Season 3, Episode 2 - Kafi Kumasi, Ph.D.

Host Sara Kacin speaks with academic leaders at Wayne State University to learn how they have developed their careers while empowering themselves and others.

Subscribe

Stay up to date on future episodes by subscribing to EmpowerED to Lead.

Episode notes

Kafi Kumasi, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Wayne State University's School of Information Sciences, where she teaches in the areas of school library media, urban librarianship, multicultural services and resources, and research methods. She has her finger on the pulse of how today's youth live and learn using best practices in library science. On this episode of EmpowerED to Lead, Kumasi outlines the opportunities and challenges that come with teaching in an online environment —something that many of us are experiencing now. We also learn how Kumasi embraces an ethos of collaboration and where she draws inspiration as a lifelong learner.

Headshot of Kafi Kumasi

About Kafi Kumasi, Ph.D.

Kafi Kumasi, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Wayne State University's School of Information Sciences. She teaches in the areas of school library media, urban librarianship, multicultural services and resources, and research methods. Kumasi spearheaded Wayne State's new experimental school library media specialist certificate program, and she recently received a Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian grant on restoring urban school libraries. Kumasi earned her master's in library and information science from Wayne State, and she also holds a doctorate of curriculum and instruction from Indiana University Bloomington.

Additional resources

Learn more about Knowledge on Demand.

Follow Kafi Kumasi on Twitter @dr_kumasi.

Follow EmpowerED to Lead on Twitter @WSUFacSuccess.

Transcript

Narrator:

Welcome to EmpowerED to Lead, a Wayne State University podcast for academic leaders committed to empowering their community to succeed, hosted by Dr. Sara E. Kacin, director of Wayne state's Office for Teaching and Learning and assistant provost for faculty development and success.

This podcast explores the personal journeys of academic leaders, both current and emerging, to learn more about how they've developed their careers. Dr. Kacin speaks with faculty and staff about their work and how they've empowered themselves and others along the way. By doing this, we hope to empower listeners like you, as you continue on your leadership path.

Sara Kacin, Ph.D.:

Dr. Kafi Kumasi is an associate professor at Wayne State University's School of Information Sciences. Here, she teaches in the areas of school library media, urban librarianship, multicultural services and resources, and research methods. She spearheaded the new 15-credit hour experimental school library certificate program for certified teachers to become school librarians. And she recently received a Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian grant on restoring urban school libraries. Her research focuses on literacy, equity and diversity, particularly in urban educational environments spanning K through 12 and graduate school contexts. A leader in online learning and cultural competence, she has a deep understanding of how today's youth live and learn using best practices in library science. It is my great pleasure to welcome to the podcast Dr. Kumasi.

Kafi Kumasi, Ph.D.:

Good morning. Thanks for having me.

Sara Kacin, Ph.D.:

Good morning. So let's just jump right in to a really largely discussed topic right now: You're a leader in online teaching and learning, a space that's become increasingly critical during the coronavirus pandemic. Thinking about your leadership journey, what have you loved most about it?

Kafi Kumasi, Ph.D.:

Well, I think I should start by saying that I was thrust into online teaching in 2008 as the School of Information Sciences went fully online. So we currently have been over a decade offering a fully online master's program for our students. So I can really empathize with teachers and faculty at Wayne State and K-12, and across the nation who are grappling with how to make this transition to online teaching. So while I was excited to have a new job and have a job in higher education, I hadn't taught online before, and one of the things that I loved about that challenge was trying to recreate some of the really cool, intimate and social aspects of teaching in a face-to-face environment and trying to translate that into online. And so for me, I've always just sort of been willing to take the risk of trying new tools, and really trying to push students to act and interact critically and add that social presence to my classes.

So it's really been a good journey, I think, for me. I've tried to be reflective. I've taken advantage of some of the programs that the Office for Teaching and Learning has had with actually your program, Sara —with the midterm assessment program, where we get feedback on what students think about our teaching and learning. So just try to model those best practices. But what I can say, for faculty and people who are making this transition in education online, is that part of it is just being willing to learn new things and being intentional about what do you want students to learn and be able to do at the end of the course. And don't compromise that so you can do the backwards planning and just go to remain open to the different technology tools that allow you to accomplish what you already were intending to accomplish, but there's a lot more you can do with online.

