CTI Podcast - Episode 30 - Joshua Price and Jeb Branin

Tony Pellegrini: Good morning. Good morning friends at SUU Tony Pellegrini here from the Center for Teaching innovation. We are starting our fall podcast series about teaching and learning the great things that are going on here at Southern Utah University. And I've got two guests with me here this morning, Josh Price, who was awarded the Distinguished Service Award from the provost, Jon Anderson last spring and Jeb Branin, who was awarded the Distinguished Faculty Award. And we're just tickled to be able to address them and to find out what some of the cool things that are going on in their classrooms, their activities that have earned them this honor, and hopefully pique your interest to get out and visit their classrooms, visit their settings and situations and be able to learn alongside them. So if we could start with you, Josh, would you be willing to introduce yourself a little about your background? Maybe were just a moment or two where you've come from and and how long you've been here at SUU some of the passions you have here at SUU.

Joshua Price: Yeah, absolutely. So Joshua price. I'm originally from Portland, Oregon, where I was raised. I bounced around to different colleges ended up getting graduate school out in New York, started my career in Texas, where I taught at the University of Arlington and then did some consulting full time. And about almost nine years ago now, I made my way here to Cedar City joining SUU in the economics department. And one of the big things that attracted me here was the opportunity to work with students and be a part of a college experience and a college atmosphere.

Tony Pellegrini: Thank you so much, Jeb, would you be willing to take a moment tell us a little about your your academic and personal past?

Jeb Branin: Absolutely. My name is Jeb Branin. I teach theatre and film on campus and I'm the director of the SUU in London program. I take students and community members to London every year to just study theater. This is my 30th year teaching in higher education and love it as much now as I ever have. I did all of my schooling here in Utah. I graduated from Snow College and Utah State . . . Go Aggies . . . and did graduate work at BYU. I taught at Snow College for about five years. I was at BYU for a year. And this is our 25th year here at Southern Utah University. My wife also works at the University. She's the Director of the Community Engagement Center. And yeah, I, Josh and I, we know each other and, and I have a lot of respect for him in the work that he does. And I'm honored to be here.

Tony Pellegrini: That is part of the love that I have for SUU. What an exciting place where you can have those relationships, those connections, and enjoy learning and teaching as well. I really want this to be a conversation. So please, please jump in. It's not just a Tony interviewing two individuals. We're trying something new this this fall, and I'm excited about I'm sticking my neck out. We're gonna make it work. But let's start with you, Josh, I know you're passionate about the the HEAL Center that you have, can you tell us a little about in regards to your service and the award that you received? A putting putting forth the heel center?

Joshua Price: Yeah, so it kind of really started my own undergraduate experience where I was able to be a research assistant, working on a project looking at this high school participation, increased lifetime earnings. And so that really was transformational for me. And so part of my reason to convince you is to, to be able to start that student centered research experience. So when I got here, the Provost was previous Provost Cooke was generous to give us funds to hire students to work on different projects. So some of these projects were we went to elementary schools and tried to focus on interventions to increase math proficiency. And about three and a half years ago, with some other faculty that were interested in research, we kind of formalized our efforts and formed what we call the Health Education Action Lab or HEAL. And that's been designed to give students of any major of any class an opportunity to engage in empirical research. And so we train them on how to do research, and then we help them on projects that we're working on as faculty. And that that A.P.E.X. we want to do is we want them to start working on their own research, where we can help mentor them.

Tony Pellegrini: Wonderful. I'm particularly interested, you know, in students doing this research, do they pull along their professors in class, or is it just to students? Can you talk a little about those relationships that may, may or may not be involved with the HEAL program?

Joshua Price: Yeah, I mean, I think the biggest thing that we want to do is, I mean, when you think when I think of like Bloom's Taxonomy and teaching is there's this triangle of hierarchy of learning, and research hits, I think, every single one of those levels and by doing researches, you're able to create new knowledge, like the very top of that, and so we really want to give students those opportunities. So the hard part is, research can be hard. And it can be difficult. And the first like two weeks like, Man, I love this idea. It's amazing. And then as you start to get into it, it's like, the challenges come and the problems start to happen and the problem solving has to kick in. But by forming a community by getting students together in a group, I mean, I think that's where, I mean, Jeb, you could probably talk about this with SUU in London is there's some camaraderie, there's something special about students being in a collaborative environment, where they're facing the same challenges and same opportunities,

Tony Pellegrini: I think, and expressing or feeling or feeling that pain after two or three weeks commiserating one with another of, Hey, are you feeling the same thing that I'm failing? Or am I different from you? I think that's wonderful.

