Center for Digital Learning at SUNY Geneseo

Happy International Open Access Week!

Open Access Week logo Open Access Week 2020

And an unconventional Open Access Week it is.

The theme of this year’s week of amplifying and educating folks on Open Access is “Open with Purpose: Taking Action to Build Structual Equity and Inclusion”. With all of this year’s challenges, it has proven itself a year of action for many, whether that has been through going to the medical frontlines of this pandemic, taking to the streets to demonstrate against social injustice, adding childcare to your school or workday, or casting your vote, we’ve all had to take action this year in, at times, unexpected ways. International Open Access Week is yet another opportunity for our community of open advocates “to coordinate in taking action to make openness the default for research and to ensure that equity is at the center of this work” (Shockey, 2020, openaccessweek.org).

The Open Services Committee, based out of Milne Library, is offering numerous Open Access-themed events this week to educate and collaborate with the Geneseo campus community around Open Access:

Monday, October 19, 2020 — Sunday, October 25, 2020

Open Access Week Upload-a-thon

Help expand KnightScholar, Geneseo’s institutional repository, by depositing material yourself, or by completing this form to put your materials in a queue for KnightScholar upload.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Common Watch: Paywall: The Business of Scholarship

Paywall Discussion Panel @4pm

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Learning about Geneseo’s freshly minted Open Access Policy.


Keep an eye on Milne’s Blog for more information on all of these topics (and more!) throughout the week!

Share This Canvas Resource on Ways to Vote in NY

Photo of the Statue of Liberty Statue of Liberty, by Flickr user Steve Parker, CC-BY-2.0

With the General Election less than a month away, it’s important that our students know how to exercise what’s arguably their most significant responsibility as a U.S. citizen: their right to vote.

In order to help my students learn about the voting process, I created an Announcement on Canvas that succinctly summarizes the three ways to cast a vote in the General Election in New York state. I was inspired by a mailer that I received from the Monroe County Board of Elections that provided the same information in an easily digestible format. (If my link above to the Announcement doesn’t take you directly to it in Canvas, you can find it by going to your Canvas dashboard, clicking the link to Commons, and searching for it in the Geneseo Commons. Look for an image of the Statue of Liberty.)

Initially, I sent the Announcement out only to my own courses. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the Announcement could be useful not only to students, but to faculty who similarly wanted to empower students to cast their votes. I decided to share my Announcement on Canvas Commons and then circulate the link to the Canvas resource on the Faculty-L listserv. The goal was to provide my faculty colleagues with an easy, ready-made resource on voting to share with their students.

Here are the reasons why you should consider incorporating my Announcement into your Canvas courses, too.

Voting is important. It’s the cornerstone of our democracy. And in today’s climate, everything is politicized. Students should let their voices be heard, and they only get the opportunity to do so at the national level every two years.

Voting is complicated. One of the most significant barriers to voting is navigating the rules and regulations of the voting process itself. This year, factor in a pandemic, and voting can feel impossible. Providing students with easily digestible information on how to cast their vote helps remove this barrier.

Young people don’t vote. Just 13% of validated voters in 2016 were younger than 30. While citizens 65 years and older turned out at a rate of 70.9 percent, 18- to 29-year-olds turned out at a rate of 46.1 percent in 2016. Yet elections have huge implications for young people and their futures.

Faculty are role models. Students respect faculty and are inspired by many aspects of our courses. As mentors in positions of authority, we can empower students to take action just by mentioning voting and providing them with the basic information on how to cast their votes.

Canvas makes it easy. Whether you’re teaching remote or face-to-face, Canvas is an excellent way to communicate with your students. In order to share my Announcement with your students, you can easily import it from Canvas Commons right into your own Canvas courses and edit as you wish.

This is a simple yet meaningful action. This year’s election may prove to be one of the most important in U.S. history. At the same time, faculty are struggling with unprecedented workloads. I hope that this Canvas resource can provide a small amount of relief for those of us who want to do something meaningful, but often feel like we don’t have the time.

If you have questions about the content of the Announcement or this post, please feel free to email me at kwest@geneseo.edu.

Inclusive Online Teaching Webinars Hosted by the ACUE

ACUE Logo

The Association of College and University Educators is providing a timely and constructive webinar series that focuses on “Effective Online Instruction” through “Inclusive Online Teaching”. These webinars, featuring leading faculty experts in digital equity, are free, live, run for approximately 1 hour, and will include Q&A for participants at the end of each session. The Center for Digital Learning and the Teaching and Learning Center at Geneseo encourage any and all who are interested in attending this event to register with the ACUE.

