Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?
As this unprecedented academic year comes to a close, it is time to start thinking ahead to fall classes. Covid-19 has certainly altered the way we all teach, but are those changes permanent? Will students’ classroom engagement, goals and behavior be irrevocably marred by a year of Zoom, or can we regroup and reenergize in the fall? When it comes to teaching and learning, how can we bring “sexy” back?
Take a SIP of this: Moving Forward in Fall
The exhaustion suffered by students and faculty during this year of remote learning is real. For most, the shine of teaching and learning has dulled substantially. However, we have an amazing opportunity to rejuvenate ourselves and our students when we are back on campus in fall. Before we all walk away from this pandemic academic year, take a minute to reflect upon the best and the worst of remote learning to shed the emotional weight and begin anew in August.
Try these ideas to help you move your teaching and learning practices into a brave new post-Covid-19 space:
- One of the worst aspects of teaching during the pandemic has been the loss of real-time human interaction with our students. However, we have found workarounds that can be carried forward into our fall classes. For example, we have used Zoom icebreakers to begin each meeting and to set a positive and collegial tone. SIP 12.3 offers many great suggestions for building a strong community in your online classroom from the first day of the semester – and this can be done in person, too. No need to go “back to business as usual” – students will appreciate the continued social-emotional care you delivered during the pandemic as they readjust to campus life (plus, it just makes class more fun!).
- Zoom fatigue, “languishing” and distracting or challenging home learning environments have created a distance between us and our students, physically and metaphorically. When we are back on campus in fall, celebrate the “togetherness.” While maintaining University-required distancing rules, take advantage of direct eye contact, small-group work, invitations to your office for an after-class chat and other relationship-building strategies to reignite that lost connection.
- For those of us who had never taught online before Covid-19, one of the worst aspects was learning to do so essentially overnight. However, we have all acquired new skills and methods of organization that can enhance our return to face-to-face teaching in fall. For example, organizing content into digestible modules for Canvas will continue to be useful when we plan our fall syllabi. SIP 13.1 teaches us how to engage students by using the technological platforms that they use. Using short video clips is another good idea – see SIP 13.12 for ideas. Basically, try to imagine how anything you have recently learned how to do to survive remote teaching might be applicable to your face-to-face classroom.
- Did you decide during this stressful and taxing pandemic year that you simply hate online or remote teaching? Try not to throw the baby out with the bathwater as we move into fall. Covid-19 has pushed society into a new understanding of working and living remotely, and these new practices and behaviors will certainly not just disappear once we are allowed back on campus. Consider replacing your face-to-face class with a Zoom meeting if the weather looks bad or if your students are overwhelmed with midterms or finals. Allow students who are sick to stay home but “remote in” to your class. Additionally, try to imagine a way to continue engaging with your department’s online offerings to best support student demand and enhance your professional development.
- Don’t forget to look on the bright side! One of the best things we have done as faculty is to become even more aware of our students’ mental health and physical well-being during the pandemic. We can continue to submit CARE Reports more frequently than we did in the “before times,” and we can dedicate ourselves to being more conscious of ongoing student challenges such as food or housing insecurity, financial hardship, etc. We can also continue to consider the classroom policies that either help or hinder our students’ ability to do work – for example, attendance or late-work policies, compassionate grading, encouraging students to communicate their need for help, etc. SIPs 11.12, 13.3 and 13.5 can offer suggestions for this.
- Another positive outcome of the semester is that we have all become more tech-savvy. Celebrate the fact that you have learned how to use Kahoot or embed a video into Canvas. While the urgent and forced learning of Covid-19 was not very fun, hopefully it has shown you that you are capable of learning the latest tools and platforms that will make your class even better. SIP 13.11 offers lots of fun tips for continuing to reimagine your teaching practices in an ever-evolving classroom space.
- Hopefully, we have all learned to practice a little more self-care as well, and we are encouraging that behavior in our students. As SIP 12.10 and SIP 13.8 suggest, we should all keep making self-care a priority to keep our first semester back on campus healthy. Try moving into fall with a renewed sense of “slow teaching” (see SIP 8.15), and consider the fall semester to be a recovery period during which we focus on regaining equilibrium.
