With coronavirus closing down universities and colleges worldwide, instructors are frantically transitioning to teaching online courses. To give you some encouragement and tips, we’re sharing our interview with Tierney Barcarse.
Tierney is in the Department of Special Education at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. And working within a state that spans eight islands in the Pacific Ocean, she knows a few things about utilizing online resources to instruct and prepare teacher candidates.
Whether you’re just trying to survive social distancing, have a keen interest in online education, or want to know what it’s like to teach in paradise, I know you’ll find her insights useful. Let’s jump right into my conversation with Tierney.
Tierney, we’re so glad that you’re here with us because I’m sure all of our listeners have dreamed about working and living in Hawaii. But I’m sure the reality is a bit different from the fantasy. So can you tell us a little bit about the University of Hawaii, how it’s similar to probably programs that are in Midwest or East Coast United States, and how it’s unique? (00:42 – 01:04)
Tierney Barcarse: It really is paradise. When people ask, “What’s the weather like?” It really is wonderful. It is, generally speaking, always perfect. I think we’re voted every year as having one of the most beautiful campuses, and I wouldn’t say it’s because of the architecture of the buildings or even the resources necessarily, but definitely walking outside and around the grounds, Manoa is one of the most beautiful places in the world. That being said, I’m almost never there because I’m at home all the time. I think one of the things that we’ve gotten to be very good at the University of Hawaii is making sure that we are serving remote or rural areas because we’re an unusual state in that we’re completely spread out. (01:05 – 01:54)
The University of Hawaii at Manoa is making sure that we are serving remote or rural areas because we're an unusual state. We're completely spread out.—Tierney Barcarse #OnlineTeaching #TeacherPreparation Click To Tweet
The University of Hawaii at Manoa is our major university. And it’s a research one university. It’s a land grant, sea grant, air grant university. So typically all of the students, if they’re not going away, are moving over to O‘ahu. We also have other universities on other islands. For example, I went to the University of Hawaii at Hilo for my undergrad and it feeds indirectly with, and so do all the community colleges. They all feed indirectly with the UH System, so everything is very connected and we all, I think, work quite well together. (01:55 – 2:34)
Do you feel like there are any challenges that come with your landscape being so unique? Are there any specific challenges that your college of education faces? (02:35 – 02:43)
Tierney Barcarse: Yes. I’m also a doc student so I can tell you from firsthand experience. One of the challenges that we face here in Hawaii is in order to attend your state university to go for higher education that’s not accessible to you, if the program is not online, you have to go there face-to-face. So you either need to pick up and move, which then begs the question of if you have to pick up and move your family, would you stay in-state or would you go somewhere else? Because you now have all of these different opportunities and if you want to stay in-state, and a lot of times we do because to move away across an ocean, across the continent, it is difficult. Then we either need to move to O‘ahu or we need to fly out. For example, every week I fly out to go to my classes at UH Manoa, which is an added expense every single time. Because that’s something that, it’s not folded into the cost of tuition and it’s not something that you would be able to use financial aid for. (02:44 – 03:55)
So how does student teaching and fieldwork with teacher education work then? Because normally you try going out to different school districts, and if school districts go to different islands, how do you manage that? (03:56 – 04:11)
Tierney Barcarse: We have a field placement coordinator that basically keeps in touch with all of the schools across the state. The state of Hawaii is unique in that we’re the only state that is one system. Our districts are part of our state system, which is really nice. It has its pros and its cons, just like the other systems. But in terms of collaboration and communication, it makes it quite easy to keep similar systems in place. That’s one of the reasons I get to live on the Big Island—because we have a high population of students that are going to school online through our programs that are half online, partially face-to-face. And then field supervision, they get to stay in their communities that they live in and do their student teaching there. (04:12 – 05:02)
With the students that you have on your island, do you still do a lot of in-person observations or do you still do it remotely because an island still is rather large, right? (05:03 – 05:13)
Tierney Barcarse: It is. I live on the Big Island, so to travel between it is about two and a half hours from side to side. But there are field supervisors that were flying all over between different islands. I don’t fly as much because I live off-Island, but there are field supervisors that are on O‘ahu that do need to fly to the other islands. And some are very remote. There are some places where you can only get to it by treacherous car ride or by plane. (05:14 – 05:50)In Hawaii, there are some places where the field supervisors can only get to it by treacherous car ride or by plane.—Tierney Barcarse #TeachingOnline #TeacherPreparation Click To Tweet
