Faculty Success Stories Amy Zsohar

Teaching Practice

Can you talk about your goals for equity and inclusion in your teaching practice and what you think has been successful?

 All of my classes are built around themes, topics that are timely and that are tough to talk about. Like food and housing insecurity, gender-based violence, anti-racism, and environmental justice – and more environmental equity. They’re all kind of couched in these big themes and what I love about these big themes is they are themes that hit every single person. So when the student walks in the door we’re already starting on a level playing field with a topic. Some may know more, and some may know less but we’re all kind of in that space of how are we going to do this.

When it comes to equity inclusion work, it starts in these themes and then we add the community part to it. All projects are couched in community-based learning with Shannon Williams, as my partner who helps come up with these themes. And so we talk through all the different layers of how we are making this to where every single person feels valued and validated. We talk about gender-based violence, which oftentimes can fall into a category of those assigned men and those assigned women against each other. You know, a lot of times we talk about gender-based violence in the idea of man perpetrator/woman victim, and in reality that’s not the case. It opens up a space for those conversations to happen around how the rhetoric is built to make it an us-versus-them.

We talk about anti-racism and there’s an assumption that it’s people of color versus white people and in reality, racism impacts every single person in a different way. If you’re the person of color you’re on the receiving end of the dehumanization but if you’re also the white person who lives in a world that’s racist you’re also dehumanized because you lose the ability to see all humans as equals, and so it ends up opening a really fascinating space of self-reflexivity and conversation.

It also opens up a space of fear, to be honest, of I don’t know as a white person walking into the space, if I can safely say “I don’t get it”, that “I don’t understand why we’re still talking about racism and slavery is over”, and having that say is scary because you could get attacked really quickly like, “how do you not know?” It starts everybody off in a space of we’re learning to communicate about these topics, and so the equity piece of it is starting to see different perspectives and points of view and learning how to communicate based on those different ideas, and so it’s a really messy playground.

To be honest with you it’s a really, really messy playground of spaces, because you honestly don’t know at the beginning of the semester who’s going to be walking or zooming into your world and how they’re going to react. And so, when it comes to talking about it when it comes to equity and inclusion work in the classroom, it is a minefield that can be very terrifying. And there are days that I’m like I don’t know if I can do this today and, at the same time, the rewards of it make it justifiable to overcome that fear.

So when we talk about gender-based violence and we address the fact that the vast majority of perpetrators of by gender based violence are male identified and we have a conversation about what that means, and why that is the case, we end up being able to incorporate these really cool fun communication topics into these really hard conversations. And yet all the voices end up finding a way to have space, if they want space.

That’s what’s really cool about these community-based projects. They’re not papers, they’re not essays, they’re not a uniform expectation that all students could meet a certain assessment standard. In most of my classes, students control part of the final grade rubric. This semester, I had a half semester class that ended right before spring break. I had four female identified students and the topic was gender-based violence and they created a podcast about their experiences with learning what consent means and what consent is, and it was 20 minutes of the abstinence only conversations they were given. The conversation about how like if you don’t want to be a victim of sexual assault, don’t dress like a victim of sexual assault and what that means and it ended up being this really incredible space that these four students had a chance to really talk about something that they had never had the chance to talk about before that directly impacted them – and then share it in a way that made other people have the ability to share as well.

Role of Academic Technology

That’s a good segue into the next question actually. The next question is really about the role of academic technology and how that has influenced what you’re doing. Can you talk about that – what tools you’re using in this teaching practice how academic technology or other technology has played a role in how students express themselves and take on these projects?

 Pre-pandemic, technology had a really different role, you know, like I didn’t know Zoom existed, and I was completely content with that. Pre-pandemic, a lot of it was like blogs and podcasts and social media and that space. When the pandemic shut us down and pushed us on to Zoom it, it took away the ability for students to use things like volunteering as a way of advocacy because all of a sudden, the world was shut down. They couldn’t do like supply drives because they couldn’t collect items and places weren’t taking items, so, all of a sudden, projects switched to virtual.

