S2E18 – Community Composition

Whether the subject matter is undergraduate poetry or graduate creative nonfiction, a writing class would appear, at first glance, to be almost perfectly suited to the virtual classroom. We’ve all read the novel and seen the film adaptation’s opening scene of an author, a libation for company, the muse for inspiration, and a laptop to capture the experience. Everyone knows writing is a reclusive endeavor, right? 

Yes, because at some point it’s just you and the pen and the page… or perhaps you and pixels on a screen. 

And also no. Few writers always take their solitude neat. In most cases, they’ll add at least a shot or two of social now and again… over coffee, or at happy hour, maybe while attending a weekend workshop.

But in the real virtual world of higher ed, how can an educator compose a course that allows both full-time students, right out of high school, and part-time adult learners, juggling work and family, to partake in the benefits of a creative community?

Our guest, Daniel Stanford, will share the abridged story of his life as Composition Coordinator at Pitt Community College in North Carolina. Dan’s taught hybrid and asynchronous online courses since pre-LMS days, and he continues to try new tools and strategies for meeting learning objectives, engaging students, and encouraging collaboration. 

Listeners, this one’s sure to be a page-turner!

TRANSCRIPT

KIERAN: Hello, I’m Kieran Lindsey…

DAN: … I’m Dan Marcucci, and this is Wired Ivy.  We have combined 20 years of experience in the virtual classroom.

KIERAN: Dan lives in Pennsylvania, I live in Missouri, and we work for a university in Virginia. As part of a geographically distributed team we know from personal experience that online faculty and staff benefit from having access to their peers.

DAN: You may have been teaching online for a long time now or relatively new… you may have been thinking about a move to online or suddenly find yourself doing it… regardless, you are welcome in this virtual salon.  

KIERAN: Our goal is to create a collegial community for real academics working in virtual classrooms… a safe, supportive space where we can learn from one another and share what we’ve figured out.

[MUSIC]

KIERAN: Whether the subject matter is undergraduate poetry or graduate creative nonfiction, a writing class would appear, at first glance, to be almost perfectly suited to the virtual classroom. We’ve all read the novel and seen the film adaptation’s opening scene of an author, a libation for company, the muse for inspiration, and a laptop to capture the experience. Everyone knows writing is a reclusive endeavor, right? 

Yeah, because at some point it’s just you and the pen and the page… or perhaps you and pixels on a screen. 

And also no, because few writers always take their solitude neat. In most cases, they’ll add at least a shot or two of social now and again… over coffee, or at happy hour, maybe while attending a weekend workshop. 

But in the real virtual world of higher ed, how can an educator compose a course that allows both full-time students, right out of high school, and part-time adult learners, juggling work and family, to partake in the benefits of a creative community? 

Our guest, Daniel Stanford, will share the abridged story of his life as Composition Coordinator at Pitt Community College in North Carolina. Dan’s taught hybrid and asynchronous online courses since pre-LMS days, and he continues to try new tools and strategies for meeting learning objectives, engaging students, and encouraging collaboration. Listeners, this one’s sure to be a page-turner! 

Don’t forget to bookmark our website, wiredivy.org, so you can easily access show notes, transcripts, guest bios, and links to referenced resources. You can leave us a message, suggest topics and colleagues to interview, and subscribe to the Wired Ivy newsletter there to receive an email alert each time a new episode drops. 

[Typewriter song]

D-MARCUCCI: Our guest today on Wired Ivy is Dan Stanford. Dan serves as the Composition Coordinator at Pitt Community College where he has been teaching in the English and Humanities Department for 15 years. Almost from the beginning, he began teaching online courses to meet the needs of his students. Dan is our first guest who teaches at a community college, where a lot of the early adoption and innovation in online learning occurred, so we’re excited to talk with him. Welcome to Wired Ivy, Dan!

KIERAN: It’s a double-Dan day!

D-MARCUCCI: Lucky you!

KIERAN: Yeah, that should be fun. But your voices are different enough, I don’t think listeners are going to have any trouble telling one of you from the other.

D-MARCUCCI: Do you want one of us to do it with a British accent?

D-STANFORD: It’d have to be you!

KIERAN: Let’s do tryouts. Who wants to go first?

D-MARCUCCI: No, I don’t think I can pull that one off. Okay. No, I think people are just going to have to suffer.

Well, let’s start with some background. Can you tell us about the program that you work in at Pitt Community College and the courses that you’re teaching?

D-STANFORD: Sure I teach a lot of things. We teach six classes a semester. I teach composition, both levels, I teach American Lit, and I teach Creative Writing. In past years I have taught other things as well, other specialty literature courses that were eventually taken out of the curriculum for a number of reasons, but mostly to, I guess it was to standardize across the community college system, what was being offered.

D-MARCUCCI: So the courses that you teach pre-Covid, pre-pandemic… both online and in-person… were they mostly one or most of the other… how was that determined?

