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.
KIERAN: Our guest this week, Chastity Warren English, is uniquely qualified to cultivate an online graduate program. That’s partly due to her training in agricultural education, a career she chose early in life. Shortly after the germination of her own graduate studies, she was chosen for an internship that helped her to blossom as an online instructor.
Drawing on her own experiences as a student, and a teacher, Chastity is always looking for new ways to meet her students’ needs while also encouraging them to suggest solutions to the obstacles they face as adult learners juggling family responsibilities, the demands of travel-dependent jobs, financial hurdles, equipment limitations, and spotty access to broadband. It’s this talent for collaborative problem solving, and nurturing the same in her students, that allows Chastity to provide them with the professional edge they need to grow their careers.
If you’re working to make your own online courses bloom, be sure 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, ask questions, suggest topics, and subscribe to the Wired Ivy newsletter to receive an email alert each time a new episode drops.
You know what that means… time to saddle up!
DAN: Our guest today is Dr. Chastity Warren-English, an associate professor at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. Her undergraduate and masters are also from NCA&T but she crossed the state line for a doctorate from Virginia Tech. Go Hokies. Chastity is a member of the faculty in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences where she is the Program Coordinator of the Master of Science in Agricultural Education, which is offered online.
She is a licensed Agricultural Educator for grades 6 to 12, and in higher learning, where she has taught undergraduates and graduates for over 13 years, she’s a certified online instructor and faculty developer in distance education… which is what brings us to her. Chastity. we’re so excited to have you on Wired Ivy. Thank you for joining us.
KIERAN: Chastity, how did you come to choose a career in teaching and agricultural education?
CHASTITY: Okay. I’m going to give you the short story.
KIERAN: [laughing] Got it.
CHASTITY: I have always loved Ag and that came because of my dad just instilling in me the importance of knowing what the soil is and what the soil means to us. So I always knew I was going to become a Ag teacher. Once I met Mr. Armstrong in high school, he was a Aggie, and that’s the only place we could go. We had NC State or A&T. So I was Aggie bound.
Arriving at A&T, I had professors like Dr. Purcell and Dr. Thompson and Dr. Larry Powers, all Ag professionals, and we didn’t see that a lot in Eastern North Carolina, especially people of color that enjoyed Ag and saw Ag in a different light than what usually associate Ag with, with people of color.
So, seeing that I could make money in this arena, and wasn’t a lot of females at the time, I knew I could combine teaching and learning, which my dad always saw me becoming a teacher. So that’s the short story of how I chose a career.
KIERAN: It helps to have role models, doesn’t it? It’s always interesting to hear the path our guests followed to the online side of higher ed… how did you make the switch from face-to-face instruction?
CHASTITY: Two words: Antoine Alston. And he loves to say Antoine J. Alston. He was my major professor in my grad program at A&T. He had just finished his PhD at Iowa State, Ag Ed, and his concentration was instructional technology. So when he came back to A&T as the Program Coordinator and Assistant Professor of Ag Ed, his big idea was Ag Ed has to go online if we’re to survive because the numbers were so low at that time.
He kept pushing it to the Dean that Ag Ed would have to go online to meet the needs of the citizens. By 2002, he had converted the program to totally online delivery with the grant that he had received from the UNC System. During that time, the system knew that online was going to be a big component to higher education so when he received the competitive grant, he also received a stipend for a graduate student. He hired me, so I started developing online courses, going to trainings, learning about online, so the interest was sparked back in 2001.
DAN: And this, so this is while you were a master’s student?
CHASTITY: It was.
DAN: Wow! That’s great.
KIERAN: Based on what you’re doing now it sounds like Dr. Alston made a wise choice.
Let’s get weedy for a minute… [laughing] although I know weeds aren’t exactly the goal in agriculture. Tell us about the demographics of the students in your program. Are they mostly based in North Carolina, or from across the U.S., maybe even based in other countries? Does A&T charge out-of-state tuition or is it a residency-neutral model like so many online programs have adopted?
CHASTITY: The primary focus would be the citizens of North Carolina, first. We do have quite a few out of state students because of the distance learning component and they do pay out-of-state tuition. But because of the fees in North Carolina A&T is so affordable, a online grad course, three hours might run an in-state citizen about $600, out-of-state might pay $1200. So even with them being out of state, it’s still cheaper than some of their flagship schools in-state.
So we have students, because of Ag Ed, we have the teacher education side, if they are trying to be licensed teachers, but then we also have professional service side. So those are students who are looking at corporate extension, USDA, agribusinesses, a lot might develop their own nonprofits. So we cater to two different, um, aspects of students there.
My students can range from ages 21 up to 50-plus, it just depends. They all want learning that’s convenient for them. So I think that’s the draw of our program as well, because of the distance learning piece, and we’re student centered. So a lot of the feedback I received from my students, they enjoy that they were able to develop a program to meet their needs so there’s a lot of diversity there, and where do students end up.
