An Online Pedagogy of Kindness with Cate Denial

Welcome to Episode 41 of the ThinkUDL podcast: An Online Pedagogy of Kindness with Cate Denial. Cate Denial is the Bright Distinguished Professor of American History and Director of the Bright Institute at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. In this episode, which is part of a Summer 2020 series on Universal Design for Learning in online environments, I ask Cate about how she applies the concepts in her 2019 article (and forthcoming book) “A Pedagogy of Kindness” to online courses. In this conversation, Cate explains how her ideas about trusting her students, believing them and believing in them, and employing an ethos of care are utilized in specific online design principles and actions. Along the way, Cate and I connect these ideas to Universal Design for Learning principles to provide our listeners with opportunities to implement not only well-researched and neuro-science based UDL principles in online or hybrid courses, but also –as Cate so eloquently writes and speaks about– a pedagogy of kindness as well. 

I just wanted to add a short signpost here before the interview. Cate mentions the term LMS several times in our conversation and this refers to a Learning Management System. An LMS is a technological platform managed by the college or university where the instructor and students can access the course content and communicate with each other throughout the course. I am thankful for Cate’s thoughtfulness and, yes, kindness, in wanting us to define our terms for our listeners.

Resources

Follow Cate Denial on Twitter @cjdenial

Cate Denial’s website is full of thoughtful blog posts and brilliant ideas

Cate’s A Pedagogy of Kindness appeared in August 2019 in Hybrid Pedagogy

Cate mentions using her LMS several times. LMS refers to a Learning Management System and is often where the online course is accessed by instructors and students, and is managed by the college or university. Examples of Learning Management Systems are Moodle, Canvas, and Blackboard. 

Cate mentions Google Docs as her collaborative tool for syllabus annotations

Slack is another collaborative tool that helps students and instructor communicate asynchronously throughout the semester

Padlet is a recommended tool for use in synchronous and asynchronous settings for group collaboration

Zoom is a tool for synchronous online meetings and collaborations that Cate mentions and will use once a week to meet as a group

Karen Costa’s name came up in this conversation as well, especially in regards to Trauma-informed teaching
Listen to Karen Costa’s interview about Trauma-Informed Pedagogy on the Tea for Teaching podcast

Transcript

Lillian Nave:

Welcome to ThinkUDL, the Universal Design for Learning podcast, where we hear from the people who are designing and implementing strategies with learner variability in mind.

Lillian Nave:

I’m your host Lillian nave. And I’m interested in not just what you’re teaching, learning, guiding, and facilitating. But how you design and implement it, and why it even matters.

Lillian Nave:

Welcome to episode 41 of the ThinkUDL podcast, an online Pedagogy of Kindness with Cate Denial. Cate Denial is the bright, distinguished professor of American history and director of The Bright Institute at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. In this episode, which is part of a summer 2020 series on Universal Design for Learning in online environments, I ask Cate about how she applies the concepts in her 2019 article and forthcoming book entitled A Pedagogy of Kindness to her online courses. In this conversation, Cate explains how her ideas about trusting her students, believing them, and believing in them, and employing an ethos of care are utilized in specific online design principles and actions. Along the way, Cate and I connect these ideas to Universal Design for Learning principles, to provide our listeners with opportunities to implement not only well-researched and neuroscience based UDL principles in online or hybrid courses, but also as Cate so eloquently writes and speaks about, a Pedagogy of Kindness as well.

Lillian Nave:

I just wanted to add a short signpost here before the interview. Cate mentions the term LMS several times in our conversation, and this refers to a learning management system. An LMS is a technological platform managed by the college or university, where the instructor and students can access the course content and communicate with each other throughout the course. I’m thankful for Cate’s thoughtfulness and yes, kindness in wanting us to define our terms for our listeners.

Lillian Nave:

All right. So I’d like to welcome Cate Denial, who is the Bright distinguished professor of American history at Knox College, and also the director of The Bright Institute who I have been following on Twitter and gotten to meet several times. And really excited to finally get to have a conversation about her Pedagogy of Kindness. So Cate, welcome to the ThinkUDL podcast.

Cate Denial:

Thanks for having me.