D-STANFORD: Well, in, in the past 10 years, I’ve mostly taught a combination of either hybrid classes or fully online classes. I haven’t taught a straight face-to-face class probably since, oh, maybe to 2008, 2009. But it, but it has been a mix of hybrid and completely online classes.

KIERAN: How many students are enrolled in these classes? If you’re teaching six per semester, that’s a big load.

D-STANFORD: It varies by the class. The composition classes, we try to keep them 18 to 20 students. My creative writing class is capped at 15, and the literature classes, I believe the cap now is 24 per, per section.

D-MARCUCCI: So I want to go back a second to the use of the word hybrid, because this is something that we come across when we talk to different people. What does hybrid mean at PCC?

D-STANFORD: Well, that’s a very interesting question because it doesn’t mean the same thing that it did when they started using it. Originally hybrid was anything that combined face-to-face instruction with online instruction. Any class that combined the two was hybrid.

For some reason, they felt it necessary to further delineate by making hybrid classes, and then at one point we had what was, what were called web-based classes, which were more online than face-to-face. Currently we have online classes and we have hybrid classes, which are… let’s see if I got, I have to get this right… hybrid classes are 50% or less online. And the other one that they have now is called, is a blended class. That’s what our designation and that’s, if it’s more than 50% face-to-face.

D-MARCUCCI: Is it 50% of the lessons or 50% of the students?

KIERAN: Or 50% of the contact hours, right?

D-STANFORD: Contact hours, that’s correct. Yeah. Right.

KIERAN: I’m wondering if that has anything to do with SACS accreditation.

D-STANFORD: Yeah. It very possibly does.

KIERAN: …mmmhmm, and Quality Matters. There’s been a push to dial in some definitions, but it’s not always, how should I say this?  There are specific definitions for each term but that’s not necessarily how the terms are used by the practitioners.

D-MARCUCCI: Right.

KIERAN: Sometimes people conflate hybrid and blended. I have had a very different definition of blended, which is some of the students are face-to-face in the class and some of the students at the same time are online.

D-STANFORD: We don’t have any classes that do that at this point.

KIERAN: Right.  I think that was the more common thing early on, with what was then referred to as distributed learning. You had students at different physical locations — some might be in a tricked-out media classroom on the main campus, others might be at satellite campuses, or they might be at home.

D-STANFORD: Right. And like a video feed.

KIERAN: Correct.  So hybrid at that point was a combination of in-person and at-a-distance students but all synchronous.

D-STANFORD: And in the current discussion of getting schools opened again, they use it as a term that means anything that’s not fully online or fully face-to-face.

KIERAN: Mmmhmm. I think the people who have been doing online for some time were very quick, and I’m glad they were very quick, to start trying to correct people and say, that’s emergency remote instruction. It’s not the same as online. Online is intentional, and much of what is being taught in Fall 2020 is… kind of thrown together, even though there was time to prepare.

D-STANFORD: Right. And that really showed in some classes.

KIERAN: Yeah, for sure.

D-MARCUCCI: So back in the aughts, Dan and I lived in the same town and I would have dinner with him every Tuesday night. And we would talk about teaching all the time, among other things. So I know that you’ve been teaching online for a very long time. I don’t quite remember when you started or how it is that you started teaching online. How… can you sort of give us the origin story here?

D-STANFORD: Yeah, I should, should’ve gone back and checked on this to be sure, but I, I started this job in 2005, January of 2005. And I think if I remember correctly, my first online class was in 2000…, probably 2007, 2008. It may have been the year before. It may have been 2006. But it was very different then. We had a different LMS, nobody knew how to do it.

KIERAN: I was taking online graduate courses at that point, on the receiving end in those earlier days… not of your courses, Dan, but at other institutions. 

D-STANFORD: Right.  Well, and in some ways it was easier then. Your choices of what kinds of content you could put online was so limited. There was no discussion of ADA accessibility, anything like that. So you could throw a video on there and not worry about it. You know, you could kind of a document on it. You didn’t even think about it if it could be read by a document reader.

D-MARCUCCI: Right, mmmhmm.  So those first classes you taught were motivated by your schedule or because you’ve got adult learners who have active lives, so nontraditional students needed online classes?

D-STANFORD: When we first decided to put some classes online, the administration was thinking about enrollment. They wanted to figure out how to get some more students. Right? And they thought we must be right missing some students who can’t come to campus during the day, or even for an evening class. So let’s try this new thing that everyone’s talking about called online teaching.

It was completely… almost mercenary. It’s like, okay, let’s see if we can fill a couple of more classes of composition.

KIERAN: Do you know if, early on, PCC had been doing anything with classes on broadcast television?

D-STANFORD: No, to my knowledge we weren’t doing any of that. We weren’t doing it in my department at least. Before we moved out here we lived in California, and the school I taught at there had classes like that.