Finally, if possible, let go of the difficulties of this past year and set your sights on coming back to a healthy, positive new normal.
Still Thirsty? Take a SIP of This:
Here are some great sites with Zoom icebreakers:
21 Icebreakers To Make Your Zoom Happy Hours Less Awkward
Zoom-Friendly Warmups and Icebreakers
Zoom Icebreakers: 55 Pro Tips to Energize Your Virtual Meetings
An article that I thought would be cool for this SIP: Culbert, Patrick D. “When This Is All Over, Keep Recording Your Lectures: How will the Successes and Failures of Your Online Pivot Change the Way You Teach?” The Chronicle of Higher Education. January 22, 2021, https://www.chronicle.com/article/when-this-is-all-over-keep-recording-your-lectures?utm_source=Iterable&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=campaign_1929958_nl_Academe-Today_date_20210125&cid=at&source=ams&sourceId=2333783&cid2=gen_login_refresh
Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?
Creating a welcoming and empowering learning environment is critical to supporting the success and well-being of transgender, nonbinary and other gender-diverse students. While some students may disclose these identities to you, others may not feel safe disclosing their gender identity. It’s best to assume that there are transgender and nonbinary students in all of our classes. Through modeling inclusive language, using diverse in-class examples and facilitating dialogue, you can increase safety for students with these identities while supporting the development of cultural responsiveness in all students, regardless of their program or professional goals.
Take a SIP of this: Support for Trans and Nonbinary Students
Pronouns are important. Pronouns and gender identity are integral to how we perceive ourselves. Being validated and affirmed in our identities can support us in feeling seen, valued and safe. Conversely, regular misgendering (being called by a gendered word or pronoun that one does not identify with) can lead to feelings of low self-esteem, lack of trust and openness, and other emotional responses that affect how learners engage in the classroom.
- Before the first day of classes, familiarize yourself with different pronouns and get comfortable using them in conversation and writing.
- Practice using gender-neutral pronouns they/them/their(s), as many nonbinary and gender-diverse students will use these pronouns.
- Modeling the sharing of pronouns can be one important way to signal inclusivity to transgender and nonbinary students.
- Regardless of the method of instruction, you can model normalizing the opportunity to share pronouns (and avoiding making assumptions about others’ pronouns).
- In face-to-face classes, you can share your own pronouns with the class as you introduce yourself and share why you share your pronouns.
- In online courses, you can set your pronouns to be visible in Canvas and/or provide some written context in your syllabus (e.g., include information about why you share your pronouns).
- Check out these helpful resources on pronoun use to enhance your practice.
- In addition to your modeling of pronouns, you should also provide an opportunity for students to share their pronouns with you and with one another. Prepare to ask students to include their pronouns in their introductions, whether vocally in a synchronous online platform or in an in-class introduction. Consider the following questions: How will you convey the importance of asking pronouns as a sign of respect? How will you intervene if students begin to laugh or make derogatory comments toward their gender-diverse peers? The ways that professors model this conversation and hold the classroom standards of respect will set the tone of creating an inclusive classroom for the semester.
More generally, language is important. Beyond pronouns, there are many opportunities to use more inclusive language in your classrooms.
- Avoid referring to students as “Mr.,” “Miss,” “ladies,” “gentlemen,” “sir,” “guys” or other gendered language. Good replacements are “folks,” “everyone,” “students,” “class” and “you all.” Some other alternatives are “sibling” instead of “brother” or “sister,” “spouse” or “partner” instead of “husband” or “wife” and “parent” instead of “mother” or “father.”
- Finally, work on specifying when you are speaking about cisgender people (those whose identity and gender correspond to their birth sex) as well as specifying when you speak about transgender people. This challenges the assumption that all people are cisgender unless otherwise stated.