Tierney Barcarse: By plane. Yeah. The Road to Hana, I don’t know if you’ve heard about that. That’s on Maui. And if you go by plane, for example, there’s no rental car agency there, so your student has to pick you up, take you, and then you’re there all day until they’re done working and then take you back on a plane. So it makes it difficult to be productive with your time if you’re having to travel all over the place. (05:52 – 06:17)
Tierney Barcarse: One of the things that came in last semester as a pilot for us was GoReact. GoReact allowed us to have the students situate a camera while they’re teaching and we could be there live. We could be there pre-recorded afterward, but we could also be there live. I could give feedback directly as the lesson was going, I could tag everything. So all of the things I would manually do, which were important, but I would have to do manually calculate how many times they did this strategy or whatever. I could just tag them and align it directly to my rubric. I could then schedule a time to debrief with them in our typical online environment that we already had. (06:18 – 07:06)
The better part, I think beyond just the convenience for me and the exponential increase in my productivity with reducing travel time, was when I was debriefing and conversations with my students, I could say, “Oh, well how do you think that this went?” And they’re like, they could say, “Oh, I wish I did something better or I wish I had a data collection sheet because this behavior came up and I would’ve liked to be able to track some of that.” And I could say, “well, you can because we have it recorded.” (07:07 – 07:37)
What I want you to do in terms of reflecting on your teaching is go back and take a look at the lesson, not just how I saw it through my eyes in the debrief with you, but you can actually see how I saw it because I’m tagging it all along the way, giving you feedback at the direct time that it happened. But you can also see it from another set of eyes, which is the camera’s eyes, and start collecting some of that data to drive your instruction beyond just how do you think it felt or how it went. That has made the future lessons just so much easier to target specific things that I want to work out with my students. (07:38 – 08:20)
It sounds like you live in such a unique place that you’ve really adopted some amazing technology and a different way of doing things if you’re all connected throughout all the islands. I noticed about a third of the courses that you’ve taught are online and I read that you completed a six-week course through the University of New South Wales for teaching online courses. And it’s becoming a much more important topic. So as an expert on teaching online courses, do you have any advice for professors that are trying to improve their online courses? (08:50 – 09:29)
Tierney Barcarse: Yes. I think I’ve taken this same perspective that I had, whether it was face-to-face or teaching online courses. But I merged it over online and that’s if you are bringing everyone together, if you’re bringing students to come together, adults, where they could read the material and for the most part could understand that and could apply it, then there’s no point in regurgitating that information. They’re adults. They should have been able to read it and make sense of it. If I’m dragging everybody at night after they’ve all worked all day long and they’re exhausted, then it has to be incredibly meaningful for them and it has to go beyond what I could do in a one-on-one phone call with them. So I want them working together. I want them collaborating together, I want them engaged with their peers as much as possible. (09:30 – 10:22)Online courses must go beyond what I could do in a one-on-one phone call. I want them working and collaborating together. I want them engaged with their peers as much as possible.—Tierney Barcarse #TeachingOnline Click To Tweet
Tierney Barcarse: That was something that I was really, it was important for me when I was doing adult learning outside of teaching online courses and became even more important when I moved online. But it became more difficult because when you move everybody into breakout rooms, it’s easy to meander through the room and listen in on the discussions. But then when you move them into breakup rooms, they go into their own very separate quiet room. Then you pop in like this supreme being in their classroom and they all stop like, “Oh no, she’s listening.” Where before you were in their periphery, so they always knew you were there. You also have to develop a sense of culture and relationship in your online environment. That really works. You have to work so much harder than in-person. That’s one big thing that I think is really important to me and moving to online. (10:23 – 11:19)
How do you develop that culture so they don’t feel like you’re imposing on them when you join their peer sessions? (11:20 – 11:27)
Tierney Barcarse: I don’t know. I think every semester is different because they’re different. Last semester, for example, I had a really small group and I think it’s harder with small groups. I like lots of classes, lots of students, lots of discussions. I had about four students and after the first class was like, “Wow, you guys didn’t smile or laugh. I laugh at my own jokes, I really hope you guys start laughing.” And it took them about to like mid-semester until they started laughing and joking and I was like, “Yeah, okay now we can have some fun!” (11:28 – 12:09)
