Teaching & Learning Champions 28: Use of web conferencing technology to support students in online courses
August 25, 2021
Today on Teaching & Learning Champions, we’re joined by Rise Lara, Department Chair, Communication Studies, as we talk about the use of web conferencing technology to support students in online courses.
Thanks for listening to TLC @ ACC!
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[Matthew Evins:] Welcome to another episode 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 Rise Lara, department chair for communication studies, as we talk about the use of web conferencing technology to support students in online courses. Rise, thank you for joining me today.
[Rise Lara:] Thanks. I’m so happy to be here.
[Matthew Evins:] So, as I was telling you before we started recording, you are the last guest for this season of “Teaching and Learning Champions.” We’ve done an entire year of topics related to mobile technologies and pedagogy that helps support mobile teaching and learning. So, you know, web conferencing technology in general is something that the college has supported for quite a long time, but really has taken off, especially in the light of situations from the last year and a half or so. So I’m really — really excited to talk to you a little bit about how you’re using these technologies. So let’s go ahead and jump in to the questions. You know, we talk about things like Zoom and Google Meet and Blackboard Collaborate by their names, but rarely do we talk about them as the general phrase of web conferencing. For those people who may not be familiar with the concept of web conferencing in general, can you provide us with what you consider to be your definition of web conferencing technologies?
[Rise Lara:] Yeah. So it’s good that you say that because you’re right. We do get stuck in the terminology of Zooming or Google Meeting or I know there’s a lot of Teaming if you’re a Microsoft kind of a person. But really what the goal is, at least from my perspective as a professor and even just, you know, in my day to day life — it’s a way of connecting with people who are obviously we’re not in the same room. Many times we’re not even in the same general area. Maybe different cities, towns, etcetera. But really it’s allowing us to have a conversation much like we would have in your coffee shop, in a classroom, in your office building. It’s just allowing that facilitation of real connection. And in such a way where we are able to, most of the time, see our faces, smile, engage. We’re doing our gestures. Everything that we would do in the normal face to face environment. But also the nice part is that, you know, obviously we’re saving ourselves some time and some distance. We’re able to connect at different times, different — in those different locations. But again it’s almost like having that real face to face connection, that interaction. And again we can be anywhere. We’re able to facilitate that without long distance calls or using all of our cell phone minutes or things like that. And even more so, as I know a lot of us tend to do that thing called Facetime whether — or even using the Skype features and things like that. Really what it is is about — is again just seeing, hearing, and talking to one another in such a way where again we are allowed to be as free flowing with our communication as possible.
[Matthew Evins:] That’s a great way to explain it. So thank you for that. Tell us a little bit about — as we start digging in to, you know, how to use it and how successful it’s been, how long have you been incorporating web conferencing technology in to your course, and in what capacity?
[Rise Lara:] So initially it started out small. So back in the day ACC didn’t have too many online class offerings, and primarily they were all asynchronous. And, you know, in some cases you — we used to facilitate real life meetings. We would ask students to come to our campuses at different points in time whether in morning, afternoon, or evening, and really we figured out logistically that was a challenge for people. Not only because, you know, Austin with its commute times and traffic can be rather crazy to navigate, but realistically too, just like my day is full of things to do, so is a student’s. So is anybody in this area. So it was kind of nice to start looking at other ways of connecting with people that would allow us to do that with — by shortening the distance, shortening the commute time, and in some cases completely removing that. So initially I started out with a lot of scheduled asynchronous meetings. And they were short and brief so first off a lot of times they were used to really just get an assignment done. As a communications studies professor, whether that was a speech assignment, literally a speech presentation, whether that was a group decision making discussion or even again in some of my classes I do one on one assessments that are oral so it’s not so much a speech presentation, but it’s a demonstration of a skill. How good do you listen? How well do you perception check or — my students’ probably least favorite activity, resolve a conflict. Right? Nobody likes conflict even online. So that’s how it started initially, but what I started to learn, especially