KIERAN: Is the program set up to let them choose between full-, half-, or part-time enrollment? Do they follow a set curriculum or get to customize their plan of study? In my experience, working with adult learners, if the program is going to serve that audience and be successful, the program and courses have to fit into their lives… we can’t expect them to rearrange their lives to fit a traditional academic schedule. What’s been your experience with that?
CHASTITY: I have a student right now, has been in the program going on four years, and because of her schedule as an agent, she can only take one course a semester, doing exceptionally well. I have another student who just graduated taking 12 hours, done in the calendar year. Some students want to do two courses and they’re pacing stands because they’re running a full FFA and Ag Ed program in the field so they need that time based on competitions, and they know when the schedule is heavy.
KIERAN: Mmmhmm. Same here. Course loads are all over the map, and my job, in part, is to help them make it work, based on their individual needs and goals.
CHASTITY: Totally agree, it’s not what I want for them. What are your goals? How can I help you? What’s your learning style? How do you like information delivered? What type of, um, projects do you like to be involved in? We can literally go in and cater the experience for that student.
KIERAN: Every student in my program has a customized plan of study. We have a set of 5 required core, but they’re not prereqs, and students get to choose 5 elective courses. For a while, 1 class per semester was the most common. Lately it’s been inching up to 2 classes per semester as the norm, but I’m also seeing more students who want to finish this 30-credit program in two or three semesters. Those students, generally, are not working, or at least not full-time.
We offer a good slate of courses in the Summer term, as well, taught in the 12-week format, to make it feasible for students on either end of that enrollment spectrum to finish up with a reasonable amount of time. Do you offer summer courses as well?
CHASTITY: We do. We run courses all year long. We also have independent studies built in because some of the students, with experiences they’re currently working on in the field, that’s authentic learning. They can receive credit for these major projects to let them know we acknowledge that you’re coming to us as a learner and a professional.
KIERAN: One last question, for now, from the program director perspective and then I’ll let Dan get a word or two in [laughter]… what kind of impacts, if any, have you seen from the Covid pandemic on applications and enrollment?
CHASTITY: We did. We saw us dropping out numbers a little and most of the students who decided not to enroll, or decided to wait, they’re already employed in Ag. As you know, Ag is one of those industries… they can’t work from home. The hours picked up and because of working from home, I know I might, I could definitely tell my productivity probably increased by 106, but I’m thinking, yeah, there might be a correlation there. Because these students kept working. If they were in corporate extension, they kept developing programs and teaching. So I had a few teachers this semester where they would normally carry three courses. They may be dropped to a one or even two.
KIERAN: Of course, that makes sense.
DAN: Your students are largely in North Carolina, but you said they can be from all over the country. Is there any part of the program where they need to come to campus at A&T or is it 100% online?
CHASTITY: 100% online.
DAN: From your perspective as the program coordinator or as a faculty member delivering individual courses, are you intentionally doing things to build a sense of community among the students? Either, you know, a learning community in the course, or a sense of community in the program? It’s a professional degree, and a specialized profession from my perspective, at least, so it seems there would be advantage in them getting to know each other fairly well. I’m wondering if that’s important to you, what sorts of things you do about that.
CHASTITY: One of the things we pushed for them to have their own professional network, that these are your colleagues that you will see in USDA. We definitely try to make it a holistic experience for them to understand how they can network.
And then it’s critical for me because they become my colleagues when they leave. These are the same people I go to when I’m looking for students, or even on the research side when we’re developing programming. So yes, that community, that sense of learning community, is critical.
DAN: And, and you do things like encourage them to talk to each other offline, have social media groups? Do you have, like, virtual happy hours and things like that? I mean, I’m wondering what sorts of things you do to, to encourage it.
CHASTITY: I never did a virtual open house or a happy hour with the students but what happens with these students, they developed their own group meeting, so you find out it’s two group meetings: the real group meeting, but then the one they really talk.
KIERAN: [laughing] The meeting that doesn’t include the teacher!
CHASTITY: You always have that one student, “Hey, you might need to know that…”
CHASTITY: That’s what they’re really thinking [laughing]. They are very self sufficient. Even if we don’t intentionally say, let’s do this, they’ll come up with it themselves. They’ll have meet-ups. So when I find out they have a meet-up, “Hey, well, I’m only 20 minutes from you. Can I come?” Sure! You want to come by? Please!
I find myself not being as rigid with my time, because, like you said, it’s really based on their flexibility. So if I find more than three can get together for coffee on Friday evening, then that’s somewhere I want to be. Cause I just want to see what’s going on. How are you feeling? Is it something I can do better? What do you need from us as a program?
KIERAN: That’s something we’ve discussed before on the podcast… the fact that there can be just as much interaction between students and between students and the instructor in an online class, maybe more, but it has to be intentional.
