As someone who deeply values video in voice in creating and sustaining connections in a digital world, I am beyond tired. Last week, we pulled some data on our campus Zoom use and apparently I am not only in the top 10 campus Zoom users, I am #2. I love Zoom, and believe it is an amazing technology, but eeek, the # 2 user on my campus is not something I would brag about. Like many people working remotely, the past six weeks have brought high levels of exhaustion and this pervasive feeling of being tired all the time.  I speak for myself, of course, but we’ve seen articles on the topic of Zoom Exhaustion –or I would even re-frame as “video exhaustion”- such as the recent article from the BBC on Why Zoom Video Chats are So Exhausting, and yet we keep doing it. Some, like myself use it all day long for work followed by using video technology to connect to family and friends. It’s taking a huge toll.  I am finding myself mixing my words, saying something that has absolutely nothing to do with a conversation that I am engaged in, and not to mention completely blanking (a lot).

So, I thought, maybe I should write more. I love to write and am one of those people who thought that this would be a great time to engage in more writing. Writing has been even more challenging and this article from the Chronicle of Higher Ed speaks to this: A Side-Effect of the COVID-19.

I will say, I have been listening to Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us Podcast with a passion. She speaks to this level of exhaustion we are experiencing during this time of great uncertainty and how essential empathy and vulnerability are. This begins with self. And as we normalize our own discomfort in this time of uncertainty, we must stand in the center of it and be uncomfortable, vulnerable in ways that will help us grow. I am finding that now more than ever, I need to pause and know that if I step out to take care of me, my job won’t suffer, my family won’t suffer, I will bring back new focus and new ways of thinking.



The Practice and Design of “Humanizing” Learning Experiences

I was honored by an invitation from EdSurge to participate in a panelist discussion on How to Humanize Online Learning and Maximize Student Success (recording of webinar). I believe we had over 200 participants! As I reflect on yesterday’s panel conversation, and incredible participant comments and questions, I would have to say that my biggest takeaway around Humanizing is the word “caring”, as shared by my colleague, Di Xu. The concept of caring and empathy is woven throughout all the practices in Humanizing learning.

Given what the research tells us about the importance of Humanizing, intentionally and authentically humanizing the instruction is critical for students’ success.  In design, we can approach this through a variety of pedagogies, activities, and technologies that cultivate relationships and build community. I rely on many frameworks and theories, but one framework in particular is the Community of Inquiry (CoI) (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000), which looks at the intersection of teaching, cognitive, and social presence. I will speak to each of these through some examples.

With pedagogies, which is really about teaching presence, instructors can apply strategies that develop empathy and human connections. Essentially, this is about being authentic. A couple of examples that support this are:

  • Creating a welcome video where the instructor tells their story of who they are and perhaps their own experience as a student and how that has shaped their path.
  • Providing regular ‘touches’ or interactions with students. A personal example is in my online doctoral program where my instructor used video feedback. As a student, watching and listening to him, I truly felt like he was invested in my work, my growth in the course, and overall success. This was also conveyed in his non-verbals that can often be missed online

Along with pedagogies, we also humanize through the design of social learning activities. This emphasizes both social and cognitive presence. Creating opportunities where learners can collaborate with one another can connect them with one another and advance the learning outcomes because as construct meaning through shared purpose. This is also where instructors have opportunity to discover who their learners are, which is essential in connecting that cognitive element. Extending this to how they can inspire and reach them. An example of asocial learning activity is something I use in my blended, first year freshman course where humanizing is ever so important in creating a sense of belonging as these students transition into college life. In the first week, students participate in an online, asynchronous activity where they each “Share the Story of Their Name” supported by VoiceThread technology. Through video or audio they each share some aspect of their name, (e.g., where it comes from, what it means, background, nicknames, etc.) and reply to another another. I also share the story of my name as a way to connect to each of them. This is not only an early opportunity to bring themselves into the learning experience and share a bit of who they are, but it is also about celebrating and acknowledging the unique backgrounds and experiences that they each bring to the shared environment.

Finally, through the intersection of the pedagogy and the activities/content, we can leverage technologies to support the learning and connections. This is about how can we use digital tools to create opportunities where students feel like they belong in a community. One example is using digital technologies such as Issuu and Canvas to create an online, asynchronous “virtual conference”. (Remember the feeling you had at that great face-to-face conference where you networked others, shared your work, and walked away feeling inspired?) This is the premise behind the virtual conference where students present their culminating course experience/knowledge/skills by bringing in opportunity for peer-to-peer connections, insightful feedback, and a real-world interaction that shares their work more broadly.

