This episode is part two of a mini-series focusing on the NEH-funded project "Toward a Pedagogy from Crisis.” Jolie is joined by Dr. Lauren Salisbury, a graduate of BGSU’s rhetoric and writing PhD program and an online instructor, and Dr. Matt Schumann, who has taught in the department of history. They served as "camp counselors" for a month-long summer program for humanities faculty on adaptive teaching and learning during the COVID-19 crisis. They discuss the importance of intentionality, reflexivity, and building community in virtual course design. 

 

Announcer:

The is BG Ideas.

Musical Intro:

I'm going to show you this with a wonderful experiment.

Jolie:

Hello and welcome back to the BiG Ideas podcast brought to you by the Institute for the Study of Culture and Society and the School of Media and Communication at Bowling Green State University. I'm Dr. Jolie Sheffer.

Jolie:

This episode is part of a miniseries focusing on a National Endowment for the Humanities sponsored project Toward a Pedagogy from Crisis: Adaptive Teaching and Learning at Bowling Green State University During COVID-19. Due to the ongoing pandemic, we're not in the studio but are recording from home via phone and computer. As always, the opinions expressed on this podcast or those of the individuals involved and do not necessarily represent those of BGSU or its employees.

Jolie:

Today, we are speaking with Dr. Lauren Salisbury and Dr. Matt Schumann. During summer 2020, they served as camp counselors for a month-long summer program for humanities faculty, which was a central component of the NEH-supported grant.

Jolie:

Lauren is a graduate of BGSU's Rhetoric and Writing PhD program and is an instructor in the department. Her research explores how space and place shapes student experiences in online courses. Matt has taught classes in our history department, receiving the Elliott Blinn Prize for Instructor/Student Basic Research for Innovative Design in his historiography course. He's also studied the scholarship of teaching and learning including how technology can be used effectively in humanities classrooms.

Jolie:

Lauren and Matt, thanks for joining me to talk about big ideas. I want to start with just giving a little background on the summer camp. The camp focused on humanistic pedagogy for digital environments. Can you explain who you were designing the camp for and some of the main goals you set for yourself and for your campers? Matt, you want to start that question off?

Matt:

Sure. I guess I'd like to start by saying we wanted to de-center technology just a little bit because the COVID crisis really forced a bigger conversation about our priorities and identities as instructors. What we really wanted to do was gather faculty from as broadly as we could across the humanities and have a conversation about, "Well, what does teaching look like in this strange new world that we're encountering in the midst of this pandemic?" Having that question really right at the center of our organization efforts for the summer camp, that really determined a lot about how we organized it and how we arranged our material.

Jolie:

For you, Lauren, a lot of times, when we are talking about and thinking about teaching online, we're talking about technology tools and using new tools. You made the choice not to explicitly center the camp around learning new technologies. Can you explain why not and what you felt was more important in this moment?

Lauren:

Yeah, absolutely. There's nothing to say that technology isn't important. We didn't want to say that at all. But, technology comes and goes. It evolves constantly. What was cutting edge last week, isn't this week. Although having those tools in our back pocket is really important, it's more important, as teachers, to start at the end goal. We wanted to give instructors the opportunity to really have a space to reflect on what their learning goals were for the course, for their students, and the goals they had for themselves as instructors this semester in this really unique situation we've all been put in, start there and then backtrack and learn about ways to go out and find those tools or find ways to make those goals happen, that was more what we wanted to put at the forefront, in the center of what we were doing in the summer camp.

Jolie:

That really leads to my next question, which is for you, Lauren, in that the camp really did emphasize reflexivity in course design as a tool for building community. This is something that has been interesting you for a long time. Can you talk about your background in rhetoric and writing and how you became interested in student experiences in online environments?

Lauren:

Yeah. I've been doing online teaching and learning scholarship for a very long time since my master's degree. It really was born out of my own frustration as a student, alongside my frustration as a graduate student who is trying to learn how to teach and didn't have a whole lot of experience using online tools from the teacher perspective. I had taken online classes quite a bit as an undergraduate, to varying degrees of success. From the instructor side of it, I didn't have a lot of experience.