We All Make Mistakes
- If you make a mistake with a name, pronoun or other gendered term, apologize to the individual, correct your mistake and move on. For example, “Sierra said that she – I mean they, sorry – would like to present first today.”
- Making a big deal about messing up makes everyone more uncomfortable. Also be aware that language changes quickly and it can be hard to keep up and use terminology you may be less familiar with.
- If a student asks you to change how you refer to their identity, use the language that the student requests. If you receive feedback that a word or phrase is incorrect or offensive, take in this feedback and make the appropriate changes.
Students will make mistakes as well. Your willingness to provide corrections to students in regard to names/pronouns of other students or problematic language usage (e.g., “transsexual,” “homosexual lifestyle”) will show transgender and nonbinary students that you care. It can help if you, in the role of instructor, can assist with this process through reminding students to use the correct names and pronouns for their classmates and to bring awareness to where students may be making assumptions.
Consider the upcoming course materials – readings, assignments and videos presented in the class. In what ways are they inclusive of transgender and nonbinary people (and LGBTQIA+ people more generally), either in content or in authorship? Are there any modifications in writing prompts or assignments that could be made to include people of diverse sexual and gender identities (e.g., gender-neutral language)? Do the readings in the class include authors in the LGBTQIA+ community? Being intentional from the beginning will show students that you take their identities seriously, and you should allow for dialogue when a concern about inclusivity arises.
An additional way to support transgender and nonbinary students is to share information about MSU Denver’s official name-change process in systems such as Canvas and email. Metropolitan State University of Denver has a policy that allows students to change the first name displayed in these systems to use the name they go by rather than their legal name. Students need to fill out a Change of Information form with their preferred first name and submit this to the Registrar’s Office for this change to be made.
Creating a welcoming and inclusive online classroom for transgender, nonbinary and gender-diverse students won’t happen automatically. But with a little bit of time and intentionality, you can set up and carry out your course in a way that will support the learning and development of transgender and nonbinary students. Thanks for all you do to honor and affirm the gender diversity of your students – they will be grateful for your efforts.
Still thirsty? Take a SIP of support for trans and nonbinary students:
This GLAAD resource provides some excellent general information about language pertinent to transgender, nonbinary and gender diversity (as well as other LGBTQIA+ identities).
This is good resource for language about why we share pronouns.
To practice pronoun use, try out this online activity. We also recommend trying it out with colleagues, family and friends to help you become more comfortable using these pronouns.
Take time to consider how you will approach this important conversation and check out this related Best Practices for LGBTQIA+ Inclusive Classrooms guide for some additional ideas or this blog post on LGBTQIA+ Inclusive Online Practices.
Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?
I think we would all agree that this past COVID-19 pandemic year has been most unexpected and pervasively disruptive. Statistics from the Metropolitan State University of Denver Counseling Center from last June 1 to the present indicate that 32.2% of students who reached out for support cited Covid stress as the motivating factor.
The Counseling Center had fewer students seeking services remotely from last June through April, as it typically draws a larger number of walk-ins when on-campus; however, students were seen for longer durations of time. Staffing vacancies further limited the number of available appointments. Of those seen, 14% indicated that they were impacted by at least one of the following issues:
- Loss of a family member/grief
- Significant changes post-COVID diagnosis
- Feeling trapped, afraid to have hope or plans
- A significant change in family life.
Additionally, COVID has catalyzed problems in the following areas:
- Academics 56.7%
- Financial 51.2 %
- Loss of loved one 18.6%
- Isolation, loneliness 59%
- Mental-health symptoms 66%
- Motivation/focus 60%
Take a SIP of this: Long-term Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Students
When we are chronically stressed, particularly when there is a cascade of stressors, nervous-system activation and sometimes high emotional intensity can lead to a disconnect between the limbic system (our emotional brain) and our neo-cortex (our cognitive/executive-functioning brain). This perturbation may lead to having difficulty with attention, focus, memory, emotional regulation and circadian regulation.
