Is your syllabus pivot-ready?

Fall semester 2020, AKA “welcome back to teaching in COVID world,” is rapidly approaching. Are you confident your syllabus is COVID-19-disruption ready?

Are you teaching in-person… hypothetically… at least on the first day? If so, is your syllabus pivot-ready?

UmbraEDU is ready to support you. Join the UmbraEDU Faculty Academy for our latest lesson, “Creating a Pivot-Ready Syllabus.” In it we walk though tips for how to make sure you’re ready for whatever fall 2020 might throw at you, especially if you’re scheduled to teach an in-person or hybrid course. Download the pivot-ready syllabus checklist to use in reviewing, or creating, your syllabus.

Stay safe and well!

Umbra Edu “Course Introduction Module” Available

Puppy drinking out of a travel cup

Are you teaching online for the first time this fall? Umbra Edu has you covered as you prepare to make the best first impression. The initial “Course Introduction Module” lesson is now available in the Umbra Edu Faculty Academy.

Not an Umbra Edu Faculty Academy member yet? Not to worry. It’s quick and easy to join, and it only costs about as much as taking one of us out for a couple coffee chats. Of course, with graduate students and adjuncts we pay half.

See you in the shadows.

Ubra Edu is OPEN!

Umbra Edu is officially open! Visit us at to find the Umbra Edu Faculty Academy, online professional development designed to be practical, affordable, and even fun. If you need one-on-one or small group support developing your courses for fall, we also offer personalized consulting.

Questions? Email us at

Check out our first FREE video!

Our Mission: Umbra Edu’s mission is to serve as a practical, adaptable, responsive resource to whose labor comprise higher education’s shadows. We seek to enhance the professional development of educators in the hybrid- and digital classroom space. We work as an auxiliary to promote enhanced student outcomes through efficacious instruction utilizing blended pedagogical strategies. Ultimately, Umbra Edu seeks to aid educators in (re-)establishing satisfaction and fulfillment in their teaching.

Introducing Umbra Edu

Umbra Edu Logo

Hello again, colleagues, students, and friends. It has been a while since I last posted. When you visit again, you’ll see that I’ve made a lot of major improvements. Sadly, as part of this clean up, we did lose some excellent archived student guest posts like “The End of the World Needs Chickens and Cold Cereal.” Best title ever? Yeah, probably. My students are awesome.

What we gained, though, is a new consulting LLP, Umbra Edu. As always, you will find research- and experience-based teaching tips and materials. You’ll also continue to get a “real” Shawna — more like a discussion at the bar after a conference panel than the buttoned-down formal presentation.

As many of you know, since COVID-19 I have been offering pro bono faculty and NGO educational technology consulting of this type. Over the last few months, my business partner and I have realized how much need there is for this kind of support. Many of our colleagues are new to teaching online. New grads might be new to both teaching online and teaching in general. There is a lot of reasonable anxiety.

However, many of us feel let down and alone. Some faculty can’t always get the support they need because their institution’s instructional designers are incredibly over-extended. Other faculty feel aggressively flow-charted or belittled by those who are supposed to be there to help. Looking for our own solutions has led many to pay huge fees for often confusing workshops in which the leaders don’t demonstrate and follow the best practices they teach. We hear you. We see you.

Are you ready for real, practical support to prepare for the daunting challenges we all face teaching in fall 2020? Umbra Edu, the shadow academy of instructional design, is here with a welcoming space and flexible tools to make sure you never feel stuck or alone, for fall 2020 and beyond.

Umbra Edu officially launches Monday, July 23rd. We’ll see you in the shadows.

Critically (Re)Writing Narratives #IntTLC19

Brighton beach at sunset

This week I had the pleasure of collaborating with colleagues from around the world at the joint ECPR, APSA, and BISA International Teaching  and Learning Conference 2019 in Brighton, UK ( This year’s theme was “Teaching Politics in an Era of Populism.”

As promised, this blog post contains reference materials from my co-facilitated workshop on the critically (re)writing narratives active-learning assignment. Your patience with my posting is appreciated. As we mentioned, we plan to turn this work into an article, so please only use these materials for teaching purposes:

Critically (Re)Writing Narratives Support

Thank you first and foremost to my co-facilitator, Alex Kreidenweis, whose University of Connecticut International Relations course first inspired us to develop this assignment. Secondly, thank you to all of our fellow educators who participated in the session. I recognize that it’s not often you get put back in the position of an undergraduate. However, your great senses or humor and willingness to have a little fun made this workshop a joy to lead. I will forever remember the activist cats and mice, and the on-point political cat puns that came from your spirited, creative retelling of “Larry the Downing Street cat throws diplomatic shade under Trump’s limo” ( It’s my hope that your students will find this activity just as enjoyable and useful if you choose to include it in the critical literacy section of the next course you teach. Most of all, I hope it helps you communicate core expectations while building classroom community.

Beyond this workshop, I was honored to chair one of the conference’s first panels. It was wonderful to see the variety of approaches to active learning that are helping IR students engage with the global politics in meaningful, academically rigorous, and simultaneously career-relevant ways. The highlight of the conference for me was a paper delivered in that panel by a team from the University of Exeter, a faculty member and three of his impressively poised students speaking together about their course journey. The honest, constructive feedback offered by these students was valued more than I expect that they knew. A thought worth sharing  came from one of these students in the Q&A. He reminded us, in his own words, how important it is to speak with our students about learning objectives and how our activities help attain and/or assess them. He emphasized that students appreciate this clear communication, and it helps keep them motivated to work hard in the course. *If any administrators from Exeter happen to see this post, please be sure to keep this course running. It’s an amazing, innovative course that I am confident has challenged these students intellectually and will help them get jobs after graduation.

Finally, the round-table that I most enjoyed was the discussion about supporting first-year student success. (I’m sure none of my colleagues who know me well will be surprised that I gravitated toward this topic.) What I took away from this was a strong sense of gratitude for the variety of professionals who support students holistically at my institution, and others like it. For example, I have learned so much and been able to help my students grow more than I could have alone through my work with colleagues specializing in career development, community service, residential life, outdoor leadership development, and beyond. In this round-table discussion, I reflected on how special these opportunities for collaboration have been for me. The support I was able to provide for my learning community students, for example, was something that many faculty in the room couldn’t imaging providing because they don’t have that kind of diversely-trained team around them. 

Cheers to you from Brighton, UK. I look forward to returning to Connecticut soon and using what I learned from the conference to prepare for my fall First-Year Writing course, “The Politics of Writing and Writing about Politics.”