Lillian Nave:

Wonderful. When you wrote your Pedagogy of Kindness, came out August of 2019, I put it on Twitter before I knew who you were or anything, and told all of my friends, which aren’t that many, but lots of people on Twitter about it. And then we had the great fortune to meet up at pod in the same session. And it all clicked, “Oh my goodness. She’s the one that wrote this.” So of course I tweeted out again. So I’m really excited to talk to you about your ideas and the Pedagogy of Kindness in this very interesting time when we are doing a lot of switching to online.

Cate Denial:

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Lillian Nave:

So my first question I ask all of my guests, I am going to ask you as well. And that is what makes you a different kind of learner?

Cate Denial:

I think at this point in my career, I am the person for whom universities are ostensibly designed, right? I have great executive function. I’m very, very organized. So I thrive in that situation. But I would say looking back, when I first got to college, there was a whole unwritten curriculum that I had absolutely no idea about. I was a first gen student. I didn’t know things like what were office hours for. I mean, I didn’t know that there were office hours to begin with. And then I wasn’t really clear on why I would go to them. I didn’t know about the best ways to get hold of the books. I ended up paying way too much for them. I didn’t know how was the best way to sign up for courses. Just every single thing about being in that environment was brand new to me.

Cate Denial:

And I just had to intuit my way through it. Which I’m fortunate that I could. But it’s not a good way to try and get through college. And I would appreciate it so much, someone just sort of sitting me down and saying, “Here’s some things that you need to know.”

Cate Denial:

So I was a scrambler of a learner, right? I was trying to put together all these pieces of a giant puzzle. And I expended a lot of energy just on trying to figure out what the hell I was supposed to do.

Lillian Nave:

Yeah. Wow. And now, are you let’s say in the business of making that easier for your students knowing your experience?

Cate Denial:

Absolutely. Absolutely. So everything is clearly signposted. I say on my syllabus for example, that I have student hours, not office hours. Because so many of my students think that office hours mean that’s what I’m in my office working on my stuff. So I have student hours, I explained that student hours are only for them. They are never interrupting me. It’s just for them to come in and ask questions or just chat. And then I tell them when I’m available, I tell them how they can make appointments. But everything in my syllabus is signposted that way, because I don’t assume that anybody knows any of it.

Lillian Nave:

So you see your role not just as someone who professes knowledge. It seems like you are acting like a guide, facilitator. You’ve got a lot of roles that you’re taking on, is that correct?

Cate Denial:

Yeah, that’s right. I actually have a little teaching philosophy on a webpage that I built for my students to introduce this me before they ever meet me. And there I say I’m not much of a profess-or. I am much more of a guide. I am much more somebody who is there to sort of urge them to go in one direction or to consider something they haven’t considered before. I’m not there to be on a stage and tell them what I need to know.

Lillian Nave:

Oh, fantastic. Yeah. As you and I have worked together a little bit this summer in trying to move courses into a digital format, I must say that I am finding myself in more of that facilitator role for the most part. And feeling much more comfortable in guiding and facilitating rather than professing.

Cate Denial:

Yes, yes. 100%.

Lillian Nave:

So you wrote A Pedagogy of Kindness last year, or at least you published it last year. And you have a book that is going to come out. Is that right?

Cate Denial:

That’s right. On the same subject.

Lillian Nave:

Wonderful. So I’m excited about that. And I wanted to talk to you about how you are applying the things that you talked about in your Pedagogy of Kindness to this online hybrid new world that we’re entering into in the fall. Or some of us even in the summer, as we move forward. So what does an online course to you look like in which you, as you say in your Pedagogy of Kindness, you trust your students rather than treat them with suspicion? So how does that play out for you in a digital course, online, hybrid, something like that?

Cate Denial:

I think the starting point is that I do not believe my students are trying to get one over on me. That was certainly how I was trained. When I was a teaching assistant, I was told to suspect that students were going to cheat. They were going to be looking for the opportunity to get one over on me. They were going to be wily, you know? So I suspected them of all of those things for years. And that sets up an antagonistic relationship between you and your students.

Cate Denial:

So I don’t do anymore. And it’s been a long evolution to get to that point. But I really just trust that they want to be there, that they want to learn something. They don’t just want to tread water and pass their time. And I think that’s especially true now that we’re going to online and hybrid. Many of us are, at least there’s many people who’ve been doing this for years and are great experts on this. But for me, this is a new venture.

