A clock with books.

Pedagogies of Care: Rethinking Student and Professor Workload

Article by Jessica Van Slooten.

The phrase “pedagogy of care” started percolating in my brain late last summer as I crafted a full load of asynchronous online courses and wondered how to best care for the students in my classes—and myself. What would a pedagogy of care look like, and how best to put this care into action?

I found that other scholars of teaching and learning were using this language to frame a number of student-centered teaching practices. One fantastic resource is the Pedagogies of Care website https://sabresmonkey.wixsite.com/pedagogiesofcare created by the authors in the “Teaching and Learning in Higher Education” book series published by West Virginia University Press—folks like Kevin Gannon and UW System’s own Cyndi Kernahan, among others.

When I thought about where to start putting care into action, I decided that the first step was examining the workload in my courses for both students and myself. I wanted to acknowledge the real ways the pandemic shaped our individual and collective capacity for teaching and learning: increased competing demands outside of school/work, cognitive impact of ongoing stress and uncertainty, increased emotional labor that teaching during these times takes, among many other real impacts.

I mapped the most important values for me as a teacher. I decided to prioritize frequent communication with students to create presence and community in our asynchronous online courses. And, I wanted to prioritize timely feedback on student assignments. Given my course load and enrollment, this would only work if I had the space and time to do so.

To help figure out the issue of time, I consulted the course workload estimator 2.0, a valuable tool created by scholars at Wake Forest University. The creators of the calculator have figured out some estimations of how long it takes students to complete a variety of tasks. You enter information from your own course in the free, online tool, and it will estimate the time it takes students to complete these tasks. While the tool won’t work perfectly for all kinds of assignments, it does have some nuances that are especially useful for folks teaching reading and writing intensive classes; it recognizes different kinds of reading and writing and acknowledges that each kind takes a different amount of time.

When I first used the calculator, my courses were in the 12-14 hour/week range, and I wasn’t sure what to think. Was this acceptable? Too low? Too high? Rice University’s Center for Teaching Excellence includes an article “How Much Should We Assign? Estimating Out of Class Workload,” which provides advice for how to use a course workload calculator and make changes to your course. The authors claim that “there seems to be general agreement that the Carnegie Unit recommendation of two hours out of class for every credit hour […] is a perfectly reasonable expectation.” For a three-credit course, this would mean 6 hours of out-of-class work each week; adding in the time we would be in class if we were face-to-face brought the total to somewhere between 8 and 9 hours of work each week. Clearly, I needed to make some cuts to more courses to reach this level.

As I worked through how I would approach my class differently, I thought back to my first Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) research project in 2011. In that project, I hypothesized that weekly blog posts would help students in my Women’s and Gender Studies classes learn important disciplinary concepts like the social construction of gender and intersectionality. After analyzing the data, I discovered that it wasn’t the quantity or repetition of assignments that determined their learning, but rather the concepts themselves—some concepts were easier to learn than others. I swiftly cut the number of blog posts, retooled other assignments to highlight these tricky concepts, and everyone benefited with fewer blog posts to write, read, and grade.

With these two data points—the course workload estimator and my prior research—along with copious reading about the perils of having too many discussion posts in online classes, I set on another path, guided by my ethos of care.

To further determine what concepts and skills to prioritize, I turned to my prior SoTL research in threshold concepts. This framework was developed by Ray Land and Jan Meyer in the early-mid 2000s. Their research suggests that each discipline contains concepts that have a number of features: transformative, troublesome, integrative, irreversible, and liminal, among others. (This extensive introduction and bibliography includes a useful description of these features). Learning these concepts transforms student learning and understanding. I find this framework helpful in determining essential concepts that build the foundation of my classes. Threshold concepts can be incredibly useful when streamlining class content and assignments to align with a pedagogy of care.

Luckily, one of the textbooks I use is structured around the threshold concepts model, and I was able to use it as a map through that class. For my other classes, I prioritized a handful of concepts and skills and paired readings and assignments with those skills, including regular lower-stakes assignments, and longer projects with various checkpoints throughout the semester.

Admittedly, there are some challenges with this approach depending on your academic discipline. In the literature courses I teach, it can be difficult to choose readings that won’t surpass the ideal 8-9 hours of total student work/week range. I’m still learning how to make thoughtful adaptations to workload around reading—for example, we recently decided as a class to cut one novella from our reading list in the major authors class I’m currently teaching. There are only so many Jane Austen novels one can thoughtfully read and analyze in a 14-week semester.

