Jody Greene is the last person you would think would be the founding director of the Center for Innovations in Teaching and Learning (CITL) at UC Santa Cruz. She will tell you that herself. She’s old-school and appreciates the traditions of centuries-old learning structures, like having a professor walk into a room and lecture for over an hour.

With her work in CITL, Greene morphs those traditions into learning for the 21st century.

“Innovation and tradition has been how I approach my work at CITL,” Greene said in a Zoom interview. “I’m an 11th-century pedagogue. We can take our traditional structures of education, and still innovate and build on those structures to better help the student.”

According to its website, CITL, founded in 2016, focuses on being the forefront of modern education through learning environments that enable holistic instruction outcomes digitally. CITL provides resources that help faculty engage with their students in new ways, and gives them a framework for how to talk about difficult topics. For instance, Greene recently sent out an email to faculty outlining how to discuss the Derek Chauvin trial with students.

While innovation is a part of CITL’s title, this doesn’t necessarily refer to technology. Some of the innovations in learning that CITL focuses on is how to educate and how to learn, rather than implementing the newest technological advancements in the classroom. They work to understand what roadblocks certain students experience when learning new material, and how courses can be designed to help support them.

There are structural barriers in higher education for students, particularly low-income students and students of color, who disproportionately lack access to resources that would support their learning, like a stable internet connection, technology that can bolster Zoom meetings, and safe workplaces that foster learning. Higher education has long been an exclusionary institution that alienates these students and promotes a history of white-oriented education.

Greene has spent much of her work at CITL identifying where such roadblocks exist and creating ways to help support students through pedagogical resources to faculty and course design. Her focus has been on equity, making sure each student has the opportunity to learn in the way that best helps them.

“Jody Greene is the strongest ally students have on campus,” said astronomy and astrophysics professor Enrico Ramriez-Ruiz, who met Greene while working as a fellow for CITL during its inception. “Particularly those with less power, because she is able to amplify their voices and demand change.”

As CITL has been working toward an equitable learning environment at UCSC over the past few years, in March 2020, they had another responsibility — helping faculty switch to a primarily online university.

A Very Stressful Week

The transition to online learning was not easy. As winter finals loomed, the university had to completely transform itself to exist in an online format.

“None of us got a lot of sleep that week,” said Vice Provost of Academic Affairs Herbie Lee. “Jody Greene and [Director of Online Education] Michael Tassio worked with their teams to move the whole campus over and help all the faculty immediately switch to online instruction.”

As the Academic Senate was making policy decisions to help support students and faculty transition to online learning, Jody Greene and Michael Tassio focused on pedagogy. Unprompted, they organized the Instructional Continuity group, made of faculty members ranging from the humanities to the science departments, and began figuring out what learning was going to look like under the new conditions. In those early stages, a lot needed to be figured out.

“We didn’t even have Zoom licenses at that time,” said Greene. “We needed to help support the faculty, many of whom never had experience with online learning.”

In a short time, CITL became a prime resource for faculty, situated as one of the only places at the university that knew how to create effective online courses. Guides were created for professors — how to use Zoom, how to use Canvas, how to use Yuja, and how to pre-record lectures.

It wasn’t just a technological change that needed to happen — a pedagogical one needed to happen too. You couldn’t teach courses the same way anymore, so the way one approached the learning had to change.

Enter active learning.

Active learning is an approach to learning that emphasizes student engagement. An example of this is flipped classes, where students watch pre-recorded lectures before class and then work with professors during the allotted course time. Active learning has been present in academic circles for decades, and is slowly being incorporated into the overall learning design. With its focus on student engagement, it is seen as an opportunity to help bridge the equity gap in learning.

“Without active learning, without effective teaching techniques, we are effectively serving very discriminatory practices,” said Ramirez-Ruiz. “CITL has looked holistically at how we approach thinking from the perspective of human support and see them excel at all levels.”

Why Classes Won’t Ever Be the Same

“The way we build classes has changed because of the pandemic,” Greene said. “We now understand a lot more about the student and his or her or their life context and needs. I just don’t see how you can forget that and go back.”

Active learning is now going to be prioritized in developing courses. Currently, on the CITL newsletter, there is a call to design flipped classes for fall 2021, a sign that colleges are starting to change what a typical course may look like.

While this style of class isn’t new, it is being emphasized in overall course design. Over the course of this last year, active learning practices have been used in classes to help students learn in the new online environment. Instead of the traditional powerpoint lecturer, departments across the country have emphasized student engagement over Zoom — such as breakout rooms, group work, and more student-faculty interaction.

Greene sees this as a positive shift toward a needed change in education.

“The pandemic accelerated the process,” Greene said. “We were heading in the direction of active learning before, but now it has an increased presence in education.”

Schools are approaching this shift in different ways. Some colleges might have blended classes, where a lecture hall might be filled with computer monitors of remote students on one side while the other is filled with in-person students. While Greene does not see this specific style happening for UCSC, online learning will hold a much more significant place in university in the future than it has in the past.

Greene sees the post-pandemic era of education as an opportunity to expand on new teaching practices. Working with faculty, she identifies what has been useful for students and faculty over the past year, and what hasn’t been. Greene and CITL are exploring how to have more student engagement in learning. They see this pursuit as a continuation of UCSC’s history of innovative practices in teaching.

“UCSC has a tradition of student-centered learning,” said Greene. “We have promoted different strategies of learning. This history is important to the university, and I want to keep that perspective as we move forward into new types of learning.”

To learn more about CITL’s work, you can subscribe to its newsletter, visit its homepage, or visit the Keep Teaching website, where you can access its resources for learning.