Reflections on low-stake group activity
I implemented a low-stake group activity in my Environmental Psychology class when introducing students to the Henri Lefebvre’s concept of social construction of space. Based on my previous teaching experiences, this was the most challenging concept for students, especially when they were expected to apply it in their own theorizing of place.
I was hoping that this exercise would provide students with an opportunity to engage in exploring the core ideas of this concept (e.g. three dimensions of space: perceived, conceived and lived space) as the activity prompted them to generate data (i.e. concrete situations of how space is used, designed and reimagined) that illustrated the concept and enabled students to make their own inferences and conclusions. Students were thus later able to connect abstract concept and their everyday experiences of places they encounter on campus at LaGuardia (e.g. classroom, library, cafeteria, halls, outdoor space, etc.). I hoped that this collaborative activity would allow students to engage in collective exploration of their relationship with places, provide each student to contribute with their own ideas, reflections and observations of the space as well as consider use of these spaces by members of other social groups (based on gender, age, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, dis/ability, religious beliefs, etc.). I also believed that working in small groups would provide more intimate environment for students who might not feel comfortable voicing their ideas in a larger group or are hesitant to articulate and write their ideas when asked to work individually. Working in small groups allowed students to distribute responsibilities, and find the niche for their ways of preferred contribution and expression (e.g. speaking, writing, drawing). Students were provided with written and visual prompts (written questions and prompts, and images of the assigned spaces) on posters that they used to generate their ideas.
Specifically, students received the handout with the following instructions (besides the oral instructions):
As you read in the assigned chapter, Henri Lefebvre suggested that spaces are not mere containers of things and people, they are not static and passively ‘given’, rather they are ‘socially produced’ by human beings through our relationships to other people and places, and through activities we carry in them. As you learned from reading the chapter, Lefebvre proposed that humans produce three types of space: conceived, perceived and lived space.
As a group think of your assigned space and collectively answer the three sets of questions and probes on the poster. Try to come up with as many ideas as possible and describe the space in detail.
Poster probes and instructions for students:
[Images of the classroom HERE]
- What makes this space a …classroom….? How do you know it is a … classroom ….? What are the indications that this is a …classroom …? What kind of activities (spatial practices) are usually carried out in this space? By whom? Who belongs to this place (or does not?)
- Who decides that this is a … classroom …? Who decides what this place looks like? How is this place conceptualized (thought of and planned)?
- How else could this place be used? How else it could be ‘imagined’? For what purposes? By whom?
When considering these spaces think of yourself as well as members of other social groups (e.g. based on gender, race and ethnicity, dis/ability, sexual orientation, or different social roles at the college, such as students, faculty, staff, etc.)
In my Design for All research I am in interested in how collaborative learning can facilitate students’ engagement and accessibility to learning and how dis/ability can be integrated into curriculum and teaching. The implementation of this low-stake assignment enabled me to explore both of these questions.
Based on students’ responses and my observations of the class students enjoyed reflecting upon their every day use of space on campus and coming up with their ideas. Many students reported that they have never thought of space this way, other social and cultural groups’ use of space and considered it an eye-opening experience, especially when considering space from the perspective of other members of social and cultural groups. Students engaged in lively discussion, especially when considering students diagnosed with physical, intellectual and emotional disabilities, as well as power relationships that space often promotes or reproduces.
This was a simple group activity, however, students’ engagement in this assignment made quite a difference in their understanding of the concept. (I was also able to compare this with another class from the last year). In our further discussion of Lefebvre’s ideas and other two related articles that applied his concept, I could utilize ideas generated by students in this class activity. Even more importantly, students could readily use their own examples from the assignment in making inferences, asking clarifying questions and understand connection between their and other authors examples.
I believe that my expectation of this exercise promoting inclusivity were fulfilled as it addressed all three aspects of UDL principles. This exercise offered if not multiple, certainly alternative or supplemental means of:
- representation – the concept was also explored by reading an article by Lefebvre describing the concept of social production of space and work of other two scholars that illustrate application of Lefebvre’s concept
- expression – as activity offered various means by which students could contribute to learning activity and demonstrate their knowledge,
- engagement – as students engaged in active exploration of their own (and other social groups members’ relationship) with space. Students vigorously interrogated spatial aspects of social relationships in the spaces they use and are familiar with. Furthermore, by exploring the relationship of members of various social identities and categories with environments, students’ awareness of diversity and differences was addressed and their own sense of inclusive environment was promoted.
In my research I am interested in developing a curriculum and instructions that will integrate dis/ability and social justice in teaching. I am also interested in developing teaching instructions based on collaborative learning that would lead to increased engagement of students and access to learning and thus promote their inclusion in learning.
In addition to creating inclusive environment by implementing UDL principles in my teaching practices, I believe that teaching instructions need to be organized in a way that the students can actively contribute to co-creating inclusive environment. In other words, I am thinking of the accessibility to learning as not something exclusively created by the instructor and delivered to the students. Rather, I prefer to think of accessibility as a part of classroom culture which is collectively co-constructed by all learners as they engage in learning-teaching process.
One of the goals of my research and teaching practice is to develop such curriculum and design such teaching practices. I am planning to design and implement instructions and assignments (in my Social Psychology class this spring) that would allow for collective construction of accessible learning culture of the classroom that would promote equitable education.
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):
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
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
- 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