About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Learning takes a Village

 I started writing this blog post a month ago after attending #MyFest22 sessions that really required a lot of thinking and reflection.  Sessions in Creating an Accessible Syllabus, Global OER, Entangled Pedagogy and Liberating Structures may at first seem totally different. But my mind is always trying to find links and common threads. So needless to say, my mind has been peculating.

I think what each of these sessions pointed out was:

  1. a STUDENT's learning, in fact, has many moving parts in which many people have a say and role
  2. the learning environment is complex with many moving parts which all people involved in that environment need to understand
  3. Students as well as Faculty need to have choices as they assess the learning landscape (often immediately either in a classroom or in a synchronous online environment) 
  4. Learning (for me) is a negotiated process and negotiated knowledge. But the outcomes are transactional knowledge, with the ownership determined by the school, students, and educational policies. 
So let's break this down.

The Great Pivot

Like many who were teaching when the pandemic hit, I had to pivot from a classroom based class to an online class overnight. Unlike many, however, I have always incorporated flexibility into my course based on: 
  • student or teacher illness, 
  • change in classroom, 
  • change in or lack of access to technology (like the year I lost my online class over a weekend in the middle of the course because of a technology upgrade), 
  • weather (hurricanes, blizzards, ice jams)
I worked with other faculty in my department, supporting them in modifying their syllabus, activities, or technology in moving their course online. In fact, there were three faculty members mentored others in our department, trouble shooting problems for the quick pivot. Sometimes the only thing a faculty member needed was a sounding board, other times they needed emotional support, and others needed just to be shown where to find the resources they needed to convert their course.

For this last group, they only were aware of their small piece of the university. For both students and faculty, many people needed to find videos that would explain how to use the technology. There were instructional designers and educational designers who I had been working with for years. Pointing students, faculty, administrators, and staff to the correct group of resources was a daunting task, yet necessary for the 3 of us working with our colleagues. It helped that we had a department chair who also was willing to find resources and share them with TA's and instructional staff.

My first two weeks online, even though I had gone over how to follow the course online in my face to face class, I spent time explaining to my students how to navigate a fully online semester. We discussed the differences in how to study and do work when living with others who were online or in their space at the same time. While some may think that this was a waste of time to the content students were supposed to learn, it was important to take the time out to:
  1.  acknowledge the complexity of the new learning environment
  2. trouble shoot technology and resource shortcomings
  3. identify accessibility issues (including mental health, learning and disability, and technology) and creating accommodations to insure student access to learning
  4. renegotiate learning outcomes and evaluation with administrators, the department, and students, and,
  5. create new pathways and choices for faculty and students to learn.
Without this time to reorganize the course so that all parties were onboard, created chaos in the class and left out many people in the learning process. I found that for many in my class, they then took the skills they learned in these 2 week and applied it to their other classes. As was discussed in the Liberating Structures workshop I attended, there was structure which students could hold on to, but within the structure was choice and agency by all parties who had a say in student learning.

The New Normal

By the summer, it became clear that COVID was here to stay. However, each of the parties began to work as moving pieces at a different speed. Administrators at our university (and at many universities, as reported by academics and students) tried to impose a standardized process to ensure "quality control." Since many universities in the US and Britain have begun to use a business model of education, the focus was on scarcity and allocation of resources, streamlining and standardizing the learning process, creating fixed structures including "instruction delivery" systems and evaluations, and strict time lines. 

One of the first factors to cause problems was the strict time lines that were common in traditional face to face instruction. The next problem area was how to standardize the learning evaluation, resulting in the need for technology to include surveillance of student tests and monitoring of what students and faculty were doing online, something that was rarely done in in-person classes. Many of the online classes were asked to use the standard template that was a universal design that may or may not have been relevant for the content, mode of delivery, student needs, professional requirements, or faculty teaching style. 

The result was an educational system that allowed for little flexibility or negotiation between staff, faculty, students, professional communities, or student families/communities. While the learning environment was varied and needed more flexibility than ever, the systems put in place were solid, unbendable structures.

The result has been a call to change higher education as it faces a crisis not seen since 1968. 

Creating a new, equitable higher education system

Next week and the week after, #MyFest22 will hold two sessions on Reimagining Higher Education. Now is the time for us to recognize the 4 principles I listed at the start of this post. It is important that we also recognize:

  1. Higher education is made up of people, not only systems. People and learning are messy and can be time consuming. While economists and policy makers refer to people as "human capital" as if they are just another material good in the economic processes of a country, HUMANS can be unpredictable, vary from person to person, and have different understanding, knowledge, strengths, and weaknesses. 
  2. It is important to take into consideration the various factors that go into creating a learning environment including resources, time, relationships/communities, trust and emotions, space(s), goals, and purpose.
  3. There is an element of negotiation when it comes to creating curriculums, instruction, learning environments, syllabi, and evaluations. However, there are also structures that have been developed within which students learn and teachers instruct, administrators and support staff work at creating boundaries for behavior and learning. In other words, universities are dynamic within the structures that have been created to help in learning. These structures may need rebuilding or reconfiguration as environmental factors change, but too much change will make the university unstable.
  4. For the university to continue as a place of learning, it is important that multiple voices are heard, there is constant self-examination, and the university has enough resources and say to ensure there is appropriate change when needed. 