Lauren:

I started digging into online learning and teaching scholarship a lot more, and realized that although a lot of the popular scholarship on online learning is about what instructors are doing, and, again, what technologies are being used or what influence technology has on teaching and learning, there wasn't as much from a student perspective. Anytime we get student perspective in online teaching and learning scholarship, it's typically from the idea of responding to what instructors are doing rather than speaking for themselves about what would be effective. I was really interested in seeing if we asked students from the beginning and say, "What working for you or what do you need in an online environment?", what kind of responses we would get and how students are experiencing those online learning environments that we're helping to curate and design.

Jolie:

Can you give an example of why something like a policy around using your camera is more than it seems to be? Because, on the surface, it sounds like, "Well, you want student engagement, so, of course, they should have their cameras on." Why is there more to the question than that?

Lauren:

Absolutely. I, 100 %, understand the desire. I'm teaching online synchronously this semester for the first time in a very long time. Technologies have changed a lot. Having the ability to see students' faces in a video format like a Zoom is great and, at the forefront, seems like a good idea. You get to see everybody's faces, see that they're engaged and participating. They get to see you and you don't feel like you're talking to yourself at your home office, but it can actually provide a lot of barriers for a wide variety of students. When you force your students to have their cameras and microphones on, although your goal might be to see if they're engaged, respond to them, what can actually happen is you're inserting yourself into their private space.

Lauren:

The majority of students, right now, are taking their online courses from either their residence, if they moved back home with their parents, or are living in an apartment off campus, or their dorm rooms. Those are very private places for us to suddenly be popping into and to have a full view of as well. Students are being forced to reveal things about themselves and their private home life that they wouldn't otherwise be asked to do. Likewise, students who are already in disadvantageous positions, students that have children at home, students that are caretakers for elderly parents or other folks in their families, people who have full-time jobs or who might need to multitask at the same time that they're taking their online course for whatever reason, they're suddenly laid bare in a way that they wouldn't otherwise be. Although the goal is great and I completely understand it as a person who has taught two 20 black screen boxes a couple times in the last few weeks, the risk and the thing that we're asking students to reveal there, to me, just isn't worth it. It becomes more of a surveillance tool than about effective teaching.

Jolie:

Matt, you are, by training, a historian of the 18th Century. You research the use of technology in classrooms. I'm pretty sure they didn't have digital technologies back then, unless you're referring to finger puppets. What inspired you to bring technology into your history classroom? Can you explain some of the challenges you faced and how you approach using digital technology to navigate those?

Matt:

Sure. Well, I'm glad, just right off the top, that you mentioned my specialty in the 18th Century. As a scholar of teaching and learning, I know there are a lot of my colleagues who will run right up to the present with the best pedagogy, the best techniques, the best and the latest scholarship. Honestly, my point of departure for even thinking about my educational philosophy was Edmund Burke in 1757 when he was honestly barely older than many of our students. He made a quip in the introduction to something that he was writing that, "Well, it's really great if you can teach me what you know, but I like it so much more if you can teach me how you know what you know."

Matt:

As a practicing historian, as much as I love digging around archives, and microfilms, and things like that, if I'm honest about my craft, much of it is online. It was really natural for me, if I wanted my students not just to know what I know but do what I do, to send them online. I had been doing this long before there was any talk of forcing online courses, or having a pandemic, or anything like that. It was much more about, "Well, what can I access digitally as a historical researcher and how much of this can I put in the hands of my students?" The more that I found that I could, and especially in recent years as more archives have gone online, libraries have gotten much better at putting their materials online, as just learning management systems like Canvas have become significantly, first of all, more standard but, second, more user-friendly, it's been that much easier to design courses, with students in mind, and be able to say to them, "Well, you're online anyway, you're using a number of tools that are familiar to you like Google. Can we put even more powerful, even more academically relevant material in your hands that helps you to replicate the process that I have or any of my colleagues have as well as scholars doing their scholarly thing?"

