Teaching & Learning Champions 17: Faculty Collaboration and Community during Remote Teaching
September 30, 2020
Today on Teaching & Learning Champions, we’re joined by Herb Coleman, Adjunct Professor of Psychology and Student Development. We’re talking about faculty collaboration and community during remote teaching.
Thanks for listening to TLC @ ACC!
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[Matthew Evins:] Welcome to the first episode of season two of “Teaching and Learning Champions.” I’m Matt Evins, director of academic technology in the teaching and learning excellence division at ACC. Today I’m joined by Herb Coleman, adjunct professor of psychology and student development, as we talk about faculty collaboration and community building during remote teaching. Herb, thanks for joining me today.
[Herb Coleman:] Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.
[Matthew Evins:] Great. So I know I’ve provided you with a couple of questions that I plan to ask you, but for those of us who have not met you or aren’t familiar with you, you’ve been at ACC for a while in a couple of different roles. Do you want to provide just a short background of your tenure at ACC thus far?
[Herb Coleman:] Oh, certainly. I started here over 30 years ago as an academic advisor and adjunct professor of psychology. I then moved in to the technology area as an IT manager. And then for the past 15 years have been the director of campus technology, your job, and retired from that, but now still just basically teaching. But in my teaching roles I’m also involved a lot with campus leadership and training other faculty in the use of technology. That’s always something that I’ve done almost since my like second year on campus because I do have a background in technology, and I’m very comfortable with technology. And so — And every time we’ve got something new, we’ve had to train our people how to use it. So that’s where I’ve been. That’s kind of the same thing I’m doing now.
[Matthew Evins:] Excellent, and we’ll get in to a little bit more about your leadership role around teaching faculty with technology in a bit, but before we get in to what you’re currently doing, give us a little bit of information on your background related to mobile teaching and learning.
[Herb Coleman:] So I was actually an undergrad — My first undergrad major was actually broadcast, but I had a double major in broadcasting and psychology. And then I went to be an instructor in psychology. And then my PhD is actually in instructional technology. And so within the PhD program there way back in ’95 we were doing things about mobile learning or distance learning, and developing community online. My professor at the time, Judith Harris, was one of the leaders of the nation about developing a community online. And so we did some practice with that, and what I find to be very interesting is that we did it in hybrid format. So we met online for most of the semester. We had five actual class meet ups which the University of Central Florida has proven to be probably the best education model for our current situation.
[Matthew Evins:] Wonderful. You know, in the last — Well, it’s been over six months now since ACC moved to a fully online model of course delivery as a result of COVID. What can you tell us has changed in the world of mobile teaching and learning in the last two or three years, and even since COVID?
[Herb Coleman:] So, you know, interesting. A lot of things have been happening in the last couple of years. So streaming technology has really taken off as the compression rates and all that got really better. So everybody’s familiar with binge watching on the weekend. But a lot of people are doing this. There’s a lot of video that’s being, you know, sent across the internet now. In fact, that was my biggest concern when we first went to this was, was the internet going to be able to handle it. So apparently it has. Things like AR, VR, and XR are promising, but haven’t really made the impact that they need to make. They have in certain areas. So if you’re doing a psychomotor skill where you actually have to train somebody how to do something, those technologies have been pretty good. But in general for most of us teaching those haven’t really worked. We’re on the precipice obviously of 5G technology which is going to increase speed transfers and I think is going to make things a bit different. Cloud storage is the big thing for a lot of people in terms of being able to get materials and share materials. You don’t have to necessarily have or even carry around a thumb drive with you anymore. Microsoft Teams and Facebook Workplace are two new rivals to stack on some of the other kind of technologies, and of course everybody’s familiar with smart speaker technology. I haven’t really seen a way to work that in to the classroom. I’ve brought my little Echo travel device in to the class on the first day, and at the end of the class I would kind of say, “Is there anything else, Alexa?” And she just kind of says no. Are there any questions? So just to kind of show the use of the technology. Obviously if you’re going to play audio, it can be a help with that. But those are the things that are, you know, on the periphery of impacting the way in which we teach and the way in which we reach across distances. Since COVID I have to admit I was surprised that Zoom was the winner. As far as the desktop technologies, I thought Go To and Go To My Meeting would have been the bigger leader. Skype, the originator of the technology, you know — So Skype for Business I thought would have been there. Even Webex I thought had a better more robust technology. But apparently the corporations, the companies, and schools that use Zoom have kind of just