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2020 Summer

Session Notes and Resources (latest to earliest)

Session 4 (August 10)

For this session we shared plans to implement some of the tips from the book:

From Gene McQuillan:

During a recent SPS/OTE course we read an article by Daniel Stanford about “bandwidth” in course design:


 The article basically argued that high “bandwidth” courses, such as those that relied heavily on various video-conferencing strategies, were well-suited to some student populations. However, for those students who were not quite familiar with college and/or not quite well-supplied with computer access, such students might quickly become “second-class citizens” in their own course.

 Other scholars have recently been exploring other research about “bandwidth.” See the book Scarcity: Why Having So Little Matters So Much by the Harvard economist Sendil Mullainathan and the Princeton psychologist Eldar Shafir. They write in depth about how “scarcity” (in terms of money, social status, housing, health-care and child-care access…) has complex and sometimes devastating cognitive effects on what they term “mental bandwidth.” Of course, for many CUNY students in the on-going COVID crisis, this is far from just an “academic” issue.

 Stanford suggested starting with much more accessible tools—discussion boards, blogs, journals and so on—to develop student confidence AND to see which “high-bandwidth” options might work best later in the semester. It was suggested that this sort of model also worked much better in meeting various goals for UDL. I PLAN TO FOLLOW HIS ADVICE.

 As we discussed, I am also considering going VERY “low-bandwidth” by actually mailing some crucial and complex readings directly to students. The obviously problem is the costs of time and money, but I see this method as an “investment,” one that immediately opens up access so that we can focus on developing substantial portfolios right from the start. And when we DO use something like ZOOM, I can say something like, “Let’s please start with page 125, second paragraph”—and no one on the other side of the screen will have to do a juggling act.

From Amy Haas:


I have incorporated the following new elements into my fall classes.

BLOGS -GOALS-Engagement & community, Self-Efficacy
Each blog requires students to improve their academic skills, to blog about it and then comment on others. These will be graded using a spec. graded rubric-meets or doesn’t meet requirements.



JOURNAL: GOALS-Engagement, Community, Personalization & deeper learning.

I am paring my Acct 1 students with my Acct 4 students. The Acct 4 students are going to be MENTORS for the Acct 1 students. I am requiring them to meet virtually and to journalize their reactions to the meetings.

SPEC. GRADING: GOALS-Autonomy, Control,

I pan on using a variation of Spec Grading in my classes.

Students will be able to see the specific activities required to earn each grade. Students can decide which grade they are willing to work towards.

Some of the activated require reaching a minimum grade, for example above 60 on an exam. Some activities just require best effort submission of an assignment. To earn a higher grade a student has to either complete more activities or earn a higher grade on a task.


I have also totally redesigned my BB shell to make it easier for students to locate things.

These changes are very ambitious but I am feeling very energized about them and looking forward to success. This FIG was great and gave me lots of opportunities to hear about the struggles and successes of others.

From Tara Thompson:

 I decided to use SPECS Grading in my summer class and it worked really well. In fact, the low-stakes assignment I used it for was the only assignment that students did 100% correctly. I’m encountering some significant issues with students either not reading/paying attention or seeing the instructions for assignments, which I place in at least 2-3 different places.
Anyways, I did specs grading with a Wiki, which I tried in place of the traditional discussion board. Students were asked to read Sherman Alexie’s “The Joy of Reading and Writing: Superman and Me” and were asked to write a single paragraph to respond to 2 specific discussion questions: 
Write one paragraph that responds to any one of the many points (your choice) that Sherman Alexie makes about his process of reading.

Within the same paragraph response, consider your own life, and the experiences and realities that encouraged or discouraged a love of reading and/or writing. Briefly describe an experience or two and compare to Alexie’s experience.

This was really an easy specs grading in that I didn’t have much criteria. But with exception of some BB logistics with the Wiki tool, all students contributed to the Wiki correctly and did so in a way that I had hoped would appear on the Discussion Boards. I’m not sure if it was the simplicity of the questions, the specs rubric, and/or the reading or what, but the responses from students on this assignment were extremely good, thoughtful, and responded to both questions.
In an informal feedback session, students said they really liked this assignment, not only for the reading which they enjoyed, but that they liked the presentation of the Wiki over the DBs. They liked seeing everyone’s post, looking at student examples as models all on one page, instead of clicking on different names as is required of the DB. So it was something about the simplicity of the functionality they seem to appreciate most.
So now, I’m trying to think if this SPECS (all or nothing) grading might be applied to higher-stakes assignments, made into a rubric say for a final persuasive essay, and would it be effective, or does that kind of grading on such an assignment become or feel too high-stakes itself. Does that makes sense? But this still doesn’t quite solve my problem of students struggling with the instructions for the other assignments.
From Michelle Gabay:

Frequent weekly reflective writing activities–While this is not a new practice in English courses, its purpose will be new for me in the online environment, in that I am hoping it will help me ensure students are completing the weekly coursework and thinking meaningfully about the content, writing practices, and habits of mind I am trying to encourage in their learning and writing development. I am planning on incorporating reflective writing activities at the end or within most of the weekly units I am designing (12 weekly units). The idea here is that the reflections would serve to give students a landing a point, and a place to look back on the week’s work, think about their contribution to their learning, and also help me see where and what students are personally struggling with. In some of our composition I (Eng 12) courses, students write a self-reflective essay that frames the contents of a writing portfolio they create at the end of the semester. These weekly short reflective writing opportunities will hopefully build in scaffolds  towards developing and deepening students’ reflective writing practices as we move through the course. Additionally, they may provide a space for students to express their experience with the weekly coursework, communicate with me or simply ask questions, and explore their relationship to the content and concepts we learn about.

