Faculty Development

As we all push through the end of the spring semester, I want to share information about an institutional resource that offers faculty multiple ways to navigate the multiple demands of our work. Connecticut College joined the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity (NCFDD) as an institutional member in November 2016. The NCFDD is “an independent professional development, training, and mentoring community.” Drawing upon founder Kerry Ann Rockquemore’s The Black Academic’s Guide to Winning Tenure – Without Losing Your Soul (2008), the Center provides faculty with resources aimed at supporting our careers, and importantly, how to balance our work responsibilities with broader life priorities.

While the NCFDD is perhaps best known for its Faculty Success Program and the more recent Post-Tenure Pathfinders Program, it offers a suite of content and a writing platform online that I have found beneficial.** I highly recommend applying to the full programs for coaching and community building, as well as the short 14 day writing challenges that are open to everyone. There is a lot more available that can be taken advantage of year round.

In this post, I discuss a few aspects that I have found particularly helpful. I  encourage you to explore the set of resources as some may have more use for you based on your area, challenges, and place you are in your career.

Getting Started

All faculty can set up an account through our membership to access the general site. To take advantage of these opportunities, activate your confidential, personal membership by completing the following steps:

  1. Go to https://www.facultydiversity.org/
  2. Click on Join NCFDD   
  3. Select your institution from the drop down menu and complete the registration process.

You will receive a welcome email within 1-2 business days confirming that the account is approved and active. If you have any questions or comments, please contact Jeff Cole, Associate Dean of Faculty. If you have any technical questions, please email NCFDD at Membership@FacultyDiversity.org.

Got to Start Somewhere

As we move into the summer, I want to encourage folks to check out the NCFDD’s Every Summer Needs a Plan webinar. A basic principle of NCFDD is that it is critical to set clear goals for each semester and the summer. Through identifying what projects need to be prioritized, the basic pieces that will get you from A to B to C, and mapping both time and resources out, you can go in with a sense of what needs to happen and why. And when ish inevitably hits the fan, you are set up to more easily triage your work priorities as you have already have a plan that you can adjust. While I admittedly am not a fan of webinars (I may be overly conditioned to watch Shondaland and cooking television on my computer), it is worth meeting up with a colleague and going through the steps to make your plan.

14 Day Writing Challenges and the WriteNow Platform

My favorite part of the NCFDD is the WriteNow platform. It has a timer that you can use to track your writing time, an important point as the NCFDD message is that we all need to write 30 minutes a day during the week (they also believe that we can have weekends!). The tracker auto populates your check in page that allows you to dig in more fully into what your goals were for the day, how work went, and how you are going to reward yourself, among other things. The platform gives you a gold star for each day you complete thirty minutes and a check in, and this aspect provides some sense of confirmation that you are on the right track with your work.

You can also look at your data across time if you want to figure out some patterns in your work and how you want to support or adjust your style. While this feature is a core component of the full-fledged faculty programs, it is also available when you take part in a 14 Day Writing Challenge. This shorter opportunity is perfect for jumpstarting your work if you find yourself getting stalled out from grading, service, or existence. In addition to the individual tracking elements, you also are part of an online community and so you can get into chatting with folks to support each other in getting into writing (I’m too awkward for that typically and this option can be muted). You also may get comments from Rockquemore and other participants on your check in page, encouraging you to keep it going or congratulating you on your productivity. You can sign up for the next challenge here – https://www.facultydiversity.org/14-day-challenge.

In sum, I encourage everyone to at least try out a few features of NCFDD as I have found it transformational in my ability to seek better balance work-life balance and be consistent in my writing practice.


**Here is a quick rundown of NCFDD’s offerings:

Moodle OR Google?

In this post I would like to build on Ariella Rotramel’s and Anthony Graesh’s posts on course management systems and describe how I use Google Sites to deliver content and manage students’ assignments.

What is Google Sites?