Jeb Branin: I would say being in that group and, and problem solving together is as critical to their education as what they're learning about the research. That learning to work together as a group to identify problems as a group to try different solutions on how to overcome them. To delegate amongst the group for that problem solving. I mean, from my perspective, that education is as critical to their success as researchers in the future as the hard skills of the research. process itself.

Tony Pellegrini: Absolutely. When I was an elementary principal, it was not anything that I wanted to do. But I had to terminate the contract of a couple of teachers, but it wasn't because they couldn't teach Spanish or English or math or science, or whatever it was. It was those dispositions, those soft skills of getting along with one another, showing up on time doing my part. In your classes, how do you you in both of your settings, or situations, how do you encourage or nurture those soft skills that are so essential to endure beyond that two week period of "Oh, my gosh, what did I get myself into?"

Joshua Price: I think part of is just to let them rely on each other. And oftentimes, I want to step in quickly. And oh, let me here's the answer is I know the answer. I've done this kind of thing. It's, here's here's how you solve this problem quickly. But just a step back and let them go through that experience. And again, it's I we developed our lab to try to help students to get into graduate school. And turns out a lot of our students don't want to go to graduate school. But we found this as they interview for unrelated jobs to the research they did. It's this problem solving. It's this overcoming challenges, the ability to stick to this to a task for a long period of time. Those are the skills they developed. And those are transferable skills for for any degree, any, any major any type of job.

Tony Pellegrini: Does that happen in theater, arts and drama?

Jeb Branin: Yeah, so my primary responsibility in the department is to teach the large general education classes.I mean, I do have the Theatreland program, I teach a little bit of acting, but but my real bread and butter, and honestly, the thing I'm most passionate about is teaching those 1000 level, general education classes, the Introduction to Theater, Introduction to film, you know, the 1000 level Shakespeare classes. And so those soft skills are the heart and soul of what I do it in my classes, we have, you know, 90 plus students in those, those classes. And so a lot of the things that I like to do in small classrooms, a lot of the collaboration, a lot of the hands on active learning, it just doesn't work very well in large classrooms. And so we spent a lot of time studying the art forms in my classes, as opposed to actually doing creation, you know, hands on work. And so my focus is very much on the soft skills, we I think we all realize that in watching film or theater, we, you know, experience vicariously life. I want the students to take the next step and realize that what we in education would call soft skills and one business we consulted, call soft skills, that empathy, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, working together in a group. We vicariously experience that as well, if we will take the time to deconstruct what it is that we're seeing. So I lead conversations, we watch the films, we study the aspects, you know, whatever it is that we're studying that particular week. But as we deconstruct the film's the heart and soul of the education is, let's talk about what we're seeing. Let's hear what you think. Let's listen to what other people think we don't always agree. I make it very clear that their perspective and their analysis has as much validity as mine. Mine may be based in more experience, but I haven't lived their life and their life experience is something that they bring to the table. And as they begin to realize that they can share in groups, their perspectives, they can watch something critically break it down, figure out what it means to them based on their life experience, and then listen to other people, and empathetically understand that those people's analysis are based on their life experience. And perhaps it's very, very different than, than mine. I think those skills are essential for life, I think they're essential regardless, I mean, because my classes are general education. They're most of my students are not theater majors are not film majors. They are majors from all over campus. So whatever field they go into, they're going to have to collaborate, they're going to have to communicate, they're going to have to be empathetic, they're going to have to have emotional intelligence. And then ultimately, they're gonna have to have emotional control and other soft skill that I think is critical, where you need to understand that feelings are valid, other people's feelings are valid, and we need to process and discuss these situations, these these analyses or whatever it is, in a way that we validate each other. But we also are in control. And we learn to process and articulate with emotions and through emotions, and allow the emotions to inform the effectiveness of the functionality of the group as opposed to interfere with the effectiveness of the group.