And, as you point out, Chastity, we shouldn’t assume students are only going to interact on the platforms we create. Early on, as our program shifted to a 100% online model, instructors were sometimes surprised to discover that their students are communicating with each other outside of the LMS discussion board… usually about the instructor, the class, grading. Since I had been an online student myself I’d gently point out that, yes, students share phone numbers and email addresses, connect on social media… they do exist outside of the virtual classroom [laughing].
CHASTITY: That is so true. I advise a couple of student organizations, so it’s the after hours where you really get the good details. One of my new freshmen had mentioned that the students are having a hard time with a history teacher. And I said, well, how do you know? She said they’re texting the entire time during the lecture. They’re laughing, so he’s trying to figure out why are they laughing. And I said, wow. I said, the professor has no idea? Alright, why don’t you just let him know? Oh, no, this is our group.
I don’t think a lot of the faculty realize that they use the technology to their advantage in that way sometimes. If something is wrong they will screenshot and it goes to the group. You have to be aware of what you’re seeing, how you’re seen.
DAN: Well, while we’re on that scary subject of actually managing a course, tell us, uh, which core, what are the courses that you teach yourself in the program or have taught in the past, in the program?
CHASTITY: This semester I’m teaching all the clinical courses for Ag Ed, and my job is to supervise the candidates in the field. I’m teaching Clinicals One and Two. In the past I have taught Teaching Methods, Research, Program Planning and Evaluation, Youth Organization and Management, Independent Study, Capstone, Thesis, uh…
KIERAN: You’re a renaissance woman! What’s your course load for an average semester?
CHASTITY: Okay. So don’t be surprised but a lot of times at an HBCU our load tends to be heavy, but 100% teaching is already four courses. So on the average, I will have 12 hours, Spring and Fall. In the past, due to not having enough faculty to cover, I have taught as much as 21 hours in a semester.
CHASTITY: This semester is the first time I had. 15 hours. So I’m actually happy with the load I have this semester.
KIERAN: What’s the enrollment cap on your courses?
CHASTITY: Ok, so if it’s a content course we can have anywhere between 25 to 30, if it’s a clinical or thesis, it might be two or three. With clinicals, this semester I have two students in the field, and I have two undergrads in the field. So it varies.Our fall semester tends to be a little bit lighter.
Spring semester I have five undergrads and Clinical Two I have seven grads, so I’ll be supervising 12 teachers in the field. And then if I pick up a content course, which I teach my soft skills, I might have 25 students in that course.
KIERAN: And I’m assuming, since you’re supervising students in the field, there’s some travel involved as well — evenings, weekend hours — well, in normal times. Plus you make time to meet with students for coffee, those are some mad time management skills, Chastity!
DAN: Well that’s impressive, too, because you are a research university. So you still have a research obligation, I know, to take care of.
CHASTITY: We do. The irony of that is I just went through PTR last year, and from that, I was able to gauge whether or not to submit for promotion this year. So I’m actually going through the cycle now for promotion to full rank.
But yes, going through that process, I was consistently reminded. regardless of the teaching load or the service load, the research still needs to be there. And. You will, you won’t make it through that if the research is not… so we definitely have to keep that scholarship.
DAN: Yeah, clearly. Well looking at one of the content courses, for example, when you said some of those might be undergraduate, but some of those are graduate. So it’s somewhere in the department and some are actually in your online program. Are all the courses that you teach online or some of them in-person?
CHASTITY: All the courses I teach are online. We might have a student, we might have a cohort that comes through, on the undergrad side, that would like a course face-to-face. That depends on the faculty member, if they want to teach face-to-face. But most faculty, once they realize the benefits of online, most are glad to teach everything online.
DAN: Okay. That’s what I was thinking. So on the content course, for example, you tend to teach them asynchronously, synchronously. How does that work? Are they LMS-based or, or how having to manage it?
CHASTITY: We use Blackboard at A&T. I have found asynchronous tends to be more conducive. I use the synchronous when we need to do our check-ins. So if I’m doing a one-on-one, or if it’s a small group I break them in that way.
But because of the two-plus-two nature of our undergrad program, they tend to be working adults, too, it’s very hard to get everyone on that same page to say, “Hey, this is the time we’re going to meet.” It’s always one or two that throws off that synergy.
CHASTITY: You have to give them other option… phone conference, text messages, email, whatever they feel comfortable with and what works best for them.
DAN: …and whatever, right, whatever equipment they have at hand at that time of day. Like, that could be in the truck, driving, driving home from a job or something and, it’s like, they can talk on the phone, but that’s it.
Yeah, we have similar sort of demands on our time, in that, our students are spread out perhaps even a little bit more than yours. So there is no time that we could do a synchronous class. So the program is really set up to be working around asynchronous courses.
