What will you carry forward?

Article by Todd Dresser.

Last spring, we all talked about how the pandemic would re-shape higher education. Now, a year from the beginning of the pandemic, we want to look at how those discussions have evolved. What questions did we ask? How did instructors answer them? What new questions emerged? And what will we carry forward from teaching in the age of COVID as well as the overlapping crises of the past year? Since all politics are local, I spoke with three instructors at UW-Green Bay to get their perspectives.

I spoke with Jillian Jacklin, a lecturer in Democracy and Justice Studies who had the serendipitous experience of starting her journey at UW-Green Bay in the Spring 2020 semester. I spoke with Kiel Nikolakakis, a lecturer in Natural and Applied Sciences who has a broad array of teaching experiences in lab courses, Gateways to Phoenix Success (GPS), as well as in UW Collaborative Programs. And I spoke with Heidi Sherman, Associate Professor of History and Humanities, who has experience as a chair, advisor, and instructor.

The discussion below should provoke thought as to how the last year has changed our teaching practices. It’s not an exhaustive compendium of experiences by any means. In fact, we wish to hear your stories as well, so please see the opportunities to continue this discussion at the bottom of the post.

Blending online and face-to-face strategies

In 2020, “hyflex” was in the air. This term combining hybrid delivery and flexible participation has been around since 2006 but has been a niche format with much of the research on its effectiveness centered on graduate education. Yet, suddenly, higher-ed circulated podcasts and think pieces about its applicability to the pandemic context.

These offerings had two main themes. First, as Brian Beatty put it “a well-designed HyFlex class, with effective alternative participation modes that all lead to the same learning outcomes, can provide meaningful learning opportunities for all students.” Second: “resiliency.” Again, from Brian Beatty, “looking ahead, if it becomes necessary to close campuses again for almost any reason (natural disaster, smoke and fire threats…) students and faculty in HyFlex classes should be able to continue without interruption.” Hyflex held out hope of maintaining quality education resilient against future disasters.

Yet, even the textbook on how to create a hyflex course acknowledges that it takes multiple semesters to develop a truly hyflex course. So how did instructors blend online and face-to-face methods together? How did it go? And what will remain?

Online discussions give all students a voice

Dr. Jacklin teaches two sections of History 206, each capped at 65 students. Stimulating discussion in large classes is challenging face-to-face and often favors those more comfortable expressing their ideas publicly. She noted that in “lecture halls students don’t get to see each other’s ideas. A lot of people talk on Canvas who wouldn’t talk” in a lecture setting. Though she plans to return face-to-face in Fall, she intends to “spark discussions in Canvas” to allow “all students to continue to have a voice.”

Dr. Nikolakakis also found virtual discussions let students gather their thoughts. He had his first-year students prepare PowerPoint slides in response to discussion prompts and describe their ideas in VoiceThread. This exercise led to a “higher degree of engagement” than classroom discussions and “students did a better job” getting into depth on course materials.

Both Drs. Jacklin and Nikolakakis found online discussions alleviated some anxieties of in-class participation and allowed students to express their ideas in a more relaxed way leading to more complicated insights.

Digital spaces for digital faces

Discussions around “synchronous online” also evolved. Dr. Sherman described how the “virtual classroom” allowed students to discuss complex material more comfortably. She noted the virtual environment “alleviates the social anxiety that weighs on you” when trying to unpack primary historical sources in front of peers. She allows students to participate with webcams off, which turns their voices on.

Dr. Jacklin held online “venting” sessions where students decompressed, which were important given that much of the material she covered in her courses overlapped with news events about racial injustice.

Dr. Nikolakakis faced the challenge of preparing students to conduct labs. In a typical semester he would offer an overview lecture prior to the lab, but classroom restrictions meant he could not lecture to everyone at once. Instead, he created mini-lectures students could watch ahead of in-room labs. Many of these lectures will be available for future use.

These are all creative examples of how instructors have adapted and enhanced their synchronous teaching in ways that the prognostications from last summer did not anticipate.

Getting your digital feed beneath you

Both Drs. Jacklin and Nikolakakis developed a rhythm for teaching in distance environments. For Dr. Nikolakakis, Fall semester felt “more chaotic” than Spring 2021. While this feeling of relative ease comes from many sources—practice, for example—he noted creating modules in Canvas mimicking a calendar (so students know what to expect every week) works for him. He found that students use the Canvas calendar as their to do list and has made sure his assignments appear there.

Similarly, Dr. Jacklin noted she has gotten better at “scaffolding” assignments so smaller assignments help students build toward larger ones.

Technology and equity

We never signed up for distance education but found ourselves online, so questions arose about how to serve students ensuring equitable access and ability to complete course materials.