KIERAN: Right, it was kind of a precursor… an early attempt at distributed learning. And from what I’ve been hearing that format is getting renewed interest now, at least for K-12, in districts where students are less likely to have access to WiFi and home computers.

D-MARCUCCI: When you first got into online teaching, you know, what’d you think of it? I mean, you had already said, we didn’t really know what we’re doing…

D-STANFORD: My department chair just said the college wants to do this, are you willing to try it? I often got picked to do these new things. We didn’t have any creative writing classes until they hired me but my department chair wanted creative writing classes. She said, now that I have someone with the credentials to teach it, do you want to teach it? And I said, of course.

KIERAN: So you were identified as an early adopter!

D-STANFORD: Maybe she just saw that I wasn’t afraid of any kind of a challenge, just, you know, okay. I’ll give it a try.

D-MARCUCCI: You never took, you never took an online class as a student. Did you?

D-STANFORD: No… I never took one. And I don’t think they offered them at Fresno State yet by the time I was out of there.

D-MARCUCCI: Fast forward to modern times, pre- or post-Covid, the courses that you’re teaching now, you said are both fully online, now everything is fully online… you had some hybrids.

D-STANFORD: Right.  All of the classes in my department, English and Humanities, are online with the exception of, I think we had three or four that were listed in the schedule as hybrid to satisfy the VA requirement.  In effect, what happened with those classes is they met the first day of the class, one day, just to tell everybody, “It’s going all online. This is how you access it. This, you know, this is how you get into the class. You do the work.” It was just really a class about learning how to take the class online, and then they’ve been online since then.

D-MARCUCCI: So you’ve got this semester, six classes you’re teaching or five classes with your administrative work.

D-STANFORD: Actually, with the administrative, I, I get a two course reduction.

D-MARCUCCI: So four classes.  Are these synchronous or asynchronous, how do you run your classes?

D-STANFORD: Almost everyone does asynchronous.

D-MARCUCCI: Okay, so it’s, it’s rare with your colleagues that people run synchronous classes on Zoom or things like that.

D-STANFORD: It’s extremely rare. The college discourages it.

KIERAN: Is that because of the audience that you’re serving?

D-STANFORD: Yes. They know that any of these students who can work will be working, and they don’t want anybody to miss out on important instructional time because they can’t make it. The guidance in the spring semester was if you are going to do anything synchronously to record it and put it up for those who missed it.

D-MARCUCCI: What’s the profile of your students, as far as what they’re trying to get out, or how many courses they’re taking? Are they full time students, part time students? How does that work?

D-STANFORD: I wish I had the numbers exactly but I think we’re about two-thirds full-time students, which means 12 hours or more a semester, and then the rest is people who are taking a class or two or just can’t take a full load or for whatever reason they’re taking a reduced load.

As far as the age range, I’m seeing a similar thing right now to what I saw during the great recession. A lot of older students are coming back. It’s kind of interesting to see them showing up in classes that I don’t typically teach online. Like normally my composition classes I, I teach as a hybrid. So I do see them. They tend to be predominantly traditional aged students. You know, sometimes we do get, we do get a fair share of students who come back after being away for just two or three years.

So, you know, it’s not unusual at all to have a handful of 25 or 26 year olds in the class, but it’s pretty unusual to have anybody say over 30 or 35 in one of my hybrid composition classes. But my online classes, Creative Writing and American Lit, sometimes up to half of the students are working moms and dads and they’re definitely older students with lots of other kinds of responsibilities that keep them from being able to come to campus.

KIERAN: It’s kind of counter-intuitive but since Covid pushed so many classes online or at least hybrid, often it’s the younger, traditional age students who have been really vocal about not wanting to attend classes virtually. So much of their lives are lived online, they’re the so-called digital natives, and yet, in my experience and what I hear from colleagues, it’s the older, non-traditional students who are quicker to embrace online learning. I guess to some extent that’s for pragmatic reasons… it’s online or not at all, so they’re motivated to make it work.

D-STANFORD: There’s actually a pretty stark divide between the traditional students who are perfectly okay with online classes versus those who don’t want anything to do with it. If you drill down on that sometimes you find out the students who really resist the online classes had taken online classes through a community college when they were in high school and had a bad experience.

KIERAN: Really? Okay.

D-STANFORD: Yeah. When you have them in an advising session, they’ll tell you this right upfront. They say, “I do not want to take an online class because I had a horrible experience doing that when I was in high school” and they really resist it.

KIERAN: I’m always trying to help students who are new to online start out on the right foot and have a great experience. So I’ll suggest that they start with classes and instructors who I know get a lot of positive reviews from other students because if they struggle at the start they’re likely to tell themselves “Online doesn’t work for me,” rather than, “That was a difficult subject” or “I don’t like that instructor’s style.”

