10.4.17 Team Meeting Recap (Ft. Group Work, Gallery Walks, and Collaborative Decisions)

On October 4th, our team (sans our wonderful students, whose selection will be publicly announced soon!) met on campus to explore the resources already available at LaGuardia and connect the dots between our various, inter-departmental goals, needs, and skills.

Having faculty and staff in the room from as diverse a spread as Health Science, Theatre, the library, IT, and the Office for Students with Disabilities helped us gather an abundance of information, all by using the principles of inclusive design to get us there.

Creating and representing information verbally, visually, kinesthetically, and in written form allowed us to model, in our own meeting, some classroom practices that allow as students to latch onto the way they learn best while also practicing other kinds of skills.

We split into groups and discussed six questions; as groups, we wrote the ideas down and taped them to different sections of the room walls. Each section corresponded to a different question. Examining the gallery after our group discussions allowed time for social decompression/alone time, individual processing, and reading what other groups had come up with. We then synthesized the information in a very generative group discussion.

Below, I have compiled the questions and the notes we all took to start answering them. Please feel free to hop into the comments to add ideas and questions!

What resources can you offer to support and expand inclusive design at the college?

  • Increase education about already-available tech access
  • Increase education about accessibility features of Windows 10
  • Increase education about using built-in accessible features of smart classrooms
  • Distribute PDFs on how to make documents accessible (with reminder that you only need to learn how to do this once)
  • Design a library website that all students can use equally
  • Constructing a UDL-design syllabus template

How can you help with the student survey this fall?

  • Promotion through the library website and social media
  • Online via Blackboard
  • FYS
  • Can send to any group/sample of any group of students
  • Can make it available in study halls and library open area (on the desktops)
  • Offer freebies (“a chance of winning…” for filling out survey)
  • Department meeting announcements

How do we build the CUNY network for inclusive design?

  • CUNY CTL Council
  • Present at CUNY IT Conference
  • CUNY Accessibility Conference
  • Teach@CUNY Day
  • CUNY-wide library listservs
  • CUNY dis/ability listserv
  • Populate CUNY Commons site (here!) and form public group on Commons (forthcoming!)
  • Invite Queensborough, Lehman, to show us some UDL practices
  • Cross-CUNY workshops
  • UDL toolkit with syllabi template
  • UDL certification for educators (professional development, certified in UDL practices after 4 seminars, for example)

How can we promote/implement Accessibility 101 — UDL for educators?

  • Framing it as Decolonizing the Classroom rather than Accessibility 101
  • Enlist faculty to run educational/enrichment opportunities, partnered with experts from outside the college
  • Present information as a talk/sharing research rather than a workshop per se
  • Citing work toward these goals already underway at other campuses
  • Tying our work to retention and graduation rates
  • Host student-led panels about barriers to learning
  • Branding — make UDL something people have heard of and are curious about
  • Connect our goals with LGCC competencies, thinking through how to expand concepts with other class activities
  • Open up pedagogical practices
  • Create a culture of continual learning
  • Remind people that many faculty already are using these techniques
  • Demonstrate possibilities for faculty
  • Reframing and translating what this is (e.g. decolonizing practices)
  • Creating concept maps that transcend and include all elements within/across different professional development opportunities

What do YOU really need to be effective in cultivating inclusive design at the college? 

  • Student feedback and input
  • Interdisciplinary partners
  • Student usability study of website
  • Activity sharepoints/space for faculty exchange [of pedagogical ideas, struggles, practices]
  • Supportive systems for encouragement of faculty around skills and knowledge already within each of us
  • Solid theoretical frameworks
  • Internal systems to assist in design/activities (eg. closed captioning creation)
  • Finding ways of sharing the burden/raising people’s consciousness

Low-Stakes Activity — Jenn Polish

Things that other people generally find low-stakes? I often find my pulse thrumming extra hard and my clothes starting to get soaked with sweat and my brain hitting a loop of “I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna.” I know — because they’ve told me — that many of my students experience this, too.