Matt:

One of the priorities that I have, as an instructor doing this, is, exactly as Lauren shared, really trying to be student-centered, really trying to ask students, "Well, okay, you're paying for this learning experience, you're enrolled in my class. What do you want out of it?" The second point of departure for me, beyond the young Edmund Burke, was the first student that I brought to a conference with me for a discussion on technology in the classroom, and that particular discussion centered on students insisting on bringing laptops and phones into the classroom, thinking that these were good educational tools and maybe finding out that they weren't so good. I asked this student, as he was a co-presenter of mine, "Well, why do you want to have your computer in the classroom? What is your priority? Why are you doing this?" He said to me, "What I really want out of my educational experience is I want you to teach me how to use my computer the way that you use your computer." This was a sophomore. For him to say that, echoing a 22-year-old Edmund Burke, only 260 odd years later, that just reaffirmed my approach to my courses. It became very much about designing that pedagogical, that learning experience for students so that they really could master the skills of their computers much more than any particular body of knowledge.

Jolie:

Yeah, that's so interesting because what you're really showing is that, so often, what we talk about is... from the faculty side, is there's your research and there's your teaching. Ne'er the twain shall meet, right? What you're showing is that actually it's not just that faculty members want their teaching to reflect their research interests, but actually students want to understand the processes by which faculty members learn and translate that knowledge into products, like an article or whatever it may be, and that laying bare those processes is actually a really effective pedagogical strategy.

Matt:

It is and this is something that I've experienced now in honestly three different modes of teaching the historiography class for Bowling Green's history department. I have told students that if they really want to join my project, researching the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, they can and I can almost guarantee that they will sleep very well. On the other hand, they can replicate what I do with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle for topics that honestly are much more interesting to them. I've been very pleasantly surprised by not only the variety of topics they've chosen but also the follow through and ultimately the quality of the products that they're coming up with.

Jolie:

One of the major areas of interest at the summer camp was on building a learning community online in a time of crisis. How have your past experiences with digital teaching methods prepared you for the current situation? Conversely, how has this crisis maybe challenged or shifted some of your thinking about creation of community online? Lauren, will you start us off with that question?

Lauren:

Sure. I think that, first of all, one of the most wonderful things about the summer camp was that there was this sense of community. It was very palpable that there was the sense of community in that space. Instructors automatically gleamed onto one another, and bolstered each other up, and were able to form the sense of community in a very short period of time because we were under a month that we spent together in that space. One of the things that was really wonderful about that community, which I think taught me more about forming community online, was that we all started from a place of vulnerability.

Lauren:

If there's anything we've learned in the last, how many months has it even been now, I don't even know anymore, seven, six months, that we're all very vulnerable right now in distinct, unique ways. We're all experiencing the pandemic, we're all experiencing the challenges of this year in unique ways, but we are all experiencing challenges.

Lauren:

Sharing that, right away, right from the beginning, felt very uncomfortable, I know, at the beginning for a lot of our participants to lay it out there, "Here were my failings, here were what felt particularly scary about moving online, here's what I don't feel like is going well," but that was what brought everybody together because we saw that we're all in that place. We're all having those feelings.

Lauren:

We're all having that experience of inadequacy, or fear, or just, "How are we going to the grocery store safely?" Those were conversations we honestly had in that space and that I continue to have with my students in our spaces as well, starting from places of vulnerability that understand we're all facing challenges right now. They're going to continue happening, that's not unique to the pandemic. Even whenever this is over and we can move back to our "normal lives", those challenges will still be there. Laying them out there right from the beginning and saying, "This is where I'm at, this is what I'm experiencing. Here's how it might affect what I'm bringing to this course or this summer camp," is really important. One of the things that I've done in my courses is have both a public and then a private one-on-one space where students can share those kinds of things. At the beginning of the semester, we do a typical get to to know each other discussion where they share just where they are right now, that's a unique space.