Finally, the course workload estimator helped me in another way; cutting the number of assignments allowed me to provide more detailed and quicker feedback to students, one of the values I identified at the beginning of this process. Rather than simply filling out the online rubric and provided synthesis comments for the whole class, I now added several sentences of personalized feedback for each student. I used these comments to connect to their ideas, offer additional questions and possibilities, and steer them in the right direction, as needed. Students regularly shared that this personalized feedback was important to them, made them feel like I care about them and their learning, and helped them improve. My pedagogy of care has, for the most part, succeeded in allowing students and myself to continue to learn during challenging times. This framework will continue to be useful in the transformed post-pandemic world, as I anticipate teaching in a variety of modalities in upcoming semesters.


This blog post is based, in part, on materials presented during the UW-Green Bay 2021 Instructional Development Institute.


About Jessica Van Slooten

Jessica Van SlootenJessica is an Associate Professor of English, Writing Foundations, Women’s and Gender Studies, and Humanities as well as Co-Chair of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program. She has been actively involved in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SotL) to inform her own classroom practices. Her SotL interests include scaffolding student learning, designing meaningful assignmentsand assessing student learning in Women’s and Gender Study courses and programs at two- and four-year institutions.

A complex graph on a black computer screen.

Fearlessly Facing Challenges: Academic Research and the Pandemic’s Effects

Article by Terri Fredenberg-Holzman

A once in a hundred-year event, the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a halt. Researchers around the globe have grappled with how to maintain their research agendas while devoting more time to teaching, administration and assessment in an online environment. The workload pressures have tested new and seasoned faculty members alike. Just as the phoenix regenerates itself, so too will the research community. The faculty of the University of Wisconsin Green Bay “are to be highly commended for their tenacity, adaptability, and commitment to student success during the pandemic” according to a recent interview with Professor John Katers, Dean of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology.

Professor Susan Gallagher-Lepak, Dean of the College of Health, Education and Social Welfare summed up the major challenges faced by UWGB faculty during the pandemic this way. Expanded workloads were induced by the need to “transition teaching to more online and hybrid course modalities while providing concentrated technology support to students as they navigated learning electronically. The transition was made more difficult with the pressures of juggling their own children’s virtual learning at home or even worse, dealing with the devastation of family members who contracted COVID.” With all of these pressures faculty still found ways to build online versions of practical experiments, designed lab work that could be done virtually and flipped classrooms by asking students to watch videos and read specific texts before class so class discussions could be focused on active learning and problem solving. Other faculty members built new relationships even in the virtual world while others moved from concentrating on national networks to seeking out and cultivating more regionally based interactions.

The changes in teaching and learning brought on by the pandemic have detracted from much of the global research community’s ability to maintain pre-pandemic research agendas. Holes in time sensitive data sets, access to on-campus resources, limits on personal interactions, subject availability and socially distanced field work have all had an effect on research functioning and design. “The pandemic has even affected the availability of lab and trial supplies and enhanced competition for public resources across various sectors of the economy, with funders both public and private pouring millions of dollars into fighting the virus” writes Maria Cohut in her article “Shifting Goal Posts: Research in the Time of the Coronvirus” (2020).

Following a year of disruptions generated by the pandemic, the University and many sponsored research program offices have acknowledged the challenges by offering a variety of flexibilities. The University bolstered its support for faculty and staff during this COVID year by arranging remote work options, providing COVID leave hours, advocating for performance reviews that address the challenges of COVID and by extending the tenure clock by one to two years, when warranted. Encouragement is also coming from many sponsored research program offices. They recognize that sponsored research plans, timelines and capacity have likely changed. Some are allowing grantees the flexibility to reschedule grant activities, alter scopes of work, and move project end dates. Others are even allowing some flexibility in the expenditure of grant funds. For example, the National Institutes of Health released this statement. “NIH understands that many researchers may be unable to work as a result of or related to the effects of COVID-19. If a recipient organization’s policy allows for the charging of salaries and benefits during periods when no work is performed due to the effect of COVID-19, regardless of the funding source, then such charges to NIH grant awards will be allowable.” Still other federal and non-federal sponsors are now providing grant recipients the authority to extend their final budget period on previously approved projects and offering PIs an extension of progress report due dates.

