Category Archives: from professional development activities

Reflecting on Statistics (Emergency Pivot and Mid-Pandemic)

As I mentioned in this previous post, I am working through feedback from my students.  All quantitative data, as well as links to all previous blog posts (since 2011), are available hereALERT! This post has become extra ridiculously long. Writing it is helping me think and process this overwhelming year, so I’m just going with it.

Last round I focused on PSYC 217 Research MethodsFor this installment, I focus on PSYC 218 Advanced Statistics for Behavioural Sciences, in which I have taught over 1000 students across 11 sections since 2012. Like 217, it’s a required course for BA Psychology Majors. I regularly teach this course in Term 2 (January start), two sections back-to-back of about 100 students each. This post will focus on my W2019 Term 2 results (which started in January 2020 business as usual, and pivoted in a state of emergency to remote learning). It will then compare with results from my mid-pandemic January 2021 fully online offering. I’ll start with an overview of what changed across these offerings, as well as within the 2020 offering during the pandemic onset.

Both years’ iterations featured the same Learning Objectives and broad approach (compare syllabi here and here). As is true in all sections for the past 10 or so years, both iterations featured a series of assignments with real data collected during the term from student activities. These assignments were handed in and graded online, as usual. Both iterations featured three tests and a cumulative final exam. In January 2020, these tests started out as Two-Staged, but I abandoned that practice once the pandemic hit as I couldn’t figure out the logistics. In January 2020, I started out using iClickers during each class (as I’d been doing for years) and after the pivot I kept the questions but didn’t attempt to record results — those participation points were considered completed. By January 2021, I learned to quickly create a “quiz” in Canvas that students could use to respond to clicker-style questions (even if they were joining asynchronously). As always, many students approach this course with trepidation, often after having identified as being “bad at math” — sometimes holding tight to this identity for decades. Anxiety management is a regular part of my teaching practice in this course. Let’s just say anxiety was, ahem, heightened in both of these years.

******My memory of the emergency pivot at the onset of the pandemic, because apparently I need to write this******

UBC didn’t officially close campus until end-of-day on Friday March 13, 2020, but rumours started circulating a couple of days before. On Wednesday or Thursday of that week, I hosted an impromptu (f2f!) session with colleagues to share what little I knew about pre-recording and uploading videos in Canvas — I’d given a talk in Florida at the end of January (including being on the last flight from Vancouver to Toronto that had started in Shanghai, the epicentre), and had learned some basics of using Camtasia to record a lesson with pauses for clicker questions. By Friday morning, I had already announced to my students that they were welcome to stay safe at home and watch the recording instead. A handful of students arrived, maybe half dozen each section, and I stood at the door and handed out disinfectant wipes for students to wash their desks and chairs. We didn’t know then that COVID was primarily passed through the air, so no one had masks. I remember leaving my office that afternoon after receiving that official email of the closure, not knowing when I’d return, grabbing everything I could carry home with me on the bus. I remember when I was getting off the bus, the driver was remarking to someone how unusually empty it was, and I chimed in that UBC had just closed because of the pandemic. It was news to them. Turns out, I have visited my office just twice since that day (late March and August), both times for 30 minute visits to grab what I could carry. This is the longest I’ve been away from UBC campus since I started as a graduate student in Fall 2003.

I had exactly one weekend to figure out how to teach my students statistics online, and I knew pre-recording everything wasn’t going to work for me. I chose live synchronous classes using Collaborate Ultra (CU), because it was FIPPA-compliant and already integrated into my Canvas course so I didn’t have to direct students elsewhere or figure out how to save and upload the videos for those who needed to watch later. I don’t have a home office, so I perched at my dining table in our open-concept space, overlooking the galley kitchen, living room area, and modest balcony. I’ve been working there ever since. Because of bandwidth concerns, and how CU is set up, I never saw most of those students’ faces again. That was heartbreaking.

When I reflect back on that time, I think of it as a time of terror and chaos and confusion, which translated into about ten million emails. My heart broke daily to hear my students’ stories and anxieties poured out in my inbox, and especially those who were waiting for my permission to book a flight to home before the borders closed. My answer was, of course, a resounding yes — we can figure out how to solve their absence later. They needed to stay safe. I remember at least once a student who joined class from a lineup at an airport, which drove home how desperate students were, but also how much I just needed to keep teaching. That hour to focus on statistics was an island of distraction for some students, and for me too [yup, I’m crying now… like I did most days of 2020… shout out to my husband for going through all this alongside me]. We were all in panic for our safety — grocery store shelves were emptied, we were afraid to leave our homes at all, insomnia was rampant. I also remember the community of colleagues that strengthened on Twitter during those early days. We posted threads of support and ideas, like what it was like to give an exam online using different features and settings, so other colleagues could learn from what happened. We shared resources and advice in a flurry — I probably spent as much time on Twitter as anything else, and that was such important, vital time. Thank you to my husband, my students and my Twitter community of colleagues for being a life raft in those early days.

