CTI Podcast - Episode 32: Inside & Outside of the Classroom with Bryan Koenig and Jayci Hacker


Tony Pellegrini: Good morning friends. Good morning Tony Pellegrini here with teaching and learning at Southern Utah University. We're excited about this month's podcast. This month we have Bryan Koenig has been celebrating, celebrated as one of our distinguished educators at our last graduation activities and we also have Jayci hacker. She's the Executive Director of Student Care and Advocacy here at SUU, as well as being awarded last year from the Thunderbird Awards, a service Distinguished Service Award. We wanted to take a moment and give each of them an opportunity to tell us a little about their background, a little about their experience here at SUU and then we're going to talk about classroom activities inside and outside the classroom. That's going to be our theme today, as we address some great things that are happening in their classrooms. Bryan, would you be willing to take a moment or two and introduce yourself and a little bit about your background?

Bryan Koenig: Sure Tony, so I'm Bryan Koenig. I got a master's in general, general Experimental Psychology from the College of William and Mary, my PhD is in social psychology from New Mexico State University. And I'm an Assistant Professor of Psychology here at SUU and I started in 2017. 

Tony Pellegrini: Wonderful, thank you so much. Jayci?

Jayci Hacker: Of course. My name is Jayci Hacker and I'm an Assistant Dean of Students and Executive Director of Student Care and Advocacy. I work in the Vice President's office here in the Student Center along with Heather Ogden and Jared Tippett's. I have been in that position for a couple of years and before that I was in the Honors Program directing that for a long time. My educational background is I earned my Master's degree here at Southern Utah University and public administration. And I earned my EdD last year from Arizona State University in Education and Leadership.

Tony Pellegrini: Wonderful, congratulations. I love lifelong learners. That's why That's why we're here at the university. That's wonderful. Well, let's start if we could I'd like to start kind of inside the classroom. You both have classroom experience you work with learners inside of your classroom. How do you what are some things that you do to get your students engaged and active in the learning process within your classroom? Bryan would you be willing to start?

Bryan Koenig: Sure. So like, whenever I teach a class, first time I teach it, I usually like get feedback on my classes for my students, about halfway through it. I always get feedback at the end, you know what the what to fix and like what worked. And through that I like revise all my classes every semester and they end up you know, getting to a nice place. But one of the things I learned about is, you know, like, you got all this teaching education, like for us professors go learn how to teach better. In these classes, one of the things I've learned there is that oftentimes students don't don't do some students don't do graded exams. And so it's probably good for something that for some of our students to like, have the points to get your final grade spread out a little bit. And so it's not like 100% of the class is your exam grade because some students don't do on exam. So I started to spread those points out a little bit. And then I kind of really got inspired by that because I started to like have quizzes on the readings and it seemed like all the sudden students were doing more reading and so I ended up thinking about these points differently. I thought about them as ways to pay students to do the things I want them to do. And so in my evolutionary psychology class, I give them points if they should only notes on the reading. And there's like an in class assignment, every class that I teach, because I want them to show up to class and be thinking about whatever we're doing and so in class assignments, get them there and get them thinking about things. And so I basically end up having about half my points now on exams and the other half is just like, you know, readings or watching video lectures for my stats class. All these different assignments, my classes, like I'm teaching a literature review class, where now part of it is you have to do a presentation on your literature review topic. And so my students in that class, always do a brief talk in front of the class of their classmates, which is pretty hard. I suspect a lot of these students are introverts, and that's why they want to do the writing class. So for perhaps for them like me, I was I'm an introvert so it's really hard to get up in front of people. And the only way I found that I can overcame it is just doing it over and over again. So I tried to have like a student friendly version when they get up. And they just have to like talk for five minutes about whatever their project is and and they get the points, but they do it every class and so they get a lot of you know, as low pressure as I can make it. And they get the exposure to doing that.  And they get those points every time. I learned about ungrading. I almost got to go to a talk on it that we had here that you really wanted but I learned with ungrading was and I found that's something I've kind of been doing with notes you can't like score like the details of people's every student's notes, every class or these talks. There's just too much. So it's either like they, if they show me the notes, it looks like they did all the notes, you know, just like very vaguely, you know, I just give them all the points. And so it's pretty easy to get those day to day points as long as you just do the stuff and that's what I want you to do is do the stuff because I want them to come to class prepared by having like, watch the videos or done the readings. And then in class, I want them to be paying attention and engaged so it's easy to get those points.  And so that's one of the things I've been calling them micro incentives, because there are lots of little ways of incentivizing students to do the stuff that helps them to learn and then at the end of the semester, students say they like those things. They'll say things like you know, like I you know, I know I gotta do my homework, but it's hard to get myself to want to sit to be motivated to do it and little in-class quizzes or in-class assignments or checking these notes helps me to get motivated to do the things I know that I need to do. So I'm kinda like trying to whatever I can do to get them in the learning process that's kind of what I what I tried to do. That's one of the engagment . . . 

