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Fostering an Authentic Space for Learner Voices, Engagement, and Community [Learner Engagement Summit]

Brianna Bannach 0:05
I am happy to introduce to you the wonderful speakers today, we have Dr. Tanya means she is the assistant dean and chief learning officer at gese College of Business. And we also have Dr. Jean Starobin. She is the adjunct, she is an adjunct instructor at the University of Florida, but also the Online Program Consultant at GIS College of Business. So they will be talking about fostering an authentic space for learning voices engagement and community. And I'm excited to get started. Go ahead.

Jean Starobin 0:38
Well, thank you everyone for being here. Brianna already gave me the title. So we're going to go ahead and jump into our presentation. So our purpose today is is this, these three things engagement, our palm pilot studies and their faculty perspectives. But before I start that, I just want us to join together and just agree that engagement is important. It's not say that all the research behind that is not critical to show that engagement as it relates to student success. Retention persistence is not critical. But what we want to discuss here is some of the work we've done, and how we've demonstrated it and made a difference for our students in our courses. So we're going to be looking at engagement in low and high enrollment courses. We're going to look at what it looks like and how we thoughtfully designed it to make the biggest impact as we could. I will be talking about some pilot studies, I did a comparison study of levels and depth of engagement, looking at a course that use the traditional engagement strategy strategies to the learning management system compared to one where I employed Yellowdig. As an engagement strategy, I'll discuss as a focus group of learners. At the end of the semester, Tony will also talk about what it looks like in a high enrollment course. And then we'll just talk about some faculty perspectives and how that looks for everyone, as they think about using these strategies in their courses. Just a quick thought, as I was building and this is from my perspective, from the low enrollment course, there were different themes that I thought were critical to bring into looking at how I could have a new strategy for engagement. And it was really thinking about bringing that sense of belonging, the proactive approach, having a deeper rapport with my students, and having a deeper rapport between the students. How does modality come into play? How can we reach our disengaged or lonely students, and really thinking about that design aspect? When I was thinking about modality, I thought of these two images, and I think they would probably resonate with most people here in our virtual room. The one on that left in that traditional classroom where you have that exciting engaging faculty member with the excited engaged students. There, they're collaborating, they're talking, I would imagine, they're talking back and forth with the faculty, but also with each other. And it's that supportive environment. And then we have the one on the right where you have that one student sitting there with her laptop. And behind that laptop would be the faculty teaching online class, there would be her peers. And so the intentionality that we have to go through to build the foundation of our virtual classroom, I think has to be approached in thinking about what are those building blocks that we need to put in place to help them. So let's talk more specifically about our context and how it looked in there. I'm the low enrollment person Tanya's the high enrollment person. I am an adjunct for a master's level course at the University of Florida, University of Florida and I teach for a an online student personnel cohort based program. So what that means is these students move through their their courses together, and then experience them together. I taught a summer course and it was titled educational outcomes. And then I brought a new course into the portfolio and that was in the fall and it was coaching models for students success, and the summer course I use my Traditional engagement strategies with Canvas, which were basically discussion posts. If anyone's in the yellow tea community, there is a great video on discussion posts that made me laugh. But I found that that was very constraining. And it was, it was actually slightly boring on my part and on their part. And so when I was designing my new course, I wanted to be very intentional about how I did that. And I decided to incorporate Yellowdig into that experience, and I did it in an intentional way that we'll talk about in a minute. Tanya's going to give you a little bit of information for the high enrollment courses

Tanya Means 5:43
are, thanks, Jean. So while I'll be focusing particularly on courses that we're teaching at the geese, College of Business, University of Illinois, and talking specifically about a couple of examples from our faculty who are teaching with enrollments of 400, or more students, I'm also going to be bringing to this conversation, some of the background I've had both as an instructor myself, and also working with other faculty across a variety of different modalities and levels of enrollment. And so I personally have taught using Yellowdig, all the way from a class of 12 PhD students at the University of Florida, all the way up to 100 undergraduate students in a fully online course at the University of Nebraska, and now working with faculty across that at the University of Illinois to help them to implement Yellowdig, as well as helping faculty at both the University of Florida and University of Nebraska to bring Yellowdig into their courses. And so we'll be talking about some of the things that matter at scale when we talk about student voice. But the specific course we'll be looking at is a data analytics are actually two data analytics courses that worked on processing business data, to try and teach the students how to gain actionable insights into that data. And they had previously prior to using Yellowdig, really only use the Canvas LMS discussion forums for q&a. So it was not something that was built into the course to begin with.