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Although the plan for January 2020’s offering had started out business as usual, by the end of the term, everything post-March 16 became optional. Some students thrived (relatively speaking) during this time, but many were crippled by anxiety, fear, emergency travel, and general chaos of living through the terrifying onset of a pandemic. Policy changes at the UBC and Faculty of Arts levels opened the gates widely for late withdrawals and other accommodations. I and my colleagues worked hard to translate those policy changes at the Department and course level to support our students as best we could. Ultimately, our PSYC 218 teaching team agreed to ample accommodations, including essentially treating the last third of the course as optional. Implementation details were a bit different across sections; see Syllabus 2020 Amendment 2 Options for End of Term PSYC 218 001 and 002 for where mine landed.

By the time I was preparing my January 2021 offering, I had already taught two entire courses during a pandemic. I also had the experience of teaching the last third of this very course online during the emergency pivot. Both of these sets of experiences made this course an extra emotional one, due to exhaustion and memories of panic. But also, I and the students were much more fluent in all the technologies and how to run/manage class time, which made the logistics easier. Rather than making many changes, like I had for PSYC 217 in Fall term, I kept my PSYC 218 course as similar to “business as usual” as I could. But I layered in lots of flexibility in deadlines, as well as the option to customize the weighting of some course assessments; see the syllabus for more details on assessments and policies. I also switched over to Zoom, as it was now integrated in Canvas and FIPPA-compliant. This change made it possible to see some of my students’ faces every class period — which made an immeasurable positive difference to my well-being and enthusiasm each day. I remain so grateful to those students who chose to turn on their cameras.

So, with this lengthy backdrop in mind, let’s begin exploring student feedback! I’ll start with quantitative results. As shown below, response rates have been down since the pandemic began. The year before all this (W2018 Term 2, starting January 2019), my response rate was 44%. Since then, the response rate has been 31% (just after the emergency pivot 2020), and 30% (this past term). I’m actually surprised it’s stayed this high, as I can’t offer class time in the same way I used to do (folks just exit, whereas in The Before Times everyone in attendance would remain seated with a kind of social norm present to complete them).

Because the response rate has dropped, it is tough to compare data from The Before Times to after. Aggregate ratings from 2020 and 2021 appear a bit higher than 2019, but given the response rate, it’s possible that the folks with the less positive attitudes simply didn’t respond. But the big picture is that the numbers are (remarkably) not all that different. The one exception is Fair Evaluations. Since the pandemic, I cut Two-Stage tests (which were identified as a source of challenge in PSYC 217), and offered more time for tests, as well as more flexibility and choice. Fair Evaluations item was exceptionally high in 2020, likely owing to the tremendous flexibility from the pandemic pivot onward (basically, if you submitted something, it only counted if it improved your grade, but you didn’t have to submit anything else–a decent proportion of LOs were already measured by then). 2021 ratings were also higher than The Before Times, which could have stemmed from lack of two-stage tests (while keeping the full period of time for relatively few test questions), and/or offering the ability to customize how much the tests, final exam, and other components were worth. When we go back, I’ll likely reinstate two-stage tests, but continue the customization options and flexibility. If dropping two-stage tests was driving this perceived (relative) boost in fairness, that item should drop back to its former level.

Qualitative data time! This is always an emotional and difficult undertaking for me, which is why I start with quant to orient me to what I’m looking for. I have 7 pages to work though for 2020, and 6 pages for 2021. I try to roughly code student comments into four quadrants along two continua (thanks to Jan Johnson for teaching me this strategy about a decade ago). The first is valence (positive-negative) and the second is ‘under my control, changeable’ on the one end, and ‘not under my control or not willing to change’ on the other. ‘Not willing to change’ is usually because I have data behind that decision (but I might rethink implementation) or it’s just not possible given the time-effort that I have to give in the context of my other commitments. It’s also pretty common to read evaluations that directly conflict with each other (I loved this! alongside I hated this!), so I need to look for common themes.

