Skip to content

Debbie Harry using a rotary telephone.
"I'm in the phone booth; it's the one across the hall"

Thanks to Hurricane Ida, I'm getting to see what it's like for those students who have to, for a variety of reasons, do their schoolwork on a smartphone, and it's making me think about our reliance on education technology and the assumptions we make about our students. We need to think about how our use of technology might make learning even more difficult for some of our students.

We drove to Tallahassee to get away from the storm, returning on Tuesday, August 31, after ensuring that the roads were clear enough to get back to our house. We knew we wouldn't have power (or internet) when we got back, but we wanted to check on our house as soon as we could, since we live out in the country and have lots of pine trees in our yard. Our electricity came back on the following Tuesday, the same day Xavier reopened remotely, but our internet service is still out (the data cable is still lying in my front yard).

I am now on Day 18 without access to reliable high-speed internet service. At our house, we have our cell phones; however, since the storm, we have not been able to get more than one bar of signal.  Meanwhile, I still have work that needs to be done and requires access to the internet. Also thanks to Ida, we have very bad cellular service at our house -- one bar, at best -- and we are using way more data than we're supposed to.

A message from AT&T that we've gone over our data cap.
We went over our 9GB data cap for this cycle in just six days.

What all this means is that my highly connected life, in which I could work any time I needed to, has come to a grinding halt. I've repeatedly told colleagues and students that I will respond when I can, and that short text messages are actually the most reliable means of communication for me. I'm sure for some, I sound like I'm making excuses and trying to avoid work.

Responsive Pedagogy, Not Just Responsive Design

During the two weeks of asynchronous learning means everything is done in Brightspace, our LMS, which is fine, because I do everything in Brightspace anyway. After the past 18 months of remote teaching, I decided everything for my classes, even my face-to-face classes, would take full advantage of Brightspace. I don't even have a document called a syllabus anymore: instead, I have a number of pages in Brightspace that provide all that informatiom. Working in Brightspace when you have a full-sized monitor (or even two monitors) plus a high-speed internet connection is great. Working in Brightspace on a phone with an okay cellular signal is manageable, but barely so. The screens are slow to load, and sometimes they don't load at all. Uploading a PDF takes a very, very long time. Some screens, especially administrative screens with lots of settings, are hard to manage on a phone. And if you forget one little detail, you have to go through the whole laborious process again.

Some will ask why I don't just go somewhere with reliable wifi. I spent one Sunday in Hattiesburg at USM's library to do this -- and got a ton of work done, but that was a four-hour round-trip drive (although we were also able to load up on gas for the generator). The next day, I drove Baton Rouge, a three-hour round trip drive, and again got a ton of work done (that was Labor Day, by the way). Meanwhile, no one was cleaning up my yard or cleaning out my refrigerator or keeping an eye on my dogs who can't go outside because our fence is damaged. No one was talking to my insurance company about my car that got squashed by an oak tree.

Chart comparing digital byte units.
Wikipedia contributors. (2021, September 17). Byte. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 18:55, September 18, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Byte

I'm privileged to be experiencing this during a major disaster, when compassion is more accessible. AT&T says they won't charge me for going over my data plan (although yesterday they started throttling our data rate to 128 kbps (yes, kilobytes)). Imagine doing this just because it's all you can afford to do. Imagine trying to do your work on your phone while sitting in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant because their wifi is better than your cell service. Imagine trying to look at PowerPoint slides full of small text on a 6-inch screen. Imagine having to cram all your work into one three-hour block of time because that's all you can afford to leave your house for.

All of us in academia try to balance our school work with our non-school responsibilities. It's a tough juggling act, and no one of us does it the same way.

I guess my point is that while I have always said I understood that some students might need to do their schoolwork on their phones. While I've always said I understood that some students are juggling multiple responsibilities that have nothing to do with school along with all their schoolwork, I've never understood just how difficult it is to do.

The advancements we've seen in educational technology over these past two decades have been really amazing. But #EdTech assumes a lot about the students (and the teachers). It assumes we have the personal infrastructure you use the technology, and for some reason, it also assumes that we that infrastructure allows for constant access to the technology. These are really bad assumptions to make. Demanding that students turn on their webcams during Zoom classes (What if they don't have a webcam? What if their internet connection isn't good enough to upload the video stream?) or expecting them to simply be able to do all of their work on a computer -- these are lousy assumptions.