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Reflections on Ungrading and alternative ways to assess

 As part of #MyFest22, I have been following the ungrading series. One of the assignments was to reflect and write about ungrading. 

So let me start by saying that I probably will never be in a position to use a pure version of ungrading. For one thing, I've retired from teaching (I know there is always the chance I might be contacted to teach again, but I doubt it). For another thing, for the 30 years that I taught, I had to follow fairly rigorous structure I had to follow for grading. Grade distributions were sometimes posted within the dept. and as a non-permanent contingent faculty member, our contract was dependent on the norms of grading laid out by our university. By the time I retired, grades had become a currency. We were often told that too many A's meant that we were not "rigorous" enough. The fact that many of my students used the skills I taught in lower level classes and that most faculty didn't want to teach courses students didn't want to take (thus receiving lower evaluations) meant there was always one of these courses available to me. 

What to do then? I discovered pretty early on that students gamed the system for good grades while not really learning what they needed to for the future. I also didn't want a student in my class who really didn't want to be there, so I had to create a course they wanted to be there for. I decided I could game the game of grades. 

  • Attendance and Class Participation: I tried to give people an incentive once where they would get a bonus if they didn't miss class. This backfired because students came to class for the points and really interrupted other students learning. Also, students came in sick and it disadvantaged those with medical reasons. Instead, I designed class to give students what they couldn't get on their own. I often used groups, but also used some individual in-class practices that students would hand in at the end of class. They did not need to be completed. I would review these so I could determine where students were getting stuck and what their thoughts were. Usually they were in class worksheets. Students would get a C or NC for that class, which converted into class participation grades. The only time students would get an NC were doing work for other classes throughout the class time. They soon learned that if they wanted to study for another class, just do it in the library. I had not maximum or minimum absences, but I took the first 10 C's to grade. So students could decide if it was worth it to come to class or not.
  • Peer review, self assessment, and instructor feedback: I let my students know that I was not the only one to determine grades, although I had the final say due to what university laid out. My policy was that students were not allowed to discuss specific grades in class because then I would always have the final say. If they had a problem with their grade, they were encouraged to speak to me during office hours or alone before or after the class (before Zoom, on Zoom during the pandemic). I let them know that I was human and therefore, sometimes when I graded, I may have missed something that demonstrated they understood the concepts they needed to know in class. But they should bring and be prepared to prove their request for a higher grade. Also, while I was very open to hearing their case, I still might not change it, but they would know why. To help me with grading fairly, I also used peer review and the student's own reflections to ensure I did not miss something or was focused on one aspect of the grading while missing something important that demonstrated they understood...just in a different way.
  • I always hated grades: How do you grade the same assignment when one person in really reaching and taking risks results in a mistake while another person only regurgitates what is in the book as they have been taught to do. I KNEW which one learned more, while the one who did not was only doing what they had been taught to do to success in school. So I tried to design assignments that encouraged taking risks and making mistakes, while supporting those that were scared to do so by making projects and assignments accumulative. No one part carried too much weight and as an assignment progressed there were changes to revise and make it better. 
In a way, I think I was able to incorporate many of the elements of ungrading into a rigid university grading structure. My students often told me that they learned more in my class than many others. I kept track of many of my students on LinkedIn and I see how they use the skills learned in my class to this day. More importantly, they continue to learn. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Can Learning be Equitable if the Student Isn't Able to Access Learning Resources?

 Over the last two days I have attended 2 different #MyFest22 presentations (Accessibility Crowdsourcing for Digital Literacies Toolkit and Open Learning Journey Week 2 Kickoff) where the heart of the discussion was the question: what happens if a student or community is unable to access learning (tools, resources, content, courses)? In short, the student or students in a community will not be able to learn at the same level as those that have no trouble access the learning as it was designed. 

What is Learning Accessibility in a Digital Environment?

So let's start by identifying what is meant by accessibility. Often, in higher education, accessibility is often a medical condition that prevents a person from learning in a traditional way (labeled "disabled") thus requiring accommodations. Digitally, there are accommodations or finished products that must meet a certain standard when designing an online resource or course. There are tools that an instructional designer can use to ensure a learning object is accessible (for those that are identified as disabled). For the most part, these tools look at the design for those with hearing or vision impairment. However, there are many more impairments that might need accommodations such as neuro-diversity, chronic illnesses/pain such as back, neck, or limb pain, headaches, blurred vision, seizures due to or triggered by time on a electronic devise. There are impairments that can be amplified such as ADHD/ADD, speech impediments, audio processing disorder, light or sound sensitivity, dyslexia, or dysgraphia, or machine augmented speech/hearing. 

In most of the checklists I have seen for accessibility, these disabilities are not included. In some cases, typed writing (e.g. dyslexia or dysgraphia) may be a better learning environment for the student, with a minimum of changes (ensuring dictation software can be used or the font and spacing is accessible). But as other times the solution is in the instructional design (giving tool options, excluding timed tests). This is rarely given in a checklist.

Another area of inaccessibility often overlooked is made up of cultural, linguistic, epistemological, or technical differences. The first 3 are especially important to consider for international education. This is problem not only in distance/online education, but also for international students who attend a university outside of their home country. This could also be a problem from those from other regions of a country where the learning norms are different. In online education, it may not be obvious for an instructor (unless it is made explicit in the course design) that a student is from a community in which the basis of learning and how to learn, understanding of what "information" or "knowledge" is, and/or the rhetorical  style is different from the standards of the educator/educational system. 

