Podcast: Quality Matters Overview

Published: Wednesday, August 31, 2022

An instructional technologist discusses the idea of an interactive syllabus.

Join us as we discuss the impact of adding interactivity to your course and provide tips to getting started with your own interactive syllabus.

Speaker 1 (00:03): On today's University of Arizona Futures in Digital Learning podcast. We bring you a conversation with Adam Baldry, an instructional technologist from Pima community college. As we explore the idea of the interactive syllabus.

Speaker 2 (00:18): It's not an online learning thing to have interactive syllabus, because you can definitely take an opportunity to save some class time for actual learning and, and diving in and exploring, right. You love this topic. Yes. It's your passion, you know, as an instructor and you want to impart that passion onto your students.

Adam Davi (00:34): Join us as we discuss the impact of adding interactivity to your course and provide tips for getting started with your own interactive syllabus.

Adam Davi (00:46): Welcome everybody to this month's edition of the Futures in Digital Learning podcast. My name is Adam Davi. I'm an instructional design manager, with the newly formed, UCATT group, here on campus at the University of Arizona. UCATT stands for the university center of assessment, teaching, and technology. and what better way to, to kick off a podcast, in which we have a group, focus on technology than to bring in, an instructional technologist at Pima community college, Adam Baldry, he used to be one of us, over here at U of A, but now he's with Pima, but Adam, welcome.

Adam Baldry (01:28): Thank you. It's great to be here. I'm excited to talk a little bit more about our topic today.

Adam Davi (01:32): Yeah. Excellent. Well, today we are going to talk about interactive syllabi, and Adam and I, set forth on this project, I guess probably a couple years ago. Yeah. now at this point before the pandemic, started for sure, is when we, we first, got the idea to, to work on an interactive syllabus and it's kind of taken on a life of its own in a, a very positive way, I would say,

Adam Baldry (01:59): Yeah, it's been an interesting journey we've been asked I was totally, I just did it again over the weekend. I forgot to tell you that. But so we just, you know, between the two of us, I think it's been prevented five or six times at different conferences and events. Yeah. around the country online here in Tucson at Pima at U of a so yeah.

Adam Davi (02:17): Yeah, definitely. it's, it's getting, getting out there in the, I guess, digital realm that, that we live in here, with where we're presenting. But we wanted to come on here this, because it's the beginning of the semester for both our institutions and I know syllabi are popular thing, and, required thing for courses and for instructors to have, but just give a little insight, into your perspective. What made you think of creating an interactive syllabus as opposed to the standard tried and true, you know, word doc that gets passed around?

Adam Baldry (02:58): Yeah, that's a great question. I think my own frustration, it came out of my own frustration, right. Of teaching, online. I used to teach a five week course on Japanese anime, visual culture. And, you know, there was a lot of very key information for students to be successful in an accelerated course like that. And I tried to keep it all in this syllabus. So they had one place that they could go to find it all, but there was always lots of questions coming through students that were frustrated. Mm-hmm that we didn't understand. I provide them with a schedule of work, and they still don't get when the deadlines are what's expected. And so I'm constantly clarifying and getting these panicked, you know, weekend emails of students, you know? And so that was really, when I started working as instructional technologist, that that was kind of on the back of my mind is how can we solve this problem? And then I think I came across a news article that was like, Hey, check out this idea about interactive syllabi. And I remember I was like, I messaged the board of the digital learning and you ping back and you're like, Hey, I'm interested in this deal. I was like, all right, let's do this. And so, we started exploring and then, kind of came to where we are now.

