Are You Listening? Presentation at CUNY IT Conference

On Thursday November 30th, as part of the CUNY IT Conference, several Designing for All team members will be presenting a session called “Are You Listening? Supporting Inclusive Learning Design”. You can access a pdf of our presentation slides here.

Here’s the description of our session (from 1 – 2 pm on November 30th at John Jay College):

Everyone wants learning to be barrier-free so CUNY students can succeed, right? As faculty, IT, librarians, and Accessibility Services, how do we actually provide fully accessible learning materials and foster an environment where every single student feels completely welcomed and acknowledged? What are the ramifications of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Open Education Resources (OER) for those of us with different roles in supporting inclusive pedagogies?

Facilitated by LaGuardia’s Designing for All pilot project team of faculty, students and staff, this session offers opportunities to share and learn from each other. Which pedagogical frameworks ensure that students are not hindered from accessing their curricular materials or learning environment due to financial, physical, or other reasons? How can we – the key players in the landscape of accessibility and inclusiveness – recognize different priorities for providing access while effectively supporting students and faculty in meaningful and effective ways?

Come learn how we are working with these issues at LaGuardia. Tell us what you are thinking and doing on your campus, and help us build the CUNY-wide initiative to move the University towards becoming a truly inclusive learning environment!

Joy, Shame, and Care: Updates from Our First Student Meetings

While our five magnificent DfA student leaders work on designing their bios for our site, as well as the student survey we intend to conduct during Fall II, they’ve given me consent to draft our meeting notes into a public-facing post. During our first few meetings, we focused on developing truly shared expectations, and explored what each of us brings — intellectually, personally, emotionally — to our joint project.

Immediately, our students dove into experiences — both shared and unique, both interpersonal and structural — of learning in classrooms that are not, fundamentally, structured for them. While one student spoke beautifully about the complexity of being able to speak comfortably to a lecture hall full of people, as well as on an intimate one-on-one basis, but not to a group of five people, say — which got vigorous nods and murmurs of agreement from the rest of us — others swapped stories about the power of representation on mainstream television shows and the need for increased humanity in both media portrayals of dis/ability and in classroom interactions.

When we discussed what students wanted to learn throughout our time together, responses ranged from finding more abilities of their own to thrive in classrooms to discovering the specifics of how academic policies are made at LaGuardia, including examples, to provide a possible roadmap for structural change. How, our students wanted to know, can undergrads effectively convey ideas about what they need in classrooms? How can we influence not only what policies are formed, but how they are formed, at the level of our school and beyond? And how, one student asked poignantly, can students tell when professors are truly dedicated to our students?

This struck me as a tremendously important through line in many of the students’ comments: the interpersonal affect and structural impact of, simply, care. How, our student leaders kept asking, can students with various mental dis/abilities be not only accommodated, but welcomed, into classrooms? How can structure and consistency meld with, as one student put it, professors who “let everyone be human”? Pedagogically, students were seeking a balance between clarity and consistency with the empathy and care of flexibility, understanding, and approaching students as human beings.

This, though, was just our first meeting. If the first was a crucial outpouring of ideas and buzzing excitement for where the students are going to lead this project, the second was an emotional breakthrough that left most — if not all — of us in tears.

Students shared stories — stories that are not mine to share for them — of being shamed, of being taunted, of being passive-aggressively targeted, by teachers, by administrators, by classroom and university structures that do not interweave any concept of care into policies, that actively refute the humanity of students with a range of dis/abilities and language experiences. The ways that structures of racism interlock with structures of ableism rang strong throughout their stories, their experiences, my stories, my experiences, our tears and our hopes.

One student spoke extensively and beautifully about shame. He said that shaming people is framed as “a way to help you improve,” when in reality, it’s just a way to make you feel dirty and less than for the way you move in the world.

Another student wanted to make it clear that no one should “have to force [themself] to learn the way other people learn.”

There were silences and there were long bouts of laughter; there were giggles over my veganism and eagerness to eat the cheese of my pizza. (Because yes: there was pizza.)

There was, at the end of the day, the settling of a powerful feeling into our bones. As one of our students brilliantly said, he felt profoundly shaken and sad, telling his stories, sharing them with us; but he also felt, inexplicably, happy. Because he was finally in a room with people whose nods weren’t pitying, but rather empathetic; with people who had stories of our own, and shared them, not to overshadow his, but to make him less lonely in the ways he’s been shamed.

Because we were all in a room, for a purpose, that intends to transform what has been imposed on our students as shame, and transform it into structural changes that will last, that will, as one student put it, teach us how to not apologize for the ways we exist in the world.

Resources for Practicing Accessibility

Here are hands-on practices to use with word docs, pdfs, powerpoints and videos that will enable more people to access them, including, of course, students!-)

A key concept to keep in mind when formatting documents (and webpages) is to organize information using headings and subheadings. This crucial point not only makes a big difference for screen reader tools, it is also helpful for anyone reading the document.

Thanks to the Media Accessibility Project for developing these materials.

Full Manual with How-To’s
Creating Accessible Course Content Manual

Guideline Sheets
VIdeo Captioning 
PowerPoint

Microsoft Word
PDFs

 

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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Protected: Designing for All- Low Stakes Assignment- T. Battle

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Protected: Low-Stakes Assignment – Justin T. Brown

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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!

 

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