That downtime of that extended spring break in March 2020 was a panic mode. Not for getting my classes on Zoom, but in thinking about how these projects transition from really being face-to-face encounters in a lot of ways to, how do we give students the same kind of experience and growth and application of the communication skills in a world that’s really now siloed. And the students, a lot of times you know they’re Zooming into class from their closet because that’s the only room with a door that doesn’t have a toilet in their house and so, like all the sudden it changed and these projects had to change.

I’ve learned how to use the podcast room and the students love a podcast I’m discovering. But it’s also a really cool and powerful way for students to have those conversations that they don’t really have any other place to have them. I’ve had a lot of students have really gotten into how do they present themselves on social media and how they use social media to advocate.

One of the great things Shannon Williams provides is the Campus Compact Wheel of Service. It talks about all the different ways that we can get involved in social activism. What I love is that students are now beginning to realize that their voice and their influence is larger because they now have more technology at their disposal. I really enjoyed when I had a student in the fall of 2020 whose theme was housing insecurity and he did like a stop gap video of a person going from house to house to house again and the video was about three minutes long and it took him four weeks to make. Each individual moment made this three-minute video but it told this complete story arc. What’s cool about it is that I’m learning more about what the students know about tech and they’re teaching me. So while I’m teaching them the podcast room, they’re also telling me like “hey I have this skill set over here, I have this ability over here” and so it’s figuring out the ways that the students can still engage with others, engage  with populations that they’re not members of, engage in situations that can often times bring us discomfort, which is part of the goal of growth and also figuring out what tech we have access to.

I make my public speaking classes participate in advocacy days on the Hill in the spring semester. This spring, they participated with Lead MN so before they went to the advocacy day they had to research their elected officials and all the sudden they’re learning all these different websites and tools and ways that they can contact people. It’s been really fun to try to make that transition from the interpersonal to the computer mediated virtual world.

And so I would say the main tools that I have gotten more familiar with – with the students constantly teaching me – are tools for crowdsourcing data. Like Mental Meter, Poll Everywhere, Kahoot, and of course Zoom has become a constant in this world. But also like, how do you make a video with graphics on the computer like if you don’t have access and you want to make a video, how do you do this? And learning how to make infographics and learning what’s important on an infographic and how, which I think is part of that tech piece, we oftentimes don’t talk just what tech we use, but how we make sure it’s the most effective.

What you have to say matters. How are you going to get the point across in a way that people want to engage with it? How do we find the connections to make it engaging, eye catching, and important? I think that that’s the part when it comes to technology where it’s getting more and more interesting to watch the students. Because you know Twitter taught us how to condense and then, how do we now take the condensed and make it the most impactful.

How do we hit that mark to get engagement? That’s the part with community-based learning in particular that’s really the where the rubber meets the road. During the virtual world we’re still very much in (some places are open to volunteers now, but some places still aren’t) we’ve lost a lot of that piece. It’s also just been kind of fun to watch students finding ways, how they are connecting. Which, which to me has been really fulfilling because I have to learn.

Learning Goals

A couple things on this topic of the technology. The first thing I’m curious about is, as we transition back to face-to-face or more face-to face and some of these projects go back to those face-to-face volunteer options that you had going on prior, how do you think the technology will continue to play a role?

 And there’s a lot that you mentioned for the technology that students are using. Has this added material to your course? Like digital literacy and visual literacy – are these new things that you’re now having to work into your 16-week or eight-week course?

The first question with the world opening back up again, I have discovered during this pandemic that if you give a student a question that.

