CTL Blog

January 7, 2021

It seems a little surreal to be writing a normal CTL Blog post, replete with resources and suggestions for your Spring courses, given recent events at the Capitol (I am writing this on Wednesday afternoon, January 6)  Nevertheless, the semester is fast approaching, I find solace in work, and our students need us.
 
Resources for your Spring classes:
  • If you have questions about SDSU's instructional policies and recommendations, take a look at the Academic Operations Guidelines posted here, and on the Faculty Advancement website.
  • Dr. Lacie Barber is leading a series of webinars on the science of healthy work, rest and recovery in the virtual workplace, January 13 - 15. You can find more information and RSVP here.
  • Worried about R&R  Days? Check out the CTL Guide to Implementing Rest and Recover Days here.
  • For help writing a syllabus that is accessible (legible to screen-reading software) and contains everything the University Senate requires, download the SDSU Syllabus Template.
  • You can find pro-tips and past CTL Blogs on many aspects of teaching in virtual classrooms, and other resources at the CTL webpage (ctl.sdsu.edu) or by joining the CTL Faculty Community on Canvas.

Coffee Hour Report

Share your questions, brainstorms, and teaching quandaries with your smart and resourceful colleagues, and start your semester off in good company at the CTL Coffee Hour!

During the month of January, we'll meet twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays at 3:15pm to discuss all those questions that arise while planning courses, and adapting to online teaching.  The Zoom link: https://SDSU.zoom.us/j/ 93446666300.

Upcoming Coffee Hour Topics: Join us 3:15 pm here

Jan 18 (Monday): Course design: Using synchronous and asynchronous class time
Jan 21 (Thursday): Testing and Academic Integrity in the Virtual Classroom
Jan 25 (Monday): Ice Breakers and Creating community in virtual classrooms
Jan 28 (Thursday): Managing R&R Days

Academic Integrity in Difficult Times: A SDSU Think-In

Academic integrity has emerged as one of the most profound challenges of virtual classrooms - particularly in large and high-stakes classes.  Join your colleagues on Friday, January 22, 8:30 - 11 a.m., for a morning of real talk, thoughtful reflection, and practical ideas as we begin our third semester of COVID-impacted instruction. The morning will feature faculty and students sharing first-hand experiences and breakout sessions and demonstrations. 
 
This event is geared towards instructional faculty, but all members of the campus community are invited. Please RSVP here.
 
(Sponsored by Faculty Advancement and Student Success, the Center for Teaching and Learning, Instructional Technology Services, and the Center for Inclusive Excellence).

Recent Events

Finally, in light of the violence in the nation’s capital this week, it is more important than ever that our campus serves to build inclusive community, and our classrooms provide opportunities for students to connect with one another. The Division of Diversity and Innovation's guide to Managing Challenging Conversations can help you help your students unpack recent events. A CTL Blog from Sept 2020 (find it on the CTL Blog archive page) describes some of the strategies our colleagues are using to build community in their classes.

 

 

Sarah Elkind, Ph.D.

Professor of History
Director, Center for Teaching and Learning

Blog Archive

Recently, Dean Monica Casper (CAL) sent around this quote from Monique DuFour:  "Let’s do something different. Let’s talk about what’s wrong with the idea that good teachers should be working all the time, as hard as possible. And let’s do it in a way that neither peddles panaceas and nor heaps on blame." Deterring and detecting academic dishonesty is one of those things that has led many faculty to work all the time. But many of the strategies for fostering student engagement in virtual classrooms have, too. This worries me.  
 
If what you are doing is working for you and for your students, there is no need to redesign your courses.  However, if you are working too hard or they are unhappy, look to the CTL Faculty Community Canvas homeroom for strategies to foster student success and academic honesty. And please save the date so you can join the Academic Integrity Think-In on Friday, January 22 from 8:30am - 11:00am to brainstorm solutions with colleagues. 
 