Take for example the definition of plagiarism and the technology used to identify plagiarism. This technology assumes a student comes from a culture in which the norms for quoting and using others work are the same as those in the US or Western cultures. When I taught in Costa Rica, my students had difficulty writing in their own voice at the university level, because they had been taught that only those with the highest education and experience (professors) had that right. While this may be changing globally, there still are cultural differences that a anglo/western tool will privilege those from anglo/western societies. 

Another accessibility issue is based on technological constraints, either due to official policies (government, university) or infrastructure. Believe it or not, in New York state, there is an internet "dessert" in approximately 1/4 of the state, often in the mountainous, rural areas. Even students using cell service may have to go to a location from their home to actually use their phones/devises. In New York City, the cell demand, especially during the day, can result in some older areas having slower or intermittent internet service.  This means that students from rural or poorer neighborhoods may have difficulty accessing large files, downloading or uploading multimedia, or participating in video conferences. 

Why is accessibility important?

We often hear instructors, instructional designers, and policy makers/administrators claim that it is impossible to meet everyone's demands. There is a push for a standard design that will meet all needs. However, many times this becomes a standard template that does not take into consideration students' diverse needs. 

As one person mentioned in our Accessibility Crowdsourcing for Digital Literacies Toolkit, assessing learning is the difficulty. This is where the idea that assessment should be equal rather than equitable. Equal assessment will use the same measure for each student regardless of their barriers to access learning. This is especially egregious in online learning/activities. Time, culture, technology, and ableness (health) all are amplified when using the same metrics to assess learning. 

Without support, either within the instructional design, the technology, or support systems and staff, those that cannot access learning, will fail assessments that are based on their having accessed the learning resources and environment. 

However, there are many solutions to making learning accessible to all, some through technology use or choice, others through instructional design. At the core of this is an instructor/instructional designer's awareness of the needs of students and an understanding of the community they come from. 

As Lauren Lechtman said in the Open Learning Journey Week 2 Kick-off, it is important to engage in the community so there will be by-in. Often they have developed their own resources which means a student will be able to better access learning using resources developed within their community. 

Some Ideas about Solutions

As this is not a new problem, it is important to look at what solutions are already being used. When it comes to technology, many of the software companies have already extended packages that can be used with standard technology. Most of these packages address audio and visual impairments. 

In addition, Universal Design (link) is one way to offer students with accessibility issues choices in learning. There are some shortcomings to this, such as course policies which may limit access. However, working through the process will help someone new to course accessibility an outline of what to consider. 

Another thing to consider is to limit the amount of visuals. If you have a student that needs to have visuals, you might want to consider embedding a link to an alternative site that contains visuals. 

I also would like to see a directory of technology where an instructor or instructional designer can go to identify the accessibility features (including accessibility extensions) for a technology. As someone who is an instructional designer, I myself am never sure if the technology I use is accessible, and if so, for which disabilities. I am still learning how to make my work more accessible and need to reach out to those whose disabilities are different from my own to get feedback on how to make my work more accessible.  Having a directory with icons next to technology (as you have on travel sites for features at hotel) would make choosing the technology easier. These icons should include design orientation (i.e. reading right to left for non-western languages, using easily read fonts in multiple languages, color combinations that make it easy for those with colorblindness), audio extensions, visual extensions, eye strain/seizure warnings, low cognitive load/or cognitive load ratings, interaction with disability devises (text reading, dictation devices, alt text for visuals, audio or visual controls), and upload/download speed/internet capacity. 

Finally, it is important that when designing online learning we include opportunities for student support such as choice of media, flexible or long time frames for online work completion, working in pairs or groups (making sure that someone who may have access difficulties is paired or grouped with others that do not), options for alternative technology in case of lack of internet or devise, and access to technology support 24/7 outside of the instructor led class.  

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Many People Making Small Changes can Change Higher Education

 Yesterday, I participated in a 30 minute reflective workshop by Karen Costa as part of the #MyFest22. It was based on the ideas presented in Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by Adrienne Maree Brown. While I haven't read the book (although it has just been added to my reading list), according to Karen, the idea is that making societal changes can be overwhelming, but if we all work together doing something to change society, the sum of all of our efforts will be a good starting point and lead to societal change.

As she was presenting this idea, I thought of what we accomplished in the area of water and air pollution in 70's to the 90's. When I was a child, the Hudson River was so polluted that we could smell it in the Spring about 3 miles away. Today, there are fishing boats back in the river. While we still have a long way to go, this is quite an accomplishment. How was it achieved? Letter writing to industries along the Hudson, class projects measuring pollution in the Hudson, advocacy groups like the Clear Water sailing up and down the Hudson informing citizens and legislators about the problems and how they could be solved, and educating special interest groups such as those who like to fish, tourism industry, and chambers of commerce of the importance to the overall economy and quality of like that cleaning up the Hudson is a good investment. 