Adam Davi (03:59): Yeah. I mean, and I think I came to it from kind of a similar place where, you know, it was like, how, how can we cut down on these confused student emails? and how can we make the information easier to find and, and, and more engaging for students to find, as well, you know, and, and in an online course, you know, it's a little bit different. I, you know, in a face to face course. So oftentimes, professors, you know, at least this may be outdated, but at least when I was an undergrad, they would hand out the copy of the syllabus and go over it. And we would all fall asleep in class. And, you know, because it's, we didn't, we didn't care that much about it. It was just, oh, this is nice, to not have anything real to do today in class. but in an online course, it's just kind of posted up there and we say, read this, but there's no real oversight to them reading it. And so yeah, this, this became a more engaging way to do it. Um,

Adam Baldry (04:57): Absolutely. And I think it, it gets to the point of, we’ve kind of all inherited this culture of the syllabus, right? Mm-hmm , we didn't, didn't ask for this. , we're just, we're a part of the academy, and this is part of the academy from mm-hmm times passed and it's, it's, it's the standard, it's the expectation. There's lots of, coordination around that you need to report it. There’s, it’s something that the state wants to have insight on and gets checked as part of our, you know, the higher learning commission and all that kind of stuff credentialing anyway. So it's, it's a tough thing that we have to sit down and say, we want you to read our terms and conditions when we all know that nobody reads to be fair. My father-in-law always reads his terms and conditions, but I personally could do better about going through that in more detail.

Adam Baldry (05:42): And the same is true to the syllabus as an undergrad. I was just glad I didn't have to do math on the first day or whatever it was, you know? And, the same thing, I mean, as a graduate student, it was like gold, you know, like this is my key to success by then. It was, it was so important. I, right. I took it, you know, everywhere I went for when I needed school stuff or whatever. Cause I, everything was there and I relied on it heavily. But as an undergrad, I just, and as a first generation college student, it's not something that was on my mind. It's I didn't really understand what I should be expecting to get out of it. And then, you know, like a lot of other students say, oh, I have questions. I'm going to ask my instructor, cuz that's what I did all through high school. Right. Why would I do anything different now? Right. You know? Right. I have a question ask the teacher mm-hmm rather than trying to investigate and say like, oh, well they've already provided that for me.

Adam Davi (06:25): And you know, I think it it's for some students, they, they look for specific things right. In, in the syllabus. Right. And they might either, either they might not be able to find it or they skip over other things that they should be looking at. So, you know, maybe they're like, I just want to look at the grading policy, you know, let let's find that, okay. I know how I'm being graded. Great.

Adam Baldry (06:47): I can get an a in this class. Right. right. Exactly.

Adam Davi (06:51): Okay. You know, but they're maybe skipping over the course schedule or skipping over the assignment descriptions, and you know, perhaps they're thinking that those things are going to be located somewhere else in the course, when, they’re in the syllabus. and so, you know, this, this gives an opportunity, for instructors to point students in the right direction. Um,

Adam Baldry (07:15): Absolutely. And I think it works for both the online and the in person. Mm-hmm I think that's, what's really great about this. Yeah. And great to talk about on this podcast, cuz it's not, it's not an online learning thing to have an interactive syllabus because you can definitely take the flip classroom model and say here's every, here's all the essentials of everything I need you to know about this course. Yeah. I want you to watch this before you come to class, at least maybe before the second class, if you want to introduce that they're going to be doing that in the first class. Right. And so that you have an opportunity to save some class time for actual learning and, and diving in and exploring, right. You love this topic. Yes. It's your passion, you know, as an instructor and you want to impart that passion onto your students, but you know, getting them through the legal ease of your syllabus is not really, unless it's about, you know, maybe contract law, it might be really interesting experiment or something, but for the most part, most classes it's probably not going to be the meat of what you want to get to.

Adam Baldry (08:06): So, I think this is a great way to save some of that precious classroom time.

Adam Davi (08:10): Yeah. Yeah. I agree. I think that's a nice way to put it too, is that it's not just for online learning. and you know, we used a tool that we have, that we have access to here, an interactive video tool called play PO you know, if you're listening here from the, the U of a, then you'll, obviously, or hopefully be familiar with it, if you're listening from somewhere another institution, maybe not, maybe you can talk to your, superiors and be like, Hey, let's look into this play pause thing. It, it might be kind of cool. Yeah. but yeah, so we created a video, we put it on there, put some interactions on there as a, a model for people to check out. it's a great way, play pause for those who don't know about it.