when online and life and web conferencing just became the norm in a very forced way, was that I saw my students really struggle. Those one time one shot meetings were not enough anymore. They needed interaction. They needed to feel like they could see their classmates, that there were people still out there, so to speak. And where I began to shift was in some cases, you know, we still have students that need those — that asynchronous flexibility. You know, that’s how the — life is for them. That’s what they need. But to honor those students that needed that connection, that needed again to see that free flow exchange of ideas. You know, they — it’s definitely interesting getting to see everybody’s backgrounds whether again it’s a Zoom kind of faux background or it is their house. It gives you a window in to who that person is. So even if they’ve chosen a faux background that is white, well you want to ask them about that trip or why did you choose that background. Or, you know, again I have little I call them Easter eggs here in my display area that I do show with some of my meetings, and my students are just like, “Oh, my gosh. Is that a blah, blah, blah? Is that a –” I collect Funko figurines, those little bitty silly dolls, and they love seeing that. So in some cases it allows them to get to know me as well. So really it changed from just being this one time one shot deal just to facilitate a task and even just from conducting your typical class session — there I am standing in front of a computer, you know, lecturing to them. And I say lecturing, you know. Kind of helping them understand the material. To also using it in other ways. Again just for that connection and, you know, whether that’s also encouraging them to use it for group projects or, you know, to have those one on one student meetings away from a phone, you know, it’s so much easier and so much better because again they still feel like they are in the office with me or in the classroom with me or with their classmates. And again it’s providing them that social interaction that they really have been craving since a lot of the world has had to kind of distance itself from one another.
[Matthew Evins:] So it sounds like at the very beginning it was more of a way to improve efficiency by eliminating the need to travel to different campuses or travel across the city of Austin and having to deal with the typical Austin traffic, but really started to evolve beyond that sort of exponentially based on what I’m understanding.
[Rise Lara:] Yeah. It really did. And that’s not without — I have to be honest. I had some resistance to that as we know, you know, even face to face, you know, class time, that takes a lot of energy out of you. It — to me it takes the same amount of energy to do — to stand in front of that video screen to Zoom your class with a student or again to listen to all of those group presentations. But again it really had to — I had to accept and recognize the value I got from using that conferencing ability in my other, you know, non work activities as well. It was allowing me to still be a volunteer, to interact with my projects and my other volunteers as need be. You know, I sit on the board of a nonprofit here in Austin regarding children’s literacy, and we have work to do. We’ve got things that we needed to make sure that we’re supporting our staff and stuff. And I’m like, “Well, if it’s allowing me to do those things, and it allows me to feel like I’m not only engaged in my community, engaged with my networks in a good way, my students need to see that too.” So it does take time. It takes effort. It does take, like you said — I believe in efficiency. I’m all about trying to save people time where I can. But I think that was the really big about face for me was that again I saw that need for students to have, you know, that social interaction, to know that there was a human being there, that the human being that they saw on the screen truly was a human. Right? Like again like I mentioned having just the little figurines or artwork or, you know — it’s amazing what’s on my desk that I can turn in to a teachable moment whether it’s, you know, a silly sticker or a pen.
I’m a big stationary addict kind of thing. So, you know, it’s another way of reaching common ground and again demonstrating the person behind the job, so to speak.
[Matthew Evins:] It’s interesting you mentioned the — you know, the time that it takes to still teach through the use of web conferencing. I think, you know, before COVID there was a — this assumption not necessarily from people at, you know, Austin Community College, but just in general in the field of education that — or I think more importantly those outside of the field of education. That if you’re teaching online it doesn’t take as much time. That it’s easier because you’re not having to do as much either prep work or delivery or, you know, the travel. You know, the face to face office hours. But from what you’re saying, and you know I think everybody listening to this episode will agree that, you know, this just is another way of emphasizing the fact that teaching online whether it’s synchronous or asynchronous, it takes just as much. And in many cases even more time than teaching in person.