In her column, DuFour criticizes the assumption that “new is always better, that innovation is required, that only what can be counted counts, and that everything in teaching is always up for revision.” The pandemic demands innovation and revision, but not innovation for innovation’s sake. You may be able to make small adjustments to your courses to help relieve your workload, and help your students feel less overwhelmed by asking them to identify assignments and activities that require more effort than is justified by their rewards. Ask them what helped them learn, and what felt like busy-work. Ask them what assignments or materials they have used to prepare for exams.  Ask them whether the in-lecture quizzes or other activities that took you lots of time to create actually engaged them. A brief in-class discussion might give you some ideas; but it’s a good idea to also create a 1- or 2-question survey so that students can provide anonymous feedback. Find sample end of semester surveys in the CTL Faculty Community Canvas homeroom.
 
My motto for Spring: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it; but if you are breaking, scale things back.

See the rest of Monique DuFour’s piece on The Professor Is In.
 

Congratulations Faculty Forward Award Winners!

Professor Erin Riley (Anthropology) ensured that the pandemic did not prevent her general education anthropology students from conducting their own research or applying scientific methods to analyze the natural world by replacing behavioral observations at the San Diego Zoo with a similar research project using zoo webcams from around the world. She has also expanded students' primate behavior observation options to include direct observation of human behavior in her students' own homes or in safe, outdoor spaces.  These assignments use available materials in creative ways, provide students with hands-on research experience, and will encourage students to see the world in new and different ways.
 
Professors Kim Twist and Stephen Goggin (Political Science) both teach a required statistics course that many students struggle with.  They wanted to build their students' confidence so that more students would persist through the semester in spite of teaching an already challenging course in a virtual classroom.  To these ends, they introduced ungraded assessments of student learning and low stakes testing in a required statistics course.  They recorded some lectures together, and used synchronous class time for review sessions available to students in both sections. This exposes students to two explanations of challenging concepts, and two class sessions to grapple with challenging content. This shows the advantages of teaming up with other colleagues to create support systems for both faculty and students.
 
Professor Heidi Keller-Lapp (History) created a low-risk environment for students to practice writing and analytical skills in classes in her virtual classrooms.  Her goal this fall has been to develop a virtual classroom as active learning laboratories.  To do this, using Hypothesis (an external tool available through Canvas), her students annotate required readings, and comment upon each-others' annotations.  Her Hypothesis assignments have created a low-risk environment for students to develop critical thinking in a supportive, engaging community.
 
Adapting large enrollment, introductory lab classes presented special challenges this Fall to make lab spaces safe, to provide adequate time and instruction to students for students to complete hands-on labs, and to provide alternative assignments when the pandemic required the university to suspend face-to-face instruction.  Professor Theresa Carlson (Chemistry and Biochemistry) met these challenges by redesigning lab projects and creating online lab instruction and support materials for the 450-student Chemistry 200 and 202 lab courses so that students could make the best possible use of limited hands-on laboratory time. 
 
Professors Marissa Vasquez and Frank Harris III (ARPE) worked together to develop a single comprehensive assignment to assess student learning in their two doctoral courses.  The assignment asked students to design a campus approach to address the equity issue of their choosing, and present this approach in a publicly accessible 60-minute training webinar for education leaders.  This ambitious project is a powerful and scalable example of public scholarship.
 
Professor Baris Aksanli (Electrical and Computer Engineering) replaced a large, semester-long project with smaller, hands-on programming assignments, each of which reinforced important programming concepts.  He further supported student success by scheduling a series of live programming sessions to demonstrate coding utilities in real time trials, while students submitted comments and questions through Zoom chat. After each session, he posted recordings of the live programming sessions for students to review while working on their own assignments.  This multipronged support was effective at reducing students' stress and  reinforcing their programming skills.
 
Professor Denise Lebsack (Exercise and Nutritional Sciences) built community amongst her Athletic Training students first by asking each student to submit a short video about themselves, and then creating an online quiz that asked students to match names and "fun facts" about their colleagues.  She added new course topics, including telemedicine for concussion management, to her curriculum, she also found new community partners who could offer her students the in-person or remote clinical experiences central to their Athletic Training education. 
 
Professor Linday Copp (Exercise and Nutritional Sciences) made her food science classes inclusive and participatory by developing assignments and activities that her students could complete in their own kitchens, with or without the help of family-members and roommates.  She also redesigned her course into self-paced packets supplemented by weekly drop-in and one-on-one Zoom meetings to provide assistance and answer questions. Her students appreciated the flexibility this offered. They also benefited from the continued opportunities for hands-on learning that Professor Copp made available by using household materials for her assignments.
 