Students, even working on group projects, we find that, you know, if you have a week or two for the project to, to be worked on, then the students can coordinate among themselves. Is there a lot of group work in your, in your program, in your curriculum?
CHASTITY: It is, and they hate it.
KIERAN: All students, undergrad or graduate, every institution, they all say they hate it.
CHASTITY: They hate it. And it’s funny because with my nontraditional learners, they’ll pulled me to the side and say, you know, we’re supposed to say group work, teamwork, but in reality, it doesn’t really work. Everyone knows only 10% does major percent of the work. Come on, just let me do the project independently.
DAN: [Laughing] And yet…
KIERAN: Right, right. I tell them, “We want to make sure students have a chance to benefit from access to each other’s knowledge and experience, not just the instructor’s. The more your career advances the less likely it is you’ll be working in isolation. You’re going to be working with other people, if you aren’t already. Why would class be any different?”
CHASTITY: Yeah, especially when you have learning outcomes, tied to collaboration, teamwork.
KIERAN: Yup [laughing]. There are always trade-offs, positive and negative. But, you know, this past Spring we interviewed a panel of alumni from the programs we’d featured in Season 1 of Wired Ivy. One thing they said was, in effect, “I would NEVER have expected to be saying this but group work was one of the best things about my online experience. I made some great friends and really felt like part of a larger community because of group work.” They were every bit as surprised to say it as we were to hear them say it!
DAN: Yeah. Then they get to know each other in group work too. Of course they hate it, but those reasons we have to continue to use a part of it is for the efficiency of managing of class.The part of is because learning outcomes are attached to being able to collaborate together in my field. And I assume in your field as well. So. I’m curious about these clinical classes. So what is, what is clinical mean in the field of agricultural education
CHASTITY: Student teaching. The language just updated over the last two or three years, but it’s student teaching. I had a session this morning with a teacher, he’s lateral entry in Davidson County, a sweetheart. We check in every Wednesday for 30 minutes.
He’s teaching online, so he invited me right me into the classroom so I can see what’s going on. How has he managed the lesson? How did he execute his direct structure? And I used it for time to check on him and his well-being. Are you okay? Where we at one through five? How’s grandpa doing? How’s the farm coming along? Are you ready for your FFA competitions? Are you getting enough sleep?
So it’s just our time to make sure that he’s getting ready for edTPA cause it’s consequential, he has to pass. It’s my time to make sure that they’re okay before we let them go.
KIERAN: Wow, talk about student support services. That goes above and beyond!
It makes a huge difference to the success of the online students, and the program, when they feel someone has their back. Because they’re not going to bump into someone in the hall or casually overhear information. Having a primary point of contact who can tell them “Ok, you need to talk to so-and-so, here’s their phone number”… that makes all the difference for students in an online program.
I’m that person. Our students work with various instructors while they’re with us but I’m the one person who’s a through-line from the point when they first enroll until they graduate, often beyond.
Since they work, and they’re scattered across multiple time zones, I can’t limit my availability to the standard Monday through Friday business hours. I do have regular advising times and, of course, I have to remember to be respectful of my own needs. But I’ve learned how to toggle back and forth between work and personal tasks throughout the day and week so I can be available to do an advising call Wednesday evening or Sunday afternoon if that’s what works for the student. And I have to triage requests–is this something that can wait or does it need my immediate attention?
CHASTITY: I love the way you framed that. I really do, because you’re right, oftentimes it comes back to the coordinator. Same student, this morning when we were speaking, he informed me that he was making payments on his tuition bill. So he had to decide whether it’s make a payment or pay for the edTPA. Through that conversation, I said, well, let me go do a little begging and see, can we figure out how to get you a mini scholarship, help offset that.
Him being comfortable enough to share that with me, knowing that’s a real need that’s gonna impact whether or not he can complete this program, and then having a relationship with my Dean, too, so that the student can progress without worrying about paying for a test.
KIERAN: I’m so lucky to have faculty who will contact me when a student hasn’t logged in to our LMS for a while, or seems to be struggling for some reason. Usually they’ve tried contacting the student first through their university email, but I have personal email address as well. There are times when I’ll get a response even if the student has kind of checked out of school communications for whatever reason.
I don’t have the same access to mini-scholarships but I can allow them to take an Incomplete if they get in a jam, and then they can start fresh on that course in a future semester without paying for it a second time. That works well for them, it doesn’t cause problems for other students in the class, and it’s respectful of my faculty’s time and energy, most of whom are contract adjuncts. But I have to know there’s a problem before I can step in to help.
DAN: From an instructor’s perspective, I love working with adult learners, what are sometimes called nontraditional students. But, you know, it’s a package deal. They come with full lives. A lot of them have jobs, full-time jobs. Some of the jobs are out in the field or on the road, if they’re working for the forest service or something like that. And they have families and so, it’s like, okay, great, I want busy people in my courses. That’s fun, that makes for a richer course, but you’ve got to recognize that sometimes things come up that then prevent them from really completing the course successfully.