Week 1 end of unit reflection using Bb’s Journal tool:

Now that you completed the week, spend some time reflecting on any or all of the items below:

  • How do you imagine yourself applying active reading strategies in future reading assignments? What will you try to do now that you didn’t do before when you read texts for class going forward?
  • What was it like reading Kwame Anthony Appiah’s article? How did you approach the text? What was confusing, exciting, interesting, or challenging for you?
  • What did you learn this week that you didn’t know before? How do you see these new insights informing your reading and writing practices as you move through the course?
  • Do you have any final thoughts or questions for me, your professor, about the week?

To respond to any or all of these questions, click the link above and then select “Create Journal Entry” when you enter the Journal section of Bb.

Week 3 Reflecting on a video in a Discussion Forum:

After watching the quoting and paraphrasing videos, let me know how these videos worked for you. Try to be specific and provide examples for me, so I know which parts you’re referring to.

  • What was helpful about the videos?
  • How did the videos help you better understand quoting and paraphrasing?
  • Where did you get lost of confused when you watched the video?
  • What would you change about the videos and why?

You can responding in writing, video, or audio recording.

From Rick Repetti:

I was planning on bringing the idea of the all-or-none grading method (I forget how it’s labeled in the book), for my discussion board essays. Here’s how I plan on implementing it for each of the assigned readings: They must do 4 things in the appropriate Blackboard Discussion area: They must, using the following numbers for each, (1) summarize the author’s main argument, (2) offer one pro (one reason to think the argument makes sense or is strong), (3) offer one con (one reason to think it doesn’t make sense or is weak), and (4) do so in 500-750 words (no more, no less). If they do not clearly do all 4 things, they get no credit. If they do all 4 things, however poorly or well, they get full credit.

Session 3 (July 27)

Chapter 6, Fostering Student Persistence and Success, naturally aligned with Chapters 7 and 8, Creating Autonomy and Making Connections, both focused on motivating students.

We began our discussion with Dweck’s Mindset Theory, which basically says that students can be limited by a fixed mindset, and need to be reminded throughout our courses that learning benefits from effort, persistence, and reflection. (See Dweck’s Secret to Raising Smart Kids)

A question about accepting late work was raised and a discussion followed where participants talked about issues of students not managing time and so being unable to keep deadlines. The tension between being flexible and providing structures that mimic real-world situations was discussed as was Specifications Grading (centered on mastery) and Labor Based Grading Contracts (centered on effort).

This led to a discussion where suggestions were made to

  • connect classroom work to personal experiences
  • connect classroom work to something students already know
  • leave a blank in course learning outcomes so students could add in their own goals
  • ask students to share their weekly schedules
  • assign metacognitive reflections
  • nudge students who disengage
  • assign a goals contract
  • assign a syllabus quiz
  • establish study skills as parallel learning outcomes
  • scaffold assignments

We also heard the students’ perspective: many students were frustrated in the spring and struggled to learn and access the tech needed to succeed in each course. They also had compassion for their instructors who struggled to shift gears.

Finally, we agreed to be kind to ourselves and not try to implement everything at one time! J

We decided to hold an additional meeting in two weeks, on August 10th but at 10am instead of 11. For that meeting, we will each come with one idea that we’d like to implement and how we are planning to do so.

Zoom info:


Meeting ID: 846 0042 6620

Session 2 (July 13)

We touched on Chapters 4 and 5 – Building Community and Giving Feedback

  • Introductions:
    • Self Introductions that reveal our personalities and encourage students to do the same,
    • Following the UDL principle of giving choice around the form through  which students do this (written, audio, video, posting pics)
    • Helping students learn how to post various kinds self introductions might provide scaffolding for other assigned postings later in the course
  • Creating Discussions on Discussion Board: Issues came up around managing discussion board discussions. Some suggestions included:
    • Having different deadlines for posting and responding
    • Having students respond to the same thread and not create new threads
    • Providing models and rubrics for discussions
    • Breaking students into groups for discussions
    • Using other BB features such as wikis and blogs to replace the discussion board
  • Groupwork: Some of the challenges with doing groupwork online including some of our experiences in the OTE course, especially wrt synchronous meetings
  • Outreach: The importance of reaching out to students who are MIA or not doing well via
  • Feedback:
    • Offering real time, just in time conversations
    • Including positive comments and emojis – but not JUST emojis
    • Using rubrics
    • Using 3 min. audio feature in Turnitin

Session 1 (June 29)

Some discussion regarding Part 1, Designing for Learning, included:

  • Not only using Backward Design to create the course but making it salient for students by showing students final projects on day one
    • Pro: Students have a goal and context for scaffolding work, which may increase motivation
    • Con: Students might feel overwhelmed (so keep it simple)
  • The need to check in frequently with students
  • The need to offer and balance a variety of modalities (video, readings, etc.,): Perhaps video could be helpful in explaining assignments and delivering some content, but shouldn’t replace reading
  • Feedback:
    • Don’t go overboard so as not to overwhelm student
    • Offering students the option to get formative feedback
    • Ways to ensure that students are responding to feedback:
      • Highlighting changes
      • Noting changes in comments
    • Tech: BB
      • Collaborate vs zoom
      • Screencastomatic: From Michelle:


Cult of Pedagogy podcast on making screencast videos



Edpuzzle site (free) to embed questions in your videos


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