The loss of structure for academic schedules due to online formatting and asynchronous classes, plus loss of work schedules from establishments closing due to social-distancing mandates has often added to the stress burden, as this has required many of us to create our own structures and routines. This has been challenging for quite a number of our students, regardless of whether they had any prior difficulties in these areas. For those already contending with issues such as ADHD, homelessness, food insecurity and/or myriad other possible stressors, the burden has amplified with greater tendency to overwhelm coping and resilience capacities.
What Faculty Members Can Do to Help
- Compassion: On a biological level, relational compassion among people in rapport provides the opportunity to co-regulate a person’s nervous system, leading to easing of emotional burden, resolving of the fight-or-flight response and reestablishment of integration between the emotional and cognitive parts of the brain. In essence, when our students are soothed, their brains work better.
- Flexibility and creative solutions: Offering reasonable flexibility for assignment due dates, revisions and extra credit can be helpful in relieving pressure regarding grades. Leniency regarding internet-carrier issues out of the student’s control – such as poor connection, dropped signals while testing or trying to submit assignments – could help. Responsive communication and collaboration go a long way toward soothing a student’s frazzled nerves.
- Less is more for students who are trying to juggle many additional constraints during the Covid-19 time. Having numerous small assignments in multiple classes to compensate for the online format has been taxing, especially for our most stressed students. With more energy exerted to function in the new paradigm, the stress results in greater difficulty in remembering and keeping track of multiple assignments.
- Submitting a CARE team report can facilitate access to case management, emergency funds and coaching regarding administrative policies, as well as referral to mental-health services at the MSU Counseling Center or medical services at the Health Center at Auraria.
Still thirsty? Take a SIP of this:
Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., presents a wonderful video on YouTube explaining the “Hand Model” that demonstrates what happens when we become overstressed. Siegel delves further into this topic in his book, Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation.
The HeartMath Experience can help you activate your humanity and compassion and bring your physical, mental and emotional systems into alignment, all of which will help you to better serve your students.
Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?
In a recent conversation on Teams, students were commiserating about the tough upcoming month, the last month of the semester. Several students shared that they were behind on reading or didn’t feel particularly confident about the last exam. Typical mid-semester blues. One student said, “I always fall asleep while watching the lectures.”
There it was – the first sign, for me, that maybe remote learning is beginning to normalize and that students’ learning needs in the Before Times are also the learning needs of Now. In other words, what disengaged students before disengages them today. Who hasn’t seen a student nod off during a lecture? And while we’re showing scars, whose head hasn’t bobbed up and down during a conference panel? It isn’t necessarily that the content is boring or that we’re even tired; it’s that active learning requires active listening and interacting.
Over the years, we’ve shared a variety of SIPs (Examples: SIP 9.11, SIP 10.2, SIP 10:12, SIP 10:13, SIP 13.11) on how to facilitate inclusive, active learning. In face-to-face class lectures, many of us have shown film clips, played audio clips, drawn on the whiteboard, hung posters or broadcast memes in PowerPoints. All of this is adaptable to remote learning. Last week, in SIP 13.11, we shared tips for recharging the enthusiasm in your remote learning courses. This week, we’re continuing this theme with suggestions for successfully incorporating video clips into your synchronous and asynchronous lessons. Video clips provide high-tech with high-touch outcomes that enliven digital lectures and increase student engagement.
Take a SIP of this: Use Video Clips to Enhance Learning
First, decide which content within your lesson could work well in a short visual moment.
The majority of your students have grown up using Instagram, Snapchat and other social media and technologies. They understand the 60-second video. However, not all content can be condensed into a short clip. Incorporating video clips into a lecture is similar to incorporating research into an academic article. Some information serves well in a summary (the video-clip equivalent), and other information works best quoted at length (assigning the entire film).
Second, decide your “why.”
- Is the objective of the video clip to create spontaneity or to relieve some intensity?
