In this episode, Phil Hill, Jeanette Wiseman, Kevin Kelly, and Kevin’s cat discuss another pre-existing trend that has been accelerated by COVID. Team-based course design and teaching.
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- Phil Hill
- Jeanette Wiseman
- Kevin Kelly
Phil: Hello, welcome to COVID Transitions, where we discuss the various reactions by higher education to the COVID pandemic and how it’s changing education. I’m Phil Hill and I’m here with Jeanette Wiseman and Kevin Kelly. And it’s great to talk to you again.
Phil: So this week I wanted to talk about a trend that’s really becoming more obvious to me. And when we talk about trends. One thing I’ve seen with covered is that it tends to accelerate pre-existing trends more than creating brand new trends.
So there was an article I wrote in 2012, it e-Literate, and it turned into an EDUCAUSE Review article. It was really about faculty teams and multi-functional teams doing course delivery of design. The point of the article was arguing against the false dichotomy of face-to-face versus online, saying that there was actually a [00:01:00]landscape of models that were emerging and starting to change how higher education worked. And on the left axis, it showed that one of the biggest differences is defining who is actually creating and designing the course – that it’s no longer just individual faculty. Whether you have design teams that include faculty or even multi-functional teams that have media experts and structural designers, faculty all working together. Bring that to today’s conversation, and what I think we’re seeing quite a bit more is this team-based work for faculty. In particular, dealing with it and how do you handle such changes in the education environment when at the same time we have real resource restrictions that we’re working on?
That’s the topic that we wanted to discuss today, [00:02:00] whether this is a long term trend or not towards team-based course design and team-based teaching. To get started. Kevin, Jeanette, I’d like to hear, are you noticing the same trends? Are there any examples you can give on where you’re seeing more of a team-based approach as a reaction to how we get prepared for fall 2020 in particular?
Kevin: Well, I saw it happening a little bit before COVID hit, when the Pathways grant for the California Community Colleges, working on career and technical education courses online. They put together teams to come up with curriculum to give each other feedback. Again, it’s something I brought up in previous podcasts where they used to have that model in the army in the 40s, where they had a subject matter expert, a producer, and multi-media person. Basically they would put together learning experiences as a team. And [00:03:00] these days, we have put a lot on the instructor’s plate where they have to be paying attention to everything under the sun. And as we head toward things like hybrid flexible courses, they’re going to put additional cognitive load not just on the students, but on the teachers. It’s going to take a team in order to make these things happen.
Phil: You mentioned the example of the community colleges, the Pathways grant pre COVID. Have you noticed an uptick in this type of approach since since the pandemic has come around?
Kevin: On the POD listserv, the POD Network listserv, they have talked about having institutes where, again, faculty come together, they design their courses in a cohort, and they get feedback from other instructors, and they also get support from instructional designers. The only thing that I would mention is not every campus has instructional designers on staff. And so that becomes a challenge for certain [00:04:00] institutions that are smaller or have less fewer resources.
Phil: And Jeanette, what, have you noticed anything?
Jeanette: I think that what I’ve noticed is more of instructors working together. It’s not necessarily in team teaching, but looking at what their workload is and trying to be maybe a little bit more cognizant of sharing new ideas, lesson plans, things to try to help themselves and their peers during this time. That’s probably the extent I’ve seen things happen.
Kevin: and they’re willing to take ideas from other people, maybe more than they would have before.
Kevin: For example, I just created a Google Doc that shows what a 50-minute HyFlex course might look like if you wanted to incorporate activities through it on the POD listserv as a way to answer a question from a colleague. And right now it’s got 20 to 25 people looking at it. [00:05:00]I threw a Creative Commons license so people can use it. I’ve been getting great feedback about, ‘hey, this would take longer than you’ve estimated for a think pair share activity when you’re managing breakout rooms and all these different aspects of logistics. Never mind teaching and learning. And so going back to your point, Jeanette, I think faculty are more willing to take ideas from other people to construct learning experiences because they’re doing – and to Phil’s point about the COVID crisis accelerating these patterns – it’s because they don’t have time. To go through all the different trainings and different. So it’s beg, borrow and steal time again for instruction.