really glommed on to it. So it’s been the leader of that technology that we have. We have — We changed our vocabulary to mirror with this kind of technology, and it’s always referred to as Zoom. So we have, you know, Zoom fatigue, and Zoom bombing meaning different things that are affected by this technology. So I think there’s also this thing about that you can leverage social media. So with Facebook Live you can broadcast out. Students can’t respond except for in the comments, but that still kind of can work especially for those who taught, you know, really large classes. You know, we’re really fortunate at ACC. Our largest class size is 36. But those who are at UT who are teaching hundreds of students at one time, leverage technology such as Instagram or Facebook or even YouTube Live are ways that they can reach their — still reach their students, and have some kind of interaction, although probably a less than perfect one. So that’s basically where we are with it. And of course here at ACC we’ve got, you know, three or four platforms that we can use for faculty to connect with.
[Matthew Evins:] Well, it sounds like especially from, you know, everything that you’ve said in terms of the evolution of mobile teaching and learning technologies in the last few years, and especially since COVID, you know you listed off at least a dozen apps or tools. And so, you know, for those who are not very tech savvy or tech fluent, it can be very overwhelming to be able to experiment with a new technology, and even the idea of trying something new and failing is scary for a lot of faculty members. So, you know, what opportunities and types of collaboration are taking place amongst faculty during the pandemic that can help with those nerves and those fears?
[Herb Coleman:] So, first of all, once again, and I mentioned this at the board meeting last week, I’ve got to give major applause to ACC for the way that we’ve handled it. I mean we’ve had to make the change overnight to people who had no interest in teaching online to teaching online. And even those who were doing distance education, for the most part at ACC we weren’t doing synchronous. So we weren’t doing the things that we’re doing right now with the technology. And ACC has, you know, ramped up in providing training and opportunities for people to talk about — The recesses that we’ve had have been a great little — It started off as just a conversation about how do we use this technology, and people exploring it. So I thought that was really great. I’ve been part of a couple of different entities across the nation during this time working with them and working with people and helping faculty, you know, get up to speed. I even have a client in Australia. I thought that was kind of interesting. But yeah. Using the technology to kind of help bridge that gap. So besides that, the Texas Community College Teachers Association has instituted these weekly or biweekly master teacher meetings, and basically all it is is faculty getting together, talking about their experiences, sharing ideas. Just commiserating through that. And that I think has been a huge help because it just — You just sit down and you talk, and it just kind of helps people with that. In fact, that’s one of the most interesting things I find about this time. Prior to this time one of the things many of us frequently lamented about was we rarely had time to just sit around and talk about teaching. We rarely had time just to sit around and talk about what we’re doing in our classroom, what’s working. It was always very mission focused or something focused. And now we’ve had more opportunities to sit around and talk to other people, and reach out across disciplines and across the nation about what’s working and what’s not working. As I mentioned, I work, you know, with course instructors particularly on some of those things. And then there’s a couple of people who shifted their conferences to online. And watching how different entities have handled their conferences has been very interesting. So one of the ones that we had this summer, the fast forward to technology for — I’m trying to think of it. What’s the phrasing for it now? But for competency based instruction, what they did was after each session they’d have a 30 minute basically just lounge where anybody who was at the session could come in and talk. Or if you missed a session, you could come in and just talk. That was kind of a new thing for an online conference I hadn’t seen before. And I’ve seen other conferences like that. A lot of entities are hosting what they call happy hours where people just kind of log in and kind of check in. And so I think it’s been a big benefit for faculty to be able to just touch base and say, “Hi.” You can hear it in their voices because we’re missing each other not being around each other. Not being able to talk to each other. So this at least has created those opportunities. And so I think that’s pretty great. You know, for me personally, the happy hours haven’t been as successful. Maybe it’s because of the lack of food, but yeah. That’s something I think for me that has to take place, you know, more in person. But the other things, just being able to connect and talk to other people and to share ideas, and also to kind of, yeah, take out — take off some of the pressure. Don’t tell yourself you have to be perfect. I saw an article today that I was looking at, and it had what I call the worst title. It said, “Mirroring or Transforming Your Face to Face to Online.” And that’s the wrong approach. Don’t try to replicate everything you did in a face to face online. Instead use the online technology for what it does best to help you meet your educational goals should be the way that we approach this.
