Episode 2: Value in Design with Susan Roberts
5:39PM Mar 15, 2021
In today's innovation studio podcast, we're talking with Susan Roberts, biology instructor and Learning Support Specialist in the North Carolina Community College System. Susan, welcome.
Thank you. I'm excited to be here.
We're so glad you're here. We're continuing our conversation on how innovation really has more to do with creating new value or capturing value in new or different ways. So in an attempt to define value, I'm going to ask you, Susan, when you hear the word value, what do you think?
I think about the word meaning, and why is what I'm doing important to me.
Okay, all right. So when you hear it paired with education, what do you think about value?
So when I think about education, I think about my students, and they're either going on in their education, or they're going on to get a job. So how did what I teach, or this particular course, helped them to prepare for their goal, and move them forward?
Okay. And with, with technology, how do you how do you think about value in connection with technology,
I think about how technology improves the value by making it easy, fun, effective. And just in influencing the student to maybe take what they're doing to another level, whether that's creativity, or sharing with others, and maybe that next step.
What about with your class and the classes that you design? How does value inform.
So in my class, I think about my students, and how I can create value for them. So obviously, the first one is going to be my passion for the subject, and how I tell stories, and I try to connect the subject material to their lives. And I'm very intentional about that, how to make it meaningful to them. But if you look at the course, as a big picture, not every student is going to like biology, they may get value out of going through the process of learning. So sometimes, you know, the value comes by the learning skills that they gain, if it's going through a very difficult lecture and lab course, and building that note taking skills, or those communication skills. You know, by the end of the course, the value may be more skill based and not so much subject material. But I also am very intentional about trying to remind students, as we're learning that, you know, this material they may not value until later on. And I think that's a pretty common thing that we see is that our education we value sometimes after we've graduated more than when we're actually in it. So I'm trying to be intentional about modeling, how is this valuable? Why is this important to why are we here and doing what we're doing? And I think, by that leadership, just that small piece, it can increase the value.
It sounds like you have a very holistic approach, would you agree?
I do I I focus a lot on skills. So when I'm teaching online, it's as if I'm teaching biology, tech technology skills and learning skills. And with the the learning skills that students are practicing, it can enhance the course so much. So for example, if I'm just giving a student an assignment, and I'm not really modeling for them, the best practices or the science backed approach to why they're doing that, they may just miss it altogether. And you know, sometimes it's that attitude going into note taking, why am I doing this, this is busy work, you know, you anybody can say that. But if you're intentional about this is the process that helps us to learn. So, for example, I might assign the Cornell notes for a student, but then also explain why I'm doing that. So by taking those definitions, and rewriting them into your own notes, and maybe even going a step further and adding a photograph that somehow connects that concept to some previous knowledge or personal meaning for yourself, I can help students learn, enjoy the subject material and increase the value across the board.
your understanding of, of learning and how students learn, really seems to inform your design. What about somebody who doesn't understand how learners learn? What would you? What would you say to what would you say to them.
So if I was mentoring another faculty member who didn't have a lot of background, in those approaches, I would say to remember that good teaching is good teaching. And, you know, it's a, I do use the holistic approach, and I am very passionate about the study skills, but sometimes less is more. And by, you know, especially from a biology perspective, you have so much material to cover, it's very difficult to pull back. And to really embrace that less is more concept. But, you know, if you just do one thing, to help your students understand what they're doing, why they're doing it, and how to make it fun, if you let the passion, your passion for the subject material to come through, I think all the rest of these good practices, kind of aligned with that. So just trust your your passion for the subject, and try to meet the needs of the students. If you see the student is not getting the material, you can start to look to some other options. And I think as we talk about value, I think it's it's important to say that, as teachers, our our courses are not perfect, there's so many different ways that we can improve, and we want to try this, we want to try that. But the reality is, we don't have time to really make everything the way we want it. And so when we're talking about value, I think it's important to say, we don't have it all together, we try our best, and we try to make one or two things really, really good. And that's okay. because nobody's perfect, and no one's gonna have every module the way they want it. But I think if you just pick one thing, and you just take one thing a semester or one thing a year and try to improve on it, you're going to build that value.
So with that in mind, let's let's take a look or have you think about your class, and maybe walk us through a module, how you design and where you perceive the value.
Okay, so the first thing I do is I give the, you know, typical reading assignment, lecture assignment and note taking assignment that most college courses involve. But what I do that's different, is I build an accountability, if you just assign, go watch these lecture videos, or go read chapter one, the students are not going to do it as adult learners, I don't even do that. So to build in the accountability, I have to to be intentional about what I'm trying to do. So then I model, how to do it well, and how to do it time, effectively. So for the notes, I assign annotation, I give them a model of what I'm looking for as far as pulling content from the chapter. So when you read a college textbook, you don't necessarily need to read it word for word, you will learn nothing, or most folks will. But by skimming and scanning looking for headers, popping the bold words and then rewriting the information into your own words, you create meaning and so once the information goes in, and then they can rewrite it in their own words, and then add images and color. Then I'm building that accountability for that learning to take place. Plus, I'm modeling these good skills, so that when they move on in their educational goals, they those are life skills, to be able to pull content to be able to reorganize things in your own words, and then to create meaning from from meaningless notes basically, into something usable. So that's the letter lecture. I mean, the reading the lecture, I create short video content and I don't cover everything. I just covered the difference. Colt topics, the most difficult ones. And then, so those lecture videos supplement the notes or the, it could be a mind map assignment or something. And then I have a quiz to hold them accountable to watching that video. And I found that, again, if I don't have those accountability pieces, they don't do it. If the, the lecture videos, you've got the notes, and then we come together to collaborate, and to have a discussion, so from the material, then we have some sort of a discussion. And this is how the meaning starts to build, because you've kind of you got to lay the groundwork. The other thing I do is assign a portfolio assignment where they can put an upload these notes assignments. And so in that they have to post the goals for that particular module. And then they have to reflect on their learning. And I think the, this key word reflection is really important. So the students in order to learn need to be able to reflect on what they're doing, and why they're doing it. Why do I have to know this? What What does this even matter. And so for me to provide a model why that's important to give them clear learning goals, but then to allow them to reflect and say, Oh, well, this is very important, because this leads into critical thinking and bio literacy, and allows me to think about these, the cell biology or whatever it might be in my future. So I think that's really neat. And I really like the portfolio, because it allows for them to create, and adapt and make it personal. And that is also building personal meaning for them. And then that reflection piece ties it back together. So those are the basics, let's see, we've got note taking lecture, collaborating, and then they're somehow posting a portfolio and I do that in a website format, so that they can kind of use it to go back and they can see what they've done and how much material they've covered, and how much meaning they have built.