Lauren:

But then, I also have a private questionnaire that students answer, which is completely optional. I say that in about 12 different places and ways, that it's optional, but it asks them just about anything else they want me to know, that place of vulnerability, that place of mutual sharing has been just a wealth of community formation.

Jolie:

Thank you. What about for you, Matt? How have you been thinking about community?

Matt:

A lot of it... I feel like I'd like to reemphasize what Lauren said about almost having channels of communication open by design and also really, again, echoing Lauren, having ourselves as instructors really be, if not the center, then perhaps the anchor for the communities that our classes form. There are a couple of ways that I do that. We're in a Zoom session now and you can see that I'm broadcasting from my basement, right? This is the trial that I'm going through from the coronavirus chaos.

Matt:

I haven't formally lost my office at Bowling Green, but it's actually an hour drive away. My workspace now is half a desk in my basement, that's what I'm restricted to. I'm sharing that with my students as well and saying, "It's not just you that's been affected by this, it's really been everybody in the university community in one way or another, and it's important for us... as a community of learners, I might be a professional learner, you're the students maybe paying to learn, but we're still all learners here. It's important for us to recognize that this is a journey that we're all taking together." This is something that appears frequently in my course content as well.

Matt:

I joked about my project studying the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. Very often, I'll joke with my students and tell them that there's no way that they're going to be interested in my topic. But, the way that they respond is that they'll say, "You're right. We're not particularly interested in the topic that you're studying."

Matt:

They're not going to care as much about Mid-18th Century diplomatic history, but what they do care about is that they see me not only demonstrating but actually going through the same process that I'm teaching them to go through. They see me get frustrated, and they see me asking myself questions, they see me losing confidence in parts of the process as well, and they see when I do well. I look, in some respects, like one of them. I try to open up formats for them to present to each other. I tell them, right at the top, and then they affirm this for each other, "If you're going to present in front of your peers," and I've set up opportunities for them to share screens with each other and share the products of their own research with each other... I tell them that upfront, "You will never have a more supportive audience for yourself, as a teacher, than your own peers." Then, they live this out teaching occasion, after teaching occasion, after teaching occasion. As they come to see me as an older peer, in a manner of speaking, they give the same benefit of the doubt to me as well.

Jolie:

I'm going to take a quick break. Thanks for listening to the BiG Ideas podcast.

Announcer:

If you are passionate about big ideas, consider sponsoring this program. To have your name or organization mentioned here, please contact us at ics@bgsu.edu.

Jolie:

Hello and welcome back to the BiG Ideas podcast. Today, I'm talking to Dr. Lauren Salisbury and Dr. Matt Schumann about their work as camp counselors for the NEH-sponsored project Toward a Pedagogy from Crisis. The camp brought together instructors from across multiple disciplines in the humanities. How would you say that the interdisciplinarity of this learning community enhanced the camp conversations about creating equitable and inclusive learning environments? Matt, for you, what was the benefit of the interdisciplinary nature of this project?

Matt:

This is, again, a really great question. I find interdisciplinary conversations, in general and especially in this context, to be hugely beneficial. It is really easy, especially as scholars, to get siloed into our particular disciplines and also to get siloed into our own personal experiences of whatever is happening around us, coronavirus or otherwise. To have scholars and teaching colleagues from all over the humanities echoing our struggles, echoing our frustrations, echoing our experiences, and, in some cases, echoing our growth and our triumphs was really affirming. It was very, very good to hear a number of voices processing the same event or the same sort of struggles in a variety of ways. Somewhat, as I had shared earlier before, not really insisting on a particular methodology for my students but exposing them to a lot. The interdisciplinarity of our own conversations in the summer camp was really refreshing because it allowed me and, as far as I could read from our participants, it allowed others as well to process their experience from a number of different perspectives.

Jolie:

What about for you, Lauren? What do you think that interdisciplinarity brought to this project?