Jeanette: Yeah. You know, I was just going to say, that I think if you come from an education background, that’s something that’s taught to you really early on, is that beg, borrow and steal concept, and that there’s no shame in it. I think that if you don’t have education as a background, or you haven’t [00:06:00] really been trained to teach, which is what the majority of faculty in higher ed are, they don’t know that that’s an OK concept. I think that that’s something that’s really spreading, that, ‘hey, you’re not in this alone. We’re in this together. And it’s OK for you to beg, borrow, or steal anything from here. With Creative Commons license, of course, but that it’s an OK thing to do. And I will say that I think that’s a really positive step in the higher ed community.
Phil: Well, it’s interesting that if you go back to the original point of the article, it was arguing against the false dichotomy of face to face versus online. And that’s an ongoing theme that still needs to be stated today. But the team concept that I mostly was writing about back then was more within a department, or within an institution. More of a formal team. But what both of you are describing is more of a cross-institutional [00:07:00] informal team, where you’re seeing the sharing – people are willing to beg, borrow and steal. But quite often it goes across institutional boundaries and it uses listservs and common interest groups. And that is one characteristic of how this trend is playing out this year.
Kevin: Well, and it also happens just in workshop settings. For instance, when I did a workshop about interaction between students and faculty in online courses back at San Francisco State. The most exciting eventuality from that workshop was a fashion design instructor sitting next to an English instructor, and they decided to create a discussion forum for students from both classes to participate in, and had to sit outside both classes for FERPA reasons. But basically, they ended up having a conversation about school uniforms and equity between these two classes of students.
And it was all framed around [00:08:00] the fact that the fashion designer instructor was excited by the fact that the English instructor used two different deadlines in their discussion forums, one for the original post and another deadline for the replies. And that created this conversation where they ended up starting to work together, and created this collaborative project that neither of their courses would have had otherwise.
Phil: But there’s been resistance in this area before. The both of you alluded to of previously, there were faculty who felt that they didn’t want to beg, borrow or steal or they didn’t feel it was appropriate, or whatever the case may be, whereas today it’s much more accepted. Is that just a matter of necessity based on the economic climate and the move to online and hybrid? Or is there something more? Because what I’m hearing you guys describe is something that is [00:09:00] natural to faculty. They do like to collaborate when put in the right settings. So it’s not that they’re against collaboration, per se, but a lot of times they might not be in the right setting where that could flourish. And is it that we’re actually now putting people into these situations where they can collaborate?
Kevin: Where they have to collaborate. And the fact that every single instructor in higher ed had to put their course into a remote emergency teaching and learning situation over the spring means that everybody was looking to someone else for how to do X, how do I do Y? I think you’re right. It’s the Michael Jordan definition of luck as a lot of practice plus opportunity. And we just gave every single instructor opportunity to interact with other faculty members.
Phil: So these are both positive views, Jeanette. Are you seeing this in general as a positive trend that’s good to see?
Jeanette: I think so. I think that there was more focus on teaching [00:10:00] because of COVID and how you teach. For instructors that maybe haven’t really looked at that, they were so into their research or within their discipline ideas, they’d been doing the same thing year after year. And this kind of made them stop and think about how they were instructing, how they were reaching their students, what was working and what wasn’t. It was part of that reflection process that I think in education is really drilled into you. But again, in other disciplines, you may not think about reflecting on your teaching as much. There was something that was really, I guess, looked at more in the spring, that maybe some of the other instructors haven’t been doing so much with their teaching practice as much.
Kevin: And that focus on teaching is another trend, Phil, that I think is amplified and accelerated due to this situation. So you’re going to have faculty members going through training over the summer that haven’t participated in online or face to face professional development at their institutions before.
We used [00:11:00] to call it the usual suspects where with 15 to 16 hundred faculty at San Francisco State University, we’d usually see around 100 in our workshops over the course of an academic year. Now you’re going to see triple, quadruple, maybe even half, the faculty at an institution going through, putting a heavy strain on the instructional design teams, again, if they have them, or they’re going to have to seek outside support for professional development or that instructional design.
Phil: Well, I think that’s an excellent point. The focus on getting more people involved, but even more than that, the focus on teaching and learning. So that’s rising in the priority list at the expense, quite honestly, of scholarship and research, at least in the near term.
