academic dishonesty. For other ways to do exams, check out The CSU Chancellor’s Office Professional Development folks in the CSU Chancellor’s Office are collecting ideas from our CSU colleagues in a series of Alternative Approaches to Assessment webcasts.  You can find upcoming events here, and archived programs here.

Upcoming from Alternative Approaches to Assessment:
Project-based, take-home exams
Tuesday, October 20, 2020, 1:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Zoom link: http://calstate.zoom.us/j/95684728703

Multiple restrictions related to traditional in-person exam assessments create the need for simplified exam problems solvable within those constraints.  Assessments given as take-home exams  allow coverage of a wider range of topics while providing the students with a reduced stress environment to complete the work and an increased ability to demonstrate the amount of learning they have accomplished in the course. In this session, Richard Emberley, an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, will present  this approach using a heat transfer course as an example. Participants will have the opportunity to consider how to create a project-based problem.

Coffee Hour Report: Elections

Do you talk about elections and voting in your classroom?  If the Coffee Hour was any indication, lots of us feel much more comfortable discussing the mechanics of voting, than the issues.  You can make conversations about election issues work by reminding your students that the goal of a political discussion is to learn what other people think and why, not to win an argument. For more ideas, see the Division of Diversity and Innovation's guide to Managing Challenging Conversations. You can include students who are not eligible to vote in California in these conversations by acknowledging that not everyone can vote, and emphasizing that everyone’s analysis of the issues is welcome and important.

Linked Events on Campus

Don’t miss upcoming ITS workshops and SDSU Digital Humanities Center events.  And if you haven’t already tuned into the Faculty Futures Lab podcast produced by our colleagues in the SDSU Faculty Leadership Institute, check it out here.  

Want to join the conversation? Link here to share your questions and classroom triumphs at CTL Coffee Hours, every Monday, at 3:15pm.  

 

 

Sarah Elkind, Ph.D.

Professor of History
Director, Center for Teaching and Learning

Blog Archive

The official theme for the CTL Coffee Hour this week was midterm exams but we also talked about promoting discussion, creating community, and what we did when we couldn't log in to campus networks last week. Professor Ken Arnold (Electrical and Computer Engineering) was able to email all his students because he always asks his students to fill out a Google Form at the beginning of the semester with their contact information. I imagine you could ask other questions on a start of term survey, too, like "What are you most hoping to learn during this semester?" or "When are you most successful in classes?" -- questions that can help you get to know students and nudge them gently towards engaging with your class and taking responsibility for their own learning.

Coffee Hour Report: Exams

Back to exams...The biggest challenge remains designing exams for very large classes that discourage academic dishonesty without creating an impossible grading burden. If you have found something that works, share it on this mini-survey! 

Professor Margaret Cowden (Hospitality and Tourism Management) has abandoned multiple choice exams for open-book essay exams.  Professor Valerie Li (a new faculty-member in Accountancy) has replaced her high-stakes midterm exam with many lower stakes, open-book quizzes. She is using a textbook exam site to help build tests with short-answer and computational problems in addition to multiple choice questions. She gives the exam synchronously, during her scheduled class period.  

Ken Arnold encourages academic honesty by meeting with each of his students for 10-15 minutes to talk about an assignment early in the semester.  He asks a standard set of questions, grading responses with a rubric.  Talking one to one helps him quickly evaluate students’ mastery of course material.  There are some potential pitfalls: two students with equal mastery may perform very differently in a one-to-one conversation -- some students are more confident, better at impromptu responses to questions, or more at ease talking with professors than others. On the other hand, these conversations build connections and trust; Ken has found this a great addition to exams and projects in his classes.

You can find more ideas on alternative approaches to assessment from across the CSU, presented by the Chancellor's Office Division of Academic and Student Affairs. I joined one this week, and learned about group quizzes in math classes.  Really cool.  Join the live webcasts on Tuesdays, 1:00-1:30pm, or watch the recordings at your convenience. 