[Rise Lara:] You are so correct about that. In fact, that was even a misconception that I held initially. I had in other positions at other schools, you know — it was always the face to face. So, you know, when you’re putting in three or four classes in a day, and you know here at ACC our typical class load is five, so yeah. Five face to face classes just seems like an inordinate amount of work. You know. And you’d know how much time you put in to it. You know that you’re spending minutes before class starts and after class starts. You know, obviously office hours bleed in to past, you know — longer than you intended to stay in your office. But you are very, very much correct. I learned really quickly once I did have my online classes that, wow, this is not just as much work. It is indeed sometimes twice as much. And even more so, like I said, when the challenge became that my students didn’t have their social networks as easily accessible to them. In other words, a lot of our students — and I had to remind myself that I did the same thing when I started college. You know, this is how you make your friends. And a lot of that is your classmates. Or this is how you’re exposed to different ideas, people who have different skill sets. You know, you’re introduced to new ideas, new ways of thinking. And they were losing that. Right? It’s so — there will always be students who can, you know, hooray for them, read a book, pick up that knowledge, and run with it. And I’m so envious of some of those people sometimes. That being said, there are the people who ironically — I would say I’m one of them where what I learn and what I know becomes more real when I see it happening in real life. Whether that is, you know, a literal chemical/physical change in someone or the literal demonstration of a, you know — we had a conversation. And I recognize that concept, and this is literally what’s going on. So you’re right. It does take more time. It does take more effort. And I think that’s a good thing, though. I think, if nothing else, it has made me rethink how I will approach things when we get back to the classroom. It makes me think how I’ve been able to take an opportunity where I’m not so close to people, and yet I was able to find ways to do that through a screen or through this little bitty lens on a camera. And, in some cases, for students it’s through their phones because we have to, if nothing else, put in to perspective the other thing with that is, you know, I have, you know, my laptop. I have a tablet downstairs. You know, I have my smart phone right nearby. There’s multiple screens, multiple things in my — within my reach, so to speak. But not everybody has that. And again it just made sense to me when I was like, oh, so these students, maybe they have an older computer and it’s fixed in one place so it doesn’t allow them to, you know, go to the local Starbucks if you are able to get there or to sit outside and still see people and still do what you needed to do. But also imagine how much different your world looks if you’re relying on just your smart phone to do all of those things. So it really did kind of force me to take that step back and again to really see what is it that my students need. How is it that I can respond to that way? And definitely, like I said, if I’m a person that’s all about efficiency, is efficiency always the best lens? Is another way I should be looking at it so that students have a bigger impact, they have a bigger benefit? Because really it is again all about them. I’ve been really blessed to learn as much as I have, and I still consider myself an online learner. So that was the other thing that I think this opportunity to rethink some things, to relearn, and again to take a different approach to this tool — like this tool was so simple and it allowed me to do so much. But by changing my own perspective it’s really given me an opportunity to do more than anything else.
[Matthew Evins:] That’s great. Let’s pivot a little bit and start talking about how the — how your use of web conferencing technology changed as a result of the pandemic. Obviously you know some of the things that you had mentioned in terms of efficiencies in travel and traffic and having other responsibilities in life certainly continue through the pandemic, but what specifically did you change about how you were using web conferencing technology since the start of the pandemic?
[Rise Lara:] So definitely still using it to, again, facilitate those class meetings. You know, my quote, unquote “classroom lecture sections” and things like that. But, more than anything, what I became more comfortable with was allowing students to start to control the technology for themselves. So a few years ago when I was limited, and we didn’t even mention this one, Webex — back when we were really relying on Webex, that one was kind of complicated and not so user friendly. And so I felt like I had to run it all. I had to run it all. And that was really a bad thing, now that I think about it, because instead of allowing my students to learn how to experiment with this so that they could become familiar, I think about it and sometimes I’m like, man, I probably was — you know, and it wasn’t just me, but I know I felt like I was — I may have hindered some people in their shift and their transition to having to rely on online tools and web conferencing more often. My perspective is so different now, and especially because so many of them are familiar with what Zoom looks like. They know there should be some buttons. They want to play with the buttons. I mean our students are very computer savvy. They’re also better at some of this stuff than I am, I have