October 2020

The page features CELT Notes sent to Luther faculty members during the academic year 2020 - 2021.


27. October 2020

The Elephant in the Room

I'm not sure you all are aware, but there is an election next week. It's kinda a big deal. Just kidding, I'm sure a lot of you are where I am right now. Spinning and hoping for it (define "it" however you'd like) is all over soon.

I still remember teaching the Wednesday after the 2016 election, utterly unprepared to go into the classroom. I'm not going to say that it was a trainwreck -- but it wasn't pretty -- and I'm sure I didn't help my students as much as I could have that day.

This time I vow to be more prepared. We have to remember that regardless of the outcome (and whether or not we even know the outcome), in every single one of our classes, some of our students will be delighted and some of our students will be distressed.

Here are some things you might consider as you plan next week.

1. If you do nothing else -- please consider slowing down the pace of your classroom on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week. Emotions and tensions will be high. Students are already under considerable stress this quarter. They now may be at a breaking point. Do you have a pop quiz or large homework assignment planned for Wednesday? You might consider giving them an extension or making it optional or extra credit. In other words, be flexible. 

If you say nothing else -- making space for big emotions is a valuable experience. I have had good success with setting aside 5 or 10 minutes for students to free write and sit with their feelings. I sometimes ask if anyone wants to share their thoughts -- but I might not this year, depending on how I'm feeling. I don't collect these. They are not worth points. Know that sometimes it is enough to just give them space in the rhythm of their day to start processing those big emotions. 

If you model nothing else -- finding a way to demonstrate your deep concern and care for all your students will go far next week. Maybe it's announcing a  spontaneous work day. Maybe declare it "Share Pictures of your Pet Day" on Zoom. Maybe it's "I'm bringing you all my leftover Halloween Candy because I need it out of my house" Day.  Maybe it's just reminding them (and ourselves?) that we got into teaching out of great, deep, and radical hope. (check out Kevin Gannon's Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto).

If you point them no where else -- remind your students of the great work the Center for Ethics and Public Engagement is doing around civics and public engagement. Announce the CEPE Saturday gathering "Delighted or Distressed: A Post-Election Conversation" devoted to working through the emotions of the election. More information here.

5. If you read nothing else -- Peruse this list of resources from the Teaching and Learning Lab at Havard's Graduate School of Education, which offer actionable resources for teaching in times of strife and trauma. I particularly like this blog post from the University of Michigan that asks a series of framing questions as you consider how (and if) to discuss the election in your classes. St. Olaf College has also put together resources that may be of use to you.

Teaching in a "Noir" Semester

I'm just sharing one additional resource today, a blog written by the great Judy Kutulas, Professor of History at St. Olaf College -- who was the very first professor in a line of great professors, who changed the life of a young, dumb, suburban girl from Bettendorf, Iowa, who went to this small residential college in Northfield, Minnesota simply because they had a badass swim team and really nice architecture.

Judy Kutulas rocked my little safe world, made me question my place in academia (she gave me my first EVER B+ on a paper, friends!), but always found ways to let me and the rest of the class know that she cared about us and was excited to be on this learning journey alongside us. We're working really hard. We're doing a good job. Take a break and read her blog "Adventures in the New Humanities: It's a noir semester," and maybe declare Friday Crazy Sock Day.

Be well,



 19. October 2020

Good afternoon-


I'm writing from my desk at Valders, where I have been for the last 10 hours, getting caught up on grading and trying to catch back up on email. Yesterday I sent out a check-in survey to my thirty students. Their responses are starting to roll in and they have been enlightening, to say the least. They're tired, y'all.
I'm tired too.

We're nearing midterm in our first ever accelerated quarter and the speed might feel like it is catching up with you. Today, I have two tips, one announcement of forthcoming resources, one reading, and one reminder about external workshops.

Tip 1: You can change your mind - just be sure to clearly communicate changes.
We've never taught in an accelerated semester before, so give yourself some grace  if your course plan or assignments aren't working as well you had hoped. You can change your mind. If assignments don't feel as essential, feel free to drop them. Cut back on the required reading, it it turns out it isn't all as connected to course objectives as you thought.
Offer an alternative final project suggestion. Is your class structure not working well? Change it up. Feel free to email Kate for a troubleshooting conversation.