Cate Denial:

And my students online are a different creature in some ways from my students in a face-to-face experience. The trust is even more important. I have to believe in them and believe that they want to get something out of this experience. That is not hard to do.

Cate Denial:

So I try to put a lot of trust in them from the get go. So for instance, I write my syllabus. But then I give them the opportunity to annotate that syllabus. So I don’t have that first day where we just walk through the syllabus together and I read everything out loud. Instead, I have a day where we introduce ourselves, we start building community, and then they take the syllabus away with them and they annotate it for the second class. And then we come back and we talk about their questions. We talk about what do they most want to know more about. What did they think was a good policy? Where did they think it was a bad policy? And if something needs to be changed, I will change it. So I’m showing that I trust in their ability to make good decisions and good choices, and to know their educational experience probably better than I do. Right?

Lillian Nave:

Sorry, how is it that you are having them annotate the syllabus? Are you using some sort of digital method? How are you going to do that online or hybrid?

Cate Denial:

We’re doing it with Google Docs. So there will be one central Google Doc that they will just make a copy of, annotate for themselves. And then we’re going to come together in two separate discussion groups and talk about what they wrote on their syllabi. So they’re going to be like I said, questions, concerns, comments, places where they thought something was really good, why they thought it was really good. It’s not just a thing where I’m like, “No, praise me.” It’s much more something where I’m like, “Okay, if you thought that was a good policy, why did you think it was a good policy? What does it speak to in your educational experience that perhaps hasn’t been spoken to before?”

Lillian Nave:

Has there been something along the way that surprised you as you’ve done this episode, maybe seated in the past, or something that you weren’t expecting that they’d come back with after annotating?

Cate Denial:

I think the biggest thing I didn’t expect was that their trust in me increased. They saw that I meant it when I said I wasn’t there to profess. That I was there to guide and collaborate, and facilitate. And they had great appreciation for how much work goes into a syllabus once they’d annotated it. Which I know, I teach a course on the historical pedagogy for undergraduates. And I know from the students going through that course, they have never thought about how much work goes into things. They think assignments sort of spring from the earth, like dwarves in Lord of the Rings. Right? So when they’re annotating the syllabus and they start to think about how did you arrive at all of these policies and ideas, then they see how much effort is going into it. And it builds trust on both sides, I think.

Lillian Nave:

Oh, wonderful. I would see there’s a lot of that trust building in things like policies that you have either from the university, or that you are creating in your class, or that you’re co-creating. How is it that you are creating that? I guess it’s mutual trust. Their trust in you, your trust in them when you introduce policies, like let’s say the college honor code. Because as you said, it used to be your ideas, “You shouldn’t cheat. This is accusatory. We are on opposite sides of a battle.” So how is it that you introduce something like that, that includes that trust?

Cate Denial:

So the very first line of my new honor code policy is I believe that everyone in this class is fundamentally honest. So just sort of state from the very beginning, I’m about to tell you what the college’s consequences are if something goes wrong. But I want to you to know that I don’t think you’re going to screw up. My old policy definitely had that undertone to it. I don’t really even know if it was subtext. It was more textual. But I was just sort of like, “You are going to screw up, and here’s all the awful things that will happen when that happens.” Now I’m like, “You are honest, this is going to be fine.” And then I also say my job is to help you learn how to do this right. So I’m going to work with you on things like citation. When do you cite, what does that style look like? How do you adapt it for different classes? That’s my job, and that’s on me.

Cate Denial:

So I take some of the pressure off I hope, by making it clear that I’m going to teach them this, they don’t have to come in having learned it right away. And that goes right back to my college experience, right? Where I had no clue what citation was, why you did it, what style you did it. And I just had to guess my way through that experience, and it was awful.

Lillian Nave:

So let’s add another role as coach to facilitator, professor, instructor. And coach is a big one. And I see you coaching not only your students, but also a lot of us other instructors and learn a lot from you, and your encouragement. I guess you’re a chief encourager as well in what you do. Wow.

Lillian Nave:

So what about in this policies? I have a lot of questions for you about grading too. But I would imagine that the trust is built, and mutual trust in how you introduce grading policies as well in the syllabus.