Adam Davi (08:53): You can upload a video and you can add interactions that students are for lack of a better word, forced to take, before they move on with the rest of the video. But it, it does give, it does give a little bit of, you know, kind of from an instructor's standpoint to track who is, who is watched it, who is, is getting, you know, the correct answer and making sure they're paying attention and, you know, to give and get feedback, from students. So there's, there's measures in place where you can give feedback, to students based on their responses and also, you know, for you and some of the interactions as an instructor to get feedback from students on what they need more help with as well, which is also a great tool to, to be able to have and put in your arsenal as an instructor to have at the beginning of the

Adam Baldry (09:39): Course. Absolutely. I think it’s, especially, yeah, those polls that you can put in there. So, you know, if you happen to have some prerequisites for your course and, you know, coming from a language training background, I think, okay, my students over this summer probably didn't study any Chinese. And so whatever they learned in Chinese, 1 0 1 and 1 0 2, they do not remember hardly any of it going into Chinese 2 0 1. So, we can, you know, you could, I, you know, as an instructor, I can put some class, questions in my interactive video as part of the syllabus to get a beat on where they're at, or even just have them rate, like how much did you practice your Chinese this summer? And if everybody comes back with a one or two out of five or something like that, then I know, okay, we're going to need to do a bit more review.

Adam Baldry (10:19): You can kind of get a beat on where your class is at. Yeah. make sure people understand those key assignments, but also, you know, more, you can get to know your students. And on the other side of that, they get to know you, cuz it's not just a stale document that you hand them, mm-hmm right. It's you being you. And then you get to present what you care about and you can show them that you're passionate about it and you can talk about why you care about it and then how these assignments are going to help them to engage with that content in a way that will hopefully be life changing for them.

Adam Davi (10:46): Yeah. That's a, a great point that you brought up to is that it's a, a fantastic way to, to impart some teacher presence and to show your personality as an instructor as well. And, you know, I think that is undervalued often, you know, because we, we think, oh, that's the teacher, of course they are passionate and this is what they, they went into, into their career about. But really to show that, to students I think is valuable and you can get them excited. And you know, I know you and I are, are big Star Wars fans. and so, I like to put little references to things like that and in my courses as well. And so, then if any students, are also, you know, fans of things like that, they can, they know, they know they're in a safe space. They can come talk to me about, not just the course, but you know, fun stuff as well if they wanted to.

Adam Baldry (11:41): Absolutely. Yeah. And I, when I think back on my undergrad experience, it's things like that, that I remember the most clearly, I remember mm-hmm, , you know, fair amount of what I learned, but some of it I've forgotten, but yeah. I remember those relationships with the professors that I CA I got to know a bit more mm-hmm they had me, work with them more closely yeah. On certain projects or things like that. Right. So when students get to know you in an online, you know, classroom, or in person, or some kind of hybrid or virtual space, it, it helps, right. It builds connections. It's more likely to keep them around and engaged with the course, help them more likely that they'll graduate. So, it's important to kind of show who you are, people want to see your authentic self, not this nervous thing, which maybe could kind of bring, bring us to, some tips about, you know, if you wanted to create your own, how are some ways to go about it? Yeah. What are your thoughts on that based on kind of our experience or what, what you know about best practices?

Adam Davi (12:33): Yeah. I mean, you know, obviously some tips are you want to, you want to do something that you're comfortable with as well. And, you know, so we did an interactive video syllabus. we, we both filmed a version of it and, you know, we chose one that, that worked best. That happened to be my version. And we had access

Adam Baldry (12:51): To,

Adam Davi (12:52): I wasn't going to say it

Adam Baldry (12:54): , it was, it was, it was bad. I had never been from, in front of a studio camera for whatever reason this, and I'm not a script person. I'm a more of like, here are my highlights. Mm-hmm and I want to talk, and we, we went to script route, but anyways, I digress. It was, it was terrible. Yeah. And there's it's, it was terrible,

Adam Davi (13:11): You know what, but it brings up, you know, a valuable point is, you know, do something that you're more comfortable with. And we, we decided to take advantage of the fact that we had access to a studio, and you know, professional videographers essentially to film us and, in a professional space and to edit the video for us and all that fun stuff, we understand that not everybody has that, and has access to that. So, you know, if you do great, we recommend using it if, if you feel comfortable, but there's other ways to do it. And you can, there's screen casts that you can do. If you want to go the video route, you can choose. If you don't want to be on it, you don't have to be. Although we do recommend that at least at the beginning and end, you show your face.