In your face-to-face classrooms, you might have shared a funny meme or clip to lighten the pressure of the lecture. A few video-clip “Easter eggs” (a message or image hidden in your clip) embedded in your digital lecture would garner the same release while increasing student comprehension (if the Easter eggs added another layer to the lecture) or friendly competition among classmates (think: gaming). Chemistry students at Boston University (“Incorporating an Online Interactive Video Platform to Optimize Active Learning and Improve Student Accountability Through Educational Videos”) have been using EdPuzzle to interact with lecture videos. The free version of EdPuzzle allows you to insert open-ended questions, multiple-choice questions and images into your closed-captioned videos. Imagine interactive clips inside a longer video. EdPuzzle integrates with Canvas and links with YouTube, TED Talks and Khan Academy.
You can embed comments and Easter eggs into a video clip or film within Yuja as well. Be warned, though, that if the video clip or film is used by others, your comments will show unless you create a duplicate just for your course.
- Is your goal to demonstrate or illustrate a complex concept?
Video clips often reinforce and clarify dense information not only for students who prefer to learn visually but also for auditory learners and reading/writing learners. For impactful video clips, the short run is essential. For example, film students learn to identify cinematography techniques, such as a close-up or an aerial shot, by watching clips that run from seconds long to under five minutes. These clips are excerpted from full films of 90-120 minutes. Students are more likely to rewind to rewatch video clips than they are to rewatch an entire film. Rewatching garners greater comprehension since students control the direct learning process, according to Edutopia.
Auraria Library’s streaming databases – Academic Video Online, Films on Demand, Kanopy – allow you to create clips with your own commentaries and embed or link the clips inside Canvas modules or pages. Students access the clips after logging into the Auraria Library. This brings unique and otherwise-hard-to-find content straight to students.
For YouTube, the low-tech option is to link the video to Yuja. You also could embed the YouTube video into a Canvas page. Here are some instructions on how to do so.
To use clips from content you own, integrate them into Yuja. The Center for Teaching, Learning and Design has tutorials for editing inside Yuja. Here is a link to take you to one of the tutorials.
- Do you want an alternative assessment type instead of a written quiz or exam?
- Incorporate video clips into Canvas quizzes or exams.
- Ask students to post no more than a 60-second video to a discussion thread. With GoReact, instructors can provide text or audio comments inside the students’ videos, and feedback connects to the Canvas gradebook. The CTLD has a GoReact tutorial. FlipGrid is another free option that includes closed captioning.
Students also could record and post using Yuja.
You might set parameters for a video-clip response similar to the rules for posting text responses. Stress that video-clip responses need only to be clear, on-prompt and within the required time frame. You’re not expecting polished filmmaking.
Finally, remember that context is everything.
- In your face-to-face classroom, before you hit play, you likely provide a synopsis and suggestions for what and why students need to take note. Do the same online.
- Tell students how long the clip is.
- Be sure the clip includes closed captions, use Yuja to auto-caption it or include a link to transcripts.
- Compose questions that cue students to pay attention for specific details. If you’re using the Canvas sample pages provided by the CTLD, then fill in the “VIDEO” page.
If you used video clips and more in your face-to-face classroom, pull them out of your Teacher Toolbox for your digital classroom. Students become consumers of knowledge by interacting with video clips that support a more in-depth lecture.
Still thirsty? Take a SIP of this:
SIP 9.11 Creating a Human Component in Online Learning
SIP 10.2 Establish a Strong Teaching Presence Online
SIP 10:12 Recreational and Competitive Gaming on Campus
SIP 10:13 Using Active Learning Strategies in Online Courses
SIP 13.11 Help! My Tricks Aren’t Working Anymore
Pulukuri, S. and Binyomin, A. (October 2020). “Incorporating an Online Interactive Video
Platform to Optimize Active Learning and Improve Student Accountability Through
Educational Videos.” Journal of Chemistry Education. 97, 12. https://doi-org.aurarialibrary.idm.oclc.org/10.1021/acs.jchemed.0c00855
Robinson, Avra. (March 2021). “Teaching Students How to Learn From Videos: Instructional videos can help students learn at their own pace, but only if they know how to use them.” Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/article/teaching-students-how-learn-videos
Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?