The webinars are available as follows:

Creating an Inclusive Online Learning Environment: Friday, October 2, 2020, 3:00pm ET — Register for this session

Preparing an Inclusive Online Course: Friday, October 9, 2020, 12:00pm ET — Register for this session

Following these webinars, the CDL and TLC aim to host follow-up discussions based on the preceding session to consider how SUNY Geneseo might be able to engage with the principles and practices covered by presenters in our own campus context. We see this as a great way to start our center’s important work to promote conversation around digital learning at Geneseo, and hope to “see” you there!

Provost Office Announces Faculty Incentives for Intersession 2021

Sketch of a megaphone Megaphone, by Flickr user Jeff Ferzoco, CC BY-NC 2.0

The Office of the Provost is excited to offer a new round of faculty incentives for Intersession 2021.

Before planning to take advantage of one of these incentives, please be sure to check with your department chair or dean about any courses you intend to teach. Remember that department chairs and deans, not individual faculty, submit courses for inclusion in the intersession schedule.

Intersession 2021 will run for four weeks (January 4-29) rather than the usual three.

Faculty base compensation for Intersession 2021 is $1000 per credit hour, assuming that the course enrolls at least eight students. Below eight students, a faculty member may agree to accept a prorated salary; otherwise, the course will be canceled.

Faculty may teach no more than two Intersession 2021 course sections, for a maximum of eight credit hours.

Faculty who agree to teach high-enrollment sections (with a cap of 40 or more students) will earn double the base salary if the course enrolls 31 or more students. Faculty may not teach multiple sections of the same course.

Chairs have the discretion to limit offerings to ensure courses offered enroll sufficiently to run. Departments should not offer a second section of a given course unless the first one fills.

1. Section enrollment incentive

If you teach a three- or four-credit course in Intersession 2021 that has twelve or more students enrolled after the add-drop period, you’ll receive $500 compensation in addition to the standard compensation of $1000 per credit hour. You can earn this incentive for a maximum of two courses in Intersession 2021.

2. Course improvement or antiracism incentive

Choose one of the following:

A. Course improvement incentive

For a three- or four-credit course that you teach in Intersession 2021, you can earn $500 compensation in addition to the base compensation of $1000 per credit hour for adopting certain best practices for online instruction that you haven’t previously implemented. Below is a short list of examples. It’s not exhaustive; you may be able to earn the incentive for implementing practices other than these. To earn this incentive, you must (1) meet with an instructional designer in CIT to agree upon appropriate best practices to implement and (2) Complete the required items in CIT’s Course Readiness Checklist and implement the practices in your Canvas course(s) by December 14, 2020. Payment of this incentive is contingent on CIT acknowledgment that the agreed-upon practices were successfully implemented by the deadline.

Representative examples of best-practice improvements:

  • Modifying assignments and assessments for the online environment, including creating rubrics to evaluate student work.
  • Adding prerequisites and requirements to modules that help track student progress through the course.
  • Adding introduction and conclusion pages to “bookend” each module in a course.
  • Applying Universal Design Principles to a course in order to provide multiple means of engagement, representation, and expression.

B. Antiracism incentive

For a three- or four-credit course that you teach in Intersession 2021, you can earn $500 compensation in addition to the base compensation of $1000 per credit hour for any of the following:

  1. Teaching a course that deals centrally with issues of race and racial justice in a way that advances Geneseo’s 2020-21 initiative of Becoming an Antiracist College. (If you fully develop such a course in Canvas for Intersession 2021 and enrollment is insufficient for the course to run, you can still earn the incentive if you share the course in Geneseo Canvas Commons. In that case, original content must be Creative Commons-licensed, so that other Geneseo faculty may make use of it in their own courses. If the course enrolls sufficiently and you teach it, neither sharing nor CC-licensing is required. Recipients of this incentive must commit to publishing, no later than March 1, 2021 a post on this blog explaining how the course advanced the college’s initiative.)
  2. Including one or more modules, in a course that does not deal centrally with issues of race and racial justice, engaging these issues in a way that is related to the course topic and advances Geneseo’s 2020-21 Becoming an Antiracist College initiative. (The module[s] must be shared in Geneseo Canvas Commons, and original content must be Creative Commons-licensed, so that other Geneseo faculty may incorporate the module[s] into their own courses.)
  3. Incorporating content (readings, lectures and other explanatory content, activities, etc.), in a course that does not deal centrally with issues of race and racial justice, engaging these issues in a way that is related to the course topic and advances Geneseo’s 2020-21 initiative of Becoming an Antiracist College. (All original content must be shared in Geneseo Canvas Commons and Creative Commons-licensed, so that other Geneseo faculty may incorporate the content into their own courses. Recipients of this incentive must commit to publishing, no later than March 1, 2021 a post on this blog explaining how the race and racial justice content informed the course.)