Adam Davi (13:54): So students know that you're a real human, but, but ultimately you want to be comfortable doing this. And so, you know, we can talk about some other options as well. you know, other than just video for, for interactivity. and you know, some of the things that we are looking at is to expand on how the options, different options we have for creating interactive syllabi that go beyond just a, a video interaction, but, but really, you know, choose a tool, choose a format that you're comfortable with and kind of decide what it is that you want to highlight in this interactive, look at the syllabus, and then, and focus your attention there to

Adam Baldry (14:35): Start. Absolutely. And I think one of the questions I got over the weekend when I presented this for PMA, they, we had a teaching strategies workshop. And one of the questions that came up to me is how much time are we looking at here? Mm-hmm, , you know, especially PMA, we, we have a lot of adjuncts and we do at U of a as well, right? Yes. I say weak is, I'm a PhD student at U of a right. I'm just part of the system. And, yeah, so there, you, we all have very limited time in academia. It's just a natural part of working in this, in, in this, environment for a lot of reasons that are, are what they are. Right. Mm-hmm but you can start small, just record a simple video and, and then add the interactions later, start, start with just the video and then yeah. Take the opportunity, reach out, grab some resources, which we can talk about towards the end. If you can reach out to learn about something might play positive, right. And then you can build in those interactive elements. you don't have to go too crazy front, but just start with something small that will help your students to get a little bit more engagement with what, what is in this syllabus, so that you can increase their, retention of what it is that they need to know out there.

Adam Davi (15:43): Yeah. And, and like I said, you know, point them to the, the objects that you think are critical for them. and you know, the way I like to think about it is what are those emails that I get regularly from students?

Adam Baldry (16:00): Perfect. Place to start.

Adam Davi (16:01): Yeah. And, and so how can I cut down on those emails? What can I show them? And, you know, that's, that's where I would start. You don't have to go through your whole syllabus. and especially the, you know, those policy pieces, mm-hmm, , that are, are mandated by the institution, right? You don't have to show them that in the interactive syllabus, that's not, that's not super critical for them to be able to know you want them to, you want to point them into the, into the pieces that are going to be crucial for them to be successful in your course,

Adam Baldry (16:32): Why we, why you're talking? It reminded me, of a little bit of like, why we did choose interactive video. Cause we could have gone several routes. Right? Mm-hmm we looked at different options. but why we landed with play pauses is it solved some of our key issues. And so we actually did a little bit of research, so I thought it'd be interesting to kind of talk about, oh yeah. What some of those findings were. So the first issue that we, you know, the syllabus is boring. Nobody really, nobody, nobody wants to, you know, there's a reason nobody wants to read that. Right. and people aren't remembering, those were kind of our two main mm-hmm struggles, right. Is we're getting all these emails, people aren't engaging with this, how can we solve this issue? And so doing our research, we found that the quiz questions when embedded throughout the videos will improve student recall.

Adam Baldry (17:14): Right. Mm-hmm and that came, out of a study, which I'm sure we can link as part of this podcast, some of those resources. Yeah. and then another study reported that students had positive perceptions of interactive video activities in their learning mm-hmm so they like it and it helps them to recall what they've learned. And then I recently, co-published a study with, a few professors at U of a where we use interactive video simulations for a pharmacy course. And the students reported that for them, they preferred receiving those written out materials in conjunction with interactive video that they felt that those two activities together were the best for their learning in the course. Right. and so that, that combination, right, you're never going to, we're never going to get rid of this formal syllabus document, but how can you find, you know, add something on their mm-hmm, gives them that engagement with those key points. Right. That's really what we're trying to do here. We're not trying to replace this. Isn't a, a new version of the syllabus we're advocating for. It's really just an activity in order to get your students to understand, remember, and engage with that content.