Talking About the Election in Your Classes

As a historian of politics and policy, I think one of the most important things we can do is help our students vote.  Many students don't vote because they don't feel like they understand the issues well enough, don't know how to register, or don't know how the voting process works. Last election, I showed my students how to register online. (Find California voter registration information here.  The deadline is Oct. 19).  We discussed how to vote (not what to vote for, but how to find polling places and fill out a ballot), how to find good information about candidates and ballot measures, and how to decide what and who to vote for or against.  We had a terrific time, and 95% of my eligible students voted!  Some thoughts if you try this in your classroom:

  • We live in a contentious political moment.  Before you start, you might want to remind your students that the goal of a political discussion is to learn what other people think and why, not to win an argument.  I started my class by reminding my students that we are a community first and foremost, that taking care of each other mattered more than anything else, and that the best thing to do if they disagreed with someone was to ask them questions.  I also invited them to stop talking about the election at any time.
  • The Division of Diversity and Innovation's guide to Managing Challenging Conversations can help you help your students talk about the issues.
  • Not all of your students are eligible to vote in California or in the U.S.  You can include them in the conversation by acknowledging that not everyone is eligible to vote, and emphasizing that their analysis of the issues is welcome and important.
  • Solid sources of information to share: The League of Women Voters has voter registration information and voter guides; Ballotpedia has terrific, neutral information (including major funders) on most Federal and State races, and ballot measures; KPBS has a good voter guide for local races; the San Diego Bar Association evaluates judicial candidates’ qualifications.

Coffee Hour Report: Encouraging Discussion

One of the heartbreaks of teaching in a virtual classroom is teaching to a blank screen.  Students as well as instructors say that it is hard to talk when everyone’s camera is off.  Some students keep their cameras off for very good reasons; you can support those students by acknowledging this.  Professor Marina Kalyuzhnaya (Biology) starts every class by acknowledging that turning on cameras is not possible for everyone, and that it is okay to leave cameras off.  Then she tells her students that she finds it much easier to teach to faces than to the blank screen.  Some of our colleagues ask students who can't turn on a camera to post a picture or cartoon of themselves.  Others start the class Zoom 15 minutes early, and greet students by name as they add them from the waiting room; they find that students turn on their cameras to say, "hi," and then leave them on.  Margaret Cowden began the semester with a Pet Parade; she feels like that broke the ice in her classes, and increased participation.  Professor William Fallon (Communication) ended the semester with a talent show; students posted all sorts of video clips delightfully unrelated to course content.  Maybe it's time to revive old fashioned Show and Tell?  

If you have a success story, share it on the CTL Faculty Community Canvas homeroom.

Upcoming Coffee Hour Topics: Join us Mondays at 3:15 PM here

Oct 12:  Students, Voting, and the Election: Managing challenging conversations in the classroom (also: helping students register and find good information about ballot measures and candidates).
Oct 19:  Mid-semester Student Evaluations: Designing Them and Using Them
Oct 26:  Tests and Assessing Student Learning: What’s Working
Nov 2: Service Learning in Lower Division Classes: Brainstorming for the Future
Nov 9: Planning Spring Classes
Nov 16: Planning Spring Classes:  Inclusive and Equitable Teaching in Virtual Classrooms
Nov 30: Final Exams: Brainstorming session
Dec 7: Final Exam Makeover: Get help adapting your finals for online testing

Looking for other teaching resources? Check these out:

  • Use SDSU’s  institutional membership with the National Center for Faculty Diversity and Development to access numerous webinars on academic work during COVID-19.  Claim your membership and log-in at facultydiversity.org.
  • Cornell University's Center for Teaching Innovation "Teaching and Learning in the Diverse Classroom," webinar on sustaining inclusive, student-centered learning environments is now on. Free to audit.  Information and registration at this link.