It is usually impossible to make sweeping statements about the state of teaching for everyone across disciplines, across levels, full-time and affiliate, etc. However, it is pretty safe to say teaching has changed for pretty much all of us since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
2020 was a year of learning to “pivot” and quickly acquiring new strategies for immediate survival. But 2021 has started off as a year of taking a look at our age-old go-to practices and our new online and virtual strategies to try to understand what is working and what is not – just in time to return to face-to-face teaching in the fall. Some of our practices have been continuously successful throughout this challenging year. But what do we do when our favorite methods and tricks just don’t work anymore?
Take a SIP of this: My Tricks Aren’t Working Anymore
There is a palpable sense of exhaustion among faculty around reinventing the wheel every. Single. Week. Understandable! But here are a few tips on how to examine favorite best practices as paradigms that can be quickly and easily adapted to meet our students where they are, right now, at the end of another tiring and sometimes-discouraging semester of isolation and struggle:
- Does everyone look at one another with dread or turn cameras off at the beginning of yet another Zoom session? Try an icebreaker to lighten the mood and set the tone. Check out SIP 2.1, “Icebreakers,” or SIP 12.3, “Building Community Online,” for some ideas. There are many fun Zoom icebreakers to be found simply by Googling “Zoom icebreakers.”
- Do you feel disconnected from your students? Even teaching online synchronously can feel isolating without the true human contact of a face-to-face session. When you teach in person, you do a lot of things to help students feel welcome. You greet students, smile, make eye contact. Try this to improve that human touch in your online class: Comment on the fun background they have in Zoom or notice if they have something new in their home office (a.k.a. bedroom) that day. Ask about their dog or about the sister you see wandering in and out of your Zoom view. Compliment their outfit (a.k.a. pajamas) or just ask how they are feeling. Bridge the gap by showing personal interest.
- Another great way to add a human element to your class is to simply call students by their name. Set a goal of saying each student’s name at least once during your class meeting: “Thanks for that comment, José!” “I agree with what Alexandra said, but what do you think, Max?” Hearing their name aloud will help students know that their voice and their presence matter in your class.
- Do you find attention waxing and waning (for your students and for you) during a class session? Try involving students as experts in the survival of remote instruction. Ask your students what has helped them pay attention and address those individual suggestions. From quick yoga breaks to varied instructional methods to a dance party, let them know you hear them and that you are willing to do what it takes to keep everyone engaged.
- Another fun way to increase attention is to follow the 20/20/20 rule in your class. Every 20 minutes, take a break from the screen by looking 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Assign the task of keeping track of this to a different student every class period and watch their focus improve.
- Did you once do a lot of group work but find that breakout rooms are onerous? We might not be able to avoid breakout-room work altogether, but consider changing how you do it: Change the group size; change the way you form groups; assign roles in groups (like note-taker, timekeeper, etc.). Or change the way you debrief after group work in breakout rooms: One person from each group reports; each group posts a summary in the chat; each group shares the most surprising thing that came out of their discussion, etc. Check out SIP 4.9 and SIP 11.8 on group work and imagine how you can tailor these activities to the virtual environment.
- Are you a die-hard whiteboard fan who likes to illustrate your lecture with notes for the students to see? Try using the chat function in Zoom or Teams. While drawing or doodling is out of the question, you can still write words for your students to see, just as they would in a classroom with a blackboard or whiteboard. Even better: The students can join in. Open the chat function and let them know they can send public or private messages or add notes to your notes for a truly collaborative discussion period.
- Have you consistently relied on a particular format such as lecture, active learning, etc., to engage your students with the material? That might not work this semester in the virtual classroom. Instead, try using a variety of visuals, short videos, media and interactive tools to connect your students to the content in your class. YouTube is an amazingly rich resource, and free web apps such as Hypothes.is (available through Canvas), FlipGrid and Kahoot can spice up your instructional delivery. Contact the Center for Teaching, Learning and Design to learn how to use some of these tools.
