This is the first post in an ongoing series of publications featuring the reflections of students in the ECDS Digital Scholarship Internship Program and their experiences in teaching and research in digital scholarship.
By Jordan Stewart-Rozema
Over the past year, I had the pleasure of working with two wonderful groups of people on two ECDS-sponsored professional development courses: Teaching, Pedagogy, Curriculum + Research (TPC+R), co-sponsored by the Laney Graduate School and Emory Foundations for Online Teaching (EFOT), administered by the Emory Center for Faculty Development and Excellence and co-sponsored by the Laney Graduate School.
Both courses lasted about six weeks and were open to graduate students interested in incorporating technology in the classroom. While TPC+R has been offered by ECDS before, this was the first time EFOT has been available to graduate students.
As a graduate student myself, I know just how uneven pedagogical training can be between departments. Even within one’s own department, pedagogy seminars can shift dramatically in style and substance from year to year. Teaching opportunities also vary quite a bit between departments—for some, the chance to TA is rare and may come relatively late in their graduate school career. For others, they’re thrown into it right away, often before receiving much training. Given this background, one of the main things TPC+R and EFOT courses offer students is the chance to supplement Laney’s Teaching Assistant Training and Teaching Opportunity (TATTO) program and their department-sponsored training with more guided development as graduate instructors. The classes provided a space for us to share what we’ve tried out in the classroom, reflect on what worked, and hear about the experiences and experiments of our peers. Peer learning was a crucial aspect of both classes.
Also, given this background, the ECDS curriculum development teams for these two courses didn’t want to offer purely technical material that provided only tool instruction. We all firmly believed that technology should not be integrated into the classroom for its own sake, but should make sense in the context of the course’s content, assignments, and aims. With this in mind, we purposefully included a significant amount of pedagogical theory in both courses, particularly focusing on writing learning objectives using verifiable verbs, designing assignments that aligned with the learning objectives, and creating assessment tools, such as rubrics, for digital assignments. Some of the other topics covered included instructional design, universal design for learning, and copyright.
For some learners in our classes, the pedagogy we discussed was new to them—especially for students in the first couple years of their program, who hadn’t had the opportunity to teach yet and had no prior teaching experience. For others, this pedagogical emphasis was review. Luckily, all the learners who had already utilized these best practices were good sports, and were willing to reflect on and share their experience with the rest of the group. For me at least, as a graduate student instructor, the courses gave me a chance to “check in” with my teaching practice and engage in continual improvement. At this stage of our teaching careers, we can always use more practice crafting thoughtful objectives and assessment strategies, and being reminded to think of the “why” behind what we do doesn’t hurt.
Developing the courses in this direction was new. Although both courses retained quite a bit of technical instruction and topic coverage from previous iterations, we aimed to improve on those earlier versions of the courses by engaging with a new audience (for EFOT) and moving away from the tool-tutorial model in TPC+R that lacked discussion of meaningful integration of technology in the classroom. We may have swung a bit too far in this direction for both courses, and next year the primary task will be finding a more perfect balance between the two.
We did, of course, still provide hands-on workshopping of digital teaching tools in both courses. We wanted learners in the courses to learn by doing, to get in there and practice what was covered in the course. We tried to scaffold the assignments and tool practice into cumulative projects that could be useful “take-aways” for future teaching or professional development. For TPC+R, students created a personal professional website that showcased their teaching materials and academic identity. For EFOT, students designed a module for an online course using Canvas. Students reported that getting familiar with platforms and tools like Canvas, WordPress, VoiceThread, and various tools for creating instructional videos was one of the most useful aspects of the classes.
It was also useful for me to work alongside our learners in creating instructional videos, critiquing learning objectives, and improving my professional website. Some of the technology we used in the courses was new to me, such as Adobe Connect, so I was able to learn some new tools and gain valuable experience with related troubleshooting! The amazing staff in IT and ECDS were a huge help here.
The highlight of both courses, though, was really the discussion. This was especially true of EFOT. Since EFOT was not a face-to-face class, you would think discussion would be more difficult. The learners this summer, though, were extremely engaged—commenting on each other’s posts more than the required amount for the course, carrying on lively threads with each other, problem-solving, sharing resources and experience, and responding directly to the course content and readings. Many of the EFOT participants said they were surprised by how engaging and successful the discussion was in the class. I think a few things were instrumental in the success of the EFOT discussion boards: motivated students; clear posting requirements; guiding, multi-part questions that related to the week’s material and allowed participants to draw on their experience both as teachers and students; consistent responses from the instructor; and introductions and synchronous sessions early in the course that let people meet each other and associate names with faces.
After working on TPC+R for two years, I clearly saw an improvement in the course from one year to the next. I’m looking forward to seeing how it continues to improve, and how EFOT will develop after its pilot year with graduate students. The prospect of adapting EFOT into smaller one-off modules that would be available to students throughout the fall and spring semesters is especially exciting.
Jordan Stewart-Rozema is a PhD Candidate in Philosophy at Emory University and the Online Learning Specialist for KQED Public Media in Northern California.