Tag Archives: teaching

Okay, All Your Students are Online. Now What?

I still chuckle when I think about every teacher I work with is now doing some form of remote or online teaching. I know it’s not a laughing matter, but I can’t help it. After spending four years as eCourses coordinator at the college, I know the reality of that statement. I’m sure everyone is doing their best. However, I can’t help but think about that select few who wanted to teach online because they thought it would be easy. Well, it’s not so easy after all, especially when you only get two weeks to do it.

It’s easy to post content (documents) online, and most LMS’s make it easy to record video and audio. But the hardest part is engaging students. How do you even know they are watching, listening or reading what you put online? I hope I’m not freaking people out, but trust me, they’re not watching, listening and reading all that stuff you just put in Canvas. They are just looking for the stuff the “counts.” I know I sound pessimistic, but I speak from experience. When I first started teaching online over 15 years ago, the first thing I noticed was that if there was no point value attached, it got ignored. That included textbook chapters, handouts, content pages in Canvas, and yes, even YouTube videos. I was shocked. They don’t like my videos? Did anyone even watch them?

I couldn’t really tell if students were engaging or not with my content, but they were missing huge gaps in knowledge that would have come from engaging with that content. I constantly found myself asking in my feedback, “Did you watch the video?” or “Did you read the handout?” It was definitely frustrating especially since I made a ton of videos. Once I got fed up with that I decided to change the design of my courses. I now have several different formats depending on the course. I made a couple of videos showing how I changed things up that you can watch below, but I’ll summarize here first.

For my ENH114 African American literature class where reading is crucial (Duh!), I changed the course so that every reading is an assignment. Yes, you read that right. Every single reading is an assignment. I call them lessons, and each lesson either has reading handouts, video or audio and then something for students to do. For example, in Lesson 1.1.1 Origins of African American Language, students watch a YouTube video and then write a summary about what they learned. Simple. I create this by using Assignments in Canvas, embed the video, write my instructions and then set the assignment to accept text and uploads for submission. The best part is I didn’t have to make the video. Thank you internet and YouTube.

Another example from the ENH114 class is a lecture I wanted students to read. Again, I made it a lesson: Lesson 1.2.1 Importance of Negro Spirituals that included a recording of me reading the lecture as well as the text of the lecture, and then asks students to answer a question about the content. I use rubrics so the students know what I’m looking for, and it makes it easier for me to grade. The idea that everything I want students to do is graded in some way can be daunting, but using rubrics makes quick work of it. I’ll demonstrate more ways that I engage students in this class in the video below.

For my freshman comp classes, I have a slightly different approach. Not everything I want for them to read and do is made into a lesson, but I do wish that would work. However, I do consistently make some of the content into lessons. You really need to have something for students to engage with on a weekly basis. If you don’t, students get in the habit of “skipping” weeks. Having assignments with weekly due dates draws them into the course. They don’t have to be much, just something that says, “Hey, remember you have this English class over here.” You can see more from these courses in the video below. You can find the YouTube Series I mention here: Crash Course Navigating Digital Information.

Lastly, I teach a hybrid (used to teach a hybrid) JRN203: Writing for Online Media course. Luckily for me, I design all my courses as online courses, so I only had to make a few adjustments in this course to transition to online. The biggest change was adding more online discussions. Oh, I know. That sounds so boring, especially since students hate online discussions. But these discussions are fun. I use FlipGrid. It’s a social learning platform that allows educators to ask a question, then the students respond in a video. Students are then able to respond to one another, creating a “web” of video discussion. They’re fun and students really like these discussions. Some are a little shy at first, but they quickly get over it. I got permission from my students to show a discussion they are working on currently in class. See below.

The reality of the situation is I didn’t create all of this in two weeks. These are things I’ve added as I’ve taught over the years. For many faculty out there now rushing to move content online, my best advice is to pick one thing you can add now to help engage students, and as the semester continues on, consider what else you might be able to add. You can’t do it all now, but just one thing might prove helpful.