And, you know, as Kieran said, that could happen three, four or five weeks into the course, that something comes up. It’s nice to have that sort of safety valve, where it’s kind of a no fault pause. And then it’s like, just, start this over in another semester. You’ve figured out when. That works well.
I’m curious about the internal workings of a course that you teach, for example. So like the research course, the content course on research. You said you use Blackboard, I assume. Um, since it’s asynchronous, we rely on the LMS, um, pretty significantly, well, you know, what, what does the course look like? How is it structured? What sorts of activities are the students doing? We know there are some group work there, but I’m sure there are other things as well.
I asked this sort of, in part, in ignorance of… I imagine what agricultural education might be but the truth is I don’t really know much about the field.
CHASTITY: The way we like to describe Ag Ed is it’s the umbrella for all things Ag. So if my students are coming to me with a HORT background, they will fit natural resources.
DAN: And by HORT you mean horticulture…
CHASTITY: Horticulture. Plant Science. Environmental Science. We cover Animal Science, Agribusiness. A licensed Ag teacher in North Carolina is able to teach eight different subject areas under Ag. This goes back to the career pathways. All those careers we can choose to be Ag professionals in, well, the Ag teacher in North Carolina should know something on every last one of those. Because when you start to connect curriculum, they can teach all those different curriculum paths, tied back to FFA and the supervised Ag experiences. The teachers have to be able to model for the students, the experiences they go through.
If you take my youth organizations course, that course is all about how to manage four H or FFA. It’s all hands-on because you can talk theory all day long but then you have to know how to do a program of work, all of that. Tractor driving [laughing].
This is how we get students interested, this is how we get them to major in Ag. It’s a big umbrella because everything that we do in ad tends to fall under Ag Ed. Dr. Austin loves to say, “jack of all trades, master of none.”
And we worked very close with our colleagues. Ag Ed would not be as strong if we didn’t have colleagues like yourself. I worked very closely with Natural Resources and Environmental Design. That’s probably one of the strongest departments I have connections with because everything I do… when students come to me about Ag, they’re trying to figure out how to protect the water resources, they want to know how they can go green with recycling.
A lot of the students realize they’re not gonna make it through animal science and go to vet school, they can come to Ag Ed and become teachers of animal science.
DAN: And, well, I’m sure you welcome them with open arms!
CHASTITY: We do, because it all goes together [laughing]
DAN: Yeah, it does. So, Chastity, I hadn’t thought about this, but I reckon, you know how to drive a tractor.
CHASTITY: And I know how to drive a lawnmower and a push-mower. I had to learn all of that.
DAN: I, and I, I mean, of course you would, you probably know how to drive a truck, but I, it never, it never occurred to me. But, do you have to teach, do you have students you have to teach how to drive a tractor as well, or is they learning that somewhere else?
CHASTITY: Well, most of them, if they come from a farming background, they already know how to drive those tractors, but tractor driving is a real contest in FFA.
KIERAN: That’s great to know, not because I’m hoping to compete [laughing] but because, I’m sure you’ve heard this, too… colleagues who teach subjects that are at least partially skills-based will often say that online is ok for theory classes but it doesn’t work for the more hands-on topics. I’m sure the three of us know of educators who have been creative about how to address that issue, though, and have done so ourselves, too. Even in an asynchronous delivery format.
I think our listeners would find it very helpful to know how you’ve taken those hands-on aspects that are a necessity in your discipline and transferred them from a classroom demonstration mode to online. Can you give us an example or two?
CHASTITY: When it comes to plant propagation, let’s take that. Either you can do that or not. If you have to do a cutting you can’t fake that. So the technology actually helps on that. I can be actually on Google hangout and I can watch them, or you have to record the video and upload it to the management system so I can view. Same thing when they record themselves teaching. Either I have the option to come in real time and watch them and give them feedback, or they can record the video. We use GoReact. This allows me to timestamp my comments, real time.
If it’s something that they’re struggling with then I can add videos, articles, whatever, to help bring that point home. They can see my comment, see my feedback, and then look at the resource I provided. So I think the technology, in my opinion, actually helped, and it also gives me that evidence I need. I don’t know, I think sometimes people take for granted that face-to-face is more rigorous.
KIERAN: When you started explaining that you jump into it live, teaching 5 classes a semester, meeting with students in off-hours, I thought, “How is this woman managing all these different demands on her time in a 24-hour day?! [Laughing] But then you explained about the video and it made sense… because now you can plan, you can block out time, and that makes the whole thing much more feasible and sustainable for the instructor. Do you feel that online asynchronous actually allows you to give each student more individualized attention? What’s been the impact of that on your approach to teaching?