Adam Davi (18:17): Exactly. yeah, and I think that's, I important to point out, like we're not advocating to replace and, or get rid of the, the written syllabus. Like we understand the importance that that serves. but we want to increase engagement, with that. and with the course and this, again, you know, that research, you know, that you just brought up, students recall is improved with quiz questions embedded in video and they like it. so, this idea of an interactive syllabus could be, you know, a jumping off point for you using more interactive video, in your course, or more interactivity in some format. Now it serves as, another purpose to introduce students to technology that they're going to be using throughout the rest of your course as well. and so, you know, and this is, a kind of a lower stakes way to introduce that as opposed to, you know, here's your first lecture video with a quiz embedded and, you know, it's, it's worth 5% of your grade type of thing.

Adam Baldry (19:24): Exactly, exactly. Yeah. Yeah.

Adam Davi (19:25): It's like, wait, I don't even know

Adam Baldry (19:26): You want to avoid. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I think that you bring up a really good point. I wouldn't just do the tool for a one-off interactive video mm-hmm , syllabus, you know, kind of assignment to, to get them to engage with the syllabus. I would plan on using it for multiple, but again, you know, small chunks as you go mm-hmm , you don't have to do everything all at once, but it's definitely worth expanding the use. If you go with the play PO route to expand your use of play positive, if you wanted to go with H five P which a Pima we have, I understand that U of a now has as well, to build in those little interactives to help students have those formative learning opportunities and a low stake, you know, or, or even like zero grade impact at all. Right. where they can just learn what they need to learn. Yeah. And it can, you know, try again and again until they get it right. Mm-hmm , I think that's, that's the ideal.

Adam Davi (20:15): Yeah. And it's, you know, I also think the idea of multiple modalities to, you know, like you said, if you, you put something in there that maybe is, low stakes or, or no, you know, no grade, you want to put it out there. Maybe some students do just prefer to read the syllabus. They don't want to go through a video. and you know, and you can offer that as an option as well. So, if you, if you say like one way or another, either read it, go through the video, you know, here's your multiple modalities. You're, you're creating some universal design here, as well and, and giving students some, some ownership over how they want to engage with the course, in some ways. Absolutely.

Adam Baldry (21:00): Yeah. Yeah. I recently not recently about a year ago, I did a presentation for EDU cause on providing more opportunity for students to have choices. And I think that's, mm-hmm, a really great way to do it is at the activity level to provide them multiple user term modalities for which they, they can engage with that content right here. Here's a traditional syllabus. Go ahead and read it. Yeah. Great. If that's what works for you and you want to pour through highlight, like, cuz if like I like as a graduate student by then I figured it out. Okay. I'm going to go through going to highlight everything. I know. I need to know. Yeah. In certain colors that indicate to me what that particular thing is. Right. I had a system right. In order for my, you know, to be successful, but you know, as an undergrad, I was still figuring it out.

Adam Baldry (21:38): I didn't quiet, know how to take advantage of those things. And I would've loved a video that would've helped me to be like, okay, like I feel like more comfortable. Mm-hmm it takes some of that edge out the anxiety of that first day of like, who is this instructor? I hope that they're like a good fit for me on how they teach and how I like to learn. And mm-hmm I think it just can put everybody at ease if they get to see who you are, they get to see how you talk about the content and get to know you a little bit.

Adam Davi (22:06): Yeah. I couldn't agree more. I think it's, you know, for me, I wanted to know when things were due. I wanted to know what my expectations were. So like I hunted those things out in the syllabus and if I couldn't find it, I got frustrated. Right. and, mm-hmm , you know, so I think it it's helpful if the professor is there to kind of walk you through, and show you exactly what you know, where those pieces are. absolutely. And this is what that does. Yeah. And, and you brought up, you know, an additional tool, H five P for those of you at you, Arizona, we do have access to H five P now, and there's a lot of interactive features that, that you can use through H five P you go ahead and, and contact our office over at UAT and, you know, we'll have people that can help you there. and if you're at Pima, Adam can help you. We found

Adam Baldry (22:58): Out yeah, definitely happy to help. Yeah. Help you out with H five P yeah. There's something like we, we try to count them up the other there's more than 30. Yeah. I remember the exact, but there's more than 30 different kind of interactive activities from sorting the paragraphs matching images. Mm-hmm, grad virtual flashcards. Having students record themselves, there's all these different opportunities for them to engage in different ways. And if you use the paid plug-in license, which you now have, you get to save those student responses and you get to see those reports and you can drill, they call drill down reports, so you can drill down and you can get a little bit more detailed data on how they're engaging, how long they're spending on activities. It's really, it's quite a nice tool to help you be an informed instructor when it comes to your students, learning at the formative level.