Professor Sonya Schumann (Music) found creative solutions to teaching physical and cognitive skills in the virtual classroom by redesigning her course to be especially student-centered, and by going to extraordinary lengths to get keyboards and other musical equipment into her students' hands.  This required redesigning curriculum to accommodate differences in equipment, and to provide students with real-time, one-on-one critique and feedback.  She adopted new technologies, using multiple cameras and computers to show keyboard technique and musical scores simultaneously.  This has helped her continue teaching music, while overcoming some of the equity gaps inherent in virtual instruction.
 
Professor Mei Zhong (Journalism and Media Studies) developed a cross-cultural research project for International Studies Students who could not travel during the pandemic.  For this project International Studies majors interviewed international students for their research project, and led discussions for international students on various aspects of American culture.  In other words, the two groups of students served as cultural informants for each other, and provided some of the interpersonal, cross-cultural experiences otherwise unavailable during the pandemic. 

To learn more about these and innovative teachers among us, look for interviews with the Faculty Forward Award winners on the Faculty Futures Lab podcast series this Spring.

Final Exams

Final exams are stressful for everyone at the best of times.  Try to reduce the stress by giving your students exam instructions ahead of time, and planning for internet outages, power outages and other technical problems.  This plan could be as simple as: “If you have technical problems during the final exam, document the problem (a screen shot will do) and email me. If your internet is down, leave a message at my office phone number.  Keep trying to start the final for 15 minutes.  If you have made a good faith effort to take the final, but cannot, I will calculate your semester grade based on your work so far.”

Special January Coffee Hours: Stop by on Mondays and Thursdays in January from 3:15 PM - 4:00 PM here

CTL is here to help you plan Spring 2021 classes. Ask questions, share ideas and resources.  Your supportive, creative colleagues may even be able to lighten your load.

Spring Courses on Canvas

Starting this Spring, Canvas will be SDSU’s only learning management system. You will still be able to see and download old Blackboard courses until May 21, 2021. If you wish to opt-out of Canvas this Spring, please use the ServiceNow portal to request that ITS create your Spring 2021 courses in Blackboard.
 
You can find help learning Canvas or moving your course materials from Blackboard to Canvas: 
ITS is also holding a training session on Course migration, archiving and backups on Canvas (Friday, 12/11, at 11:00am). Find this and other ITS trainings here.

 

The blog this week is about three things: Final exams, Prepping courses for Spring, and Switching to Canvas. While Respondus and other on-line testing platforms will remain essential to our work for the foreseeable future, many are raising concerns about the use of Respondus Monitor and other forms of video proctoring of online tests.  In addition to questions about the reliability of video proctoring, these systems may create a sense of distrust and surveillance that can undermine your efforts to create a connection with and sense of community amongst your students. As you write your exams and as you plan your Spring classes, please consider other strategies to promote academic honesty.  You can find many suggestions further along in this blog, on the CTL Faculty Community on Canvas, and on the CTL website. Please share your exam-writing suggestions and successes on this 3-question mini-survey.

Coffee Hour Report: Final Exams

The Coffee Hour conversation focused this week on final exams, how to design them, and academic honesty:  

  • My students are asking for a study guide, but I am afraid that if I provide them with one, they’ll create and study from a Google Doc with bad information instead of studying their course materials.  What should I do?  (Our consensus: Have them work together to write questions to create their own study guide - give them credit for participating without grading or moderating; tell them that you’ve seen students get poor exam grades because they studied from a Google Doc that had bad information on it; offer to flag inaccurate information if they add you to their Google Doc.)
  • Does it make sense to turn an essay exam into a take-home, open-book essay?  (Our consensus was that it does: an open-book essay still gives students an opportunity to show that they can synthesize course material, while eliminating some forms of academic dishonesty.)  
  • How can I best provide clear instructions about how long I expect written answers to be? (Our consensus: be explicit about what a good answer looks like; consider showing students examples of good work; publish and review exam instructions early)

Other principles to consider: 