Super well we can all learn from that. From that structure. I like that a lot. Tell me who are tell us tell our listeners about your creative approach to labs, I know that you your students are doing labs, you're teaching online, they're doing their labs at home, and you have a unique approach to labs that I'd like our listeners to hear about.
Okay, so the lab component is very hands on. In the biology course, they're doing kitchen chemistry, they're developing and designing scientific experiments. They're writing lab reports, but for the the concept as a whole, it's project based learning. So one of the elements that's missing in an online lab is you're not working with others. So I encourage students to incorporate the people they live with, or people right outside their, you know, friends and family that they can work with. And one of my favorite pieces to the lab is to build a video log, where they can teach back the concepts and, and I can ensure that they're getting the information. So when we start to talk about assessing, if the students learning or not, and giving immediate feedback, the video log is a great way because if the student can teach it to me, even if they're reading from a script, or or rewriting that script into their own words, typically they're recording that video log multiple times, and practicing what they're going to say. They're also using a prop, which is maybe just a little crayon drawing that they might hold up or it can be an example organism or or something like this, but the prompt and the transcript and then then explaining the terms to me, I can I can easily assess if that student has learned it and understands those concepts.
And then you have their families involve, too. And, and how does how has that been received?
Oh, it's wonderful. So for example, I teach in ecology module. So how do you take something like ecology and make it meaningful for that student. So what I'm doing is I'm using birds. And so by teaching, how to recognize birds how to recognize bird calls, as a foundation, then we go to bird ecology. And we can tie in evolution and adapt tation and conservation, and climate change. And we can tie these things together. And then I can say to my students, how many people raise your hand or on a discussion board, if it's asynchronous? How many people had a discussion with someone outside the class over the weekend about birds. And it's neat, because then you can see if the students are really starting to catch on and make connections. And then if they can make those personal connections with others outside of the course, they're either talking about the subject material, or the concepts, or they might just be saying, hey, look, there's an American Robin, we learned that in my biology class, and then the, by connecting all of these things together, you know, they're learning, and it's very exciting.
It sounds it does sound exciting. So consider this statement and respond to it. value should drive innovation, rather than innovation driving value.
So, you know, I've kind of mentioned this less is more. So you want to assess to make sure that students are gaining concepts, learning how to make connections, building the skill set that's going to allow them to quicker, faster, more efficiently learn. So how do we do that? Less is more, we incorporate that passion we have for our subject. And we try to assess the student, but not by adding on more technology, but by meeting their needs, you know, so I think that that reflection, I keep mentioning that word reflecting back on, are they getting it? What do I need to go back and cover maybe a second time? How do I adapt to this particular audience? You know, we may have students that are a wide range of ages, you know, we see a lot of dual enrollment students, we might have a lot of returning students, we might have a lot of typical 18 year old college students. And adapting to the audience and being flexible, and be able to change in the middle, I think is very important. And in order to know how to address the needs of your students, you have to be able to get that feedback loop and be able to assess them and see are they getting it. And this is where that good instructional design comes in where you look at your learning goals. And then you match if the assessments are showing that they're getting it or not. So switching gears midway might be that innovation, but it may not be the super complex thing, it may just be a very simple reinforcement, or it may just be trying just something a little different. And it may you know, going back to just trying one thing,
you have a final assignment for your students where you have them. give advice to a future student. Tell us a little bit about that, and the why behind it.
So a lot of students will come with preconceived attitudes, maybe they weren't great at biology in the past. And, you know, again, this is about being intentional about meeting your needs, the students needs. So if they come with these attitudes, maybe they're just really nervous, and they don't think they're going to be successful. If I come and say, hey, you're gonna be fine, just, you know, trust the process, do your work. But if another student is able to say, either through a, a survey letter that they can read later, or maybe even a video log, if you're going to take this class, here's what I've learned, and here's what I recommend. Don't procrastinate. You're going to do fine. Make sure that you ask questions frequently. And when Susan says communication is the most important thing, she means it so don't be afraid to email her. So those types of little golden nuggets go a long way at reducing anxiety early in the semester, and getting us on track to learning quicker. So I do like that.
Lots of lots of good value, concepts and tips and techniques that Susan has shared. We've been talking with Susan Roberts, who is a biology instructor and Learning Support Specialist in the community college system in western North Carolina. Susan, thank you for being with us today.