Tag Archives: teaching

Celebrating a Semester of Community- and Skills-Building with the Difficult Dialogues Faculty Learning Community

By Dr. Sarah Ropp

This semester, in response to feedback from former faculty learning community members as well as attendees of our Fall 2020 orientation and open faculty meetings, we reimagined the format of our Difficult Dialogues faculty learning community (FLC). Our FLC meetings became a series of drop-in, bimonthly Friday meetings, alternating between skill-building workshops led by standout Difficult Dialogues faculty and open, unstructured conversations about dialogue in theory and practice. As with so many pandemic-era adaptations and experiments, we were trying hard to be responsive to people’s needs but unsure about how this would go. Would burned-out faculty want to spend the energy and the time to share and learn about dialogic pedagogy on Friday afternoons? Would the drop-in structure and lack of a formal commitment to the group still allow for meaningful community-building? 

As it turned out, yes! We could not be more pleased with the resilience, generosity, and engagement demonstrated by the more than 20 people who turned out for our eight hour-long sessions during the Spring 2021 semester — over half of whom attended multiple sessions. This post takes a look back over the semester, gathering together some of the most meaningful insights and practices shared over the course of the semester. It mimics in structure the same alternating pattern of our Friday meetings: highlights from our four faculty-led workshops are interspersed with stories of success shared by participants in our final open conversation on May 7. If you have additional stories of success to share, please let us know in the comments! 

Faculty-Led Workshop #1: “Self-Care” with Professor Gloria González-López

Dr. Gloria González-López (Sociology) set a wonderfully warm tone for our semester of work together during her January 29 workshop on self-care. 

One great technique: Collective Freewriting. Gloria modeled two examples of how she did this activity in her UGS/DD course after the Nov. 2020 election. First, she asked students to write a statement in response to the question, “How are you feeling now that the results of the election are known?” She compiled all of the statements in a single document, first with students’ names included, and then removed the names to create a collectively-authored poem. She facilitated a longer version of this activity the day immediately following the election, when results were not yet finalized, asking students to freewrite for 10 minutes in response to the topic of “uncertainty.” They shared their responses afterwards, and then her TA created a poem by picking out lines from their writing and knitting them together into verses. This poem was reshared with the entire class. In both cases, she asked students to reflect on the activity itself as well as share their responses to the prompt with the question, “How was that for you?”

One conceptual takeaway: Self-care is a collective and mutual practice. The privilege of being allowed to connect to others’ emotions provides care to me, even as my invitation to others to reflect and express themselves provides care to them. 

One additional resource: Gloria’s Daily Texan op-ed, “Teaching Discomfort at UT-Austin.

DD Faculty Success Story: Finding Community with Other Faculty

Dr. Louis Waldman (Art History) shared that they felt a “far greater sense of community this year” in comparison with other years. Louis noted that the pandemic created a new urgency to support faculty through the transition to online teaching as well as to create community more generally, and thanks to everyone’s new facility with Zoom, there were more opportunities to create community, in a way that was logistically easier than ever before. “Normally my only audience is my students,” Louis said. “Being able to share what I’m doing with other faculty has been a great source of energy, encouragement, and strength.” 

Faculty-Led Workshop #2: “Dialogic Meaning-Making through Multiple Modes” with Professor Katie Dawson and Beth Link 

Dr. Katie Dawson (Theatre and Dance) and Beth Link (Curriculum and Instruction) did a beautiful job modeling collaborative teaching practices in their March 12 workshop on dialogue in multiple modes. 

