I couldn’t make it to Seattle this year for the POD Network conference, but I was grateful for all the hard work the organizers put into making the online conference a quality event. My week ended up a little chaotic… in some expected ways, like traveling to Denver to tag along with my wife to her conference, and in some unexpected ways, like taking care of a sick seven-month-old. I didn’t catch as many online sessions as I had planned, but I did attend some really fantastic ones, and I thought I would share a few highlights here on the blog.
What follows are some takeaways from my first day of the conference, Monday, November 14th. I tweeted these out at the time, but since Twitter might not be long for this world, I thought I would make sure to save these observations in my own corner of the internet.
I had two big takeaways from Monday’s Birds of a Feather session on learning analytics:
- The arcane conversations about learning analytics from five to ten years ago have transformed into or perhaps intersected with big-picture concerns by higher education leaders about student success (e.g. drop-fail-withdraw rates, demographic differences in grades and persistence). That’s a good thing for the LA folks, since (a) these are really important concerns about student success and (b) the LA field has a lot to offer academic leaders in terms of actionable data.
- On the other hand, access to learning analytics data at different levels is a continuing challenge at higher education institutions. Can instructor see their own grade distribution or DFW data? Can a department chair access data across courses and sections to spot problems? Do you need to “know a guy” (as one participant put it) to get the data you need? Some campuses seem to be having more success addressing these access questions than others, but no on at the BoF session seemed to have it all figured out.
Monday also featured a session on the Center for Teaching and Learning Matrix developed by POD and the American Council on Education. This matrix is essentially a rubric for the evaluation of a teaching and learning center’s organization, programming, and resources. My takeaways from this session:
- Um, where was this matrix when I was trying to educate the provost’s office about the strengths of our teaching center? This is a fantastic tool for benchmarking one’s teaching center against the field. I can see it useful for “educating up” as well as for internal use. One participant mentioned having their CTL team all evaluate their center using the matrix independently, then comparing their evaluations together as part of a strategic planning meeting. Brilliant.
- We had a fair amount of discussion about one metric that was left vague in the matrix. What percent of an institution’s faculty does a CTL “reach” in a given year? Reach here typically means interactions through consultations, events, and other programming. Everyone seemed to see at least some value in this metric, but there was no consensus what a good target reach percentage would be. At Vanderbilt, we were always in the neighborhood of 30%, and that seemed strong, but Mary Wright, who directs the Brown University CTL, tweeted that 50% was a good target, “based on my analysis of 100+ CTL annual reports and a large 2021 FSSE survey (Fassett et al.).” She has a book coming out next year that addresses this topic, and I look forward to hearing more of her take.
There was another Birds of a Feather session I attended on Monday, one on remote faculty development. While most of the session focused on the pros and cons and complications of offering online educational development programming for faculty, my interest was in remote work by faculty developers. I had a couple of takeaways from that slice of the conversation.
- For instructional technology and instructional design consultations, remote consults are generally better than on-site consultations because of screensharing. I heard this a lot from the Brightspace support team at the Vanderbilt teaching center. If you’re helping a faculty member with anything related to technology, a Zoom meeting is often easier because you can each share your screen with the other. This is, I believe, why so many of the job postings I see for instructional designers are open to remote working while more traditional teaching consultant jobs are not.
- In the text chat, Cait Kirby from the CTL at the University of Pennsylvania shared a very articulate argument that boiled down to, “Remote CTL work is an equity and inclusion issue.” Remote work arrangements make it easier to have disabled folks on staff at a CTL, and it’s important to have disability experiences represented at CTLs, given the increasingly number of students with disabilities enrolled in higher education. A CTL that doesn’t permit remote working might be missing an opportunity to bring on board expertise that could serve diversity, equity, and inclusion goals.