Cate Denial:

Yeah. So the syllabus has a very short section on grading in it where I just sort of say we are mutually going to come to an agreement about how your grades will be awarded. And I do set out what proportion each assignment will be of their grade. But that’s it. And then instead, what I do is that in the first couple of weeks of class, I bring in some suggested ways for us to think about grades. So I define what a C is, for example. And then I offer some terms that might define what a B might be and what an A might be. And then we talk about that, and we talk about whether they’re fair or unfair. And do they think that these are adequate? Do they feel like these actually address the ways in which they’re learning?

Cate Denial:

They get to edit them. They get to offer new rules or new standards that they want to put in. And those standards don’t become the standards for the class until the whole class has come to consensus about that. Once we’ve come to consensus, then I put it on my LMS, and we refer to it through the rest of the term.

Cate Denial:

But I think it’s really important to have students have a voice in the way that they’re graded. Because so much about grading in the way that’s for instance, I was taught to grade, robs students of having any input or agency about the grading, right? It’s just this abstract thing that happens to them. And so much of I think what goes on when students are challenging their grades is it’s just not clear how you’re thinking about grades and what that means. And that’s fair. Because I know that I had no idea what I was doing for the first several years that I was grading.

Cate Denial:

So I think giving them that time to be able to sit, and reflect, and then come back and have a conversation about it makes it clear that again, I’m genuine when I say we’re going to collaborate on these things. And that their experience of their education matters.

Lillian Nave:

Wow. Now that is one of the major points of Universal Design for Learning, which is engaging students. And one of those sub points about recruiting interest and getting students to be a part of their education, and creating expert learners is to minimize threats and distractions. And I see you in all of these policies and introductions, and just the layout of the course is taking away all those things that faced you as a student. Yeah. That made it so difficult to navigate, that made it so difficult to really figure out what was going on. You are minimizing, or taking away, or facing head on all of those things for your students that allows them to really be full participants in their learning.

Cate Denial:

Yeah, I think so.

Lillian Nave:

Yeah, absolutely. So when I read a Pedagogy of Kindness, I thought this is all UDL. This is so great. Maybe I didn’t have that voice. But in my head, that’s what I was thinking.

Lillian Nave:

So looking through each part of it is bringing to me different areas of Universal Design for Learning. And one of the things I wanted to ask you about too is you bring up an idea of an ethos of care in your Pedagogy of Kindness. And what does that look like to you as you’re spending the summer designing your online or hybrid course? How does that translate from a seated course into your online course experience? Personal interactions are going to be possibly digitized, or through a screen, or some perhaps removed. So how do you communicate an ethos of care to your students throughout? You’ve already shown a lot through your syllabus. But how do you do that also throughout a semester that you’re thinking about?

Cate Denial:

I think an ethos of care in an online or a hybrid environment begins even before they see the syllabus. I think I’m investing time this summer in learning to be a better teacher in a digital format. And that is because I care about my students, and I want them to have a great experience this fall. We were lifeboat learning in the spring, or my friend calls it salvage a semester. But it was so frantic. And we were doing the very best we could, but we just didn’t know what we didn’t know. Right? So I’m spending a lot of time this summer really learning what should I be doing, and getting ideas for that. And I’m building my LMS to anticipate where major challenges will be. So that when my students log in for the first time to Classroom, they’re going to see that the entire term is there. They’re going to see that there’s flexibility. But they’re also going to see that I’ve anticipated things. Like I’ve built a sheet that says, “Here’s the technology we use. And here are some common things you might want to know about that technology.”

Cate Denial:

I have little videos that introduce how do you use Google Docs? How do you share a document? How do you do all those things? That’s all about an ethos of care, right? Not assuming that my students know those things. Many of them will, but I’m going to have first years, I’m going to have people who’ve never taken a history class before. I’ve got to be speaking to them. So that’s the first place I think that an ethos of care comes through.

Cate Denial:

And then I think throughout the term, it’s those moments where I can really involve students in their own learning. So I have a set of learning objectives for my course. But my students are going to write their own learning objectives for the course. So they get to come in and say, “I’m curious about A, B, and C. I really want to leave this course having polished these particular skills. I really want to know more about this thing that happened in history.” And they get to sort of challenge themselves and say, “This is how I’m going to connect to the course this term.”