Engaging Students in JRN203 with FlipGrid
ENH114 Course Using Canvas, Softchalk, and FlipGrid
ENG101 Composition Course Using Canvas,
McGraw-Hill Connect & YouTube

Where Do Great Ideas Go to Die?

People have great ideas all the time that they never share with others. They secretly harbor them in their heads. This is often where they die. We’re not always given a platform to share ideas, so that’s part of the reason. Another is we often feel our ideas might not be well received, so why bother. Or change is just hard for some and doing things the way we’ve always done them is commonplace. I tend to lean more on the side of people will listen if you bother to seek out the opportunity even if change never happens.

I have what I think is a good idea, and I’m going to share it with you. I don’t have any expectations for change, but at least my great idea is not going to die in my head. Also note, this post was conceived before our current situation with moving courses online. I started this while on Spring Break.

I’ve been teaching online for a long time – since 1998. I can see an inherent problem with how we offer online classes for our students. We open classes. Students rush to fill them, and all the online classes are full weeks before the semester begins. Sounds great, right? Well, it’s not. Not every student who signs up for an online class is prepared and ready for an online class. Many never make it past the first few days, finding it difficult to follow simple directions and get work completed. What do we do with these students? Some drop on their own, others stay and struggle for a while and eventually drop. The end game is that often after just one week a once full class is now left with multiple open spots. These are missed opportunities for students who were never given a chance to even register.

So here’s my idea. Open all online courses 3 days early and require students to complete an orientation. If students “No Show” or can’t complete simple to-do items, they are dropped as a “No Show” from the class. They were given an opportunity and failed. The student gets a full refund and there is now an open spot for another student to enroll. But we don’t allow late registration, so that doesn’t work. However, if we designated some courses as “rolling overload.” I made that term up. It means that faculty can designate the number of overload students permitted to enroll in their online courses. Presently faculty can teach an online course that doesn’t have the required max number of students (15) and are compensated from a rolling payscale, meaning I can teach ENH114 if I only have 10 students enrolled if I’m willing to be paid a certain percentage of the full load. That number used to be 2.04 load for 10 students. Five students would be 1.08 load. These are just examples at this point based on old numbers.

With this new plan, faculty could designate the number of overload students they are willing to teach, and the load for that class would increase by the number. Then after the three day period where students are given the orientation to complete, the actual course load is determined. Here’s the example: I teach ENG101 with a course load of 24 students. I designate 10 open spots for overload (2.04), so initially, my new full-time load is 15 + 2.04 = 17.04. After the three day orientation period, I only have 29 of the 34 students successfully make it through. My new load is 15+1.08 (5 extra students). We have technically helped 10 students. Five were shown they were not adequately prepared for an online class and were given a refund, and five more were given the opportunity to take a class that previously would have been full and closed. And I am compensated for the extra students in my class.

So let’s look at some real numbers, and I’ll show why I know this will work. For the last 5+ years, I’ve been keeping track of students enrolled during the first two weeks of my online classes. This semester I have 5 online classes. The two online 8-week ENG101 classes ended last week, and two new ENG102 online 8 week classes began this week. I already knew that at least 3 of the students enrolled in the ENG102 courses were not eligible to take the class, but I couldn’t drop them from the ENG102 because the semester wasn’t over yet for the ENG101. They hadn’t officially failed ENG101 yet, but trust me; they failed. So there were 3 wasted spots already. By the time all the official stuff happened, we are already in the no late registration stage. But let’s focus on the two ENG101 courses. I started with 48 students and I ended with 34. After the first week, I had a total of 43 students. So 5 enrollments were lost within the first 3 days. Most of the other 9 students were lost within the next two weeks.