The first question, with the world opening back up again, I have discovered during this pandemic that if you give a student a question like what does consent mean to you (but I didn’t pose the question they pose it to themselves) and you give them the freedom to speak, you cannot replace that with volunteering. So keep the technology piece, keep those conversations going, but also give them the opportunity to engage with populations in that voluntary space. Maybe cut back on the amount of volunteer hours, make it a little less and then keep the tech piece there to kind of balance the workload. But if I have found that space of engagement and whether it’s a podcast or a Zoom recording or an infographic of something really impactful to them or that tech space of finding a way to use their voice that can be shared in a mass way is really a lot more empowering than just going and volunteering. Volunteering is eye opening. Telling the story is empowering. And I knew that before but did not know all the tech we had to do that. I felt limited by my own lack of knowledge and as I learned I would try to incorporate it, but it was still so much siloed by project. Now it’s becoming kind of a blanket space so you know we’re going to find ways.

And while I greatly value and appreciate the written word, a lot of times we lose the importance of students finding their own authentic voice. I think a lot of times in that process, we lose the celebration of what makes that student’s voice impactful and I think that’s what’s cool about these projects. And so I think that when it comes to incorporating the tech it’s going to continue and I don’t see that piece fading.

I had never considered when we talk about these things to be digital virtual literacy. Now I’m like okay, I need to do some reading because I think we are talking a little bit about some of these things – I just had never put those that verbiage on it. As we’re talking about these projects and brainstorming the different ideas, we’re talking about what makes it effective, what makes it eye catching what makes it impactful what makes somebody want to keep listening.

I got the very first podcast I had two students do during the pandemic, it was a topic of gender-based violence, it was two male identified students. And I’m listening to it, it is dragging on and on and on and at one point at about 17 minutes into a 22-minute-long conversation, one of the male identified students says to the other one, “I wonder if women have these conversations all the time and if that’s why they’re tired when we ask questions about this stuff.” And I was like, it took us 17 minutes to get interesting about that piece! And so it really got me thinking more and more about how do I help the students kind of fine tune – and that’s where more and more growth is happening right now. It’s not just why are these questions so important or how do we answer them, but how do we tailor the conversation to where it hits the nugget earlier, and the conversation can then be a little richer around the nugget. Because – and they even said that the rest of the interview like “that’s really the important question, like that’s the conversation we should be having” and I’m like yes, yes you should. But you also had to take that 17-minute journey with them to get there. I think that that’s what I’m learning more and more. I just had never put the words like literacy around this, and now I have a new rabbit hole to go down the summer, when I’m prepping.

Target Skills

So you’ve already talked about this, like how are your students learning, what are they learning, how is it empowering them. As far as your course goals go – like those course level learning goals and even your module level learning goals, how does this practice, the student projects, influence student learning in your class?

 So, the communication learning goals are really about being able to demonstrate and analyze effective communication skills, whether it’s in our intercultural, public speaking and interpersonal, small group, whatever the course is. The root of the learning is that piece. Let’s look at this semester. This semester my intercultural classes are partnering with Living Well. Living Well is an organization that offers housing to individuals experiencing varying degrees of disability – mental, physical, emotional to varying degrees. They’re partnering with them and they’re collecting stories. Living Well has asked for a database of their residence stories for use in advertising material to share with families. That’s the goal. And so, in intercultural communication, one of the learning goals is to be able to identify and articulate the impact of cultural norms, to explain the value in cultural influences on it, and the development of appropriate communication behaviors. What they’re having to figure out how to do is talk to somebody. We have a couple of partners who are nonverbal. How do you ask questions and get answers and tell a story from somebody who speaks less than 100 words? And I have another who the only time that the participant really gets engaged in telling their story is when they’re talking about food. And so my student can tell you every edible favorite of this person and he’s like “What is the story?” And I’m like the story is food! Like that’s the story that he’s giving, that’s the story you tell.