D-STANFORD: It makes a big difference what the class is and what the student’s strengths are. I mean, I had an example of that in my own house at the end of the spring semester, because my daughter was home from Chapel Hill, taking classes in her bedroom.

D-MARCUCCI: I’m wondering with your students, with your student body, how important the sense of community is for them, particularly as the ones who are focusing on online courses, who are gravitating towards online courses. Is that, do you think about that when you’re advising or when you’re putting a course together, building that sense of community?

D-STANFORD: Well, you know, I think about it when I’m putting the course together. I include activities that allow them to interact. But I’ve found that it just, some students just aren’t interested. 

I think it’s pretty different at a community college like ours, where no one lives on campus.  Everybody comes to campus, takes their classes and goes home. Now they may have friends that they get together with, but I don’t think it’s the same kind of atmosphere that you get at a university where you’re basically there all the time.

KIERAN: The expectation is different, right? 

D-STANFORD: Yeah.

KIERAN: The social expectation is different.

D-STANFORD: Right.

KIERAN: Do you do anything to try to foster that sense of community, on a voluntary basis… they can join in if they want but they don’t have? And if so, what is it that you put in place to encourage them?

D-STANFORD: I never really have done anything like that. My colleague I was telling you about, who does the weekly check ins with his classes, even before the pandemic, when he had an online class, he would say, Hey, I’m going to be at this such and such coffee place or pizza place, anybody who could show up, I’m buying, get to know each other, and he’d do that at the beginning of the semester. He’s he’s, he’s a really outgoing guy that…

KIERAN: I was going to say, it sounds like that’s as much for him as it is for the students. 

D-STANFORD: Yeah, I think it absolutely is.

KIERAN: That’s often true. Especially now, I think a lot of campus-based faculty miss having an audience in the classroom, feeling a connection to the students in that way.

D-STANFORD: Right, right. My truck driving experience probably prepared me for working by myself a little more than most, most other teachers.

KIERAN: Let’s get into some of the specifics of your subject matter. Do you work from a standard syllabus, since you teach multiple sections, or do you get to design your own class? It sounds like, when you were approached to teach the creative writing course, maybe you were given full rein to build out something on your own… but how has that worked for you at PCC?

D-STANFORD: Again, this is, this is related to SACS. The Dean wanted to standardize the curriculum so that we could compare teaching styles, so that there’s just a little more uniformity when she looks at the numbers to see what the retention is, what the success rates are. 

And hopefully we don’t go so far as to do norming or anything like that, which I know happens some places where they do portfolios. But at least it’s standardized on this one level — all the English 111 classes do the same assignments, the writing assignments are worth the same amount in each of those classes, they do ‘em in a particular order. 

So I came up with this whole aligned curriculum, put it out there. I was not very popular when that happened and I explained, not my idea! You know, I’m actually a pretty firm believer that teachers should play to their strengths. So now we have a fairly standard English 111 curriculum.

There are certain guidelines, some of these come down from the state system. Like change the name of the 112 class to Writing and Research in the Disciplines so it is more along the lines of a writing across the curriculum type of class now than it used to be. We can’t just teach MLA and stop there.

KIERAN: And MLA stands for…?

D-MARCUCCI: For the Modern Language Association.

KIERAN: Okay.

D-STANFORD: Right. So now we also have to at least include APA [American Psychological Association], and also make them aware that there are others in other disciplines that they may encounter at some point in their higher education or when they get out into the world. But other than that, you know, the instructors can do pretty much what they want to do and how they want to do it.

D-MARCUCCI: Hmm.

KIERAN: That’s really different from my experience teaching in community college, which was very top-down… here’s the syllabus, use this text, etc. But I was an adjunct and they gave me a weekend’s notice to prepare so maybe that was the best plan after all! 

D-STANFORD: Well, there is an expectation that, and this is one of the real drawbacks of having the current model of community college teaching these days, is you have a core of full time people — I can’t say this is true everywhere, but it’s certainly true every place I’ve ever taught — you have this core of full time instructors, and then you’ve got like two or three times that many adjuncts.  In English departments, at least, that’s the way it works. And I have encountered a couple of instances, a few instances over the past two or three years where these adjuncts who are so poorly paid in North Carolina, that they take on 8 and 10 classes a semester.

D-MARCUCCI: Oy!

D-STANFORD: Can you imagine teaching 8 to 10 composition classes in a semester?

D-MARCUCCI: I cannot.

D-STANFORD: Well, and what they do is they short change the students, you know, Especially the ones…. living in a town where there’s also a four year university, some of our adjuncts also teach there.

KIERAN: Yup.

D-STANFORD: They get paid a lot better there. So the students who get short changed or the students at the community college.  And when I discover that I have a discussion with them and, um, but some just can’t do it.

D-MARCUCCI: So I have a whole bunch of questions on this now.