One great technique: Watercolor Conversations. Link, an arts educator, led participants in a non-verbal dialogue structure entitled “Watercolor Conversations.” In this activity, participants were split into pairs, and each pair of participants conducted a back-and-forth, silent conversation by taking turns to build upon each other’s drawings on a single canvas. (We used a digital painting tool called aggie.io; in a face-to-face setting, instructors would need to provide paper and watercolor paints, crayons, or markers.) Link prompted participants to consider what abstract elements–colors, shapes, and lines–might represent different emotions or states of mind. She instructed us to follow certain conversational conventions as we painted: one person initiated the non-verbal dialogue by painting an abstract shape or line that expressed how they were feeling, the other responded to it, and their partner responded to them in kind. Participants were encouraged to paint in the same space–i.e., not have a “one-sided” conversation–to be mindful of how much space they were taking up in the canvas, and to avoid “interrupting.” Each participant engaged in visual dialogue with their partner for about five minutes while soft music played. Back in the whole group, Link led a post-dialogue reflection, in which participants considered the experience of having performed the watercolor conversation (“warm,” “supportive,” and “happy” were some of the reports) as well as the activity’s potential application in the classroom. Community building and norm-setting were emphasized as this activity’s main benefits, as the visual medium provides a grounding literality to discuss with students the importance of listening, responsiveness, and not taking up too much space in the dialogue. 

One conceptual takeaway: Embodied and visual modes that both respond to different learning styles and attend to students as whole people are powerful tools for community-building.

One additional resource: See this blog post for two other techniques Katie and Beth demonstrated in their workshop. 

DD Faculty Success Story: Students as Teaching Partners 

Dr. Tonia Guida (College of Natural Sciences) collaborated with the Faculty Innovation Center to make students in her DEI Concentration course her teaching partners. Four students from the course were selected to collaborate with Tonia over a 4-5 week period to provide feedback and guidance on the course content and assessments. She met with her student partners for 30 minutes once a week, with their main role being to help design the final project assignment for the course, including the rubric. The students explained the final project assignment to the rest of the class, positioning themselves as conduits to power representing students’ interests. The response from students has been incredibly positive, Tonia said, and the quality of their work was impressive, demonstrating the value of sharing power with students and trusting them to rise to high expectations. Tonia said, “I’m floored by how amazing projects can be when you leave them open-ended.” 

Faculty-Led Workshop #3: “Helping Students Think Through Positionality” with Professor Shetal Vohra-Gupta

Dr. Shetal Vohra-Gupta (Social Work) provided incredibly useful and concrete techniques for integrating reflection, dialogue, and action related to positionality in a scaffolded, logical way for students in her March 26 workshop.

One great technique: Positionality Statements. Vohra-Gupta stressed the importance of participating in critical self-reflection around identity as an instructor–not just having students do so. She explained that she does this for multiple reasons: to model reflection for students, to acknowledge and ameliorate to some degree the power imbalance between instructor and student, and to engage with her own positionality as a scholar and teacher on a regular, ongoing basis. Vohra-Gupta shared a short positionality statement of about three sentences that she uses to introduce students both to herself as an instructor and to the content and format of a positionality statement. Her statement contains a list of three or so of her primary social identities, as well as a definition of her scholarly and pedagogical identities (for example, as a feminist and critical race scholar). She invites students, after they have participated in a social identity mapping activity, to craft their own positionality statements. 

One conceptual takeaway: Navigating positionality shouldn’t stop at naming identities and reflecting on privilege — to be truly transformational, those reflections should be applied in increasingly more rigorous and complex ways throughout the semester. 

One additional resource: See this blog post to learn about the activities Shetal uses to build up to, and build upon, this positionality statement activity. 

DD Faculty Success Story: Responding to Student Feedback

Karen Landolt J.D. (Computer Science and Business, Government, and Society) described how she adjusted content in her ethics courses to respond to students’ interests. Though she has previously had great success in using Dr. Seuss’s The Butter Battle Book to teach conflict resolution and dialogue skills through role play based on the book, the exercise fell flat this time around. Karen sought student feedback: they didn’t feel the book’s themes were connected enough to the course focus. Rather than push forward with her syllabus before students had adequately practiced the target skills, Karen responded by returning to resources and selecting a new role play scenario: the “roommates fighting over doing dishes” scenario from Difficult Conversations (Patton, Stone, and Heen 1999). Students found this much more relatable and were able to have a successful role play. 