  • Introducing entirely new kinds of tests and questions at the final exam is pretty unfair to students.  They have spent the semester learning how your assignments work as well as learning your material.  If you want to do something new on the final, give them some practice now.
  • Final exams serve different functions in different courses.  They can test student understanding of key material; they can reinforce the most important concepts and content from your course; they lead students through synthesizing material into a coherent whole. Exams designed to meet those last two goals can succeed, pedagogically, even if some students share answers.
  • Talking to your students about what constitutes cheating, and what is legitimate collaboration can help reduce academic dishonesty. (More on this below)

If you do find evidence of academic dishonesty, please report it to the Center for Student Rights and Responsibilities, as per university and CSU policy. And if you have a success story, share it on the CTL Faculty Community Canvas homeroom.

Preparing for Spring

Most of us will teach in virtual classrooms during the spring semester. You’ve already made crucial decisions about whether your classes will be synchronous, mostly synchronous, mostly asynchronous or asynchronous. You may also have already ordered books.  Now it’s time to develop activities and construct a syllabus (find a useful syllabus checklist and template here), and build your Canvas course. 
 
As you build your Spring courses, focus your attention on those things that are getting in the way of achieving your goals for your course and of fostering student success.  So, spend your time where you most need to.  Stay focused on your goals for the course; go ahead and re-use those imperfect, recorded lectures.   
Build community from the very first day of class.

Creating a sense of community can increase student engagement and participation, improve student success, and make your teaching days more satisfying.  We collected some first day activities on the CTL Faculty Community Canvas homeroom. A bit of whimsy may be helpful here: pet parades, meme contests, no-camera days.  The Professors at Play website has lots of great resources from ice breakers to escape rooms.  Ask your students for suggestions.  Think, while you are at it, about how to define and evaluate participation in your classes.
 
Worried about Academic Honesty?  
Don’t reach for the technical fix.  Design your courses to reduce cheating.  
The literature shows that students are most likely to cheat:
  • on high stakes exams and assignments
  • when they do not think they can succeed on an assignment
  • if they do not think they have enough time to complete an exam or assignment
  • when they think cheating will be easy
  • when they are unhappy with the course or the virtual classroom itself
Students are less likely to engage in academic dishonesty:
  • when faculty talk positively about academic integrity and are clear about what is and is not cheating
  • when students read detailed honor codes before taking exams
  • on low-stakes assignments that they are confident they can complete successfully
  • if they perceive cheating as difficult
So, what can you do differently next term?
  • Integrate some community-building activities into your classes to help create a sense of welcome and community (find suggestions on the CTL Faculty Community Canvas homeroom)
  • Substitute multiple, low-stakes quizzes for your large, high-stakes exams.  You may be able to do this by just breaking up your larger tests.
  • Create ungraded assignments so your students can practice for tests, evaluate their own understanding, and figure out when and how to seek help. Save time by using old homework or test questions, or giving your students credit for writing prompts for these practice assignments.
  • If you do not use textbook testbanks, tell your students this. This may discourage them from seeking answers on the internet.
  • Define what kinds of collaboration are and are not acceptable in your course or on each assignment. Ask your students to list collaborators and study-partners on each assignment or exam.
  • Ask your students to read a detailed honor code before high stakes assignments; honor codes that include consequences and are more formal and substantial seem to make the biggest impression.
Sources: 
Bretag, T., Harper, R., Burton, M., Ellis, C., Newton, P., van Haeringen, K., Saddiqui, S., & Rozenberg, P. (2019). “Contract cheating and assessment design: Exploring the relationship.” Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 44(5), 676-691. 
 
Munoz, A., & Mackway, J. (2019). “An online testing design choice typology towards cheating threat minimization.” Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 16(3).
 
Gurung, R. A. R., Wilhelm, T. M., & Filz, T. (2012). “Optimizing honor codes for online exam administration.” Ethics & Behavior, 22(2), 158-162.
 
Rettinger, D. A. (2017). “The role of emotions and attitudes in causing and preventing cheating.” Theory Into Practice, 56(2) 103-110.