to admit. So it’s easy for them to know how to share a screen where it took me some time to figure that out. Or, you know, I’m the one looking for the reactions and they’re like, “Dr. Lara, it’s right there.” And so, if nothing else, it definitely gave me the opportunity to empower them, and I think that’s what needed to happen is I recognize that, you know what? Beyond training people how to be a better communicator in the face to face setting, basically thinking before they speak or they write something, you know my job is to also ensure that they know how to use the tools to do so. So again I rely mostly on Zoom now which I think is, you know, pretty user friendly. A lot more people have been familiar with that when they’ve transitioned from secondary education in to our world and the post secondary world, I would say. But also the other thing is even other types of online tools that we can use, allowing them to use Zoom to record speeches or I have an assignment that is one of my favorites in my public speaking class and it’s called two minutes of me, and I always remind them, you know, Zoom will record you as a video. And then you just have to send me that link. So it’s teaching them more than just how to web conference. It’s actually helping them in some cases to build a portfolio of what they’ve submitted. You know, you’ve done all of this work. You’ve done this speech. You’ve done this group project. And now you can take that for yourself and use that as a marketable tool. This isn’t just this recording or this meeting that just went nowhere. You know, it stayed — stuck with Dr. Lara. And she was super proud of you and happy about it which is great. But again it’s that empowering them to use the tool. It’s empowering them to start thinking about ways to then use that to market their skill set, to demonstrate what they know. Or, in some cases, to remind them that, wow, I am a really qualified and talented person. And I think that’s the best thing we can do there is it’s not just about the end product as far as the literal paper or assignment or speech, whatever it may be that I get, but again it’s teaching them that again there’s a valuable skill set in knowing technology, being able to use it very well, but also, much like I said, being able to take a tool and finding the new ways to get things done with it.
[Matthew Evins:] One of the things you mentioned was the idea of empowerment, and I think that’s great. You know, going beyond just what is the learning objective for your specific course, but empowering students to make their own decisions and learn the technology for themselves. I think that’s sort of been an underlying piece to this entire year specifically in terms of the podcast episodes, but you know certainly throughout the pandemic empowering students to, you know, learn these tools and take advantage of these tools especially when on campus and in person resources just aren’t available. And so I think that’s great that you’ve — that you’re able to explicitly articulate the idea of empowerment. So thanks for that.
[Rise Lara:] Yeah. That and personal responsibility too because, if nothing else, you know, I’ve always been a very big — I’ve always tried to emphasize, and it’s not hard to do so within communication studies, you’ve got to find your voice. You’ve got to be able to be your own advocate in some cases. And I realize that in some cases it’s hard to do that if somebody doesn’t show you what that looks like. So, you know, I’m always willing to say, “Hey, if you want me to help facilitate that because you want to focus on being a better presenter so you don’t want to share the screen, you don’t want to deal with changing PowerPoint slides, that’s fine.” But, you know, some day you’re going to have to do this in an office, and there won’t be, you know — I won’t be in that room to do that for you. So how better else to learn that than to do that? I’ve shown you that I can do it. It’s not that hard. Or even if there’s technical difficulties, no one will be upset or mad. And I think that’s the other key part of it. It’s not just about being empowered to use a tool, but let’s be realistic. The hardest thing that — I would say the hardest thing to learn is how to fail. And we have all had major failures with technology, and you just, you know — you heard me kind of laughing about it now. And I have to laugh about all of the mistakes that I’ve made and, you know, trying to get things done. Oops. I didn’t push the record button. Oh, man. You know, most common phrase ever uttered. Oh, you’re on mute. You know, you’ve been talking for 20 minutes. But I think before this that was — that was the other thing we were missing. People were empowered to do things to an extent, but they weren’t empowered to fail in a safe kind of understandable way. And this is that one thing that is uniting us, like I said. Even though our intentions are good, technology often has a mind of its own. And so I think part of learning to be a successful person and — is also in learning to embrace the failures and the hiccups and the mess ups that you have too. So definitely lots of different things have emerged. And who knew that it would be web conferencing or online learning that did that for us? I didn’t.
[Matthew Evins:] Yeah. Absolutely. What — speaking of all of this empowerment that you’ve been building in to the use of web conferencing, and the use of technology in general it sounds like, what type of feedback from students have you received on their use of web conferencing or the feedback that you’ve received from them about your use of web conferencing? And what have you noticed in terms of student success as a result?
