July 16, 2021

Teaching/Undergraduate and Graduate Education Symposium

Teaching/Undergraduate and Graduate Education Symposium

The Distinguished Teacher Award was received by Dr. Ron Lewis for his efforts in instructing and mentoring undergraduate and graduate students in the U.S. and internationally. Following the award presentation, awardee Dr. Ron Lewis began the symposium with a presentation about “Filling Knowledge Gaps in Quantitative Genetics Through Online Education”. Genomics is a rapidly expanding field that requires unique education to use knowledge from quantitative genetics. However, it is challenging to provide education to meet the needs of the rapid genomic revolution particularly with limited funding, faculty, and expertise. In the early 2000s, the USDA defined a need for solid infrastructure to deliver information about advances in animal genetics. As a solution, 7 universities in 2012 and a state U.S. consortium with funding from 2 USDA-NIFA challenge grants, created a Masters-level curriculum in quantitative genetics and genomics online. The online education allowed creators to draw on national expertise in the field with the ability to reach students across a variety of locations. Dr. Lewis and his colleagues wanted to sustain the courses after the funding ended. To do so, it was integrated to AG*IDEA in 2015 to build infrastructure needed for students to earn formal academic credit. However, only students at AG*IDEA member universities could enroll, which limited access. Tuition costs also distracted from some student engagement. There was a consistent design for the courses and it had a 5 week, 1 credit format on a very specific topic in order to supplement rather than replace in-person learning. Courses were also peer reviewed and revised. To lessen the restraints of online learning, a blended learning format was introduced along with an experiential learning opportunity. Blended learning consisted of online delivery combined with classroom meeting time, held in-person or synchronously online, to discuss course content. The experiential opportunity is a web-based simulation game called CyberSheep which allows undergraduate students to learn animal genetics by applying knowledge to a virtual breeding cooperative. Distance learning allows for experiential learning opportunities, interdisciplinary curriculum, and stronger recruitment efforts of students. It can be used to fill gaps in knowledge when blended with classroom information. Overall, the online initiative has allowed for a wider audience to learn about quantitative genetics. 

Liv Gjestvang followed with a presentation about “Higher Education and the Pandemic: What We’ve Learned, Where We’re Headed”. She began the presentation with a group discussion of what people have learned during the pandemic. She followed with a talk about issues in higher education, especially challenges in attaining a degree depending on factors such as socioeconomic background and being a first generation student. New jobs coming into the market generally require higher education. Additionally, the increase in the ability of technology and machines is shifting the skill sets important in those jobs to rely on distinctly human skills. It is important to prepare students to develop these skills. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, budgets have become tighter for both institutions and families. Additionally, remote work and learning have become more feasible at a greater scale than previously thought due to the implementation of social distancing measures. Even though it has become possible to function remotely, the tools in order to do so still require improvements. For example, currently in remote learning settings, students struggle to maintain senses of identity. High quality remote learning investment could help to address issues experienced in a distance learning setting. There are emerging opportunities as we come out of pandemic. It is necessary to think about challenges and changes that are faced as when arising out of the depth of pandemic. There is a need to restore physical well-being and health, evolve long-term changes and investments to opportunities, and transform opportunities to innovate higher education. It is essential to provide learning opportunities for a range of students and provide a different set of skills for people across their lifespan. Additionally, Engaging student voices allows students to decide what they want from their learning experiences. It is also important to consider when meaningful interaction online is appropriate instead of in-person engagement. Making learning more affordable and supporting a diversity of learners for students of all backgrounds and abilities is also important moving forward in higher education. After a demanding personal year with the pandemic, focus needs to be centered on empathy and connection to allow people the chance to rebuild resilience. All of these start with great teaching and it is essential to think about reconnecting as a community to move forward in higher education. 

The next presentation was delivered by Andy D. Herring entitled “Walk the Talk – Teaching Is Still Teaching – Just Expanding Your Tool Box”. Beef Cattle Production & Management is taught as part of the Animal Science curriculum at Texas A&M University. Prior to COVID-19, the class was taught by Dr. Herring in-person with closed note exams and a semester-long group project on ranch management with peer evaluation. The project consists of groups of 4 to 5 students and a written report and final presentation that comprises 80% of the group project grade. Twenty percent can be added or subtracted based on peer evaluation. In March of 2020 the first two exams were done in the traditional format and the final two exams were online with a longer time frame due to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Class was taught completely remotely in the Summer of 2020. A hybrid class format was utilized in the Fall of 2020 where students attended lectures virtually and labs in person with some students also being entirely remote. In the Spring of 2021, the majority of students attended class in-person with few being entirely remote. All exams given during the COVID-19 pandemic were open note and online but format did not change otherwise. In comparing data from traditional face-to-face learning, remote/online learning, and blended/hybrid learning, there were generally no differences in exam grade or variability despite difference in exam format. The peer evaluation scores in the different formats also did not differ and the format of the class did not influence overall group participation nor willingness to work the success of the group. In the future, Dr. Herring will likely continue to use open note exams and online surveys but will discontinue virtual labs and the combination of in-person and remote students. Overall, he found that the attitude of the student and instructor are major drivers of success, learning styles are highly variable, structure is needed for students in using technologies, and no technology makes up for bad teaching. 