Migrating to Canvas

All courses should be on Canvas this semester.  If you still have materials on Blackboard that you wish to keep, you need to export them now because you will not have access to Blackboard after Spring 2021.  (You can use Blackboard for one, final semester by special request.) If you need help with Canvas, start by going to the Instructional Technology Services (ITS) Canvas resource pages here. You can also drop in at ITS’s FIT Center (go to ITS.sdsu.edu and click on the orange FIT Center box in the middle of the screen).

Last Coffee Hour of the Semester

Join us Monday, 12/7 at 3:15 pm here for the Final Exam Make-Over!  Bring your exam questions and exam design questions. Get help and ideas from your colleagues!

 

 

Sarah Elkind, Ph.D.

Professor of History
Director, Center for Teaching and Learning

There are only two more CTL Coffee Hours this semester, both focused on final exams.  So join us for a brainstorming session on November 30, or a Final Exam Makeover on December 7.  For the makeover, bring an exam question or testing strategy; get help from your peers to adapt it for online testing or to fix things you are not satisfied with.

Coffee Hour Report: Equity and Student Participation

Equity Professor Daniel Reinholz (Mathematics and Statistics) joined the conversation this week to help us think about new routes to equitable teaching. Daniel introduced us to Equip (https://www.equip.ninja/) an online tool to measure student in-class participation. Studies using Equip confirm that, in general, cisgendered white men still respond to questions faster and speak more often than other students. This is troubling because asking and answering questions consolidates students’ learning, and gives you a chance to provide instant feedback on your students’ mastery of course material or skills.  Participating in class also helps students see themselves as students, which is critical for student success. So, finding ways to encourage more students to speak up in class is worth the effort. But, how?
 
  • Instead of simply asking your students a question, provide some instructions to slow the question-answer sequence down.  Try telling them that you are going to ask a question and that you’d like them to think or write or talk with a classmate for a minute before raising their hands to answer. 
  • Recognize that, in every group of people, some people quickly develop the reputation for speaking up first, and others for keeping quiet. Circumvent this by assigning competence. This means you identify a student who has something great to contribute, warn them that you’ll be calling on them, and then call on them. Find those students by visiting students while they are in break out sessions or while grading homework.
  • Assigning competence based on what you hear in break out sessions  is also useful if you want to elicit ideas from students in a specific order.
  • If you are running an asynchronous class or if your class is too big for much live discussion, you can still help students engage with course material or skills by stopping class periodically, and asking them to answer a question or reflect on course content in writing. You needn’t have students turn these short reflections in, but you could give credit for completion (without grading). Or you can spot-check a few submissions or ask a few students to share what they’ve written to informally evaluate student mastery.
If you have a success story, share it on the CTL Faculty Community Canvas homeroom.

The Final Coffee Hours of 2020: Join us Mondays at 3:15 pm here to talk about final exams.

Nov 30: Final Exams: Brainstorming session
Dec 7: Final Exam Makeover: Get help adapting your finals for online testing

Linked Events on Campus

Don’t miss upcoming ITS workshops and SDSU Digital Humanities Center events.  
 
Mentoring grad students?  The latest Faculty Futures Lab podcast, produced by our colleagues in the SDSU Faculty Leadership Institute, explores the special challenges grad students are facing during the pandemic, and how faculty can help without setting themselves up for burnout.  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

Do you need more time to reboot your research, scholarship, and creative activities?  
 
The Division of Research and Innovation (DIR) would like to help:  Apply for Assigned Time for Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activities. The purpose of this program is to provide faculty with much-needed time during the Spring 2021 semester to ensure the successful commencement, continuation, or completion of research, scholarship, or creative activity projects at SDSU.
 
All SDSU tenured and tenure-track faculty scheduled to teach a minimum of six units for the spring 2021 semester are eligible.  DIR expects to fund 25-30 applications. 
 
Applications are due by Monday, November 16. Go to DRI Assigned Time website for information, instructions, and review criteria.

Coffee Hour Report: Office Hours, Student Participation, and Friction

During the CTL Coffee Hour this week, we started planning for Spring semester by acknowledging that virtual classrooms inject friction into teaching and learning -- making simple things like classroom discussion, administering tests, and persuading students to come to office hours just a little bit more difficult. 
 