Google Sites is the website building application in the G Suite productivity suite. The application allows you to easily build a webpage from scratch or customize a template. Although intended for webpages, Google Sites is a versatile and useful tool that can be used for many purposes. Two features make it especially useful in the classroom: collaboration and privacy.

Why do I use Google Sites?

Collaboration and privacy are the main reasons why I chose Google Sites as my course management system for my upper level Italian courses. In these courses I mostly use open-ended written responses to readings and other course material on a weekly basis. I require students to submit their writing assignments as Google Docs and share them with me so we can edit collaboratively.  Google Sites allows me to manage all these Google Docs files, which, depending on the size of the class, could be close to 200 per semester, effortlessly and efficiently. Moreover, it allows me to consolidate both students’ assignments and content delivery in the same place. In these courses I tend not to use many of the features available in Moodle, such as gradebook, rubrics, and quizzes, therefore Moodle was never my first choice.

How do I use Google Sites?

For each course, I build a simple webpage using the “Classic Sites”. I use this mode because it is the simpler but more flexible builder and allows me to design my site the way that best suits my purposes. I restrict access to only the students in the class, who also have permission to edit.

This is a snapshot of the course I am teaching this semester where I use Sites.

I use the main page of the website to post the body of the schedule of topics organized by class meetings with links to either PDFs or online resources. I find linking and posting course material much easier and faster in Google Sites than in Moodle. Any changes in schedule or announcements can easily be incorporated in the body of the page. In dedicated areas of the main page, I add other resources that students might need for the course. I then create subpages for each student enrolled in the course. Students have complete control over their subpages and over their own Google Docs files, which they can share either just with me or with anybody else in the site. 

On the first day of class I show students how to edit their webpages and divide them into sections, each one devoted to a certain group of assignments.  I ask them to adhere to a naming convention (so that I can easily track what was submitted or not submitted.

Students’ subpages look like the one here

Submitting their work on this customized platform is very easy for the students. They work on their Google Docs and, when they are ready to submit, they follow these simple steps:

  • select Edit mode on subpage
  • write the title of paper and due date under the appropriate category
  • highlight title
  • click on Link icon
  • add shareable link of the Google Docs file into the Web Address Box
  • hit Save

What are the advantages of using Google Sites?

For me there are a number of advantages, in courses of this nature, to use Google Sites over either Moodle or My Drive with separate folders and subfolders for each course.

  1. It prevents My Drive to be flooded with files from students.
  2. It prevents My Drive from having too many folders and subfolders.
  3. Content and students’ work is consolidated into a single separate space, that is saved in My Sites (NOT in My Drive).
  4. All the students’ Google Docs files are easily accessible for revisions and neatly organized.
  5. It is quicker to link content than in Moodle.

If you would like to explore this approach,  G Suite Learning Center provides detailed instructions on how to work with Sites or Lynda.com has a tutorial entitled Google Sites Essential Training by Jess Stratton.

Why I Allow Technology in My Classroom

This January, the Center for Teaching & Learning teamed up with the Instructional Technology team here at Connecticut College to put on a Talking Teaching event called “Digital Devices in the Classroom.” I was fortunate to attend the event; I had admittedly been thinking a lot about devices in the classroom this semester. Traditionally, I do not like students to have devices in my classroom unless it is for a particular activity. I often go technology free myself, often writing on the chalkboard when I lecture. It helps slow me down so students have time to take notes, and I feel like I am engaging more with the class. This is especially true for my introductory course: in a large room with many students, I did not want devices to distract students.  

This semester, things have changed. I have several students with learning accommodations allowing them to have technology in the classroom for note-taking and to be able to increase the font size on materials I pass out in class so they can see it better. This alone got me thinking about accessibility issues and pushed me to make my teaching more accessible via technology. Now anytime I lecture, I make sure to have slides. I create them in Google Docs and link them to the course Moodle page. Students are welcome to bring up the slides in class on their computers as we go through them. I do not put “all the answers” on the slides; students still have to take notes. Students who need the visual accommodation are not alone in having their devices out, and since most students do, it becomes normalized behavior. No one is squinting at the board, moving to get out of the glare from the overhead lights, or trying to decipher what can be poor handwriting on my part.