Key points from January 2020 offering qualitative data. At the risk of sounding boastful, I must admit that, by far, the most frequent comments were about positive qualities I brought: #1 care and compassion (especially during COVID but also before), #2 enthusiasm and passion, #3 fun and engaging and participative (often with caveats like surprisingly, for statistics; even when moved online), #4 encouragement and support. I appreciated the specific things various people identified as helpful: weekly announcements including wellness moments, lots of resources and tips, well-considered syllabus and pacing, I was available and responsive, recorded lessons, two-stage exams, lots of in-class participation, thorough preparation and organization, fair assessments that broke the course up in manageable ways (even if it looked like a lot at the start). One person noted the helpfulness of studying from explicit Learning Objectives, and another remembered I brought granola bars in case they hadn’t had breakfast. I think one bigger lesson here is that lots of little touches I’ve added here and there over the many years of teaching can add up to many opportunities to reach one more studentI’ve been teaching my own courses since 2008. This didn’t happen overnight. Each of these additions came from reflective practice, listening to my students, reading evaluations carefully (trust me, they weren’t always this positive), going to teaching-focused conferences/workshops and learning from colleagues, staying open to change, and persisting through incremental change given the capacity I had that term (especially when my dreams were bigger than what I could reasonably offer at the time).

To be honest, there weren’t too many strong themes emerging from the negative side, but each of these were identified by 2-3 people: expensive (especially SPSS — but now as of 2021 that’s free thanks to UBC!), wanted more time for the individual portion of the two-stage tests, desire for practice tests *with* time pressure. One person noted that my energy and reassurance was “just too much” sometimes, but given those qualities were major themes that lots of people found helpful, I can’t dwell on this. Can’t be all things to everyone.

Some example comments:

“She does her best to create the best learning environment for students, with lots of opportunities for connecting and applying ideas. She teaches a tough subject but makes it very easy to understand and having her as a teacher helped me achieve a lot this semester.”

“Dr. Rawn stepped up and illustrated an incredible amount of compassion, consideration and honestly, love for us during the pandemic. She illustrated how much she cared about us and treated us as humans rather than just students. Words aren’t enough.” — I admit, this one made me cry

“Encouraged an environment of learning and encouraged everyone to push their boundaries. Showcased care, affection and concern for every student and was very involved and helpful to anyone who wanted the help.”

I was surprised that there were no comments whatsoever about the technological choices I made in that frantic flurry, choices that seemed so important in the moment. Like many faculty thrust into emergency online teaching, I agonized about and spent countless hours learning and choosing and implementing and troubleshooting various technologies. Was the tech simply not salient in hindsight… because I put in that time and energy so they went reasonably well? Or did all the technology issues fall away, taking a backseat to the feelings of compassion, care, enthusiasm (despite our circumstances), and sense of common humanity it seems I was able to convey? As I concluded in my last post, we teach students, not topics or courses. I’ll add here that we teach students, sometimes through technology and sometimes despite the limitations of technology. What matters is not the specific tool, it’s how we’ve used it to reach and support the human beings, learners, students, who are looking to us to light their path.

[On returning to writing: I’m returning to finish this after almost a month away from this post. Along with taking some time off, and responding to a surprising number of emails, I’ve been doing a fair amount of reading (highly recommend Oluo’s So you want to talk about race, Morton’s Moving up without losing your way, and Bear & Gareau’s Indigenous Canada). Sometimes I need to write, and sometimes I need to read.]

Key points from 2021 qualitative data: These data indicate that the course went very well in the eyes of most respondents. Most comments could be grouped like this: (1) feeling my concern for students and their learning, for example through accommodations and flexibility, encouragement, and using student feedback; (2) clarity, strong organization, and preparation that helped scaffold learning and keep people on track; (3) fun and engaging, despite the difficulty and high standards; (4) I brought passion, enthusiasm, and encouragement. Negative comments were hard to code, as they tended to be fairly idiosyncratic. Four people wanted more straight lecture with less participation and/or breakout groups. Four people mentioned tests in a negative way: two people requested more — and more challenging — practice tests; two people requested more questions on tests (so each is worth less). For comparison, four people mentioned tests in a positive way: they were applied (rather than drills or memory), fair learning assessments, and appreciated the extra time I gave. Again, comments about the technologies were largely absent. Two of my favourite comments:

“I was very afraid of this course for so many reasons but Dr. Rawn has been absolutely amazing and I genuinely wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I have and learned this much if it wasn’t for her. She is so incredibly caring towards us and does (way too much) work just to help us! The lectures were always engaging and participation was encouraged. The switch to online learning seemed flawless (although I know it wasn’t) and she was always so well prepared and laid  everything out for us in a way we could understand. Also I loved the autonomy given to us by being allowed to choose our weighting for certain marks. I cannot thank Dr. Rawn enough for this semester and how much she helped in terms of this class but also be a positive part of my life during these sad times.”