As Dean Katers made clear, faculty and staff “are to be highly commended” for their resilience in the face of pandemic-related productivity gaps and the resulting upsets to research momentum over the past year. As the campus prepares to open its doors to students, faculty, and staff again, rest assured the sense of community will return stronger and more robust than ever. Research, scholarship and creative endeavors will thrive once more and the institution will cling even tighter to the core values that embrace community-based partnerships, collaborative faculty scholarship and innovation.

Please note if you need assistance communicating with your program officer on a currently grant-funded sponsored research project about changes to your scope of work, budget, or progress report, contact the Office of Grants and Research at ogr@uwgb.edu or (920) 465-2565.


About Terri Fredenberg-Holzman 

Terri is a grants and research program specialist in the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay Office of Grants and Research. 

Building Upon the Land Acknowledgment

Post by Crystal Lepscier and Sam Mahoney

Introduction: What is the Land Acknowledgment, Why Does It Matter?

As we reckon with our nation’s history of genocide and oppression of Indigenous peoples, it is growing increasingly common for institutions of higher learning to create a land acknowledgment statement. Our university’s own land acknowledgment recognizes that our institution lives on the sacred and ancestral land of the Menominee and the Ho-Chunk Nations, while also acknowledging the twelve First Nations that currently reside in Wisconsin. Its inclusion in university events and publications has become a small but important step in increasing the visibility of the First Nations peoples that have lived and continue to live in this area. As the act of land acknowledgment becomes more routine, the danger is that, with time, it may begin to lose its impact. How then might we avoid turning land acknowledgment into a rote task that undermines the gravity of its intent?

Consider the land acknowledgment to be the first stepping stone on a path to becoming better allies as non-Natives. In order to truly, meaningfully engage with it, we must continue to educate ourselves on First Nations history and cultures, engage with First Nations stories in historical and modern contexts, and apply this knowledge in actionable tasks that honor First Nations people. In this post, we’ve compiled a list of suggested next steps you might take and resources to explore as you build on the land acknowledgment.

Next Steps: Forming A Foundational Knowledge of First Nations History

As non-Natives, it is necessary that we educate ourselves on the history of Indigenous peoples in the Americas. First, if you haven’t already, we encourage you to familiarize yourself with the UW–Green Bay Land Acknowledgment. Challenge yourself to go beyond simply reading the statement, and instead take the time to learn the names of the First Nations communities that were and continue to be affected by colonialism in Wisconsin.

We must also understand that First Nations’ connection to the land goes much deeper than the physical space—there also is profound ancestral and spiritual significance. Gregory Cajete, Director of Native American Studies at the University of New Mexico, eloquently explains: “It is this place that holds our memories and the bones of our people… this is the place that made us.” The land acknowledgement is as much about the connection between people and land as it is about their geography.

Going further, contemplate the Doctrine of Discovery, a principle of international law created by the Pope in the 15th century that was used to justify the dehumanization of the original inhabitants of the Americas and rationalize the violence committed against those peoples by European colonizers. Note how the ramifications of this philosophy are still seen and felt in our nation’s educational, legal, and economic systems today.

As you educate yourself on Indigenous history, we encourage you to engage with the session recording from the land acknowledgment session at the Instructional Development Institute this year. Among other resources, this presentation contains a collection of historical maps that illustrate the effects of colonization on the distribution, population, and land occupancy of First Nation peoples. Additionally, The Ways has a map of treaty lands, tribal lands, and Native populations in Wisconsin and surrounding regions, along with some important background information on the displacement of various Native peoples. On a global scale, Native Land Digital has created an extensive, interactive world map to explore the geographic approximations of Indigenous territories, languages, and treaties.

Going Deeper: Actively Engaging with First Nations Stories

For those of us who are non-Native, it is also our role to listen to the stories of First Nations peoples and learn from them. The Ways, mentioned in the previous section, is an online publication by PBS Wisconsin Education which promotes stories about contemporary First Nations cultures and languages. Likewise, Wisconsin First Nations is a fantastic collection of teaching resources on American Indian studies in Wisconsin, created as a collaboration between the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, PBS Wisconsin, UW-Madison’s School of Education.

