EPIC Newsletter:
 October 2019

Happy fall! Thank you for stopping by and reading this month’s EPIC Newsletter. This edition of the newsletter is dedicated to collaborative learning for undergraduate students. Considered a high impact practice—learning experiences that promote deep learning and high student engagement—collaborative learning experiences, according to the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) “combines two key goals: learning to work and solve problems in the company of others, and sharpening one’s own understanding by listening seriously to the insights of others, especially those with different backgrounds and life experiences.”
We hope this issue inspires you to try collaborative learning in your classes, whether it’s a shorter think-pair-share activity to spur in-class discussions or a longer-term project. If you want to incorporate group work into your course design and need help getting started, feel free to contact the EPIC team. We are happy to assist in designing a collaborative learning strategy that works best for you.

Lisa Felipe
EPIC Program Director

Ready, Set, Teach!: Humanities Welcome Day 2019  

EPIC’s Ready, Set, Teach fall quarter event took place on Humanities Welcome Day. We hosted a student voices panel for undergraduate student, and a roundtable luncheon with discussions on “technologies of teaching,” “assessment and grading,” and “engaging students in team projects.” 

Our student panel included Pallavi Adapa (Linguistics & Philosophy), Kendall Moore (English), Alejandro Alvarado (Comparative Literature), Kaia Sherry (English, French), and Jasper Modha (Geography, Environmental Studies). Students discussed their experience in Humanities courses, highlighting the necessity of office hours and their need for instructors to make office hours more inviting, transparent, and accessible to learners who might be too nervous to visit or unsure about how to make use of office hours visits. Learners also affirmed a need for guidance during collaborative activity and desire to connect more with their faculty members outside the classroom space. Students also shared “ah-ha” moments, commenting on the joy they felt with “making familiar the unfamiliarity of local places and perspectives of local inhabitants” that they may not have engaged with prior to taking a course; the need for multimodal assignments to have freedom to express their learning; and the importance of talking through prompts to untangle ideas. Big pet peeves? Use TA sections as an opportunity for active learning rather than as an extension of the lecture, create equitable learning spaces through roundtable discussion where the instructor and TA sit together with the learners, and avoid “sterile reading” by placing an assigned text in the context of our current culture(s) and across other disciplines. The panel also voiced preferences for assignment formatting, and stated that bolding the main prompt and using smaller guiding questions and sample graded assignments might help clarify expectations for what is “nice” versus what is “needed” to complete the work successfully. 

Our roundtables were led by faculty partners including Meredith Cohen and Matthew Fisher (Technologies of Teaching), Chris Mott and Kie Zuraw (Assessment and Grading), and Nedda Mehdizadeh and Dana Milstein (Engaging Students in Team Projects). Best practices for using analog and digital tools, gamifying the assessment process, and developing team charters and managing group conflict were shared. In upcoming newsletters, we’ll be sharing more around these discussions as they evolve through EPIC’s Winter 2020 STE on Multimodal Learning, Kie Zuraw’s upcoming publication on novel assessment practices (in the January 2020 issue of Language), and our Small Changes, Big Impact Discovery Workshop on Assessment.

Author: Dr. Dana Milstein
Instructional Designer
EPIC Program

Creating a Linked-Course Learning Community with AAP's Freshman/Transfer Summer Program

Collaborative teaching refers to educational endeavors that bring together two or more instructors in an integrated curriculum that combines multiple strengths and disciplinary viewpoints. Students are exposed to a greater variety of teaching styles which, in turn, provides greater opportunity to connect with student learning preferences. Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching offers a basic guide to Team/Collaborative Teaching on popular approaches to collaborative teaching in higher education. Collaborative teaching may take the form of team teaching, when two or more instructors from different disciplines teach the same course, such as in UCLA’s Freshman Clusters Program. The team teaching model allows students to draw connections between disciplines relevant to a given subject or theme. Another approach to collaborative teaching is the linked-course learning community, a model in which a cohort of students enroll in the same schedule of connected courses to create a cohesive learning community. Like collaborative learning projects, learning communities have been identified as a “high-impact educational practice” by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). Linked-course learning communities maximize student learning through the sense of camaraderie that develops among students; increased faculty, administrative, and peer support systems; and the reinforcement of subject knowledge and academic skill sets from one linked course to another.