As part of Karen's presentation, she used a Google Jam Board. For those that have never used one of this, it is a virtual bulletin board in which users can upload sticky notes with responses from a prompt.  This sharing of ideas is a great way to brain storm and even categorize responses to the prompts. In this case, Karen gave us 9 prompts to allow us to reflect on our understanding of Higher Education and the direction we would like to see it go. 

In the moment, I found it hard to really "reflect" on where I would want to see Higher Education go.  But forcing me to just respond with the first thing that came to mind, but also see what others came up with, stayed with me for the rest of the day. As like many academics, I like to have time to think of an issue, virtually rolling it around in my head, seeing its many angles and possibilities. So this morning, I decided to present some of the ideas that came to mind of what direction I'd like to see Higher Ed go (these are actually not new) and how I could contribute to change in getting them there.

Changing Academia

When asked what I wanted to change in Academia, equity, acceptance, and balance came to mind. I also realized that I was thinking more of the power system, decision making, and organizational structure than the people who make up the university. However, for this to happen, all the people who make up the university from the students to the staff to the grounds keepers/maintenance to top administrators to dept/school heads to tenured faculty to contingents to the community members in surrounding areas need to have a dialog and interest in how the university is run, its goals and policies, and how each stakeholder can influence or benefit from the university.

This got me to thinking about my work the last five years before I retired last year. Last week I was happy to see that something I and my fellow adjuncts had been working on had finally come to fruition. In negotiations for our union contract, we finally had adjuncts represented on the negotiation team. Many of our concerns have been addressed this time around. While it may seem like a baby step, for adjuncts, even a small recognition of what WE want and having representation is a game changer.  

I look back to my first year as a representative to the University Senate. I had resisted doing any service work without pay. Three different times I was asked to be on the Senate, and I turned it down 2 times until I finally asked to be paid for it. It was a nominal amount they finally agreed upon, but it was setting the precedent that tenured faculty were paid 8 times more than an adjunct because they were expected to do service and research also. On the other hand, contingents were expected to "volunteer" their service. In other words, pay to have a place at the table.

 This was a small concession, but a monumental change that our time was recognized as valuable. It also was a fight towards equitable pay for the same work. 

One of the questions I asked at the first committee meeting (all Senators were required to be part of a committee) was why Senators for PT employees (which was the group I represented) were not elected by PT employees. You see, I was elected by Full Time employees only because Part Time employees were allowed to vote. With that simple question, Part Time employees elected me in the next election as they were allowed to vote for their own representation. Again, a small victory, but a change in mindset that Part Time employees should be considered responsible enough to vote for their own representation.

I then realized that each of the committees had annual or biannual reports that were read into the permanent record of the Senate. I asked if there were any committees, subcommittees, or reports on Contingent Concerns required by the Senate. Since 50% of the undergraduate courses were taught by contingents, didn't it make sense that there would be an annual report? This simple question led to my addressing this as a Senator to the Senate and top administration. In the end, we passed a requirement for the report, but then the Pandemic hit and even though it is on the books, I'm not sure if this ever was implemented.

In each case, these were baby steps. But with each baby step, came a growing awareness of how contingents and part-time faculty (which also includes staff at our university) were being treated unfairly. Students began to see how their professors were treated and tenured teachers were shocked at the inequities that they had been unaware of. Initially I viewed each of the groups as enemies against adjuncts. But as I began to speak to them about our work environment, I realized that I needed to inform them of our situation since they were often unaware of it.

Where to go from here

I hope that I have left even a bit of a mark on my university before I left. Looking at the new union contract, it appears I have. But more importantly, others have taken up the mantle to fight for change.

As a retired lecturer (hate this title because I never lectured EVER), I have tried to continue to keep the discussion going, encouraging balance, equity, and acceptance. This is not the same as equal, giving over my own values to avoid conflict, or excluding anyone from the dialog. 

This year I have learned about the importance of centering discussions to listen to those who feel/are excluded. I also have always believed it is important to listen to people to understand their perspective but also to set boundaries as to what is acceptable and what is not for myself, my community, and society (balance). Without listening, it is difficult to know how and where to change thinking (both mine and others) for a better university and society. Often it is not a matter of wrong or right but rather what am I willing to accept and when do I set boundaries for behavior (hint: hating someone because of factors outside of their control is outside the boundaries for me).  

I continue to do work that I hope will have an impact on others such as working with my former colleagues or Phd students. I continue to try to make the small changes that I hope will turn into changes on a mass level.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Preparing to Teach in Crisis


In February 2020, I decided to restart my Blog. I outlined a series of topics (26 at that time) that I would write about, mostly having to do with the research I was doing on International Virtual Exchange.  A week later, our university called a special meeting to discuss the closing of our university due to a pandemic that they foresaw in the near future. It was not a question of if there would be a pandemic, but when.  At the same time, my son, who lived and studied in Northern Italy was talking about an unusual illness/flu going around Milan with a dry cough which was turning into pneumonia. It would turn out to be Covid-19.

By the beginning of March, our University announced that in person classes would be suspended after Spring Break and that students (except those with no other place to go) would be expected to stay home and finish the semester online. We were lucky that our Provost (which I discovered later) was a specialist in infectious diseases; many professors in our school of public health had joint appointments with the New York State Dept. of Health; and for many years my department had been involved in a research project on healthcare disparities in minority communities focusing on (among other things) improving communication between public health officials, healthcare providers, scientists, and the population in marginalized communities.