General requirements and reminders

  • For the section enrollment incentive, no instructor may earn more than $1000 (one payment each of $500 for two different courses that enroll sufficiently and run).
  • The minimum enrollment for a course to run at full base compensation is eight students.
  • The minimum enrollment for a course to be eligible for the section enrollment incentive is twelve students.
  • For the course-improvement incentive, no instructor may earn more than $500.
  • For the antiracism incentive, no instructor may earn more than $500.
  • For each course, the instructor may earn either the course-improvement or the antiracism incentive.
  • The maximum amount that any instructor may receive in incentive payments for a single course in Intersession 2021 is $1000, or $1500 for two courses.
  • All incentives other than the enrollment incentive will be awarded only for courses that contain significant instructor-generated content. Faculty may not earn incentives merely for uploading or linking to content from publishers (e.g., Cengage).

Deadlines at a glance

  • For declaring interest in earning one or more of the above incentives: December 1, 2020
  • For implementing best-practice improvements: December 14, 2020
  • For publishing in Canvas (for students enrolled in the course) a fully developed online course that deals centrally with issues of race and racial justice in a way that advances Geneseo’s 2020-21 theme of Becoming an Antiracist College: January 4, 2021.
  • For sharing to Canvas Commons CC-licensed course content or a fully developed, CC-licensed course module dealing with issues of race and racial justice in a way that advances Geneseo’s 2020-21 theme of Becoming an Antiracist College: January 4, 2021.
  • For submitting a completed blog post for the CDL blog (required only for antiracism incentive #3): March 1, 2021.

Note: This post was updated on 2020-10-06 to insert a link to Geneseo’s page on Becoming an Antiracist College.

Evaluating online teaching

Interior photograph, Design Museum, London Design Museum, London by Flickr user diamond geezer, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, many more Geneseo faculty are teaching online. Not surprisingly, then, department chairs, deans, and personnel committees are wondering how they can best evaluate their colleagues’ online instruction for the purposes of professional development and review.

Procedures and standards for peer review of faculty are, of course, properly a matter for shared governance and contractual negotiation. At some point it will fall to Geneseo’s college senate to approve guidelines for “observing” online instruction similar to those it adopted in 2006 for on-ground instruction, possibly together with some online-specific modifications to the personnel evaluation forms for tenured/tenure-track and adjunct faculty. But because schools and departments need help with this question right now, I put down some thoughts and shared them with the CDL faculty affiliates, student affiliates, associates, and leadership team, as well as the Academic Experience Planning Team convened last spring by Provost Robertson to develop recommendations for the transition to remote learning. I also consulted Wes Kennison, Geneseo UUP chapter president. I got a lot of terrific feedback, especially in the faculty affiliates’ meeting on September 9.

What follows isn’t a group document but rather my best advice, informed by the range of perspectives I heard in that feedback. As you might expect, the perspectives didn’t line up neatly, but there was significant disagreement on only one point, which I discuss below.

I’m especially grateful to Wes for his precise insistence on the difference between mentorship and personnel review as processes. While the advice below raised no red flags for him, he cautioned that his personal lack of objection should not be construed as an official union endorsement.

Tl;dr edition

For those who like their conclusions first, here’s the short version of my advice:

  • Be guided by best practice for evaluating online instruction, but adapt it to present circumstances: faculty workloads and pressures right now call for a streamlined approach that respects everyone’s limited time as well as the psychological strains on colleagues under review, especially those without tenure.
  • In establishing a temporary procedure for your school or department, consider the difference between physical and online spaces when it comes to both faculty’s and students’ sense of privacy and safety. Various online equivalents to the conventional collegial classroom visit may leave some people feeling uncomfortably exposed or surveilled and could cause some students to feel as though their trust has been violated.
  • Whatever approach your school or department takes, make sure everyone fully understands the why and how of it and that everyone follows it consistently.

Two questions, not one

For Geneseo right now, the question of how best to evaluate online teaching is really two questions. First, in the abstract, what constitutes best practice for peer evaluation and mentorship in this area? But second, what’s a fair, reasonable, and practicable approach to assessing and mentoring colleagues under our present unusual circumstances, where many instructors, evaluators, and students are operating in unfamiliar territory, with new instructional modalities and with tools they may be trying for the first time?