- When we say goodbye to our students at the end of a virtual class period, we “check out” by turning cameras off, and that’s it – no hallway conversation, no “follow me to my office,” no seeing each other in the coffee shop or bathroom. How can we let our students know we will be thinking of them and of our connection until the next time we meet? Try adding a weekly wellness tip, inspirational story or motivational quote to your goodbye to keep them thinking about you and one another until the next class.
Remember that your attitude will be the most pervasive one in the classroom. If you are energized and excited by your methods and pedagogy, your students will follow suit. If your pedagogy is falling flat on its face and you can own that out loud and engage your students in remediation, it can be a game-changer.
Still thirsty? Take a SIP of this:
Try some of these fun “Zoom-friendly Icebreakers” to start off your next class!
Check out this article on how to maximize your time in Zoom breakout rooms.
Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?
We tend to think of writing as conveying verbal information – the words and their meaning are what is important. However, in much of the academic writing we ask students to do, formatting and citation in specific styles (MLA, APA, IEEE, etc.) is an integral part of the assignment. Formatting and citation are part of the visual elements of a text. The arrangement of the words on the page and the ways that punctuation, formatting such as italics and spacing are used convey some of the information. Formatting in accordance with a particular discipline’s style also visually demonstrates that we are following the standards of a discipline and joining in a particular kind of conversation or communication.
We are asking students to follow the standards of our discipline, but how do we teach those standards? Are we inviting all of our students into the conversation equitably?
Many of us provide examples of the formatting conventions and citations, and we ask students to follow the example or make their text look like the example we have provided. Essentially, and likely without realizing it, we rely on visual cues to convey much of the information. As the Purdue Online Writing Lab’s article “Visual Rhetoric: Text Elements” points out, “Text is so obviously visual that its visual nature and power (are) often invisible.” This invisibility can cause us to rely too heavily on visual examples when teaching elements of a text such as formatting, document design (including headers) and citation.
While this visual approach may work for some students, it is not universally useful. For students who use a screen reader because they are blind or have low vision, who have challenges processing visual information or who just aren’t certain what they should be looking for, this approach does not provide the comprehensive information needed to effectively format documents and precisely cite. Screen readers may not always read all the formatting information (italics, punctuation, spacing), and programs such as Word may change formatting (font, font size, etc.) as we work in a document.
While we tend to think of formatting and citation in terms of the verbal information they provide, a great deal of information is conveyed visually as well. For instance, we differentiate between a journal article title and a journal title by their position in the citation and by their formatting. In an MLA header, we determine student name and professor name in part by their position. We need to think about how we are presenting this information so that all students are included and have the information they need to succeed.
Take a SIP of this: Accessible Methods for Teaching Citation
We can approach teaching formatting and citation with information about how to do it rather than solely relying on how the finished project looks on the page. We can also start with the assumption that some of our students use a screen reader and include information about helpful features in screen readers.
For example, in teaching MLA format for a document, teach how to create the first page in Microsoft Word rather than only providing an example. Here are some sample instructions:
- Start by using the Insert menu to add the page number in a header. In the page-number menu, choose “Top of Page,” then “Plain Number 3,” which is the right-justified page number.
- The cursor will automatically be in front of the page number, and you can type or insert your last name.
- Close the Header menu and enter the body of the document.
- In the Paragraph menu, make sure that Before and After in Spacing are both set to zero and that Line Spacing is set to double.
- In the Layout menu, make sure your margins are set to 1 inch.
- With the cursor at the top margin of the document, put your full name and then press enter.
- Put your professor’s title and last name (Mr. Smith, Dr. Jones, etc.) and then press enter.
- Put the course number or name (ENG 1010, Intro to Statistics, etc.) and then press enter.
- Put in the date. This should list the day (use the numeral) first, then the month (use the word), then the four-digit year (for example, 8 March 2021). Then press enter.
- Change from left alignment to centered alignment in the paragraph menu. Type your title. Use regular font and capitalize each important word.
This approach is useful for all students – it doesn’t assume they are familiar with Word, and it explains all of the elements in the header and how to create them.