So that's also something I would say I loved about it as well. There are things that I probably couldn't have done in a face-to-face environment, but I was able to try some of those things online. So those are some of the things I really have loved, but I would just encourage people to jump in. And you've got a lot of resources here at Wayne State. So the Office for Teaching and Learning has done really great with their Teach Anywhere platform, and I've participated in Design Sprint. So I would just say we have a lot of support and everybody wants to see everyone do well, so just jump right on in.

Sara Kacin, Ph.D.:

One of the interesting things about the Design Sprint is that there's so many levels of expertise, so varying degrees of understanding of online are the people that come to the Design Sprint, so we learn so much — and Kafi, you were one of the people who really added such a great benefit to those that were newer. Just the advice of taking a risk and trying things out has been extremely helpful. And so keeping that in mind, instructors they might be a little bit leery about moving online; well, students kind of fit in that category too: They don't necessarily always want to take an online course as well, so with the onset of the pandemic, what has surprised you most about Wayne State students and their ability to learn?

Kafi Kumasi, Ph.D.:

Yeah, well, like I said, I have a unique vantage point in that I've been teaching graduate students fully online for the past decade, so I can say the surprises have more so common in teaching future school librarians and having to see what's happening in K-12 from their eyes and vantage point. So I teach future school librarians who are challenged with how to restart school in the fall and how to keep library services going with everything that's happening remote-wise. So some surprises I think, are just how adaptive and how flexible the library and information science community has been in creating contingency plans and really some innovative things I think that have come out of this have been what's happening in the publishing industry, where authors are reading their books online and making them available to students. And my students are very adept in learning the latest copyright and sort of digital lending practices in teaching other teachers and administrators how to access content and things that are publicly available through our licenses. For example, Michigan Electronic Library is a state-funded database that K-12 kids have always had access to, but in this pandemic, some of those resources are kind of coming to the light a little bit more, so it's been a welcome surprise to see how adaptive and how responsive the school library community has been in taking the lead in showing how to keep those connections with students so that they don't have that summer slide. We're already kind of backed up since March, kids haven't been in school in face-to-face contact, and we already have research that shows that when kids are out of school that their reading levels sort of slid, and so I've been happy to see the school librarian community responding so I can speak more so to that community.

Sara Kacin, Ph.D.:

Sure, definitely. And you mentioned keeping connections with students. Can you think of a few things that you might want to share as an online leader that you do in your course to build connections with students?

Kafi Kumasi, Ph.D.:

Yeah, so I try to keep the social presence at the initial start of the class by building community, creating a few spaces where students know they can contact me for questions. So whether that's office hours or I put a FAQ module inside of each of the learning modules that I roll out each week. And the other thing I do regularly, and I spin this sometimes differently, but I'll have sort of an introductory assignment where they introduce themselves to the class, and I'm getting away from just the sort of, "Tell me about yourself and what you want to get out of the class." I'm making it more embedded into the learning outcomes: So, for example, a class I'm teaching in the fall is a children's lit class and they are going to, as an introductory assignment, do a digital literacy autobiography, so talk about when they learned to read and write and sort of how they remember and recall their experiences around literacy. So that will be an introduction to the class, but it'll also fulfill one of the first assignments, so I think we're all kind of sometimes burnt out by those video introduction assignments, so trying to find new ways to make it meaningful for them — and still add that social presence.

Sara Kacin, Ph.D.:

Certainly. I love how you said that you're getting to the same goal, but you spin things differently depending on what's going on in the semester, who's in your room. I just think that being flexible is a really important component to teaching online. So Kafi, you've shared your experience with building cultural competence in courses at Wayne State with workshops and discussions on campus. Why is sharing this information with campus so important to you?

Kafi Kumasi, Ph.D.:

Well, for me, it goes back to my education and my doctoral studies: I have a minor in multicultural education at Indiana University. So I bring both a research and a theoretical background to the subject of multicultural education. I studied under the likes of Christine Bennett and James Banks, who are really leaders in this area. And so for me, I wanted to bring that level of rigor to multicultural education so that faculty think about not just the feel-good, "Kumbaya" sort of approach to multicultural education or cultural competence that sometimes tends to be emblematic of diversity in cultural competence workshops. So I wanted to help faculty think about the blind spots and omissions that they may be experiencing in their own content areas when it comes to teaching about the intersections of race, equity and inclusion, and I wanted to help them think through how that might look in their own subject areas. So, for example, I wrote an article and coauthored it with Nichole Manlove, who's one of our former students in the master's in library and information science, and we talk about finding diversity levers in the MLIS curriculum, and that is kind of an example of why I thought that was important. So for that article, we looked at the core courses in the MLIS degree program, and we looked at what are the access points or conceptual access points — which I'm calling diversity levers — where multicultural curriculum and ideas can be integrated meaningfully? And so that was one of the things that I brought to Wayne State, was helping us look at multicultural education, not as some add-on elective, but each faculty having responsibility to think about the access points and intersections of where their subject area converged with issues of race, equity and inclusion.

So I think that work is important for us all to sort of take on and not be the responsibility of people who study diversity, but I think because the topic is something that … it's a social construct. I think everyone needs to have a level of cultural competence, just because we are in a highly diverse society and we need to all be proficient in that regard, so I think that was an important part for me to bring to Wayne State.

Sara Kacin, Ph.D.:

So generally speaking, Kafi, what are some of the biggest challenges that you think faculty face in an online environment, or even in really looking through their courses with a lens of equity and inclusion?

Kafi Kumasi, Ph.D.:

Well, the first part I'll take and say that the biggest challenge is time. There's some research shows that preparing a class to teach a class online takes about three times as much effort and time as it does to teach a class face to face. And I think people are starting to realize that now! You do get some flexibility, but you really have to front-load a lot of the planning and be really mindful that the students need and deserve a seamless experience, so you want to prepare in advance and a lot of that is a lot of technical work that has to happen on the front end; whereas in a face-to-face class, you can sort of have your lectures and you can talk extemporaneously, and you can sort of do a call and response with students. Online, you have to plan way more in advance to get that same level of content and interaction across.

But in terms of how teaching about issues of race, equity and inclusion happened in the online environment, I actually wrote an article about my experiences — the article's called "Teaching Race in Cyberspace." And one of the things that I tease out in that article is that there's a presumption of anonymity with teaching online that some students prefer, and when you're talking about issues of race and equity and inclusion, that can work for or against you in terms of students' willingness to be candid and willingness to open themselves up for those critical conversations, so there's a couple of things happening in online education where, again, there's a presumption of anonymity — people may or may not be comfortable sharing their identity, physical identities — and yet we're digging into issues of identity that are sort of at the heart of the course, so I've had some really fortunate experiences where I've created what I call a "virtual privilege walk." So I created an online experience where students could walk through an exercise that typically happens in a face-to-face workshop setting, and I was able to create a virtual environment where students kind of use a grid to move their mouse or icon of themselves along this grid that replicated the privilege walk exercise, so that was very fruitful. And what I learned was that, the content, I think students still understood white privilege and some of the things that we wanted to come across, but there were some other things that kind of came up with that as well, that you'd have to read the article to find more about. It's available on Digital Commons, and so I won't spend too much time there, but it's definitely an interesting learning that came out of that article.

Sara Kacin, Ph.D.:

And I definitely think the virtual privilege walk is quite an innovative activity that you created, so I'm sure people will be reaching out to talk about that further. So thinking about innovation online and looking ahead, what do you see in the forecast for online teaching and learning?

Kafi Kumasi, Ph.D.:

That's a great question. So, I think that the area of artificial intelligence has a lot of room for making some headway into online education. I can see somehow where the classroom experiences feels more like a face-to-face classroom than it does currently with more of video-based conferencing capabilities, so I can see instances where designers and software people are able to come up with rooms that replicate the physical classroom — not that we want to necessarily go back to the industrial model of roles in the classroom, but somehow I think there's some room for us to get to this space where we are not just talking heads in a Zoom call sort of atmosphere, but where there's an immersive experience where you are able to sort of see and be with other people and it feels more immersive than it currently does. So I think that's one area that has a lot of potential for growth in online education.

Sara Kacin, Ph.D.:

Yeah, and especially, it's just on a fast track now since March— specifically artificial intelligence. It's coming up in a number of conversations these days. So, as a leader, where do you find inspiration? You've done things that haven't been done before, like the virtual privilege walk and bringing cultural competence to be a must-have conversation at Wayne State, so what inspires you to do this work and who do you seek out for mentorship?