Faculty-Led Workshop #4: “‘Warm Calling’ and Collaborative Annotation” with Professor Danica Sumpter 

Dr. Danica Sumpter (Nursing) led a highly effective exercise in dogfooding (i.e., trying out pedagogical techniques yourself first) in her April 23 workshop on collaborative annotation as a means to prepare students for dialogue. 

One great technique: Collaborative Annotation with Hypo.thesis. Sumpter’s procedure is quite simple: using the Hypo.thesis plugin for Canvas, she uploads a text to the course site and assigns students to read and annotate the text together by the night before the class is scheduled to meet to discuss the text at hand. Sumpter can prime the students to attend to certain questions by inserting questions into the margins, or help them understand uncommon or debated terms by providing definitions in the margins. Using the various features of Hypo.thesis, students can respond to the questions Sumpter poses for them as well as highlight and comment on sections of text that strike them as particularly interesting or puzzling. They can respond to each other in comment threads, thus initiating a conversation about the text in writing before they are called upon to do so orally during class. Ahead of the synchronous course meeting, Sumpter reads through the comments students have made, looking for trends, misunderstandings, particularly poignant comments, and questions. This, she explained, gives her valuable insight into students’ understanding of the text ahead of their class discussion. She uses their collective annotations to guide the questions she formulates for students to respond to in dialogue. In class, Sumpter will highlight trends as well as individual responses, inviting students to reflect and further elaborate on their responses.

One conceptual takeaway: “Warm calling” is a desirable alternative to “cold calling” that implies that students will have the opportunity to prepare for being called on to some extent. This is one great way to practice Universal Design for Learning. 

One additional resource: See this blog post for more from Danica’s workshop. 

DD Faculty Success Story: Accessing the World 

Dr. Pauline Strong (Anthropology; Director of the Humanities Center) shared how one of the gifts of the COVID era has been the new global accessibility of museums. Normally, the final project of her Museum Studies course would be based on one of the Austin-area museums she and students would have visited together over the course of the semester. This semester, Polly said, she asked students to choose a museum they thought had adapted well to the pandemic. “They came up with amazing projects from all around the world,” Polly said. She described how museums’ move to digitize exhibits and engage visitors virtually will have a transformative impact far beyond the pandemic.

Techniques for “Warm Calling” Using Collaborative Annotation from Danica Sumpter’s Difficult Dialogues Workshop

Written by Dr. Sarah Ropp

On Friday, April 23, the Difficult Dialogues program welcomed Professor Danica Sumpter to lead our fourth and final faculty-led dialogic pedagogy workshop for the Spring 2021 semester. Sumpter presented an interactive session entitled “‘Warm Calling’ and Collaborative Annotation” to close out this successful and enriching series, which has also included a workshop on self-care led by Prof. Gloria González-López, a workshop on multi-modal approaches to dialogue presented by Prof. Katie Dawson and Beth Link, and a workshop on navigating positionality with students led by Prof. Shetal Vohra-Gupta. In this final workshop, Sumpter presented the notion of “warm calling” as a desirable, effective alternative to “cold calling,” and described how she has used the collaborative annotation tool Hypo.thesis over the past two semesters to prepare students to engage in dialogue. 

Below, find some terms, tools, and techniques explored in Sumpter’s workshop — all of which are broadly adaptable across discipline and content. 

What Is Warm Calling? 

Traditional “cold calling” involves posing a question and then immediately selecting an individual student or group to respond (or, in its more extreme version, calling on the student first and then asking the question!). In contrast, “warm calling” implies that students will have the opportunity to prepare for being called on to some extent. If cold calling “put[s] [students] in the position to think quickly and speak publicly while the rest of the class may or may not be also thinking as hard about the question,” warm calling has the potential to benefit both the individual called on and the rest of the class. 

How Does Collaborative Annotation Support Warm Calling? 

