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A Look at Perusall for the Community College Population | Social Learning Amplified

 

In episode 5 of Social Learning Amplified, Eric Mazur talks with T. Adam Baldry and Brad Butler from Pima Community College about the innovative teaching tools they use at a community college level. They dive into their use of Perusall in their courses and the benefits students and instructors have with the platform.
 

Eric Mazur:

Welcome to the Social Learning Amplified podcast, the podcast that brings us candid conversations with educators who are finding new ways to engage and motivate their students inside and outside the classroom. Each episode of social learning amplified will give you real life examples and practical strategies you can put into practice in your own courses. Let's meet today's guests.

Welcome to Social Learning Amplified! I'm your host, Eric Mazur, and our guests on the episode today are Brad Butler and Adam Baldry, Instructional Technologists from Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona. Adam uses his 10 plus years of in-person and online teaching experience to inform his approach to EdTech management and innovation. Brad is an advocate for positive change that education can have on people and people's lives, and loves how technology can improve educational opportunities for everyone. Adam's background is in Asian Studies, and Brad holds a degree in secondary education and social sciences. It's a pleasure to have you both here today.

Brad Butler:

Thank you. It's great to be here.

Adam Baldry:

Yeah, thanks. It's really great to be here today.

Eric Mazur:

I first heard about your enthusiasm for EdTech in the podcast you made for the Perusall Exchange 2022, where you discuss what you call Magical Solutions for Dispelling Student Engagement. You know, magical solutions. Don't we all love those! I was, of course, particularly pleased that you singled out Perusall as one of those magical solutions. What makes Perusall magical?

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Brad Butler:

Yeah. Thanks for commenting us on our podcast. Adam and I had a great time making it part of our philosophy with kind of presenting information as we always want to make it entertaining for us to produce, and so hopefully entertaining for others to take in. And so as we were thinking about kinda student engagement on the community college level and kind of what tools that were being implemented at our college, Perusall just kind of jumped straight to the top of our heads when thinking about engagement. And specifically that we are piloting Perusall in several of our courses here at the college. And so with that pilot, we also include a student and instructor survey. And a lot of the feedback we got, especially from students, is just how Perusall helped them feel connected to their classmates, their peers, and then within that, just how much more engaged they were with their peers, and then also the content that they were reading inside Perusall. So just as we thought of that idea of engagement, Perusall, and kind of that, those survey responses that we saw really jumped to the forefront of our mind and made it easy for us to focus our podcast on that.

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Adam Baldry:

And why the magical, or how is it magical? I would say talking with instructors, they often were like, it's almost like magic. The the amount of time I'm saving by having Perusall and the kind of data that I get from looking at the students. And so that was one of our jumps, and we are both big fans of you know, fantasy. So we thought, why not run with that theme and highlight this tool?

Eric Mazur:

That's wonderful to hear. Now, you know, before instructors actually use Perusall, there has to be a reason for them to use it. So why are instructors at Piedmont Community Colleges using Perusall? What problem does it solve in their classrooms?

Brad Butler:

Yeah, that's a great way of putting it because part of Adam and my philosophy around technology tools is we only want to use and adopt technology tools that meet pedagogical needs of our instructors and learners. And so again, Perusall really was what some faculty turned to, even before Adam and I showed up at Pima Community College, there was a couple of instructors who identified Perusall as a means of answering some of those needs. And really what they were looking at and looking for were kind of the basics of what Perusall offers is how do I know my students are actually reading the content that I'm assigning them? And so Perusall allows for them to see that. And then also a part of that is just kind of how deep or how much interaction are they having or engagement are they having with the text that they're reading?

And then how can we utilize this tool Perusall to kind of start conversations around the text. So instead of students reading on their own and then maybe coming to class or maybe a Zoom environment in terms of discussion and just kind of starting that conversation within that meeting, the conversations around the text can actually happen within Perusall itself. And so kind of that precursor to the beginning of the conversation. And then also the big one was also being able to analyze or not analyze, being able to annotate texts and across different platforms, which again, is one of the things that Perusall offers within its platform.

Adam Baldry:

Yeah, and, and I would just add on there the, the idea that students are able to build a community. There was a need seen by instructors that we want our students, especially in the online environment, to feel connected to each other. You know, Pima Community College is a Hispanic serving institution. We work with a lot of low socioeconomic students that are coming from underserved communities and they need that community to stay connected and can to, you know, persevere and, and keep going. And that really seems to stand out to our instructors as something that Perusall is offering. The students are not just engaging with the text, but they're engaging with each other. And that's something that we mentioned in our in our podcast, right, is this idea that we were so surprised that how much and how often students were mentioning that they were building community and engaging with other students, and they saw that as a top benefit from using Perusall.