Sometimes there are just boring topics and there are just really boring classes. Sometimes I have content where it’s like, ah, “We got to get through this, I’m going to get through it with you guys.” But it really is just like any other relationship. You just have to find the ebb and flow of it and try to see what’s going to work with everybody. Not everything is going to work with everybody. So you have to adjust. You cannot expect your audience to adjust. (12:10 – 12:36)
I like that having that marker of laughter. So you know when you finally arrived at a moment where you and your students can connect. Any other tips on teaching online courses? (12:37 – 12:49)
Tierney Barcarse: Be available as often as you can. The thing that I tell all of my students at the very beginning is most of them in our program are a second career. They’re working all day or they’re emergency-hired teachers because we have such a major shortage, and when they are working all day, they’re getting online to do their homework or get onto class. So it’s the evening. Right when you’re sitting down to class, that’s when you’re thinking about everything. So you suddenly have questions for your instructor because you want clarification and then you send an email. I usually don’t get it till the next morning if I’m checking my email, which means you don’t get a response, which then means 24 hours later you can do your assignment. Which is really difficult because once you’re in the flow of something, you want to keep going. (12:50 – 13:40)As an online instructor, be available as often as you can to your students.—Tierney Barcarse #TeachingOnline #TeacherPreparation Click To Tweet
So having this type of alternative schedule makes it difficult for the students. I think in terms of advice, I have just learned that you have to consider your own boundaries with that. But what I tell my students is if you have a question, I really don’t care what time of day it is or when it is, go ahead and call me or text me. If I am available, I will pick up the phone and answer it and if I am not available, I’m just not available and so you’ll get an answer within 24 hours. But usually, I’m a night owl at work anyway and so if they’re text messaging at 10 o’clock, they’ll get a response back typically. I think my students really appreciate that because they’re on an alternative program, which means an alternative schedule and me being available to help answer whatever questions they have just makes, I think, the whole online environment easier to move through. (13:41 – 14:38)
That makes a lot of sense. And maybe it actually is another way of building a better relationship with online students who you don’t have a physical presence with. Just allowing them access to your personal phone number when you’re teaching online courses. (14:39 – 14:52).
I have a question about the future. Now I’m not going to require you to be an accurate soothsayer, but imagine we’re 10 years in the future. What would be different in teacher preparation programs? (15:17 – 15:32)
Tierney Barcarse: How much time do you have? I know that everything will be moving definitely online in terms of just where the world is going. And I do hope that in teacher prep we’re able to adjust to that movement and also learn and change the way that we do our engagement strategies. It’s a different set of kids that are coming up and how they are engaged and they’re adults coming up rate. So I think teacher prep is going to change. How it changes, I couldn’t tell you, but I am excited about the changes. Everything that comes along, I just sit there going, oh, “Can I play with this new tool?” or “How can I get that new tool and could we integrate this new tool?” (15:33 – 16:21)Everything is moving online. And I do hope that in teacher prep we're able to adjust to that movement and also learn and change the way that we do our engagement strategies.—Tierney Barcarse #TeacherPreparation Click To Tweet
I think the other difficulty in all of that is finding the time to be able to sit and practice embedding all of these pieces in. Because whenever I do, it’s always this slow start with a lot of problems and a lot of frustrated students and me apologizing saying, “Okay, you guys, we’re going to get this better next time. Let’s just see how it works.” And it usually works out. (16:22 – 16:45)
One of the final questions I want to ask you, we ask all of our guests on the podcast and it is, if you had a magic wand to change one thing about teacher education in the United States, what would it be? (16:46 – 16:59)
Tierney Barcarse: I think creating a space where, I just don’t know how this would happen in terms of time and money, but for me, what I would really benefit from is just having the same observational feedback cycle. And we have access to it at UH. It’s certainly not something that’s not already there, but I can contact the teaching and learning center and say, “Hey, can you guys observe my classroom? Can you survey my students? What could make me a better teacher?” But I think even beyond that, the ability to have consistent PLCs like K-12 teachers do, where you get to course plan and really look at, and it’s time and money that I think really are the reasons why those things don’t happen as frequently as I would like. (17:00 – 17: 51)
That’s an interesting answer. I wasn’t expecting that. It’s really insightful. We also do a bit of a lightning round. Have you ever heard of a lightning round when you’ve listened to a podcast? (17:52 – 18:02)
Tierney Barcarse: No. And I’m feeling like this is going down the route of speed dating. So I’m a little nervous. (18:03 – 18:07)
No, no, no. No speed dating involved. So basically what it is is, I’m just going to pump a few questions at you and I want you to do one word or one-sentence answers.
