Faculty Innovations in Teaching, Ep. 1 with Stephanie Margolin

Gina Riley: Welcome to Faculty Innovations in Teaching, a podcast by ACERT, the Academic Center for Excellence in Research and Teaching at Hunter College. I’m Gina Riley, ACERT senior Faculty Fellow, and this season’s host of Faculty Innovations in Teaching!

During this first season, we’ll hear from full and part time Hunter College faculty who during the Spring 2023 semester participated in our ACERT podcast club. Members of the Transformative Listening Podcast Club, created thanks to the support of the CUNY Transformative Learning in the Humanities initiative and the Provost’s Office at Hunter, listened to podcast episodes spanning the areas of engagement, classroom culture, and assessment. Based on their listening, they created innovative teaching practices which were utilized in their actual classrooms. In this podcast, members of the Club will share their learnings and their insights on transformative teaching! We hope you enjoy!


Gina Riley: Do you want to introduce yourself?

Stephanie Margolin: Sure, my name is Stephanie Margolin. I work in the library, I’m proudly a tenured faculty member. I’ve been at Hunter for about 10 years and I’ve been on the ACERT  Steering Committee almost the whole time I’ve been at Hunter. So that is a big thing for me.

Gina: I love that. When you’re at the library, what’s your favorite thing to do?

Stephanie: The library, like my workplace or the library, like when I go there for fun?

Gina: Both.

Stephanie: It is weird when the library is your workplace, right? Because we’re all library people. At work, I think my favorite things are to work collaboratively with my colleagues. I do a lot of that, and I really like working with students. I do a lot of one-on-one consultations with students, which is my favorite. In a classroom, I do not always see the learning happen, but when I’m one on one with somebody, I always see the light bulb go on. If I would just go to a library, I would probably go there to do my own research or reading. So that’s what would get me really excited.

Gina: Love it, love it, love it. We were so excited to have you participate in our ACERT Podcast Club and then at the end of the Club, we had everyone create a lightning talk about a teaching transformation they created after listening to all those podcasts in the Club. So can you tell us about your creation?

Stephanie: Sure. I would first say that – I imagine everyone’s like this – but for me listening to the podcasts on a regular basis, I found myself incorporating things right away, right? And so it was actually kind of challenging to think about which things did I want to incorporate officially. Officially I was working on: the library has a one-credit class on information research, and I was working on that. Our class is online asynchronous and I teach it with somebody else. I have also spent a lot of time sending her podcasts. So we did some things right away. I was very interested in the idea of feedforward. One thing that I did was I stopped correcting students for what they did wrong in the past and tried to start to move forward to “when you do the next exercise, please make sure that you do this…”

Gina: Yeah, it’s almost like teaching life-coaching.

Stephanie: Right. And I also liked the idea that when you’re giving feedback, you’re only giving feedback for one thing. But we have not yet fully implemented that. That’s part of what’s coming. This past semester while we were doing the Podcast Club, we also made a couple of changes to our course. One thing that’s really important in the research process is a good research question and we only had one lesson about a research question. Students wrote research questions and then we left it alone until the end of the semester. So we were like, that can’t be good. So what we did was after we did it once and then after maybe four or five weeks, we brought it back as mini-lessons. And the first mini-lesson we did was go look at your old research question, keep it or leave it; write it again and then look at someone else’s. We used Padlet, and so they did self-evaluation, then they did peer evaluation (look at someone else’s), and then the following week we said, shoot us a “before” and “after.” So shoot us what you had last week and then shoot us what you want to change it to now that you’ve gotten this feedback, and your feedback from your peer. And so that’s only at that point that we gave them some ideas about their research question and then we had them reflect on that process.

We felt we were super, super successful in our research questions and then when we got to the final, they just used the research question. We didn’t grade it anymore, and then for the final, content-wise it was probably not that different, but we framed it differently. We said: here are the seven most important exercises you did this semester, choose four of them. And we made what we did, which I feel came from these podcasts, a really strong emphasis on when you’re making that choice, choose wisely what you were good at. We want to really see you shine, we want everyone to do well, so pick the exercises that you do best.

We really leaned on office hours, we gave them plenty of opportunity to come and talk to us or email us with questions. So no one should have chosen something that they weren’t good at and it was open book, they had their old feedback, whatever we had told them before about how to improve that work.

That was good, but we are trying really hard to make really big changes for the fall. So one thing that came from the Podcast Club, we’re asking people the purpose, their purpose for being in the class right away. And we’ll ask that repeatedly throughout. We’re also going to because of that purpose, we’re going to ask them to think about two tracks, because we get a lot of seniors. So if you’re a senior, maybe you don’t need the more academic research, maybe you need the life research. So think about what’s really useful to you and whenever we give you that option, choose the one that’s better for you. We’re also trying to be much more explicit about the learning outcomes and which activities go with those learning outcomes. And if an activity doesn’t go with any learning outcomes, we’re getting rid of it, right? Even if we love it and it’s fun, we need to make everything useful while we’re going.

I think we’re going to have some of these revisits like we did with the research questions, because that was really successful and that also breaks up the lessons, so it’s not all about one thing. And where we do those revisions, will let that be the assessment, right? And we are still figuring out what flavor of ungrading we can engage in this time, because we do want to do something. We want it to be purposeful. We’re thinking about having it. We liked that pie chart. My colleague really loved the pie chart. So we’re thinking about saying: here’s the five learning outcomes, maybe choose the three that you want to work the hardest on and then choose the two or three that you will de-emphasize and then do the work appropriately to that.