“PSYC 218 is not an easy course but having Dr. Rawn as the instructor made things a lot more bearable. She is passionate about the topic and that is transmitted through the classes to students. She goes the extra mile with her teaching, implementing strategies such as the Self–Determination Theory so that her students feel more engaged with the
course and it is definitely working. Furthermore, her analogies, i–clicker questions and examples are incredibly useful. A lot of the things she implements are things that I would love to see other teachers doing as well. But what I like the most about her is the transparent and effective communication she has with her students. She actively seeks feedback
and that is why she knows how her students are feeling, she makes us feel understood and supported.”

Thank you so much to everyone for your time and engagement with this feedback process!

Next time on the blog… I reflect on student feedback and my experiences in PSYC 417 Advanced Seminar in Psychology of Teaching and Learning, which was the very first course I taught fully online, back in July-August 2020. (Note that course code is changing to PSYC 427 for 2021, and I’ll teach it in Winter Session Term 2.)

Making Truth & Reconciliation Personal

Yesterday we learned of the horrors of 751 (more) Indigenous children being found in unmarked graves of a residential school, this time in Saskatchewan. This morning I’m working on University of Alberta’s fantastic Indigenous Canada course & cross-referencing dates with my direct ancestor Jacob Rawn, who was born already a settler 100 years before the Indian Act of 1876. This work is making pretty damned plain my responsibility to figure out how to participate actively in Truth and Reconciliation. I am a direct and traceable beneficiary of the oppression of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. I don’t know what to do exactly, but it feels like naming this privilege is an important step.

Reflecting on Research Methods (Pre- and Mid-Pandemic)

As I mentioned in this previous post, I am working through feedback from my students. All quantitative data, as well as links to all previous blog posts (since 2011), are available here. ALERT! This post has become ridiculously long. Writing it is helping me think and process this overwhelming year, so I’m just going with it.

For this installment, I focus on PSYC 217 — the course I have taught the most: 24 sections and almost 2000 students since 2008. I regularly teach this course in the Fall term, two sections back-to-back of almost 100 students each. This post will focus on my pre-pandemic Fall 2019 results (business as usual), versus results from my mid-pandemic Fall 2020 online offering.

Both iterations featured a group research project scaffolded by labs led by Teaching Fellows (TFs), that culminated in an individual APA-style manuscript as well as a group poster. This course component is the same across all sections for the last 10 years. Over summer 2020, I worked with two graduate students as well as the other instructors to create Canvas modules to support all PSYC 217 students through each lab, in preparation for the fully online experience in the Fall. During the term, TFs continued to act as support, trying to guide groups through their projects.

In The Before Times, I assigned almost every chapter in the text (and a few short supplementary articles), held classes three times a week for 50 minutes, and measured learning primarily through the project deliverables (as above) plus 3 tests and a final exam. All tests and the exam were two-staged. Here’s the syllabus, which honestly hadn’t really changed much in about 5 years. Neither had my lesson plans, which were dotted with clicker questions, and included many demonstrations and discussions and illustrative examples that had been honed over many years. With the help of Arts ISIT, I set up the system so all lessons were recorded and posted automatically on Canvas (yes, even back in Fall 2019).

Fall 2020 was not business as usual. Early in Summer 2020 I hastily decided that my old lesson plans and course strategies would largely not work in a fully online environment, that also needed to support a fully asynchronous experience for learners joining from all around the world. (In hindsight, I probably could have adapted more than I thought I could, but that needed 9 months of online teaching for me to realize.) See the syllabus for details. Major changes: slashed content by about 3 chapters, shifted to two tests and a final exam (none of which were two-staged), added weekly low-stakes quizzes (from the textbook publisher’s materials), added option to customize some aspects of assessment weighting, and drastically changed how I thought about class time. Mondays became Q&A, where I answered questions from the previous week’s discussion posts, and answered questions live. (Unfortunately I labelled this as “optional” so it wasn’t well-attended/watched despite folks who came finding it really helpful). Wednesdays I held class in a form similar to The Before Times, featuring selected topics from that week’s chapter and bringing people together for discussion and demos as best I could. Fridays were for independent work (e.g., discussion posts, quizzes) and/or Labs. To help students stay on track, I curated everything in Weekly Modules, with an opening page that integrated everything to do and think about that week. As I had been doing for years, I closed each week with an announcement with reminders, though these were more elaborate than usual.