So often, we think of “low-stakes” activities as things we do in the classroom that aren’t graded; writing we submit that will only be checked off as having been completed or not; etc. But for me, and for many students with anxiety (for example), these activities don’t feel low stakes at all. This is also time-dependent, of course: what’s low-stakes one day can feel extremely high-stakes the next, and vice versa.

Margaret Price writes about “kairotic space” as:

“the less formal, often unnoticed, areas of academe where knowledge is produced and power is exchanged. A classroom discussion is a kairotic space, as is an individual conference with one’s advisor. Conferences are rife with kairotic spaces, including the Q&A sessions after panels, impromptu elevator encounters with colleagues, and gatherings at restaurants and bars on the periphery of formal conference events. Other examples from students’ experiences might include peer-response workshops, study groups, or departmental parties or gatherings to which they are invited.”

Drawing on her logic, here — that the definition of low-stakes is directly linked to the production and reproduction of power — I’d like to draw attention to a classroom activity that seems to me to operate very explicitly along that line of low- and high-stakes learning. I do this to complicate what we mean — and whom we’re including and excluding — when we uncritically/neurotypically assume that what’s low-stakes for us is low-stakes for everyone.

This classroom activity is an ongoing invitation into acknowledging the classroom as being, as Price says, “rife with” kairotic spaces. When this truth goes unacknowledged, we continue to privilege those identities and modes of learning which are so dominant as to be deemed invisible (eg. whiteness, able-bodymindedness, etc.) In order to acknowledge this and explicitly negotiate consent in a space inherently full of unequal power dynamics, in my Theatre 101 class, we (myself included) use “Personal Traffic Lights” to try to establish a consent-based system of participation.

The explanation that appears on my syllabus is as follows:

Each class, you will be expected to bring with you the cards I give you in the beginning of term: these cards will be our Personal Traffic Lights, colored green, yellow, and red. Though we will discuss these extensively in class, I want to explain our Personal Traffic Lights here as well:

Green: When you are feeling up for anything, ready to take intellectual and emotional risks with the rest of the class — or, just when you’re feeling ready to participate generally and speak out in class — please make the green Personal Traffic Light visible to myself and to your classmates.

Yellow: When you are feeling cautiously ready to participate — perhaps you’re nervous (a little or a lot), or having an off-day/you’re tired, but you’re ready to take some risks and dive into theatre class activities — please make the yellow Personal Traffic Light visible to myself and to your classmates.

Red: When you are feeling unable to participate in a traditional way — when you’re having a bad day, when it’s enough of a challenge and risk to be present in class so you would rather learn by observing, listening, and taking notes instead of directly engaging in the day’s activities — please make the red Personal Traffic Light visible to myself and to your classmates.

You can always change your Light in the middle of the class, because of course, our feelings fluctuate all the time.

You will never be penalized for how you’re feeling, of course, but you might find that I’ll check in with you privately if I’m noticing a lot of reds and yellows from you; this is to see if there’s anything I can do to make the class a safer and more comfortable and accessible space for you to learn.”

When we start doing projects and activities together, we will make sure we have roles for when you’re feeling yellow and red. We will work as a team to find various ways for everyone to contribute to the class experience; perhaps the greatest thing about theatre is that there is always a role for everyone, from the most outgoing spotlight-seeker to the most introverted behind-the-scenes writer.”

This piece of the syllabus — when my students did group investigations of the syllabus on the first day and first reported this finding to each other — evoked immense emotions in my students (and myself). One student asked, near tears, “why has no one ever done this with us before?” It should be noted that this student, a few weeks later, was showing his “red” card, but he still went up to perform a short piece for the class. The other students congratulated him on his (very high-stakes, but in a “low-stakes” context, since they don’t get graded either on mini-class performances nor on their Personal Traffic Lights) bravery, performing in front of everyone while he was feeling red. Upon hearing this, another student — also feeling red — immediately volunteered to perform for the class.

It was a very moving moment, and one that will continue to shape my pedagogy going forward.