Tip 2: Three hours (or even 2) is a LONG time to teach - break it up for you and for them.
Most of us are not used to these long class blocks. It's hard to be engaging for that long. Here are some student-centered ways for you to make the most of your time with students (Thanks to the RIT staff).

  • Chunk your class period into small time periods, changing activity every 15 to 30 minutes. For example, if you  have a lecture that requires 45 to 50 minutes, you could ask a short, relevant question mid-way through that students can discuss in pairs. Research shows that shifting the attention after 25 to 30 minutes can increase students' attention.
  • Stretch breaks. Sounds peculiar but actually they are supper effective!
  • Make an agenda for your class and share it with the students at the start of the period, so they know what to expect (and know there are breaks coming!)
  • Use the last 15 minutes for knowledge break - one sentence summaries, teach backs, or other classroom assessment techniques (CAT).
  • Consider using class time to work on long-term projects. This has the added benefit of modeling research skills, writing techniques, etc.

Managing Stress Leading up to the Election
Our focus this week is curating resources for preparing to teach about (and after) the election. We'll have those released next week.

In the meantime, consider your own stress. The American Psychological Association just released a resource for psychologists urging them to be aware of their own mental health. Much of what they have to say is absolutely applicable to us. Give it a read. 


ACM - Anti-Racism Workshop
The second ACM Antiracism Workshop is scheduled for Thursday, October 22 at 4 pm. Register here. The topic this month is "identifying points of access and exile, and creating belonging in our spaces. 

Best to you all,


12. October 2020

I was chatting with a faculty friend last week, who mentioned he has started during his class breaks to casually ask students about their experiences so far this quarter. Responses are running the gamut, as you might imagine, mostly positive -- but he did mention one comment that I've been thinking about all weekend. One of his sophomores commented last Thursday that it is really hard to make friends this semester. I'm not sure why this surprised me so much -- I guess it is because I haven't really thought about what life is like for my students after they leave my classroom. What I'm taking from her comment is a renewed commitment to help students build connections in my classroom that might spill out into the co-curricular life of my students.
What are some of the ways you are trying to build community in your Quarter 1 classes? Let me know, and I'll share with the faculty. Feel free to call if you can't bear to look at a screen any longer! (x 1587) 

Soliciting Early Feedback
Every single one of you is trying something different this quarter. As we embark on Week 3, it is  important to find a way to solicit student feedback about how things are going. Not only do we still have time to adjust aspects of our course if things are going a bit wonky, it is also good to know what's working. Check-ins like this give students a voice and a sense of agency in normal times, and can help counter feelings of loneliness and isolation in our strange times. 

The following questions are pulled from James Madison's Center for Teaching.

What kinds of questions should you ask? 
I'd recommend keeping it simple and direct. Feel free to also ask questions about specific aspects of your course. 

  1. What helps your learning in this course? 
  2. What hinders your learning in this course? 
  3. What suggestions do you have to improve your learning in this course? 

Studies show that building in places for students to reflect on their own progress and participation also helps support student learning. You might add questions such as:

  1. Identify 1 to 2 things that you have been doing that support your learning 
  2. Identify 1 to 2 things that you have been doing that hinder your learning
  3. Identify 1 to 2 suggestions  you might adopt to improve your learning.

How can you gather student feedback? 

  • If you are accepting paper this semester, simply have the students write during the last 5 minutes of class. 
  • Use a Google Form. Make it anonymous by clicking "don't record emails" 
  • Create an ungraded “quiz” in Katie where you can check the box to “keep submissions anonymous,” and ask students to respond to the questions there, either asynchronously or synchronously. 
  • Ask students to asynchronously or synchronously respond to the questions on an anonymous poll using PollEverywhere or Clickers, 
  • If you are meeting on Google Hangout or Zoom - use the poll feature. (This won't give you the same level of detail, but you can use it for an anonymous temperature check). 
  • Ask a colleague (or me!) to join your synchronous session as a co-host for 10 to 15 minutes, you leave the session, and your co-host does the above, leading students to respond  in a shared doc in small groups
  • Ask a small team of students in the class to lead a discussion and collect answers from their fellow students. It would be nice if you also had them come up with recommendations. Such an approach would give students more agency in their own learning in addition to providing you with feedback. 

With all of these approaches, you are trying to find themes. The most important step is to act on student feedback. We are always happy to discuss your findings with you and brainstorm responses.
Email Kate to set up an appointment.


