Back to School: Learnings from the Coordination Hub’s Twitter Chat

By Daniela Saucedo and Pradipti Bhatta, NSF INCLUDES Coordination Hub

On Friday September 25th, the Coordination Hub hosted a live #INCLUDESchat on Twitter to discuss challenges and opportunities in STEM education with the start of the new academic year. We were joined by NSF INCLUDES National Network members and others working to improve diversity and inclusion in STEM. 6 guest panelists helped guide the conversation:
  • Dipaya Banerjee, NSF Graduate Research Fellow, PhD Student, Georgia Institute of Technology @Dipayan_B 
  • Leah Graniela-Loving, Senior Manager, Youth Education & Equity, Techbridge Girls @techbridgegirls
  • Kathleen Johnson, Associate Professor, Earth System Science, UC Irvine @cavesandclimate
  • Julie Posselt, Principal Investigator, Inclusive Graduate Education Network, CA Consortium for Inclusive Doctoral Education @JuliePosselt 
  • Maria Qadri, Scientific Communications Postdoctoral Fellow, Office of Undergraduate STEM Education, Association of American Colleges and Universities @somebody_exotic 
  • Shoba Subramanian, Director of Curriculum and Educational Initiatives, University of Michigan Medical School @Shoba_Bio 

      As the nation grapples with COVID-19, students and educators have had to creatively adapt to new learning environments this school year. Through a series of 6 questions, here’s what we learned from their experience:  

      Q1. What has been your greatest challenge starting the school year amid COVID-19 this Fall? 

      • Shoba Subramanian @Shoba_Bio: Rapidly changing landscape of the world around us; Parents/caregivers trying hard to find a balance; Budget cuts; Not seeing our learners, colleagues in-person; Lack of organic discussions in the hallways, at end of a class/program 
      • Dipayan Banerjee @Dipayan_B: Being physically away from peers has sometimes been challenging. Being able to easily bounce ideas off of nearby colleagues is extremely helpful for research and classwork alike. 
        • Dr. Maria Qadri @somebody_exotic: That does sound so challenging! I've been leaning on my Slack channels, instant messaging and texts more to accommodate. I find gratefulness when I initiate engagement with others 
      • Kathleen Johnson @cavesandclimate: Classes don’t start at @UCIrvine until next week, but after a summer of remote work, limited lab access, non-stop Zoom meetings, and online teaching prep, I, like so many others, have struggled with isolation, overwhelm, and burnout. Not the ideal way to start a new quarter! Finding time, even if just a weekend, to take a break and recharge has been so incredibly important! 
        • Dr. Maria Qadri @somebody_exotic: I find myself taking more frequent short breaks in between meetings, calls, and writing to try and ensure I'm bringing my best focus to my work, which is definitely a struggle.  
      • Leah Graniela-Loving @techbridgegirls: Girls’ access to technology and creating space to support their social-emotional needs as they cope with COVID and the racial injustice crisis in our country. Many expressed a sense of isolation & need to be in community in addition to nurturing STEM interest 

              Q2. Given that in-person, hands-on learning is limited or not an option right now, how have you engaged students in STEM work? 

              • Leah Graniela-Loving @techbridgegirls: TBG is engaging adults in girl’s lives to create a community to support STEM success, providing training for educators/resources for families in addition to culturally relevant lessons, online sharing & STEM/SEL kits ensuring equitable access to materials for girls 
              • Shoba Subramanian @Shoba_Bio: The #STEM career & professional development work did not stop in spring & summer months. If anything, gained attendees #WFH. Purposeful programs around career exploration, #scicomm skill building, & other aspects of career pathways in virtual spaces were a draw. 
                • Dr. Maria Qadri @somebody_exotic: Agreed! Everything about the current state of affairs has reinforced that the need for programming on leadership, communication, and reflection in #STEM is evermore important now.  
              • Kathleen Johnson @cavesandclimate: Maintaining a sense of community, setting small, achievable research goals, and frequently and directly asking students how they’re doing and if there’s anything they need has helped everyone feel supported and make research progress over the summer. While lab work was not possible for most of the group, students made great progress by working on literature reviews, data syntheses, and learning new tools, for example using MySQL to access data or using Python to make maps and charts.
              • Maria Qadri @somebody_exotic: For STEM faculty, we have engaged our audiences using 1 word check ins, reactions to images, & structured breakout rooms as time allows. Everything takes longer than you think. Engagement looks like lots of things so be open to all of the possibilities. 

              Q3. How are you maintaining and encouraging engagement and motivation in your class or work/project in a virtual setting? 