CHASTITY: I, I think over the years the online and the technology has also improved my face-to-face because it’s just certain things I do. If I do teach a face-to-face, I incorporate the flip model. It’s just second nature now because there’s so much wasted time in a group. When I have face-to-face, my students know, okay, it’s time to have fun. It’s time to play. Let’s make this information come to life. And that’s where the learning really happens, through the conversations and the accidents. Let me show you, or let me model for you. We do a lot of role playing and they hate it, but they love it.
DAN: That’s really for me because you’re using, I mean, your default is one where you’re going to be flipping the classroom. And you’re using the LMS, you’re leveraging the LMS to get the resources out there. Then, when there’s face-time, whether it’s in the same place or online, then you use that for active learning or active tasks. I find that’s very interesting that’s automatically your default now.
CHASTITY: It is.
DAN: The other thing I love about the video submissions of activities that they’re supposed to be doing is it also gives an audit trail. I mean, there’s a record. I don’t know if you do portfolios, but it also is almost an element in their portfolio then. It’s like, no, no, here’s Student A doing his plant propagation and, you know, you have the record of it. If it’s a particularly good one, you can share it with the Dean or share it with whomever. He’s got a record of it for file. So there’s something nice about that audit, that evidence that’s out there.
CHASTITY: That tool I use…
KIERAN: You mean GoReact?
CHASTITY: Yeah, it also allows for collaboration because you can open the settings where not only can I comment but their peers can come comment and provide feedback and then they have to respond to that. So it creates that learning community again.
KIERAN: We’ll include a link to GoReact in the show notes so listeners can check it out for themselves.
DAN: I do have one more question about some of the course specifics. What are the challenges in your field of Ag Ed for online learning? Are there particular things that you’re wrestling with right now? It’s like we really want to do, you know, in my field it’s field trips, how what’s the best way to do a field trip… where is kind of the growing edges for online learning.
CHASTITY: I would say more real-time interaction. I understand their schedules and everything, but just having that time to be able to work together. Being able to pick each other’s brains in real time. I think that also helps with that development. Understanding a different viewpoint because their backgrounds are so different.
I have one lady now, she’s with North Carolina Department of Ag, but then I have an Ag teacher down in Justin County… different career paths but they think a lot alike and I’m like, okay, y’all really need to connect because this, this is someone you can call on. So just trying to help them realize, even though it’s the time may not be present, it really is because it’s something that’s going to benefit you professionally.
But then, part of that, too, is trying to get the faculty to buy into giving up some more of their time. So. Still trying to figure out that balance. Don’t want to be too demanding if they just want to record the lesson, put it online, and that’s it.
KIERAN: Are most of your instructors full-time, tenure or tenure track? Do you work with contract adjunct faculty? Some combination of the two? Because the structure of your faculty plays a role in what you can ask of them.
CHASTITY: So I have Dr. Paula Faulkner, she’s full professor in the department, and we have an assistant professor, Chantel Simpson, and myself. Then we have one faculty member, he’s 75% research, 25% teaching, so that’s only one class for him. And then we have three adjuncts that are very strong, that we cannot execute this work without… so about half-and-half.
DAN: ] I’d love to take the chance to talk about issues of student diversity and faculty diversity in online learning. And our listeners may or may not know, but North Carolina, A & T is a land grant university that was established by the Morrill Act in 1890. They may or may not know that it’s also the largest historically black university in the United States. So you’ve got a large teaching mission and a large research mission as well. And I imagine that puts your master’s program in a special sort of position as far as that goes. I know you’ve got an article that just came out with some of your colleagues on fostering identity development. That seems like an important element in your research.
One of my questions is, can you explain a little bit more about how diversity impacts agricultural education, both from the perspective of you’re training Ag Ed folks, but then also in their professional lives. How is diversity important?
CHASTITY: It’s critical. When you look at the numbers for Ag Ed across the nation, and considering that FFA is one of the largest student organizations but the representation is not there. It’s hard trying to convince students that this is a place they belong, and that is the place where they’re wanted. One, they don’t see themselves represented, and two, they don’t see it in the teachers.
Then it’s the same thing when they come to higher ed. They’ll come to A&T and they’ll see all these people of color in Ag but then when they leave, I have students who asked me, “Where’re the black people?” So you find yourself trying to prepare them for what Ag looks like at A&T versus what it really looks like when you leave and go wherever you may go. And it’s a challenge.
Now, in my position, I never had any issues with diversity or inclusion. I think that’s the teacher in me. Whoever comes to the classroom, that’s who we teach. So you don’t get to decide the type of learner you want. You teach every child that comes into your classroom and you, hopefully, give every child that feeling of acceptance and validation of who you are.
I learned that early on teaching middle school. I saw then how diverse students could be, from completions to ethnicity to the religion, to languages they spoke. Halifax County and Warren County are very poor, so they didn’t fight over being poor because everybody was poor, but they fought over the other things that just would blow my mind. And I’m thinking, have you seen the stats on Warren County? We don’t have time to fight. We have other things we need to focus on.