Now that I have oriented to the major changes in the course, on to student feedback! Quantitative data show that students in 2019 and 2020 rated the course remarkably similarly. Response rates were down a bit in 2020, but not to a worrisome degree. Click to enlarge the graph below:

Interestingly, clear expectations did not change, which might be attributable to the doubling or tripling of efforts to keep students on track with reminders and organizers — that extra effort might be necessary to keep commensurate with face-to-face. Slight drops in communicates content effectively and inspires interest might be related to the relative drop in synchronous class time. For perhaps the first time ever, fair evaluations nudged a little higher than inspires interest, which might be related to the customize grade weights. Concern for students has long been an area of strength for me, and I’m not surprised to see this rated highly this year due to the lengths I took to approach all decisions with compassion (though cf. 2018 Section 2?). Overall efficacy is a bit lower (in Section 1 only?) but doesn’t seem meaningfully so.

Qualitative data time! This is always an emotional and difficult undertaking for me, which is why I start with quant to orient me to what I’m looking for. I have 7 pages to work though for 2020, and 6 pages for 2019. I try to roughly code student comments into four quadrants along two continua (thanks to Jan Johnson for teaching me this strategy about a decade ago). The first is valence (positive-negative) and the second is ‘under my control, changeable’ on the one end, and ‘not under my control or not willing to change’ on the other. ‘Not willing to change’ is usually because I have data behind that decision (but I might rethink implementation; see example below) or it’s just not possible given the time-effort that I have to give in the context of my other commitments. It’s also pretty common to read evaluations that directly conflict with each other (I loved this! alongside I hated this!), so I need to look for common themes.

Key points from 2019 qualitative: On the negative side, the modal issue was the quizzes. Quite a few students (~9) mentioned they felt quite pressed for time on the individual portion, and another couple mentioned there was too little time remaining for the group portion to be effective. I need to think more about this. The in-term quizzes are already quite brief, and I’ve tinkered with length before — too few points and students get stressed that each question becomes valued at close to a percent of their final grade. This is the one downside of a 50 minute class and two-stage exams. But this timing thing is becoming too common a complaint for my liking.

Many students mentioned the use of examples in a positive way, particularly appreciating how applied they were. But also a few students mentioned a desire to be given more examples, or more different examples, or using the examples from the textbook in class. I’m not sure how to do this without increasing lecture time (sacrificing demos, activities, engagement).

On the positive side, the clear themes are two of my signature strengths in the classroom (as I have learned because of reading evaluations over the years): bringing enthusiasm every day, and caring about students — both their learning and broadly as fellow humans. The vast majority of comments of any kind included mention of one or both of these qualities. There were various additional notes of what worked well: asking questions and activities to keep people engaged, using real applied examples, recording and uploading lessons (2 people), office hours, explaining reasons why I do things a certain way, structure/sequencing, wellness moments in weekly announcements. My two favourite comments:

She’s very passionate, which makes learning more interesting and easier. I really liked how she included the class a lot and used questions and examples to actually help students learn in class, instead of expecting them to just take notes and learn later, like most teachers. I also really liked to set up of the course with the groups and labs and group tests. Group tests and time to discuss in class about questions with my group really helped me to learn.” [emphasis added]

Dr. Rawn is one of the best professors I have ever had. She made the classes so engaging and interesting, and time and time again showed her genuine concern for her students’ learning and wellbeing. I visited her office hours once and overheard talking to another student about different ways he could improve his wellbeing and performance in a course. I just wish she had longer office hours because I could tell she wants to connect more with her students but has a lack of time to do so.” [emphasis added… to highlight a sentence that fills me with All The Feels. Check out the opening bullet of my previous post.]