Eric Mazur:

I see. So there, there are sort of several questions that come my mind as I, I I listened to you here. The first one is, I hear that your instructors were already engaged in sort of a flipped approach to teaching. so that was already, there was already that pedagogy was already embedded on, on campus. Is that correct?

Brad Butler:

Yes, that's correct, yes. <laugh>

Eric Mazur:

That, that's wonderful to hear because I mean, even at my own institution that that's still meets so much resistance, you know, I mean is the instructor was to deliver the information and the student who was to learn the content not realizing that the understanding is built through discussion and that the information transfer is just that and information transfer. The, the other thing is, is you know, what type of courses was it being implemented in both, you know, the flipped learning and were these texts in the humanities or across all disciplines?

Brad Butler:

Well, I was just gonna say, it kinda goes back to what your, your previous question or kinda the point that you just made is actually, Perusall was adopted by an instructor within our humanities social studies history, to be exact, who's pretty on top of it when it comes to kind of new learn new teaching techniques and new tech teaching technologies. And so I think that's a big part of it too. And so her being willing to kind of take this on board before Adam and I were a part of Pima and really kind of being a big advocate for it, the problem being is that, you know, she's an instructor. As you fully realized, the time just kind of goes by so quickly. You don't really have time to really take on a tool and advocate it and like support it and really kinda help increase its usage on campus.

And so hopefully that's where, well, that's where Adam and I come in and kinda doing that, but having her being kind of that what we refer to kinda as the tech tech champion of a together tool really kind of helps move that movement in terms of what the tool offers. But then also, like you said kind of changing how teaching is happening at the community college level. And so that mindset of, you know, this is a different way of teaching and there's also tools out there that help support this, these different ways of, of teaching.

Eric Mazur:

So it said spreads from the social sciences to the natural sciences to the humanities.

Brad Butler:

We have it's more inhumanities, so we have some like sociology courses that are running it, and then a couple of writing programs I've started using it. We also have some interest from some reading programs on campus. We are really trying to reach out to kinda STEM courses to help increase the awareness of Perusall there and hopefully seeing some instructors adopt it within that particular programs and departments too. so really as we continue the pilot and as we get this data from our pilot and the success stories within the classrooms from the instructors and the students, really being able to use that to advocate it across different programs.

Adam Baldry:

And that's also part of our, our overall goal. Right now we have a Perusall and what we call a pilot. So we're doing a pilot of Perusall and we have been focused so far on the social sciences, so we wanted to kind of gather initial data, understand, right? We've been referring to our student surveys a little bit as we've been talking today. That's where that comes out of is we collect pilot data and try to understand the instructor and student experience. Now we have really, really strong data that shows that Perusall is effective. Our students want it in more of their courses at Pima Community College. It's helping them. They've expressed several benefits. So we have the data to show our leadership. We should be using this across the college. And so we're, we're aiming towards growing that into more areas. And we've begun kind of making contact with some of our deans and department heads, division heads and having those conversations.

Eric Mazur:

So does that mean that you're planning to institutionalize Perusall? And you know, I presume that that could meet with resistance from some instructors who really don't want anything about Perusall. What are your plans there?

Brad Butler:

Yeah, that's our ultimate goal is kind of identifying, you know, what Perusall offers and how it fits with in our institution and moving towards the kind of institutional wide usage. Adam and I are really strong advocates of not pushing technology on people. So this isn't something that's gonna be like, this is something you have to use. It's more of, this will help me resolve some of the challenges that I'm having in my courses, or maybe it's an answer to some of the things that I wanna do in my course as well. So, really nothing that we're going to push across, but really hopeful that it can be something that is utilized across the entirety of the college and being able to support that. With that though, just kind of continually growing its numbers given the support that we're providing, giving the resources that we will eventually provide right now it's in that pilot phase.

Next we would move it into more of a kind of a slow rollout phase where we would increase its usage and start developing our user support for it, it and kind of models of how to use it, implementation within our courses. And then hopefully if it moves beyond the soft launch, then kind of a hard launch where, hey, this is available college-wide, and where are the resources for you to come and figure out how to use it and kinda get best practices for it as well. Currently, because we are in the pilot mode it's mostly been utilized within inside of kind of live courses or hybrid courses. Adam and I work with a department that's a part of Pima online. And so the next phase for us is putting it into online courses, and we use a master course model. And so you have an instructor designer who works with a subject matter expert and they create a course, and that course can be utilized by multiple different faculty across multiple different semesters.