Here’s the best part. I can predict after one week which students will not succeed in the online course. As they complete the 7 step orientation, I rank them in order of how quickly and successfully they complete the orientation. The names at the top completed it quickly with very little difficulty. Names toward the bottom are students who didn’t get started right away, required several emails to prod them, and didn’t complete things in a successful manner. The majority of the 9 students who dropped or were dropped after the first week were at the bottom of this list. Only 3 students in the top 32 have dropped or been dropped from the class, while the bottom 7 have either dropped or are failing the course.

Now let’s look at what is happening right this minute in my two ENG102 courses. The orientation was due last night. Both classes were full before we started. I add one off the waitlist and 2 students from my previous ENG101 that just ended, so I started with 51. One disappeared right when I opened the class on Wednesday of Spring Break. Poof. Vanished. Down to 50. Today a week later, three days into the 8-week session, I have 44 students. What happened to those 6 students? Two more dropped on their own. One said she had too much going on to handle a new class right now. Three were complete no-shows. I emailed daily and then called to no responses. They were dropped with a 43 (no-show) this morning. The last was a difficult decision but he was dropped with a 43 because he couldn’t figure out how to complete the orientation and never responded to any of my emails or texts offering help.

So even with all the intervention I still ended up for 4 open spots that didn’t get filled for this 8-week session. I bet there are a lot of students out there right now that wished they’d just signed up for an online class. But it’s too late now, as those 44 students are already deep into the course discussing personal freedoms and learning about writing arguments. Anyone who tried to join now would be too far behind for it to be a fair challenge. The system is just not designed well enough to give more students the opportunity to take online courses. Who knows if my idea would work. It’s certainly not without flaws. It’s just an idea, and now that it’s not dead in my head, I’m good with letting it go. Fly away idea. 🙂

And Write6x6 is a wrap. I hope you enjoyed my brain dumps over the past 6 weeks. I’ll try not to wait until next year to post again.

Remote Teaching: More Questions Answered

So I’ve gotten a few more questions from faculty about moving content online. The questions are good questions indicating that they have the right idea about adding audio and video. After posting on Instagram about using my iPad in some of my videos, Mary wanted to know if I could record live using Notability in a Google Hangout. I don’t usually do it that way, but I was curious too, so I tried it. Notability is a notetaking app on the iPad. It works like a digital whiteboard if you have an Apple pencil. I use it to show students how to correct errors in their papers. I’ll pull up a document that has sentences double spaced and use my pen to show how you can add a comma and conjunction to a run-on sentence and make it a compound sentence, for example. I usually just do these alone and record the screen using the built-in recording feature on the iPad. I can also do the same thing using Explain Everything Whiteboard, but that is not free ($25).

Anyway, this method of recording videos is perfect for the instructor who likes to write on the board while teaching. I don’t do that often, but when I do students like it. Here’s an example of How to Write a Basic Essay that I created in Explain Everything. Now back to Mary’s question. Yes, you can log into a Google Hangout Meet session on your iPad, start presenting, open the Notability app and start writing. As I tried this, I was also logged into the webinar on my desktop and could easily see what was going on on the iPad. I might have to try this in my next webinar class.

iPad and computer screen
Presenting from Explain Everything on the iPad in a Google Hangouts Meet session.

Another media question I got today was about recording audio in a Canvas quiz. Yes, you can do that. Canvas is good at giving the ability to record audio and video either from within Canvas or uploading it from your computer. Most already know you can record audio and video in assignments and pages, but even I didn’t know about adding it to quiz questions. So when you’re setting up your quiz and you add a question, just click the “record/upload media” button on the menu bar. You can record right there in Canvas or you can upload a file recorded earlier on your computer. This is a good solution for a class that is learning pronunciation or a foreign language.

The rest of the questions I got today were about the extended delay for beginning face to face and hybrid courses. I think the messaging just confused everyone who worked their butts off to be ready for next week and now we have to delay. It’s really not fair to those who are teaching 8-week courses that were to start this week. Essentially they are not only moving the content online but now they have to teach it in 5 weeks. That’s crazy. We don’t even teach 5 week online courses in the summer in our department. My advice was to just start now if you’re ready. Students will do what you tell them if you help them. I have two hybrid courses that didn’t skip a beat. We are moving on as planned. They’re showing up to webinars, submitting work, and asking good questions. We’re going to get through this and finish on time.