Then we set about brainstorming solutions, starting with office hours. Stephen Brincks (Finance) and Margaret Cowden (Hospitality and Tourism Management) both increase their students’ use of office hours by announcing “special” office hour sessions right before important assignments or exams.  These are special in name only; they are always scheduled during their normal office hours, but when they labels them review sessions or special office hours, more students come. Madison Swayne (Public Affairs) has set up her office hours on a calendar so that her students can make appointments; the low-stakes commitment of making an appointment seems to bring more students in than unscheduled “drop-in” office hours. Several of our colleagues spend class time explaining what office hours are for, and giving students “scripts” for starting conversations during office hours. I find it helpful to remember that students don’t know what they don’t know unless we tell them, and some of them don’t know what to say in office hours or how office hours might be helpful to them. What do you tell your students about start office hour conversations?
 
Student engagement:  some faculty are still having trouble getting students to talk, others are still seeing more black boxes than they’d like, in spite of offering points for participation and using breakout sessions.  If you are frustrated by lack of apparent engagement in your classes, you might ask yourself if your students are still learning what you want them to learn. If so, congratulate yourself for developing course activities that are working, and recognize that your students are probably pretty well set in their ways for the semester.  For next term, you might try a Zoom Chat Waterfall, suggested by Lisa Kath (Psychology):  Ask students to write something in chat but to wait to hit submit. When you are ready, ask them all to hit submit at the same time.  You get a waterfall of responses, all at once, that you can stop and read and then respond to.  You may get more students participating in the chat this way, and you’ll get a sense of the scope of engagement that you can’t otherwise see.
 
Next week we’ll be talking with Daniel Reinholz, a Professor of Equity, about building equity, diversity and inclusion into Spring 2021 classes.  And after that, we will start troubleshooting final exams.
 
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.

Nov 16: Planning Spring Classes:  Inclusive and Equitable Teaching in Virtual Classrooms with Professor of Equity Daniel Reinholz
Nov 30: Final Exams: Brainstorming session
Dec 7: Final Exam Makeover: Get help adapting your finals for online testing

Academic Honesty: Resources and Strategies

Learn more about Project-based, take-home exams from Richard Emberly, of Cal Poly San Luis Obisbo here.
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.
 
This presentation was part of a series of faculty professional development webinars sponsored by the CSU Chancellor’s office.  You can find the whole library of recorded webinars here.

Do you need a change of scene?

Apply to be the CSU International Programs 2022-2023 Resident Director in Florence, Italy!  Applications are due December 31, 2020.
 
The CSU IP Resident Directors are a key element in the overseas centers' success. They contribute significantly to the quality of the educational experience of CSU students. Qualified individuals from any discipline can be recommended for appointment to the position. Former Resident Directors constitute an important source of support on each of the CSU campuses for promoting student participation in the International Programs and further integrating the International Programs into the mainstream of each campus' academic program. The appointments of Resident Directors should be viewed as part of the larger process of enhancing the international dimension of The California State University.
 
If you would like more information about the position, please contact Dr. Jaishankar Raman, Director of International Programs, at [email protected]. If you need assistance with the application process, please contact Ms. Kia Ross at [email protected].

Linked Events on Campus

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.
 
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

This week, Vinod Sasidaran and several Service Learning Faculty Fellows joined the CTL Coffee Hour to share their experiences with service learning projects in existing classes. Service learning consists of hands-on work in a profession, or the application of coursework to a supervised workplace in the community. Many of us think of service learning in terms of field placements such as student teaching, or professional internships. But short service learning projects can be integrated into other classes, too. For example, I’ve had students in 100-level history classes research San Diego history for Old Town San Diego State Park. Although it is difficult to send students out into the community right now, this may be a good time to look at your syllabi to identify opportunities for service learning, and to find a good community partner for these projects. How to find community partners? Alumni from your department, or your students, may be able to help. If you have service learning questions or success stories, share them with Vinod Sasidaran at [email protected].

After our discussion of service learning, we brainstormed how to adapt a marine biology assignment for our current teaching environment. The original assignment asked students to write a report based on several hours of direct observation of tidepools. But not everyone can travel to tidepools right now. The Coffee Hour group suggested that the professor video tidepools himself, or direct students to watch webcam footage from Birch Aquarium or the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

You can bring your teaching quandary to the Coffee Hour, too!