Sumpter explained that collaborative annotation via the Hypo.thesis app has been a crucial strategy for preparing students to engage in dialogue with one another meaningfully and purposefully in two brand-new elective courses she has taught during the past two semesters of online teaching and learning: Race, Power, Privilege and Health (Fall 2020) and The Art and Science of Teaching Nursing (Spring 2021). These courses both involve complex, sensitive content, to which students need to bring an openness to new ideas and a willingness to confront their own positionality, privilege, and assumptions. 

Sumpter’s procedure is quite simple: using the Hypo.thesis plugin for Canvas, she uploads a text to the course site and assigns students to read and annotate the text together by the night before the class is scheduled to meet to discuss the text at hand. Sumpter can prime the students to attend to certain questions by inserting questions into the margins, or help them understand uncommon or debated terms by providing definitions in the margins. Using the various features of Hypo.thesis, students can respond to the questions Sumpter poses for them as well as highlight and comment on sections of text that strike them as particularly interesting or puzzling. They can respond to each other in comment threads, thus initiating a conversation about the text in writing before they are called upon to do so orally during class. 

Ahead of the synchronous course meeting, Sumpter reads through the comments students have made, looking for trends, misunderstandings, particularly poignant comments, and questions. This, she explained, gives her valuable insight into students’ understanding of the text ahead of their class discussion. She uses their collective annotations to guide the questions she formulates for students to respond to in dialogue. In class, Sumpter will highlight trends as well as individual responses, inviting students to reflect and further elaborate on their responses.

The benefits to students, Sumpter has observed, are many:

1) Students who are typically less likely to engage in oral dialogue are often more confident about participating in class, since it is easier to expand upon a comment one has already made than articulate a complete response on the spot. 

2) The class discussion can begin at a higher level of rigor, thus maximizing precious class time. Having already begun a dialogue with one another in writing, students are more prepared and willing to engage in a “brave space” for dialogue in which they grapple with deeper and more complex questions.

3) The often unwieldy, tiresome discussion board is streamlined into a process that students express liking much, much better. Rather than read a text on their own and then register their commentary on a Canvas discussion board, students respond both to the text and to each other in the same, conveniently public space. 

Other Benefits of Collaborative Annotation: Community Building, Trauma-Informed Pedagogy, and UDL

Sumpter also noted that collaborative annotation played an important and very positive role in helping her students build community with one another in the digital space — the aspect of in-person learning that students report missing above any other during the pandemic. She observed that students started augmenting their annotations with unexpected extras to support each other’s learning: links to YouTube videos and funny memes related to the text’s content, helpful definitions of terms, and personal experiences. Sumpter quoted a student who commented that their experience with collaborative annotation via Hypo.thesis made them rethink their assumptions about community-building in an asynchronous learning environment. This student concluded that building community with classmates “was not an impossibility, but easily attainable.” 

Additionally, it was pointed out by faculty attendees of the workshop that warm calling, supported by practices like collaborative annotation, is a meaningful, concrete, simple, and easily implementable practice to support trauma-informed pedagogy and Universal Design for Learning principles

Additional Resources 

Adams, B. & Wilson, N. (2020).Building Community in Asynchronous Online Higher Education Courses Through Collaborative Annotation.”

“10 Ways to Annotate with Students” (blog post from Hypo.thesis)

“Getting Started with Perusall” (another collaborative annotation app that includes certain features that Hypo.thesis doesn’t, such as the ability to group students into smaller sections to annotate a text and the ability to grade annotations and register grades automatically in the Canvas gradebook)

Resources for Evaluating Dialogue

Written by Dr. Sarah Ropp

Evaluating dialogue in the classroom is a tricky business, whether we are talking about assessment (trying to determine the degree to which classroom dialogue has achieved its goal for the purpose of affirming or adjusting pedagogical approach) or grading (attempting to assign a quantitative value to student performance). As Brookfield and Presskill (1999) write, “We don’t believe there really are any standardized protocols or universal measures we can apply to assessing a discussion leader’s effectiveness or the value of student contributions.” 