Consider also investigating the university’s First Nations Studies Library Guide for a selection of books, websites, databases, and films both for use in the classroom and your own personal education. One recommended title to check out or purchase is Indian Nations of Wisconsin by Patty Loew, a comprehensive text on the struggles and perseverance of the Tribal Nations of Wisconsin. J P Leary, one of our own faculty members in the First Nation Studies program, authored one of the book’s two forwards.

Application: Respectively Honoring First Nations People

Expand the sections below for strategies for building upon the land acknowledgement to honor First Nations.

Did you know that our university has an Education Center for First Nations Studies, located in Wood Hall 410? Besides providing an overview of the First Nation Studies (FNS) programs at UWGB, you will also find resources on the languages, educational philosophies, teachings, and cultures of some of Wisconsin’s First Nations communities. When you have the chance, introduce yourself to some of our FNS faculty and staff, as well as the tribal Elders that partner with our FNS program. Be receptive to opportunities to collaborate and reach out to them if you have ideas.

Beyond that, think about how you might engage with our Indigenous communities outside of our university. Perhaps there are faculty at a Tribal College or University that would be interested in partnering in collaborative research or program development in your field—the College of Menominee Nation, for example, has a campus right in Green Bay. You might consider reaching out to other First Nations organizations and nonprofits in our community as well. Our Education Center for First Nation Studies is here as resource if you need guidance on where to look.

Another way to be an ally is to engage in events and programs that honor the First Nations of Wisconsin and further public education on their cultures and histories. For starters, try celebrating Indigenous People’s Day on October 12 and encourage your students to do the same. Last year as a part of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the university released a short video where several students and faculty share what Indigenous People’s Day means to them. We also honored our First Nations by installing a land acknowledgment display in the Student Union, which showcases the flags of each Tribal Nation and a plaque with our university’s land acknowledgment statement.

You can also remind your students that November is Native American Heritage Month. Often the university and larger Green Bay area will have events during this month for students, faculty, and general community members that would be worth checking out.

Additionally, some of the faculty in the First Nation Studies program are partnering with CATL to bring you a series of events centered on supporting our First Nations students. Be on the lookout for more information about our upcoming reading group for Beyond the Asterisk, a showing of a FNS student film later this spring semester, and a larger workshop in the works for Fall 2021.

It is important that land acknowledgment is not an afterthought, but a meaningful part of your pedagogy as well. Perhaps include a short personal statement before the UWGB Land Acknowledgment in your syllabus in which you explain what it is and why you feel it’s important to include. If your class meets synchronously, consider making space on the first day of class to verbally honor the land acknowledgment as well. One suggestion by Dr. Carol Cornelius, one of our resident Elders, is to challenge ourselves as instructors to learn something new about one of the twelve First Nations of Wisconsin each semester. Then, when you include the land acknowledgment in your syllabus or discuss it in your course, you can make it more personal by highlighting that specific people’s individual culture and history.

Conclusion: Continuing the Conversation

It would be impossible to compile a definitive list of resources and actionable tasks to build on the land acknowledgment, so see this blog post as just the beginning. As you explore and reflect on these resources, we encourage you once again to utilize our campus’s Education Center for First Nations Studies, including their curated, continuously evolving collection of materials by and about First Nations peoples. They also sponsor Elder hours, held via Zoom this semester, in which students, staff, and faculty can drop in and talk with Napos, a Menominee tribal elder and our Oral Scholar in Residence. Do you have other ideas for ways you might continue engaging with the land acknowledgment and the histories, cultures, and peoples of Wisconsin’s First Nations? Let us know in the comments below, or by emailing catl@uwgb.edu.


About Crystal Lepscier

Portrait of Crystal LepscierCrystal Lepscier (Little Shell/Menominee/Stockbridge-Munsee) is the First Nations Student Success Coordinator and an Associate Lecturer for the First Nations Studies program here at UW–Green Bay. As a student success coordinator, Crystal works to build partnerships with Wisconsin First Nations communities in order to increase UWGB’s recruitment and retention of First Nations students, provides those students with additional support through academic advisement and counseling, and contributes to programming on First Nations history and cultures. Crystal is also currently pursuing her EdD in First Nations Education at UWGB and will be among the first cohort of students to graduate from the program in 2022.

A smartphone showing a few social media icons

Supporting Students and Building Relationships through Alternative Communication Methods

Article by James Kabrhel

Facebook. Snapchat. TikTok. WhatsApp.