The Pivot

Needless to say, my idea to restart my Blog went by the wayside as we were forced to pivot to online learning.  The first case of Covid was identified in New York state on March 1, 2020.  We were luckier than most universities, because we had been given about a month to start preparing for alternative teaching methods, encouraged to start thinking about contingencies if the university had to close down. Many faculty didn’t take this opportunity either because they did not believe we would need to close down (we lived through SARS even though it raged through Toronto and Ontario, only a bit more than 200 miles away) or because they were not sure how to prepare for a long term shut down.

While the university had been trying to move more courses to an online format, most of the online courses were graduate level and only about 10% of the courses were offered online. This meant there were few teachers that were trained or experienced enough to create and teach an entire class online. The good news though was that many (but not all) faculty used technology to augment their teaching due to a push/program in the early 2000’s for all the schools to hire professors with a joint appointment in the then School of Information Studies and another field of study (e.g. Education, Communication, Government, Social Work, Criminal Justice). Those with joint appointments would be the resource on teaching and research technology. To support this group of special appointments, an educational technology group and a center for teaching and instruction was created, providing instructional support for faculty and teaching assistants interested in integrating technology into their classes.

I myself had received a Phd in Curriculum and Instruction, with a focus on educational technology. I had not only taught online (having received training within the SUNY system in 1999), but had taught classes in distance learning and other educational technology courses to teachers from Pre-school to all levels of K-12 (primary and secondary education) to university to professional education.

During class, as I was preparing my students for what would happen after Spring Break when we would move the class online, I projected my screen to the class to show them how to navigate the course I had quickly put together on the LMS. In order to get to the LMS, I needed to go to our university portal. Up popped an announcement across the screen to my class: “Effective immediately, classes are canceled for the rest of the week!” The first case of Covid had been diagnosed in the county from someone on our campus. After calming down my students, assuring them that we had everything under control, I quickly went through the course design. Some students were upset, but this seemed to calm them. Other students were convinced they’d be back on campus by the beginning of April.

While I and some other colleagues in my department who had been teaching online for a while were prepared, many others were not. Three of us stepped up to help prepare those that were not. They had 10 days to figure out what they would do for the rest of the semester.

Long-term vs Short-term Crisis Preparation

For many in the department, they were prepared for a short term crisis (illness, family emergency, snow days). They may even have taught a regular online course. However, few of us were prepared to design for online courses for a Long-term crisis. So what is the difference between long-term crisis preparation and short-term crisis preparation?

  1. Student trauma: Most "short-term" crises result in individualized trauma (family emergency, illness such as cancer or long-term chronic disease). The result is usually an individualized plan to address the student trauma or no direct student trauma if the crisis is only suffered by the teacher/instructor. However, long-term crises such as natural disasters, campus violence, or campus outbreaks of disease (e.g. mold infestation in the dorms, flu, meningitis, or other diseases that may result in the closing of campus) can result in a collective student trauma. This collective trauma may require instructors or instructional designers to address the results of this trauma on student learning (see Oleenu, Arnberger, Grant, Davis, Abramson, Asola, 2011).  To do this, however, they need to know what will work, how to manage classroom behaviors that are the result of trauma, and the "viral" effect of those that are associated with those that have affected trauma (have not suffered trauma first hand, but feel the affects from those around them dealing with trauma). 
  2.  Student centered instruction and teacher stress: In most short-term crisis it is either the faculty OR the student which means that faculty or students are more flexible. But in long-term crisis, both students and faculty may be suffering from the crisis. Instructors may want to give choice or support their students, but due to their own personal stress (family, health concerns, emotional load), the instructor may not have the capacity to do more than he/she/they may have already done (see Pressly, 2021 for factors contributing to burnout). As a result, student centered instruction may become more difficult, which then creates the cycle of stress.  
  3. Technology: In short term crisis, faculty often use the technology that students are already using and/or can be more flexible with assignments if students don't have access to technology. For example, students that are hospitalized can be given extensions, upload assignments via email if it is ready to go (rather than the LMS), or be given a new assignment when he/she/they are return to school.  Many faculty have "emergency assignments" already prepared in case of a short term emergency in which the instructor, students, or both can't be on campus for class. However, in a long term crisis, issues such as access to the internet, devices with sufficient power or storage, and appropriate technology for the learning design becomes more complex. For example, I taught a speech presentation class. When we had closure due to weather, I was able to upload an assignment in which my students could view videos and discuss them in the LMS discussion board. But in a long term closure such as we had due to Covid, my students needed to be able to give a presentation online. I needed to find tools within those offered by my university that would allow them to give these presentations weather they lived in a deadzone (urban or rural), only had a phone for communication technology, or had limited locations/bandwidth when and where they could use the technology. I needed to incorporate numerous technology options for my students which meant I needed to learn how to use new technologies (when in fact I had limited time to learn these). 
  4.  Administration requirements (teacher autonomy): As it appeared that the crisis would last longer than just one or two weeks, there were multiple accounts and calls for insurance that there would be no "loss of learning" when learning remotely. Short term remote learning often has mechanisms within the educational structure to make up for short term interruptions in the educational process (extending the school year, adding instructional days or taking away vacation days, delaying standardized tests). But the educational system, especially in the US, has not been set up for remote learning that may require the reset of curriculums and evaluation systems.  I have seen very little discussion in the press and trade journals about new skills that would need to be identified and assessed due to the change in educational delivery (e.g. digital communication skills, self-regulated learning, technology/digital literacy). In addition, at the beginning of the pandemic, there was a rash of law suits claiming that online learning was less effective than face-to-face. There has been much in the literature about face to face vs. online learning and the consensus is that there are different results depending on level, instructional design, and other factors such as technology, age, and student type. However, since many schools still have faculty with little experience in online learning, administrators moved to standardize instruction, resulting in less teacher autonomy. In addition, assessment of student learning became more standard. In order to make online learning easier for novice online teaching instructors and students, many schools went to a standard template in which the instructional design was already developed and the teachers used that as a jumping off point. As more faculty become more technologically and educational technology pedagogically saave, this might change. But during long term crisis, the standardization of instruction means faculty have less choice, on one hand, but, on the other hand, less preparation requirements as new technology, curriculum, and assessment tools are introduced.