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

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

Please help the Division of Student Affairs and Campus Diversity assess our students’ basic needs, and connect students to the Economic Crisis Response Team: 

The Division of Student Affairs and Campus Diversity is surveying all San Diego State University students from now until Nov 20th to better understand our students’ basic needs and put us in a better position to provide immediate and targeted support. The short survey (5-8 minutes to complete) assesses individual student food needs, housing needs, employment, and access to technology and provides a link to the Economic Crisis Response Team (ECRT) form. Faculty and staff can help by finding creative ways to encourage or incentivize student participation. Please consider: announcing the survey in your classes; offering extra credit for participation; allowing students to complete the survey during class time; polling your students to determine whether they have received the invitation to participate; or offering incentives to students who spread awareness of the survey (perhaps using social media).
 
Here is some marketing language and information that you can share with your students:
  • In an effort to be better-equipped to support our students' needs, San Diego State University is administering a brief basic needs survey to all students. This survey should take five to eight minutes to complete and asks questions about your student’s food needs, housing needs, employment and access to technology.
  • Students who complete the Basic Needs and Technology Survey are entered into an opportunity drawing and could be selected for a $50 gift card to Amazon.com. (50 available)
  • Students can find the survey by searching their SDSU email inbox for the subject line “SDSU wants to hear about your experience” from [email protected]. All emails were sent to students’ SDSU email addresses. 
If you have questions regarding the survey please email Emilio Ulloa, Associate Dean of Students and Campus Climate, at [email protected].
 

Switch to Canvas

ITS is offering a Canvas basics training and working session THIS FRIDAY to help you make the switch from Blackboard to Canvas. Unless you specifically request otherwise via ServiceNow, your courses will all be on Canvas next semester. Please visit its.sdsu.edu/training to learn more.

If you still have teaching materials on Blackboard, you have until May 21, 2021 to download those materials.

We know that moving from Blackboard to Canvas is time consuming. So ITS offers training throughout November to help, beginning this Friday. These ITS training sessions — delivered live Fridays at 11 a.m. via Zoom — will be recorded, and the recordings will be available in the Canvas Support Homeroom. Friday presentations align with the topics covered in the Fall 2020 Quick Talks series, demonstrating how to use the tools showcased during the Quick Talk faculty conversations.

You can opt-out of using Canvas in Spring 2021 and use Blackboard for one final semester by special request via ServiceNow.

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. Recent episodes focus on fostering faculty communities and chairing a department during the pandemic.
 
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

 
This week’s blog is all about exams and alternatives.  So, if you’ve ever written an exam, taken an exam, or thought about the conflict between restrictive online exam settings that limit cheating and flexible settings that limit student anxiety and may improve success, read on.
 
But first, the election.  Campus resources for unpacking the election with your students include:
Resource to share with your students:
  • Community Processing Space, November 6, 12-1:30pm. RSVP at bit.ly/processingspace.  The CIR, Latinx Resource Center, Pride Center, Women’s Resource Center and C&PS are hosting a guided conversation focused on processing emotions, fostering collective care, and building resilience in the post-election season.  
  • After-Election Community Check-In, Nov 4, 2-4:00pm at sdsu.zoom.us/my/vlohhagan sponsored by the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Resource Center.
  • The National Conflict Resolution Center and Associated Students Rock the Vote are hosting an event on November 16, 4:30-6:00pm. Details will be posted on the CTL Faculty Community Canvas homeroom as soon as they are available.
Resources for you:  Some of the Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are planning events or activities to support faculty and staff.  Click here or go to CTL Faculty Community Canvas homeroom for details.
 
Now, back to the challenge of designing equitable exams that promote academic honesty:  A colleague in the Fowler School of Business recently asked for suggestions on exam design for her 300-student class. To reduce cheating, she has set her exams to display one question at a time, and to prohibit backtracking. But she knows that many students perform better on tests when they can do all the “easy” questions first, and leave the harder questions for later, or when they can review their whole exam before they turn it in. In other words, she knows that giving students access to the whole exam can help them succeed, but this also makes it easier for students to share answers with their classmates. What is an instructor to do?
 