Lauren:

Well, I think not just interdisciplinarity but also the variety of roles that we had present in the summer camp was really important. This was something that was by design on our part as camp counselors was that we really wanted the camp to represent the teaching population in the humanities at Bowling Green. It was important for us to make sure we had graduate students who are teaching. We wanted to have adjuncts who are teaching, we wanted to have non-tenure track faculty who were teaching and talk about how those challenges and those vulnerabilities we talked about are unique to those groups as well and, like Matt said, bringing in each of those perspectives to then talk to one another and understand how we each are experiencing the pandemic and pandemic teaching in distinct ways.

Lauren:

The graduate students were able to bring this dual perspective of student and instructor and talk about what it looked like, from the student perspective, to have all of their courses suddenly online, what do seminar courses look like when they're, poof, in a Zoom room instead, what was that like, what was it like to try to do that and then balance teaching at the same time, alongside all of the housing, personal, care taking challenges that went along with it. Non-tenure track faculty likewise who are perhaps full-time or who have been at Bowling Green for longer than those graduate students were able to speak to the way that institutional shifts happened or how it was unique for them to suddenly be online when they've never taught or taken a class online because they got their undergrad degree decades ago, so that was really wonderful to see not only those perspectives be shared but then also in things like... where we shared resources or we did a lot of sharing syllabi that were in process, things we wanted to do for fall.

Lauren:

To see those groups of instructors support one another, provide feedback was wonderful. It was mutual. We saw a lot of grad students say, "Hey. Actually, I just learned about this. You could try this," or the non-tenure track faculty went, "Oh, a few years ago, I taught a course that we did this." It was a mutually beneficial experience, I think, for all of those groups because of their different positionalities.

Jolie:

In the name of this grant is the term crisis, right? We regularly talk about, "This is an unprecedented time," right? The pandemic has revealed multiple crises. But, the summer camp emphasized a lot about play and playfulness. Can you talk about why you felt like that was an important aspect of this summer camp? Lauren, you want to go first?

Lauren:

Sure. I have a unique perspective on this, I think, because I currently have a almost two-year-old at home and another one on the way. I do a lot of play all day long, but a lot of play to learn, so that's something we do right away from the moment we're born is we play to learn. Play is all about understanding our position in the world, understanding how we interact with things in the world, and so that's a huge piece of it. I think that we also play because play invokes this no pressure or low pressure feeling, and that's what learning should be about. It should be low risk.

Lauren:

It should be okay to fail because that's, again, where our learning happens. I think one of the beautiful things about having play be emphasized... it's not just about, "Oh, we're going to have fun here," it's about, "Let's mess around and see what works. Let's mess around and understand that a lot of those stuff isn't going to work, and that's okay." It's okay to have failures, it's okay to have things not go the way we planned. It's okay to change things in the middle of teaching or in the middle of designing a course, realizing we need to make a change. Play is all about low risk learning opportunities and the ability to say, "I'm going to mess around with this. I'm going to get into my syllabus, completely trash it, rip it apart, put it back together, and see what it looks like now, or I'm going to rip apart that Canvas site, and see what I can do to play around with it, and make it something that's useful to me."

Jolie:

What about for you, Matt? How do you think about play and how was it important to you?

Matt:

I think I may actually take a slightly different tack from Lauren on this one, I also have a young one at home. There's plenty of learning through play going on that way as well, but also I do think of play as really invoking this term fun. Just like the pedagogical word "play," it's a very deep term. It's not something where we just mean messing around or just have a positive, emotional experience, but there's a much deeper pedagogical significance to it as well. What brought this out, for me, is actually the privilege that I had in the history department this last year.

Matt:

We just happened to have a couple of jokesters. Regardless of circumstance, it is an impulse for them to make it into a joke. Because they do that, I would just come away from every meeting in which those jokesters were present thinking, "If they can lighten the mood that way, if I can participate in lightening the mood in that kind of way, then really everything's not all that bad." The fun that I had in some of those history department meetings, the fun that I was able to transfer to our summer camp, to some of the classes through that sense of rhetorical play, that sense of just simple fun, it wasn't just a matter of, again, a positive, emotional experience. What it actually did was it spawned this sense of thankfulness that, even in the midst of a crisis, even in the midst of things being gloomy, or not going the way I wanted them to go, or feeling put upon by all the different circumstances, to have that sense of not only community but jocularity was immensely important.