Best practice calls for a thorough review of an instructor’s online course design and content in light of widely accepted, research-based standards. Many institutions use the adaptable, standards-driven review process developed by Quality Matters, a nonprofit organization that grew out of a higher-education consortium in Maryland. In collaboration with the Online Learning Consortium, SUNY has developed its own instrument for developing and assessing online courses, the Online Course Quality Review Rubric: OSCQR for short. Both tools have the advantage of being backed by extensive research on effective online instruction. They’re thorough and detailed: OSCQR, for example, comprises 50 standards arranged under six dimensions of online course architecture and implementation: Overview and Information, Technology and Tools, Design and Layout, Content and Activities, Interaction, Assessment and Feedback.

However, these tools are intended as frameworks for the full online course evaluation process, from development through review to improvement. They presume an instructor who’s deliberately chosen to teach online and to build courses informed by the tools’ design principles. They also presume evaluators thoroughly familiar with those principles.

Needless to say, that’s not the situation we’re in right now.

Realistic alternatives to best practice

Under present circumstances, a better approach to evaluating instructors’ courses would be to rate them against just a few, high-level principles of effective practice. One starting point might be Geneseo’s Course Readiness Checklist, the greatly streamlined version of OSCQR developed by CDL Assistant Director for Online Learning Laurie Fox and her team of instructional designers in CIT. Departments could adapt it to fit distinctive aspects of their disciplines or cultures.

Another possible starting point is the “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education” distilled from research on student learning by Arthur Chickering and Zelda Gamson in their influential 1987 article of that name. Because these principles apply to every course modality, from fully in-person to varieties of hybrid to fully online, they’re likely to be recognized and understood by the largest number of faculty. It’s no accident that they track well with the indicators of effective “Contributions to Teaching” listed in the “Appendix” to Geneseo’s Personnel Evaluation Form (PER) as updated in May 2019.

The best undergraduate teaching, Chickering and Gamson argued,

  • Encourages contacts between students and faculty
  • Develops reciprocity and cooperation among students
  • Uses active learning techniques
  • Gives prompt feedback
  • Emphasizes time on task
  • Communicates high expectations
  • Respects diverse talents and ways of learning

I’m not keen on the phrase “Emphasizes time on task,” but properly translated it simply means that good teaching communicates clear expectations for how students should apportion their time in realizing a course’s learning outcomes. This clarity is especially important in asynchronous online courses, where students bear responsibility for effectively managing the 2,000-plus minutes that an in-person three-credit course, for example, fixes in class meetings.

At Penn State College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, Ann Taylor, a member of the Dutton E-Education Institute, developed a Creative Commons-licensed Peer-Review Guide for Online Courses based on Chickering and Gamson’s seven principles. Taylor’s peer-review guide indicates where reviewers could look within an online course to see how the course measures up against these principles.

Geneseo deans, department chairs, and personnel committees might consider adapting Taylor’s guide to come up with a form and a process that reflects the particular ways in which their respective disciplines realize the seven principles; weaves in additional high-level Geneseo values such as equity, inclusion, and accessibility; and respects the constraints of time and experience under which we’re all operating right now.

Faculty undergoing personnel review typically prepare a self-reflective statement together with evidence of their teaching effectiveness that includes course materials (syllabi, handouts, assignments, etc.) and examples of student work. In writing reflectively about their online teaching, faculty might describe how they see the design and content of their online courses meeting the discipline-specific version of standards such as those described above. Additionally, as evidence of growth, they might explain how they’ve changed their online teaching in light of previous experience. And they might illustrate their effectiveness by including examples of student engagement such as de-identified excerpts from discussion forums.

Transparency, consistency, privacy

Whatever approach is taken, the important thing is to make sure the process and the standards it employs are transparent to faculty under review and followed consistently by reviewers. Taylor’s guide spells out how Penn State instructors should initiate and reviewers carry out their process. Academic departments at Geneseo should do the same.

However it works, the process will require instructors to share their course design and content with one or more peers. It’s best not to have them do this by simply granting peers access to the course in Canvas. Students who’ve contributed to the course’s online discussion forums, posted videos, and otherwise shared their views and ideas with the instructor or classmates weren’t expecting these outsiders to be part of their audience.

CIT can instead clone the course so that peers can see its structure and instructional content but no student-generated content. To give reviewers a feel for how they engage students in active learning, instructors can, as suggested above, include de-identified samples of student work as part of their self-reflection.

What about synchronous observation?

When evaluating physically present teaching, we traditionally attach great importance to classroom visits, which give us the opportunity to see how a colleague interacts with students. Online, there’s no classroom to visit, so course design and content become the most important indicators of quality — not only out of necessity, but because the absence of a classroom makes them that much more essential to effective instruction and student success.