Compassion means we need to make other assumptions, though. Compassion means we need to assume that our students are struggling as much (and probably more) than we are with COVID and Ida and Nicholas and parents and kids and bills and so forth. Before we automatically assume that our students can hop online and do whatever important work we want them to do, let's stop and think about why they might not be able to. Let's try to provide them with an education that is responsive to their needs rather than one responsive to just ours.

HAL 9000, the computer from the movie '2001: A Space Odyssey'
"It can only be
attributable to
human error."

When I started working in CAT+FD, way back in 2015, faculty who were interested in attending one of our workshops would send an email saying they were interested in attending that workshop. It was not a particular efficient system, as someone had to regularly check the CAT Box (our name for that email account) and update the list of attendees. As many people know, I'm a big fan of automation: any system that can be set up to work on its own, should be set up to work on its own. It saves time and cuts down on mistakes. So, I started playing with Google Forms and Google Sheets, and by the end of that first year, I'd built a system that let people register and that created an always up-to-date list of attendees for each of our upcoming workshops without the need for anyone in the CAT+FD office to do anything.

That system has worked (I think) pretty well for the past five years. There have been a few hiccups along the way, as there usually are with an automated system, but those were few and far between. Since its launch, we've had over 2,000 registrations recorded through the system. (No, we don't keep any records of those registrations.) When, in March 2019, we had to rapidly pivot to fully online workshops, changing the system required only a few small changes.

This summer when we learned that Xavier faculty and staff would be migrated from G-Suite to Microsoft 365, we knew that was the end of our hombrewed system. Even though we've been told that all of the documents in our Google Drives will be converted for us to the corresponding Microsoft application, the system itself is heavily dependent upon functions that only work in Google. Transferring the system to Microsoft would require starting mostly from scratch.

Fortunately, our friends and colleagues in the Library have given us space on their LibCal account, which includes its own events management system. Although it works in much the same way, it does look different in many ways. And it also offers a few new features that we think will be very useful. If you take a look at the CAT+FD home page, you won't notice much of a difference: we're still listing the next few events with links to more information. Likewise, our full events page, which lists all of our upcoming events, doesn't look all that much differece. And again, our weekly email won't look all that different either. However, when you click on the link for any event from those sources to get more information or to register for the event, things will start to look different.

A screen capture of the information page for an event listed in LibCal.
The pages for each of our events are where you will see the main difference with this system.

As you can see above, this screen is very different from what you might be used to, and this blog post is mostly just to prepare you for that change. In addition to the different visuals, please note that you can now print the information about an event, save an event to your calendar, or post about an event to social media (We'd love it if you did that! Be sure to tag us @xulacat if you do!). We've also been able to add categories to our workshops, which will help us keep things more organized and may help you identify workshops that interest you. For example, if you wanted to just see a list of our upcoming #LEX Advanced workshops, you can do that now.

Another change is how the registration process works and the format of our workshops, but I will save that for another blog post.

female students looking at a laptop screen

In a recent Inside Higher Ed blog post, Steven Mintz discusses lessons learned from the pandemic about effective teaching. His lessons learned are:

  • Teaching online is tough work.
  • It’s easy for online students to disengage, self-isolate and fall off track.
  • Social and emotional issues are as important as course content.
  • Coverage and pacing pose a big challenge.

Steven goes on to list eight ethical issues around online learning that will persist after the pandemic. Those ethical issues are:

  1. Equity: How to ensure that every student has an equal opportunity to learn and to fully participate in our online courses.
  2. Learner diversity: How to address the special challenges that e-learning poses.
  3. Support: How to ensure that students have the ready access to the academic, technological, mental health and other supports that they need to succeed.
  4. Feedback and responsiveness: Making sure that students receive the guidance and feedback they need to succeed academically.
  5. Privacy: How to ensure that students’ right to privacy is protected.
  6. Netiquette: How to ensure that all participants in the class behave in a civil, respectful manner.
  7. Assessment: How to maintain academic integrity in an online environment.
  8. Intellectual property: What rules should govern respect for copyright in online classes.

If you are interested in Steven’s strategies for addressing these ethical issues, read his What the Pandemic Should Have Taught Us about Effective Teaching blog post.

