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Conversation #94: #KeepTeachingXULA (Part 2)

A conversation between Xavier's very own Asem I. Abdulahad (Chemistry), Lisa J. Schulte-Gipson (Psychology), and Steven J. Salm (History), hosted by CAT+FD's Jay Todd and Elizabeth Yost Hammer, on how we're adapting to remote teaching and life in general during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Asem I. AbdulahadDr. Abdulahad earned his B.S. in chemistry from Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA in 2006. He then received his Ph.D. in polymer chemistry at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY working under the guidance of Professor Chang Ryu. Subsequently, Dr. Abdulahad worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow in Integrated Science at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA. Here, he helped to develop laboratory curricula for the Integrated Sciences Curriculum at Virginia Tech and performed research on synthetic polymer materials for high performance and biomedical applications. Dr. Abdulahad spent three years as an instructor of General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry at Jefferson College of Health Sciences prior to joining the Department of Chemistry at Xavier in the Fall of 2017.

Dr. Schulte received her BS from Muhlenberg College (Allentown, PA). She attended SUNY Albany where she earned both her MA and PhD in Social/Personality Psychology.

Dr. Schulte has worked at Xavier University since 1993. Throughout her tenure at Xavier she has served both the University and Department in many capacities. Her current research focuses on both the scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL) and positive psychology (specifically as related to enhancing well-being among students).

Steven J. SalmDr. Salm teaches courses in African history and popular culture, the Black Atlantic World, modern colonialism, and research methods. He has conducted fieldwork in several West African countries, including Ghana and Sierra Leone, and has received a number of awards and fellowships for his work, including a William S. Livingston Fellowship and a National Endowment for the Humanities grant. He has published six books, as well as chapters and articles on topics as diverse as gender, youth, music, literature, religion, urbanization, and popular culture. He currently holds the Alumni Class of 1958 Endowed Professorship in the Humanities and serves as the Department Chair of History and the Division Chair of Fine Arts and Humanities.

Elizabeth Yost HammerElizabeth Yost Hammer is the Director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development and a Kellogg Professor in Teaching in the Psychology Department. She received her Ph.D. in experimental social psychology from Tulane University.

Jay Todd studied writing with Frederick and Steven Barthelme and Mary Robison at the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi. He teaches English and serves as Associate Director of CAT+FD.

Links for this episode


Jay Todd: Hi again, podcast family. This is Jay Todd, Associate Director for the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development at Xavier University of Louisiana. In this episode of teaching, learning and everything else, we continue our Keep Teaching XULA series conversations with Xavier faculty as they adapt to remote teaching and learning as well as adapting to a life of social distancing. Xavier switched very quickly to a model of synchronous online learning. As we recorded this episode, we were finishing up our second week of life behind a computer screen. Meanwhile, many local elementary and high schools only began teaching remotely this past week. So faculty with children at home are also now adapting to try to teach and advise their college students while overseeing the remote learning of their own children. As you'll hear in this episode, that creates new challenges while also giving greater insight into our thinking about teaching and learning. Today I'm joined by my co-host, Dr. Elizabeth Yost Hammer. As we spoke with Dr. Asem Abdulahad, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Dr. Lisa Schulte Gibson, Associate Professor of Psychology and Dr. Steven Salm, Alumni class of 1958, endowed professor of history.

Elizabeth Yost Hammer: Hi, this is Elizabeth Yost Hammer, from the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development at Xavier University of Louisiana and I'm here today with the associate director, Dr. Jay Todd, and a few faculty members, and we are going to talk to you today about how it's going and emergency remote teaching. I appreciate you listening today. And I'll turn it over to Jay.

JT: Yeah, thank you. And again, so this is part of a series where we're just kind of reaching out to a few faculty members at different times and seeing how they're doing. So I think that just kind of start things off, I'll just ask So if you would just talk a little bit about how your online teaching is going. And if you want to talk a little bit about your [inaudible] kind of starts with these. So if you would just talk a little bit about how your online teaching is going. And if you want to talk a little bit about your previous experience, if you hadn't with online teaching as well, I think that's interesting.

Lisa Schulte-Gibson: Now, keep in mind, the class that I'm teaching right now, I have released time as a function of being department head and associate division chair. So my teaching load is lighter. And also the course that I'm teaching, it ends up, I've taught it online before, during Katrina, what a coincidence. So I’m used to it, it's very conducive to adaptation. So research course, it's a lot of one on one work. I'm very thankful that we're able to through Xavier, and through IBM [inaudible] SPSS because we're at that point right now. So overall, it has been a more intensive experience. But it has been a smooth transition. But again, I think I have an advantage in that type of course. More so what's more challenging is the department head piece, and keeping up with the responsibilities associated with department heads. So Elizabeth, I feel for you, as far as those kinds of responsibilities, and the kind of demand to wrap things up and plan for the rest of the semester, when we have no clue what will happen. That's been interesting. So that's the first part. What was the second part? I forgot already. Yeah, I hit everything.