Jean Starobin 7:21
Thank you. So there are a few elements that I felt I wanted to really bring to the table as I designed my Fall course. And, and I say, I say these things, because I found something that was very lacking in my, in my summer course, the discussions were very, very constrained, it was constrained about with my discussion posts, I did have a q&a forum, but the students really didn't engage in it, nor did they engage with each other in it. And so these are some of the things that I wanted to solve. As I approach this differently. One of the things I wanted to do was bring this, this idea of humanizing online courses and doing that with my engagement platform. And I wanted to do that to really cultivate an inclusive environment for the students, one that would really promote learning and promote the connections, and engagement. And you can see, I put forth here two quotes from, you know, the reference that I have below there. And I think that they really address some key things that made a big impact. They address that relationship between the instructor and the student, I really wanted to build the rapport between us, which would then also allow for more trust, it would bring that element of community connection and empathy. And definitely in a place where it could drive engagement and rigor. I felt my discussions in the previous setting, were so very limited because they were directed just to me versus the other learners. And they were constrained by the topic or the prompt that I put forth. And I wanted to open up the conversation, I wanted the students to have that ability to open it up. The instructor see relationship, heart at the heart of humanizing it. And I wanted to bring that warm, caring element to my class as well. I think when when you consider coaching as a topic, it really lends itself to a community to learning to empathy to connections, and so I thought it was perfect to really bring this element to it. And the other element that I should say, and I'm repeating that word, but I think it is important, is authentic spaces. One of the other things I noticed was that the students When they did posts, and these were required posts, I had four of them. The language and the and the type of post was very narrow. They it was very similar. These were all master students, they they everyone did all their work, they did an exemplary job. I'm not saying they weren't engaged with the content, but it was very narrow. And so I wanted an authentic space where this, the learners could connect, but also support and encourage each other through this work. And through their program. I wanted to have them show that that motivation and excitement for the topic for the community, and that reflection and learning, certainly the topic lends itself to that reflection and learning. But setting up that community to allow all the students to have a voice was critical. These students were I think, if you attended Mark million tins, lecture, these are the and students, they are working professionals, they all were working in a higher ed institution already. Many of them also were caregivers. And so there was a space where they had a lot on their plate. And we needed to have that supportive, encouraging community. The next thing was generating learner voices. I had a diverse set of students. So it's 12 students, but I felt there was a very singular voice. And so I thought we were, we were losing some of that through the prescriptive format of the LMS. And so this article just resonated to me. And it really challenged me with that first question, does learner voice equal learner active participation and engagement. And I definitely felt like it did not. My students were very actively participating in their course, they were engaged with the curriculum. But I wasn't hearing their unique voices. And so I knew I had to do something different. The other thing that this article kind of brought that niggled In my mind was that power relationship aspect. And thinking that you know, that the differences between the faculty and learner then really was demonstrated in a typical discussion blog, because they were always pointing their comments to me. And so they wanted to get that grade, they want to exemplify that. And so it also minimize their voices. So I wanted to approach that issue as well. One way to do that was using digital technologies, and doing it in a thoughtful way that you could then minimize those differences. And I think when I approached Yellowdig, that gamified aspect, also encouraged that collaboration, the discussions and it helped to minimize that status difference. And it promoted the different voices. The other thing was the community. And that was very important to give those interactions, give them to, you know, additional interactions, not only with me, but with also their peers and the content, so that they could develop that excitement, and really then want to contribute. And it helped, you know, decrease some of those barriers that I've talked about. There's that time constraint, when you have a traditional discussion posts were opened and closed, and then the discussions over and having one that spreads through the whole semester, you then had that organic use of it, where they were talking about it as they were thinking about it, they could comment. And so you remove some of the barriers that I think really affected the learner voices.