Another note from my syllabus: the following discussion of risk in my classroom seems relevant to their Personal Traffic Lights, and in the way I first proposed this system to the class.

This is a theatre class, and as such, we will be doing a lot of theatre-oriented activities in the classroom. Sometimes, this might involve moving our bodies in socially unexpected ways or using our voices in unusual ways. Always, we will be taking risks together: it can be a very vulnerable experience to speak or be silly (or be serious!) in front of people, as those of us who are shy and/or experience social anxiety know!

I want to do my best to make sure that the level of risk involved in our class challenges us — myself included — to push ourselves beyond what we’re used to (perhaps that means talking in front of the whole class, or perhaps that means performing an emotionally vulnerable monologue), but at the same time does not overwhelm us. That is the reasoning behind the Personal Traffic Light system described above: please let me know if this system is working for you, and how we can adjust it if it isn’t.”

For my peers: Since we are already engaged in this activity in my class, are there tweaks you can anticipate — either in the instructions or implementation — being needed for next term? What objections to this should I anticipate (I’ve already heard… well, a lot)? What am I not thinking about?

 

Low Stakes Assignment

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For DfA Faculty: Low Stakes Activity Design Draft

This semester, based on your experiences and research with DfA so far, each faculty pilot will be revising or developing a low-stakes activity to implement with their students in Fall 2017.

By Friday October 6, please post a draft of your low-stakes activity and name it something like: Low Stakes Activity – [Your Name] so your critiquer can easily find your post and reply to it with their feedback. Please assign your post the “low-stakes activity” category in the dashboard. If you choose to password protect it in the Publish window on upper right of dashboard, please use our agreed-upon password that Jenn emailed us on  September 19, 2017.

In your post, be sure to include:

  1. a *brief* overview with (A) the course learning objective(s) that your activity addresses, (B) your rationale for revising or developing the activity with a more inclusive learning environment in mind, and (C) the connection with your research questions, and
  2. the actual instructions you will give your students
  3. a couple of questions you have for your peer critiquer(s) about the activity design, e.g., is it clear what I’m asking when I tell students to do such-and-such?

Critiquers
We will peer critique each others’ activity drafts using assigned partners so everyone gets feedback (we’ll “draw names” at our meeting on 10/4.)

Feedback for your colleague(s) is due on 10/13.

After responding to the colleague whose name you selected, you are encouraged to respond to additional colleagues’ activities if you like!

 

UDL In Brief

Universal Design for Learning — often, referred to as Universal Design because of its origins outside of the classroom — is a pedagogical approach based on the idea that learning is a process that is facilitated (and hindered) by the environment in which one is expected to learn. UDL at its best draws attention to the underlying structural ableism, racism, classism, cisnormativity, and heteronormativity of learning spaces; instead of questioning “what is wrong with this individual that they are not learning in this space?”, the principles of UDL instead pose the question, “what is wrong with the structural environment that is designed for some, but not others? How can the structural environment be improved to create space for multiple styles of learning, particularly those that are undervalued in hegemonic learning spaces?”

Particularly at LaGuardia Community College — as well as CUNY more broadly — UDL has tremendous implications for a largely POC, largely immigrant, largely low-income student population.

In brief, UDL attempts to ensure that each piece of classroom learning can be accessed and manipulated by users in various ways, such that there are:

  • multiple, valued forms of representation;
  • multiple, valued forms of action and expression;
  • multiple, valued forms of engagement.

The valuing of different forms of engagement — for example, actively valuing non-verbal modes of participation in class by assessing quieter students with the same worth as students who speak up more in class — is a crucial component of ensuring that classroom spaces move toward equity rather than perpetuating the privileging of some affects, learning processes, and forms of engagement over all others.

UDL is often critiqued for the problematics of “universality” (which is usually code for whiteness), and it is our goal through DfA at LaGuardia to ensure that our versions of UDL incorporate critical race feminisms and queer of color critique as central facets of course design and research.

For more on UDL and the information presented here, please explore our General Must Reads resource page.

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