Kafi Kumasi, Ph.D.:

Well, I'd like to say that I'm a lifelong learner, and so I'm always inspired by learning new things, whether it's yoga or faculty development workshops or gardening, and I think that comes from — what I recently learned about the Divine Feminine energy, which is all about receiving and downloading information, and creating something new with that and giving it new life. So, anyone who's passionate about their craft, that translates into inspiration for me. And I'm also learning to just be still and find inspiration in my own inclinations and passions, but there are so many people that I see and consider models and inspirations — and really, it's just about the passion that they exude for what they do. And even if they're still figuring it out along the way, I'd be willing to join in on their journey because it's something that they're passionate about, and I'm also passionate about learning new things, so I'm always willing to learn.

Sara Kacin, Ph.D.:

I definitely think that's really helpful, and just that balance that you were talking about: I heard things [like] gardening and yoga and having other things in your life that bring you joy, I think can definitely inspire the other work that you're doing as well.

So, some of the things that I've heard you say, and I think are extremely key things that others will be listening to hear — you've said things like be willing to learn new things. Take a risk in an online course — just try it out. It doesn't have to be perfect. Be aware of the blind spots in equity and inclusion. Think about being a lifelong learner. And the other key themes that kind of came out through many of your answers was collaboration — you don't have to do it alone. Would you say those are accurate?

Kafi Kumasi, Ph.D.:

Exactly. You hit it on the head. And I would say collaboration is probably one of the foremost principles of diving into this online teaching, so creating opportunities for students to collaborate, collaborating with your colleagues and helping sort of share knowledge on [demand], to use the provost's new project — garnering that collective wisdom about anything can really help propel you to a new level of knowledge and give you a comfort that you're not alone and that we're all trying to give our students the best learning experience possible. So, yes, definitely an ethos of collaboration is something that motivates me as well.

Sara Kacin, Ph.D.:

So interestingly enough, you also made me think about — it is a little bit different to have most of the meetings virtual, right, after COVID happened? So, are there ways that you have to be intentional about collaborating with colleagues outside of, as you mentioned earlier, Zoom meetings and things like that, or is it pretty much Zoom meetings?

Kafi Kumasi, Ph.D.:

I think that it's opened up a bit more of a sort of collaborative potential. So I've been contacted by people who I would ordinarily would probably not have the time or space to actually go and have a meeting and coffee, and sort of go park the car and have meetings, so what I've found through COVID is that I've actually been more available to have meetings with people who I wouldn't ordinarily have meetings with because it's a lot harder to say we don't have time right now because it's like, we can all sneak in a 10-, 20-minute Zoom call — we all have the technology now! But yeah, it's happening mostly on Zoom, but I have colleagues in other areas who are more apt to use things like Google Meet, or different platforms, but it typically is happening in a video conferencing situation or on a Google doc. But yeah, I wouldn't say the methods or modes have changed that much, but I think the opportunities are more prevalent now.

Sara Kacin, Ph.D.:

Right, with less travel. You're right: It does seem like the day has just gotten a lot more available!

Kafi Kumasi, Ph.D.:

And at the same time, a lot more busy! We have to be mindful that we got to put sort of containers on the day, and stop and start. I'm trying to be more mindful of my stop and start times because as faculty anyway, I'm always sort of … the nine-to-five is not anything that I've been observing anyway over the last decade, but it's always helpful to put those start and stop times and create some parameters on your work day so that you can feel a sense of reprieve and that you're not just working 24/7. So it's a double-edged sword, the availability that we have right now, but it's created a lot more opportunities — I try to look at the bright side of things.

Sara Kacin, Ph.D.:

Certainly. So, Kafi, where can our listeners follow you on social media or email? How can they connect with you?

Kafi Kumasi, Ph.D.:

Yeah, so primarily email would probably be the foremost way — it depends on what kind of information they might want to contact me about, but certainly if it's something related to Wayne State, it would be ak4901@wayne.edu is my email for Wayne State, and if it's anything about anything I touched on personally, I am on social media. I'm on Twitter @Dr_Kumasi, and I'm under my name on Facebook.

Sara Kacin, Ph.D.:

Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for sharing your insights with us today. Be sure to join us next time on EmpowerED to Lead.

Narrator:

We're glad to have you listening to EmpowerED to Lead. To learn more about our podcast, please follow us on Twitter @WSUFacSuccess.