JT: Just a little bit of a sense, I think you got it all, just kind of how things are going. And then you talk a little bit about your previous experience, teaching online as well.

LSG: Yeah. So I got one of the recommendations I would want to make just in general, you might have a question to this effect. What I found as far as adjusting to work at home with kids and homeschooling and that kind of aspect of life. Keeping a routine is essential. So I'm still making my daughter go to bed at 9:30 every night. She is not happy with me. But there she goes. We do school work from 10 to 2 every day. I get up at 5:30 in the morning and have my coffee, do my thing. That's really helped me maintain the sense of normalcy that I can give in the current environment. So I'll turn it over to whomever wants to talk now.

Asem Abdulahad: That's great. Thank you. I think the routine is critical. You know, yeah, my son is going to bed every night at the same time as well and he's not too happy about it either. I just want to come back real quickly to something you said. Did I hear you say that you were able to provide your students with copies of SPSS?

LSG: Yes, not copies, IBM, I can send you the link later, they actually did the right thing and offered a free version of the full edition of SPSS. The initial deadline was June 15, that the edition would end, however, I downloaded it on one of my computers and apparently, they're just timed and a certain amount of months, because my deadline was June 17. So I can send out that link. But yeah, they did the right thing. And then I can Zoom and show my students commands and how to read outputs, which is essential for that class.

EYH: If I might chime in here, real quick, just for listeners, SPSS is a statistical package used to analyze data, used a lot in social sciences. And we will include a link to that at the bottom of the page with this podcast so that you can have that. Also, for people listening from Xavier, we will include that on our #KeepTeachingXULA resource page. Thank you, Lisa.

JT: Yeah, thank you. And like I said, I think that's just great to hear, because I know that was one of those instances that it's kind of a learning-critical tool and there's not really another alternative to it. So I know, there was some concern going into all students using something like that. It's not a cheap piece of software normally. I'm just gonna kind of keep working across the screen as we've got it laid out here. So let's check in now and see how Asem Abdulahad is doing.

Asem Abdulahad: Hi. I’m Asem Abdulahad from Chemistry at Xavier. Let me see, how is it going right now? It’s been interesting. But it’s been getting more and more normal, I guess. With each lecture that I do, so I teach one general chemistry lecture, and I teach a freshman chemistry laboratory also. So I actually just had my first virtual lab yesterday with the class. That was kind of interesting, I might have to make some tweaks for next week. But it went fairly well, I think. So lecture has been an adjustment for me, because I like having an interactive classroom. I don't typically, I don't know, it's kind of chaotic for people who come into my class the first time if they see it, because it's a lot of kind of talking and I don't really do the hand-raising thing so they just kind of yell at me when they have questions, which is fun for me. But doing this online teaching thing is talking to a screen. And I don't get to see the students in front of me, right, because it's somewhere around 70 kids in the class. So I can't have everybody's image pop up on the screen. That'd be kind of distracting and it also reduces how much screen space I have to use to teach the class. But that part's a little bit of a challenge. I do have some previous online teaching experience, but it was not synchronous online teaching. It was your traditional, basically dump everything on the online learning management system and kind of let them go and facilitate holding office hours, things like that. So I've done the live office hours before, but not synchronous teaching like this. But it's getting more normal for me, I guess, one day after the next.

EYH: Hey, Asem! Can I ask a question? You mentioned you did your first lab. I wonder, you know, I think a lot of people listening and I'm sure everybody on this call would like to know what that was like doing a lab and how did you do it?

AA: Okay, so there are a bunch of specially for general chemistry, freshman chemistry courses, there are a lot of what they call virtual labs. So it's basically like a simulation, you can click and drag glassware and kind of make it look like you're using your hands except you're using the mouse pointer to click on the screen and make solutions and get data so go ahead and go through a virtual experiment, they collected data. I put an Excel sheet up there for them so they can actually plot the data and see what it looks like when they get done. And just asking questions after that. So now the problem that I had with it, if I'm being honest, is that I did not finish the entire lab on my own. So I did about half of it so some of them are having issues with the second half, because I guess I didn't put enough in. I thought it would just work. So it should be a lot smoother for next week's lab. But basically what I did for the in-class part, they kind of did their work on their own and I was just available for answering questions. So I had students pop in and pop out if they had questions throughout. But I did hear from everybody that was a good sign so at least they're engaged or seemingly engaged.

