Andrew Ishak Headshot

Using Video to Learn New Skills, Engage Students … and Satirize

Andrew Ishak Headshot

Andrew Ishak, Lecturer at Santa Clara University

A few years ago, Andrew Ishak made a big New Year’s resolution. In 2018, he pledged to create 52 videos in an effort to get better at making videos.

“I didn’t care how good the videos were. I didn’t care what the reception was, or how many people saw them,” said Ishak, a lecturer at Santa Clara University. “I just cared about getting them done.”

Ishak’s learning journey, which included earning an ACUE certificate in effective college instruction, has continued beyond a one-year project. In the COVID era of online teaching and learning, his video skills are keeping his students engaged. Recently, he became something of an internet celebrity in academia after his satire video, Making Your Zoom Look More Professorial, went viral. Ishak believes the video, which has received nearly 200,000 views, struck a chord because many faculty believe a fixation on traditional norms of professionalism is hardly a top priority when it comes to supporting students during a pandemic.

“What does it mean to be a good teacher right now?” Ishak says. “It starts with being compassionate.”

In this interview, Ishak, an ACUE-credentialed educator, talks about viral videos, lifelong learning, and more.


What motivated you to start creating and posting videos?

A few years ago I decided that I wanted to improve my video making skills, so in 2018, I took on a project to make 52 videos that year. I didn’t care how good the videos were. I didn’t care what the reception was, or how many people saw them. I just cared about getting them done. And for every video, I would force myself to write down three things that I learned or wanted to do better for the next time. 

Part of the reason I did this was that I was asking my students to put themselves out there. I’m asking them to make mistakes and reflect on how they’re going to do better. So I wanted to model this approach to learning.


How do you incorporate videos into your teaching? What advice do you have for faculty who want to get started?

As I got better at making videos, I started learning about how I could use videos to connect with students. Now that everyone is teaching from home with COVID, that’s really allowed me to think more about how I can make videos more appealing for them.

For instructors, I’d say that making lots of short videos can be really effective. I put a lot of short videos in my modules and they’re not necessarily all instructional or microlectures. A lot of them are videos to encourage students, just to say, “hey, I know that this has been a tough assignment,” to keep them focused, and remind them what we’re trying to learn. Others are literally just to introduce a topic or idea, and tell the students what we’re going to cover and which things they’ll want to focus on. It’s actually very similar to an ACUE module.


What prompted you to create your “Making Your Zoom Look More Professorial” satire video?

There was this article published about why faculty need to appear professorial when teaching online. It was well-intentioned and had some good advice, but I think the framing was off. When people hear the word ‘professorial’ they think to themselves, okay I need to have a beautiful bookshelf behind me and oak cabinets, or something like that. But not all professors are just always constantly sitting around an office and thinking. That’s not how we work.

So I knew I wanted to make something about it and after I taught my two classes that day I started making the video. By 4:30 I posted it and was shocked by how many people enjoyed it. It just kind of took off. I think a lot of faculty can relate to it because so many people are at home right now in their two-bedroom apartments, or working in the same rooms as their spouses, or they’re taking care of their kids, and we have messy houses sometimes.

I think it’s good for students and faculty to think about what their Zoom space looks like. But I think it’s a good idea in the same way that I think it’s, you know, good to stretch. If you don’t have time to do it, then you don’t do it, and then the rest of your day happens, and you’re fine.

I’m lucky. We have a spare bedroom with nice lighting, I can make a space that looks pleasant. You see a bit of a whiteboard where I write notes for students. I’ve put up some of my favorite books about sports. If you can do these kinds of things, that’s great. But if you can’t, that’s fine. Everybody’s in a different situation right now.


How has your experience with ACUE impacted your teaching?

The ACUE class was so impactful for me. I learned a lot of new techniques that I knew about, but that I never actually used. Because ACUE was asking me to go ahead and try it in class, I actually implemented it. If it doesn’t work, fine. If it does, it gave me another tool that I could use. I would say I have a bigger collection of tools that I could use on a daily basis or on a weekly basis to teach students in a better way. 

The biggest way is that it really changed how I thought about the portfolio assessment of students. I used to be very strict with late assignments but I changed my mindset on that kind of stuff after learning about assessment and grading. Now, when students turn in work that wasn’t very good, I give them a chance to redo it and earn some of the credit back. Yes, it is a little bit more work for me, but what am I trying to do here? What is the point of me teaching? The point is for them to learn something, so if I can have them redo something that actually meets the criteria, that’s great. I want as many students to meet the criteria as possible.

Supporting Students Through Faculty Professional Development: A Conversation With Broward College’s Dr. Marielena DeSanctis

Research published in June 2020 found that Broward College students were more likely to complete and pass their courses, with Black and Pell-eligible students achieving outcomes comparable with their peers, when taught by faculty who completed ACUE’s course in research-based effective teaching practices. 