[Matthew Evins:] Absolutely. Can you talk a little bit about — One of the avenues that a lot of faculty members at ACC have latched on to is the keep teaching ACC Facebook page. Can you talk a little bit about that and some of the conversations that have been of notable interest that have taken place through that venue?
[Herb Coleman:] That’s been an excellent way to kind of keep up, to kind of hear from your colleagues here at ACC as they’re going through. People are throwing out questions left and right. People are providing examples of what they’ve done, and links to other things. So I think it’s been really incredible. I think the cutest thing that I just saw that came out I think last week or the week before was, you know, how you can take a CD, a quarter, and a pencil, and turn it in to a document cam. And I just thought that was like so creative. In fact, I am going to create a short video just kind of showing how I did that because after somebody else posted it I was like, “I got to try this.” And it’s neat because, you know, using just your tools around you, suddenly you have something, you know, that you can help with your presentation. I’ve already demonstrated how you can use your phone as a document cam or your iPad. This is just something cute and neat that it doesn’t — has something that almost everybody has around their house. And if you’re using a computer, then immediately, boom, you’ve got a document cam. If you need that kind of technology. So that’s kind of the cute — neat things that I think have come out of that is that — people just sharing with each other, and being patient with each other. And then talking about stuff. So I mentioned, you know, when we first went to Zoom, said, “All right. We just did it.” I switched over to Zoom. Because I do things in teams with my class. So all my class — my students are in teams, and in that team for the whole semester. So I have permanent teams. It’s harder to do that and collaborate and even in Google Meet sometimes than it is to do in Zoom. Zoom you can preload your teams, and that way when you do the break out rooms it automatically assigns them to the correct teams. So that’s been a huge help. And also the ability to jump between meeting rooms is so much easier. So I can like — I always pop in on team one, on team two, on team three, listen in for a while, answer their questions. And the beauty of it that I really love is that if they have a question for me, they hit the help button, it pops up on my screen and says, you know, “Team four would like to talk to you.” You click on it, and it — So that’s been a wonderful thing of using technology that way. So finding out what best meets your needs to be able to do the things that you need have been helped. And sharing information through that portal has been I think fantastic. Every day when I log in to there I’ll see something, you know, neat that somebody just kind of — just something that they tried. Or I’ll look at something like, “Oh, I’m not going to try that.” You know, good luck to them on that.
[Matthew Evins:] Yeah. So, you know, given everything that the college and especially our faculty are doing during this time, you know, eventually campuses will reopen. But where do you see ACC going in terms of mobile teaching and learning once that happens, once we do reinstate the opportunity for classes to happen face to face on our campuses? What’s the future of mobile teaching and learning for ACC?