If an online course has a synchronous component or is mainly synchronous, however, it’s possible for a colleague to “drop in” on a Zoom lecture or discussion in an attempt to get a feel for an instructor’s pedagogical style. Is this a good idea?

We’ve arrived at the one point on which the colleagues I consulted in preparing this blog post had significant disagreement, with a small number arguing that by visiting a live synchronous meeting or watching a recorded one, a peer reviewer might gain meaningful insight into a colleague’s effectiveness with minimal disruption to the class as a community.

My own advice is: don’t do it. I’m skeptical about the insight and very concerned about the impact on community — as a general matter, but particularly right now.

I can imagine a future — hopefully a pandemic-free one — where videoconferencing has become so commonplace and the technology has made it so intuitive that we can all read people’s conferencing interactions as easily as we do their in-person ones, a future where we can confidently assess the online equivalent of how well a colleague “uses the board” or facilitates a sense of community in a physical classroom. (How nimble is their screen-sharing? How effectively do they use breakout rooms? Are students genuinely engaged?) But until we get there, and considering that many faculty are working hard to gain fluency with a raft of new tools and methods for live online engagement, I worry that reviewers will reach unwarranted conclusions while generating tremendous stress for their colleagues.

I worry, too, that a visit to a synchronous online meeting may feel “creepy” to some students in a way that a visit to a physical classroom doesn’t, in part because online there’s little if any possibility of anonymity. Student experience here may be shaped in part by the sense that in general the educational sector is watching them constantly, using their phones to track their movements around campus, asking them to install spyware on their computers in an effort to combat academic dishonesty, or even sending information about their activity to companies like Facebook and Google. The point isn’t that these things are happening at Geneseo but rather that they form part of the climate in which students in general now learn. Meanwhile, one thing that is happening here — necessarily, and for the best of reasons — is intense daily monitoring of students’ health and social contacts. Under the circumstances, I think we’d do well to avoid, where possible, adding anything else to the atmosphere that might feel like surveillance.

Would asking a colleague to record a synchronous online meeting mitigate any of the potential harms of a live visit? I suppose it might reduce the colleague’s anxiety somewhat, but it wouldn’t remove the surveillance issue and might, in fact, exacerbate it by creating a permanent record of the things people said and did in the meeting, with identities attached, a record whose future circulation would lie outside any of the participants’ control. I think faculty have as much reason as students to be wary of such an outcome.

Here, again, then, my advice is: don’t do it.

Student opinion

It’s worth considering what role student opinion might play in evaluating online teaching. At Geneseo, our process for evaluating physically present teaching has for many years included student opinion through the SOFI survey. The college senate is currently reviewing this practice with an eye toward turning a radically revised SOFI into an instrument for formative assessment that would no longer play a role in personnel evaluation. Eventually, it may make sense to have a dedicated instrument for evaluating online teaching that would serve the same developmental purpose and would be similarly excluded from use in personnel decisions. It might ask the kinds of questions that could help a faculty member gauge how well they succeeded in, for example, establishing a personal presence, making students feel welcome and connected, tying activities and assignments to course learning outcomes, and communicating expectations and feedback effectively.

Whether and how student opinion should play a role in improving online teaching and learning at Geneseo is, of course, another matter to be determined through shared governance.

Some final thoughts

To repeat, what you’ve been reading here is advice, not policy. Hopefully it’s helpful advice at a moment when, without settled policy to guide us, it’s nevertheless important for professional development and personnel review processes to continue.

Throughout this post, I’ve spoken of those two processes in tandem because I’ve been focused on identifying the standards to which faculty should look both to become better online instructors and to demonstrate how they’re meeting expectations set by their departments and the college. While the standards may be the same, however, the processes are of course quite different, as are the stakes, particularly for faculty whose continued employment at a time of heightened precarity may hang in the balance.

In developing transparent and consistent standards adapted from best practice with an eye toward our unprecedentedly stressful and unsettled moment, then, departments and schools should also keep in mind that, from an ethical standpoint they should not, and from a contractual standpoint they may not, judge faculty’s performance by criteria of which those faculty were not previously informed. To put this more simply: look in Canvas for appropriate evidence that faculty are doing, in that environment, and to the best of their ability, the things that have been traditionally associated with excellent teaching at Geneseo.

As you look, remember how challenging it’s proving for many faculty to find their feet in a teaching environment where they’ve landed suddenly, and not by choice. Pay particular attention to the things they’re getting right.

Further reading

If you’d like to explore some of the resources mentioned here or additional ones that CDL faculty, students, and staff have been gathering on this topic and others related to digital learning, I invite you to follow our public bibliograpy on Zotero.