Tony Pellegrini: Exciting. I think, you know, as they come into my class then those learners, you establish such a wonderful habits with them to be able to take notes and and engage and say, hey, I can do this. Maybe I don't have those micro incentives in my class, but at least they've started to develop those habits I and through activities like this podcast and others, I'm learning from other teachers as well. What what, what can be what can be achieved in classes? Have you learned just a short follow up question of your learners, they've given me good feedback on this. And I know you would express you've been tweaking your classes depending upon a student feedback. Did you see some you know, after COVID or through COVID, did you see some interesting or diverse feedback or ways to to address student needs?

Bryan Koenig: I don't know as well. I thought COVID was pretty bad for students. I thought like one of the hardest things with COVID was like students were going around zoom and stuff that the students that were at home are having super trouble focusing. And I don't know I still find that like we still have some students who are like super struggling or something in their lives. Jayci actually probably gets to know a lot of these students and other students who like kind of stopped coming and things like that. So I don't know . . . but I think that was that was way worse, but than it still happens now but I don't know I ended up like thinking Zoom was hard for me. I like just couldn't cognitively like have two different audiences and keep track of it all and teach my class. And so I think a few learners benefited by having the opportunity to learn from home. But I think also some folks use that because it was easy and it didn't benefit them kind of shot themselves in the foot a little bit.So I don't know like I think we're still kind of recovering in academia from COVID. For me, I find that for pretty much all my classes, I think the students that show up and just like get engaged and get prepared to be the best at learning material and integrating it into their lives. 

Tony Pellegrini: You've certainly given us some great approaches to have that happen. Jayci your perspectives or observations or thoughts about in-class activities to engage your learners? What are some of the things that have been powerful and productive for you as you've engaged with your learners? 

Jayci Hacker: Yeah, so thanks for the question, Tony. I love everything that Dr. Koenig mentioned those those tiny assignments, the no stakes assignments, I think are really, really important. It's been a while since I've been in the classroom, but my dissertation was all focused on online learning in how to engage students in an online space. And coincidentally, I started that research and pick that topic before COVID. And so that was just a really wonderful, not wonderful, but it was advantageous for me to have already put some frameworks into place. So when COVID hit, we were prepared to transition online with the Honors Program classes, and so that was pretty seamless for us. Which was great. But my research really kind of focused on how to create those opportunities for students to engage with each other and to engage with the professor in the classroom.  What we know about online learning and learning in general is that it's more successful when it's social. And when there are interactions between students and with them and with the faculty member or the instructor. And so we I designed a lot of those kinds of opportunities for students to learn from each other even in the online space, so assigning partners where they would meet through zoom and discuss the class materials, they would still have group work that they would do through zoom with each other. I would watch those videos later to make sure that they were all engaged and working with each other. And then I would have one-on-one consultations with them through Zoom on a regular basis throughout the semester. So I think that, you know, when we're talking about in classroom or remote learning, or that asynchronous learning, there are some very intentional things that we can do as instructors to change the environment enough that students can still have quality experiences that are not going to be the same experiences might be very different, but they can still learn they can still have that satisfaction with the class, and that we can still meet the objectives of our programs and the curriculum.  And so that was really fun research to do, and that really was the takeaway is that as long as there was social interaction between the students, they did better. And they reported higher levels of satisfaction in the class and they performed well on all the assignments. And that looks different I think in every space depending on whatever the class is. I think I want to circle back to this idea and of this question, though, about how we engage those students who are struggling, because I think that's a really important part of this conversation, because for the vast majority of our students showing up in class on time every day and doing the assignments is something that's within their wheelhouse they can do that, they have the capacity. And we do have a small percentage of our students who really struggle with that due to disabilities or just really unique life circumstances that kind of come up unexpectedly. And so I think that's where faculty and instructors can really be helpful in designing curriculum and course policies that are compassionate and flexible. And take those considerations into, into mind as they design those spaces for students. 