D-STANFORD: Okay.

D-MARCUCCI: So you’ve, as the Composition Coordinator, for example, how many different sections do you have of entry level composition.

D-STANFORD: English 111, right?

D-MARCUCCI: 111, yeah. Because compensation is required. It’s a standardized syllabus that, that has been distributed.

D-STANFORD: I think in the Fall we have 50-some sections of 111.

KIERAN: Oh my…

D-STANFORD: That’s just the English and Humanities Department.

D-MARCUCCI: So the 111 is basically what we think of as freshmen composition.

D-STANFORD: Correct.

D-MARCUCCI: They get three credits. It transfers to any of the other UNC schools when they transfer to four year schools. Is that right? Yeah. So you have 50 of those sections.

D-STANFORD: That’s correct. Yes. Yeah. In the Fall. There’s more in the Fall because we have high school in-coming.

D-MARCUCCI: More new students. How many different faculty do you have teaching those sections, about?

D-STANFORD: Oh, probably 25 maybe.

D-MARCUCCI: Maybe 25 different faculty. Okay, these numbers are more than I was expecting. Now that everything is online, or that so much of the teaching at your school is online, are you getting adjuncts that don’t live in Pitt County? I mean, do you recruit adjuncts from Fresno, for example?

D-STANFORD: No, I don’t, I don’t ever recruit them from there, but I know I have adjuncts who live in The Triangle, and I have one who lives now. I think in South Carolina. She moved. She used to live here. Mostly, though, it’s, they’re more local than that. They’re mostly Eastern North Carolina folks.

D-MARCUCCI: So the interesting thing is that being online kind of opens up your workforce geography too. There’s no residency requirement that they live nearby. They never have to come into campus. 

D-STANFORD: That’s correct. Yeah. Adjuncts never have to come to campus. They’re not, they’re never required to come to campus.

KIERAN: So if they’re an adjunct, they always teach online or is that just this semester?

D-STANFORD: Oh, no, no, no, that’s not true. That’s just this semester.

KIERAN: Okay. Just this semester. Okay.

D-STANFORD: Yeah. Yeah. In fact, among the instructors who had the hardest time transitioning to remote teaching in the spring where a few of my adjuncts who have been here a long time, but have always taught face-to-face and like to teach face-to-face. They had never taught online and they just didn’t have a clue how to do it. 

KIERAN: I understand the idea of trying to have things be as apples to apples as possible to be able to do comparisons. And yet it seems to me… one of the problems that I have with trying to standardize things is you never get a chance to test out new approaches, to get creative. How do you innovate and raise the bar and increase the benefit to the students if everybody’s always doing the same thing all the time?

D-MARCUCCI: Yeah, well sort of on that line but on an efficacy question, you’ve got a standardized syllabus and which. before Covid, both the online faculty and the face-to-face faculty used, or did they have different tools that were built into it for the online than the face-to-face?

D-STANFORD: No, it was the same. It’s not a standardized syllabus though.

D-MARCUCCI: What’s standardized then?

D-STANFORD: Just the writing assignments and the weight of each of those assignment, you know, as it pertains to the final grade. 

D-MARCUCCI: Got it.

D-STANFORD: I do have, and all of my instructors have access to, a sample syllabus. And some of them use it verbatim the way I made it.

D-STANFORD: But a lot of them like to do other things, right?  And I allow them the freedom to pick the readings they use for the different types of writing assignments. I don’t dictate that. They actually still have a fair amount of freedom. Some like to give lots of grammar, quizzes and stuff like that in English, 111. I hate to do that so I don’t do that. 

D-MARCUCCI: Okay. Got it. Okay.  The reason I was curious is because, having taught for many years face to face, and then many years online, the way you structure things is, can be different. Trying to design a lesson plan can be very different based on the, on the mode that you’re working in.

D-STANFORD: Absolutely, because you have to anticipate all the questions that you would get face to face. 

D-MARCUCCI: Right.

D-STANFORD:  You don’t want to be answering all of those on email.

KIERAN: Some activities just some things work better in a virtual space and some work better in a physical space. 

D-MARCUCCI: Thinking about that with, say, your composition classes in particular now… can you tell us the types of activities that you use as an instructor in your composition classes? Writing is an activity where there’s going to be a fair amount of student engagement throughout the semester. If it’s a workshop they would have to be engaged with each other. So how, what does that look like?

D-STANFORD: So the way mine are structured, I start out with a writing assignment that I think most of them will be able to do fairly well on. I have them do a personal narrative about some meaningful event in their life, right? It’s done in MLA style, which mostly that’s what they are familiar with from high school. Not, that’s not always the case, but that’s usually the case. I arrange my LMS into units, kind of structured around the writing assignments. In that first unit the eventual product will be that personal narrative essay. 