It’s been really fun to watch the students really wrestle with how they talk to somebody who is hard to understand, for whatever reason. How do they talk to somebody who doesn’t understand tech and therefore you can’t Zoom with them? You have to figure out a way to call them. Or you know, how do you talk to somebody who doesn’t have a really good long-term memory? And it is becoming one of the most fun things to watch with this group of students, because they’re immediately having to figure out how you talk to somebody whose cultural norms of communication are very different than yours. How do you talk to somebody when who they are directly impacts how they’re understood in this world? And so it’s led to beautiful conversations around how the students wish that they were communicated with based on their identity. Based on their accessibility, based on their life, I mean yesterday I had two students who, after class was over stayed for 45 minutes on Zoom, not  to talk to me but about how they wish educators in K-12 understood that to communicate with them, they just needed to show them how to do it as they were talking through it. Not just tell them what to do, and then they would understand it and how they learned in that space.

I had a student this week talk to me about how they just don’t feel like they’re allowed to talk in classrooms because every time they have, they get asked what do you say because they have an accent, and they speak softly. And how do we accommodate that? And so it’s led to these really beautiful, especially in intercultural communication this semester, every semester I have fun stories, but this one and it’s really becoming this really beautiful conversation of do we try to get people to normalize their communication or do we try to communicate to the person, to the person’s individual ideas, and how culture plays into that because we’re in a culture of normalization in a lot of ways. So it’s really, when it comes to the course objectives, putting them in a situation where they have to engage with somebody who is different than them creates a space where they have to figure out what skills work and what skills they need to work on when it comes to being effective. And so these projects are really, really, really fun playgrounds. Like, that’s the play they get to have with these topics and concepts. And so, when it comes to learning objectives at the beginning of each or prior to each semester, Shannon and I sit down and start deciding who are the community partners, what is the project. At some point Shannon’s going to learn to say no to me – it just hasn’t happened yet. So I get to have a lot of fun, I think this might work and Shannon’s like oh no okay.

It’s very rare, but when I get the complaint about how this project is a problem, is problematic, for whatever reason, and it’s usually like the person who just isn’t ready to have the conversation about the theme – like that’s the rub of it, sometimes we’re just not ready. And in my classes, you have a choice because we’re going to have that conversation, and so, when I have the occasional really negative comment Shannon’s like how is it you’ve not had more of those and I’m like “I don’t know – because we make it work.”

But I also stress constantly that we’re not talking about anti-racism and gender-based violence, accessibility, hunger, and homelessness, the environment, political advocacy to force people to be anti-racist, but to talk about how we communicate about topics that are difficult, and so Shannon and I sit down together we look at the learning objectives, the course objectives, and we talk about how we are going to connect dots and how are we going to make sure that the students are fulfilling the objectives.

I don’t do written tests. It’s just not in my pedagogy and students at the beginning of the semester really celebrate the fact that I don’t do test. And then, at the end of the semester, they’re like “can we do tests, because this project is overwhelming” and, I’m like “no thanks.”

I feel like there’s a lot of that like having to make sure that I can assess the growth of communication without tests. Sometimes, there’ll be a class that has 10 grades total for the whole course because so much of it is couched in this project, because the project is the driving force throughout. And everything that we do is connecting to this project. And so it’s really become, especially with Zoom, how do we assess communication and how do we assess growth and learning when it’s a big project and there’s not the checkpoints of tests throughout…

I imagine there are checkpoints of projects too, right?

Oh absolutely every project has multiple due dates because like me, many of my students procrastinate and if I didn’t have regular checkpoints on these they’d be doing the project right in the middle of trying to study for finals and they’d be crying. So there are always checkpoints throughout. But it’s also getting students to realize that the checkpoints are for them and not for me. It’s hard because they see a deadline and they panic a little bit and one of the ways that I’m trying to be more equity minded is thinking about students in that more 360 point of view of you know the deadline is this week and it’s a week-long deadline, like they have the whole week to turn in and it’s not considered late. No matter when the class is, they have until 11:59 PM on Friday to turn in the work that’s due that week – no questions.

