Kritik Rescued my Transition to Online Learning

Using Kritik in light of COVID-19

Nina Palmo is an Assistant Professor of Instruction at the University of Texas, teaching Sociology courses. Her focus at UTexas is on teaching; she aims to improve her courses in any way that she can. Her course is an introduction to the social forces that shape health and illness, both historically and in the present-day United States.

Dr. Palmo's work is important for what we are facing with COVID-19 today. Some questions that she encourages her students to think about are:

  • What diseases killed people ten thousand years ago? Two hundred years ago? Today? What explains these changes?
  • Why has teenage mental health deteriorated over the past decade?
  • Why does American life expectancy rank 29th in the world and why is it falling?

Why is Kritik important for your job?

As a non-tenure track professor, teaching is of utmost importance to me. Understanding how my class is progressing and how my students are learning and feeling is my responsibility. I measure student satisfaction with the official university evaluations that go out at the end of the term, but I also measure their satisfaction at the midpoint of the semester as well. I am always looking for ways to incorporate technology into the classroom that delivers learning objectives and for students to enjoy using, which Kritik seems to be doing.

A professor can hold many a title during their time at a university. Whether they are tenure-track, adjunct instructors, or tenured professors, teaching holds varying levels of importance for them. For Dr. Palmo, teaching is the main focus of her role at the university. Her job performance is directly related to her student satisfaction; so incorporating Kritik into the course was a calculated decision that paid off.

How did you adapt to online learning in the middle of your semester due to COVID-19?

I was very thankful that I had already set up Kritik from the start of the term, as the students were already used to the technology by the time we switched to remote learning. Originally, I had planned for the students to have 6 assignments in Kritik and a final exam, but we have replaced that final exam with 6 more Kritik assignments for the remaining half of the term. I wanted to make the class asynchronous for the benefit of the students, and Kritik made that possible in regards to assignments. Without Kritik, the transition to online would have been far more difficult.

The silver lining associated with COVID-19's impact on education is that professors are forced to become more adept with remote course delivery. Whether it's asynchronous or not, education should be moving towards offering online learning as a means of accessibility. Transitioning to online learning with little warning time has been difficult for many professors, and Dr. Palmo's approach of not introducing new technology is a very unique one because she already had Kritik in her class. Many students were actively disengaged by having to learn new technologies and processes midway through the term, whereas Dr. Palmo's students appreciated her standard approach to her classroom. It's important to know that Kritik is effective for face-to-face, online, and blended learning alike.

When Kritik reached out to you, what made you want to try the platform?

Before Kritik reached out to me, I had been looking for some resources that would ease the workload of my TA's. I'm lucky to have 3 TA's for my 300 students, but they would still struggle to keep up with the deadlines and effectiveness of grading, and Kritik has really helped us organize and streamline that process. I remember seeing TopHat mentioned in the initial email sent to me from Kritik. Kritik's CEO, Mohsen Shahini founded TopHat 10 years ago and knowing that he had experience in well developed and recommended in class technology was enough for me to know that I could trust this company. Kritik is always looking for ways to increase the effectiveness of their software which was also very encouraging.

How do new startups validate themselves when pitching to their customers? Kritik has a very unique advantage, as Dr. Mohsen Shahini has over ten years of experience in educational technology with his old company TopHat, which is used by millions of students in North America. Dr. Shahini is bringing that experience to Kritik, and aiming to develop the critical thinking of students by leveraging peer-to-peer evaluation. Peer evaluation is so important in graduate education, workplace, and traditional pedagogy does not leverage peer evaluation well enough for students to improve their critical thinking.

Dr. Nina Palmo focuses many of her efforts on making her sociology courses effective for developing critical thinking skills. Her Introduction to Health & Society course directly relates to some of the issues we are facing with COVID-19. Having students evaluate each other is essential for developing their critical thinking and evaluative skills, while reinforcing the learned course material throughout the course.

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Dr. Nina Palmo
Dr. Nina Palmo
University of Texas
Assistant Professor of Instruction in Sociology