However, reflecting critically on what has just happened in the dialogue, including facilitator choices and participant contributions and experiences, is deeply valuable for both teachers and students. And assigning a grade to dialogue participation is a way to signal its value and importance as a learning outcome in the course, validate student effort, and make expectations transparent and consistent. 

There are endless ways to both assess and grade dialogue. Below are some ready-to-use resources to spark ideas. 

 

Ways to Support AAPI Students and Other Stressed and Traumatized Students Right Now

Written by Dr. Sarah Ropp

April is a stressful time of year under the very best of circumstances. These are not the very best of circumstances: daily, there is more news of violent attacks, both rhetorical and physical, against people from the Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander communities; police violence against Black people; mass shootings across the country; and gender violence. Below are a few ideas for supporting students, and yourself, during the last month of this semester. They include options to pursue bystander intervention training; practical mental health resources; and 3 ideas for classroom dialogues related to imposter syndrome and belonging, challenging biased language, and considering the racialization of social threats in a comparative historical perspective.  

 

  • Attend a Bystander Intervention Training 

Hollaback! in partnership with Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) are offering free, one-hour, online bystander intervention trainings specifically focused on recognizing and responding to incidents of anti-Asian American and Pacific Islander bias. Sign up here. Advertise to students, too

Note that you can also sign up for bystander intervention training to address gender-based harassment, here.

  • Share Resources with Students

“Making It to May: Ideas for Stress Relief” is a one-page infographic with about 30 simple, free ideas for coping with stress and anxiety. Circulate to students via Canvas announcement, add to your email signature for the rest of the semester, or take 1-3 minutes to practice one of the techniques together at the beginning or end of each class. PDF version here

The Students’ Guide to Radical Healing is a fantastic 40-page graphic booklet that helps people understand trauma and its impact as well as discover a variety of healing modalities. Circulate to students and keep handy to reshare with individuals as needed. 

Graduate Student Mental Health Services is a 5-page booklet that contains links and contact information for all relevant campus resources related to health and wellness. Most of the content is relevant for undergraduates as well! Circulate to students, but keep a copy handy for yourself as well, both for your own use and in order to be able to refer students to services readily. 

  • Incorporate Classroom Dialogues on Belonging, Biased Language, and Racializing Threat

Classroom Dialogue #1: Imposter Syndrome and Belonging

  1. Define imposter syndrome using this four-minute video: “What Is Imposter Syndrome?” 
  2. Read and respond to this brief article on Kevin Cokley’s imposter syndrome study at UT-Austin: “Impostor Feelings Fuel Negative Mental Health Outcomes for Minority Students.” Did anything surprise you about these findings? Are they consistent with your own experiences and/or observations? What further questions does the article raise for you? The focus of this article is on ethnic and racial minority students; what other groups of students do you think are likely to experience imposter syndrome? 
  3. Take this quick assessment to determine whether you struggle with imposter feelings to any degree: Clance IP scale. Are you surprised by these results? Is imposter syndrome something you have thought or talked much about before?
  4. Watch this one-minute video from the Blanton Museum: “Belonging”. Complete the associated dialogue and action. After each person shares, affirm their belonging in the way that feels most natural and sincere to you: 

  Verbally: “Thank you for sharing that.” “Welcome.” “Glad you’re here.” (etc) 

Physically: Smile. Nod your head. Bow. Give a thumbs up. (etc)

Visually: Use a Zoom reaction button. Type a smiley face or heart into the chat. Hold up a drawing of a heart or other symbol of welcome and affirmation. (etc) 