Cate Denial:

Also, the way that I grade. I know we’re going to have a conversation about the way that I grade. But the way that I grade involves students from the get go in deciding what they’ve learned. They do self evaluations and then we have a conversation. So I’m going to be sitting down one-on-one with everybody, either through Slack or through Zoom. And having a long conversation with them about how they did what they think was the strongest part of their work, how they want to move forward, making it much more of a conversation instead of me dictating this is what you did right or wrong. And therefore, here is your arbitrary grade.

Lillian Nave:

Right. So they have a chance then to revisit the goals they set for themselves?

Cate Denial:

They do.

Lillian Nave:

And I guess they are pretty much the arbiter of saying I did or did not fulfill it, because they’re the ones that know the most about it rather than you, I would suspect.

Cate Denial:

Exactly, yes. Yeah.

Lillian Nave:

Wow. So this is all fantastic. How early in the class you having students think about their goals?

Cate Denial:

In the first week. So we will look at the goals that I’ve set out for the course. And then I will ask them all to send me either an email or upload something to classroom where they set themselves between three and five goals. And they can be content specific. They can be skill specific, it’s up to them. And if they have any problems sort of thinking what that goal should be, then I’m available to them through chat, and through Slack, and through email, and so many ways that they can get hold of me and we can have a conversation so I can help them take broad ideas and make them more specific.

Lillian Nave:

Great. Wow. I’m also hoping to do that. And wasn’t sure if I set that out, even before I’ve been thinking about it. But it’ll be in the first couple of weeks, I think for students to really think about how they are making that class their own, getting some buy-in from students for it.

Cate Denial:

Yeah.

Lillian Nave:

So fantastic. So you’re going to be using a lot of digital. You said Slack, or Zoom, or things like that. Are your courses entirely online? Do you know yet? Are they hybrid?

Cate Denial:

We don’t know yet. I’ve requested to be entirely online, because history is not a course that needs lab space, or dance studio, or theater. Right? So it’s easier for us to be able to go online than it is for some of my colleagues. But the final decision hasn’t been made yet.

Lillian Nave:

Okay, great. I am lucky enough too to be fully online. And it’s the first time our university is allowing for first year seminar to go totally online. So I’ve been working on it since even before the pandemic. And really excited after learning how we can make a community online. And knowing how important that is for my first year students, that this was the one class they said they knew everybody’s name. They said they felt known. They said it was a really important part of their first year on campus. And it really is. And just like you, I want it to be the same kind of experience. And now I feel so empowered after learning so much over the summer that we can. We really can make this digital community that we can share an ethos of care. That we can really bring in students to have real relationships, even on a digital platform.

Cate Denial:

Absolutely.

Lillian Nave:

Yeah. So how will your students in your course, your online course know that you both believe them and believe in them? That’s one of the great phrases you used in your Pedagogy of Kindness. Another one of the Universal Design for Learning principles is sustaining effort and persistence. That can include heightening the salience of goals or objectives, and increasing mastery oriented feedback. So things like, “I know you can do this. I believe that you can.” Right? So how is it that you are planning to do that in your online course? So they know you believe them and believe in them.

Cate Denial:

It goes back to the beginning again, right? It goes back to the syllabus policies, to start with at least. So I don’t have an attendance policy. I don’t have one when I’m teaching a seated class, and I don’t have one when I’m online. I believe that my students know the value of being in class, and what they can get out of it. And I also believe they know when they just can’t do it. And that can be for a range of reasons. It can be because someone’s [inaudible 00:27:11] caretaker. It can be because they have a job, it can be because they’re traveling. But it can also be I just need a day off. I mean, we all do, right? We all need those breaks. And I think it’s inhumane of me to expect that my students are going to be there every single day, without any variation in their emotional landscape. So I trust them to know what’s best for them.

Cate Denial:

Now, that doesn’t mean that I simply abandon them. If they’re not coming to class, it’s fine. I am keeping track of when they’re not coming to class, how they’re not showing up. So I’m tracing their effort, their engagement, their ability to be in place. And I’m making sure that I’m following up with them through other means. Through email, through Slack, through Zoom, whatever. And just checking on them. Not demanding that they tell me their personal life or private business, but just sort of saying, “Hey, is there anything I can do to support you right now? You haven’t been in class for three class sessions, or you haven’t turned in the last couple formative assignments. What do you need from me to be able to succeed?”