And so being able to implement Perusall into these master courses within these online courses is gonna be kind of our next big step. And we do have one example in a journalism class that did that last year. And so being able to use that as kinda the springboard to implementing it into more courses. And luckily the way and perfectly the way that Perusall is set up, it allows for that to happen within our master course model, which tends to kind of run into some difficulties with other technology tools, but with Perusall's ability to copy the library forward into another course, we just have to provide them with that course code, and then they can bring over all those documents, bring over all those assignments, and they're good to go. So thankfully Perusall is is a good technology in order to support our Masterforce model.

Eric Mazur:

I think, I think that what you said there makes a lot of sense, right? You can't shut down technology down people's throat. I mean, it's the pedagogy that has to be there first. And, and as we talked about earlier, it was the instructors who had already implemented Flipped Learning, who were the most likely candidates to adopt Perusall. So how many, how many instructors are participating in this pilot?

Brad Butler:

Currently, I think it's around 10 to 15 for Perusall. and so hopefully increasing that as we've been mentioning. and as you said, it's easy to find the, the instructors that are already kind of thinking outside the box or kind of the different teaching methods, but being able to use their examples and again, our data to then present it to maybe the more traditional teachers, the more traditional instructors, and getting them to kind of have that light bulb moment of like, hey, you know, maybe since this is working for other people, I could give it a try and might work for, you know, my specific course too. So really part of the next steps is gonna be kind of getting those examples, getting those supporting data, getting supporting data to be able to present to them. Because even going back to kind of the last question, it is still rough. When there is a campus-wide adoption of the technology, there's always gonna be those people that are kinda questioning why. But really that's the strength of our pilot program and that Adam mentioned is collecting that data and saying, Hey, this wasn't just a, a flippant kinda purchasing or adoption of a technology. Like we have the documentation, we have the data from within our institution, from our students, from our instructors that say this is a good tool and valuable to our classrooms and to our learners.

Eric Mazur:

So, you know, turning to to Adam, how is Perusall being implemented? The reason why I'm asking is this, I heard from an instructor at a community college, I forgot her name now, but she was essentially implementing Perusall in a way that I had never imagined in an online course, right? The way I had originally conceived of the idea was that, you know, I was engaged in flipped learning. I wanted to have the active learning in the classroom and information transfer out of the classroom. So Perusall in a certain sense, became the asynchronous online component of my class so that I could do more meaningful things in the classroom. This instructor, however, made Perusall the classroom for her online course. This is where the students interacted with each other online. So for the online course, Perusall was not the sort of pre-class engagement, but it became the class. I would love to hear from you how instructors at Pima Community College are, are, are implementing Perusall.

Adam Baldry:

Absolutely. Yeah, it's a great question. it immediately brought to mind this instructor we would talk about Kim Lisa Alazar. She shared with us in our podcast that we did for Perusall Exchange, this really wonderful experience that she has in her classroom. and it's only grown since. So we just had a conversation with her recently, how that has improved. So what she's shared in our podcast is that the idea that the students are really billing community they're engaging with each other like they would in a, in a regular class, but in some ways at a deeper level than they, than often many students are willing to do because of maybe social anxiety or other things of being there in person. But they're very engaged online. and the amount of comments, you know, she compared it to the number of comments she gets in a discussion, just the regular discussion board in our LMS versus in Perusall.

It's just amplified and absolutely just wonderful for her to see. And then the accountability that they hold each other to. So they had she addresses some political topics that can be kind of divisive and one student made a comment that other students felt went too far and said, Hey, I think you've gone too far on this. And she addressed it with the student, and the student realized that they had gone too far, apologized to the rest of the class, and they all grew together. So it, it's something that is really a legitimate replacement for that simulation of being in class, being in person, learning those interpersonal skills in that online space, all while discussing these interesting topics that are relevant to their courses. So it's really quite nice to see. And since then she's actually begun pairing Perusall with another technology and has found that that has also amplified. So students are now starting conversations in Perusall, and then she has another discussion tool she uses with it, and now they're diving in even deeper. And so she's finding that when paired up with other tools, doing this kind of app smashing that some is sometimes talked about, she's finding a lot of success. So it's really exciting to see, you know, that there's, students are engaging in some ways, a lot more meaningfully and a lot more prevalent. They're doing more engagement than they typically would even in an in-person class.

Eric Mazur:

So going back to something you said earlier, Brad, you talked about, you know, using this pilot to collect data, and I, I think that's great because data and, you know, research is what lays the foundation for an informed implementation and will, will help. I, I presume you want to make these, these instructors who are participating in pilots, sort of evangelists on, on your campus. And if they can show with data, you know, the success of implementing Perusall, that's wonderful. What, what kind of data and what have you learned from those data?