CELT Events and Registration

Me and White Supremacy Working Groups
These groups will start next week. There will be several groups running simultaneously to fit a variety of schedules. Please register here by Wednesday afternoon. An email will go out to all participants on Thursday. 

Cross-Curricular Conversation Groups
These groups are intentionally designed to be low stress, low lift, and low bandwidth. There are simply a way to organize faculty who share similar interests and experiences. We hope to roll these out in the next few weeks Register here!. 

CELT Social Hours
For the rest of the month - CELT social hours will be devoted to mitigating stress and burn out. Join us to talk strategies!


5. October 2020

Welcome to the first full week of Quarter 1!
I hope everyone's first day of classes went smoothly and that you are feeling energized having all of our students back with us finally. 

On Friday I met with my thirty History of Photography students on Zoom. Even through the screen their excitement was palatable. In my intake survey I asked them what they were excited about, and what they were most anxious about. Without exception, each said that they were so excited to be back, but worried that everyone wouldn't take the COVID-19 safety precautions seriously and that they would have to go back home. I'm taking that as a good sign that our students will continue to keep each other accountable and we can finish out Quarter 1 in person. Fingers crossed. 

In today's CELT Notes, I offer two resources and registration information.

Taking into Account the Accelerated Pace of our Quarters
One thing is certain -- with the pace of our quarters if a student gets behind, it is going to be very difficult for them to catch back up. 

Feedback will be key. 

Students need to know that they are on the right track, making progress towards long-term progress, or understanding course content, especially when they have less time to catch up. This means that we will need to keep up on the formative and summative grading. 

This is my biggest fear, to be honest. 

There are a lot of "grading hacks" articles out there. I appreciated this short article by Natascha Chtena. It's a bit old, and not all of it is relevant (remember going to coffee shops?) but it does give some tips that you can use right now to speed up your grading AND continue to give students important feedback.

Oh, you could try this! (Denison University)
My colleague at Denison University shared this wonderful program that I hope to replicate here at Luther. It's called "Oh, you could try this!" and it is basically a space where Dension faculty share promising practices with each other via a crowd-sourced document. Loads of great stuff here, but organized so you can jump to tips that seem most promising for your teaching style.  

If you have a tip that you'd like to share -- consider filling out this Promising Practices survey and we'll contact you. 

Upcoming CELT Programming 

Me and White Supremacy Working Group
Join us as we work through Layla Saad's Me and White Supremacy. Faculty and staff are welcome and encouraged to participate in a 5-week working group engaged in self-reflective action in order to "understand their white privilege and their participation in white supremacy so that they can stop (often unconsciously) inflicting damage on People of Color and, in turn, help other white people do better too." These working groups will begin the week of October 19 and conclude the week of November 16. We will meet weekly in small groups for one hour. Those times and days will be determined based on participant schedules. Faculty and Staff -- please sign up HERE

Faculty groups are sponsored by CELT. Staff groups are sponsored by Campus Ministries

Drop in and ask your questions -- On Demand Workshops
October 5- Drop in Workshop - Get Your Teaching Questions Answered! (Kate Elliott and Holly White) 11:00 am to 11:45 pm

October 6 - Drop in Workshop - Get Your Teaching Questions Answered! (Kate Elliott and Holly White) 2:0 pm to 2:45 pm

Teaching Partnerships - Applications Due Friday, October 9
Teaching Partnerships will be awarded to pairs of faculty who commit to visiting each other’s classes (virtually or in person, given COVID-19 caps on classroom space), giving feedback on each other’s teaching, discussing challenges and successes in teaching, and sharing strategies for improving teaching effectiveness. Teaching Partners may be from the same or different departments. All faculty are eligible to apply. Applications are available here.

Cross-Curricular Conversations.

The Cross-Curriculum Conversation Groups are faculty-led groups centered around a variety of topics. Each group has an assigned faculty or staff moderator who is paid a small stipend to organize meetings and suggest group structure. We will be taking suggestions for Conversation Groups in September term. Topics include: First and Second-year Faculty Development, Pre-tenure Faculty, Inclusion and Equity in the Classroom, Education Technology Sandbox (try out Ed Tech -- share with others!), Data-informed Teaching (using Luther data sets to inform our practice), Google Classroom Users, Parenting/Work-Life Balance, Avoiding Burn Out. Sign up here.