The other reason I started encouraging the use of devices in my classroom is because of the limitations of one of my teaching rooms. The room I am in is a common room for a dorm; it has its upsides, including mobile furniture that is great for discussion. The problem is that we have one large board-room like table, and the “projector” (a large screen TV) is behind half of the students at this table. It turns out that posting the slides on Moodle solved the problem with the location of the TV: students whose backs are to the slides I am projecting just pull them up on their laptops and follow along that way.

Discussing all of this at the Talking Teaching event, several colleagues noted that the key to success when using digital devices in the classroom is having a technology policy. Even better is to include it on the syllabus and actively talk about it in the classroom. Other key ideas were reminding students of the technology policy periodically, and being willing to experiment and adjust as the semester progresses. This semester’s policy is a big experiment for me, but it is certainly helping me create a more inclusive learning environment.

Can Virtual Discussions Inform Face-To-Face Discussions?

My Technology Fellows project involved developing a framework for digital discussions. My main goals were to make my classes “snowday-proof” and find a way to hold class if emergency or travel prevented me from getting to campus.

After a lackluster small-group discussion session in one of my courses, I am now thinking about whether it would be worthwhile to use my framework for digital discussions in class. Students were working hard during the class period, but the work was mostly independent — there was minimal discussion and collaboration. Any communication seemed aimed at comparing the answers that they already wrote and making adjustments if needed. My pleas to collaborate and discuss responses seemed to have minimal impact.

Regardless of any future success that I will have with my framework for digital discussions, the whole exercise has forced me to think carefully about what successful collaboration entails. The rubric that I developed establishes aspirational standards for (1) reading, (2) an open-ended initial discussion, (3) a discussion that precedes written collaborative responses and (4) the collaborative responses themselves. Why not broaden my approach and extend my aspirations to discussions in class?

As I think about methods for improving the quality of collaborative work in class, one option would be to present the rubric as a set of best practices that they should emulate as they have face-to-face discussions. A second option, if they have not yet had a digital discussion in the semester, would be to have them actually participate in a digital discussion in class, on their own laptops. In this case, they would be learning how to effectively collaborate by actually doing it — not just reading about it. Additionally, doing it in class would give me the opportunity to comment on successful (or unsuccessful) practices and take advantage of “teachable moments.” Together with the class, we could also troubleshoot in real time the challenges that emerge during typed chat-room discussions. Hopefully the lessons and values can then be internalized and carried forward into future face-to-face discussions.   

Another Semester Winds Down – Time for Reading!

View from Windham House, Connecticut College, New London, CT to Temple Green.
View from Windham House, Connecticut College, New London, CT to Temple Green. April 21, 1952

We hope you had a great semester, and are able to spend time with loved ones, relaxing, and reading. To help you with the latter, this is a list of the semester’s posts organized by topic. Please enjoy! We will see you in 2018!

Innovative Teaching from the Technology Fellows

Open Access

We love thinking and talking about Open Access, so we use Open Access Week (October 22-28) to share information on this important topic with you. If you didn’t have a chance to read these posts in October, check them out now.

Resources & Tips

When you’re ready to plan for spring, these posts can help.

Searching for native speakers for video-chats with students: Free and risky or costly and safe?

Previous posts in this blog have reported on the use of videoconferencing in foreign language classes in order to provide students with authentic experiences that can bring a completely new dimension to the language learning process. See my previous post  and Luis Gonzalez’s post for details.

When video-conferencing is used with the main purpose of providing out-of-class opportunities for the students to practice the target language, one of the main issues and challenges we face is finding native speakers who will engage with our students in a meaningful way.