Remote Teaching. We Can All Learn Something New

This week many of my colleagues are frantically working to accommodate a district mandate to move to remote teaching. For many who have never taught online before, this is a daunting task. Even if they are not being asked to teach online per se, essentially a similar skill set is needed. The number one skill is being fearless. You can’t be afraid or nothing will go right and nothing will happen. You have to have a “F it” attitude and say I’m just going to try it. If it doesn’t work, oh well. At least I tried. Nine times out of 10 it will work well enough (not always perfectly).

I already teach mostly online, and my two hybrid courses are already designed to be taught completely online. So this transition is a simple process for me. But I feel for my colleagues and I’ve volunteered my expertise to help others. So far it’s been surprisingly quiet. I’ll go through a few of the questions I’ve received and my suggested solutions in my next few posts. Let’s start with this one.

I’m still learning new things during this process too. I got a question about how I teach my students to “do the stuff” online. It was a little vague, but I think I understood. The hardest part for me about teaching online is not being able to experience the course and materials the way my students might. I can’t see what they see, but I can show them the way I see it. So I make videos using the student view in Canvas and videos on my phone showing them the mobile version. I use either SnagIt or Camtasia to record my screen, and I show them how I want them to do something. Both are not free tools, but you can do the same thing with Screencast-o-matic, which is free. Snagit is $30 and Camtasia is $170, but GCC may have a few licenses available that you could use, and I hear TechSmith is making Snagit free to use through the end of June 2020 to any organization that needs it. Visit: https://discover.techsmith.com/remote-techsmith/

Clearly I take advantage of working from home by not getting all “dolled up.”

The reason I use Snagit and Camtasia over the free tools is the ease of saving and sharing. TechSmith Screencast® online hosting services allow you to share video, screen captures and multimedia content with others. They make it so simple to record and share. I made a video of how I use this service here.

Stay tuned for more questions I’ve gotten about teaching online or remotely in my next post.

You Stay Messy, College

Even though I am a scientist, I was born a Libra, Baby! Although I hold no stock in the pseudoscience of astrology, I always felt good about all-things-Libra as my sign: balance, harmony, love, peace, justice. It just so happens Kim Kardashian and Gandhi are also Libras. How’s that for balance?

I do an activity with my Psychology 101 students where I provide the standard descriptions of Zodiac signs without their labels and ask students to pick the set that most applies to them. Do you know how often they are able to blindly select their own signs? Almost never. And yet, some students persist in their astrological beliefs and get quite agitated when their views are challenged. Arms are crossed, eyes go white, and audible sighs reverberate. This is the life of a college classroom – socially and emotionally “messy” at times.

Exhibit A from my teaching archives: Picture my student Paul weaving his favorite video game into a class discussion for about the hundredth time this semester, (never mind that this is an adolescent psychology course). Then see George who finally has enough and yells, “Would you please shut up!” Finally, visualize Libra-me struggling to restore balance and harmony in the class. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t end well on this particular day.

In an intellectually-rich college classroom, ideas clash. Personalities collide. Students engage in a foxtrot of give-and-take, and it is not always tea and crumpets. But, conflict is an essential part of learning. Damn, how the Libra in me hates this! However, to achieve longevity in teaching, it is essential to effectively work through conflict because on the other side is greater learning. There are many strategies to process conflict in the classroom, but below are three of my “go-to”s.

Calm the stress-response system

Conflict can activate the fight-flight reflex. When this happens, a cascade of stress hormones shuttle energy away from the thinking part of the brain to the large muscles to prepare for battle. When George yelled at Paul in my class, I had not yet learned important calming techniques. As a result, I simply blurted out, “That’s enough now!” à la my former kindergarten-teacher self. I was not capable in that moment of a more reasoned response.

