Surya Jones

Surya Jones

Faculty Spotlight: Daniel Frank

Dear Faculty,

Surya Jones, a guest blogger for The Wheel, interviewed Daniel Frank for this faculty spotlight. Surya graduated from UC Davis with a B.A. in International Relations with minors in Anthropology and French. Her interests fall at the intersections of technology, race, and ontology. Come Fall 2020, Surya will begin an MSc in Social Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She will continue her studies in 2021 at Columbia University completing an M.A. in Global Thought.  

Daniel Frank is a lecturer in the Department of Plant Sciences focused on understanding and sharing the applications of technology in the industrial environment. Professor Frank’s primary experience is with process control systems, quality assurance processes, and a variety of manufacturing processes (laser, plasma, milling, turning, and automated fabrication techniques). Through his courses he aims to instruct students on applied learning of technology and setting them up for successful futures for years to come. Prior to his start at UC Davis nine years ago, Professor Frank also taught K-12 for 16 years. Not only does he teach at UC Davis, but he also received his credential in Agricultural Education from UC Davis.

Tell us about yourself and the sort of classes you teach.

I teach PLS 21, an introduction to computers and technology. We deliver hands-on, practical skills that set our students apart from other future career candidates. Our students often cite the skills taught in our course as a key reason for getting internships and jobs. PLS21 embeds many soft skills whether in person or virtually. The class focuses on Communication, Collaboration, and Organization as class participants use the latest productivity tools. 

How are you planning on adjusting your instruction for remote teaching in Spring quarter? 

The rapid transition to a virtual environment was tough. Our biggest hurdle has been adapting our rubrics for assignments to a digital format. We have found that using the rubric feature in UC Davis Canvas takes significantly more time to use than our previous process.  

The biggest success we have had is with organizing the content to make it accessible and timely. After I arranged the many pieces of our program into a module-based format, our students are better able to view our entire class holistically, instead of as a discrete lecture/discussion.  

The biggest change has been to our weekly formative quizzes. We have brought those into an online format. I have wanted to do this for a while now, and COVID provided the opportunity to make it happen. I am impressed with the work our team has done to remake all of our formative assessments.

This quarter I have been repeatedly impressed with our students’ patience, compassion and resilience of our students. Nothing goes perfectly, ever. This is especially true as we transitioned to a virtual format. Our students have helpfully pointed out mistakes and provided constructive feedback. My staff has also been amazing at individualizing our students educational experience and rolling with any technology issues. Our students and staff are graciously helping everyone learn together!

What advice have you heard or offered regarding remote teaching? 

The best advice I received was that nothing we could do would be perfect. To overcome that hurdle, we chose to over-communicate with our students. Engaging students in their learning process, and asking them to provide feedback (and structuring good/safe ways for them to do that) has helped us better understand our students, and their needs and challenges.

Share with us your thoughts and concerns about using technology in new ways to connect and support students. 

Student engagement in a virtual environment is a challenge. It is far more challenging than in-person (and that can be challenging enough). One way that technology has worked well for us is through the use of Zoom for office hours. We utilize the breakout rooms so that our staff of TAs and interns can individualize instruction and reteach. We don’t record those sessions as we want each party to be candid, authentic and professional.  

One way in which we are still looking for what works is rubrics. It seemed like an easy answer, but they are time-consuming to complete online. We are working through some ideas to provide the same level of feedback more efficiently.

In terms of technology use in your courses, what technologies have worked for you, and how could you tell?

For us, the course is driven by technology. We have been adapting to the changes the university puts in place each year. Our students are loving the virtual lab system setup.  They can use any device they have to remotely access the campus computer labs. They then can easily access the software we use in class. Only a few students have reported issues with this technology, and it has ensured that there is an equity of access for all of our students. The computer loaner program has also benefited a few of our students and has made PLS21 possible for all by increasing the equity of access to technology for our students.  

We have also found that more students are downloading MS Office through the UC Davis free software offering. That too has been a good sign that the university’s efforts to ensure access and equity are paying off in student results.  

We are seeing Zoom fatigue. With everything being online, it feels like students are missing the variety of strategies that are often utilized (unconsciously) in-person. With many of the educational modalities being similar, a plateau has set in as the routine stays the same with little variation from course to course. Of course, this is all qualitative feedback from students who chose to participate!

For me personally, Camtasia has allowed me to make awesome tutorials and presentations. It has been easy to use, and does everything I could need to highlight areas of a video, zoom to fit an area and produce a decent video.

What other entertaining or illustrative teaching anecdotes do you want to teach with us, if any?  

I have been recording my lectures from my garage where I have a nicely tooled metal shop. It has been funny to get random messages from the students asking about the tools and what they do… I have also used those opportunities to plug other courses taught across campus, such as the (ABT) Applied Biological Systems Technology courses. While a bit random in nature, these questions have been reassuring because (1) it means they are watching the content, and (2) having my image on the presentation makes a difference in their engagement.

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