In teaching citation, you can name the punctuation, formatting and spacing as well as showing an example. This will also help all students recognize and understand each element included in the citation. Here’s an example:
Konrad, Annika. “What I’ve Learned from Working with Blind and Visually Impaired Writers.” Another Word: From the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, 15 Sept. 2014, https://dept.writing.wisc.edu/blog/what-ive-learned-from-working-with-blind-and-visually-impaired-writers/comment-page-1/
In teaching this to your class, you can verbalize the punctuation and spaces as well as the information. You can also name each element of the citation as you discuss it with your class (or you can embed comments that explain each element and the punctuation after it). For example, you can remind students that the article title is “What I’ve Learned from Working with Blind and Visually Impaired Writers” and that in addition to being enclosed in quotation marks, it should be ended with a period inside the quotation marks and one space after the closing quotation mark.
Finally, remember to check in with your students and ask if they are getting the information they need. Are your explanations of the visual information clear? Are they having challenges with technology or with your implementing your explanations? Do they understand why citing in this way is important? Helping students understand how following disciplinary conventions for citation and formatting helps build credibility and how it acknowledges the work of others can engage them in wanting to understand and follow the conventions.
By naming not only the information needed but also how that information should be formatted and where it should appear, we demystify formatting and help all students understand the verbal and visual information. This way, we invite all students to use and understand our discipline’s standards.
Still thirsty? Take a SIP of this:
JAWS Techniques for Examining Text Formatting.
Robinson, Denise M. “MLA APA Format of Heading for Paper Writing: Tech Tip.” TechVision, 2019,
Walker, Ros, and Samuel Kacer. “Academic Referencing for Blind or Visually-Impaired Students, Using
NVDA or JAWS.” Roswalker.org, 14 June 2018, https://roswalker.org/2018/06/14/academic-referencing-for-blind-students-using-nvda-or-jaws/
Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?
Do you ever feel like you spend all your time grading or have grading piling up no matter how hard you try? What if assessing what students know and do not know in a class is not just up to the instructor? What if students could be involved in this process as well?
Student-to-student peer evaluation is a powerful teaching and learning tool in the classroom. It helps the instructor by cutting down on seeing every piece of paper, and it helps students internalize the characteristics of quality work by evaluating the work of their peers.
- Peer assessments can be used in any discipline.
- Multiple forms of assessment help students and instructors gain a more complete picture of academic understanding.
- Peer assessments can be used in classes of all sizes.
- Peer assessments involve more than just assigning grades, and you might not even assign grades for them.
- Peer assessments promote learning.
Take a SIP of this: Student-to-Student Peer Assessment/Evaluation
Peer assessment is students evaluating their peers, usually using some sort of an evaluation form. Students can provide a valuable role in evaluating their classmates and in evaluating group projects since they interact with each other, becoming firsthand “experts” on what occurs in class and during group work.
Peer evaluation can increase student involvement and personal responsibility, provide relevant feedback to students by students, encourage student ownership of assignments and improve student judgment of quality work. Students are better able to evaluate their own work and to discover what they don’t know when they can observe and reflect on the range of approaches they discover during peer review.
Students sometimes struggle with peer evaluation because of a perception of the evaluation being a popularity contest in which friends rate one another highly or because they do not have a clear understanding of what to look for in their peers’ work.
Instructors can encourage peer evaluation through:
- Creating a positive learning environment. Students will not feel like they can give constructive feedback if the classroom culture is not conducive to this sort of learning process.
- Emphasizing the rationale behind using peer evaluation.
- Providing clear instructions about what quality work looks like. This can be accomplished through providing prompts, rubrics or checklists of what to look for in peers’ work.
- Providing exemplars of high-quality, satisfactory or unsatisfactory work. Instructors can build into class time what sort of work they are looking for from students. By modeling this evaluation process, students are more likely to adhere to it as well.
Still thirsty? Take another SIP of peer evaluation
Here are some other resources to help you with learning more about or practicing peer evaluation:
The Schreyer Institute provides several formats for peer evaluation
The University of New South Wales provides more in-depth discussion about assessment during group work