Tony Pellegrini: Thank you so much it what really is connected with me that you've shared here here is that these are really approaches and processes to help us with social emotional learning, that we're getting a lot of support from our provost office on and that we're going to continue receive, to receive to be able to connect with our learners and have them interact appropriately within society, that the collaboration, that communication, the creativity that you mentioned, are going to help them. I'm going to suggest here and pull a little out of you, Josh, even in marketing, are those principles and skills that apply, are you put into practice with your marketing learners.

Joshua Price: Well, I think a lot of business majors in general think I need a specific set of skills that an employer hires me for those skills. And what we're finding from employers is, yes, those skills are important. But these things that like Jeb talked about, are actually much more important. Those are the ones that students might lack a little more. And those are also a little harder for us sometimes to teach, I can sit down and show the students a math equation and show this is how you solve this and everybody can get to that stage. But as Jeff's talking, like emotional intelligence, this is something that's harder to do. But the one thing if I can brag for Jeb for a second is he may not do this. But I mean, when he talks about the educational experience, you can tell that he cares. And I know we had a group we met over the summer he talked and, and like what he does for students outside the classroom was impressive. And it's that level of care that gains the trust of students. And so the words that he speaks carries that much more weight, that they will listen to him. And that's where you know, what makes a great educator. I think you have to care about the students. Because if you can't show that you care about them, then your words become much more hollow. And I think that's one thing that just resonates as Jeb speaks, as you can just tell it, he does care.

Tony Pellegrini: Absolutely. And I think too, that the principles of the creativity, that communication that you've identified are so important, particularly as we're moving out of this COVID period, to move forward to our brave new world, whatever that might be, whatever that might be,

Jeb Branin: Yeah, whatever new normal entails.

Tony Pellegrini: I would like to ask you about over the last couple of years, this this strange, COVID situation that we went through? Did you lean more on technologies within your instruction to help your learners? What are your thoughts there? Can you give us some examples? Is that something that was helpful or that you were able to put into practice to? You may not have seen as much face to face?

Joshua Price: Yeah, I think we learned a lot. I think we learned a lot of things we can do and things maybe we shouldn't do. And one thing I think we learned is technology can be a very valuable tool. We can reach students further away. We can connect with students and other in through distance. But the one thing I think that we found maybe lacking and wanting is how do we form meaningful connections? I can see a student on a screen they can see me on the screen. How do we connect? And that's where as if you asked like, what's the SUU experience? It's that connecting? It's, uh, you know, as we walked in, it's like, you know, I see these students, I know their names. Unfortunately, they now find out that I know their name in public. But like, it's those meaningful connections. And I just had an experience where I ran to a student who had taken a class from me a remote class during COVID. And the student had clearly seen my face many times, I had not seen the students face. And so the student's "Oh, Professor Price" and I felt like at a complete loss, like I actually don't know who you are, oh, I'm so and so. And even with their name, it's like, I actually don't know who you are. I don't know you. And that's where I think is as we think about what this brave new world is, and I haven't read Aldous Huxley for a while to know to know what the solution is and what he prescribes a solution. But I think what we need to realize is those connections are not replaceable. With technology. They can be augmented with technology, but they're not replaceable. And how we do that, I think is a big challenge. I don't have the answers on how to do that. But I know that we have to do that if we're going to be something special.