No doubt over the next few years, there will be in-depth analyses on lessons learned from the pandemic (hopefully). However, these lessons can result in preparing our educational systems and teachers for educating in times of crisis (war, natural disasters, pandemics).   We need to look at ways that the educational system can pivot quickly when needed, especially in terms of reassessing curriculum and assessment; providing students, administrators, teachers, and communities with tools during a crisis; and to quickly prepare teachers, instructional designers, students, and parents in new ways of learning dependent on the situation.


Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Resilience and Inclusion

 I'm back after a few years from blogging. Hopefully I will be able to restart my blog to a weekly post. But this weekend, I had 2 events/pieces of art that made me think of the current discussion of institutional racism and exclusion within our society, institutions, and politics. 

My friend and research collaborator, Dr. Marilyn Easter, has written a novel (Resilience: Bravery in the face of Racism, Corruption, and Privilege in the Halls of Academia). This is a piece of fiction based on her own experience in becoming the only African American full professor in the school of business at her university. The day after I finished reading Marilyn's book, I saw the film In the Heights, based on the community that Lin Manual Maranda grew up in. Both works have shared themes of inclusion and resilience when the social systems are stacked against the main characters. But more importantly, both show the importance of family, community, and key mentors/allies in confronting the barriers built by those in power. Power vs. Power-Less (In the Heights).  

In Resilience, Emma, the main character decides as a child that she wants to be a teacher. While those in a position of power found excuses to prevent her from being a teacher, key people in her life, like her mother, her husband, her daughter, mentors and acquaintances encouraged her to find a way around those barriers. Sometimes they would counsel her to give up the fight so she could achieve a victory down the road. But she always persevered, eventually becoming the teacher she always wanted to be. 

In the Heights, Nina is a college student at Stanford, living away from her family in New York City and the community in which she grew up. While at school, she feels excluded. At a school function, a professor assumes she is part of the wait staff. Her father, without even a high school education, sells his business to send her to school. He wants her to have the opportunities he never had. So if she fails, she feels as if she lets down her community and family as well as herself. But her father and community have an idealized notion of college. They don't have to deal with a complex political and social system that is academia for first generation students. Without help, first generation students get lost in the labyrinth of college.

Like Nina's story in In the Heights, Emma is always made to feel an outsider in Academia. She too has a parent who never received her high school diploma so Emma is on her own for navigating her education.  Throughout her life, people step up to give her advice, but she soon learns that she can't always trust those people who are supposed to know what they are talking about. Those that she can trust, just don't know how the system works because they live outside the power structure. 

Emma and Nina both are straddling two worlds and at times they feel they don't belong anywhere. But then, family and friends step in to make them realize that their place in the world is just where they are, with people that love them and believe in them.

In both works, structural racism is the most difficult to fight. The unwritten rules are stacked against them but it also makes it difficult to prove that racism is at the root. Emma's mother and Nina's father believe that their daughters "can do anything they want to" with the help of education. Both women are hard working, successful students, kind and well-liked, but it seems as if the rules for success were written to exclude them from the place they deserve in society because of their accomplishments. 

However, Emma and Nina never appear to be hopeless victims of discrimination. Emma surrounds herself with allies and fights back legally, publicly, and politically, working at changing the system so that her students, young colleagues, and daughter will not have to suffer from the system of exclusion (based on race, sexual identity, gender, or disability) she had to fight in academia. At the end of the film, Nina decides to stay in college and work in advocacy to represent those in her community. My only criticism with In the Heights was that Nina goes back to Stanford. I would have liked for her to go to Columbia just up the street from Washington Heights. Unlike Nina, Emma always finds an alternative path, even when she feels like giving up. She won't give into to those that want to keep her down. But also recognizes that at times, she needs help in fighting the fight. 

At the end of both of these works, there is not a "happily ever after" as much as hope for the future. This hope is for the generation that comes after them. Both Emma and Nina are living fulfilling lives which will always be a struggle, but with a supportive life outside of their struggles. They surround themselves with optimistic, supportive people, but also give as much as they receive. They focus on how much they have accomplished, the people in their life that lift them, and a sense of contentment with the decisions they have made in their life.