Cate Denial:

So that’s where it begins. But it also, I think the grading is a huge part of this. Being able to say to them, “Look, we’re going to decide this together.” I think it’s a big part of the self-evaluation process that they go through because the self-evaluation questions are linked both to those grading standards that we decided as a group.

Cate Denial:

And then there are a set of open ended questions where they get to tell me, “What else was going on when you were writing this paper? What else were you dealing with in your life as you tried to do this assignment?” There’s always an open ended question at the end that’s like, “Is there anything else I should know? What else would you like to tell me?” And that really sort of gets across I believe in your ability to do this assignment. I believe in your ability to grade yourself fairly. And I believe in your ability to offer up an honest assessment of where we go next, and where you need support, when you need help, where this was a learning experience for you. And that learning experience may not be, “I learned how to not write in passive voice.” That learning experience may be, “I need to come and talk to you, or I need to turn in a draft,” or any number of things. “Before I turn in my next assignment.”

Lillian Nave:

So is this something that you are asking students to write down ahead of time? They kind of give it to you before you have an in-person meeting? How does that work?

Cate Denial:

Yeah, so they turn in their self-evaluation on the same day that they turn in their assignment. And that assignment could be a variety of different things. It’s not just a paper. There’s audio, there’s video, there’s all kinds of things that people have made. Sewing quilts, dioramas, arts, all kinds of stuff. So when they turn that in, in whatever format they’re turning it in, they also turn into self-evaluation. I read that then before our meeting. And then my first question in every meeting is, “What grade would you give yourself?”

Cate Denial:

Students are uniformly 100% disarmed by that question, because so few people ask them, right? And then I sort of say, “Well you said this, what do you think that means?” And my experience has been that students, I have had only two students in the entire time I’ve been doing this practice of grading who have overestimated what they should get. And that is because they weren’t paying particularly good attention to what our grading standards were. And when I sort of reminded them of the grading standards, they immediately revised and were like, “Okay. So I guess I would get.” Right? What usually happens is that my students underestimate how well they did on their papers, or their videos, or their audio, whatever it is.

Lillian Nave:

Yeah. Well I must say that every once in a while, through different portions throughout the term, you shower Twitter with a few awesome examples. And I’ve been able to peek in. We’ll give your Twitter handle for any of our listeners who want to follow up and see some of those really amazing projects that always surprise and delight when students are given that creative chance to go in multiple directions. And it’s really refreshing to see your assignments and what students come up with. So it’s really invigorating. So hopefully other folks can see what you’re talking about when you say it could be more than a paper. Remember there were games that people made or dioramas, just fantastic stuff.

Lillian Nave:

So that ability to let’s see, work with the student and give that feedback is that glue, that engagement part really helps recruit the interest in the student and sustain that effort and persistence. Which is two of the three parts of the engagement column in the Universal Design for Learning guidelines. If you didn’t already know, all of this aligns just perfectly with what a lot of neuroscience and a lot of studies have told us help our students to become expert learners.

Cate Denial:

Yeah.

Lillian Nave:

That’s a major part. So another idea that increases engagement with the student and the material, and the student and their peers is the ability to be able to foster collaboration in community. That’s really a lot of fun if you’re sitting in a class and you’ve got group projects. What about online? How is that going to look?

Cate Denial:

Well I got to try some of this in the spring. And what I had was an upper level seminar, a history seminar. And we used Slack. Because we tried Zoom, but I was not very well educated myself on how to make good use of Zoom at the time. So it was a disaster. So we switched to Slack, which was amazing because it’s like texting, which all our students do. Right? So we were able to litter our conversations with gifs, and emojis, and it was just like having a really fun conversation. So I would do breakout groups in Slack. I would just make new channels and assign people to those channels. And then people could have group conversations. I mean, I could drop in and out of those channels and did a couple of times. But I could also stay out of the channels completely and let them talk. And then we would come back to our main discussion channel when the group time was over.