DAN: There’s work to do here. Yeah.
CHASTITY: Yes we do. It’s so easy to fuss and fight about what’s different. So we will have these exercises… What makes us the same? They realize, well, everybody loves grandma and grandpa, everybody wants mommy and daddy to be happy, everybody wants brother and sister to be happy, they would find more things that we’ll have in common. So from that it became a family. So we protect each other. If you see someone being bullied, you don’t sit by and let them be bully. You stop them. And if you can’t stop them then you come let Ms. Warren know.
And I took that same model when I came to A&T. My students are very diverse. People are actually amazed to realize that my white population is so high in Ag Ed, online. And my students constantly tell me they have never had that kind of one-on-one service and treatment. I never had my professor’s cell phone number and I felt that it was okay to use it.
You meet your students where they are. Kieran, it’s kind of what you said earlier, it’s not about me and my schedule from nine to five. Because an Ag teacher, they might be at competition. The only time they have to call me back is on the bus and that might be eight o’clock in the evening. Well, if it’s not going to kill me, I make 15, take 15, 20 minutes out of my schedule to make sure that student needs being met. So I’m very, very student centered.
KIERAN: Mmmhmm. Building on your approach to diversity, how has teaching online solved problems you may have encountered in face-to-face classes, or added to those problems, or created different problems?
CHASTITY: I do think the technology has leveled the playing field. I know diversity is important, but because. I’m not, I don’t wanna say out of sight, out of mind, but I’m not concerned with the person behind the camera. So I’m not caught up on physical, their religion, just some of those things that you first see when you physically meet people. And by the time we do meet the relationship has already been established. I mean, if you texted me at 11 o’clock at night, the relationship is established.
CHASTITY: And you know I’m not going to be offended. So it’s that type of rapport that I’m able to build with the students, with the technology. Diversity is critical but, again, I think it’s how you really treat the students. Are you delivering a excellent product and preparing them for the next step?
If you just take that approach for all students, I think that diversity can take care of itself. I have yet to have a student come to me and feel like they have been marginalized, or the program was not a safe place for them, or they felt like their voice could not be heard, or they didn’t feel comfortable expressing themselves. If anything, they get really comfortable and you have to remind them, Hey, you think what you think and feel what you feel, but you still have to be respectful.
KIERAN: I’m not sure those who don’t teach online would think of this, but our programs are just naturally going to attract a more diverse audience than campus-based programs. Not just race, ethnicity, and culture, but also age, income, geography… Some of those factors create their own challenges with scheduling, access to technology, to the Internet. Has that been a challenge for you and the students in your program? I would guess it has, given that here in the US there’s such a disparity in access to broadband between urban and rural areas. What kinds of issues are you dealing with?
CHASTITY: Especially from the Ag lens, That’s a critical debate right now across all parties in rural America. How do we get access? How do we get rural broadband?
And that’s a real question because even as the distance learning instructor, when I traveled home to Anson County, especially with Sprint, I already know I’m disconnected over the weekend when I’m checking on my mom. Whatever I need to do, I need to do before Friday morning. I just won’t have the access and it’s same for my teachers in the field. So I’m always conscious of that too, when I’m developing these big activities and I have these great ideas — but what about my students in Eastern Carolina or the students in the Western part of the state in the mountains?
And my heart just breaks for K-12 right now and the students who don’t have, and yet this process is supposed to take place online and then not having access to the technology, having access to the culture. So I think that’s an excellent question and it’s one of those I have yet to figure out.
I just know when I design for my students, I try to give them multiple options. So, ideally I would like to you to use, maybe, a Flipgrid for this assignment, but if you can’t use Flipgrid and what’s the basic way we can come up with for you to deliver this outcome, because essentially this is what I’m looking for… I need you to be able to show me you can do guided instruction. A lot of times the student’ll come up with, “Well, Doc, I can’t record it, the parents won’t let me record, But, hey, I can do an audio on my phone and I can share that with you. Would that work? Yeah, that’ll work. Let’s do that.
So I’m, I’m very quick not to say no. If they have a solution or how I’m open because, again, I want them to meet the outcome, whatever that objective is.
KIERAN: Thankfully, I think something like 80% of Americans own a smartphone, although cellular data plans can be expensive. I know a number of K-12 districts, and some community colleges, have scrambled to distribute hotspots or even set up mobile WiFi stations. Universities that decided not to reopen their campuses, in some cases, allowed students who can’t access the Internet from home to live in dorms to access campus Ethernet.
DAN: Well, and in Pennsylvania here, we have a lot of rural people just like North Carolina. It’s a big issue, particularly in the K to 12. I mean, it’s, it’s in the news every week that these, you know, we have people who are living in rural areas and if they don’t have the broadband, they basically can’t participate in education, in the economy the way it is. So I could see that that’s a big issue.