I would highly recommend reading Resilience. I read it in 3 days, wanting to know what would happen next (although after 30 years in academia, I was afraid I would know). In the Heights also left me with a happy feeling, especially after the community musical scenes. Both left me with the sense that community, love, and music makes everything in the world better.

Note: I feel the Resilience should be a must read for all first gen students, any BIPOC considering or already in graduate school, and anyone interested in mentoring BIPOC students. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Some changes to the blog

I have decided to start blogging on a regular basis again.  Over the last few years, I have moved away from blogging to focus on my academic career.  However, I have decided to move back to focusing on my professional career, opening up my research for more public venues such as my blogs.  So here are some things you can expect in the next few months:

1) Posts on some of the software and technology I have been testing out and using.  Included in these posts will be how I am incorporating the technology into my teaching, research, and professional activities.

2) I am working on a few research and teaching projects which I will highlight on this blog.  Among these are integrating design thinking into my courses and looking at student knowledge networks (an extension of my dissertation) for student success inside and outside of the classroom.

3) I will be starting a new blog next month called University to the Workplace.  The audience for the new blog will be students entering the workforce, mentors and student services for those students, and human resources/recruiters who will be onboarding students straight from the university.  Among the topics I will be writing about are soft skills needed to be successful in the workplace, training needs and preferences for the transition from the university to the workplace, and the role of technology in the workplace.

I hope with a more regular posting (my plan is the first Friday of the month), you will check back on a regular basis.  Feel free to share my posts.

Friday, April 29, 2016

An instructional development framework for developing 21st Century skills in the University

My colleague, Diane Crosley, an instructor in Natural Sciences at Spring Arbor University, and I gave a presentation at the Lilly Conference on College and University Teaching and Learning in Traverse City, MI last October (2015) entitled, "Bridging the skills gap: Preparing Higher Education students for the 21st century workplace."

It has been a while since our presentation, and I am currently working on a follow up presentation for the International Lilly Conference in June (Helping student to create knowledge networks for current and future success).  My presentation in June is the outcome of discussions we had in our October session.  So I thought it might be the right time to share what some of the highlights/discussion questions were for our October presentation.

This presentation came out of the discussion Diane and I had about teaching, the needs of our students, and conversations we had with our colleagues on how to teach these skills.  We both come from different disciplines (she was a high school science teacher and currently teaches at the college level most natural sciences including biology, environmental science, geology, and botany; I did training in the workplace before teaching business, communication, global studies, foreign language, and education at the college level).  However, we discovered the same gap between high school students and employer expectations.  The planning framework came out of the universals we identified in giving students the skills expected from employers, students, policy makers, educators, and society in general.

The Presentation: 

Abstract:  Many experts the workplace have identified a lack of skills by new college graduates needed for the 21st century workplace.  These skills include self-regulated learning, communication, networking, critical thinking, analysis (data, numeric, and content) and problem solving.  This presentation will present a framework that can be used to create and analyze activities that will develop these soft skills.  The framework, based on a variety of learning theories and subjects (Social Sciences, Humanities, Business, and STEM), includes identifying student soft skills, identifying the instructor’s role (and changes needed by the instructor),  and situational learning strategies to meet the student/workplace gap.

Many experts in industry and the workplace have identified a lack of skills by new college graduates needed for the 21st century workplace.  These skills include written and oral communication (Bersin, Agarwal, Pelster, and Schwartz, 2015; Chronicle of Higher Education, 2015; Hart Research Associates, 2015; Weiner, 2014); lifelong learning skills (Bersin et al, Chronicle of Higher Education 2015); creating knowledge networks (Hart Research Associates; Weiner), problem solving and analytical skills (Chronicle of Higher Education, 2012; Hart Research Associations, Hilborn and Friedlander, 2013); Rhetorical reasoning and critical reading (Chronicle of Higher Education, 2015); applying theory to practice (Hart Research Associates; Hilborn and Friedlander;  Weiner); community building and engagement (Bersin et al.); and mathematical reasoning (Hilborn and Friedlander).
These skills can be further broken down into the following skill sets: self-regulated learning, communication, networking, critical thinking, analysis (data, numeric, and content) and problem solving.  While the common core curriculum was designed to address this gap between the academic and workplace skill development, the implementation of K-12 curriculum has focused on assessment and standardized teaching rather than development of the of workplace “soft-skills”. This presentation will present a framework that can be used to create and analyze activities that will develop these soft skills.  The framework, based on analysis of activities using a variety of learning theories and subjects (Social Sciences, Humanities, Business, and STEM), includes identifying student soft skills, identifying the instructor’s role (and changes needed by the instructor),  and situational learning strategies to meet the student/workplace gap.


Bersin, J., Agarwal, D., Pelster, B., Schwartz, J. (2015). Global Human Capital Trends 2015: Leading in the new world of work.  Deloitte University Press: DUPress.com
Chronicle of Higher Education (2015). Special Report: The Employment Mismatch.  Chronicle.com, May 22.
Chronicle of Higher Education (2012). The Role of Higher Education in Career Development: Employer Perceptions.  Retrieved May, 2015 from https://chronicle.com/items/biz/pdf/Employers%20Survey.pdf
Hart Research Associates (2015).  Optimistic About the Future, But How Well Prepared? College Students’ Views on College Learning and Career Success.  Prepared for the Association of American Colleges and Universities, April 29, 2015. Retrieved May 22, 2015 from http://www.aacu.org/sites/default/files/files/LEAP/2015StudentSurveyReport.pdf 
Hilborn, R. & Friedlander, M.  (2013) Biology and Physics Competencies for Pre-Health and Other Life Sciences Students.  CBE Life Science Education, 12 (2), 170-174.
Weiner, J. (2014) The STEM paradoxes: Graduates’ lack of non-technical skills, and not enough women. Washington Post (online edition), September 26.