Dr. Rawn has perfected the formula for this class.” –> this student gets the decade+ process behind the course as it was. Which is why I’m filled with terror to begin reading 2020 comments… but here we go…

Key points from 2020 qualitative: Wow. That was a lot to process. On the negative side I have a long list of things people mentioned as not working for them (which was starting to alarm me), but not much in the way of clear themes. Upon reflection, I take this as a good sign, in light of the fact that I simply cannot please 200 people all the time with all the decisions I make across a 13+ week timespan (while in a pandemic teaching a large class online for the first time). A few folks mentioned they wanted more “lecture” (i.e., me talking) and less reliance on the text and less participation. However, at least as many people (if not more) appreciated the engagement in active learning and value of student-directed Q&A (plus, you know, All The Research on active learning). A few people noted there were too many small assignments, but again a few people mentioned appreciating the range of activities available to show learning. If I group a few comments together about labs and the paper, there are some folks who didn’t feel sufficiently supported in the lab portion (Fair enough. We all tried our best and knew things weren’t as smooth as in person.). One student mentioned wishing a better guide to help them navigate course content, but many students mentioned the navigation, organization, and structure of the course as a real strength. Interestingly, enthusiasm barely made it on the list at all — apparently that’s something that comes through in my face-to-face teaching but not so much online.

And yet my heart sinks to read there was one time I didn’t respond in a caring way to a student and it clearly upset them deeply and soured their whole experience of the course. Reading a comment like that just breaks my heart. I am human and I make mistakes in the moment and wish I could take back how words came out of my mouth, and what exactly those words were. But I can’t. I tried to fix it then and that clearly did not work. So although I deeply regret that I couldn’t reach that student, I have to force myself to learn and move on, to always live what I know: every single interaction with a student matters. Even when that interaction is happening anonymously online. And I have to recognize that, by far, the biggest theme across 2020 qualitative comments was that I cared.

Many students mentioned that I cared and that made a difference for them. I cared that they learned, and they noted I worked hard for them which made them motivated to work hard too. I responded to emails consistently and in timely ways, and I asked for feedback each week and used it to make real changes students experienced. I also cared about them as human begins who were learning in a pandemic. Many students mentioned my concern for their well-being, compassion and flexibility, Wellness Moments in announcements, and how I chose to highlight self-care and compassion in examples I used to teach the content. I found it interesting that each of these specific choices was mentioned more than once, and this theme of care was a much bigger deal than anything about the course content or technology used or assessments or anything else. We teach people, not topics or courses. My two favourite comments:

Dr. Rawn was highly adaptive, and showed great care and concern for her students. She produced a safe, and engaging learning environment. It was clear that she had her students well–being in mind when she designed this class. Her lectures were effective in producing clarity, and her Ask Dr. Rawn Sessions allowed us to further learn, and develop a sense of community in discussion our ideas with peers.

Dr. Rawn went above and beyond to teach this course. Her lectures and labs were very engaging and fun. Also, she provided useful resources. Even outside the class, she made sure that the students were on track with quizzes, discussion boards, and take home surveys. When I first came to this class, I had little hope with how it was going to be taught, considering we couldn’t conduct experiments in person. But Dr. Rawn gave me so much hope and motivation towards my project. I really appreciate a professor like this who overcame the problem of COVID–19 and social isolation, and to be able to bring us all together and work hard.

Next time on the blog… I reflect on student feedback and my experiences in PSYC 218 Statistics, where I changed relatively little about the course, and had 2 terms of experience teaching online under my belt already.

Anti-racism in the academy work

Just in case this obvious thing needs to be said: I know I’m going to make mistakes in this work. But I can’t let my ego get in the way of trying to work against racism. So let’s talk.

After Tweeting and Facebooking off and on this topic for weeks, I’ve realized it’s time to start *actually* writing about it. This first post isn’t meant to be exhaustive or complete or perfect, but to help me organize my thoughts a little bit more deeply. And I post this publicly because maybe it’ll be of use to others, too.

I’m really thinking a lot about how decisions get made in my higher ed context (UBC) and in my discipline (psychology). In the 17 years I’ve been working and learning at UBC, I’ve seen countless decisions depend on opaque, hidden, unpublished, squeaky-wheel-gets-the-grease, kinds of processes that have bothered me since the very beginning. I’ve always known they are unfair, but couldn’t really pin it down, or feel any ability to change things. These processes privilege those who already feel privileged in this institution, and they form barriers for people to enter/succeed who don’t know how the system works or don’t have the right connections. And now I see these decision-making processes as fundamental to the maintenance of systemic racism… at an institution physically situated for the last 100+ years on the unceded traditional territory of the Musqueam Peoples

I am grateful to everyone who has contributed to recent calls to action in society broadly (#BlackLivesMatter, #IndigenousLivesMatter), in higher education specifically (e.g., #BlackInTheIvory). Although sorry I didn’t see this connection sooner, these calls to action have helped me draw the link between systemic racism and decision making processes in higher education. 