Paige Linne followed with a presentation about “Hiflex Delivery: How Do You Turn It Around When Things Go Bad?”. In Fall 2020, the University required classes to be offered in both an in-person and online format. Her equine industry careers preparation class teaches students soft skills for after graduation and has no formal tests. The course typically involves in-person components and student interaction to promote learning. In the Fall of 2020, she had 50% of her students in person and 50% who attended online. However, at the beginning of the semester, in-person attendance and overall classroom engagement were substantially reduced. To solve the issue, she made the decision to have an honest discussion between herself and students to discuss the decline in participation and allow students to take a role in improving classroom engagement. She created a survey for students containing a selection of remaining course topics to gauge interest, questions about their anticipated method of attendance to be able to teach them where they were, and inquiries about what would make them comfortable in class. Classroom plans and structure were adjusted based on student feedback which led to the improvement of curriculum retention and performance on assessments as well as increased engagement. The changes made to the format of the class proved to be effective in student outcomes. She relied more heavily on small stakes assignments and discussion boards to help students stay engaged with less worries. She also pivoted the project that would normally be at the end of class to last the whole semester and added a problem-solving component.. Structured group days were also introduced, along with breakout rooms that she would monitor to ensure students were staying on tasm, and a live share google docs to act as a whiteboard. Furthermore, she gave students days off to combat zoom fatigue and used concise weekly emails to communicate instructions and deadlines. Overall, she was able to cultivate a community by accepting music requests before class, running activities such as show me your pet over zoom and others. To her, adapting is a choice and it is important to invite students to play a role in turning things around because they need faculty to teach but faculty also needs them. 

Shannon Archibeque-Engle, PhD spoke about “Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive Teaching: In Person and Virtually”. She began with several stories of people from her own college experience and career that could have benefitted from having a virtual learning opportunity. This included a first generation college student and mother with a family trying to complete her undergraduate degree, an advisee who needed to retake a class while working to obtain a degree, and a professional who sought an online degree to advance their position. She followed with a small group breakout session to determine who benefits from virtual learning. Responses included students with families, jobs, or who live far from campus. Additionally, people with disabilities and chronic health conditions benefit from a virtual learning environment. Some students may attend and in-person and then listen to the recorded lecture later to ensure that they understand the material. However, there are also challenges to virtual learning including poor internet connectivity, lack of engagement, and more opportunities for distraction. Additionally, having the camera off on zoom makes it difficult to communicate with instructors so that they can obtain feedback on their teaching. However, students have reasons to turn their cameras off including disability, mental health, or discomfort sharing their location or home. To assist students, it is important to investigate who they are to support intersectionality. It is also important for faculty to share parts of their identity and acknowledge that online teaching requires different energy and preparation. Additionally, faculty must learn how to use the online platform available to them efficiently. She recommends putting general questions on the home page of the platform and including multiple paths of learning. Plain sides with high contrast between background and type are best for student learning and images should be explained to assist students of different cognitive abilities and visual impairments. Videos are also beneficial to be used and discussed in class. Breakout rooms and chats on zoom calls are helpful engagement tools for students in a virtual classroom setting. Overall, it is important that faculty utilize these techniques to ensure equitable and effective teaching and use professional development tools to further their knowledge. 

Morrison Awardee Dr. Steven Zinn concluded the symposium with a presentation on “Teaching in a Post-pandemic World: Face-to-Face (ish): LTE, Career Everywhere and FYE”. According to Dr. Zinn, in thinking about programs particularly within animal science, it is important to consider recruitment, retention, and graduating. According to a Gallup survey, 80% of recent graduates want to find purpose in their jobs but less than 50% find purpose in what they do. Students develop and identify purpose by combining interests with values and strengths. Faculty help them structure values, find interests, and identify strengths. Four key experiences align with graduates finding purpose in work, internships and jobs, someone to encourage student goals, realistic expectations for post-graduate employment, and experiential learning opportunities. Important skills in finding purpose include critical thinking, communication, ethical judgement, solving problems, writing skills, and teamwork. Students do not find that they learn most of these transferable skills during college. Faculty engagement with students is important in helping them develop a passion. Greater faculty engagement leads to greatest student success. According to Dr. Zinn, in teaching it is important to learn through reflection. Additionally, it is essential to adopt a teaching philosophy that can adapt and change to meet new student realities. In any generation, effective teaching is about caring. Faculty should be prepared for class and to listen and be responsive for students. In advising and mentoring it is important to learn about student goals and connect opportunities to their goals. The University of Connecticut has several programs including First Year Experience (FYE) and Career Everywhere to facilitate connections between faculty and students that in turn lead to Life Transformative Education (LTE) and community building. The concept of LTE is that undergraduate education allows for students to find purpose and identity through meaningful learning experiences and beneficial advising. In the Animal Science Learning Community, the FYE course is taught by a senior faculty member and transitions the students into the major while allowing for peer interaction in a safe environment. The FYE program has grown considerably at UConn due to increased first year retention. Career Everywhere is a program that trains faculty to find and achieve their career goals. These programs provide students with transformative education, preparation for a career that provides purpose along with important faculty connections and mentoring. Overall, helping students develop a passion through these programs helps give them a sense of belonging, leads to retention and success in the major, and prepares them professionally.