Linked Events on Campus

Don’t miss upcoming ITS workshops and SDSU Digital Humanities Center events.  And if you haven’t already tuned into the Faculty Futures Lab podcast produced by our colleagues in the SDSU Faculty Leadership Institute, check it out here.  

Want to join the conversation? Link here to share your questions and classroom triumphs at CTL Coffee Hours, every Monday, at 3:15pm.  

 

 

Sarah Elkind, Ph.D.

Professor of History
Director, Center for Teaching and Learning

Last Monday afternoon, like you, I was unable to sign in to Zoom due to a campus-wide  IT problem.  Which made me wonder:  Have faculty talked to students about what to do if technical difficulties (theirs or yours) get in the way of holding class? Perhaps you can take a minute this week to brainstorm with your students:
 
  • How long do you expect them to keep trying to login when you are having a technical problem or when the system is down?
  • What should they do if they can’t login or have problems with their technology?
  • What if service interruption affects an exam or assignment deadline?
  • What alternate means of communication--email, phone, etc.--might students use to connect with each other and you, if the problem persists or affects the whole class?
Technology permitting, please join me this and every Monday at 3:15 p.m. for the CTL Coffee Hour.
 
What’s my plan for technical difficulties? If a Coffee Hour isn’t on by 3:30pm, assume I’m having technical problems and that Coffee Hour is cancelled. Enjoy the hour in some other way: take a walk, chat with a neighbor.  If you have technical problems, join us when you can!

Coffee Hour Report: Engaging Students - Encouraging and Facilitation Discussion

Both Canvas and Blackboard have discussion boards, but sometimes nothing beats just plain talking about the ideas and problems contained in course material.  Here are some ideas from past Coffee Hours about how to get discussion going in your virtual classroom:  
 
  •  Assign students to report out to synchronous course meetings on Canvas/Blackboard discussions.
  • Invite students to record short answers to discussion questions or Zoom chat questions and share them with the class. You can share those recordings in class.
  • Some of your colleagues are structuring discussion to make it more about asking than answering questions.  I like this approach because it keeps class moving, interjects additional voices, and ensures that class sessions reflect where the students are as well as our goals and content. 
 If you have a success story to share about how you are getting students to talk in your classes, please share it with the CTL Faculty Community Canvas homeroom.

Upcoming Coffee Hour Topics: Join us Mondays at 3:15 PM here

Oct 5: Midterms: Creating Tests that Work (and managing the grading workload)
Oct 12:  Students, Voting, and the Election: Managing challenging conversations in the classroom (also: helping students register and find good information about ballot measures and candidates).
Oct 19:  Mid-semester Student Evaluations: Designing Them and Using Them
Oct 26:  Tests and Assessing Student Learning: What’s Working
Nov 2: Service Learning in Lower Division Classes: Brainstorming for the Future
Nov 9: Planning Spring Classes
Nov 16: Planning Spring Classes:  Inclusive and Equitable Teaching in Virtual Classrooms
Nov 30: Final Exams: Brainstorming session
Dec 7: Final Exam Makeover: Get help adapting your finals for online testing

Looking for other teaching resources? Check these out:

  • Use SDSU’s  institutional membership with the National Center for Faculty Diversity and Development to access numerous webinars on academic work during COVID-19.  Claim your membership and log-in at facultydiversity.org.
  • Registration is now open for Cornell University's Center for Teaching Innovation "Teaching and Learning in the Diverse Classroom," webinar on sustaining inclusive, student-centered learning environments. Free to audit.  Information and registration at this link.
  • The National Institute on Scientific Teaching is holding an ongoing Happy Hour every Friday, from 1:00-2:00pm. The subject this Friday:  Games and play to improve morale and build community in your classroom. Find more information about SI Happy Hours at this link

Linked Events on Campus

Don’t miss upcoming ITS workshops and SDSU Digital Humanities Center events.  And if you haven’t already tuned into the Faculty Futures Lab podcast produced by our colleagues in the SDSU Faculty Leadership Institute, check it out here.  