KIERAN: All of which demands resilience and creativity on the part of educators trying to meet students where they are, literally and figuratively. Those of us who have been doing this for a while tend to have those skills because online education has often been left to find its own way. That’s been challenging but also a great opportunity to take a more innovative approach than is often the case in a brick-box classroom setting.
CHASTITY: Totally agree.
KIERAN: Obviously, you’ve placed a higher priority on figuring out how to make something work than on how we’ve always done it, and I applaud you for that. You and I are of one mind on that score, for sure [laughing].
CHASTITY: [laughing] True.
KIERAN: So here’s my follow up question: Now that the pandemic pivot of Spring 2020 has moved online instruction — in all its variations, intentional, emergency remote, synchronous Zoom lectures, asynchronous discussion boards, etc. — from the back 40 and onto the arena stage, I’ve been asking our guests to share their thoughts on the potential impact of all this new attention. Will it lead to greater acceptance of online instruction in higher ed? Will it foster more creativity or will it result in calls for greater standardization that tamp down innovation?
CHASTITY: This is a really good question, and it hits so many areas that I’m experiencing right now I don’t even know where to begin. I just received an email from my distance learning office with this list of expectations for engaging students and, as I read the list, I’m thinking, “So online wasn’t doing this anyway?”
KIERAN: Mmmhmm [laughing]
CHASTITY: Where is the need for you to put this in writing? Because this office has been here forever and this is the first time I see this in writing? I could feel, okay, here comes the standards of expectations. But then, you know, the first question is how are you going to judge something you don’t even know how to do?
And that’s just the teacher in me. It’s hard to assess and evaluate what you haven’t done yourself. So where do these standards come from? You didn’t talk to the online programs because I’m one of the coordinators and I didn’t see this. Who said this is best practices?
So there’s just a lot of thoughts came to mind. But in the end, I understand you want to make sure the programs are quality. I get it. But why now? These programs been operating since 2000.
So I can definitely see people not laughing at online, like they used to do. Some of my older faculty members, when I came back, it was that, “Oh, you teach online.” Yeah, I teach online and I know my outcomes are more intentional, and I know it’s more aligned because it’s a lot of prep work that goes into that online delivery.
KIERAN: If they didn’t realize it before they know it now, and all I have to say to that is karma, baby. Those shoes of mine you’re walking a mile in now are tight, aren’t they? [Laughing]
CHASTITY: Very tight. The first bit of humble pie is so hard. It goes down. You get used to the taste [laughing]. So, I, I can see it now because they’re realizing… I actually had one faculty member tell me, and it was so funny, “I think it’s harder teaching online!”
I said, “Really? When did you realize that?”
“I mean, they, they email you all times of night, ALL times of night!”
I said, “They don’t respect Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.”
“Mmmhmm. A lot of people, we, we know that.” I said, “um, I’ll share a little trick with you.”
And he was like, “Well, what?”
I said, “Don’t have an assignment due on Friday night. Let it be due on Thursday so you get all the emails Thursday and maybe Friday morning.”
He said, “Really?”
I said, “I’m telling you, just try it.” So he tried it [laughing].
Never make the homework due Friday night. We have been baptized by the fire so we know, we know.
KIERAN: Yes, yes we do.
Chastity, you mentioned earlier that you intentionally include students in the problem-solving process, for how to complete an assignment, how to submit that assignment. To me, that’s building a leadership component into the learning, for every class, not just those with the word leadership in the title. You’re giving students the chance to be a leader in their own life first, to build that leadership muscle. Say a little more, if you would, about how you move toward that goal in your teaching.
CHASTITY: The moment the students are asking me why and how then I’m, I’m excited because now I know they’re taking ownership of this process instead of me telling them, so the moment they started engaging and questioning, I don’t see them challenging. I’m like, okay, you’re really begin to think, how can I accomplish this? That’s what we’re trying to get to because that’s where the creativity and innovation going to come… I totally agree.
DAN: Well, Chastity I think that’s a wonderfully high note for us to end on dr. Chastity Warren English. Phys-ed away. Dr. Chastity Warren English is our guest today and Wired Ivy. I cannot tell you how much fun it is to have met you. And how does chance to talk today? Thank you.
CHASTITY: Thank you. Thank you so much.
KIERAN: This was great. Laughing together like this, it’s the best balm for a world gone mad. Thank you so much. We really appreciate that you gave us this much time, and were patient with the technology glitches. You know, it’s great when it works...
CHASTITY: Hey, I can tell we’re all online instructors because that’s the first thing we do. We know technology happens and don’t.
KIERAN: So true. Take good care!
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DAN: Until next time, this is Dan Marcucci,
KIERAN: And I’m Kieran Lindsey.
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