In this webinar, Marielena DeSanctis, PhD, college provost and senior vice president for academic affairs and student services at Broward, spoke with Sherri Hughes, ACE’s assistant vice president of professional learning, about the impact of the ACUE program on faculty development, equity and student success. She also describes her own journey evolving into a leader in higher education.

Watch the full video and join the conversation by creating a free account on ACE Engage®.

Key Takeaways From the Conversation

Student success is about more than retention and graduation rates.

DeSanctis notes that part of Broward’s reputation and standing as a four-time Aspen-recognized Top 10 institution is because of how they measure student success. The college studies student earnings in the years after graduation, focusing on economic mobility.

“You have to embrace the fact that our students are graduating into a world that’s very different [from previous generations],” she adds. Today’s students tend not to stay in one organization for more than a few years, unlike their predecessors. Often, students return to college to gain new credentials or skills for a pivot.

Broward is home to many adult students, and the school seeks to be an “opportunity for people in our community to have a better life for themselves,” DeSanctis says. “They need to be competitive in a changing world. To achieve those kinds of outcomes, we focus on the entire student experience.”

“The classroom is where the magic happens.”

DeSanctis emphasizes the role of faculty in students’ lives, noting that many students are dealing with family obligations, jobs, and more. “For our students, retention is a day-to-day decision. A bump in the road can impact their plans.”

As someone who went to school as a mother of two, DeSanctis can empathize. “My experience with faculty and classmates kept me going,” she says. “They made me understand that what I was doing was going to be important.”

In turn, faculty need to be equipped to effectively teach students. 

“Teaching is really hard work,” DeSanctis says. As a leader, she understands that providing both faculty and students with resources is essential in fulfilling their mission. She cites examples such as Broward’s Center for Teaching Excellence and Learning (CTEL) as one tool that supports faculty in helping students succeed. Among other efforts, the CTEL produces video podcasts of faculty sharing their best practices and experience. “What they’ve done consistently year after year has been nothing short of miraculous.”

“There probably hasn’t been anything more impactful than our implementation of ACUE’s Effective Teaching Practices,” sayd DeSanctis. Broward implemented the program several years ago, and the combination of completing lessons asynchronously and meeting together synchronously to have “rich conversations” and share commonalities and teaching approaches across disciplines allows faculty to “develop an understanding of our students.” The impact, she says, extends beyond the formal program, where faculty continue to support one another and engage in suggesting different approaches to teaching and the assessment of learning.

Quality teaching is equitable.

DeSanctis says faculty give ACUE “rave reviews” and “always talk about their experience with ACUE.”

The data support the positive impact of ACUE. Research into Broward’s work found that course completion gaps were closed for Black students and course-passing gaps were closed for Pell-eligible students taught by ACUE-credentialed faculty at Broward. 

The research conducted with faculty who completed the ACUE course in the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 academic years indicated that an additional 282 students completed their courses than would have otherwise when controlling for student demographics and other factors. 

Similarly, researchers found that an additional 435 students passed their courses than would have otherwise.

Among Pell-eligible students, the gap in passing rates was eliminated and larger impacts were seen on course completion rates (compared to students not Pell-eligible). For Black students, the gap in course completion closed and the gap in passing rates was cut in half compared to White students.

“I’m still getting goosebumps about this,” DeSanctis says.

DeSanctis also discussed other efforts Broward has made in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as providing laptops and wifi hotspots to students in need. 

But even before the pandemic began, Broward President Gregory Haile pushed leaders and faculty to consider how they could support student success in the most impactful way possible. This meant considering the quality, rather than quantity, of its initiatives and freeing up resources. “That approach put us in a position to continue our equity work and support students.”

Leadership requires taking risks.

“Never let fear get in the way,” DeSanctis urges other leaders. “Being able to transform an organization takes a lot of risk. If you believe in your vision, you can’t be afraid of what people think.”

DeSanctis knows about risk-taking firsthand. She earned a mechanical engineering degree from Georgia Tech and began her career at a manufacturing company. But having grown up with a mother who was a middle school math teacher, she was always drawn to education—so much so that she ultimately left her job to become a teacher. As she rose the ranks at the local high school and district, she became acquainted with Broward, and when the opportunity arose to become vice president of student affairs at the college, she jumped at the chance.

What particularly appealed to her about Broward, she says, is that the college draws many Pell-eligible, first-generation, and minority students of all ages. 

“I wanted to see if I could make a greater impact on the community I loved,” she says.

About Conversations on Student Success

This series offers an informal opportunity to learn from a range of leaders and experts on timely topics relevant to students’ success. Conversations on Student Success are produced in collaboration with the Association of College and University Educators.