Brad Butler:

Yeah, so we kinda use a mixture of quantitative and qualitative. We send out a survey that students reply to, and then also the instructors have an example or a, a survey that they answer. so the first part of it is just kind of usability of, of Perusall. So just kind of giving us any ideas because we are the team that supports Perusall, we're also looking at how can we make it easier for, for learners or instructors to get in and use, use Perusall. But then we also ask about, you know, does it help you in your analyzation of documents? Does it help you with your analytical reading? And then getting into, you know, some quant or some qualitative of, you know, how has Perusall helped you out? that's where we get a lot of the unsolicited. When we first started out, we weren't really looking specifically at how Perusall built community, but over and over and over again in the student responses, they kept talking about community.

And so being able to kinda use the combination of both sides of those to kinda see where Perusall is impacting students. So it's kinda a mixture of, you know, how are you being able to use a tool, is the, the tool you know, effective from your, from your mindset, kind of based on when you started using it towards the end of the semester. And then we love hearing from the students because that's where we get those specific examples of either things that we could help with to make, you know, Perusall a little bit easier to learn or utilize or just the overall impact that that Perusall is having. And then even one of the questions centers around, you know, would you rather use Perusall instead of like the, the discussion board within inside of D2L. So just kind of more specific pointed questions just to see. And then also as Adam mentioned earlier, you know how would you or would you prefer, or would you like for Perusall to be utilized in other courses across, across the college that you have taken or you'll be taking? So kind of using a combination of the two. and we utilize the same survey across, across the different semesters just to make sure that we get the kinda same feedback and kinda the same diagnostics of it.

Eric Mazur:

Right. So in closing, and I think you've already alluded to some of this, but it'd be nice to hear sort of this as a closing comment for our podcast today. What are the, the next steps for Perusall at Pima Community College or, you know, are there things you would like Perusall to do, which it doesn't do yet? Maybe I can have both of you competent that briefly starting with Adam.

Adam Baldry:

Yeah, so our plan is we're looking at what we called earlier soft launch. So we'll begin making it more widely available and actively be working with unit leadership around our college to identify instructors that would be interested in piloting courses that they feel like they want to build more community, or they're having certain pedagogical pain points that we feel Perusall may be a solution for. and then from there what we'll do is we have a we like to provide a zero memorization knowledge base that's specific to our institution. So Brad and I would work over the summer to flush something like that out so that our instructors have very tailored specific documentation to help 'em with anything they would need with Perusall, with a name to do kind of a hard launch, hopefully in the fall you know, following good data from the soft launch. So we're, we're, we're ready to move forward from this pilot that we've been saying and, and start to scale up. so we're gonna be working towards that.

Eric Mazur:

That's wonderful, Brad.

Brad Butler:

Yeah, so just as Adam mentioned, just looking forward to more courses utilizing it, and as you said earlier, just kind of seeing how different instructors embrace Perusall and the different ways that they use it. that's something that Adam and I love to, to see and learn about is just kinda the innovative uses of our technology tools. A lot of times tools are meant to do one thing or a couple of things, and then you have those outside the box thinkers who embrace it and take it and kind of use it in an interesting way and just how can we build on that or how could other instructors build on that? So far we've loved the new features that Perusall has come out with. I remember at my last institution, we also used Perusall and instructor was, was struggling with like, how do I present podcasts in a manner that I know students are engaging with them and how can they interact with them and interact with others?

And that's when I noticed that you, Perusall had added the podcast feature, the documentation within Podcasts. So I think just having all those different types of documents with inside Perusall can also benefit benefit instructors because it doesn't have to be reading after reading a text over and over. They could also provide them with video and podcasts and it's in a familiar tool. It's not a new learning curve that students have to go in and learn a new tool. It's something that they're familiar with if you have implemented Perusall from the beginning in your course.

Eric Mazur:

Well, that's absolutely wonderful and I look forward to hearing about your scale up efforts over the summer. So please do stay in touch. Thank you for listening. And thank you to our guests, Adam Baldry and Brad Butler. Thank you so much for joining today. You can find our podcast and more on Perusall.com/SocialLearningAmplified one word. Please subscribe to make sure you don't miss any episodes, and I hope you will join us again on our next episode. Social Learning Amplified is sponsored by Perusall, the social learning platform that motivates students by increasing engagement, driving collaboration, and building community through your favorite course content. To learn more, join us at one of our introductory webinars. Visit perusall.com to learn more and register.

 

 

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