Any adult would be hard pressed to keep up with the number of social media apps that are released every year. They are like fad diets in a way, with each having a vogue and then fading into nominal usage as the younger generations constantly look for the next fun way to communicate with their friends. This kind of commentary makes me sound like a much older person, but it is very important to recognize that the typical methods current instructors used to communicate may not be the preferred methods for students.

I have been using social media since soon after the advent of smart phones. I do not remember who originally invited me to Facebook, but that website has had a profound effect on my life. I have shared many personal items over the years, including important events in my family, numerous pictures and videos of my son, and various comments on the world at large. After a few years using Facebook, I thought I would leverage it into a way to keep in contact with former students at the Sheboygan and Manitowoc campuses. Many of us have former students who have come back to tell us how they are doing, or to ask for a reference or letter of recommendation, or even general advice. I figured a Facebook group would be a conduit for students to engage with me that way. I did not count on Facebook falling out of favor with the younger generations. After a year or two, I stopped keeping up with it. Over time, even I did not use Facebook as much. There is a fatigue that sets in when you feel obligated to go to a place regularly, whether it is a real place or a virtual place. I am sure that students also feel the same kind of fatigue (especially when it comes to our classes, sad to say).

I teach Organic Chemistry to all three additional locations, so communication can be a bit challenging. I am based in Sheboygan so the other campuses do not get as much physical time with me. Several years ago, I had a group of Organic Chemistry students who asked me to join a Snapchat group they had created. I had never used the app before, as I had no need to, and other than Instagram, did not use social media much anymore. I did this because it allowed the students to ask me questions about course material directly, sometimes taking screenshots of their work, while allowing the whole group to see the answer. I had responded to student questions via email before, even getting screenshots that way, but email is generally slower for providing feedback, and as we have heard, students do not use email in the same ways that we do. They abandon modes of communication quickly, except perhaps texting.

The Coronavirus pandemic exacerbated the need to adapt communication methods, as it became very easy for students to fall off the radar. The normal lines of communication (direct phone calls, text messages, emails) will likely have limited impact in future years because many students will not bother to communication back via those methods. It will be using messengers connected to social media apps, like Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram and many different apps that do not exist yet, that will allow for better communication.

There are some secondary benefits to establishing communication via social media, though those benefits also have risk associated with them. Students who communicate via these social media apps do so with their friends, which means they often share their personal lives too. That bleeds over into communications with me. This is often not an issue, and sometimes can be very helpful. More than once I have been able to provide guidance in a more personal and important matter for a student, when other members of their circle are not supportive enough. I have even been able to steer students towards support from the Dean of Students office and mental health counselors. This certainly shows a level of trust they have in me that goes beyond just a professor. From interactions I have had with some former students, I am part school advisor, career counselor, mental health counselor and even parent.

This is where the risk comes in. While I can say that most of the interactions I have had of this type are former students, sometime current students will ask for advice or support of a more personal nature, and that it really becomes a blurring of professional support and personal support. Using these apps also means that I can get messages at all times of the day or night. I tell my students that a quick response can be expected during normal hours, but I’m not checking in during the middle of the night. Some students can get used to instantaneously responses and could get annoyed or worried when I do not respond right away. I do my best to let them know that I have a life and family outside of campus and they cannot expect instantaneous responses all the time.

I have also shared a little more of my personal life with my students via these media, though I have never hesitated to talk about my family (in a general way) in class. The students become a bit more familiar with me in that way, seeing me more as a person and less as a guy who talks about chemistry a few times a week.

Sadly, there is no one medium or one app that would allow us to communicate directly with our students instantaneously. I really wish that there was. We used to depend on email but that has completely fallen out of style with students, based on my experience. In the absence of that one direct communication pipeline, we have to get creative to make sure that we can engage and support our students in the ways that they need. That means getting a little more “social” and perhaps a little more personal.


What successes have you had communicating with your students? What challenges have you faced? Have you seen the shift away from email—and how have you adjusted? Let us know in the comments below!


About James Kabrhel

James KabrhelJames is an Associate Professor of Chemistry with research interests that are largely Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SotL) based, including the incorporation of pseudoscience-based projects in support of information literacy, and the support of student mental health in the classroom. James also actively develops Open Educational Resources (OERs) for use in the chemistry classroom.