JT: Yeah, thank you. Steve, how about you? Past experience and also, how's it going these days?

Steven Salm: Hey, everyone, Steve Salm, from the Department of History. I teach African history courses at Xavier. It's gone well, you know, I had taught the Africa in the World course that I'm teaching now, online during the summer. So I had some experience with setting that up, and, you know, resources, and some videos and all of that. It was really helpful for me, I think it was an early CAT email that started using the words "this is not online teaching, this is remote teaching." I think that was very useful and I shared that with the faculty in the division, as well. Just because I think we've had the entire semester to acclimate to each other. I know, the students, they know me, we've gotten through a lot of that early stuff. So we were really able to, I think, take a lot of what we did in the classroom and bring it directly to online. But rather than online, like we would do in the summer, which has a lot of discussion boards, and almost all textual stuff, of course, the videos are me, here through Zoom, we're able to do a lot of actual discussions. And I found that, you know, by utilizing the chat board, as well as the audio-visual, some students who aren't as comfortable contributing in our classroom discussions are now chiming in much more frequently as well. So I think that's a real feature that has come about because of this. So we've been able to keep our discussions. I keep the lectures to a minimum. But by having those ones from my other online course, they're able to get that content, if they will. So all in all, it's been good. I think taking some stuff from a strictly online course is helpful as a supplement. But I think, considering this as remote learning and trying to do as much as we can, in the classroom, I say that, of course, with the restriction that we need to all try to do a little less as well. But it's been successful. I think this was the first week that we really got going. In my regular face-to-face class, we start 5-10 minutes, "What's Going On?" And What's Going On is what's going on in Africa. It's African news. What's Going On now is a little bit different. It's surreal. I mean, when I logged in yesterday morning for class at 9:25 and we just found out 3.3 million people had filed for unemployment claims, six times the biggest number that we've ever had before — these are unprecedented times. So I agree both with Sam and with Lisa, the idea of routine and normalcy. But I think we also sometimes have to acknowledge that these are unprecedented times and you know, we're trying to get through it. And we're here to help the students do that.

EYH: I just want to say that I think that's really interesting, what you said and important to point out that we already had these relationships with our students going into this, right. So I think that capitalizing on that well, first of all, recognizing it, even in large classes, right? You've already established your rapport, you've established what kind of teaching presence you are, and the students have established the norms of the class. And I think, recognizing that and trying and acknowledging that, and then trying to capitalize on that can be really helpful. I’m teaching advanced research this semester, and we did our first kind of group activity, like we would do in class and I just said, gosh, this isn't as much fun as it is with, you know, our active learning desk and those little whiteboards and everything in. But I said that this is what we're doing, we're doing the same thing, just in our own homes. So I think acknowledging that can be helpful for students, as well as for ourselves. So I'm glad you mentioned that. Sorry, Jay, go ahead.

JT: That's no problem, I was just gonna kind of come back around based on something. [inaudible] kind of ask a question of others, as well kind of [inaudible]. Maybe you're finding to incorporate our current global situation into some of your classrooms as well, not just in terms of kind of checking in with students, but it's kind of a learning piece also. And just kind of kind of, to give them a chance to think about it a little bit, I'll kind of say, for me, you know, I'm teaching this class on dystopias. And in some ways, it's a little too close to home with this, since we're in the middle of reading a book about really the kind of set during the end of American society. And so it's been a little too precious in some ways. But the discussion I think, is really interesting to kind of loop it back in and the students have been about talking about it, but also try not to spend too much time on the present issue, as well. And so I just wanted to see if our panel had some other ideas about ways they were bringing in or thinking about kind of bringing in the current crisis into their classroom learning.

SS: I’ll share mine, Steve Salm again. We've done a little bit again, I think it's new. We'll do more as we move forward, but sort of comparing representations, Western representations of Africa's Ebola crisis 4-5 years ago, to what's going on here now. And sort of the what if. What if this was going on in Africa now and not here? And how would Africans be represented, but also from a public health standpoint, because I studied popular culture so it's always interesting how popular culture begins to represent some of the needs of a public health policy. I've been looking at some of those aspects as well. But I think we'll go into that a little more deeper as we move forward the next few weeks.