Favorite conference to attend? (18:10 – 18:19)
Tierney Barcarse: Oh, TED. Teacher Education Division by the Council for Exceptional Children, the best. (18:20 – 18:25)
The best movie you’ve seen in the past year? (18:26 – 18:29)
Tierney Barcarse: I don’t get to see movies. But every once in a while, and I don’t have cable TV, but every once in a while I’ll watch Netflix and I’ve just been watching The Witcher. (18:30 – 18:40)
Your most trusted teaching resource?
Tierney Barcarse: Right now it’s GoReact. She, I call her “she” . . . She’s my best friend. She’s made it very easy for me to do different things and so we’ve been getting along very well for a while now. (18:43 – 18:57)
And one piece of advice you would give to preservice teachers in special education? (18:58 – 19:06)
Tierney Barcarse: That everything that you do really should always be, is what I’m doing making a difference and what evidence do I have for that? (19:07 – 19:16)
Okay. 100/100, you did great. You passed the lightning round. (19:17 – 19:21)
Are there any questions that I didn’t ask you that you wanted to talk about? Any words of wisdom you want to impart? (19:24 – 19:30)
Tierney Barcarse: One of the things that you asked were three pieces of advice to give someone starting a career at teacher preparation. I don’t know that I have three pieces of advice, but I do have one in terms of if you’re starting a career at teacher prep. It’s something that I feel really strongly about as a teacher of teacher candidates. I think when I first started, I got a little lost in the idea that they’re my client and they’re the person that I want to make sure is at the forefront of my mind and they are at the forefront of my mind. But one of the things that I reconnected and came back to, is, as a person in teacher preparation, the person that’s at the forefront of my mind is always that K-12 student who actually doesn’t have a voice to advocate for themselves. (19:31 – 20:22)In teacher preparation, the person that’s at the forefront of my mind is always that K-12 student who actually doesn’t have a voice to advocate for themselves. —Tierney Barcarse #TeacherPreparation Click To Tweet
When I’m looking at teacher candidates and their readiness, I’m not just looking at their readiness in terms of the skills that you can read and you can learn about. I’m also looking at the professional dispositions that this person who’s going to be alone with children—and the most vulnerable population of children: students with disabilities. And so I’m always keeping that in mind that my client really at the end of the day when I call myself a teacher is that that child in K-12 education with a disability. That really helps me focus and center the way I design my coursework, the way I design the engaging activities that I’m trying to do with my adult learners and always bringing them back to who that child, that vulnerable population is. (20:23 – 21:13)
That’s a wonderful purpose and way of looking at being a supervisor. I really love that. Thank you so much for joining us. (21:14 – 21:20)
Tierney Barcarse: Thank you. (21:22)
That’s it for today. Don’t forget to subscribe. If you like what you heard, please rate and review this podcast to help others find us. The Teacher Education Podcast is brought to you by GoReact. This episode was hosted Hillary Gamblin and produced by Danielle Burt, Joseph Winter, and Jordan Harris. Chad Jardine is our executive producer. Guests on the podcast are expressing personal opinions for informational purposes only. They’re not acting as official representatives for their universities or organizations.