Working up to that I have exercises, one of which is just to learn how to basically format a paper in MLA style so that they know how to do that. I have a couple of exercises and/or quizzes related to citing sources, documenting sources, and then also related to paraphrasing and summarizing and avoiding plagiarism, because I think it’s important to get that stuff in first thing. 

KIERAN: Do you have them work in a Word doc that they then send to you as an email attachment or upload in the LMS, or do you have them work in Google Docs or some other wiki platform that’s shared with you, possibly with other students, to facilitate comments, version history, edits, all that?

D-STANFORD: As I said earlier, I have only taught composition face to face in the past. 

KIERAN: Okay.

D-STANFORD: This is the first semester where I’ve taught it completely online. This is, now this is the 112 class. I do teach English 111 in the summer in five weeks.  Yeah. In five weeks.

EVERYONE: [Laughter]

D-MARCUCCI: For the listeners, we can see each other’s faces and I just looked very surprised.

D-STANFORD: Yeah. In five weeks.

KIERAN: I think that’s called throwing somebody in the deep end of the pool.

D-STANFORD: Well, fortunately the students who sign up for that in a five week format are almost always the overachievers in high school.  They want to get it out of the way. 

KIERAN: Yeah.

D- STANFORD: I actually have really good success rates in the summer five week class.  In that class we do a couple of peer-editing on the early essays, and then I just let them go. But, but in the past, in that class, I’ve done it on discussion forums. I divide the class into groups and they work individually just within their groups. They read each other’s, make comments, that kind of stuff. 

I’m trying something different in the 112 this semester. So we use Moodle as our LMS.  One of the types of activity that they include in Moodle is what’s called a workshop. And I saw that and I thought, well, this might work really well. But this is all new. I’ll let you know how it goes. They’re going to start this in about three days. 

It looks like it’ll work really well. So it takes a little bit of work to set it up on the part of the instructor, but then it just kind of rolls out. They have a certain submission period. Once the submission period ends, it goes to the next phase, which is assessment. I have a rubric that the students are supposed to use to evaluate, assess their other, the other group members essays, and they leave feedback and other relevant constructive criticism.

And then it goes to the next phase, which is on me. I do the grading. And then there’s a conclusion at the end, which basically just says, okay, take all this, make your final draft better.

KIERAN: Are the comments all offered as text or do you have the option of using audio comments? I’ve used a number of different LMS but I’m not familiar with Moodle.

D-STANFORD: I didn’t see that option. I just was, actually earlier today, looking online at a little more detail about the functionality of this workshop activity. I don’t think there’s a, a way to do that but that would be interesting actually. I, I think they can also annotate each other’s papers.  I hope they can. I’m pretty sure they can include files. For feedback. So they could go in and, you know, mark it up even by hand and scan it. 

D-MARCUCCI: Mark the file up and then reattach the file. Yeah. I would assume that they could do that all within the LMS. 

D-STANFORD: I hope so.

D-MARCUCCI: In my classes, the students always have to, all their essays are posted publicly. So their, the colleagues can read their work. Publicly within the course. There’s nothing that’s turned in just to me, that only my eyes see. Everything is, you know, is on the LMS. 

When you have one of these modules, say for that first assignment, how many weeks is that in a normal semester?

D- STANFORD: Usually three, three to three to four. For online classes, because I know, typically, at least half of the class will be working, I like to give them a full weekend on the end of the assignment, so I don’t make things due until Sunday night. So that gives them that whole last weekend, if they really put things off, and gives them a little more. So, so that could end up being three and a half to four weeks on occasion.

D-MARCUCCI: When you, when you were teaching this before, it was, you said it was hybrid. So certain parts of those activities you would try to do in-person.

KIERAN: Yeah, what parts were in-person and what parts were online?

D-STANFORD: The way my hybrid worked, it was one day a week in class. For a Tuesday-Thursday class, one day a week in class. I’d model the, uh, document formatting and MLA style, and then I would say, go home, do this, so that one kind of happened combination in class and, well, homework. 

The way my hybrid is different from if I were teaching the same class face-to-face is there are assignments that only take place in Moodle. For example, the plagiarism and summarizing and paraphrasing quizzes, those take place only in Moodle. We never do those in class in my hybrid class ‘cause that’s what they do on the other day of the week.

KIERAN: Is there a lecture component, either when they come to class in the hybrid format or pre-recorded for the asynchronous online format?

D-STANFORD: In the hybrid class, I do lecture. It’s a hour and 15 minute class and I usually lecture for 45 to 50 minutes. When we start a new assignment, I go through and explain what it is they’re aiming for, maybe topic selection on certain essays, talk about doing research, how to keep track of what it is you find, do an annotated bibliography. 

KIERAN: Do you do that in a prerecorded video that they download?

D-STANFORD: It’s all written. I’ve always thought it would be a good thing to have more video. The big problem with that right now is we’re really being pushed to have everything ADA compliant.