LSG: I can add to that a little bit, not so much with the class. So the class is the research projects are going, they have been going, have been set. Where I'm able to incorporate it and this is also something I would want to emphasize. This is something that is so bizarre to students. Think of the age group, think of the illusions of invulnerability, think of the initial stats coming out where it's just old people. Now we have a person passing in New Orleans, who was 17 years old. They're thinking, oh, this can happen to me. So I deal with a lot of students as department head, as having a large advising load. I'm seeing that stress come out from students. I'm seeing students opening up to me subtly, but in ways that they haven't done before. So basically, what students and Steve piggybacking, I can say that off your idea of doing less, it's also cutting students a little bit more slack. Not, you know, lowering standards but just recognizing that stress that they're going through. Responding to that one student in asking for advising advice, was I'm just so stressed right now in an email. So make sure we don't parse over that, that we respond to that, that we look to that, to the extent that we are looking for that, to the extent that we can be available via Zoom, via chat, via email, emphasize that for the students because this is something that I can't imagine being a younger person and not having gone through other nothing like this, of course, but other traumatic type experiences. And trying to grapple with this one. This is probably in many cases, the first for all of us, kind of but worldwide experience. So that's all I got to say on that one for now.

EYH: Yeah, I would like to comment on that. I am not incorporating it in class either [inaudible] research their projects or said we're talking about it like Steve said, the how's it going in our first kind of discussions are a little different than they were, you know, a month ago. But I am really recognizing that minds a class where I can provide some relief in terms of I am going to have deadlines, but I'm gonna say if you can't meet this deadline, let me know, let's work out when you can meet it and you're not gonna have penalties like I would have had in a face to face class because I recognize our colleagues like Austin's class where there's this many students, and it's a more traditional testing situation. They're going to have restrictions there that they can't really loosen up totally. Now, I know everybody's going to be more flexible than possible, unusual, but I realized, like Lisa said, I'm looking for points of flexibility that I can have to kind of give them relief in ways that others, you know, in case other people can't.

AA: I don't talk about it much in class, I actually have been, that kind of goes with my personality. I've been kind of making light of some of the goofier things. So our virtual lab yesterday, there's always a student who wants to drink coffee or water or something like that in the lab, and I said, well, hey, now, you can, you can drink and eat and laugh, right? You can wear open toed shoes, you don't have to have on your goggles, you can still do the experiment that you have to do. So I've been kind of, I don't know, a little bit goofy with it. Even in lectures, you'll get some students or office hours right there. They're in their beds or in their rooms or whatever, you know. So I've been, I don't know, picking on some of the funnier things, at least from my perspective, rather than because it's stressful to keep up with the numbers like that Johns Hopkins website. I was looking at it. But I kind of decided, I guess that was about a week or half ago. I said, yeah, I can't do this anymore. I'll check it some other time in the future. Because it is stressful. I haven't even watched the news, which is abnormal for my house. I haven't watched the news in about five or six days because it's overwhelming to think about right? How fast it spread, and how it's a problem literally in every corner of the world. So I'm trying to be as normal as possible for my students. And they know me as that goofy guy, so I try to stay that goofy guy, you know.

EYH: And since we've kind of taken a turn to talk about student stress and student well being, I will make sure that we post with this podcast, the CDC guidelines on dealing with stress and anxiety during pandemic. They came out with some really nice guidelines that pharmacy colleagues shared with me today. So we'll be sure to post that as well. Yeah, it's a balance, right? Being engaged with it, making easy, this is a teachable moment versus not overwhelming students with this, you know, because we don't know what situation they're in. But also, we mentioned, some students are doing this lab from their bed. It's been kind of neat in my class, because I've asked them to turn on their cameras, during our discussions, because I have a small class of 11. So I've asked them to turn the cameras on and I feel really sweet that I kind of know, one of my students has the pink room like her walls are pink, the other student has still has his football stuff, right? Because they are their second semester freshmen, some of them. So this was his high school room. So it still has his football number up and it's helped me remember that students are whole students, right, not just little brains in our classrooms.

JT: Absolutely, I think that's a great way to kind of start to wrap things up here. And I might just ask everybody kind of, to give us kind of a little one minute thought on how they are

helping themselves. The stress is a little bit in these times, because as I keep reminding our students that we understand that they're stressed, but I want them to also remember that we are all also dealing with a lot of these things, as well. And I think for some students, it's kind of fracturing that belief that, you know, faculty are up on this kind of, as a sole of being in total control of things. So if we could just kind of hear a little bit how folks are finding ways to give themselves a little bit of pressure relief.

LSG: So I love being outside, and I have the advantage of being in my backyard. I call it the moat. It's a waterway from a golf course. We have ducks. I've named them. If you care, it's Harry and Sally, and Doug. Doug's the heavy because he chases away all the other ducks. Essentially I say that and that's goofy. Part of what I've done is I've maintained my sense of humor. Okay, so try and not consistently only appropriate but try to do so. The other is really just taking time, making sure I take that time to breathe in, breathe out. And that's the coffee, sitting outside in the morning, that's the yoga, that's the not watching the news 24/7, because quite honestly, I'm not the type of person in the first place. Right now I need to pay attention to it, but not over attention. I don't have control over what's going on but I have control over what happens in my household with my kids and with my students and I recognize that and move forward with that. So that's really what I've tried to do so far.