The Living Well project – their partner hasn’t responded, their partner’s been out of town, we have one person whose partner’s in and out of the hospital so like there’s a lot going on. To where maybe they can’t get the assignment turned in on time because their partner can’t or life happens or so on. They have the ability to submit things after that 11:59 Friday PM deadline as long as they tell me they’re going to turn it in later. So that communication piece is required, again, and they can turn it, I mean honestly, I get about 20% of all my work in the last week of classes. For all of my students, not just the final project, but everything and I’m like y’all did this to yourselves, there were deadlines.  But it’s also led to a really cool start of the semester conversation of like “you’re in charge of your education. This is what you need to do to be successful in this course. I am willing to work with you because I’m…” my catchphrase that I tell all my students all the time is “I’m not here to watch you fail I’m here to help you succeed so let’s talk about how we do that. I’m your partner in this” and over the past really year and a half, when I’ve put into place this policy of late work and things, I have so much more communication with my students. So it’s been fun to watch that piece. And the emails get a little bit nicer as the semester progresses like you know they start greeting me in the email, instead of just starting with a message or they actually say something when they email me a rogue attachment.

I can tell you how the students handle the world based on how they get these checkpoints. Where does this class fall on the priority of their lives…? Well, before we were talking, I was grading something that was submitted 20 days late, because I emailed the student and was like you do realize you still haven’t submitted this. They were like, oh my bad.

Students’ Perspective

It sounds like students are a lot more invested in their learning with this way of teaching – from the beginning of the class.

 Yeah I’ve learned to do a lot more of that setup piece, and to really get them to understand because I’ve had students say about these policies and things like, I think she’s too nice and I’m like “oh no I’ll give you that zero in a New York minute” like I got no shame, but I also understand that it’s not extra stress in my life if you turn it in late, it’s extra stress in yours.

So what is their perspective? Do you do get feedback on this way of teaching in your course evaluations, or do your students just tell you in conversation “hey this class really works for me like, I love this project-based work.”

 It’s multifaceted and how I get the fuel, I should say, that drives me to keep doing these projects. Because there is a lot of failure that happens in… just kind of like people don’t get the project or I have to spend a lot of extra time explaining how it connects. But the feedback comes in the course evaluations, it comes in the TRIO end-of-year graduation celebration… I’ve had students who have commented about how like classes like community-based learning courses are what’s made them want to go into this area and there’s a lot of feedback that way. I’ve been nominated for the Faculty of the Year award,  Staff of the Year for this work, because people see and recognize the value of it. But also, like, I have a student who now works for Living Well because they did a project with Living Well – so that’s great feedback to have. Like students are getting jobs out of this and at the end of every semester I bring in and Jared and Shannon to come in and talk about how you translate this project to your resume, how you translate this to the job market, how you translate this to transferring to colleges, how you spotlight this work. In a way, that elevates it from just a class assignment to something that you can carry forward.

And so the feedback that I get is all over the place. My favorite ones, however, are the ones that come over like Linkedin or Facebook years later, of like “do you remember that project we did?” No, I do not – tell me about. Some of that, and that’s where I get a lot of the feedback as well, so it’s multifaceted. I get it from the students just telling me in class how much they love it. The number of students I have who take multiple courses with me because they like the work and the students who will go to Shannon after my class and ask what other professors do this type of work. And I also get feedback from counseling and advising. They will send me the students who struggle with tests, because they’re better with project work. They’ll send me students who don’t speak up when they should because they want me to work with them, and so it ends up becoming this really kind of fun place but then I also get like a random email of like “hey, I have a student in my office who’s concerned about this policy and wants to make sure that it’s real” and I’m like it is. It is.

But because of that accessibility of people being able to take multiple avenues, I’m really able to tweak every assignment each semester as we go. Because there’s nothing final until its final. And so it gives a lot of fluidity to adjust as we go. But most of the feedback honestly comes from just the students saying things, or the end of semester evaluations or the random Facebook message. It’s bizarre, but it works.

Your Perspective

So it’s a lot of work but it sounds like it’s rewarding work. What is your perspective then? Like, how has this way of teaching made your teaching better or worse? Do you enjoy it more or less?