Tony Pellegrini: Thank you so much. I'm fascinated with that. What you shared about the importance of that social nature of the engagement that needs to happen. And certainly, you bumped into those learners, who maybe are socially challenged, face-to-face, to those same, those same qualities or characteristics, do those exist in a in an online? Or can students somehow tweak or adjust those to be able to succeeded socially in an online setting? Does that kind of make sense? 

Jayci Hacker: Yeah, yeah, for sure. I think that it's about diversity of options is kind of what we're looking at. So for those students who don't thrive, for reasons outside of their control, in a face-to-face classroom environment, both introverts and on my mind space is a lot more comfortable, because they control the setting they control the time, they can, you know, check in on the days when they feel well, they can check in a ways that they're comfortable with and so it does have more control over to the learner, which takes a unique kind of relationship with a faculty member for sure.

Tony Pellegrini: Again, too, I love that word control. I think of it too, as choice, you know, providing choices to to our learners but to us as well, to all human beings choice is a great thing to be able to make choice and make some decisions based on that. I think that's wonderful. We've got you know, this has been a great conversation but inside the class. Can I go back to, you knowing and just working with you Jayci but could you talk to us a little about now, maybe from your perspective as the care and advocacy leader on our campus, what can we do as faculty as learners for to be to provide wonderful experiences or opportunities outside of class? Would you be comfortable in addressing that? 

Jayci Hacker: Yeah, for sure. So I think this is a really, really important part of the conversation because students come here because they want to earn their degrees. They want to be successful. And while learning is a huge part of that, it's also the connections are making on campus that make their ability to succeed possible. So if a student comes here and thrives academically, but not socially, we're going to lose that student. And so I think that those two things have to be part of the same conversation. And SUU does a really great job of providing a lot of opportunities for students to make those connections and to be connect, like, build friendship groups and to have leadership opportunities. We have an amazing team who work in our Student Involvement and Leadership office who are just every single day they show up trying to find ways for students to make those connections. And it's so diverse. It's not just for our extroverted students who are used to that kind of a world, but it's also for our introverted students who are just, they really want to make friends they don't know how to do it.  COVID set a lot of our students back socially. And so we're accommodating that in the ways that those activities are being designed. And so for faculty, I think the important piece here is just to pay attention to what's going on on campus. And I know that's hard because we have so many things to pay attention to. But we have a calendar on our website that shows the activities are coming up, toilet times is a great place to pay attention to what's happening, mentioning those activities in class, having those conversations with students about how they're feeling socially. If they're making connections, do they have friends? Has been lonely being here at SUU and opening that dialogue up I think is really important. Students don't know you're a safe person to talk to you about those things unless you make it clear to them that you are.

Tony Pellegrini: You know, I'm grateful for what you shared there. I had that opportunity this last week as I was able to participate in this seminar and belongings that that we have in campus powerful, powerful, oh my goodness. I took away that same perspective. Tony you got to start listening. Listening a lot more to your learners, to everyone, just keep . . . listen, listen, listen. And as I had conversations with students, with faculty, with others, I shared you need to go back and listen to some of these, just some of these recordings of the seminars that were recorded, powerful, powerful content of the wonderful things that are going on campus that there's just like you said, there's just so much going on. Thank you, Jayci. We sure appreciate that. Bryan, would you take a moment, you've thought about or considered some of the things that you try to engage your learners with outside of your classroom to keep them engaged and focused on their academic progress? Would you be willing to share? 

Bryan Koenig: Yeah, I kind of feel like we this is one of the examples that Jayci was talking about. So, I'm like a research scientist, not a therapist as far as psychologists go. And so when I first got to SUU, I started the project because I was super busy, but some students wanted to get some research experience and so we decided to do a speed dating study. To try to see if we can manipulate men sexual interest and see if they projected that onto women, because we know when correlational research that happens, but we want to experiment, manipulate our men. The manipulation didn't end it didn't work. But we did this like project we collected data basically until COVID hit. It was a really cool project. But it got a ton of students got to have research experience, running speed, dating events, entering data, creating all the materials, analyzing the data, you know, presenting it and we wrote a manuscript, it's under review right now. And then there was a psychology department meeting where we talked about these results from ACHANACA the American College Health Association's annual college health survey assessment.