For my elementary class project in Spring 2017 I used Talkabroad. Although this platform comes with a cost, I highly recommend it with elementary level students. The platform itself is very user-friendly both for the instructor as well as for the students. The instructor can create a classroom where students register, and design one or more assignments for the students to complete within a set deadline. The instructor can track the assignments and review the students’ performance as it records the audio of the video-chat. The technology is quite reliable and good quality, out of 25 conversations only 2 were cut off after 15 minutes (each conversation lasts 30 minutes), which was more due to the partner’s connection than to the technology itself. The conversation partners are all native speakers residing in the foreign country and are trained to be kind, patient and to never use English when talking to the students. My experience with this platform has been very positive and has resulted in a successful final project last spring. One complaint I have, though, is that the pool of native speakers for Italian is a little small. There were only 5 partners to choose from and my students ended up interviewing mostly 3 of them based on their profiles. Nevertheless, I still highly recommend it for elementary level students because the sheltered experience guarantees success, necessary to boost their confidence at this stage of their language learning process and increase motivation toward the language.  

For intermediate students I think this type of hand-holding is no longer necessary. These more mature language learners can safely venture into one of the free online language exchange communities that connect people all over the world to practice language with native speakers.  Years ago, I tried to direct my students to using The Mixxer, a free site hosted by Dickinson College, but the technology at the time was not well developed and the community of Italian speakers was extremely small and unreliable.

Next Spring, I am planning on incorporating video-conferencing with native speakers in my upper level conversation class again as I find it an invaluable tool, and I am optimistic that this time around things will work better.  I did a quick Google search to see what other language communities are available, besides The Mixxer, and I found quite a few. Of the many that came up, WeSpeke seemed the most promising of all. I decided therefore to test its reliability and the community that uses it.

First step to access a language community in WeSpeke is to create a profile and specify your native language and the language that you want to practice. You can also write a little bio for other people to read. Based on your preference it will match you with a community of speakers that have similar preferences. You can always reset your filters so that it will narrow down the community even further. Once in a community you can then directly message people that you want to establish a friendship with. I must admit that this is an extremely active community, as soon as I signed up people started messaging me and had 4 friendship requests in the matter of a few minutes. I had to switch my profile to offline because I couldn’t keep up with the messages. I, however, didn’t go past a few introductory greetings with other people as my focus was to just test the platform for future use.

The messaging system is not perfect. Some chats are saved but they do not show up in the chat window for some reason. There is also the possibility of doing audio and video chats once you have established friendship with your language partner. The bar at the bottom of the screen has a number of interesting features. There is a quick dictionary feature, and you can also send an image or URL. The community seems quite active but, I was told by one of my new acquaintances, it is also a little volatile. Establishing a contact is extremely easy as the community is very large, but maintaining the contact and laying down the grounds for a video-chat is a little harder, according to some.

With this in mind, I have, nevertheless decided, to give WeSpeke a try for my intermediate conversation class for next semester and see how it will work in the context of the assignment that I will design over the winter break. 

Using Google Drive for Peer Review

Screenshot of peer review formIn ANT 320 Anthropology of Sexuality and Gender, students work in pairs to compose posters that address an issue on campus or in a workplace related to sexualty and/or gender. For example, one pair of students is writing about intimate partner violence and bystander intervention. Another pair is writing about the erasure of queer people through daily microaggressions. A core component of the assignment is peer review. Each student will review other students’ posters and provide feedback. In the assignment instructions, I have included why peer review is critical to the project, including bringing new information and perspectives, ensuring high-quality work, improving critical thinking skills, and the opportunity to practice providing critical, meaningful, and constructive feedback.

To facilitate collaboration and the peer review process, I am using Google Docs for the poster project and the peer review. Each pair of students creating a poster has a Google Folder that I created for them. It looks like this. In the folder is a template of a Google Slide using the correct dimensions for printing. Also located in each folder is a Google Form with the questions for the peer review. When students are ready to engage in the peer review, they simply share their poster via the sharing settings in Google Slides. They then send the form to their designated peer reviewers, which I have chosen for them and noted in the assignment instructions.