Moving forward with Humanizing are these many opportunities to intentionally and authentically engage with our students. What are some of the things you do in your courses?


Another nugget that Dr. Xu shared from her research, were the five things that students want from their online instructor:

  1. Clear expectations and instructions
  2. Timely responses
  3. Feedback to keep them on track
  4. Rubrics and checklists
  5. Weekly communication

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based
environment: Computer conferencing in higher education model. The Internet and
Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.


Varying approaches to course design

It’s been an extraordinary week (and even weeks before) of our Course Design Institute. We approached course design/redesign with a very different set of frameworks than the more traditional course design sessions. Knowing that it is not realistic to do a complete course design/redesign in one day or even one week, we took a blended approach (part face-to-face and part online) but began with framing the context of the Institute with a  map.

Goals. Two bubbles that read: Stated Course Design Institute Goal, Teaching Goals Inventory goals (1-2 goals). Factors. Three bubbles that read: Our students, Course Data, Student, Instructor, Content Logic. Actions. One bubble that reads: Content, Pedagogy, Technology . Equals Your Action Plan.

Your Goals + Factors + Actions = Your Action Plan

The map of our course (re)design journey began with each educator’s Goals, including what they stated in their proposal, followed by their Teaching Goals Inventory (Angelo & Cross) goals. Then, in session we explored the various factors that inform our choices;  what we know about our students, what we’ve learned about any trends in our course data (dive into historical course success data), and considerations around the three logics/perspectives (student, instructor, content and all the assumptions and questions around these). From there, we focused on how their content, pedagogical, and technological choices inform/influence all of these factors. Finally, their Goals + Factors + Actions = Your Course Re(design) Action Plan. As a framework to guide thinking and action, we designed a Course Design “Action Plan” Template (sample included).

We provided grounding in the face-to-face session and followed with one-week of online, asynchronous exploration into how their goals, factors, and actions can provide a solid approach to a customized course design/redesign. It’s been amazing! More detail to come

Inspiration Everywhere

Last week, I was inspired by many people and ideas at CSU Fresno! The faculty are engaged in transformative practice and the Center for Faculty Excellence team is engaged in faculty partnerships that both ultimately impact students’ learning.

This was a day of exciting energy around their Canvas launch, but more importantly around the exploration of opportunities that highlight what the new technology can be through a re-thinking of one’s teaching, sharing with colleagues, and possibilities to connect students with the world.

Table Mountain Rancheria Reading Room, Henry Madden Library

I was honored by the invitation to provide the Keynote Presentation, “Canvas and the World: Inspire, Innovate, Impact” for their annual Technology, Innovations, and Pedagogy Conference. The emphasis was on how we can use technology to open up student learning to the world. We looked through the lenses of inspire, innovate, and example to dive into examples of how Canvas and related technologies opened these doors to the world.  One example included an activity in my blended public speaking course where students use VoiceThread to “Share the Story of Your Name”. This one activity has created opportunity for students to practice their speaking skills in the digital environment, acknowledged the diverse perspectives and backgrounds in the course, and created long-term connections between students. Fresno faculty shared what Canvas Panda at Fresno Stateinspired them as teachers; what innovations they are engaged in/planning; and ultimately how their practice impacts students in meaningful ways. One faculty member shared their inspiration in the work that their students are doing. Another shared how they are using ePortfolios for students to curate content related to their learning. They are engaged in amazing work!

After the keynote, three faculty lightning talks focused on community and humanizing the learning experience. These faculty members shared their research on the their teaching, the innovative use of technologies, and the impactful ways in which their students were connecting to one another through learning. Dr. Tayeb shared how he used Canvas discussions for study guides and exam wrappers as a way to find out what students were focusing on before the exam and reflecting after the exam. He also shared his strategy using anonymous Canvas quizzing to find out where students are struggling, e.g., muddiest points. Dr. Anzoleaga discussed a variety of technology uses to engage her students, including her use of Canva for students to create a bio at the beginning of the term. Dr. Aguilera shared how he uses digital tools and pedagogies to support the “humanized” experience of his students.

I am inspired to try new things this coming semester! I feel fortunate to work with so many amazing colleagues who are engaged in findings ways to reach their students in meaningful ways.  In terms of Canvas, my brain is going every which way about the many ways in which it can be used as an opening to the world.