Adam Davi (23:41): Awesome. Yeah. And that data is crucial. We, we did a recent podcast about, data driven, practices and, and things like that. So, that would fall under there as well is how, how can we use the data that we're given as instructors to help inform our practices and, and, you know, improve the, the course for the benefit of the students. Right. and that ultimately is what we're trying to do and what we think, you know, this idea of an interactive syllabus can do as well is, is make the course experience better for students and more engaging in that.

Adam Baldry (24:17): Absolutely.

Adam Davi (24:18): Yeah. So, stick with us, as we, we kind of explore more on this idea of an interactive syllabIf you've, if you've heard us speak before. Great. we're going to go into interactive syllabi, 2.03 point, oh, I don't even know where, what this point. Yeah. Yeah. but, but keep trying to evolve this idea and, and, you know, we would welcome any kind of feedback from people who have tried it or, or questions that people have. I know the last time we presented, I got a lot of follow up questions, which was great, for people from people who had never, you know, thought of this idea before. And so, you know, as you, yeah. as you're getting into the beginning of this semester and, and thinking about, you know, maybe ways that you can make your course a little bit more engaging, this is, I think a, a fun and easy way to do that for students,

Adam Baldry (25:16): Simple screen recording by now, you probably have it down. If you don't contact UCATT and they'll get you the skills that you need and all the technology and the knowhow that you have, everything that you need over there. Yeah. chemo, we've got the same resources for you, so we can definitely make that happen. And like you said, like this is not something we've proved with research or anything like that, where the, you know, these weren’t, you know, clinical trials of the syllabus and trying to understand everything about it, but we think it's a good idea. Yeah. we, the, the instructors we've talked to feel like it's making a difference, for them and, we want to, we want to grow it. We want to advance it. So again, yeah. If you have ideas or you are exploring, or you, you know, you want our resources, I would be interested to work with some folks yeah. around that. So, feel free to reach out and, love to work with you on that.

Adam Davi (26:02): Yeah, definitely. and we, hopefully we'll hear from some of you, we look forward to that and I want to thank Adam for joining us here on the podcast this month. And, you know, it's always a, a fun, fun time getting to, to reconnect and chat with you about not just this, but other, other aspects of course, design and course technology. So, I appreciate it. Thank you.

Adam Baldry (26:25): Yeah. Well, thanks for having me. It's always a pleasure to, to be back over at, University of Arizona. It's a wonderful place and it's good to work with UCAP to some really great folks over there. So that's my, my final plug is reach out to, the Intech team over at UCAP. And if you, for all your instructional technology needs, they really know their stuff. our team at Pima, some instructional technologist needs with them on a regular basis, and they can, give you all the support you need for video recording with Penopto or using play za to create interactive syllabus, or create all kinds of engaging things with H I P they are the best. So feel free to reach out to them.

Adam Davi (27:00): I couldn't agree more, they, they're an awesome team. And I'm sure they're just as awesome at, at Pima, especially cuz I know a couple of you over there now, they, they store you from us. But yeah, they're yeah, both, both teams are great and yeah, the, we encourage the use of those tools. They’re awesome. And they make the course, a lot more fun for students. Excellent. Well, thank you very much again and thank you, to our listeners out there. Please join us, again next month where we’ll have another fun and exciting topic for y'all have a good one. Everybody. Thank you.

Speaker 3 (27:40): The Futures of Digital Learning podcast is a production of the University of Arizona. Digital learning. If you have any questions, comments, or ideas you'd like to share with our office, go to the contact us link on our website.

Authored By:

Adam Davi

Adam Davi
Senior Instructional Designer

Brian Hale

Brian Hale
Instructional Designer