Also so grateful to the people with whom I have been able to dialogue in (socially-distanced) person and online (especially Dr. Amori Mikami and Isobel Allen-Floyd), as I continue the journey into anti-racism work.

It’s important to acknowledge that I have learned to play these games, to find out how decisions really get made here and to insert myself in those spaces. I have benefited from this system. It did not come naturally to me at all. I had to learn this game because I am first generation in the academy. But I’d be naive at this point to think that being White didn’t help me out here. I could go under the radar, get free passes, was assumed to be “one of us” who comes from a long line of scholars. Also relevant for the timing of this work: I received my promotion to Professor of Teaching last year, which has been liberating.

A few resources…

Here are a few snippets from my more recent readings that have really stood out to me:

From Chun & Feagin (2020, Ch 4 “Reformulating the concept of “microagressions”: everyday discrimination in academia”): “A forward-looking and flexible analysis shaped by changing new social and demographic realities should address the impact of covert racial and gender discrimination whose intentionality is hidden within highly nuanced institutional processes and cleverly disguised in vague “meritocratic” justifications” (p. 129, emphasis added). This chapter also led me think on why the concept of “micro-aggressions” is so problematic, including Scott Lilienfeld’s paper “Microaggressions: Strong claims, inadequate evidence” (2017, in Perspectives on Psychological Science; as well as his essay version).

In an interesting twist, our own UBC President Dr. Santa Ono tweeted about Chun & Feagin’s book last year:

The role of “Department Chairs as transformational diversity leaders” by Alvin Evans & Edna Chun (2015, in The Department Chair), https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/doi/pdfdirect/10.1002/dch.30001

In psychology: (almost) exclusively white journal editors and editorial board members on prestigious journals is linked to fewer authors who are POC and to fewer participants who are POC and to less published research in those journals that examines race. This link marginalizes a crucial variable (i.e., our science is worse for it, conceptually speaking) while simultaneously hurting the careers of people who examine the impact of race (who are more likely to be POC). See Roberts et al (2020 in Perspectives on Psychological Science)  https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691620927709. See also

And some key sources that I have found inspiring/helpful over the last couple of months:

Action

The upheaval resulting from COVID19 is creating an opening for meaningful change in so many ways. People are throwing their hands up and acknowledging we have to re-make pretty much every decision about how we do things anyway… so why not use this moment to build better? Do I “have time” for this? [insert obvious answer] But how can I not? When will we ever get another chance like this?

So, I have begun this work over the past couple of weeks by examining and questioning decision-making processes, particularly as I see them play out in my Department. This is not because I think my Department is any better or worse than any other unit — I’m operating under the assumption that systemic racism is everywhere. Instead, it is where I think I might have the most potential to have some impact in the short-ish term. I can use the bits of power and privilege that I have accumulated through decades of game playing to speak loudly and advocate for change.

Drawing most directly from Chun & Feagin’s work, but informed by many, I am identifying processes that (1) lack clear criteria that are made explicit to those who will be judged by them, and (2) nonmeritocratic job access (i.e., facilitated by or depending on who you know), especially when clouded by rhetoric that decisions are made based on merit.

I’m looking these decision making process as they operate among faculty members (e.g., teaching assignments), and among students (e.g., mechanisms for entry into research assistant positions in labs, including the fact that the first ones are almost always volunteer). Changes made in these areas might actually increase some efficiencies while making them more accessible more broadly.

What am I missing? Where would you start? Are you with me? (Please!?)

And just in case it needs to be said (again): I know I’m going to make mistakes here. Maybe you’re reading this and thinking I’ve already made a bunch. I can’t let my ego get in the way of trying to work against racism. So let’s talk.

Reflecting on Being a “Student”

Just over a month ago UBC, like many schools of all levels, moved all our classes online in response to COVID-19. I have not yet been able to write coherently about what that’s been like, though I suspect I will, at some point, review my extensive Twitter feed and many communications to students, to draw insights.

Today I simply want to capture what I’ve learned from being a “student” in Day 1 of 5 in a synchronous online course called Foundations of Online Teaching and Learning, led by colleagues at UBC-O’s Centre for Teaching and Learning Peter Newbury and Janine Hirtz. Thanks Peter and Janine!!