Matt:

As I came to approach my situation with gratitude, it lifted not only my spirits but also the spirits of those around me, including in the summer camp, including among the students that I teach.

Jolie:

I want to conclude by asking both of you to reflect on the current moment. What do you think are the most important lessons that you want us to learn? What do you see as the best case scenario for how we might learn from this crisis to transform both academia and our own lives? Matt, will you start us off?

Matt:

I think there's a lot that depends on institutional leadership, and I don't just mean the president or the provost, I mean even at the department or collegial level. A lot that I'd like to tease out is that it can be a real temptation, in a time of crisis, to buckle down, look for what works, and just stick with it, really keep things on a tight leash. I feel like the best leaders and really the best case situation is going to be really looking at this crisis as an opportunity to experiment and innovate. As that happens, it's not just that we're going to find data-driven things that we can do, but we can also find new solutions to these problems that then carry us into whatever's coming once the worst of this particular crisis has passed.

Jolie:

What about for you, Lauren? What do you hope we can learn from this moment and take forward?

Lauren:

I think that one of the wonderful and also simultaneously frustrating things about being an online teaching and learning scholar as well as a working from home online instructor right now is that I've been doing both of those things for a very long time. To see a lot of these conversations come to the forefront is both a, "Yay. Finally, people are talking about it," and also like, "Yeah, I know. We've been talking about this. Thanks for joining us," kind of situation. It's been a lot of, "Yeah, the future is now. This is what's been happening for a couple decades now." I think that although that is very frustrating in a lot of ways, my hope is that whenever we go back to whatever it is we go back to after this, that those conversations continue, that we don't just have faculty members or instructors go back to teaching exclusively face-to-face and ignoring the online component. I've said, for a very long time, in various contexts, that we all are already online teachers, even before spring. Before March, we still were doing that because we all are using some component of online instruction, whether that's using a learning management system or we use our email. I also hope that we continue to see a lot of student participation in these conversations, too.

Lauren:

One of the things that's been really amazing, to me, is how involved students have gotten in the last few months in their own learning experiences. I've seen a lot of frustration from the side of faculty with this, and I get that to some degree. But, I've really enjoyed getting to see how many students have said, "No, this is unacceptable, this is not working. You need to do something different," or have said, "Yes, this is what we need. Thank you for doing this," and have taken a front seat role in their own education, that's amazing to me.

Lauren:

I love that there are all of these students who are really involved in that. I think, like so many things having to do with this pandemic, it wouldn't happen this way if it wasn't happening in 2020. Students have the tools to do that, too. How many call outs on TikTok have we seen, how many screenshots of really bad interactions have we seen on Twitter? We could talk about the privacy issues of that later. But, students, whether we like it or not, are taking ownership of their learning and saying, "This is not what we need, this is what we need. We need to have conversations about tuition. We need to have conversations about equity and access. We need to have conversations about privacy, about the fact that I have to work a full-time job to pay for this online course that I'm taking." All of those conversations that students are having is also something I hope doesn't go away. Really, I'm just hoping we all keep talking a whole lot because it makes me happy. I think that's where the change happens, that's where we all start to understand each other better, too.

Lauren:

Having conversations about the challenges from the student side, having conversations about the challenges from the instructor side and what that looks like, I think that's the only way we make any kind of lasting change or improve things.

Jolie:

Thank you, both, so much for joining me today. Listeners can keep up with Toward a Pedagogy from Crisis and other ICS happenings by following us on Twitter @icsbgsu, Instagram, as well as our Facebook page. You can listen to BiG Ideas wherever you find your favorite podcasts. Please subscribe and rate us on your preferred platform. Our producers are Chris Cavera and Marco Mendoza with sound editing by Marco. Research assistance for this podcast was provided by Stevie Scheurich. Thanks very much, everyone, and stay safe.

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