Since that time, I have learned to be more mindful of what is happening live in the classroom. And, when I sense conflict arising, my first step is to deepen my breath — a good inhale through the nose and a slower exhale through the mouth — repeated a few times. I am mindful when I sense my heart racing, and I silently repeat certain mantras. Slow down – you don’t need to immediately respond.

Practice “verbal judo”

You might not be surprised to learn that George called me later that day to talk about what happened. George felt that, as a person of color, he was basically being told to “go along and behave” when I cut off the conversation. Whereas I was new to the mindfulness game at that point, I was familiar with the concept of verbal judo. I first read about verbal judo in Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns. Although this technique is often associated with persuasion, I actually see it as a precursor to negotiation.

Burns outlines three steps to verbal judo: 1) empathy, 2) disarming the critic, and 3) feedback and negotiation. In Step 1, I asked George to explain his point of view fully, and I didn’t interrupt. The key to this step is to allow the other person to feel fully heard, and this step takes as long as it takes.

Step 2 involves finding some way to agree with the other person. This point of agreement must be genuine. I replied to George, “It must have been frustrating to feel silenced.” (Note that I am not saying I meant to silence George, but empathized with how he felt in that moment.)

In Step 3, George was ready to hear my perspective as well. I was able to explain to George that my actual concern was a physical fight would break out in class. We then engaged in a conversation where we heard each other’s perspectives without defensiveness or judgment. Out of conflict came a greater understanding on both our parts.

Maintain appropriate boundaries

I can sit with worry with the best of them. I could take Paul and George home with me, in my mind anyway, and re-run different plays on how this all could have gone down better. I could question my life choices and think I should take a job selling shoes or do anything else besides teaching.

Even after conflict is processed, it’s hard to not take it home and chew it over in your mind along with your dinner. But, rehashing it over the hash doesn’t do anything to change the events. When conflict is seen as an inevitable part of the classroom life, it’s easier to put it down at night knowing I can always pick it up again tomorrow. Moreover, knowing that conflict is normal keeps me from taking it personally. Finally, seeing conflict as potentially beneficial prevents me from running away from it. So, an essential aspect of classroom balance for me is holding conflict carefully in my arms knowing that it can be a great teacher of lessons.

This post is part of the Write 6X6 challenge at Glendale Community College.

The post You Stay Messy, College appeared first on My Love of Learning.

♫ Community College Dreamin’ ♪

My husband and I found ourselves at In-N-Out Burger last Saturday just before midnight. (We’re old-ish but we occasionally have late nights. Leave it alone.) In all the fun with friends that evening we forgot to eat. And that’s how we found ourselves watching the choreography of the burger-joint food preppers as we waited for “Guest # 29” to be called.

Yep, 11:18pm!

What we saw were employees of all backgrounds united by a crisp uniform and the task at hand – feed hungry (and maybe hangry) late-nighters. What struck me is the buoyant banter and the bounce in their steps. It was like watching a well-timed ballet as they bobbed and weaved around one another. One particular food server had a booming laugh that broke us up every time it peeled out. At that moment, I yelled to my husband, “This is why I love teaching at the community college!”

His puzzled look prompted me to explain. I believe the work of these employees was fueled in part by the dreams they hold for their lives (while making the best French fries in the universe). These workers were young and full of energy and striving. And that is exactly the clientele I have the privilege of teaching every day. I get to spend a good chunk of my life around people who are in the very business of pursuing their dreams.

My late-night In-N-Out epiphany led me to ask the students in my statistics courses to share their dreams with me this week. (I told them I was a “dream catcher” – yuk, yuk!) Their responses did not disappoint, as seen in this sample:

“I want to be a journalist, to learn from the world around me, and share that information with others. I want to make life better for the people around me.”

“I want to help my kids become respectful/successful adults.”