A student who is conducting the peer review will receive a link to the form in their inbox. The form includes guiding questions for students to consider as they work through the poster. When a student completes a peer review, the results are logged under “responses” in the Google Form. This way, each pair of students only sees the feedback related to their poster, it is accessible anywhere there is internet, and both authors of the poster can see the feedback.

Prior to using Google Docs for the peer review of posters, I found peer review difficult because I did not want students to waste paper by printing the first draft of their poster.. That made sharing the poster difficult. Using Google Drive for this endeavor has eliminated the seemingly endless paper shuffle that my old peer review process used to ential. Furthermore, students can leave specific feedback on the poster using the “suggesting” mode in Slides.

If you are considering doing peer review for a project in your class, here are some important tips:

  • Schedule the peer review during class time. That way you are there to address any technology concerns and where things are or how to do them.
  • Use a technology lab on campus, such as the Advanced Technology Lab at Connecticut College. The monitors are much bigger than students’ laptops, which enables them to see the poster better.  
  • Make sure to include in your instructions that students must read the poster once, read it a second time, fill out the peer review, and then read the poster a third time to make sure they provided quality feedback. Otherwise, they will rush through the assignment.
  • Also be sure to include instructions on how to handle the peer review feedback. This semester, I am asking students to make their revisions and then write a few short paragraphs addressing why the feedback and changes they made. This reinforces the critical thinking component, and it provides valuable experience in how to professionally handle criticism.

Virtual Discussion: Take 1

In my last post, I described how, from a hotel room across the world, I was getting ready to launch my “virtual discussion” in class the next day. Students had to complete an assigned reading before class and then spend class time in a Google Hangout (1) addressing a set of initial prompts in an open-ended discussion and (2) collaborating on a set of written responses in a Google Doc.  

Overall, it was fascinating to have such a clear-eyed view of students’ responses to the reading. I enjoyed reading the Hangout transcripts more than I imagined. While performance varied across groups, I got deep insight into what makes for a successful chat: thoughtful initial responses that followed from a careful reading; inclusively bouncing ideas off of each other and responding to each other’s points; and staying on task and mindfully proceeding through the set of prompts. Groups who successfully did these things tended to also have more thorough and thoughtful answers to the collaborative questions. Groups who were less successful had some of the following issues:

  • Some groups, going against the instructions and the criteria listed on the rubric, adopted a divide-and-conquer approach to responding to the collaborative discussion questions. These same groups tended to abandon the discussion in Google Hangout when they shifted to writing responses to the discussion questions.
  • Some groups had uneven participation. One student failed to participate completely, while another group had one student deeply invested and two students unwilling to work hard during the class period or meet outside of class to finish the assignment.
  • Some groups mismanaged their time and failed to address important prompts in the initial open-ended discussion. A couple of groups were late getting started due to confusion about how to start the Hangout, and this set them back for the entire period.

Feedback from students indicated that the discussion allowed them to better understand the reading and appreciate its insight. Unfortunately, however, due to constraints set by my travel, I was unable to read and grade the work before soliciting feedback. So I was not able to provide an immediate, meaningful debriefing session.

Overall, I was encouraged by this initial experience. I see five immediate steps that I should take to make the discussions universally more productive in future sessions:

  1. I should devote some class time to going over the instructions and the rubric.
  2. Since some students also indicated that there were unexpected challenges associated with communicating in a chat, I should develop a set of best practices for productive, inclusive and meaningful dialogue in Google Hangouts. At the top of this list will be advice to either write in short statements rather than long paragraphs, given the asynchronous nature of typing responses, or to let group members know when a long response is coming so that the discussion doesn’t pivot while someone is typing.
  3. While I was unable to be present during this class, in the future I will drop in on chats as they occur in real time to provide feedback, clear up misunderstandings, or highlight questions that may not have been adequately addressed.
  4. I should grade discussions immediately, and start the next class with a debrief to reinforce the main ideas and clear up common areas of misunderstanding.
  5. I should develop a more formal method of assessment.