Tanya Means 14:09
Any real quick, before we move on one of the things I thought I'd bring it into space, as well, as yesterday, we talked about in the panel about, you know, the modality that you might use Yellowdig in and so this is a good place to highlight that in case you didn't get to see the panel yesterday. And that is around the idea of can you use a tool like Yellowdig for discussion or a community that goes even alongside maybe a fully face to face class or a blended course where you're in person together some of the time. And one of the things I wanted to highlight was this idea of related to the student voice and giving them an authentic space to be able to share their voice is it This allows for some of the students that maybe in a face to face or a blended environment don't feel comfortable standing up or don't feel maybe even empowered to be able to speak this gives them a space to be Let's speak outside of that time. But it also gives those who maybe are more open to speaking. But it gives them some time to reflect prior to their vote before offering their voice so that they are able to have some time to really put some thoughtful reflection into their ideas and flush them out a little bit more. So even if you're not teaching online, this is still a mechanism for establishing an opportunity for students to have their voice heard.

Jean Starobin 15:31
I 100% agree. And that also helps because it's not so time sensitive, so that if you're in person, the conversation can happen at the end of the day or later. And as students use it to support each other, or help each other, it's another place to do that. That's outside of the classroom. So definitely, those are great points. I did want to bring this thought because I it was something as I was thinking about how to set up the foundation and the scaffolding of my community was that I had to release some of my authority. And this quote talks about that, that you have to be able to relinquish some of that, and let the students now speak and have their voices be heard. That was something I had to be intentional about. I can honestly say it. But I did listen to that I also listened to the advice from from people who are helping me set up my community, that I'm the model. But you do need to let the students now be that organic voice as well, and get excited about being that. And that's another

Tanya Means 16:43
thing we talked about in the panel yesterday was the idea of avoiding being the Darth Vader that comes in and dictates how the students are going to perform or what they're going to do and the word counts and things like that, because you've got that built into the system of they need to do so many words, or they need to do some so much participation across time. Now that frees you up as the instructor to if you're willing to give up some of that control. And now let it be a more organic conversation allows you to participate as an individual in the community, as opposed to the one who is controlling everything that happens.

Jean Starobin 17:21
Completely agree and also be a learner. And that's an important mall for the students, I think to see as well. When I also thought about setting it up, these are some of the points that I went through thinking about initially how I would introduce it to humanize bringing that humanizing element. If you saw my post in the Yellowdig community, you were introduced to my class mascots, Bonnie and Clyde, and the students loved it. They were introduced to them in the summer. And so I carried them through. But it definitely helped to humanize me and help to, for them to understand I was there as a learner as well. One of the things that I did do for this course in the summer, at the end of the semester, we had a synchronized session. And they were asking me about this new course. And I did introduce that I was going to be trying something new. And I wanted to bring them on that learner journey that we were going to be experiencing our discussions our community in a very different way. And I wanted them to be a participant in that process. And so that was, I think, really helpful for me. But the other thing initially is just setting the model behavior throughout the course I did, I always monitor it, I modeled some ongoing interest, I personalized instruction, as I saw things happening, knowing that it was a living community. So as things changed as the semester went on, my students who are it's a cohort based program, but they had no place to have their virtual community. They were from all over Florida and other places in the US so they could not physically be together. And I saw as time went on that they then were also using it as a coach as a community for the cohort beyond the classroom. And so that was really great to see. But at the end of the course, I did also monitor lagging and slightly less engaged students. I found it to be easier to do it within Yellowdig versus Canvas because I could see them on their points that was really helpful. I also, as they were more they were opening up more, if I saw I did see some posts where the students were expressing things that I felt like oh, they're trying they need some help. As they were talking more about things that were outside the classroom and I reached out to one of the students, and that they really appreciated that that someone was now reading these things. So as a faculty role, you know, nudging learners who have lower engagement to help them reinforcing that high engage students monitoring the discussions for for someone who's struggling or reaching out, and that was really impactful to me. So now we can see some numbers, which are always a little fun as well. This is from my course, on the right, you'll see the numbers from my summer course. So that's where I use, I had four required posts, and each for each post, they had to respond to a classmate. And then we did have a q&a, but honestly, they never used it. Anyone who had a question, they would email me directly. So then if it was an issue, I felt everyone need to see, I then would put it as an announcement. But you can see the the number of posts now remember, these are the same 12 students too. So I don't think they got chattier along the way to the next course. But I think now they had a space to be in, that they could engage with the material, and they could engage with each other. And you can see how many more comments they had posts. They definitely read, it definitely escalated as the semester went on, and they now had a space for their community. And so that was, I think that was the most exciting thing for me to see is that it became a very, you know, supportive, inclusive community, as well as a learning community where we all engage with the content and the material.