Tony Pellegrini: There won't be a quiz on this. No quiz.

Bryan Koenig: And in it, it talked about how it had this this state about like suicidality across different Utah. USHE schools, Utah, higher education schools, and SUU was relatively high on that list. Not super high or anything but like I mean already, like you know, the western states are like relatively high in the US. And then, and then so we were a little bit high here. And so I was thinking that it's a pretty big issue for our students. And we were talking to the PYCH Department about what we could do and to kind of put like this, you know, supportive statement in our syllabus and I'm like, "Ah, it's gotta be like more that we can do than just do a syllabus statement." Which is good, don't get me wrong, but so I decided to switch over from doing like social psychology research to suicidality research. And I've got a lot of student interest. In that project a lot of students are interested in like joining the research group. And one thing that I well, so I should say that so, so I do this with Dr. Danny Hatch. Dr. Kirsten Graham. I'm a research scientist, not like a therapist. And so I didn't want to be like going into mental health topics, without some experts in the room and so I got Danny Hatch as a clinical psychologist, and Kirsten's a counseling psychologist, so they're both like trained, that kind of stuff. But they also help like recruit students and mentor students. And so I know we meet every week and it's an open door open lab policy, so anybody who's interested can come sit in and they can try it out, see if they like it and if they do, like keep showing up and just start doing stuff you'd have to get on our IRB application, of course, eventually. But it's been really pretty rewarding process for us and I think for the students.  And so, so far, we've collected a ton of data, what we call wave one, which is my table of correlates are things that I predict suicidality among SUU students. And now we're kind of moving on to like our phase two, like looking more like resiliency factors. And we actually have Jayci and some of the some of these students helping us with this and like, one of the things that a couple of the students are doing is trying to figure out how to have feedback. So participants list, students will complete the survey and at the end, we'll find out if their anxiety levels are really high or not, or their depression levels are really high and by looking at feedback that's going to hopefully be connected to, actually Jayci's new the Red Folder. I don't know if that's the right term, but I think that's what . . . 

Jayci Hacker: Yeah, our mental health resources website.

Bryan Koenig: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And this would be tiered like this, like, connect them based on like material system that they have. Well, yeah, and we've like presented that like quite a few conferences and it seems like Like last year, we had six students going into grad school. So it seems to be really like a valuable experience for our students. And I'm happy to have students do it for credit as an internship because maybe it will become a class now. But either way, as long as these students are so busy with their job, that I'd like to have jobs and they're full time students, and life so you need to get research experience and you don't have time just take it for 30 credits as an internship with me or whoever it is. I'll create some time to do that.

Tony Pellegrini: Exciting, exciting, I'm glad that we have this opportunity to be able to share these opportunities with our learners, that our listeners that may that can come to you for the support of these efforts. I, you know, we talked about inside the class we've talked about outside of class. I'd like to just visit or kind of wrap up here with other components or things that you'd like to talk about or that you'd like to share as, as Bryan has right here with our listeners, that that our listeners whether they're faculty whether they're students, they might like to reach out to you or or be involved with. Jayci, does anything come to your mind in your office that that, that you'd like to share with us today that we've not addressed today?

Jayci Hacker: Yeah. So it's an interesting time of the semester for me and the work that I do. We're past midterms and we're at the point of the semester where students are recognizing that it's do or die. And I'm sorry for the terminology there. But it really is. It's kind of like they're thinking, is this salvageable for me? And if it's not salvageable, what do I do about that? Do I take the F's and just deal with those consequences? Do I withdraw? Do I give up completely? And so as I think about that, in, in the ways that I've had those conversations with students about how they landed, where they've landed, so there are some common themes. You know, a lot of these students their struggles have been obvious throughout the whole semester.  So I think with that the thing that I would like to encourage faculty to do more often and I know they already are a lot is just to do those real check-ins with students in and very, very realistic expectations about where they're at, in how they're going to recover, if that's even possible. From a compassionate perspective, right? We want to make sure our students know that we're standing beside them and their success. But I think that that that front line relationship that faculty have with students can't be underestimated about how powerful that is, in getting students on the right track, and getting them connected to the right resources. And that's why we're working so hard with the Big Red Folder and our mental health resources website to make sure that those tools go hand-in-hand to support faculty in those conversations. So I think that that's one thing I'd really like to emphasize is just to step into that space.  And then of course, we always have, we have different personalities and people are comfortable with different conversations. And so for our instructors and faculty who aren't comfortable with those conversations, being aware of who is comfortable with that conversation and who can have that with students. I think is very important. So if a faculty member notices a student struggling as worried about their safety, about their ability to succeed, they can always send that student over to our office for support. We're trying very hard to be very responsive to our early alert system and to check in with those students. We've created a few new campaigns where we're being more proactive in that outreach. And we're trying to get those students connected to resources quicker. But you know, we're at the tail end of the semester right now. So it's kind of like how do we compassionately help this student and set them up for success in the future, if success is impossible right now. And so those are fun conversations to have and faculty support and those are critical.