Kevin: I’m going to push back just a little and say it’s finally getting the due that it deserved, because the scholarship and research aspects are generally focused on generating revenue [00:12:00] for the institution. And so that becomes a priority even at comprehensive institutions like San Francisco State or other Cal State system campuses. I don’t know what it’s like at UNM, but it’s definitely that change is not exactly as you characterized it.
Phil: Well, I’m not sure that we’re saying a different thing. Or at least I’m not understanding it quite yet. What I’m saying is if you look at the three, the priority list or how the balance and how they are in the mind of faculty members, that the ratios of change, due to the pandemic and due to necessity. And the teaching and learning mission, the teaching job has by necessity risen in the priority list. That’s essentially what I was saying.
Kevin: True. I guess the only thing I would add to that then, as a both-and proposition, is that that attention [00:13:00] to teaching and learning implies that faculty have to actually learn more about their craft instead of just jumping into the deep end and starting to swim.
Phil: Yes. Well, let me ask you a question about outside partners. So I’ve noticed that certainly a lot of the large publishers, when the pandemic hit in the March timeframe, the announcements of, ‘hey, we give you free access to courseware, we’re extending this through the end of summer, through the end of the calendar year.’ You have all these well-designed courseware available to you is the message they came out with. And certainly we’ve seen Coursera with their courseware initiative, as a MOOC provider, saying, ‘Hey, we’re making this available.’ And then you’re also seeing the OPM providers saying ‘we’re helping schools make this transition.’ So you’ve got these outside partners who are certainly offering to be part of this team as things are redesigned. [00:14:00] But what is the reaction like? How realistic is it that that type of teaming with outside providers is becoming a significant trend that will continue into the future?
Kevin: Well, I think it’s going to continue. I don’t know if it’s going to be at the same rate as the on campus-based collaborations. But when you consider the fact again, that some campuses just don’t have the staff levels that others do. They’re going to have to reach to outside groups and possibly leverage some of the CARES Act funds or something like that to do it. I know in another category that you didn’t quite touch on was professional development. So groups like the Association of College and University Educators are launching a course in effective online teaching practices.
And so a lot of campuses are adopting micro credentials for the summer to help faculty prepare for teaching in the fall using [00:15:00] that content and framework. But using local facilitators on their campuses to support the people with the cultural context of the institution.
Jeanette: I would only add that going back to the courseware and textbook providers, the instructors that I’ve talked to, if they were teaching an intro course before, maybe not using a major publisher or courseware provider title for whatever reason, looking at their fall courses, I know that I’ve talked to enough instructors that I feel like it is maybe a trend where they’re thinking, ‘OK, well, if there’s an online content available to me that’s been designed, and I really don’t know what I’m doing, and I can just slide it up into my LMS of choice or whatever the school’s using (which is sometimes not their choice), but if I can go ahead and use that content, I’m going to, because at least it’s a starting point for me.’ And especially for those schools that don’t have the instructional design [00:16:00] assistance, it’s there for them. And at least they can build upon it. So it seems like that’s a good starting point. And so there’s been some some instructors that I’ve talked to, that I know that they’re looking to change after using maybe the same textbook or reading material for years based only on their online content that’s available to them.
Kevin: And in some cases, they’re looking to open educational resources or open textbooks to reduce costs and increase learning equity for students.
Phil: For the most part, at least the way the three of us are describing it, there’s some real positive developments by this acceleration of a team-based approach that we’re seeing for teaching and learning. But what are the downsides to some of this move? And I’ll throw in one to get started. I’ve been a little bit skeptical with the free courseware offer because of the situation where a school or department or individual faculty might start adopting and using courseware. [00:17:00] And even if it’s a positive development through the fall, are they now stuck with this in 2021 and beyond when they don’t have the budget to be able to use these resources moving forward? So I think there’s a little bit of a risk going on that if they adopt resources that they can’t afford or won’t be available after the fall term. But what other downsides are there for this movement?