>> So I think overall it’s been nice to kind of finally pick the right medium, and I have to admit I’m a little biased towards Zoom because I think it’s — again it’s user friendly. I think it’s easier to see, quote, unquote, the full room in that platform. And again that’s what students have noticed because they will very quickly tell you when someone, whether it’s a professor or their coworker or, you know, their job, uses a platform and they can’t stand it. I — you know, I love Facetime for one to one. Family calls and things like that. But sometimes I almost want to tell my family — even though my parents just live in Round Rock, I have a sister though who is in Stephenville and works for Carlton, and I’m like I cannot do a Facetime with you three. I can’t see you all. This isn’t working for me. Can we just do a Zoom? But, you know, again there’s that little bit of learning curve. I don’t expect my parents to learn how to use Zoom, and of course my sister and I are really good at it now thanks to work, but you know you just start to think about ways where not every tool that you have, I should say, let’s you do what you want to do. So I will tell you as far as student success they will tell you very quickly what they like, what they don’t like just as much as I’m easily able to tell my family that. And also, though, I think the other interesting thing as far as the impact with student success is that ability to kind of have that one on one. Like again they see me, they hear me, you know. At the same time I think you are demonstrating a respect for their privacy when they do feel like they just don’t want to be on camera. And yet the funny thing is at the very end of that, you know, I will — there’s a lot of times you’re teaching to five faces and seven black screens. And you as an instructor have to be okay with that which I have to admit is a challenge because I’m a communication professor. I want to see you. I want to look at you. So much of what I learn is literally in the nonverbals. But the funny part is also again they — having them come online, so to speak, at the end, and they’re like, “I just want you to know I was here, and I was listening to everything that you said. And I just really I learned so much today.” And that’s the other thing that I consider to be successful is I remember — it’s hard to remember a period when you had students that were introverted because now we — we all kind of seem that way. But it does remind me, you know what? Yeah. There’s always going to be those extroverted students who will tell you what they like, who will tell you how they feel. You know, but there’s also a lot that it’s taking a lot for them to do that. So it’s helping them to get out of that shell. It’s helping them to get used to that. So, in some ways, I would say it’s helping those students again to find their voice which has always been one of my key goals. The second thing as far as student success is I feel like again it gives them a safe space to ask questions or again to fail. We can talk about that in a different way. You know, I — I’ve always said I hate that sometimes having office hours feels like you’re going to the principal’s office, so to speak, back in the day. But that is how it feels to some of them. They don’t like coming to see me in my office. And I’ve had, like I said — I feel like I have fun things in my office as far as quirky little hangings and postings and memes on my door to try to get them to come, but it’s amazing how few — how they’ll come in and they’re just kind of their body language is obviously indicating that they’re nervous and all of that. But in this platform it allows them to do that in a different way. It is giving them that comfort because it doesn’t feel as intimidating. And it doesn’t feel like they are in trouble or that they have to admit any kind of weakness or struggles. So again I think it’s encouraging them to take a different perspective to how they do things, how they see things. But also again it’s reminding them, you know, at the end of the day it is about finding your voice. It is about learning to advocate for yourself. It’s about not being afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand. And, more than anything, the other thing too that I like is that, you know, it does allow in some cases those quieter students to still be active, to still be present. So the chats in these platforms also just become actually it’s so interesting to read. And this is why like in some of my classes I actually tell them, you know, “I am watching the chat, but I’m also recording the chat just so I can make sure not just for attendance sake,” but a lot of them will share things in that chat, you know by typing it out, that they maybe wouldn’t say out loud. And so that’s when I can find that opportunity to kind of say, “Oh, so and so had a really good idea. Do you feel comfortable talking to us a little bit more about that?” And most of the time they do. I always respect if they don’t. So I think that’s another successful thing to teach people is that we all have our boundaries in some way and again it’s about audience analysis. It’s about being responsive. But, much like I told my faculty in our meeting just the other day, you know, we in this profession have a unique capability of being empathic, of being compassionate, but also, you know, demonstrating that we have a very valuable skill set and in some cases that feeds in to being a very kind and understanding person. So let’s teach our students that we can do that as well.
So again it’s not just teaching my students about how to be a very eloquent speaker or to improve their speaking skills, but I think beyond that it’s also developing their personalities. It’s developing who they are, how they see the world and truly engage with others.