KIERAN: Right.

D-MARCUCCI: Right.

D-STANFORD: If you have a video in Moodle, it has to be captioned 100%. 

KIERAN: Another option is audio, and there are some fairly inexpensive transcription services available. They’re mostly accurate… doesn’t take too much time to clean up the text, usually, especially with a single speaker. Additional benefits are that it’s easier to edit, doesn’t take as much time to upload, doesn’t take as much bandwidth to download, that’s an important one. 

D-MARCUCCI: The other option, I guess, is if you’ve got a written out, it could be posted on Moodle for people who need to access it that way. But you could also just record the audio, like in a podcast format that people could download and listen to at the gym or something like that. Not quite as high production as your colleague but they hear your voice then, at least.

D-STANFORD: Yeah, that’s an idea.  I can see the value of that. I don’t know that I see myself actually doing it just because I don’t know that I’m that good delivering information that way, when I don’t have the, the audience, you know what I mean? 

D-MARCUCCI: Yeah, yeah.

D-STANFORD: The other part that would really be missing for me is addressing the questions that come up as I’m speaking. 

KIERAN: But it’s not all that different than addressing the questions that come up in response to readings or other homework assignments. How were you handling questions that came up outside of class in your hybrid and face-to-face formats?

D-STANFORD: That’s true. They emailed me. I have a questions forum, for some reason I just can’t get students to use it. I tell them at the beginning of the semester, “Please, if you have a question about this assignment, if something I’ve included in the instructions is not clear. If you’re confused about something, please ask the question in the forum because that way everybody can see it.”

KIERAN: That’s why they don’t want to do it, I’ll bet. I mean, you would think, especially the Gen-Xers and younger, who document every aspect of their lives on social media, you’d think they wouldn’t have any qualms about posting a question, especially when we explain that someone else likely has the same question. But class is different. They’re being judged, by the instructor if not their peers, so if there’s a chance they’ll look foolish or they’re worried everybody who sees the question will do the eye roll thing, they’d rather ask in the more private venue of email. 

D- STANFORD: Wow. You know, I, I never actually even considered that. It makes sense.

D-MARCUCCI: For those lessons specific questions, obviously not the personal issues, if I get an email like that, I just say would you please post this in the open forum? And if your colleagues can’t answer that within the next 24 hours, I will. A lot of times it’s a technical question. “How do I do this in Canvas?”

D-STANFORD: That’s a good idea.

D-MARCUCCI: So here’s the thought though… your students interact with each other of doing peer reviews of drafts, which clearly is a big part of their interaction as a class, as a group. 

D-STANFORD: Yes, right.

D-MARCUCCI: Do you think that works differently with your online classes than it did, in your experience, in the face-to-face classes or the hybrid classes.

KIERAN: Yeah, once they’ve met each other in person, does it change how they interact with each other, or how they offer feedback and critiques? 

D-MARCUCCI: Or does the medium change it?

D-STANFORD: That’s a very good question. I mean, honestly, some classes, and this is just a personality thing of the class. For some classes, you can’t get them to take peer review seriously, no matter what you do. You just can’t do it. When I get a class like that, if it’s a hybrid class, I just don’t ever do it again.  I always encourage them to have, have them get someone else’s eyes on this draft. If you don’t want to share it with one of your classmates, have your mom read it, have your roommate read it. Somebody!

KIERAN: Also, they don’t always understand the difference between criticism and critique, right? 

D-STANFORD: They seem not to want to say negative things.

KIERAN: They’re comfortable with clicking the thumbs-up or thumbs-down button on the post of someone they don’t know and will never meet, but constructive feedback to someone who can, shall we say, return the favor, that may be way scarier.

D-MARCUCCI: Yep.

D-STANFORD: Yeah. In other classes it works really well. And I’ve seen the same thing happen online. I think I get more meaningful participation online, mainly because, and, and it’s only slightly better, but it is, it is a little better. I think it’s because I get to see everything that goes on.

KIERAN: Yeah. There’s is no hiding in an online forum.  When I was teaching, I’d ask, how helpful is it to have someone tell you, “Great job!” or “Nice work!”?

D-STANFORD: Yeah, right. That’s especially true in the creative writing class. It doesn’t help at all to just say, “I really loved your poem.”

KIERAN: Shifting topics a bit as we wind down… this pandemic pivot created a lot of new attention for online learning. Relevant to today’s discussion, there’s been both criticism and critique, and just as we’ve discussed, it hasn’t always been helpful or well-informed. There’ve been calls for tuition refunds or discounts based solely on the fact that the students aren’t in the same physical room with their instructor.

Online has often been left to find its own way, and the result has been a great deal of freedom to try out new technologies, new approaches, be creative. Community colleges, including your institution, were quick to recognize the benefits of online delivery for both students and the institution, and have been part of that innovation space from early days.  