Classroom Dialogue #2: Identifying and Challenging Biased Language

  1. Read this text: “Biased Language Definitions and Examples,” ThoughtCo (2019) 
  2. Generate a list of other examples of biased language. Here are a few examples to start: 
    • “ghetto” (a racialized term used to indicate any of the following or a combination: impoverished, violent, “tacky,” unrefined, uneducated, etc)   
    • “crippled” (used either in a literal sense to describe a disability or non-literal sense to describe the impacts of difficulty or hardship)
    • “gypped” (a derogatory reference to Sinti and Roma peoples, formerly known as Gypsies, to mean “cheated” or “scammed”) 
    • “Indian giver” (a derogatory reference to Native Americans, to mean one who gives a gift with the intention of recalling it for oneself) 
    • “Latino time” (used to indicate a stereotype of habitual lateness or a relaxed, non-rigid sense of time) 
    • “A blonde moment” (indicating a moment of forgetfulness, silliness, illogic, unintelligence, etc) 
    • “ethnic-looking,” “ethnic food,” “ethnic clothing,” etc (indicating anything NOT associated with the presumed “neutral” or “default” White + Anglo-Saxon + Protestant + Northern European culture, people, and phenotype) 
  • “Hysterical” (a gendered way to describe an emotional response that is erratic, overdramatic, irrational, out-of-control, etc)
  • “Kung flu” or “Chinese virus” (a racialized way to describe COVID-19) 

Note that biased language also includes mocking or imitating non-dominant accents, speech patterns, dialects, and language varieties like African American Vernacular English; South Asian or East Asian accents; a Southern U.S. accent adopted to indicate ignorance or poverty; speech patterns stereotypically associated with gay men; etc. 

3.  Share examples. Categorize examples into 2 groups: 1) examples that the class agrees fairly unanimously is biased and harmful and 2) examples that people have questions about. Discuss why the examples of biased language in the “we have questions about this” category generate doubt. Is it because it is a term whose connection to a certain identity group may not be known to most people who use it (e.g. many people don’t know that “hysterical” refers to the uterus)? Is it because the term is sometimes invoked with a positive intention (e.g. praising someone’s “ethnic features”)? Is it because the term might be used lovingly by the folks belonging to the identity group it refers to (e.g. lots of Latinx people invoke the concept of “Latino time”)? (And so on.) Work through that doubt: Who gets to decide what language is unacceptable and who gets to use what language? What should you do if you’re not sure whether a term is biased or not? 

4.  What harm does biased language do? Think about the known or potential impact of biased language in terms of the personal (feelings; self-image; sense of belonging or exclusion; interpersonal relationships) and the public/political (policy; political action; political rhetoric; social norms; cultural attitudes; etc). Connect specific examples of biased language to specific harms, if you can. What should you do if you use biased language, on purpose or not? 

5.  What should you do if you witness the use of biased language by classmates, peers, colleagues, family members, authority figures, and others? To begin, refer to some of the five Ds of bystander intervention identified in BeVocal UT’s Powerpoint presentation:

What would a direct response look like?

How could you distract from what is happening?

Does delay apply here?

Under what circumstances would you delegate intervention? 

When is documentation necessary or useful? 

What are other ways to address biased language? 

Classroom Dialogue #3: Racializing Threat in Historical Perspective

Text: “Lead’s Racial Matters,” from Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect, Mel Y. Chen, Duke UP, 2012. Pair with Jabin Botford’s photograph of Trump crossing out “corona” in “coronavirus” and writing in “Chinese” instead. 

Summary of Text: Chen discusses the 2007 panic in the U.S. over traces of lead paint in children’s toys manufactured in China, describing how an “inanimate but migrant” substance–lead–became racialized and notions of the Chinese other as toxic, impure, and threatening became reanimated and re-legitimized. 

Possible discussion prompts: Compare and contrast the coronavirus crisis to the 2007 lead paint scare: what similarities do you notice? What important differences exist? Discuss some other moments in history in which a specific threat (imagined or real) was racialized. Pick one such moment and research the consequences for the ethnic group(s) associated with this threat as well as the consequences on policy and society more generally. Describe or predict, referring to your research, what some of the consequences of the coronavirus have been or will be, in terms of racial relations in the U.S., international relations, immigration policy, border enforcement, etc, etc. Discuss what Asian and Asian-descended people are experiencing locally, nationally, or globally at the moment, referring to recent testimonies, interviews, articles, and/or (if applicable and only if you wish) personal experience.