It’s kind of funny. I’m at a point now where I’ve been doing CBL in all of my classes for so long that I sometimes forget what coursework was like without it, to be honest. I don’t know if I would know how to teach a class that doesn’t have a theme and a project and that doesn’t bring in guest speakers. And that brings in Community partners, and that makes connections and that… So, I just don’t remember.

And I will say that, like yes, it is, it is a lot of work getting this program set up, but the busiest time and the hardest part of it is before the semester even starts. It’s making sure you have the community partners that you need, it’s making sure you feel versed enough in the topic to have possibly really uncomfortable conversations with students. With the gender-based violence project, I have had multiple students who have trusted me and honored me with their truths and have thanked me for giving them a space to tell their truth. Because we don’t talk about these topics in a way that’s healthy. I mean, even before we started talking today, I was watching a documentary about trying to extend the statute of limitation on domestic violence cases. And so it becomes kind of this all-consuming thing, but the hardest part of it is getting it set up in a way that’s respectful of my boundaries, what I can handle, that’s respectful of my time, respectful of the students’ time, respectful of the theme and the course and the course materials, and respectful of the community need.

But once you start going, once you get a pattern, fall semester interpersonal’s theme is food and housing insecurity and we host Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week events. That’s the project, and those events can be all different varieties of things. Fall intercultural the past few years has been on topics of anti-racism and they have created trainings that we can then give to Student Life that they can host to discuss topics around anti-racism. Spring semester interpersonal is gender-based violence, intercultural is ability, public speaking is advocacy. And then the summer, because of the COVID pandemic honestly, this is why it’s the theme, the summer is the environment because, dang it, all we could do is meet in the community garden as a class. We couldn’t go in any of the buildings, we were on Zoom, and I got permission to have one day on campus and we met in the community garden and we learned about food justice, and it was awesome because that was the only thing we could do in the summer and I was tired of being inside my house on Zoom. So this summer we’re going to have another conversation about the environment because what better time to assess the environment than when we should be out in it?

But with these different themes, it’s easy all of a sudden. Like, I know in my gender-based violence conversations we bring in 360 communities to come in and talk. We bring in the Student Life Advocacy Training and the students become licensed advocates around gender-based violence. We bring in the voices that they need to hear, we watch videos about different people’s stories, and we have really respectful dialogue around them. And we discuss what’s the difference between respectful dialogue and just regular conversations, and we talk about the challenges that exist in having a conversation that oftentimes feels very weighted. In every topic there’s political weight in it. I mean right now we’re in a world where 31 States are trying to take away LGBT rights, including Minnesota. Let’s talk about gender-based violence. Like, it’s there, and you know we’re in a world right now, where more and more trauma and mental health concerns are becoming accessibility conversations that we need to be having so let’s talk about accessibility. Let’s talk about ability and adapting to ability needs. So, I truly hope that at some point these topics get to change because they’re no longer hot button topics of discomfort. But the work piece of it is balancing that and then carrying the stories that I get to hear. The projects themselves the students do 90% of the work. I tell them you’re doing this and they look at me and go “um, okay…” and then over time they get confidence doing it and all the sudden they’re like “oh, okay I got this!” But it becomes so much easier than having to figure out each semester how to make sure that I’m tweaking or whatever. It’s like these themes exist, these projects exist, I just got to adjust them to the students and we’re ready to rumble. And now with the reopening of the world adjust them to being in person again from adjusting them to the virtual world.

So, honestly, I think that if anybody is interested in doing community-based work, community-based learning, the first semester is going to be hard. It’s hard for whatever you do. But once you get an understanding of what you want to do, and the partners you want to have in the way you want to embed engage the community and the way you want the results to be engaged the you know the projects to engage with the community. I spent half my time sitting back going “wow ya’ll did that in eight weeks or 16 weeks? Holy cow, I barely had time to grade it! How did you have time to do all of this?” I honestly say if anybody’s remotely interested in doing the work, pick one class one semester and dive headfirst. And then next semester add another, and then another until every class… And in truth, in my dream world, every single class on the Inver Hills Community College Campus would be doing some sort of civic engagement, community-based work. Whether it’s discussing the power of voting and census or actually engaging with community organizations or, as my public speaking class had to do, talking to their elected officials. If you want to see students light up, you should ask them about those days, oh my gosh they loved it! Loved it!