[Herb Coleman:] Well, you know, my first question that popped up in May as we started, you know, approaching the end of that semester was, “I can’t wait to see who did it best.” You know, what worked the best. What kind of things, you know, did you do? And how did that help with student learning? And how did students respond to some of these things? I am shocked when I talk to some of my colleagues around the nation and in other parts of the state who say they have a synchronous online class, but like 10% of the students are showing up. I’m like, “Really? How is that working? I don’t understand that.” I have way — just the opposite. I have one or two students who might miss. So just the fact that we’ve gotten used to the technology, we’ve understood it. Looking at what worked best is going to be very interesting. So when I sat where you sit over 10 years ago, I challenged and got each of the employee organizations to have at least one meeting where they could, you know, let people come in through Webex or whatever the software we were using at the time. And even I got many of the shared governance committees to try it. To at least let, you know, people who need to to come in through, you know, a distance technology. And they all did it once, but most didn’t repeat it. So now that we know this is capable, that we can do this, I’m hoping that people will really understand that there’s really no need to drive across two counties to get to a one hour meeting. That people who are at Hays and Elgin and Saint Gabriel and Round Rock can attend meetings, you know, wherever. And they can remote in, and then get back to work, for one thing. And you save money and time and the environment. Excuse me [coughs] by not having to commute up and down the road or whatever. Certainly we still want to have, you know, some meetings where we are in the same place, and certainly some of the events where we’re all in the same place. But for many of our routine meetings that we have I think we have been more productive, and there’s a lot that you can do by leveraging this technology. So I’m really hoping that we will do that, more of that. The other thing that’s interesting about this kind of technology is it’s so easy to add a class. So you can add a new class without having more building space, and if the students are aware of what the technology is — And here’s a cool thing. You’re going to have a whole year of students whose first year experience was online in some form. So that’s going to be very interesting. So they’re going to be a lot more comfortable with the technology. So that gives you a lot of opportunity I think that I hope we’ll take advantage of.
[Matthew Evins:] What about the future of faculty collaboration and community building? Do you think keep teaching ACC Facebook will continue or will there be other new or existing community building opportunities that will really start to take the limelight?
[Herb Coleman:] I certainly hope they will maintain that, and I’m pretty sure that they will. They have some other ones, but that’s been a great portal for people once again just to communicate about teaching here at ACC. So I think that’s been a great thing. What’s interesting, as I mentioned before, is how many of the educational conferences — In fact, I just got my email right before this call about South by Southwest EDU online. So there’s going to be a lot more at least over the next year of online conferences which are really kind of great when you think about it because it gives you opportunities to go to sessions, to attend sessions. Because think about it. For the most time, when you’re in a training session, you’re sitting there in the audience with, you know, however many other people. So attending it remotely like this is almost the same. In fact, several years ago I was at the ITSE conference, International Technology of Science and Education whatever conference. And the sessions were like — Many of them were booked, and so we were in the hotel in the convention center in San Antonio, and at that time they were letting you try to log in to it, but the infrastructure couldn’t handle it for a lot of people. But I did attend several sessions by logging in to them from that point to be able to — because I couldn’t physically get in to the room. So I think we’re going to see a lot more of that for us and particularly you know with the Lilly conference coming up that all ACC faculty will be able to attend the Lilly conference remotely. That’s going to be, I think, a tremendous help. And then to be able to discuss with your colleagues, you know, either at that moment or shortly right after that what it is you learned, what it is you picked up, some ideas that you got, I think that’s going to be tremendous. So I see a lot of in the future with that. I’m hoping that we’ll see some of that. It’s funny that I mentioned ITSE. They used to do a thing when you couldn’t be there. In fact, they had a whole — There’s a whole group that sprung up called Not at ITSE. So when you’re not there, they do this online stuff together. And the conference itself would make certain sessions available for free as well they had different tiered prices where you could log in to those conferences. And ACC has in the past, you know, we used to participate in those where we’d take over one of the rooms and we’d have that session, you know, broadcast to us. So as the means of providing professional development for faculty and staff, this is not going to go away. I think it’s only going to grow and get stronger. And the ability to share through the various platforms is going to be very interesting. But yes. I think keep teaching ACC is a beginning, and I imagine we’ll see more grow from that.