Want to join the conversation? Link here to share your questions and classroom triumphs at CTL Coffee Hours, every Monday, at 3:15pm.  

We’re a third of the way through the semester; teaching via Zoom feels simultaneously normal and weird.  I imagine many of you working very alone--just putting it out there and not getting much back.  But once in a while …  innovation, brilliance.  Our students surprise us, and we surprise ourselves.  
 
For example, Professor Tina Yapelli asked her Art History students to introduce themselves by pairing a self-portrait with a famous piece of art by using Art Selfie.  A student in Sonya Schumman’s Music 151 set up a student-run forum using Discord that over half the students use to answer each other’s questions about readings and assignments. Sonya drops in from time to time to answer questions and keep the conversation from running off the rails. Professor Shannon Black and Professor Yashu Chen are convincing their students that professors don’t bite by posting lecture “bloopers” or inviting students to office hours after every lecture.  Such cool ideas! 

Coffee Hour Report: Creating Social Presence and Community

This week, we gathered for the CTL Coffee Hour (weekly Mondays, 3:15pm, at https://SDSU.zoom.us/j/93446666300) to share ideas about creating a social presence in our virtual classrooms. “Social presence” is simply another way to think about fostering the kind of community and interpersonal connections that encourage students to work harder and take the intellectual risks necessary for deep learning and critical thinking. 

How Your Colleagues are Teaching

  • Starting or ending class with a question, activity or ritual that also helps students get to know each other or you as individuals.  Asking how students are or what they enjoy doing for fun, sharing music, movies or recipes, giving students a bit of time to socialize in class is all useful for creating community.  
  • Encouraging students to run their own discussion forums separate from the official Canvas/Blackboard discussion boards.  An informal, student moderated discussion – preferably on a platform that students already use -- can replicate some of the informal interactions of the classroom, and provide a place for students to check with each other about assignment instructions or find study-partners.  I’d suggest you help students set (and enforce) community standards for the forum.
  • Assigning students to the same breakout groups for all or part of the semester can help students get to know each other.  If your class is small enough, you can use breakouts to help students meet everyone in the class.  I know we all want students to work during breakouts, but giving them some time to socialize can help build community, too.
  • Recording your own informal feedback videos. Filming brief videos on common mistakes and triumphs is a great way to provide feedback on assignments.  If you make these more informal than your lectures - filmed on a walk, in a park, at the beach -- you can also share more of yourself and maybe reduce your grading burden at the same time.
  • Inviting students to office hours – every week.  Students need help remembering that their instructors don’t bite, and that college is hard but that we know that they can rise to the challenge, and that successful people ask for help.   Regularly inviting them to office hours can help. Or share these faculty-made videos (link; link) from Faculty Advancement and Student Success.
  • Asking students for their feedback with anonymous surveys. Professor Nathian Rodriguez asks students at the beginning, middle, and end of the semester to articulate their goals and reflect on what they have accomplished -- such a great way to nudge students to take responsibility for their learning. I also like the idea of enlisting students in course development by asking them for feedback on course modules or assignments.

Visit our SDSU Digital Humanities Center or Professors at Play for more ideas.  For scholarship on social presence, see  Aimee Whiteside, Amy Dikkers and Somer Lewis, “The Power of Social Presence for Learning,” Educause Review, May 19, 2014.

Linked Events on Campus

Don’t miss upcoming ITS workshops--calendars are below.  See especially the September 30 10 a.m. “Quick Talk” on “Social Presence.” 

And if you haven’t already tuned into the Faculty Futures Lab podcast produced by our colleagues in the SDSU Faculty Leadership Institute, check it out here.  Conversation with colleagues on what’s happening with faculty now, in our COVID context.

Finally, you are always welcome at CTL coffee hours--Mondays, 3:15pm, link here to share your questions and classroom triumphs.