Learning community for faculty tackles teaching, technology issues

ISU Online Learning Community

When: Friday, Nov. 13; 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.

Where: Register free online

FYI: The learning community meets monthly to share campus best practices to improve online teaching and learning.

The pandemic has taken away so much people take for granted -- even pizza.

The Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) leads the ISU online learning community, and with its monthly meetings no longer taking place in person, faculty, staff and graduate assistants can't work through an issue over a slice of pizza. Helping instructors find new ways to be successful hasn't stopped, it just moved online.

CELT instructional technology specialist Lesya Hassall works to keep faculty and staff engaged around teaching and technology advancements that can benefit them and their students.

"The pizza is gone for now, but I still work to give them food for thought," she said. "We want them thinking about what will broaden their teaching and improve their students' learning after attending."

Finding comfort in technology

The learning community -- which has been active for more than five years -- saw a spike in participation last spring when the pandemic forced a move to virtual instruction, and again to begin this semester as instructors adjusted more courses.

Each meeting focuses on digital pedagogy and Canvas updates important to instructors. It is a chance for participants to discuss issues and find solutions.

"One of the most successful things about the learning community is the ability to tap into the amazing things faculty are already doing on campus," CELT instructional technology specialist Gretchen Anderson said.

Anderson has seen instructor confidence grow in using Webex, preparing recorded lectures and integrating their digital classroom with in-person instruction. One key for instructors to be successful using Canvas is to talk and learn from other instructors, she said.

Next meeting

Recent conversation has focused on testing and preparing for final exams. Questions of how best to administer tests online and ensure their integrity are common. The next meeting on Nov. 13 will focus on testing. 

Hassall said faculty and students are equally stressed about end-of-semester assessments this fall.

"The ability to really narrow down what you are trying to assess is key," Anderson said. "Don't worry about the technicalities of how you will assess, but first think about what you really want students to know. From there, it is much easier to figure out how to make it happen."

Associate professor of chemical and biological engineering Monica Lamm, who serves as a CELT faculty fellow, will discuss alternative ways of conducting review sessions for assessments and creating tests.

Lamm recently began using the public exam system in her courses. She is transparent about what type of questions will be asked on the exam, without giving students the questions.

"It is a way to use the learning outcomes with students as a guide and show them how to prepare," she said. "You get the student engaged by having them figure out how they would ask a question that would test their understanding of the topic. They get the framework of the question, and that can be discussed and used as a way to study."

Using online breakout rooms led to positive discussion and brought more student questions to the larger group for clarification, Lamm said.

New ways of assessing student performance are important for virtual instruction because many previous methods don't translate online, Lamm said. Providing new ideas gives instructors something to implement or tweak for their own classes.