Tanya Means 21:59
Specifically, in high enrollment, I'm gonna give a couple of examples here, just so you can kind of see the impact as you build scale. And so with fall 2021, with one person had 99 students and fall 2022, which is another course that had 400 students, these were communities where we saw an extreme amount of conversation with 99, students getting 289 original posts, and then nearly 3000 comments. And so we're seeing a lot of back and forth, people being able to extend conversations interact with each other and really engage. And then with 400 students, we've got 1162, for the for the, for the original posts, and 14,000 comments. So one of the things that gets to be a little bit overwhelming as you think about this is Oh, I as an instructor, there's no way I can read all of these posts and comments. And that's where you have to realize the value of stepping back and releasing some of that control. Because, no, I as an instructor, I'm not going to read 14,000 comments, even in my best semester, regardless of what's going on in the world. And so instead, what you start realizing is that you need to let the mechanism of the tool, manage the credit that students are getting for their participation, and recognize that the crowd itself is going to help you source whether or not somebody is being a bad actor or doing something that they shouldn't be doing. And make sure that they know that if they see something inappropriate, they can slide in, but it then comes off the board and you get the chance to go in and review it and make sure that it's appropriate, and then the learner is going to lose credit for any points that they would have gained by doing that inappropriate comment. But letting that happen in the mechanism of itself and then being the model for how you want the learners to participate and engage in, in the conversations in the community. And so, as an instructor, I I enjoy both for myself and for other faculty that I work with encourage everyone to think about it from the perspective of scroll through it like you would a normal social feed. And then the things that you find that are interesting that you want to participate, do so and participate to the level at which makes sense. Don't feel the need to find every student common to everyone or or do anything in that way. But find the things that are interesting react to those things that are interesting. And then post things that you find interesting yourself. And so if you model the idea of I'm going to try and earn the same amount of credit as I would encourage my learners to earn then you're going to have a really vibrant community because you are not playing any outsized role to any of your learners. There is the ability for endorsements or for accolades and in Yellowdig to have credit and for the most part Aren't my own personal experiences to use those accolades as endorsements or badges that don't necessarily contain any overweighted credit. And so that allows you as instructors to, hey, this is really an insightful post or this is, you know, something that's really extending the conversation, but maybe doesn't weigh the points that the learners might be earning. But then the other thing that I would say is that sometimes when that community is so vibrant, is doing so well, your few little 20 points that you might add for an accolade is actually not going to change anything, because they're so engaged in the conversation, that they would actually be earning significantly more points than they earn everyday, by your, your caps, that cap that you put in with your configuration. So just a little bit of view into what it's like when you're teaching at a really large scale course.

Jean Starobin 25:55
That I mean, that's great insight. And I completely agree, it's also more interesting, versus having to gray, you know, 400 discussion posts, absolutely.

Tanya Means 26:07
Especially when it gets to be where you see the same kinds of comments over and over and over again, because everybody is fulfilling a requirement as opposed to engaging in conversation

Jean Starobin 26:17
100%, this, these are just visualization so that you can see the connections, the relationships, and report the students build through this tool, I think the most important part is all the arrows are going back and forth. And they're not going one way to the instructor, which is what would happen, I think in a traditional engagement strategy, where everyone is talking to the instructor versus each other. And so you can see all the back and forth that's

Tanya Means 26:47
going on here. One of the other things Jeanne mentioned earlier was this idea of being able to identify learners that maybe aren't as engaged. And so if you saw one of those maps that had one or two students, or even a handful of them that were significantly outside of that cluster, you could specifically reach out to those students and say, Look, I see that you're not engaging, do you understand how to use this community? And if you don't, is there something I can do to help you? Or is there something going on in your life that maybe you're having a challenge, and how can I help. And so it does allow you to see those people who are outside of the norm, in terms of their conversations and interactions. But then there are also reports within Yellowdig, where you can automate like messages to students who haven't logged in in a while or things like that.