Image credit: #WOCinTech Chat / CC BY 2.0

hand holding pencil over a bubble answer sheet with some answers bubbled in

Traditional testing relies on multiple choice, true/false, and written response type questions. In authentic assessments, students apply concepts to real world situations by completing meaningful task-based assessments. This type of assessment engages a variety of skills and effectively measures higher levels of learning than traditional assessment.

Authentic assessments are widely viewed as pedagogically superior, yet multiple-choice assessments are often preferable to instructors and students alike.

In an Inside Higher Ed opinion piece, Eric Loepp challenges instructors to rethink the premise that multiple-choice questions cannot meet the standards of authentic assessment. He argues that there are situations where higher-order multiple-choice questions can be used for assessment. If this has piqued your interest, you can read more in his “The Benefits of Higher-Order Multiple-Choice Tests” opinion piece for more information.

Image credit: Exam by Alberto G. licensed under CC BY 2.0

student with hands on laptop keyboard receiving instruction from another individual

In a recent Inside Higher Ed blog post, Steven Mintz discusses lessons learned from the pandemic about effective teaching. His lessons learned are:

  • Teaching online is tough work.
  • It’s easy for online students to disengage, self-isolate and fall off track.
  • Social and emotional issues are as important as course content.
  • Coverage and pacing pose a big challenge.

Steven goes on to list eight ethical issues around online learning that will persist after the pandemic. Those ethical issues are:

  1. Equity: How to ensure that every student has an equal opportunity to learn and to fully participate in our online courses.
  2. Learner diversity: How to address the special challenges that e-learning poses.
  3. Support: How to ensure that students have the ready access to the academic, technological, mental health and other supports that they need to succeed.
  4. Feedback and responsiveness: Making sure that students receive the guidance and feedback they need to succeed academically.
  5. Privacy: How to ensure that students’ right to privacy is protected.
  6. Netiquette: How to ensure that all participants in the class behave in a civil, respectful manner.
  7. Assessment: How to maintain academic integrity in an online environment.
  8. Intellectual property: What rules should govern respect for copyright in online classes.

If you are interested in Steven’s strategies for addressing these ethical issues, read his What the Pandemic Should Have Taught Us about Effective Teaching blog post.

Image credit: #WOCinTech Chat / CC BY 2.0

African American using laptop and mobile phone at the same time

James M. Lang has written a series of articles for the Chronicle of Higher Education on distraction and attention in higher education. The articles draw from his new book, Distracted: Why Students Can’t Focus and What You Can Do About It. In his book he makes a compelling argument that rather than thinking about how to ban distractions you should focus on creating learning environments that support and sustain attention. If this has piqued your interest, you can find his series of articles on distracted minds at these links:

Photo Credit: #WOCinTech Chat / CC BY 2.0

Loading...

Loading...

If you are unable to view the embeded Infographic, you can view it here:
How & Why to Humanize Your Online Class

African American using laptop and mobile phone at the same time

James M. Lang has written a series of articles for the Chronicle of Higher Education on distraction and attention in higher education. The articles draw from his new book, Distracted: Why Students Can’t Focus and What You Can Do About It. In his book he makes a compelling argument that rather than thinking about how to ban distractions you should focus on creating learning environments that support and sustain attention. If this has piqued your interest, you can find his series of articles on distracted minds at these links:

Photo Credit: #WOCinTech Chat / CC BY 2.0

I find that attending a teaching conference is a great way to get inspiration and new ideas, especially at the beginning of a semester (and a new year and a new decade). And this year we have one right in our own backyard!

The Center for Engaged Learning & Teaching (CELT) at Tulane has a similar mission as CAT+FD, and we support each other when possible. Plus, registration is free!

According to conference chair, Mallory Monaco Caterine, the 2020 Sparking Success Faculty Development Conference is shaping up to be a great event--with already over 150 faculty from around the New Orleans area signed up to collaborate and learn together. The more, the merrier! I know it falls during our registration, but Jay Todd and I are presenting, and we'd love to see you there!

 

This year's theme is Designing Equitable Foundations for Open Knowledge. Xavier has events for faculty, staff and students all week. Please refer to the schedule for more information.  RSVP for Wednesday's Faculty Lecture:  knichola@xula.edu.

Open Access Week Schedule