I knew that learning-by-doing would be essential with this assignment, so I am pleased by the outcome of this initial attempt and hopeful that I can work out the kinks as I refine the assignment going forward.     

Teaching with Wikipedia, the Fall 2017 Edition

Image from the Eli Coppola Wikipedia article created in Fall 2016 ; Polaroid photo of Eli in 1992, captioned by Eli

This fall I am again working with Wikipedia in my Feminist Theory course (check out: Why You And Your Students Should Work To Improve Wikipedia, Feminist Praxis and Wikipedia in the Classroomand Adding Voices to Scholarship: Wikipedia Editing). It’s the second time that I’m mixing the Wiki Education Foundation’s online dashboard with our Linda Lear Center’s archives. This Wikipedia-based assignment continues to be a uniquely engaging for students because they are not only able to contribute to public knowledge, they become Wikipedia editors. They shift from being passive visitors to the Wikipedia site to editors with a working knowledge of the principles and culture of Wikipedia and an ability to add and edit Wikipedia pages.

In this blog post, I want to offer up a few key reasons to consider using Wikipedia in your class:

Ubiquity

As of As of Friday, November 10, English Wikipedia had 5,491,385 articles and is estimated to be the seventh most popular site in the United States, and the fifth most popular in the world. I have yet to teach a student who has not visited Wikipedia. While there is a longstanding skepticism of the reliability of Wikipedia, students are often unclear about how the encyclopedia works and yet often use it for information. Through a Wikipedia-engaged assignment, faculty can assist students in learning when Wikipedia could be useful and when it is not an appropriate source.

You can do it!

Thanks to the Wiki Education Foundation’s development of an online dashboard, there is an increasingly easy to use and nicely scaffolded way to plan out an assignment. My dashboard allows me to draw on the trainings provided by Wiki Education to help students learn the basics to Wikipedia as a community, as well as how to edit, conduct research, write an article, and provide substantive feedback to their peers. It also harnesses the transparency of Wikipedia to make it easy to track students work throughout a project. Plus, each class gets connected to a Wikipedia content expert who can provide additional support to students. I have asked my content editors to video chat with students the past two years and that has been helpful for establishing rapport. All in all, while I don’t ever feel like I’m an uber-Wikipedian, I know that I have the basic knowledge needed and when I hit a roadblock, I have the support I need.

Built-in Motivation

Students respond well to the challenge of a Wikipedia assignment because it engages with a public-facing platform. In this case, it’s a site that possibly everyone they know has visited at some point. As a result, they care more about doing high quality work because they have a sense of responsibility towards a public audience. They also look forward to sharing their work with friends and family. Finally, I already have had a student be asked to do Wikipedia work during a junior year internship, and she surprised her placement supervisor by already having this experience.

Student Feedback & Assessment

This fall in their reflection essays, students noted that this assignment allows them to engage with a mainstream audience.

As a student argued:

In 2017, in a climate of extreme political polarization and turmoil, as well as an increasing sense of distrust in news and credible sources, assignments such as the Wikipedia Project are exceptionally valuable, in terms of the content they produce, as well as the online communities they form and support.

Another observed:

Student created content creates a sense of accountability and agency within learning. Producing knowledge is empowering. It gives students a sense of greater purpose within the classroom, creating a conversation in which students can be critical of information and its production. Instead of simply reading about theories about voices being left out and that there is not enough content written by women, I was able to learn transferable skills and add to the voices on Wikipedia that are written about and by women.

Overall, while they noted some limitations of both Wikipedia (an important element to the assignment to develop their understanding of concepts like positivism, objectivity, situated knowledges, and standpoint epistemology) and working with materials from the archives, students reported that this was a particularly compelling assignment unlike a standard research paper.

In regards to assessment, Wiki Education provides suggestions and an assessment rubric that can be repurposed for your own needs.

Interested, but not sure about all this? Drop me a line and I will be happy to meet up to look through the dashboard with you.

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