[Matthew Evins:] Perfect. Well, I hope you’re right on all of those aspects. In the meantime, are there any upcoming opportunities for faculty to engage in collaboration that you want to take this time to recognize?
[Herb Coleman:] Oh, well certainly. We have all the different ones. Just go to the TLED site and you’ll see the different things that you have available there from the academy to the other training opportunities that we have. The recesses are continuing. And what’s even better is if you miss the recesses from the spring or the summer, they’ve been recorded. So you can go back and look at some of those. I’ve done that on a couple of occasions, and they’ve helped me learn some of the things about the technology that I hadn’t thought about before. So I think that’s certainly a tremendous, you know, asset there for us. So definitely stay tuned. You know, pay attention to your email about the Lilly conference when it comes up so you can take advantage of that. This I think — You’ve got some really incredible teachers or sessions when you have that, and many of them are research based. So the people not only have done it, but they’ve actually quantified the effects of what they’ve done. So I think that’s a great conference I think for us to be able to tap in to, to give us some great ideas. I’ve implemented about three things from the Lilly conference that I’ve gone to before, and I think it’s made a difference in my students’ lives.
[Matthew Evins:] That’s great. Well, Herb, before I let you go, not to put you on the spot, but I’m going to put you on the spot. Is there anything in particular that’s given you River Bat pride this week?
[Herb Coleman:] River Bat pride? Yeah. So here’s the thing. You know, what we’re trying to tell faculty and students too is to, you know, be calm and carry on. Don’t let this throw you. We’re going to make mistakes. I made a huge one. I gave a test last week, and just made a — accidentally uploaded the key. Okay. I’ll just say it. But we fixed it, but you know you make mistakes. Things are going to happen. You have to, you know, recalibrate. The other thing that happened was during one of the training sessions I was in, my power went out. So when your power goes out, even if it’s just for a flicker, you lose connection to your WiFi, and it takes about 10 or 15 minutes for that to kick back on. So, you know, having some plan to be able to kind of reconnect with that. I have that in place now. I know that my phone is a hotspot. So if I lose, you know, WiFi, quickly log in to my phone and get back on the air pretty quickly. But these are things that are going to happen. And so be patient with yourself. At some point you may have to just say to your class, “Oh, you know what? It’s just not going to work today. We’re not going to make it. So we’re going to disengage today. We’ll reengage next class period. We’ll pick up. We’ll figure out.” That kind of thing. What — When we first got started, somebody posted in one of the educational areas, “Grace over grades.” And I like that. That phrase. To, you know, be patient with your students and yourself. To know that there are going to be issues. There are going to be things that happen. There’s going to be mistakes. And you live with them. You kind of go over it. And I think your students kind of appreciate seeing you being human. Whenever I have a tech issue, one of my students always jokes and comments in there. He goes, “I’m great to see that’s happening to you.” Because then it makes them not feel as bad when it happens to them.
[Matthew Evins:] Great. Well, Herb, thank you very much for your time today, and for speaking to me. I look forward to all of the collaboration opportunities that you’re helping lead within TLED and — as well as the others that you mentioned today. So thank you very much.
[Herb Coleman:] Well, I appreciate it. Thank you for this opportunity, and I hope the faculty will take advantage of these things that are going out there so they don’t feel along because that is the one danger, the one downside, is that it’s so easy to feel like you’re alone and isolated out here. But you’re not. You’ve got the connections. So just reach out, and talk to your fellow faculty. Go to the Facebook website. Make those connections, and I think that you’ll feel better, and it will help you get through it.
[Matthew Evins:] Well, that wraps up another episode of “Teaching and Learning Champions.” Don’t forget that you can view blog posts for each episode on the TLED website. I also encourage you to subscribe to the ACC district podcasts on any of your preferred podcast apps or listen to individual episodes on the TLED website. Thank you for tuning in, and we’ll chat next time on TLC @ ACC.
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