Cate Denial:

So that’s one way. I’m also going to work with Google Docs a lot. So the same way that they’re going to annotate their syllabus, we’re going to use that to be able to do work with analyzing primary sources, and thinking about argument, and doing peer feedback on drafts, letters that they write. And all kinds of different things. And then of course, if anybody does want to Zoom and to see their peers, we can arrange that and we can have breakout groups in Zoom too. So there’s lots of different ways for that group situation of huddling together with your chairs in a seated environment to happen online in various different ways, depending on what sort of technology or software you’re using.

Cate Denial:

Those are the three that I’ve used. I’ve also played around with Padlet which I love the idea of just having sticky notes that everybody can move around. That’s so fun to me. But I’m trying to limit the number of pieces of software that I ask my students to learn in any given term. So we’re not going to use Padlet this term, although they are free to go out and find some glorious piece of software that they want to use for an assignment. But I’m not going to require them to use certain things.

Lillian Nave:

So I know you said you don’t know exactly if you’re fully online or not. If you are online, are you having synchronous sessions in addition to, although this is a lot of asynchronous. Slack would be asynchronous. Not everybody’s on or watching the text as it comes in. So you can do that whenever you have the ability to kind of sign into or look at Slack. But Zoom would be that synchronous part. Do you know how are you going to use either one? If you are going to have synchronous parts, what would you prefer? How would you do that?

Cate Denial:

I’m going to have out one synchronous session per week with my students. So I’m going to split my class into two, so that the groups are of a more manageable size. And then I’m going to have synchronous sessions either in Slack or on Zoom, depending on what the students want. And if it’s a 50/50 split, then we’ll do both of them.

Cate Denial:

Karen Costa always says it’s the ketchup on the burger. So you make this delicious burger, and it can be a veggie burger if you want it to be. So this delicious burger. And then the synchronous part of it is just the last little thing that makes it perfect, right? Lovely, fantastic taste, because of that last little thing. And that’s really how I’m looking at synchronous work this term is an opportunity for us to be present with one another. Whether we’re seeing each other at faces or not, as part of building and sustaining community amongst all the students.

Lillian Nave:

That’s wonderful, yeah. I too am going for once a week, and thinking about doing things on Zoom that you can’t do otherwise. Right? So if it could be handled in an email, I don’t need to be doing it on Zoom.

Cate Denial:

Exactly.

Lillian Nave:

But if it’s something where I would like everyone to recognize or understand something together, or realize, maybe do something. If I give directions and then ask them to draw something, and then show everybody show what they drew. And realize oh my goodness, I gave the exact same directions, but we have 30 different drawings, right? That’s the point. I want them to see that everybody interprets things differently. And it would be, if you saw each one of them come in on Slack and you hadn’t had the chance to do your own drawing. Then it wouldn’t be as useful a tool.

Lillian Nave:

So making sure each area or tool that is being used is used for that specific purpose is a big, big hurdle that I went over in my head. In the spring, when we all went emergency. It was we’re just going to keep doing, it’s like we were in class, so we’re going to keep doing it. And then realized that’s not going to work.

Cate Denial:

Exactly, exactly.

Lillian Nave:

Yeah. And it doesn’t really see my students as the humans, all different kinds of people that they are.

Cate Denial:

And I think my students, I know my students really missed being in a physical classroom with one another in the spring. So they asked for us to have multiple Zoom meetings a week. I think in the full, the difference will be I’ll be able to articulate to them this is why we’re using Zoom and when we’re using Zoom. And like you said, it’s from when we cannot achieve that end in any other way.

Cate Denial:

So instead, I think the hump I had to get over was the idea of three class periods a week with homework attached to each class session. It doesn’t have to be like that online at all. But my students also expect that sort of regiment. So I’m going to be sort of upfront explaining this is why it’s organized the way it is. This is why we’re going to do things a certain way. And also take their feedback as the term progresses and say, “Do you need more of this, less of this? How do we keep adapting to make this interesting and something you can really feel like you’re engaged with.”

Lillian Nave:

So one of the things that you’re mapping out is a nice rhythm once a week. You meet with students and then they have this asynchronous stuff to do. And I want to go back to when you were first telling me about you as a learner and a first generation college student, and trying to figure out how things work. Everybody’s going to be really figuring out how to do online classes. And it will be really different. Everybody’s going to be a first generation online learner in the fall when they have multiple classes. Even if they are on campus, I know of a lot of schools that students are coming back, but four out of their five classes are going to be fully online. Maybe synchronous, maybe asynchronous. What ways are you thinking about helping with that executive function?