Kevin: I can see faculty might be hesitant to do too much where they’re not showing their unique value. For example, if they’re adopting materials like Khan Academy or something where it’s not only a textbook or something, but there’s a learning path implied there, there are problems for students to complete after watching a video and things like that, that they have to then go in and add value to that experience, if only to meet [00:18:00] the legal requirements of regular and substantive interaction, because it has to be from the instructor. They can’t just set it and forget it anymore. But I would say that the key there is that dystopic vision that we saw from Scott Galloway of mega universities pairing up Google and MIT or something like that to create like one section of math for the entire country. Then, you know, that’s where faculty are going to have to show their unique value, not only at their institution, but within their institution.
Phil: Is there also a risk of the lowest common denominator? What about the case of where you have faculty who have designed very engaging courses with very unique designs and methods of facilitating the course, but with the pandemic and the push for team based design, are we seeing any cases where the instructor might be getting told, ‘OK, sure, you’ve [00:19:00] done this engaging work yourself, but this is a way our whole department is going to work. So you need to come and do the same thing.’ So a standardization even when it’s not helpful. Are we seeing any of those cases?
Jeanette: I hope not.
Kevin: Yeah, I haven’t. And I know that academic freedom would probably prevail in that argument, but I haven’t seen that happening. And if anything, other instructors would adopt some of the effective practices from the veteran instructor.
Phil: Well, I like both of your optimism on that one. I guess I’m saying that’s something I’m concerned about. But I don’t necessarily, I’m not saying that I’ve seen it yet, but it is something that I’m concerned and watching for. A final question as we get into the fall. Of course, teaching and learning is not just about course design. It gets into the actual teaching practice itself, and the whole learning process of adapting the course based on how it’s going with students, and getting feedback from students. So [00:20:00] I don’t know if there’s an easy way to answer this, but how is this likely to play out in the fall in terms of some of the increased team coursework? Are faculty going to be sharing notes with each other as they teach, and adjusting and applying lessons learned? That you’ve learned that I can apply at my course. So should we expect this to actually continue into the fall with the iteration or the improvement of courses as they’re taught?
Kevin: If they’re working in cohorts now, there are some examples of those cohorts extending into the fall and having kind of discussion sections, so to speak, where they are sharing a reflection on how things went and what they would do differently. I know that’s part of the model for that group I mentioned before, the Association of College and University Educators, where they have online discussions, where faculty share their reflections with each other about what worked and what didn’t work. But [00:21:00] in terms of the summer offerings that a lot of campuses are spinning up to support faculty or preparing for fall, it makes sense that they would create some sort of continuing effort for the people to interact with one another. And one other thing that I’ve just started to see happen is leaning on student surveys at the institution level and sharing the common instrument so that all instructors can ask students the same questions and whether or not they share that data out with all the instructors that will remain to be seen.
Phil: And Jeanette, what’s your general view of the outlook of how fall will continue? Or are you generally optimistic about how this might make a long term improvement, or what do you think it will be like during the middle of a course?
Jeanette: I think a lot of it’s going to be dependent on what Kevin said, how much of this the cohort or the organization of faculty is [00:22:00] happening at the institutional level, or maybe even within a discipline. I think once those are established, and a cohort or a group of people are working together, and you’re sort of leaning on them, the war story where you’re able to go in and you make a friend for life type of thing, where you’re going to continue to want to work through them.
I think it just needs to be established now and it needs to be encouraged by, likely by the institution to start it and keep it going. And then I think it could be a long term effect that’s happening.
But it’s, I think it’s how an institution is engaging with that instructor right now to help them with their course. And I don’t know if a lot of institutions have the bandwidth to do that right now, but I think it’s a core piece of the success of the fall moving forward.
Phil: So we have a real opportunity here, as there’s been a required, or necessity to focus on teaching and learning, to focus on adapting quickly for the fall. But [00:23:00] part of what we’re talking about is the the nature of this opportunity quite often lies in these cohorts, these communities that are being formed where instructors and staff can rely on each other and build connections moving forward. So this is a case where it could be a long term, not just a long term trend, but we could be establishing these communities that actually help over the long term to improve teaching and learning. So we will definitely keep watching for this, including seeing how it plays out in the fall time and the learning process itself. But thanks, Kevin and Jeanette. It’s great talking to you this week, and I hope you have a good weekend.