“I dream of the possibility for humans to live in peace with respect for nature.”

“I want to be able to give back to my parents. That is my biggest dream.”

“A dream I have for myself is to become a registered nurse, working in a hospital saving and improving lives.”

“Dream #2: Win the lottery. Not the entire lottery, just enough to pay off all my student loan debt!”

As their professor, I have dreams for them, too. In my courses, I hope my students will engage in learning that sticks. I want them to get slayed (in a good way) by ideas and get hooked into the pursuit of knowledge. I want them to be stunned by new information and come to understandings that help improve their lives. Yes, I dare to dream!

So, the dreams of both teacher and student are inextricably intertwined. I want students to learn things of value, and they want to achieve their life goals. At this intersection is the motivational concept of instrumentality. For students to deeply engage in learning, it helps when they can see the relevance of what they are learning to their own goals.

To tap into their sense of instrumentality for what they are learning in statistics, I also asked my students this week, “How is this statistics course supportive of your dreams?” Teachers of statistics know that this question is not without risk. (To quote Jerry Seinfeld, “That’s a pretty big matzah ball
hanging out there.”) But, their responses were consistently positive. In truth, most students mentioned that this course will help them meet their major requirements, and we discussed how this type of extrinsic motivation is the way of things sometimes. However, some students mentioned more intrinsic value for learning statistics:

“This class helps me not believe every number I see.”

“It gives me the ability to think for myself and question information I am given.”

“It helps me to see the realistic numbers with life and how things are calculated in the real world. So it helps me to open my eyes to new things.”

“This course is helping me figure out how I learn best.”

“This course provides a way of spotting false research. It makes me not take everything at face value.”

“Taking this course supports my dreams by keeping my brain healthy and active!”

How can it not be anyone’s dream to teach at the community college? To be around people day in and day out who are on the cusp of making their dreams a reality. I attended a teaching conference today, and one of the presenters said, “Education is often done to students, not with them.” Having explicit discussions about the dreams and how their courses are useful to them is definitely an example of the latter.

This post is part of the Write 6X6 challenge at Glendale Community College.

The post ♫ Community College Dreamin’ ♪ appeared first on My Love of Learning.

How Teaching Psych 101 Saved My Life (or at least made it a lot better!)

A popular book proclaimed that everything we need to know we learned in kindergarten. For me, everything I needed to grow into a healthy human I learned as a teacher of Introduction to Psychology. I don’t think I’m overselling it – teaching this course has changed the trajectory of my life.

The story is not a pretty one. Rather, mine was a story of do as I teach, not as I do. The prescription for physical and mental wellness is woven throughout any PSY 101 textbook, and I was doing my best to dole out the appropriate medicine to my students.

“Adequate sleep helps memory consolidation.”

“There is a link between exercise and a positive mood.”

“Stress can be regulated through mindfulness and meditation.”

Meanwhile, I myself was sleeping too little, sitting too much, and stress dominated most of my days. I regularly used food to regulate my mood. How I could warn my students about the “self-medication hypothesis” with a straight face remains a mystery to me.

But, with each new group of students, my awareness of my own hypocrisy grew. Just as I was beginning to muse about making some healthy changes, life hurried me along. Faced at the time with a more pressing need to find balance in my life, I turned to lessons ripped from the pages of PSY 101. I wanted to achieve greater peace in my life and get down to a healthy weight. I wanted more energy to face life’s challenges. I wanted strength when I was feeling broken.

As an educational psychologist, I know a little bit about how change happens. I know simplicity can be key when forming new habits, and I also know the power of mnemonic devices that help us to remember our goals. I therefore focused on just the following five directives from psychological research on how to live a healthy life (and they just so happen to rhyme!):

Soothe involves finding ways to regulate stress. Choose means opting, for the most part, to eat foods that make the body feel good and provide energy. Move involves finding some way to engage the body every day, even if it is just a walk around the block. Snooze means taking sleep hygiene seriously and getting in those zzz’s. Groove underpins all the previous elements and relates to setting up structures and habits that lead to healthy actions (like planning workouts for the week and stocking the fridge with veggies).