At UCLA, the Academic Advancement Program offers the linked-course learning community experience to entering freshmen and transfers through its Freshman/Transfer Summer Program. According to Elon University’s Center for Engaged Learning, learning communities “emphasize collaborative partnerships between students, faculty, and staff, and attempt to restructure the university curriculum to address structural barriers to educational excellence.” This definition’s emphasis on overcoming structural barriers dovetails nicely with AAP’s mission to promote excellence in scholarship among first generation, low-income, and/or historically underrepresented students, and to support these students through graduation. AAP’s extensive programming offers support in the form of academic advising; research and mentoring programs; collaborative learning opportunities; service learning opportunities; and peer learning, among other initiatives. According to AAP, of its approximately 5,600 students, 91% said that participation in AAP “increased their sense of belonging to the larger UCLA community.” For many of these students, their introduction to UCLA via the Freshman/Transfer Summer Program (F/TSP) plays a crucial role in setting them up for success during the academic year by establishing an academic and social support system.

Collaborative teaching experiences, in general, can be either extremely positive or negative experiences for instructors. Potential pitfalls occur if there is a lack of communication between instructors, confusion or inconsistency over course expectations, or if students learn to play one instructor against another. To avoid these scenarios, it is essential to cultivate colleagueship and collaboration among instructors through regular meetings and communication. Positive collaborative teaching experiences yield many of the same benefits for instructors as it does for students. Instructors learn from each others’ disciplines and pedagogical approaches, and make new connections between their own and their colleagues’ work. Instructors learn to be flexible and make adjustments to their own curriculum to protect the overall coherence of the students’ learning. Therefore, teaching for linked-course learning communities such as F/TSP can become a powerful way to examine one’s own entrenched teaching habits and to develop curriculum that can support more diverse learners going forward. (To learn about incorporating inclusive classroom practices into your own teaching, check out EPIC's online workshop on Universal Design for Learning.) Instructors also benefit from the sense of group identity and social purpose cultivated in learning communities that are organized around underrepresented populations. 

I had the pleasure of teaching for the Freshman/Transfer Summer Program as a TA for the Comparative Literature and English Composition adjunct this summer. The teaching team consisted of the Comparative Literature professor and TAs, English Composition instructors, and Peer Learning Facilitators for each course. Each student therefore had at least five instructors to work with, in addition to academic counselors, and peer counselors for those that lived on campus. The packed schedule and fast-paced nature of F/TSP is an intensive experience for students, but it is one that works very effectively to create a strong community and prepare students for the rigors of studying at UCLA. F/TSP instructors meet weekly to discuss student progress, any problems that may arise, and to plan or make adjustments to curriculum. The consistent meetings and open communication among the entire teaching team worked impressively to help us identify and address our students’ needs as well as learn about each others’ teaching styles and assessment methods. The teaching and learning community that developed during F/TSP, and the program’s emphasis on making course content relevant to students’ backgrounds and life experiences (an approach that addresses non-traditional relational learning styles), made teaching for F/TSP uniquely impactful among my teaching experiences at UCLA.
Author: Alejandra Campoy
Graduate Student Researcher, EPIC Program
PhD Student, Comparative Literature 

This Month in Innovation: Team Projects

Undergraduates express both a desire and a dread to work on team projects. They may feel consternation that one learner may dominate the group or may not carry their load; anger that an individual’s grade is dependent upon the whole team’s performance; awkwardness about negotiating meetings, roles, and duties; and frustration about how to approach the instructor when things fall apart. Simultaneously, many students recognize the value of project-based learning environments to serve as laboratories for real-world work environments. Instructors can help learners manage each of these challenges by implementing these best practices:

1. Team Charter: We have a tendency to prefer working with people who are more like us or who are agreeable to our ways of thinking and doing things. In her book Team Writing: A Guide to Working in Groups, Joanna Wolfe suggestions that each team develop a Team Charter that establishes the project plan, roles, and communication methods used to participate in the collaboration. Team Charters generally include the following elements: 