Jeb Branin: I would agree, I think we're still learning. I would suspect that many of my colleagues, I certainly know that I did, we moved into the pandemic, with solutions that gave us great trepidation. Teaching live in masks, zooming that class live, at the same time, recording that zoom and posting it for later dissemination, and then being able to provide the materials for students who attended in person live over zoom and asynchronously over zoom to do their work, get it in in a timely manner us respond to them in a way that's effective, considering the modality I mean, how I respond to a student live versus an asynchronous student is very different. These were huge challenges. Unexpectedly, I found it really invigorating. And as I started to really try and understand my students in this new world, one of the things I found is that there are some students who, for a variety of reasons, function better. And so at least for the time being, I've committed to continue this process, all of my classes, my large Senate classes, not my small acting, my large Gen Ed classes, I may have maintained this I, I do it live, I zoom it live, and I post live, or I post the recordings. I talked to a lot of people, and I incorporate it into my assessment with every single student I've had over the last two years. You know, tell me what you think about this. And I have found that there's a cohort of students who have who are either placed bound, are semi placed bound, they travel and you know, as problematic, they make it work for them, but they're coming from a distance. And then maybe most importantly, students with certain challenges, for example, the social anxiety challenge. Were able to, I found that those students were connecting and participating in class in ways that I thought were intriguing. I still have a lot to learn. But I do things when I lecture when I when I talk, I put the zoom up on big screen, I teach films on my class a big huge screens, right. And I put them on the screen and I open up the chat. And I asked questions directly to we call them the Zoomers. And they can post in the chat, they can, you know, put links to things that we call it the voice from heaven, they also can talk and we can hear them. And it has created this really interesting dynamic. And I've actually had a couple of parents reach out to me who have said, my my child really can't go to college. Except in situations where it's virtual. And they have loved being able to feel like they're part of a class feel like they belong, but yet be able to operate with whatever their particular situation is. And, and those nuggets have driven me to to keep exploring this technology. I've got some flat spots. And I think there's some challenges. And I haven't solved that yet. But I'm going to keep working.

Tony Pellegrini: We may never ever get there. But I think there's like you mentioned little nuggets that we've learned or acquired or are going to continue. It's not going to we're not ever going to go back to the old normal, whatever that was. But it is an interesting, and I think you're at SUU, because of our distance from major metropolitan areas that may be a valuable asset to us.

Joshua Price: And with that, I'd say I mean, I think Jeb is right is through these technologies, we can reach a certain population and have them thrive much better than in the face to face setting. But it also then creates this challenge of those students who thrive better in a face to face setting but realize that it takes effort to walk the four blocks to campus at 8:30 in the morning, and so they don't and so they stay home and as a result they're choosing to do something that might be less optimal for them. And this is where like as a professor I tried to become like almost a parent I try to take on these parents role roles of how do we do this? How do we navigate to to reach a segment of the population, but to also not create outs for individuals, so they don't do as well. And this has always been a big challenge. I've always taught a lot of online courses. And students oftentimes take the online course at the end of the semester, they say, I thought the online course was going to be easier. And so they take it for certain reasons that are not great for their education, great for their goals. And so we got to, I don't know the answer for this, but we have to find ways to be able to facilitate these groups of students that are going to thrive, but still also encourage other group of students to be in the setting, or I guess, encourage all students to be in the setting where they're going to do best. And I don't know how to do that without like paternalistic policies, but that's just gonna be a big challenge we're gonna face as we try to make these accommodations and move forward.

Jeb Branin: And I think that's the biggest problem, I completely agree. Being uncomfortable, is the place we want to get to to learn. And so the student who might be, you know, making the self determination that the four blocks at eight o'clock in the morning, that's a hardship. So I will punt that. It's a problem. And, and while we don't want to push people into situations where they are at risk, or you know, or aggravating, whatever issues they're dealing with, at the same token, we don't want students to not go into those places that are uncomfortable, because that's where learning happens, learning doesn't happen. If you stay put and are always comfortable. And learning doesn't happen if you push too far. And you move yourself into a situation where you are for whatever reason, there are some legitimate functional blocks to your learning. So that sweet spot, which is a big sweet spot, but that sweet spot is hard. And these technologies can help us but as Josh indicates, they also I mean, could give people I mean weapons to shoot themselves in the foot.

Tony Pellegrini: Choice is a good thing. Yeah, you have to use it right. But I really do believe here at SUU, we really are set up with the perspective and outlook towards social emotional approaches, to be able to have those relationships with our learners, like you have with Mr. Riser here that you can maybe paternalistically. Maybe collegially, you know, say, Hey, I see you doing so much better. You know, when you're here on time, you're an adult, you need to make I'm not picking, picking picking on Mr. Riser here. But with that whatever student that you're working with, you have that relationship that you whether it's paternalistic, whether it's collegial, to be able to say, Boy, you do so much better when I can see in class, get up and get out of bed tomorrow morning and come to class when they really love your participation. I think that those opportunities are so profound here for us. I really, let's see, we I really would like to ask just one more question to you. Can you talk to us a little bit or talk we have a conversation about you how you measure and assess your learner's understanding? In the HEAL? In the HEAL program? How do you make sure that you understand what your students are learning and assessing? Through their research?