There is nothing sexy about this prescription. It also is no quick fix. There is nothing extreme involved, but rather balance is at the centerpoint. Each day I remember the words soothe, choose, move, snooze, and groove, and they help me to stay in balance.

So what did these five words do for me? Over a year later, I am perhaps healthier than I have ever been in my life. I have a much deeper sense of inner peace. I went from a BMI classified as “obese” to one smack-dab in the “normal” level. I feel energetic and strong. And, I no longer feel like a phony when sharing with my students how to be healthy and well.

This post is part of the Write 6X6 challenge at Glendale Community College.

The post How Teaching Psych 101 Saved My Life (or at least made it a lot better!) appeared first on My Love of Learning.

Is There Value in Having Students Do Collaborative Group Projects?

Collaborative group projects in online and hybrid classes – Is there value in having students do them?

I go back and forth with whether I should dump it or keep it. Students hate it, but I think there is value, and it’s a lesson students need to experience. Things don’t always go the way they should, and students can learn a lot from having to deal with this adversity.

I’ve been using a group project in my ENG102 hybrid course for about two years now, and I think it teaches students a lot about collaborating, working in a team, and sharing in the learning process with others. In the video below, I’ll share my process with you, as well as a few tools in Canvas that you may or may not be familiar with: Collaborations, Groups, Perusall and NoodleTools. 

Purpose: The purpose of the project is to teach students the process of writing an argumentative research paper. In groups of four the work through the whole process in four weeks. The only thing they don’t do is the actual research. I provide that for them. Let’s take a look, and I’ll show the tools as they are integrated into the process. 

Collaborative Group Projects in Canvas

Honors at GCC and Inclusivity

"Learn communication strategies that influence diverse audiences. Express ideas and concepts precisely and persuasively in multiple formats, and employ writing conventions suitable to research and/or creative processes."

     Above is one of the learning outcomes in the honors program here at GCC. As both an online teacher and an honors instructor, it should come as no surprise that creating content that is accessible (and inclusive) to all learners is at the forefront of my mind. So when I set out to design a project for honors students in my Survey of Gothic Literature (ENH235) class, I wanted their presentations to include all audiences and to get at meeting this learning outcome.

     Creating a video screencast and using YouTube's Classic Studio to edit closed captioning seemed to be the best combination of accessibility goals and Universal Design for Learning principles--the videos would be accessible to students who are deaf or hard of hearing and also create benefits for all other students:

  • students absorb more by reading,
  • students who have English as a second or third language can listen and see the words, and
  • any student can pause the video and record important vocabulary in their notes.
     I met with students in person or via Google Meeting to explain the project. When I explained that they would need to caption the videos, that this meant more than just the auto-captioning from YouTube, and that one of their learning outcomes was to be able to communicate with diverse audiences in multiple formats, I was happy to get lots of head nods of agreement at the value of including all students.
Image from student video presentation used with permission.

     I believe students in this class are meeting this learning outcome by using a video format and writing (or editing) their closed captions. They are creating content that is inclusive of all learners and, I think and hope, learning a variety of other skills as well. 

What Does It Mean to Be Trauma-Sensitive in Higher Ed?

I recently attended a professional development session on fostering resiliency in college students, and the presenter was definitely singing in my language. Concepts such as self-regulation and coping skills were dancing in my ears as a professor of psychology. As the session ended, however, a math professor in the group exclaimed, “I want to help, but I’m not a trained counselor!”

Her words zapped me out of my bubble, and yet I totally understood them. With rising levels of anxiety and depression among college students1, many professors want to help in any way possible. But most of us are not equipped to offer counsel, and those who are qualified understand that we cannot be therapists to our students. So what’s a college teacher to do?