Tony Pellegrini: It's great to know that we that we've got a great pitcher in the bullpen come in and help us if there's something that I cannot do. We can have some help and support we certainly appreciate that Jayci. We appreciate you. Bryan any other things that issues or concepts or perspectives that you'd care to share as we wrap up here?

Bryan Koenig: Maybe I'll talk about my approach to teaching statistics. It's kind of unusual, but it's a flipped class, which isn't all that unusual, but I like I made video lectures on the statistics class, which are not like PowerPoints that are voiced over. I went to the studio, the old studio that we used to have, there's a much better way to do this, but and so I like recorded videos like lecture style, and I got some advice from people who have previously done flipped classroom or like kind of like tele education who had experience. So I wanted to be like present in the videos and like have it be like real time like normal time lectures, basically, although I make it a second time I might do it much quicker like five minute videos. Some students are more into that. So I have like the whole textbook though, is all a series of videos with like closed captions that's accurate. And so there's no textbook there my stats class because in my experience, students make it through about three chapters in the stats textbook, and they struggle to continue to engage with that book, because it's really like hard to read about statistics. I don't even love doing it. And I love statistics, right? And so I don't use the textbook anyone I use that video. So it's open educational resources, it's free, so to have to pay for the textbook, and they could access it later on the future too.  And then what I do is before every class they're supposed to watch it and come in with their notes already prepared when they come around in class at some point and check those notes . But I find that the like, almost always everybody in class has actually taken the notes which I feel like is much better preparation than you'd ever get if students are reading a stats textbook. So that's where it's really well. And so then when I you know after like my reminders and some of the sort of classroom assignments. I try to do a really brief demonstration of whatever the topic is. Students have seen a recorded version and then I like right up all the notes up on the board before class starts so that when class starts I can hopefully do like 10-15 minutes of this is how you do a T test right?  And then right after that, I handle the problem set and then make them do a T test that I just told them how to do. So hopefully they'll watch the video, written the notes, and then watch the lecture, maybe even take notes on that and then they get to actually do the problems on it in class. And so as I hand that out, I go to check your notes and I'll go around asking everybody like how are you doing? Is there any like, you know, murky parts on this? So there's a lot of opportunity for students to ask questions, if they want. And I don't know I think it's been a pretty, pretty successful way of teaching stats like like doing like, say like regular exams. But the flipped structure I think works really well for stats, since it's a class where like, technical things matter a lot, and I think is really where students can pause lecture. Rewind the lecture and watch it later on if they want. So that's something I'm like, I've been really passionate about. I'd love to do a second edition of that I call the statistics video textbook. And I just gotta get Dean Boreen to give me a course release for that. (laughter)

Tony Pellegrini: We'll see what we can do to help and support you with that. Any last words of wisdom to new faculty coming on that to make them feel comfortable or to help them be successful? Or any last just words of wisdom that faculty that make things happen, Bryan?

Bryan Koenig: I don't know. I'd say be willing to try new things and see what other people are doing and get advice and be open minded about things.

Tony Pellegrini: Thank you, Jayci?

Jayci Hacker: Yeah, I like that. I like that be willing to get advice. I think that just remember they're not alone. That if if there's a question we we will have an answer for it because somebody's asked it before and that SUU has an outrageous number of resources available for our students. If there's a need, we probably have a resource for that. In so just asking the right questions and being open to that learning.

Tony Pellegrini: Thank you so much. Thank you so much, both of you for being willing to come in and have this conversation and it's been wonderful to engage with you and to look in your faces and to be able to see that with us great educators here at SUU. Listeners, we appreciate you tuning in and look forward to connecting with you throughout the rest of the year as we investigate teaching and learning here at Southern Utah University. Have a good day!


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