Gina: The class feels so purposeful and it feels so full of choice and it feels so full of the fact that you can choose your purpose, right? Or choose why you’re here and really talk about that. I think that’s really important.

Stephanie: Yeah, I think so. And the other thing that was really helpful to me, which was just from talking to other colleagues in the department. We were thinking about “mastery” and people said: it just has to be “improvement.” So I feel like that’s like a big change in mindset for us as we teach it.

Gina: So funny because we do that in the School of Ed. We’re always thinking we have to train teachers, they have to be master teachers when they get into the classroom and that’s not how it works. Students are going to come in and they’re going to be beginner teachers and they’re going to learn on the job. So we train, but they actually learn while working, too. We’re not teaching to mastery per se. We’re teaching for growth.

Stephanie: Right. Which makes it harder to make those rubrics.

Gina: Yeah, it makes it super hard. No one’s going to get an exemplary problem.

Stephanie: Right. But it gives us more realistic expectations and hopefully the students too.

Gina: I love that. So, what are you most excited about in the fall semester for you and for your students?

Stephanie: Oh, it’s so funny. I was thinking about this because in the summer I’m always like, next Fall I’m going to be so organized. It’s going to be like lightning, it’s going to be amazing. So, so, so organized and so productive. Of course it doesn’t ever happen like that, but that is my hope. For my students, I’ll say I’m a little nervous about the fall semester because last fall, fall 22, was super challenging. It was challenging for students and that made it more challenging for us. In an online course, we lost several students who just stopped showing up and we did not have that in the spring. And so I feel like there’s only so much that we can do in terms of how we set up our class. So I hope our students this time will come to us with more peace and in a better place than last fall, because it’s hard to help in those situations.

Gina: It’s so funny that you say that because I just had a class and I told my students it was going to be online. I told my students, don’t ghost me, whatever you do, I’m here to support but don’t just leave, and let me wonder where you are.

Stephanie: And you know, I would say we had at least four or five in the fall and in the spring we had one or two who maybe missed twice and we reached out to them a lot and it worked and they came back and that is just a different student, right? That wouldn’t have worked in the fall because we did all the same things. But yeah, it’s really hard.

Gina: I always ask my teachers about a teaching wish list. If you had an unlimited budget and if you had unlimited time and space, what would you want to provide to your students?

Stephanie: I mean, I think if I had an unlimited budget, I would just have so many more teaching librarians available to our students. And I would just have, like we said, the one on one works really well, making those connections where you shoot someone an email or reach out to them in some way, because I think that way too often, I’m sure this is true with faculty who teach other things too, but way too often whether they’re in a library class or not, they just don’t know the help that we can provide them with in the library. And I would say, it’s like you said about the coaching, it is a lot of coaching, but also still those are skills and you can’t learn it ahead of time, you have to learn it in the moment. And so I just wish we had so many more people that could be connecting with students. I think that’s what I really wish. I don’t think that it’s a pedagogical thing, the pedagogy would work, right? It’s just we need more connections and more people.

Gina: Yeah, I love that. I love the focus on connection. Because I know to go to the library because you’re there. So, do you listen to podcasts outside of Podcast Club, and if so, which ones are your favorites?

Stephanie: I will tell you, this is a funny story, this year in the winter, I guess for the holidays, I told my husband, I want ear buds because I walk a lot. I always felt it was too dangerous and now that I have them, I listen to things all the time. Now, I never listen to work podcasts. I love The Moth because I like storytelling and, depending on the guest, I like SmartLess and my husband and I were joking because he was like, what’s the name of the podcast you’re going on? [And I said] I’m not sure, but I wish it was SmartLess.

Gina: I love that. We don’t have a name yet but we need a name and it should be SmartLess. 

Stephanie: The TV show Succession I came to that late, and I couldn’t read the stuff in the news because I didn’t want to get spoilers. So I found a podcast that started at the beginning so I could get that kind of pop culture stuff but I gave up on them because we had a difference of opinion.

Gina: I listen to reality TV podcasts. I like that element of fantasy reality TV stuff.

Stephanie: I was really happy to get the podcasts that you all share because I never listened to podcasts about work. And I thought it was really challenging because I listen when I walk and you get great ideas and you can’t really write them down and then I come back and I turn it off and I forget about it and every time we had a meeting, I don’t remember what it was about.

Gina: Everyone asked, “Oh which podcast did you listen to?” And then I had to go back to the list and I’m like, oh, yeah, I remember I listened to that one.

Stephanie: Like the one where they asked what kind of tea people are drinking and they loved that. We are not drinking tea. We are both drinking water. We’re both super hydrated.

Gina: So you have been at Hunter for a long time, and so if there was one piece of advice you could give to an instructor or a new professor here, whether in the library or not, what would be that one gem of wisdom?

Stephanie: For sure come to the library. I think that that is a place to make connections. But I think for me, really going to ACERT was a place to make connections and then finding out what’s interesting to you, whether it’s people that are interesting or activities that are interesting. I feel like that’s a really fruitful network for me. I think that it’s the connections that make you want to stay and make the job easier. So I think those are two good places I know to make connections.

Gina: That’s the best piece of advice ever.

Stephanie: Oh, thanks.

Gina: So this has been so much fun. We did it, we did it!


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