  • Purpose: What is the goal for this project, and what are the objectives we’ll commit to in order to achieve that goal? Most of this information comes from the assignment description and instructor’s guidance. 
  • Roles:  Introduce your learners to the value of “healthy conflict” that arises from role differentiation. In groups, learners determine which members will serve as the thought leaders, researchers, developers, testers, and auditors. Recognize that work for some of these roles is front-loaded (thought leaders, researchers, developers) while for others (testers, auditors) work will be back-loaded; some roles are all-pervasive (project managers) while others are limited (specialists, visionaries). This helps learners understand that it may not be laziness but rather task delegation that creates the impression that some people are not pulling their weight. If learners are interested, there are scientifically-validated team roles quizzes they can take to identify their role preference and work approach.
  • Schedule and Tasks: Learners might create a table to define the “When to do it, Where to do it, How we’ll do it, What will be accomplished?” for each task of the project. 
  • Communication: Emphasize that transparency is key. Team members should contact each other as a collective rather than individually. Commit to a shared method of communication: Social communication tools like Slack and WhatsApp allow teams to create groups for easy communication. If the instructor wants to capture communication, setting up a group Google Doc with running comments and notes also works. 
2. Managing Conflict: Group conflict tends to arise when undergraduates feel devalued or overvalued within the group. This usually stems from attribution error (i.e., making assumptions about why other team members neglected to do something), mistrust (i.e., formation of cliques and lack of transparency in communication), and personality differences. The instructor should communicate the process for managing conflict, as many undergraduates won’t have opportunities to develop this important skill before matriculating. 
  • Encourage teams to review their team charter together to identify why conflict is arising. Ask them to talk through constructive solutions together before approaching you for help. 
  • Maintain impartiality. Require teams to visit you as an entire team with the “guilty” party present. This helps the learners avoid character assassination and teaches them to present conflict in an objective, transparent manner. It also ensures that all team members feel equally valued and included in the complaint process rather than putting an isolated member on the defensive. 
  • Establish check-ins at the beginning, middle, and the end of a project, during which teams and individuals can submit work samples and ask questions about team dynamics. 
3. Assessment of Teamwork: Instructors can balance learners’ needs for personal validation with overall team performance by providing both individual and group feedback and empowering teams to evaluate themselves individually and collectively. The overall assessment should evaluate 1. individual contribution, 2. team performance, 3. process, and 4. product. See this resource from Carnegie Mellon for more information on assessing teamwork. 
Author: Dr. Dana Milstein
Instructional Designer
EPIC Program

On Teaching and Learning: Resources Round Up

There are a TON of resources, scholarship, and advice for instructors out there! Here’s just some of what we have been reading and exploring this month on collaborative and team-based learning.
“First, if group projects are to be considered important outputs, then training students to work in teams needs to be an important and measurable learning objective. The process of learning to function in a group has to be as important as the product. And that means students need to learn how to identify and delegate team roles, how to set short- and long-term goals, how to plan backward, and -- most importantly -- how to communicate.”

From: “It’s Good Until It’s Not: Helping Diverse Learners Navigate Group Work” by Margaret Finnegan

“Cooperative learning is characterized by positive interdependence, where students perceive that better performance by individuals produces better performance by the entire group (Johnson, et al., 2014). It can be formal or informal, but often involves specific instructor intervention to maximize student interaction and learning. It is infinitely adaptable, working in small and large classes and across disciplines, and can be one of the most effective teaching approaches available to college instructors.”

From: “Group work: Using cooperative learning groups effectively” by Cynthia J. Brame
On Team-Based Learning (TBL)

TBL is an evidenced-based flipped-classroom strategy for structuring learning in a class via collaborative small group work throughout a term. TBL-structured courses are organized in ‘modules’ with three distinct steps: pre-assignment preparation, in-class assessment of student and individual preparedness, and in-class application of course content. For many humanists whose approach to teaching is already flipped, TBL provides a way for us to structure collaborative learning that can be sustained throughout an entire quarter and works especially well for larger lecture courses.
To see TBL in action, view this video from the University of Texas, Austin’s Faculty Innovation Center, featuring faculty from multiple disciplines and their students.
For more on TBL, visit the Team-Based Learning Collaborative.
For a helpful overview of TBL, see Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching TBL resources.
For a case study of TBL in a humanities course on women’s environmental literature read this article from The Canadian Journal or Scholarship of Teaching (Volume 6 Issue 3) by Roxanne Harde of the University of Alberta.
Author: Dr. Lisa Felipe
EPIC Program Director
This newsletter is edited by Tegan Artho-Bentz and Alejandra Campoy. 
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