There’s probably plenty of opportunity there for community-based projects.

The last question I have is about assessment. How does this project or this teaching method relate to assessment in your own courses? And how do you assess whether this teaching practice has been successful for useful? Such as impact on student learning – basically, how do you know that it’s doing what you hope it’s doing?

That’s the rub and that’s the part that has been the hardest to tackle. Because it is so personal in so many ways, it’s become more and more about me just listening to what the students want me to hear, which is why I give them control over, depending on the project, varying degrees of that final grade. So, I have that built in to the actual written rubric assessment piece. But then also we have days dedicated throughout the semester to discuss the projects, to work on the projects. Especially if it’s group work, I try to build it into the course that they meet in their groups during some sort part of class, if not all of it, on certain days. And then I’m able to be available and to check in and to do pieces. Having the checkpoints throughout helps me assess as well. Are students getting the point of the project? Are they doing the work they need to be doing? Are they growing? Are they learning, or not?

One of the pieces, you know as the pandemic kind of kept us on Zoom longer and longer, that became a bigger issue was students’ not unmuting and not engaging at all. Like, I have a student this semester in a Zoom class that I’ve never heard from. They show up every day – perfect attendance. They’ve never unmuted, never left a single word in the chat. They’ve never responded to an email. I don’t know anything about this student. So, one thing I started doing is telling the students is “you tell me how to assess this. Let’s talk about how you want me to assess your learning.” And so most students want their learning assessment in discussions and through engagement in class, and engagement with their projects. And I’ve had a couple students who are like, “can I just like, send you weekly emails with what I’ve learned from the book and from the project? I really don’t want to engage in class.” And I’m like, if that’s how you want to be assessed let’s do it, and so what I’m learning more and more on this idea of being student centered is that the more power you give them, the easier it is to assess them, the easier it is to connect with them, the easier it is to get the work out of them – for the vast majority of the students. You have the occasional ones who will take full advantage of this and turn everything in in a week at the end of the semester and I’m looking at it going “well, that’s how you chose to do your education.”

The assessment piece is the part that I spend the most time and energy worrying about, the most time and energy tweaking and playing with, and right now, this is what’s working. As we’re resuming back to class, and you know the classroom space and being more in person, the assessment may need to change again. I honestly don’t know yet, but what I love, is that these projects that have students writing letters to elected officials and in the same project, creating a stopgap video and in the same project creating an infographic and in the same project doing a podcast and the same project doing… because they have the option of how they advocate and use their voice. Giving the students the power to say “my infographic should be assessed this way” – I had to learn how to grade art, like paintings this last semester because three or four students turned in paintings.

How did you do that? How did you learn how to grade art, essentially?

I asked the students to bring the rubrics from their art professors, to be honest. They showed up from Wendy and Rob and I can absolutely reach out to those professors, but the students need to tell me how to assess them. One of the students quite legitimately… the whole rubric that they gave me to grade their piece of art was on emotional impact. That’s all they wanted. Did I feel something from their art? And I’m like, “I can grade on emotional impact, I felt something.” I don’t know how to grade how it looks because that’s so subjective, but I can grade how it made me feel, and what I’m learning from it and so we have those conversations. I would say that at some point I plan to sit at the feet Rob Kolomyski and be like, “hey teach me how to grade art” because I love the fact that a student feels empowered in a communication class to tell their story, to tell their message, in the way that they feel they communicate the most effectively, which for some students is art. And I love that they have that luxury in that final project to be that way. And then you know people are going to ask “well how do you then assess their communication skills?” And I’m like, “through everything else they’ve done.” The final project is just one piece of this. Assessing their communication skills is an everyday situation. And knowing that they felt empowered to create this work of art because of something that we did in this class is really lovely.