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Q & A with Garth Sabo & Stokes Schwartz: MSU Learning Community and #iteachmsu Group co-facilitators

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Q & A with Garth Sabo & Stokes Schwartz: MSU Learning Community and #iteachmsu Group co-facilitators

Q & A with Garth Sabo & Stokes Schwartz: MSU Learning Community and #iteachmsu Group co-facilitators

This week, we wanted to highlight Stokes Schwartz and Garth Sabo, both educators with the MSU Center for Integrative Studies in the Arts and Humanities. Stokes and Garth are also the co-facilitators of the “Reading Group for Student Engagement and Success” Learning Community this academic year! According to the Office for Faculty and Academic Staff Development (formerly AAN), this Learning Community is: A Zoom based reading group that pairs theory and praxis of student engagement techniques to drive greater student success in general education and prerequisite courses at the university. Bimonthly meetings (twice a month) consist of reading and discussing 2-3 recent articles and sharing best practices for applying methods in courses across the university. These two also use a group on the #iteachmsu Commons to share information about upcoming meetings, attach reading files, and continue to engage in asynchronous dialogue outside their meeting times!

Read more about these Learning Community co-facilitators’ perspectives below. #iteachmsu's questions are bolded below, followed by their responses! 


Q & A with Garth Sabo & Stokes Schwartz


You are facilitators of a Learning Community (LC) and decided to have a group on iteach.msu.edu for that LC. What about the #iteachmsu Commons appealed to you for this group?

Sabo: A major component of the LC structure at MSU focuses on providing some element of public dissemination of the work we do together, and Stokes and I both appreciated that #iteachmsu would allow us to make our group activities visible to the wider MSU community. We both felt a strong need for some type of digital meeting space/repository for things like meeting notes, agendas, etc., and we found that iteach.msu.edu offered a suite of those tools that were fairly easy to wrap our heads around and adopt as practice. 

Schwartz: Having a central place for learning community members (and interested parties) to check-in, share our thoughts, relevant documents, and planned talking points for meetings/discussions as well as any follow-up observations in the days following a meeting.  Personally, I have found iteach.msu.edu relatively easy to use.  

Sabo: Our LC meets digitally, and we also thought that it would be nice to structure things in a way that leaned into benefits of that structure rather than simply trying to imagine ourselves as an in-person community that only meets via Zoom, so we’ve also tried to use iteach.msu.edu as a platform for ongoing and supplemental conversations to the discussions that come up during our scheduled meetings.

Tell me more about your LC and what activity in your #iteachmsu Group looks like? (This can include, but not limited to goals, topics, general overview of membership, the kinds of things being shared in your group.)

Sabo: Our learning community is titled “Reading Group for Student Engagement and Success,” and the only thing I don’t like about it is the name. Stokes and I are both faculty in the Center for Integrative Studies in the Arts and Humanities, and part of the impetus for the group was a desire to dig deeper into pedagogy research that might help us crack the egg of engaging students in a required course. We wanted to find a format that allowed us to have pedagogy conversations that were data-driven and practical in focus, so that our community members could feel like our conversations were driving towards concrete actions.

Our Zoom meetings focus on talking through a few pre-designated texts that the entire group reads. We’ve been fortunate that our current roster has also agreed to take turns as interlocutors, with one person briefly presenting on some additional text(s) that add additional context to the material we all consumed

Schwartz: Typically, Garth and I plan 8-10 multipart discussion questions for our meetings on fostering student engagement and success, which we share via iteach.msu.edu a few days ahead of time. Team community members have also shared information and related ideas via our iTeach group.  We are also in the process of compiling a playlist.  

Sabo: Our iteach activity tends to be kind of evenly split between looking back at what we’ve already done with logistical stuff (like meeting agendas, Zoom links, etc.) and what we might do (like additional discussions or resources that members post or comment on in the Feed). Our current membership is a great mix of folks across the College of Arts and Letters in a range of roles, which has enriched our conversation in ways that I couldn’t have anticipated. We’re certainly open in having more folks join us if interested!

Schwartz: We have had four meetings so far and have our fifth coming up on December 3, 2021 from 10-11:30 EST and all are welcome! Please note, if you're interested in joining the 12/3/21 meeting, please reach out to either co-facilitator via email or on iteach.msu.edu, as the readings we'll be discussing are from a hardcopy book we've procured!

What has been a highlight of this semester for your LC and what are you looking forward to next semester?

Sabo: I love talking about teaching with people who love teaching, and I really feel like that has been the tone of our conversations all semester. I’ve been very appreciative of the fact that our group has been able to talk about the challenges of teaching while still being productive and hopeful about what good teaching can do for our students and the world. One thing that has certainly helped that has been the spirit of collaboration that’s breathed through this group since its beginning. Stokes and I have had a good rapport even since the planning stages of this community, and that has continued as we’ve gone from the process of proposing the group to actually planning its meetings. As you might be able to tell from how long my answers to these questions are, I tend to be wordy and big-picture in my focus, and Stokes does a great job of bringing things back around to ask, “Okay, but what would that actually look like?” in a way that has helped our conversations find a great balance between macro and micro issues of engagement and student success. Our members have been great about thinking and sharing proactively as well.

Schwartz: The highlight?  Two actually.  First, working with my co-facilitator Garth.  We seem to have established an effective working relationship and bat our ideas-plans back and forth until they take solid shape.  It has been fun sharing our ideas, developing our respective parts, coming back to the figurative table for another round of mashup, and then seeing what the final results are before the day of an actual meeting.  Second, the knowledge and personalities of our learning community members, all of whom bring interesting experience and perspectives to our meetings.  Thus far, I have really enjoyed the experience.  It has been like grad school in the best way possible (without the egos and constant stress). 

Sabo: Just to peek behind the curtain a little bit,  next semester we’re pivoting slightly to frame our conversations with the goal of producing tangible results of our collaboration, whether that be conference presentations, publications, or something else entirely. I’d love to see a step on that road being a bigger focus on producing material that we might share to the wider iteach community via the Articles feature.

Schwartz: Looking ahead, I am excited to continue working with our community in the new year and possibly develop a panel or presentation on concrete things we might do to engage our students in the general education or lower division prerequisite "classroom" (F2F or online) more effectively. Beyond that, I am already mulling over ideas for proposing another similar learning community for the 2022-2023 AY.  The cross-pollination possibilities offered/brought about by learning communities like these is fantastic and a good way to break out of our various silos here at MSU.

If you are interested in learning more about this year’s Learning Communities at MSU you can see the full list here. If reading this story peaked your interest in #iteachmsu Groups, you can view all the current groups here. Looking for a group on a particular topic or practice, but don’t see one - start it! Any MSU user can create a group, just login to iteach.msu.edu with your MSU netID to get started. Easy to follow instructions for starting a group are here

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Makena Neal #iteachmsu
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