For starters, we can look to our counterparts in K-12 education who are part of the Trauma-Sensitive Schooling movement. Teachers in this group understand that adverse childhood experiences often leave more than a physical mark. Indeed, post-traumatic stress disorder is seen in children who have experienced toxic stress stemming from physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, neglect in a variety of forms, and other household dysfunctions. And many of these students eventually enter our college classrooms.

Obviously K-12 teachers are no more counselors than those at the college level. However, from the Trauma-Sensitive Schooling movement emerged the idea of a set of universal teaching practices that promote inclusion for students who have experienced toxic stress. Since we can never know the inner lives of all our students, universal teaching practices are strategies used with the whole class in order to promote a sense of safety and well-being for all.

The good news is that universal teaching practices are not just one more thing to add to our lesson plans. They even don’t require specialized training. Rather, these practices are incorporated into our regular teaching routine. In this way, all college teachers regardless of subject area can help emotionally vulnerable students get the most out of their college courses.

Below is a sample of universal practices I use in my college instruction, (ripped from the pages of my previous work as a kindergarten teacher):

Predictability (limit unnecessary surprises)

For a student with ever-spiking cortisol levels, a certain level of predictability in a course can serve as a regulator. For example, one form of predictability is setting clear and consistent deadlines. In my classes, I have assignments due on the same day of the week, spread out over consistent intervals over the course. I include prompts in my lectures as the due dates draw near. I publish a course calendar that I advise students print out and “hang on their bathroom mirror.”

Another form of predictability is of the personal variety. I strive to be the same person today as I was yesterday (and will be tomorrow) for my students. I endeavor to model emotional stability for my students, some of whom come from more volatile home environments. Predictability can take many other forms in the classroom, wherever a supportive structure can be provided for students.

Acceptance (foster inclusion)

A feeling of belongingness can serve as a stress buffer in the classroom. Universal principles I use to welcome students involve getting to know their names and using them often, learning about them personally, and slowing down enough to listen to them when they have a question or want to share something. I stop whatever it is I might be doing and face them when they are speaking. When I cross a student in the hallway, I am conscious of my body language. Am I communicating receptiveness?

Another way to communicate acceptance can be found in the feedback process. The manner in which we respond to students in class discussions can communicate a sense of safety and ability to take risks. For me, this involves finding a kernel of correctness in all student contributions. For example, if a student starts talking about “Pavlov’s mice,” I can respond, “Yes! You are correct that Pavlov studied classical conditioning. It was with dogs as opposed to mice, but you’re on the right track.”

Co-regulation (share the calm)

When I sense a student is anxious in class, I model emotional regulation. In this way, I am inviting students to co-regulate with me. Co-regulation involves deepening my breath, slowing my speech, and perhaps lowering my vocal tone. It also involves avoiding co-regulating in the opposite direction; I strive to be mindful if my own anxiety level starts to raise in response to that of my student. Calming my own mind, therefore, is a critical first step.

Beyond bringing things down a notch, we can model a growth mindset with students. When an anxious student exclaims that they are just not a good reader, for example, we can share some strategies in this area. We can embrace failure as part of the learning process by sharing our own stories of when we fell and got back up.

Providing predictability, acceptance, and a sense of calm are not “add-ons” to our our already-packed curricula. To a certain degree, they are an extension of the person who is the teacher. More importantly, they are not direct clinical interventions. Rather, they are small steps we can take as college instructors to ensure the inclusion of all students in a safe, and thus productive, learning environment.

For more information on the Arizona Adverse Childhood Experiences Consortium and its Creating Trauma Sensitive AZ Schools Committee, visit https://azaces.org/

1Center for Collegiate Mental Health. (2018, January). 2017 Annual Report (Publication No. STA 18-166).

This post is part of the Write 6X6 challenge at Glendale Community College.

The post What Does It Mean to Be Trauma-Sensitive in Higher Ed? appeared first on My Love of Learning.