Keep Teaching: July 30
July is almost over, and we all know that once August hits, already the fall semester is upon us in many ways. Many of you have been thoughtfully preparing your fall courses for some time, conceptualizing large-scale design and instructional approaches tailored to best promote learning in our challenging circumstances.
Challenging circumstances indeed… I won’t mention them, or any one of them, today. They tempt the mind toward worrying, fretting about how to deal with them. I went running this morning in the cooler air before the sun really got going, and I decided to go along one of the busier streets for a bit. One of the stores I passed had a sign out front, a modest one, yard-sign size, declaring: Worry Is A Misuse Of Imagination.
Imagination! It’s a wonderful word, one that we don’t rely on often enough to describe what we do at the university. We talk research, discovery, entrepreneurship, innovation, learning, teaching, engaging – but at the core of all of that is a desire, and an ability, to see the promise that lives within our students, and to dream beyond the possible.
You’ve been doing that in our near-complete re-thinking of our curriculum, striving to worry less and imagine more, crafting our current reality into one filled with promise and possibility. Maybe we should start calling the place an Imaginatorium rather than a University; we’ve never needed our imagination more.
The main purpose of these notes have been to provide some practical tips; today, to marry large-scale conceptual approaches with tactics for effective implementation. One that I particularly want to draw your attention to, for those of you teaching in hybrid or HyFlex modes, is to divide your Canvas course into manually created sections based on the day of the week each student group will attend in person, rather than virtually. Doing so will allow you to communicate with groups based on their weekly attendance day. (To provide clarity and a consistent structure for students, use the same day of the week for in-person attendance for each group. That is, the group that attends F2F on Monday in week #1 should attend on Monday all semester.) Manually creating sections will also enable you to adjust assignment due dates for each group, should you wish to ensure that each group attends an in-person class meeting with you before submitting an assignment. Importantly, this approach will allow you to communicate with each student group the week before classes begin which day of the week they should attend in person and which activities they should complete online in your Canvas course. Creating sections manually within your course will make communication more efficient for you, enabling you to provide timely messages and tailored information to students.
I especially encourage you to engage students by implementing active learning strategies by instructional modality. Those of you teaching hybrid or HyFlex courses may be particularly interested in the right-hand column of the document linked in the preceding sentence, as it lists approaches for using active learning in the physically distanced classroom. You might consider reserving F2F class time for activities that cannot be completed virtually and delivering content in mini-lectures (10 minutes or fewer) posted in your Canvas course. To make this approach manageable, you can use the same set of activities in each F2F session you teach in a given week, rotating assignment due dates by each group’s attendance day if needed.
While the work involved may be daunting at moments, this stage is exciting because it showcases one of CSU’s distinctive strengths – synthesizing conceptual and practical knowledge to create highly effective innovations. This strength has characterized our response to the pandemic this spring and summer, as well as many of your individual achievements and CSU’s signature activities for many years. Seeing it so abundantly in evidence in recent months assures me that whatever challenges emerge in the coming academic year, together we’ll do what we’ve always done – realize promising possibilities in creative solutions.
A final couple of notes. I want to take a moment to thank Gwen Gorzelsky for partnering with me on these Keep Teaching messages. She and her team at TILT, and colleagues from CSU-Online and others across campus, have been working tirelessly to set us all up for success this year, and the materials and tips that I’ve been able to send along are entirely their doing. I do want you to know that I cannot blame Gwen for any of the bad jokes.
In closing, thank you for all you are doing and all you have done to promote our mission of access and academic excellence. As you know, my tenure as Provost and Executive Vice President will conclude this weekend. It has been an honor to serve you and to serve CSU, and I am proud of your work and commitment to our students and their success. I’ve referred to running on and off in these messages, and over the nearly dozen years when I get together with other Provosts from around the country we joke about whether the job is more like a sprint, or a marathon – and we usually end up concluding that it’s both. This year I’ve realized it’s neither: it’s a relay race. I leave you in the very capable hands and exceptional expertise of Mary Pedersen, who begins her tenure here at CSU as our new Provost and Executive Vice President starting this weekend. I’ve gotten to know her some over the past month as we’ve been discussing the baton hand-off, and I’m looking forward to her leadership in the coming years. Indeed, I’m imagining a wonderful future for Colorado State – I trust you all are too.
Provost and Executive Vice President
Colorado State University