A map of public wi-fi locations helps document a scramble to assist those without robust internet access and conjures the feelings of dislocation and unease which made the map necessary. The ramifications of teaching across the web raised concerns. Bryan Alexander argued in a widely circulated blog post that “students would be better served by dialing back the Zoom and shifting instead to a greater emphasis on asynchronous tech” noting “live video means assuming students have access to infrastructure.” In a world where people were learning from parking lots over public wi-fi, that was not a safe assumption.

Nonetheless, virtual classroom emerged as the most common teaching mode at UW-Green Bay. How did we go from a reluctance to a reliance? And, how has equity fared?

Virtual classroom revealed accommodations I didn’t know I needed

Just ask Heidi Sherman. Dr. Sherman was initially reluctant to teach via virtual classroom out of a concern for student access. Her colleagues relayed they were able to have good conversations with students over web and her experience as an advisor showed many students preferred virtual classroom to other distance modes. So, she took the plunge this Spring.

She found virtual classroom enabled deeper connections with students and course material than even face-to-face allowed. As a historian, Dr. Sherman teaches through primary sources and these sources (in Islamic history and Medieval history) are complicated and difficult to parse. As a someone who is visually impaired, Dr. Sherman notes that she “needs to hold a book close to my face” while helping students unpack the readings.

Virtual classroom alleviated some of tensions felt while teaching face-to-face. The documents are still complicated, but she and the students can do so with webcams off, meaning students do not have to put their struggles on stage and that Dr. Sherman can read in relative comfort. She noted, “when the teacher is comfortable; the students are comfortable” which enables freer and deeper discussions than were possible face-to-face.

Teaching through web conference revealed other troublesome aspects of face-to-face, but she thought she would just “have to deal with.” For example, the “clock in a regular classroom is not easy to see,” which makes it hard to pace a lesson. Similarly, the computer monitors in physical classrooms are small and hard to work with. Also, students in virtual environments are not “distracted by all the social things” that “weigh on you” in a classroom where they struggle more publicly with difficult material.

Betty Friedan famously described “the problem with no name” which arose from a “strange stirring” that many women felt in the 20th century when the world as it was did not match the world as they were told it should be. So too did Dr. Sherman note that virtual classroom revealed “accommodations I didn’t know I needed.” She thought the unease of teaching face-to-face was part of the job. Teaching virtually put a name on a set of accommodations which unlocked teaching as it should be for her and her students.

The conversation about synchronous online teaching began from a concern about equity related to infrastructure. While those issues undoubtedly remain, what emerged is a more complicated relationship between technology and equity. Dr. Sherman notes that the constellation of attributes for virtual classroom align well for her but that it has opened a deeper discussion about how to align “technology with equity” so all people have access to an education (and a workplace) to take advantage of their assets.

Further explorations into technology and equity

Dr. Sherman is not alone, Dr. Jacklin also explored the equity–technology relationship by deepening her relationship with Open Educational Resources (OER). While she uses an open textbook for her class “Who Built America?” because the publisher serendipitously decided to make it open, it has grown into a passion for how OER can alleviate important pressures for students.

Similarly, Dr. Nikolakakis has recorded many mini-lectures for his chemistry courses which extend and reinforce his instruction. He plans to continue to continue using this large outlay of labor for students in the future who need reinforcement or who have planned absences.

What about you?

The Center wants to hear your stories. How did you think last year would go? How did it? How did you manage? What will you carry forth?

Join us synchronously on May 14 at 11 a.m. via Microsoft Teams where CATL and the Center for Civic Engagement will host a discussion on “The Things We’ll Carry.” You’ll even get to talk with Jillian Jacklin herself!

Also, please respond to this survey where we will collect more stories about what people will carry forth from the year and use the responses to help inform future opportunities from CATL and the Center for Civic Engagement.

Finally, we encourage you to comment below and keep the conversation going!

CATL Needs Analysis

As we emerge from the pandemic together, the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning would like to align its efforts with the needs of the instructors we serve.

In that spirit, we are asking instructors to fill out a needs analysis survey.

The survey focuses on two main areas: 1) equity, diversity, and inclusion and 2) pedagogy. Each area will present you with various items and ask you to rate each according to your perceived skill level and the priority you would place on it for professional development.

The survey will then ask about the formats you prefer to engage with the items you rate as having high priority.

There will then be some space for open-ended responses.

Your responses will be anonymous and the survey should take about ten minutes to complete.

CATL needs analysis survey

Thank you

Thank you for taking the time to fill out the survey and all you do to make UW-Green Bay a great place for students and colleagues.

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 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.