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I took the time to reflect on the last semester and the consideration of my UDL assignment into my SCH150 (Drugs, Society, & Behavior) course for Spring I 2018. I am working to fully implement a scaffolded assignment after implementing, a low-stakes version, in my class during the Fall I 2017 semester. Over the course of the Fall II 2017 semester, I worked to adjust the low-stakes portion of the assignment and to expand the more complete assignment for the course. The premise of this assignment is to expand upon the considerations of drug policy, based upon course information and review of current affairs related to drugs and drug policy within the United States.
In the Fall I 2017 I had my students complete a low-stakes reflection at the end of the course on their perspective related to the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970. Specifically, if they felt that this policy was still correct in its application and classification of substances within the United States. Students were encouraged to either write out the blog post or to record and upload a vlog post. Currently in Spring I 2018, I have more fully-integrated a scaffolded assignment with both low-stakes and high-stakes portions using different modalities to access the various strengths of students within the classroom. First, after a brief discussion on the history of U.S. drug policy and the aforementioned act as well as watching a documentary “Breaking the Taboo” and writing a brief reaction response, students record and upload a brief (up to 5 minutes) recording on their current perspective on the aforementioned act (i.e. what does it say, is it a good policy). The students will receive feedback as well as discuss their perspectives in class on the topic further. Students will begin compiling their evidence to think about potential reclassification of drugs within the current structure as we dive into discussing the different substances over the course of the semester. Students also continually watch films and write brief reaction posts that will help further inform their final paper. At the end of the course, students will have compiled the final high-stakes paper and then will work in teams to have a low-stakes debate in-class (once I provide position statement for them to approach the debate).
I am still working on adjust the assignment. However, my DfA colleagues have continued to be a wonderful support to this process. It has been through their work and listening to their assignments that I have been able to re-evaluate how to approach work within the classroom. It is helped me figure out the key objectives and understanding that there are a multitude of ways to work toward accomplishing that objective for the course. Overall, this project and initiative will help ensure a more inclusive and accepting environment at LaGuardia and beyond.
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.
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
- 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