The presentation format was as followed: 

1)      Introduction to topic
2)      What is the perceived lack of necessary skills coming into college? Participants will Brainstorm by content areas (e.g. STEM, humanities, social sciences, business, professional)
3)      What does the research say is lacking with regards to skills coming into college?
·         Basic math usage issues,
·         communication issues,
·         group dynamic issues,
·         ability to problem solve in new situations (critical thinking)
·         adaptability and teachability

4)      What are the perceived deficits of college graduates entering the workforce from the perspective of business and industry?         
5)      A discussion of the disconnect between educational expectations (K-12 to college) and workplace skill set needs (college to the workplace expectations): the workplace/education skill gap (i.e. self-regulated learning, communication, networking, critical thinking, analysis, and problem solving.)
A.      How do we change our classrooms to help facilitate student learning? What is the role of the professor?  How does that role need to change? Research says that the role of the instructor needs to change to one of mentoring  student learning rather than presenting content to the student.  How many instructors feel uncomfortable with this idea of a changing role?  Why?
B.      Strategies instructors can use in their content area to help build these missing skills (a demonstration of two different activities used in two different contexts that build “soft skills”).  Both activities will model the need for students to be faced with real world open ended problem solving.  However, both activities will be grounded in two different educational theories (experiential learning and project based learning).
C.      Interdisciplinary group activity in which participants brainstorm existing teaching strategies and how to adapt them to maximize practice of the missing skill sets.
D.      Framework to create activities that will develop the skills university students need in the workplace.  The frame work consists of planning, execution, and feedback phases (Appendix A).

Summary: This presentation presented a framework that can be used to develop student skill sets, identify activities that will will develop those skill sets, and a record for instructors to document their teaching and its impact on student employability and community engagement.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Digital Writing: Do you have to have visuals?

In response to in Yin Wah Krehar's post on making digital writing accessible, I realized that this is how I tend to write.  Living in area with limited internet access for many years, I'm always aware of the features of my writing.

So I'm going to flip the challenge Yin Wah Krehar gave the #digiwrimo community and ask instead, when is it appropriate to use visuals?

4 Questions to ask yourself before using a visual

1. Why do I want to use the Visual? Many times it is simply something that will catch the eye of the reader.  Or perhaps you've been told that blog posts or digital writing SHOULD have visuals. Perhaps it is personal preference.  However, if you really don't have a good reason (it will help you get your message across, it will reinforce an emotion you want to evoke, it will help the reader understand), then why use it?

2. Is the Visual you have chosen really relevant to what you are writing? Now, I have to be honest, I love that picture of the jelly fish at the Monterrey Bay Aquarium.  I might even be able to justify it by saying it's like writing in that a writer has all these ideas floating around and writing is a way to put them altogether in a uniform product. But really, it doesn't really do anything for my post except to illustrate that the visual should be relevant.

3. Is the visual easy to understand? For one of my assignments, I made my students create a visual on pinterest. Can you figure out what they were supposed to create? To be honest, I knew it would be difficult for them to achieve the kind of visual we discussed in class using pinterest.  While pinterest includes visuals, it doesn't allow for the type of task I assigned them (which was part of goal).  I was very impressed with the graphic they ended up with. However, for anyone who did not know the task, it would be difficult to understand the graphic.

4. Is it engaging? 

Would you be engaged in watching this video? The fact is that my students weren't and I think you'll understand why as you watch it.  I made this video so my students who were having trouble finding electronic materials from our library would have a visual aid.  It was not really made for engagement purposes but rather as a reference.  However, I do think I could have made it a bit more engaging by considering who my audience was and what questions they may ask.

So before putting that visual into your blog post, facebook post, or attaching it to a tweet, ask yourself if it is really necessary.

Our Activity for #Digiwri

I teach computer mediated communication at the University of Albany.  I am always looking for activities that will connect my students to the real work so that 1) they can get feedback from someone other than just myself and their classmates, who they will end up getting to know very well in class, and 2) so they can see how what we learn in class can be used in the real world.

This is the reason I decided to use #digiwrimo to work on online writing.  Surprisingly, this is a topic rarely covered in CMC classes.  I will be focusing on audience, format, message, and medium.  We will begin with a twitterchat from 3:00-3:30 PM Eastern Standard Time.

Then we will discuss the different forms of digital writing I have examples of for this class. These examples include writing for academic audiences, writing instructions, writing for a professional audience, writing for mobile technology, writing for social media, and writing for video clips.  Part of the writing process will be getting feedback on their writing and measuring its impact.

Finally, students will be asked to choose 3 mediums and produce writing for each.  In preparing for their writing, they will need to include who the audience is, their message, special features/considerations for digital platform they've chosen, and how they will measure impact (this worksheet will be available on Googledocs).

They will then share their digital writing via twitter, linkedin, and facebook.