Jean Starobin 27:35
Yeah, and those really helped because it is on a weekly basis versus let's say you have five major assignments in Canvas. And now they've gotten to one of them, and they've missed it. So I would 100% agree there. This one slide that I put in here because I wanted to to also do a call out for the community aspect of it, as my students who because they are cohort based, you would say, okay, they should have a really strong community. But it's 100% online program, and they hadn't done anything to really create and promote and build a community. And so the students started to use our course community as that. And I put this quote in because it actually talks about some of the professional issues that they were having. It did slightly relate to coaching, but it was very much I'm having an issue at work. Can you all help me? Every one of the students and I actually did comment, because there, it was a significant one. And at the end, this student then said, Thank you so much for the excellent advice, the support and the sharing. And I think that's for me, very important part of the class is to create that community so that the students can actually really feel like they can learn because they're in that trusting situation. I also did a focus group at the end. And I know in Tanya's classes, they had an end of semester survey. These are some of the themes that, you know, bubbled to the top. In my focus group. We heard a lot about these were organic discussions. We had Richard deeper relationships. It was a caring and supportive environment, learning that they could have stronger learning voices. I had some one student who was came from a non traditional education background and she felt very insecure about was she educated enough where she's smart enough, and so she felt that this was a much more natural community. And so she talked a lot about that. In the survey, that was more engaging, there was more collaboration, supportive and enriching environment. And so those were I thought impactful things that that show that it was a better stretch. due for engagement, I did put up a few of the quotes because I know we're running out of time here. So you can read them as you want. But you can see it talks a lot about having stronger relationships, they're more engaging. They felt it was much more of a natural community around Robin discussion. I think we're time to wrap it up. And I know there's a raffle so I can stop sharing. Briana, what would you like me to do? Because I think we're at time, great.

Brianna Bannach 30:37
I can I can announce the raffle, then. Thank you for a great session. Congratulations to Diane Roberts, you have been selected as the raffle winner it is a $50 gift card to your choice of Amazon or your bookstore or a coffee shop so that you can build some community with some of your your colleagues

Jean Starobin 30:59
and questions that we needed to address.

Brianna Bannach 31:03
Actually, I did not notice any, any come in. Tanya, did you see any?

Tanya Means 31:09
I did see a couple of comments on people who I think it was Kevin, who had a great comment about ways of thinking about let's see, I'm gonna look up and find it really quickly. So it was around 14 needs for engagement power, which is voice Malong, choice and fun. And so I thought that was a really interesting way of looking at how you're evaluating those needs. And I'd say that the combination of the technology tool and the pedagogy that we're using really addresses all of those and brings in a really valuable experience for learners.

Brianna Bannach 31:46
I also I do see a question from Linda Palmer. She wants to jump into

Tanya Means 31:50
it. Yes, thank you. Yeah. Did we change Jeannie, it was for you? Do you change? Did you change the discussion prompts or just change the platform?

Jean Starobin 32:00
Well, so this was a brand new course. So I did not have any discussions. I only did the Yellowdig community. But for next summer, I am switching my discussion posts to Yellowdig. And I will incorporate those discussion, those prompts into probably topics, they will be some of my topics. So it's very intentional about what topics I used. And as I moved through the semester, so it was working with the curriculum and the content as well. So it was just a little bit different in that sense, but for if as we think about the summer course, I will switch it, I will use those prompts as topics and add more.

Tanya Means 32:45
And one of the things I always recommend faculty think about is, when you had a prompt before, what was your goal? What were you trying to get out of that goal and then create topics, topic tags that give you the ability for the participants to tag their particular item that they're posting with that topic? Because what can happen is if you if you say, this is week one topic, week, two topic Week Three topic, maybe there's something that they talked about in week one, but really it comes to its forefront in week three was, hey, there's a connected idea. You want to be able to have the students be able to continue that conversation from week one to week three without saying Oh, which week was that? And how did that relate? So if it's about a specific topic, then it can be extended throughout the whole semester or the whole time of the class.

Jean Starobin 33:38
Yeah, that's that's absolutely true. So like for example, for my coaching one I did much broader versus again the week one which wouldn't have been helpful. So whether it was like academic coaching or student success or definitions, but that's how I plan to translate it next summer.

Brianna Bannach 33:59
Great, thank you both so much. Learned a lot today. I think we might already be kicked out. But see you all in the next session and thank you for a great presentation. Have Alright, bye bye.

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