[Matthew Evins:] It’s clear just based on, you know, how you’re describing what you see the impact as being and, you know, what they tell you that the impact is on themselves how, you know, passionate you are about the use of web conferencing. And, you know, how you’re using it in your courses and what your goals are. So that — I just want to let you know that definitely comes through, and I’m sure the listeners will hear that as well.
[Rise Lara:] I hope so. I try my best. I have to say — I have to admit sometimes, like I said, it’s been a great lesson in also me coping with failure sometimes. You know, we all have good intentions as professors, as educators. No one here at Austin Community College walks in through the doors and says, you know, “I’m going to — my goal is to make people angry.” Or, “My goal is to ruin someone’s day.” No. That’s never our goal. But our goal instead is to think, “What am I going to learn today?” And what difference can I make in — you know, in someone’s attitude or in their day or, you know, can I make someone feel like someone cares? Then I think that’s what our goal is. That’s how we want to do that. And again that was where again that mindset of changing a tool that was really efficient and allowed me to save some gas money and some time turned in to a tool that allowed me to probably connect with more people than I thought possible. And in a way that I didn’t know was possible.
[Matthew Evins:] Let’s talk a little bit about, you know, what’s coming up in,you know, theoretically on Monday. But we know that things are already still in flux for fall semester. But as you start transitioning your courses back to on campus, if you’re planning on transitioning back to on campus, what do you see as being the future of your own use of web conferencing technology for your courses?
[Rise Lara:] You know the funny thing was when I would do a summer class I would try to at least have a couple of meeting dates or assignment dates that could be done online. You know, so if it was more convenient for you to schedule the meeting, we could do it that way or to, you know — a couple of groups would be conducted online. And I think I’m going to bring that back. I love people. I love getting to see people and all of that stuff. I say I love people. I love most people. To be honest. But with that being said, I think I’ve heard a lot said in our academic world, you know, even by my own dean and other administrators here at ACC, you know, that the reality is we cannot and we should not go back to the way things were. I think we have to recognize that, yes, there will always be people who need that face to face instruction. They need to be sitting in a desk with a book open with their pen and their notebook handy. I am one of those people. But there’s also a lot of people who get just as much value from those synchronous classroom meetings that, you know, back in the day it was, you know, turn on the TV, watch your history class, and do your thing and that was it. In other words, I think we’re getting to a point where now we see that possibility for that real time interaction. We see that it works for people and they do learn and it actually allows them to facilitate learning in a much more — in a way that is more friendly for them I would definitely say. It’s a — so it’s to me, as far as for my future and my courses, I think I would like to continue trying to do the balance of either synchronous and asynchronous learning because again I see the value of both. I know people don’t have all the time in the world. You know, we have students that need to do their homework at 10 o’clock at night. I don’t know how they do it, but
[inaudible] for you. You know, good for you, I should say. But again at the same time there’s nothing wrong with allowing us to again connect in a different way in a different platform, and even better if it allows me to pull students from environments that would never on any other given day have the opportunity to interact with one another. Primarily teaching at the Cypress Creek campus, you get a lot of Cedar Park people. And, you know, that’s great, but very — you know every once in a blue moon I would get someone from San Marcos who would be willing to commute up there. That’s a rare instance. But, you know, you learn so much about life when you compare San Marcos to Cedar Park. It’s not the same. It’s different. You know, what is it like growing up with Texas State in your backyard versus, you know, Cedar Park which is a little more suburban just close to Austin? But it’s definitely different. It’s not like UT is in your backyard if you’re in Cedar Park. That being said, it’s also allowing for more diversity in terms of where our students are coming from. Right? So I think, if nothing else, I see more of a variety of experiences. It’s not just age groups. It’s not just learning. I mean we know that education, there’s just as many people who come back for another degree as there are, you know, dual credit or early college high school students who are figuring out college and they’re super smart already. And, at the same time, the amazing thing is now they’re exposed to an older adult learner who has this wisdom, but is also learning from and with them. I think we forget what it’s like to sometimes be a younger person in this world. At the same time, I know as a young person I did not know what adult life was like. As an adult now I’m still learning what that is. But again it’s just amazing to have so much diversity in my classes that sometimes I didn’t get just by being in the classroom. Right? So I really appreciate that, and I would love to see that continue. And I do hope that we do stick with that mentality of,you know, there’s certain benefits we get from our face to face classes, and we will always get those benefits, and those students will definitely be served, but let’s not forget the other benefits that we got simply by opening our classrooms even more than we thought. And there’s no walls. You know, anyone can — preferably, anyone can come in
