Expanding faculty support with Academic Technology Student Assistants

**cross-posted on Carly’s blog**

I was in a conference session recently when the topic of using student workers to provide instructional support of faculty was raised as a tangent to how to engage faculty in technology training and instructional design. I was surprised to hear that many in the room felt that it was inappropriate to have students supporting faculty in the use of the LMS or other curricular technologies. This is completely counter to how we’ve been providing curricular and technical support at Carleton, so I thought I would write about how we do it and why.

 

Why have student workers supporting faculty?

The immediate reason is obvious: we can’t do it all alone! Most of us in the field of instructional technology have more than enough to do, learn and keep up with, so the chance to get a little help along the way is gold. This is especially true when you have big initiatives, such as switching your LMS or implementing a new tool. But if all I did was hire students to do the many boring or mundane tasks that I don’t want to or have time to do, there would be little else to write.

A big consideration when I’m hiring students is what the student is going to get out of working in the Academic Technology office. I want them to be excited about the work we are doing and learn as much as they can on the job. And I want them to be able to have several new skills they can add to their resume when they start to pursue internships or jobs after graduation. Hiring students in our office is as much for them as it is for us.

Because of this, I look for very specific things when hiring students. First, I look for students who are personable and comfortable talking with staff and or faculty. I look for some background in technology, but it’s not as important as the people skills.  Tech can be taught and changes so quickly anyway, it’s much harder to teach people skills. I also look for students who are excited to learn new technology or just learn new things in general. I have found that if I find students who fit this bill they are able to get a lot of working in our office.

The Hiring Process

One of the most important skills that our student workers need to have or develop is the ability to figure out the answer to a question. I also feel that understanding how a shared calendaring system works is just a basic life skill at this point. So in my job ad, I ask the students to email me a resume and make a 20-min appointment on my calendar. I also send them the Google help pages if they don’t know how to propose a meeting in Google. If a student can’t figure out how to propose a meeting time with documentation, they may not be well-suited to working in our office. So that usually only gives me a short list of students to interview.

During the interview, I ask them why they are interested in working Academic Technology and about their own academic or personal interests. I ask them to describe a time that they had to teach or tutor someone in something difficult, and then listen to how they describe the interaction.  Are they being derogatory or mean about the person they were teaching? Are they able to name some issues pertinent to training adults? Do they mention any particular teaching strategies that also work well when working with faculty?

Student Training

Once I hire a student, I try to make sure I spend a lot of time with them at a few points early in their work in our department. My primary job is to support the faculty in their use of the LMS. So we get some questions how to do this or that, or what module is the right one to use for their activity. So I make all first-term students learn how to edit a page in our LMS. Because I have a primary goal of making sure they know how to find answers when they don’t have them, I don’t actually train them. I give them a blank site, a sample syllabus, and then point them at the documentation.  I also make it clear to them why I am making them learn on their own. I want them to know that their goal should be to get better at finding answers.

Once they have the LMS down, I try to get them involved in a project. I rarely have one lined up for them from the get-go, but I usually don’t have much trouble coming up with something for them to do. If it happens to be related to their academic interests, that’s a double win.  But they know that they won’t always get to do that.

I also focus on making sure they have good customer service skills. I teach them how to answer the phone and invite the caller to ask their question. I tell them how to address people who just wander into our office. I also teach them how to write polite and informative responses in our ticketing system to faculty. These skills will be valuable to the students no matter what industry to go into, and I make sure they know that, as well.

Finally, I talk to them about boundaries. We don’t have graduate students at our institution, so we have undergraduate students who are potentially sitting down with faculty to help them use some technology.  There is an inherent power relationship there that does not work in the favor of the student. We are very small, the chances that this student either will or currently is in a class taught by that professor is quite high. And I know that all faculty have only the best intentions when working with students, but sometimes they end up unintentionally using that power position to get the student to do more than they should be doing. I have never met anyone who did this on purpose, but having a student there who you know can just do what you need done for you is so very tantalizing! After explaining this to the student, I tell them that if ever they are asked to do something that is outside of the work they should be doing then they can say “Carly won’t let me do that.” or “I have to check with my supervisor first.”  I essentially let them have me take the blame. Almost every student who has worked for me has come back to say that this was very important to them at some point. They all appreciate the feeling that I have their back, and that helps them to learn that boundaries are important.

The Results

The results have been amazing. I have had numerous years of excellent student workers who have been invaluable in helping our office to support the faculty.  They have taken on the bulks of answering or triaging technical how-to questions, and successfully escalate to professional staff as needed. Many of my students who came in with no particular interest in technology, have gone on to take CS courses because they were no longer as afraid of programming as they had been before working on our office.

Faculty have also reported that most of our students have been wonderful to work with. I have had faculty come to our offices and tell me that they don’t want to talk to me, but want to speak with one of my student workers about their question. And faculty who have gotten the help they need from our student workers are often repeat customers.

I have had student workers that have gone on to do amazing things! They work in high-security computing, are doing graduate research in labs, going to medical school, pursuing their PhD in Computer Science, and more. I have written letters of recommendation for so many of them and helped them get some of these positions, but mostly they have been successful because of how awesome they are to begin with.

Working with students is one of my favorite parts of my job. I love introducing them to new and creative uses of technology.  I love seeing them get excited about education + technology, and watched so many of them grow into confident people when they started out super shy. It’s been a wonderfully rewarding part of working at a small college.

I hope this post has been helpful. I’m happy to answer any questions about how I work with student workers any time!

Quickstart: Instructional Video

Teaching Quick Tip: Getting Started with Instructional Video with Carleton’s Dann Hurlbert from Carleton Academic Technology on Vimeo.