So we’d like to hear your thoughts on whether you think we’re likely to see more of a push toward standardization, now that online is in the public spotlight and, if so, what impacts you might expect to see as a result, positive, negative, or neutral.   

D-STANFORD: My gut tells me overall, it will be good. It will actually improve the reputation of online learning. That’s just my gut telling me that. People fear what they don’t know. And there are some students who just would never take an online course because they think they need that face-to-face interaction with the teacher.

And some of them probably do. That’s probably absolutely true.

KIERAN: Or they want to be on campus for reasons that have little to do with how their courses are delivered. 

D-STANFORD: Yeah. I suppose. But my hope is that it will, in the end will actually raise the profile a little bit and maybe put to rest some of the concerns about it not being as good. The whole hullabaloo about tuition… I think it’s coming from people who just really don’t understand how institutions of higher learning work, because whether the courses are online or not, you have to pay people to teach them.  There are infrastructure costs, not just buildings, to make a college operate. 

When everything went online, the infrastructure costs for the distance learning and the IT departments, that went way up. It had to. I mean, we gave out hundreds of laptops and hotspots and all kinds of things for students who didn’t have, either didn’t have a laptop of their own, or it wasn’t good enough, or they didn’t have good enough Internet connection at home, whatever. So, just to try to make it possible for everyone to still do well, we just got dove in and just started handing these things out to students who need it. 

KIERAN: Online has been pushing innovation in the classroom in a very under the radar kind of way for a long time… imagine what this year would have been like for higher ed, for K-12, if the early adopters and innovators had not been working in this space for the past several decades!  

STANFORD: Oh, no, I, I agree. And even students who are, who are resistant to online classes, I think, have come to expect certain things that are a result of online learning. They expect to be able to have access to their syllabus, even if they lose it, it should, it has to be online somewhere. They expect to be able to go in and check their grade anytime they want to. It’s mandatory for our faculty to put all grades in Moodle. Everybody, everything.

KIERAN: Right, and they expect to be able to communicate with the instructor at any time that’s convenient for them through email, some of our faculty have open chat platforms. It doesn’t mean students get an immediate response, but they don’t have to wait until the next class session or office hours, and they do expect a reasonable response time. I hear about it if my faculty don’t reply within 24-48 hours, not counting the weekend.

D-MARCUCCI: Well, this has been a lot of fun. Thank you, Dan Stanford, Pitt Community College. It’s great to have you on Wired Ivy.

D-STANFORD: Thanks for having me.

KIERAN: Thanks, Dan. We really appreciate you taking the time today.

[Music]

KIERAN: Now we want to hear what you have to say!  Send us your questions, comments, and suggestions.  You can record a voice message, send an email, or leave a comment on our website, wiredivy.org.  And help Wired Ivy grow by sharing, subscribing, rating, and reviewing us on your favorite podcast app.

DAN: Wired Ivy is wholly owned by Kieran Lindsey and Dan Marcucci, and we are solely responsible for its content.   Views expressed in this podcast and affiliated media are those of Kieran, Dan, and our guests, and do not represent Virginia Tech or any other institution.

KIERAN: Our audio engineer is Star Path Images, and a license for our theme music, Breakfast with You, was purchased from SmartSound.

DAN: Until next time, this is Dan Marcucci,

KIERAN: And I’m Kieran Lindsey. 

KIERAN and DAN: Let’s stay connected!

[MUSIC]

CITATIONS AND REFERENCES

Daniel Stanford serves as the Composition Coordinator in the English & Humanities Department at Pitt Community College in North Carolina, where he has taught for 15 years.  Dan is the founding editor of Reedy Branch Review literary journal.  Dan received an MFA in creative writing at Fresno State University.   For a first career, Dan drove a truck up and down the West Coast.  His preferred mode of transportation these days is a sailboat. 

Resources mentioned during our interview:

We welcome your questions, feedback, and suggestions for future episodes. Join our Wired Ivy LinkedIn Group, tweet us @wiredivyor look for the bright blue Talk to Wired Ivy tab on the right side of this screen to leave us a voice message!

My department chair said “The college wants to offer online classes. Are you willing to try it?” I often got picked to do new things. Maybe she just saw that I wasn’t afraid of any kind of challenge. #highered #onlineteaching

It’s rare for our faculty to run synchronous classes. We know any of our students who can work will be working, and we don’t want anybody to miss out on important instructional time. #highered #onlineteaching #virtualclassroom

Wired Ivy is wholly owned by Kieran Lindsey and Daniel Marcucci, and we are solely responsible for its content.   Views expressed in this podcast and affiliated media are those of Kieran, Dan, and our guests, and do not represent Virginia Tech or any other institution.  Our audio engineer is Star Path Images, and a license for our theme music, Breakfast with You, was purchased from SmartSound.

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