[inaudible] but at the same time again they’re now exposed to different ages, different ethnicities, different cultures, and again it’s literally all in their quote, unquote “neighborhood.” We all claim we’re from central Texas or I mean you could probably ask anyone and they’ll all tell you they’re from Austin. And then you probe deeper and they’re like, “Oh, well, no. I’m actually from Pflugerville” or “I’m from this” or “I’m from that.” Or again I think about so many of us who are quote, unquote “transplants here.” So when — it’s almost like the — when you identify a student who is truly a local you’re like, “Oh, my god. It’s a local.” Like what is it like? Tell me what you know about Austin. And so again it’s being exposed to things that you kind of take for granted if you just moved here. Like you only know Austin in a certain way. But if you grew up here it’s a very different world. You’ve seen it change. You’ve seen it evolve. And again as you are an older adult learner and you see people trying to figure out college or trying to figure out what does it mean to be a college student, that’s always an interesting kind of dynamic just as much as it is the opposite way. What is it like for a younger student who sees that older adult in the class, you know, doing college a very different way than most of us would, you know, at age 18, 19, 20? Our typical college age student. So I think that’s really the biggest benefit and what I would like to see continue is that we are again building that skill set. We’re teaching our students to connect with others in different ways. We’re definitely allowing them to have exposure to more diverse experiences and perspectives. And again we’re showing them that learning doesn’t just have to happen in one way. It is okay to do it the way you like it. But, if not, there’s always another way to look at the same picture.
[Matthew Evins:] Yeah. Yeah. That’s great. So I have one more question for you before we start to wrap up today’s episode. For those instructors listening who either teach completely asynchronously or who have never used web conferencing to specifically support teaching or maybe they’re under utilizing web conferencing technology to support teaching, where do you recommend that they go for help? How do they get started? What kind of advice do you have for them?
[Rise Lara:] I definitely — you know, I have to admit we have an amazing resource here at Austin Community College, and that is our TLED team, our teaching and learning educational division. They do it all.
They don’t just give out, you know, professional development. They literally will hold your hand in giving you the training that you need to become comfortable with it. So that’s probably the first step I would start with is become comfortable with the fact that you don’t know everything there is to know, but also be comfortable with learning about it. And, you know, kind of — like I said, I was really resistant to using Zoom except for quick one off meetings before I had to kind of shift my thinking and shift my approach and really again consider what the students needed versus my own kind of selfish inclinations or my need to be efficient. So that’s definitely the first place I would start is just be comfortable with knowing that, you know, you’re not alone. You don’t have to know it all. And there will always be people to help you. But the other place that I would suggest that they begin is by talking to their students. What is it that would help you learn better? What is it that I could do or I could change that you feel might make this topic or this concept easier to understand? And in some cases the work is done for us. Right? There’s always a good video whether on YouTube or whatever or there’s a funny meme you can work in to it. So I think when you start to also ask are students, you know — that’s the other place we’ve got to go is, you know, what is it that you all really need? Or what is it that you need to be a success in my classroom beyond having access to the book and, you know, Blackboard needs to work and all of that stuff? You know, those are things that I can’t control, but what I can control is how we do the learning thing. What I can control is, you know, maybe you don’t want to hear me talk. Maybe we need to have more — again those break out rooms exist for a reason. Should I allow you all time just on your own to discuss? And again it can be like that face to face classroom where I hop around and still visit and still gain the perspective, but the other part is learning to trust them too. So that’s the other place that you kind of have to get comfortable with is trusting — you know, your students are going to tell you what they want. A lot of times, you know, it