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Dr. Haeny Yoon, PhD

Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education at Teachers College, Columbia University

Dr. Yoon teaches a doctoral seminar-style course on contemporary childhood at Teachers College. While typically offered fully in-person, the shift to remote teaching in Spring 2020 required Dr. Yoon to rethink student engagement and multimedia interactivity in creative new ways. Dr. Yoon met the moment by leveraging media to engage students with course content, creating multiple modes of engagement, and partnering with students to enhance learning. Read on to learn more about what Dr. Yoon did in her course, what lessons and experiences she’s carrying forward, and the advice she has for other instructors at Columbia. 

Leverage Media to Engage Students with Course Content  

It is difficult to think about what kind of context I have been in in the last couple of years, just because everything’s been so different. I was fortunate enough to have a smaller class size which afforded the ability to experiment and do exploration with a smaller group of students. 

When I taught my contemporary childhood class during the pandemic, I had the privilege and liberty to incorporate my research into my teaching. Having done research on children’s play and how children innovate, create, and imagine new possibilities from play, I had started to think a lot about the affordances and possibilities of play for adults. How does play help us do our work better? How does it help us engage in the world? How does it help us ask new questions? I think there is no better time than the present to be thinking about new, imaginative, and innovative ideas.

So when we were in full lockdown in 2020, I thought to myself: How do I reach a digital audience now? I started leaning into the idea of media making (e.g., creating short videos for students to watch) and tried to put my research into practice and live out the idea of play and experimentation as a way to engage with content.

For the last few classes I taught, I created 15-30 minute media materials that students can engage with. I have experimented with audio, visuals, and other artistic things like collaging photographs in succession. I tried to tell narratives not just with my words but also with images and visuals and embrace other modalities in my teaching.

Previously, I was very committed to making aesthetically pleasing Powerpoint slides, which are great, but I do think that there has got to be more than that. So I started to re-envision each of my classes with some questions: What is the story that I really want to tell in this two-hour time that I have? What is the point that I really want to get across?

The media making activities helped me answer these questions. A lot of my inspiration was from looking at what young people are doing right now in the world through platforms like Instagram, Tiktok, and Facebook. For me, it wasn’t the platforms or the tools that really mattered, because those come and go and disappear and reappear. But it was about what I decided to do with those tools. If I decided to commit to and use a certain tool, it was to engage people in different ways.

Create Multiple Modes of Engagement

The pandemic helped me think about trying things that I never thought I could actually do. In my class, I tried the flipped classroom model where I gave students a 15-30 minute media engagement activity to complete before class started. I usually had some kind of online activity that was different each time. Sometimes, it was just uploading a photo of an experience they were reminded of as they were watching a view. Other times, it was going on a walk for five minutes and recording what they were thinking or uploading some media content that is tangentially related to the class topic. I tried not to do the same thing every single time because I wanted to model the idea that as we engage with any kind of material, whether it’s a lecture, media, TV, we don’t all react to the same thing in just one way. There are different ways to react to something, and all of those different ways are extremely valuable.

As someone who grew up being a quiet student in class, I don’t think that there is just one way to engage, which is often seen as raising one’s hand and talking. This perception carries into higher education where meetings can be dominated by those who talk the most, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that people who don’t talk are not engaged in the conversation. The challenge is to include those voices in the conversation. How do we make space so that other people’s ways of engaging with content can also be heard and recognized?

The activities that my students did prior to class was a way for them to put their ideas out there, to make contributions to class, and to be thinking about and processing course content. When we came together in class, I facilitated discussions based on their pre-class media engagement. In that way, I saw how creative some people can really be, and I also saw that for some people, the pre-class activity was not their best mode of engagement, which is perfectly fine. Some just like to write a lot and others like to say a lot of things, and that’s okay. There are many different ways people engage that can be represented, and we just need to make sure everybody can see it and recognize it. 