SS: I’ll go next. So I'm not very good at this. I find myself just wanting to make sure everyone around me knows just enough, not too much to freak them out and stay on task as well. So some of my centering comes from being next to my 10 year old, who has problems staying on task. And, you know, seeing him even in two weeks, watching him develop, I have started running again, which I took off for about seven months. So in about three months, I might be ready for a marathon and the more I get out, the more I'm out of this house, which I love my family dearly, but a small house and sometimes you just got to go. We're lucky, we have city park very nearby. I haven't named the ducks yet, Lisa. But I think maybe now I'll go down there and sit by the pond to start naming them. I'll find some new names but I think that's good advice to adopt some ducks. Yeah, I'm not very good at it. I'm better at telling people what they should be doing rather than then listen to my words. Don't watch my actions, because I don't always do what I'm supposed to be doing for myself. But I'm getting there, I'm doing a little better and I think, you know, over weeks, we're all new at this. Over weeks, we'll all find time to do what we need to do and as long as we recognize that I think we've made progress.

JT: Absolutely, absolutely. Thank you.

AA: Um, so I guess one thing, at least I said this at the beginning, just trying to maintain normalcy as best as possible. Although we did kind of extend our boys' bedtimes to 10 o'clock. So we kind of let them sleep in a little bit, but they still do four to five hours of school work in the middle of the day, for sure, late morning to early afternoon. I am finding more time to exercise. That's the biggest thing I've been doing to de-stress, but I don't know, I'm used to working and so that's kind of what I do. I dive into it. So I'm also not a very good example of probably what you should do to de-stress. But I do make it a point to exercise regularly. Now actually, me and my wife have time to exercise together. So it kind of turned into semi- competition, I guess, because there's this workout app and she does exercise and it sends you an update, she did this exercise. I'm like how, crap now I gotta get up and I have to do something too right. So then I'll try to do like two back to back until I do something else. So we're finding ways to, I don't know, have fun, and friendly competition and plus it’s definitely a bonus to be able to, I don't know, when I take breaks, if I'm at the office, I'll walk around, maybe check on labs, bother some colleagues, something like that. Since I don't have those opportunities here, what I'm doing instead is like going and playing catch with my kids, or I don't know, playing video games, right. I got beat up pretty good the other day in Street Fighter. And yeah, I guess that's about it. I do have ducks in the backyard too. But I have not named them and I will. I think I will have to take some time to come up with some names.

EYH: Oh, thank you. I really appreciate you all sharing that one thing that I've noticed that I would ask you all, my colleagues and my colleagues that are listening this is also really thinking about our screen time. I know you've mentioned things like minimizing the news. But we are also around screens a lot now. Right? I didn't realize I felt like I set my front of my computer all day sometimes in the office and whoa, I did not know what's happening. I would have meetings face to face, class, face to face. And now all that's happening on the screen and there's sometimes at the end of the day, I'll have so many meetings and you know, and now again in my position I'm also doing a lot of one on one consults with faculty through Zoom, but anyway, sometimes in the day, I'll close my eyes and I'll see like little flashes of light, just kind of. And I've really been aware of that. And I've tried to step out. I have a balcony and I've tried to step out the balcony and make sure to look at trees and look at green. I've tried to, of course, get outside and walk in the park and walk around, but also realizing what I'm going to do is my relaxation time, maybe it shouldn't be on a screen, maybe do something that's not screen related. And so I'm just kind of being aware of that and encouraging people to be aware of that as well.

JT: Excellent, thank you all for the advice and also just kind of the suggestions as well. So we really appreciate you all taking the time to spend a little bit of time talking to us today and reaching out to our colleagues as well. We hope you all stay well and stay in touch. Thank you. I'd like to thank my colleagues, Dr. Asem Abdulahad, Assistant Professor of Chemistry Dr. Lisa Schulte- Gibson, Associate Professor of Psychology, and Dr. Steve Salm, Alumni class of 1958, endowed professor of history for taking the time to speak with us today. If you liked what you heard today, please give us a five star rating. And if you want to hear more about teaching, learning and everything else, be sure to subscribe to this podcast through iTunes, Google Play or your platform of choice. Thanks.

Transcribed by Darrielle Robertson

About Bart Everson

Creative Generalist in the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development at Xavier University of Louisiana

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