may go the way that you want it to. A lot of times it won’t. But also at the same time there’s nothing wrong with literally going to your students and saying, “Hey, if we — are we all good with trying this? Let’s try it. Let’s see if it works.” Okay. Let’s take two minutes. Tell me what you thought. I think that’s the other part that you’ve really got to be comfortable with as well. And my best advice is to always just get the feedback that you can. Whether you say, you know, “Hey, leave it in the chat. Tell me what you thought.” Or, you know, “I’m going to put up this quick survey in Blackboard. You all just respond to it. It is anonymous.” You know, it’s definitely being comfortable with the learning aspect. It’s being comfortable with the feedback process. But also I think the other part of it too is be comfortable with always seeking out the best tool or the best way of doing things. So, like I said, that two minutes of me speech where I got back to, a lot of that happens live, but I also recognized in some cases, you know, maybe I have some students that just they would feel better if they could record the message and put it up at a different place. And it would — for some reason, that allows them, you know, a different mentality to approaching a speech, especially if they have a lot of apprehension towards the public speaking arena. And that’s okay. So the — I would say the last piece of advice that I would give to someone is to not be afraid to tweak that assignment that you know it works. It’s worked 1,000 times before. You know, don’t be afraid to change those things. Don’t be afraid to experiment. You’ve just got to be willing to do those things. Like I said, we’re all comfortable with failure on a certain level when it comes to technical difficulties and all of that. And I think if we frame it from that mindset that, oh, that was just a technical difficulty, maybe that didn’t work so I’ve got to rethink it a little, it is okay. I think — I think it only serves our students better when again we have those three things, that willingness to learn, that willingness to truly probe for honest feedback, and again that willingness to say, “Just because it worked 1,000 other classes before, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t need to be updated.” It doesn’t mean that it doesn’t need to be changed or that it can’t be better in some way.
[Matthew Evins:] Well, Rise, thank you very much for all of this information, and obviously the passion that you have behind everything that you’re doing with these tools. Before I let you go, one question we ask all of our guests is, is there anything giving you riverbat pride this week? I know that, you know, as you and I were talking before we started the recording the fall semester begins on Friday — or on Monday. Excuse me. And I know we’ve got a lot going on, but it’s always good to take a moment to reflect. And so is there anything that you’re prideful for this week?
[Rise Lara:] Yeah. Actually after yesterday — we had our department meeting yesterday. And I left that meeting with just, you know — I am so proud. You know, I am proud to be the chair of this — of the department that I am. I have colleagues who are amazingly understanding, who are indeed trying their best to be flexible, but more than anything they’re trying to be kind and to serve their students. And that is just something to be really proud of. I feel like that is exactly what ACC not only expects, but constantly asks of us. You know, it’s not just about doing your job and getting your paycheck, but you know when we say student success, what does that mean? And to me that is all of those things. That is remembering to be kind to students who are just as confused as we are. At the same time that is remembering also, like I said, just to know that we’re going to be flexible. We’re going to figure this out. And it’s also being that reliable and consistent voice that tells them that, and you mean it. Right? So I’m so very proud to be the leader of an amazing department with some amazing colleagues that I get to work with. And I mean that just gives me so much pride. I hope it gives everybody else a little bit of the — a smile as well.
[Matthew Evins:] That’s certainly a good thing to be prideful for. There’s certainly a lot to be prideful for, especially as we close out the summer term and everybody’s back from summer vacations. And, you know, hopefully a well deserved break as we get started with the fall semester. So thank you very much for your time today.
[Rise Lara:] Thank you so much for having me.
[Matthew Evins:] Well, that wraps up another episode of “Teaching and Learning Champions.” Don’t forget that you can read episode transcripts on the TLED blog and find links to any resources we referenced during the show. I also encourage you to subscribe to the ACC district podcast on any of your preferred podcast apps. Or listen to individual episodes on the TLED website. You can learn more about the teaching and learning excellence division and keep up with everything relevant to the faculty experience at ACC by subscribing to our weekly newsletter. Simply text A-C-C-T-L-E-D in all caps to 22828 subscribe. And of course you can find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at ACCTLED. Thank you for tuning in, and we’ll chat next time on TLC at ACC.
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