The pandemic has shown us that people’s lives are really complicated and people’s lives are inequitably difficult. Without forcing students to share their whole mess in front of everybody else, I tried to design my course so that if they watched one video, there were ways that they could engage in class. If they did the readings but didn’t get to watch the media engagement, they could still contribute to the class discussion and have something to share. There are multiple ways to engage, and students came to my class with that understanding and were ready to share something that they thought about or wrote about.

Partner with Students to Enhance Learning 

To facilitate class discussions, I provided prompts on one or two big questions that could get the conversation going. I often used comments that students wrote. I would look through any responses or reactions to the pre-class media engagement activity, and I would use those as an impetus for starting the conversation. When it was clear that their teacher took time to thoughtfully engage with their work, students felt seen, and that was a powerful act of connecting with them and engaging them more actively in class, no matter how small it may seem.

Having students participate in the media engagement prior to coming to class gave me different ways to facilitate the discussion. It was extremely valuable, because otherwise, I would only think of the discussion questions on my own without knowing how anybody reacted to or thought about the readings I assigned to students. Instead of relying on my own discussion prompts, I relied on what my students had to share and used that as a discussion starter. When students know that their responses are given credit and are meaningfully incorporated into the class discussion, they have a more vested interest in participating actively in the discussion.

Advice for Instructors and the Future of Teaching at Columbia 

Engage with resources outside your own discipline. 

One of the things that has helped me the most in my teaching is to engage outside of my own discipline. I get this inspiration from a book I have been reading–Emergent Strategy by Adrienne Maree Brown–who discusses the idea of an imagination battle, in the midst of which we can’t imagine something different because of the clash between keeping the status quo and wanting to reshape a different world. 

During the pandemic, I attended a writing workshop with a group of non-academics (mostly memoirists) who think about writing completely differently from how I do. I learned a lot about what it means to engage in the process of writing with people who were all very different in their careers and age, and they were experimenting with writing. Also, I recently went to a book talk with NY Times food writer and author Eric Kim, facilitated by Michelle Zauner, author of Crying in H Mart, and there were powerful narratives shared about immigrant parents and their lives. Engaging in these events and with people outside of my own discipline helped me think about my own work and ideas in more creative and imaginative ways. 

All of the above goes back to the idea of play and what it means to play in different realms and different fields with different ideas. This year, four of my colleagues and I, all in different fields, are working on a grant project to engage in our own creative platforms and multimodality as a way to conceptualize multimodal scholarship and teaching, as we move forward at Teachers College (see video on multimodal teaching below). As we are thinking about innovating and expanding ideas, I continue to think about what it means to engage and listen to different people instead of just one or two, and I believe the only way to expand my ideas is to go outside of those ideas. I often hesitate about telling people which specific tool to use in their teaching, because a tool or technology can always be replaced by something else. But one practice to take away and carry forward is engaging in creative practice and in interdisciplinary conversations with people outside of one’s own field.

Blend digital and in-person course components. 

I see digital as not necessarily something different from face-to-face or in-person. It is pedagogy, and it is a way of coming together and learning together. When we think about the future of teaching, it’s not necessarily “either or,” and we don’t need to think of it as a binary. Rather, can we think about ways for those two – digital and in person – to come together?

Just because it’s a face-to-face course does not mean that there can’t be digital components to it. Just because we are now able to meet physically and see each other does not mean that there isn’t a space for digital interactions.

So currently, I am not thinking about how to transfer this digital class into the in-person class or vice versa. For me, it is more about rethinking pedagogy in general. And rethinking is not necessarily about how to move things from one platform to the other platform but more about the best ways to engage with specific content.

In the last few years, we found certain practices and strategies to be more effective than the way that we were doing previously, and if that was the case, why would we not move forward from there?

Dr. Yoon’s video on multimodal teaching

In this video, Dr. Yoon discusses the value of multimodal teaching and how it can support student learning in creative ways beyond the traditional classroom setting.