I crowd-sourced this quandary on the CTL Faculty Community Canvas homeroom.  Here are some of our colleagues’ suggestions:  
 
Keep the restrictive settings, but:
  • Try to write questions that require students to integrate information. 
  • Set a short time limit for exams so students do not have time to look up or share answers.
  • Put the questions you think will take more time to answer towards the end of the exam, or organize your test to reflect the order in which you taught the material you are testing.
  • Tell students at the beginning of the test what types of questions (multiple choice, short answer, computation, etc.) they can expect.
  • Connect students with tutoring and supplementary instruction offered by your college or department, or give students practice questions so that they can succeed on your tests in spite of restrictive settings.
Replace your restrictive settings:
  • And allow students to use a page of notes during the test
Or, replace your big high stakes exam with
  • multiple lower stakes quizzes
  • projects (for more on this, see the Coffee Hour Report, below).
You can find more suggestions on the CTL Faculty Community and CTL Protips (ctl.sdsu.edu/protips). If you have ideas for other ways to design an exam in a very large class share it on this mini-survey, or on the CTL Faculty Community Discussion Board.

Coffee Hour Report: Testing and Assessing Student Learning: What's Working

Our Coffee Hour conversation focused on two main topics: group projects instead of exams to reinforce and assess student learning; and flexibility for students. 
 
Group projects are often touted as a practical and authentic assessment of student learning that provide vital training in collaboration. But group projects have pitfalls: students often struggle to work collaboratively; instructors never really know if the project reflects the work of the whole group or of one or two students. Professor Lisa Kath (Psychology) recommends requiring students to write a team charter that set group norms.  She also gives her students tools for managing the disagreements that inevitably arise within a collaborative group. Professor Amanda Simons (Linguistics) assigns some low-stakes group projects early in the semester, and then asks students to identify what worked well, and how they might prevent obstacles on later, higher-stakes assignments.
 
In the spring, many of us embraced the moment, and offered our students flexibility to complete assignments and make up missed work.  We turned exams into open-book and take-home assignments.  As we settle into a full year of virtual classrooms we have new questions: Is this flexibility leading to grade inflation? Are students taking advantage of the new rules to slack off?  Could flexibility actually hurt students by allowing them to procrastinate or by failing to teach them how to manage their time?  Will higher GPAs count against us in performance reviews? On balance, we concluded that students still need flexibility to stay on track, but that some students do worse when they don’t have hard deadlines.  One solution:  ask your students if they need hard deadlines to get work done.  Another, from Amanda Simons: when your students ask for extensions, ask them to list the work they missed and upcoming assignments, and make a plan to catch up and stay on track.  This helps get them through the semester, teaches them important time management skills, and makes them (rather than you) responsible for creating a plan.

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

Upcoming Coffee Hours Topics: Join us Mondays at 3:15 pm here.

Nov 2: Service Learning in Lower Division Classes: Brainstorming for the Future
Vinod Sasidaran will discuss SDSU’s Service Learning initiative, and lead us in brainstorming how to integrate Service and Community-based Learning into our classes.
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 new ways to design break-out group assignments, or to increase active learning in your virtual classroom? This archived webinar may help:

On Friday, October 30, 2020, from 1:00 – 1:30 pm
David Adams and Enoch Hale of Humboldt State University will demonstrate how to design cooperative learning activities to deepen student engagement and learning by balancing positive group interdependence with individual accountability. 
 
Creating individual accountability and positive group interdependence are two essential components of a cooperative learning classroom. Within this interactive presentation, faculty will be placed into small and large groups and given the opportunity to engage in structured learning activities that focus on increasing student engagement through the use of active learning strategies. Faculty participants will be provided with two additional cooperative learning activities that can be utilized across disciplines to increase student engagement and active learning within a face-to-face or virtual learning setting.
 
This webinar is designed around break-out groups and in-class discussion, but may also provide some tools for structuring group assignments and teaching groups how to work together, to make group projects more effective as learning or testing experiences.
 
All webcasts will be recorded and available for later viewing in the professional development calendar archive, along with resources. 

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

 

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

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.