Crissa Levin: I am a member of STP and this is how I teach

27 Mar 2020 9:25 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

School name: Utah State University

Type of school: R2

Location: Rural Northern Utah

Classes you teach: (Exclusively Online) Intro, Methods, Counseling & Interviewing, Advanced Behavioral Interventions, Pseudoscience

Average class size: 25

What’s the best advice about online teaching you’ve ever received? There are multiple challenges from working from home, and people who choose this type of learning do so generally because they have competing resources – account for those competitions in creating a course structure and assignments. This will allow people to get an education, and stay the course, who might not otherwise be able to do so. 

What book or article has shaped your work as an online psychology teacher?  Bawa, P. (2016). Retention in online courses: Exploring issues and solutions—A literature review. Sage Open, 6(1), 2158244015621777.

Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.  I really love teaching pseudoscience. I enjoy pressing students to think critically, and to make this part of their routine. Their weekly assignment for the class is to bring in something that they have seen or heard of as a falsifiable fact, and to look up a credible source to fact check it. The idea is to ensure that they are neither immediately discrediting or crediting anything they hear, but checking it out for themselves, and making that just part of their routine – attempting to avoid confirmation bias as well as disconfirmation bias. Students regularly contact me after the course to let me know that this has changed how they engage with facts from friends, family and social media after the class has ended, and that alone makes it my favorite course to teach – plus I personally love reading about this topic and discussing it with students.

Briefly describe a favorite assignment or online activity.  My favorite activity I already described, but an activity that I do in all of my courses that I think is really useful is a form of scavenger hunt to make the online lectures more engaging. Before the lecture, there is a PDF to download of different questions for which that the student can look for the answers throughout the lecture. I try to make these questions things that I especially want to draw attention to, like concepts that might be hard to understand but that I go over in some detail in the lecture. Then, when the person is going over the lecture (or the set of multiple shorter lectures) they are rewarded for attention by listening for those answers, because at the end of the lecture there will be a “scavenger hunt quiz” or “attention quiz.” On that quiz will be the answers to the questions that they were meant to seek out through the lecture. If you are particularly worried about cheating, you could leave out the PDF in advance and do a larger test bank at the end, however to me this is all about respecting the students and trusting them and their time – I give these a low percentage value in their overall grade, but it feels good to the students to know that listening and attending to the lectures was worth something tangible.

What teaching and learning techniques work best for you? I’m not sure that it works best, but one thing that I think works well is to bring elements of social media engagement into the online discussion forums. My first rule for myself of required discussions is to ensure that they have a meaningful purpose – that discussions are not there just for the sake of being there. But for the classes for which that is true, then I like to make it feel more like a space that is already rewarding, a space like twitter. To do that, each discussion has a topic, and then it has basically an “answer menu.” The menu is a set of hashtags, each of which are defined, and each one has a separate sort of rubric for how it would be graded. So it could be #understand, in which case the student would be asking a question about a specific aspect related to the topic at hand that shows an attempt of looking it up oneself before asking (#understandresponse is a separate menu item, where another student would respond to an #understand). It could be #example, which could be describing an anecdote to help other students remember the concept which is being described in the topic. For each response, it has to have the tag, which is how it alerts me to what rubric it will be graded off of, and none of the menu items include something that would give any points for “OMG, I agree,” regardless of what tag they add to the end. And the last part I like to do here is add one point of extra credit for the original post with the most ‘likes,’ where I ask students to give out one ‘like’ per week to the post that was most useful and well thought-out.

What’s your workspace like?  My disability is such that I have chronic pain that intensifies when my foot is not elevated. As such, I have a ‘work bed’ with a monitor that swings above my head (or away when I get up), and it’s in my home office, separate from my sleeping bed. I am very careful about the stimulus control of this workspace, to keep it only for work. I do have a desk space that is structured primarily for how it looks in zoom meetings, as these are the main time that I am not working from bed.  When I get sleepy or have trouble focusing, I do sometimes choose pain anyway, and switch to the desk for a few hours of grading or writing.

Three words that best describe your teaching style.  Thoughtful, Connected, Respectful

What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer? Students are adults, and education and grades matter.

Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation. I had a student in my pseudoscience class argue in a discussion that science had “proven” the existence of God, and before I got back to the message board there were already three sort of increasingly heated responses with another student arguing angrily that science has “proven” that God does not exist. I responded both on the discussion board, and to the two students individually who were arguing. I live in Utah, so while this is a delicate issue anywhere, this feels especially disastrous here, with both sides feeling particularly strong in this state. My response was that the very cool thing about “knowing” was that there is more than one “way of knowing,” something that we had already learned in the class, but not applied to this situation. That faith is not related to science in terms of ways of knowing, and that these are simply “different hats.” There wouldn’t be a way to know faith through science, just like there wouldn’t be a way to know if you are attracted to someone through a science experiment, or knowing if a joke is funny to you. Those are not scientific questions; those are questions of a different kind. And whether there are or are not artifacts related to the life of figures in the bible is not something I’m an expert in, but again that just isn’t a faith question, that’s a history question – and both people could see those same facts if they existed and have opposite faith conclusions, which is how you can tell that it is a different way of knowing. Then I reminded them that this was a science question, so while these were really interesting philosophical or faith questions, they weren’t really appropriate for the ways of knowing we could contact here, and to please stick to the scientific way of knowing for the remainder of the class They were both were surprisingly happy with that answer.

What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you? I actually don’t think they’d be too surprised to learn anything about me! One thing that I think the online engagement literature seems to say consistently is that retention and engagement does best if there is a lot of “you” in your classes – and I take that to heart. So my students really know me, or I try my best to let them know me, through anecdotal stories in lectures, through emails and announcements, through discussion responses, and especially through giving feedback on assignments. I try to really have a genuine voice in my courses whenever there is an opportunity. I once had a student taking my fourth class, and she emailed me to let me know that her husband walked in to say, “Is that Crissa talking about her dogs again? What is she using them to teach today?” So, while I’m sure there are things many of them don’t know about me, I honestly can’t think of what they would be!

What are you currently reading for pleasure?

I am just starting Helter Skelter. I am a part of a fantastic true crime book club, and that was their most recent choice. We just finished Under the Banner of Heaven.

What tech tool could you not live without?

All of them? I think Audacity is the tool that I would be most desperate without. It’s a free software for audio editing, and it’s how I record and edit all of my lectures. I really like it better than all of the other options because of the specificity it has – you can really see the separation of lines better there for editing. And when the audio is great, it doesn’t really matter what you use for video I think. That said, I also really love this newer tool called Descript. You can upload an audio or video into Descript, and it will transcribe it for you, and spit it into a text version. Then you can cut, or cut and paste, the text portions, and the software will modify the video or audio for you based on what you do to the transcript. It’s not cheap, but it really is a time-saver for A/V editing.

What is your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)?

Since I work from home for all but one or two days a month traditionally, my chatter involves texting colleagues or bothering my spouse when he is working from home, who is also a faculty member in my department. For my closest colleague, with whom I co-mentor a distance-only research lab for undergraduates, we generally chat about functional things like how to move forward with a project, with a hint of co-ruminating about how far behind we are on grading or similar things. When it’s my spouse or other colleagues in the department, a significant majority of the time it’s something related to cooking or food!

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