Joshua Price: Oh we just randomly given numbers one through 10? As a parent, we say you get what you get, you don't throw a fit? No. So the nice thing is, at least with this is there's a tangible evidence of their work. So whether it be writing code, whether it be contributions to a paper that a faculty member is the author of, whether it be that they're a co author of a paper. But I think one of the greatest examples is when students come up with their own research idea. So Ben funk and James Clark were two students last year, they had been in the research lab for two and a half years. And they got together and said, We want to write a paper to measure the effectiveness of the defensive shift in baseball. So they outlawed this shift and baseball they want to see like does a shift actually reduce batters success? So they came up, they found the data, they analyze the data, they came to me and they said Price we want you know, we have this, what can we do with that said, Well, you should apply to a conference. And so Joel Vallet in the MPA program said there's this great conference at Baseball Hall of Fame. And so we encourage them to apply. I had little hope of them getting in. I may have expressed that to them. But I said this is still a good process to go through. And in the end, they got accepted to present it. And so they were able to present this last summer in the Baseball Hall of Fame, their research to a group of sports writers and sports enthusiast and sports academics. Awesome experience. And so it's not a metric that we can use to say this was a success or not. But for each of these individuals, they went into jobs that were not related to baseball, or to academic research. But the in their job interviews, they were asked about this process, like tell us about this. You have on your resume that you presented at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Tell us about it. And it was awesome for them to be able to explain the process that they went through. And so that's our measures of success, I think is to see like, are they achieving their goals and it's very subjective. And I'm okay with that. Even though as an economist, we'd like to do objective things and measure things objectively. To us. That was like the pinnacle of success for them. Now, the other pinnacle of success is we had Candace Fair and Mitch Zufelt felt they ended up falling in love and the research lab and got married this last summer as they both went to Chicago for wonderful jobs and, and grad school. And so that's another measure of success that we can look at. But really, it's the way we measure success is are the students able to achieve their goals. And that's actually really hard for me as a professor is I have ambitions for them. And I would love for them to live out my dreams, and let me live vicariously through them. But as we, as I've tried to really, these past years, really embrace their goals, and support their goals no matter what they are, then that's how we are going to measure success. And when you look at our job placements, and when you look at talk to these students afterwards, they're incredibly happy. And they're achieving their measure their definitions of success. And so that's how I revealed the health, the Health Education Action Lab, as successful is because we're helping these students achieve their dreams.

Tony Pellegrini: Powerful. Thank you.

Jeb Branin: Yeah, I love hearing that. In my large general education classes, they're not skill development courses, I mean, there is not a measurable skill every student needs to, I mean, wherever you start, whether it's an A or C, everybody needs to get to F to have the skills to move on to the next one, if you don't have this baseline skills, you will not be able to see to the next level which assumes these skills, that that's not the way these courses work. So it doesn't matter where students start. Take introduction to theatre I have, I have students who have grown up on the stage, whose parents take them to Broadway, who have season tickets to the Shakespeare Festival. And I have students who went to see their high school production of Oklahoma when they were a freshman, and that that's the extent of their experience doesn't matter in my class, the goal is that everybody grows, everybody learns to appreciate the art form better, I tell them that the lifelong learning goal of these courses is that you they will be able to more richly enjoy as critical audience members, critical thinking audience members, not audience members who are critical of what they're saying. That they will be able to more richly enjoy theater film for the rest of their lives. And so the class should provide them rewards for the rest of their lives. The way we assess it, I introduce them to the course learning objectives. In fact, they have to identify and take a little quiz on it, week one, and then whatever the final is, because the finals are radically different in in the film class from the theater class, whatever. But whatever the class is, there is one component of the final. That is, here are the learning objectives. Again, you need to do a reflection paper. Where were you with each learning objective when class started? And where do you think you are now? Can you identify growth? And then my being able to look at those those because of this number, the size of my classes, I do employ graders, but those papers, I grade myself. And I am able to read from students their perception of the effectiveness of these these learning outcomes. And then I asked them what worked and what didn't work, and what can I do better. And I see if there's any correlation between those so that I can make adjustments to continue to improve so that, you know, your 31 is as exciting as your 30

Tony Pellegrini: and two and three as well, too. Yeah.