Insights from how I felt during the 1.5h live class

As soon as I was invited to turn off my video (for internet traffic concerns) at the start of class, my attention shot all over the place. I got distracted by other windows, my email, phone… wowza. I had to deliberately stop myself and shut everything down. I got out pen and paper and started making my list of what I was learning. Insight: OMG how are students doing this at all ever!!!!!! I have so much extra awe for those who continued to virtually attend and participate in my classes. Take-away: Invite students, perhaps more than once a lesson, to pause, explicitly shut down their other non-essential devices/apps, and rejoin us?

I needed to move around! At some point I just got up and walked around for a bit. My take-away: Add a “let’s move around” break.

I wanted my prior knowledge engaged! Day 1 was Foundations of Teaching and Learning. I totally understand why that was the starting point, and I knew that going in. And I also wanted to start engaging in applying this knowledge in the online environment right away. There was only so much I could do to hold myself back before I started adding links and ideas to the chat, and maybe that wasn’t helpful for the class or the instructors. I don’t know. Take-away: Give people a place from Day 1 to share why they’re here in this class, and try to parse whether it’s urgent problem-solving or bigger picture (& give resources or a task to those coming for urgent problem-solving?). Add a note to “rules of engagement” for where to put your extra questions that go beyond immediate content? In hindsight, an extra task that could have helped me today might have been a handout with a place for me to identify my own urgent questions, along with spaces for me to note which of today’s concepts are relevant to helping me figure this out. If it was laid out simply, I could re-draw it by hand so I could also be reminded to doodle rather than click (ie help me harness my attention).

Logistics and Points of Process I found helpful

Set-up: “here’s what going to happen when I click…” especially around break-out groups (they’re clunky!) including the abrupt ending.

Break-out groups: Perhaps better for investing large chunks of time (like 10 minutes) rather than quick think-pair-shares. Allow for 3-4 minutes just to figure out microphones/videos and get started, esp if people don’t know each other. Find out if there’s a setting so we can have the same groups more than once in a class session rather than meeting new people each time.

Screen-shots of where to click to find chat, poll, etc, are helpful.

Opening slide with an invitation to draw/play (e.g., add how you’re feeling, identify where you are on the map).

Have a co-moderator who is on chat monitoring questions. What if this isn’t possible? (E.g., limited TA time budget or none at all?) I was reminded of Student Management Teams who could be delegated as monitors, which might also serve to give an extra task to keeners (quick summary here, https://nobaproject.com/blog/2015-09-02-student-management-teams-bridging-the-gap-between-students-and-the-professor, see author Troisi’s published research for details).

Rules of Engagement were helpful to have listed on Canvas landing page, and repeated at the start of class. Includes info like raising hands, turning off your camera and mic, etc.

Curse of Knowledge happens with tech too. It’s easy to presume students are fluent in the medium… but you don’t get that same fairly obvious visual feedback as in f2f class if students are confused and lost. Be careful and explicit.

Keep an “after class” open question period, akin to how students line up at the end of class to ask questions while I’m packing up. OF COURSE I could have done this… it just didn’t occur to me (and I was barely holding myself together anyway those days so, can’t really feel bad for not thinking of this before).

Reminders of T&L Foundations that are Well Worth Revisiting Right Now

CUT CONTENT. Everything takes more time now, so it’s more important than ever to critically evaluate every single thing I’m asking students to learn (and how). If I can’t answer “why am I teaching this concept?” with a good answer, then it’s a candidate to cut. (omg this also feels so overwhelming.)

ENGAGE PRIOR KNOWLEDGE. Gotta figure out new ways to do this… without feeling overwhelmed by 200 unique answers that I actually can’t possibly address uniquely.

COMPETENCE = deep knowledge of facts + organization in conceptual framework + ability to retrieve and apply that info as appropriate. Need to support and measure all three.

META-COGNITION is important. How am I teaching my students to develop their internal monologues about what they (don’t) know? Implication: frequent low-stakes assessment.

SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM, BEHAVIOURISM. Time to revisit foundational theories. Although it was just a passing historical reference in our reading (How Learning Works Chapter 1), Behaviourism might actually be more relevant in my teaching than ever before! What exactly am I rewarding with points? praise/attention? 

 

That’s all for now. Thanks Peter and Janine for offering this course, giving me some structure as I question and explore being a learner about being a teacher… once again.