              • Julie Posselt @JuliePosselt: We are maintaining motivation & engagement as a project by using this time to get to know our own & team members' diverse strengths. @SteveD1914 has been leading our project management team over several meetings through activities w the @CliftonStrength tools.  
              • Dipayan Banerjee @Dipayan_B: Not me, but our department has hosted virtual group sessions to check in with the PhD student body. It’s great and encouraging to see the faces of fellow students that you might not usually interact with in the context of your specific projects or classes. 
                • Kathleen Johnson @cavesandclimate: I agree! We've held frequent Town Halls for our graduate students @uciess, including one focused on our commitment to #BlackLivesMatter and becoming more anti-racist. 
              • Leah Graniela-Loving @techbridgegirls: Responding to what girls* are asking for: centering community/caring relationships w/ adults/peers. In a virtual setting, girls do STEM online in program or offline with siblings and families. A TBG educator even shared that her student was doing STEM w/a neighbor! 
              • Shoba Subramanian @Shoba_Bio: Acknowledging that these are hard times; Reminding that we are here to support our learners; Telling it is ok to keep video off/on, as preferred; Sharing ideas/needs/concerns via shared google doc in real time during the first min of session to normalize 
              • Kathleen Johnson @cavesandclimate: Assessing student engagement and motivation is a challenge with asynchronous classes! I REALLY miss interacting with the amazing @UCIrvine undergraduates. Organization and structure, along with frequent reminders, are key though! In my large intro geology class, I’ll be using weekly learning modules in Canvas, sending frequent e-mails to remind students of key deadlines, and setting multiple low-stakes assignments to keep them engaged and on track throughout the quarter. Also, I plan to use weekly discussion boards to engage students with the material, by discussing current events, and highlighting the relevance of geology to students’ lives, including aspects of social and environmental justice! 
              • Dr. Maria Qadri @somebody_exotic: Repetition feels awkward but it is so important in light of the constant challenges to our focus and attention. Frequent reminders have been effective. Delivering the same message in multiple ways. I'm also mindful to approach my participants with genuine care. 

                  Q4. Have you or your project experienced any silver linings related to virtual or hybrid learning/work environments? Please share any positive experiences you’ve had with the start of the school year! 

                  • Dr. Maria Qadri @somebody_exotic: At @WeAreCASL and @WeArePKAL, we're checking in with each other and our participants more often. STEM Faculty have been really honest about their needs and have reminded us about how important our programming is during these times. Personally, I'll add that the access to recording, captioning, and other tools related to learning accessibility and universal learning design warm my heart.  
                  • Dipayan Banerjee @Dipayan_B: The circumstances have forced everyone to become more comfortable with online learning/teaching/working tools. I feel a lot more prepared for teaching online in the future if needed. 
                  • Julie Posselt @JuliePosselt: One silver lining for @InclusiveGradEd has been putting our workshops online! It enables us to reach more people, and in the translation online we have found new ways to encourage the reflection & discussion that enable programs to change.  
                  • Shoba Subramanian @Shoba_Bio: We had to rapidly “reimagine” & “pivot” many aspects of our #STEM professional development programs to make them nimble. This has brought a lot of rich discussions around more #equity & #inclusion in our virtual spaces. 
                  • Kathleen Johnson @cavesandclimate: One great thing is that @UCIrvineGD provided summer funding to graduate students to help faculty with online course prep.  My student @paleopatt helped me develop awesome new labs, such as a virtual field trip focused on Orange County geology! Another great thing is the Zoom revolution! I've been able to stay much more connected to friends and colleagues across the world, and have attended incredible workshops and meetings that I would otherwise have missed!
                  • Leah Graniela-Loving @techbridgegirls: w/virtual educator trainings, instead of small regional groups we now bring educators together from multiple cities. A silver lining was the excitement generated at the Educator Orientation this fall & interest in creating an ongoing Professional Learning Community! 

                        Q5. Do you have a favorite or new back to school “get to know you”/ice breaker activity? 

                        • Leah Graniela-Loving @techbridgegirls: This awesome icebreaker shared by @aboutfacesf! 10 Things in Common: pair students up and give them 3 minutes to list 10 things they have in common. A great way to build community and break the “virtual” ice! 
                        • Dr. Maria Qadri @somebody_exotic: I'm generally not a fan of ice breakers - instead, I focus on voice (spoken or written) and feelings. When time allows, my favorite questions focus on short stories: What's the story of your name? What is outside your window? Such rich discussions follow. 

                        Q6. What has been the most helpful resource for you during this transition? 

                        • Dipayan Banerjee @Dipayan_B: Conversations with fellow PhD students, in my program and elsewhere – it’s always helpful to learn about how other people in my situation are handling the transition, and parts of other students' approaches can be useful to improve my own productivity.  
                        • Julie Posselt @JuliePosselt: Personally, the most important IGEN resource for me in 2020 has been camaraderie of colleagues. We are navigating the challenges of this year together. As a project, not gonna lie: We couldn’t do much without @zoom_us or @Google.  
                        • Kathleen Johnson @cavesandclimate: I am most thankful for the generous and knowledgeable community of fellow academics in my department, my campus, and online who have so kindly shared resources, provided technical assistance, and contributed to the sense of community during these challenging times! And on a more specific note, @nagtgeo Teach the Earth portal, is an incredible resource for teaching and learning Earth science, for professional development, and for fostering diversity and inclusion in STEM. #SERCcarleton 
                        • Dr. Maria Qadri @somebody_exotic: Also not a fan of resources and checklists without understanding the context. Short conversations with passionate individuals are more helpful and there are so many of them at @NSFINCLUDESHub 
                        • Leah Graniela-Loving @techbridgegirls: Honesty of our educators/girls! Because of COVID, TBG has taken a step back to ask how girls and educators need us right now. We’ve responded by shifting our program to be more experimental and flexible and done our best to listen, trust, and implement new ideas. 

                              Check out the full compilation of Tweets to read all responses to the questions above!