What is instructional video?

When designed well and used effectively, short instructional videos can actively engage students with relevant content; these videos can introduce new concepts or deepen understanding of familiar topics.

Why use instructional video?

Dozens of institutions have begun researching the value of instructional video, too. For example, Vanderbilt University’s Center For Teaching offers excellent research on the topic. CFT Assistant Director Cynthia Brame describes “three elements for video design and implementation: Cognitive load, non-cognitive elements that impact engagement, [and] features that promote active learning.” Videos should identify and reinforce key points through signaling, segmenting, weeding, and matching modality. Continue reading Quickstart: Instructional Video

New in Moodle!

Carly has done her yearly recap of new Moodle features heading into the academic year. There’s lots of great info and new avenues for support. Also, learning strategy consultations with Carly (cborn@carleton.edu) are also available for when you are looking for advice on the best way to achieve your student learning goals. She can be reached via email, telephone or you can sign up for her office hours in Google Calendar.

Sign up for a Moodle Bootcamp!

We are offering 2 5-day long Moodle workshops this August! Each workshop runs 12:30-3:30p, and box lunches and snacks will be provided.

August 14-18:

Efficiency: essentially how to make the most of Moodle. Read more about the Moodle Efficiency bootcamp and sign-up!

August 21-25:

Research-backed uses: uses of Moodle that are supported by recent research, and discuss how they can be adapted for our face-to-face classes. Read more about the Research-backed Moodle uses bootcamp and sign-up!

New [un]workshop: Preparing for Learning to Happen During Class

roadside with the words "are you ready?" against blurry landscape background

About this [un]workshop:

Class time is precious and often we want to use it to hear from students, push content to them, and practice them in ways of thinking and doing. That’s a tall order! And even taller when students show up for any given class with varying levels of preparedness. In this session, we’ll showcase some instructional technologies that can–with minimal impact on instructor resources–that help students get ready for your class.

Dates + times:

April 27: 3-4p, Olin 141

May 17: 3-4p, Leighton 426

New [un]workshop: Making the case that learning is happening (for everyone) in your classroom

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What the [un]workshop is about:

High Impact Practices suggest that much learning occurs outside the formal classroom. This likely isn’t the case for your classroom but how can you know? Grades are some measure of learning that has happened in class, but is there evidence for learning as it happens and for all students? In this session, we’ll showcase some instructional technologies that can make this case for you and your students.

Join Janet and Carly for a fun hour of talking about instructional technologies

Dates+Times:

  • April 13, 3-4p, WCC 236 and Atheneum
  • May 9, 3-4 p, AGH Meeting Room

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Tracking Student Progress to Assist Metacognition & Self-Regulated Learning

screenshot of Moodle interface to track student activity completion. shows rows of students and columns of activities

Many faculty are interested in both tracking student progress and also helping students learn to track their work themselves. Most learning management systems (LMS) have a feature that allows students and faculty to keep track of what activities are completed and which are not, in Moodle this feature is called Completion Tracking.

Completion Tracking aids faculty in being able to see at a glance which students have completed which activities across the entire course. The Activity Completion Report (available in the Administration Block > Reports > Activity Completion) shows all of this at a glance. Activities that are considered complete are checked off, while activities not yet complete are not. Students that achieved a passing grade (e.g. on a Quiz) will get a green checkmark while students who do not reach the passing grade receive a red mark.

Moodle 3.1 Activity Completion Report
Moodle 3.1 Activity Completion Report

Note: Completion Tracking is enabled at Carleton, though if you are at another institution it may need to be enabled by your Moodle administrator.

Another compelling reason to use Completion Tracking is the value to the students. When students complete an activity, they are shown a checkmark to the right of the activity right on the Moodle home page. Activities not yet completed have empty boxes enticing the student to complete the work. Teachers can also add the Course Completion Status block to the page so the student can see a quick view summary of how much of the course they have completed and how much more they have to go. This kind of aid is especially helpful to students who may still struggle with organizational skills or self-regulation techniques.

So, here’s your Moodle Recipe for Tracking Student Progress:

Moodle Recipe for Tracking Student Progress
Moodle Recipe for Tracking Student Progress

Moodle Help Links

Further Reading

There is a lot of material on the value of metacognition and self-regulated learning for students in higher education.  These are just a few of the things I’ve read lately. What reading would you recommend?

Moodle Recipes: Small Group Discussions

We’ve started a new series of posts called Moodle Recipes that will focus on pedagogically effective ways to make use of Moodle in a face-to-face classroom setting. All Moodle Recipes will be available under the Moodle Recipes header on Carly’s blog, and will also be highlighted here. Continue reading Moodle Recipes: Small Group Discussions

Tech Training Goes Online

I have been training faculty to use technology since 1999, and boy have things changed since that time!  When I started, technology was hard to use, difficult to master and only vaguely helpful to teaching most of the time.  But that didn’t stop a lot of people, because there was also a lot of value … as long as it all worked just as it was supposed to!

Over the years, technology has come a long, LONG way. We are now living in very exciting times, indeed! I’m always excited to share with faculty the new features and tools that are already available to them on campus.  But I always run into a similar problem: No time. Continue reading Tech Training Goes Online

Course Tools

A swiss army knife contains the essential tools. What essential tools will you use in your course?

Instructors have more tools at their fingertips than ever before.  Sometimes the hardest (but most important) thing we can do for our students and our sanity is to . . . to limit ourselves.  Before starting a new course, consider creating a list of the tools you’ll be using regularly as part of your instruction.  Below is a sample list that might be used in a standard course. Items in [brackets] indicate a viable alternative tool instructor.
Continue reading Course Tools