Joshua Price: And with that, though, I think that's actually really important to measure what you're doing, right. So it's sometimes it's hard, but we need to come up with some measure so we can measure our progress and see did what I do worked. Because I think every good professor is going to try to make incremental changes every semester. And we want to be cognizant of are these, are our efforts leading to progress for the students are leading to success. And so we have to measure something and sometimes it's really hard to come up with those metrics right here. I'm gonna write my own rubric or I'm gonna turn to another rubric but but we have to do some effort to try to measure so that we can see the results of our efforts.

Tony Pellegrini: Gentlemen, thank you so very much for your participation today. I've learned a lot and I'm taking away from this I'd like to give you just a moment or two at the end here to give us any words of wisdom for new professors or senior professors to make their lives easier here on campus and, and and Josh anything in regards to the HEAL Center that you want to share as well to please please share

Joshua Price: Yes, my advice to any new professor would be like follow your passion of what brings you happiness and what find your what will help you achieve your definition of success. For me that's been student research, and I would love it as we move forward as a university that we find ways to support faculty in their endeavors. I find there's there's always support for our teaching, there's always support for our research. But there's maybe this other category of the self initiative. There's self initiatives that we could support more. And so I would love it to see like this university to embrace faculty, who have new ideas, who have new innovations that they want to be able to try and to support them. And then to any student at SUU, who would love to would like to know more about empirical research, reach out to me, japrice@suu.edu. Again, we take any student, any major, we have an open door policy, where we will help train you on how to do empirical research and give you the skills that you are looking for, no matter what your discipline is, and we welcome anybody, and it's an awesome experience.

Jeb Branin: I would encourage new faculty to do two things. Recognize that for students learning often happens in their failures and in their mistakes, and to build into their courses, you know, it has to be adjusted for whatever the situation is, but built into their courses, opportunities for students to make mistakes, and fail, and yet still succeed in the course. And the flip side of that is, don't be afraid to make mistakes and fail yourself. Give yourself some opportunity to make adjustments. And if students can see that they make mistakes and can recover and learn from them in a safe environment, they're a lot more forgiving when you make a mistake and need to make an adjustment mid stream. And you say to the students, you know what, I came up with the, you know, this worksheet, and it, it didn't work. So I'm going to make tweaks for the next time. They're a lot more forgiving. If they feel like that. You need to give them a box. Yeah, Michael Bahr always says, you know, you can't think outside the box unless you have a box, right. So you need to give them the box, but it's not a cage. It's a box that they can move outside of. And that's both in growth ended mistakes. So don't be afraid to make mistakes and allow your students a little bit of wiggle room to make mistakes. And then if you want to come to London, please do go to suuinlondon.com. We'll be putting up the 2023 trip here probably in the next three to four weeks. But you can go look at that website now and just sort of see what we do and how we do it. And it's for all majors, all interests. And we even save a couple spots for community members because they bring a perspective and ideas and experiences that ended up being really valuable for our students.

Joshua Price: What about economics professors? Is there a spot for them? I'm actually selling me right now.

Jeb Branin: I would love, I would love that. Yeah. Yeah, that would that would be awesome.

Tony Pellegrini: And other professors as well, of course. Yeah, absolutely.

Jeb Branin: And an economics professor will know that the entertainment industry in the United States in the next five years will become a trillion dollar industry. We're closing in very rapidly on that

Tony Pellegrini: Netflix alone is probably. Friends, thank you so very much for coming in visiting with us today. Friends out there across the campus and in the community. We appreciate you and we look forward. We'll be here next month with a two or three additional guests faculty that that have been awarded have received awards from the Provost Office. We're very grateful for your time and effort. Gentlemen, thank you so very much for participating.

Joshua Price: Thanks, great day. GoT-birds

Jeb Branin: Thanks, Josh.

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