Lillian Nave:

Now you said you’re really good at that. Right? And that’s a really great skill to have. But you might have many students who are coming into, maybe it’s not their first year of college, but it’ll be a different year of college. And they won’t have that I have to be every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 11, I need to be prepared for class. It’s going to be I have 23 different things I have to get done for my four or five classes. It’s like a big amoeba. How do I get all of this stuff done? So have you thought about what sort of help, coaching, encouragement you’re going to be doing that helps students with that executive functioning of their goal setting or their prioritizing of time, and that sort of thing? That’s something I’m kind of struggling with right now.

Cate Denial:

I think there’s two ways that I’m aiming to prepare them for that. The first is that there’s a rhythm to the weeks as I’ve set them up. Certain things will always be due on certain days. So if they’re in my Wednesday group or my Friday group, they can rely on a certain way that their week is going to unfold. So it won’t be Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 70 minutes in a classroom. But it will be something very reliable in its rhythm. And I think that’s super important for them. There will be some weeks where we do something slightly different, but they can always count on I have to have the readings done by this day. I have to have filled that this little quiz by this day. I’m going to have something due to turn in by Friday. Those kinds of things.

Cate Denial:

The other thing I think is super important for our students as we look at fall and we think about executive function though, is trauma informed pedagogy. We are all experiencing trauma in some ways. I know I’ve had so many students who’ve experienced trauma in my classes before I went online. Now, we’ve got a generalized trauma on top of that or beneath that as people are dealing with the pandemic. And dealing with all kinds of ways the pandemic has affected them. And not just the pandemic. George Floyd’s death, Breonna Taylor’s death, the Black Lives Matter protests. So much has been going on over these past few weeks that is so important when we’re thinking about how we process information. And executive function is one of the first things that goes when you are traumatized. Makes it that much harder to be able to concentrate, focus, order your thoughts. I have noticed that in myself.

Cate Denial:

So if I’m noticing how much harder those things are on my students, it’s going to be exponentially harder. So having a conversation with them early in the term about this is what we’re dealing with. I’m going to find them some readings that are like here are some basic information about trauma informed pedagogy that we’re going to try to implement this term.

Cate Denial:

But reminding them also to give themselves some grace, and some space, and to know that things are going to take longer. The way that I’ve designed the course is certainly not the same way I would design it if we were face-to-face. Because I don’t think my students are going to be able to do as much because of this underlying trauma that everybody’s dealing with. So I am still teaching the same skills. We’re still covering the same content. But perhaps, just a reading less a week or something like that to give people the space to move more slowly.

Lillian Nave:

And what about encouraging, or implementing, or designing in breaks as well? Because a lot of colleges in our state system has decided to go straight through to Thanksgiving. So no fall break, no labor day break. It’s just going to be you’re in, and you don’t stop. So I’ve been thinking about the idea of our digital learning, our online courses. And it’s just going to be a big blob of the these five amoebas all next to each other. And how to give students structure and also a time to say, “Hey, you’re off for whatever these two days.” We finished a module, take a break, don’t look at the next stuff until Wednesday or something like that. Because the usual things of the rhythm of the week. Friday night through Sunday afternoon, when you supposedly would have no deadlines and time off or time to catch up, or go to a football game, or relieve stress. We just don’t know if that’s going to happen. So I’m wondering about how do we design, or put in breaks, or that sort of rhythm. I like how you said you have a rhythm to how each one is going to go. So that is kind of a trauma informed idea. Is that leniency, or breaks, or how do you see that unfolding?

Cate Denial:

I think there’s a couple of ways I think I see it unfolding. I model it. So my syllabus says I am not available to answer emails after 5:00 on Friday until Sunday morning. Those are just the days that work for me. I model that. There is time where I am not going to think about work at all. And sort of suggest, “Hey, do the same thing. Block out some time where you’re just like, ‘No, I’m going to do whatever else brings me joy.'” Sometimes that is just sitting on the couch. Let’s be Frank. So I model it. I also build in some spaces, especially around a major summative assessment. So when they do have to write a paper in my class, it’s a letter that they write to somebody. So it’s a very different kind of assignment. It’s not quite the regimented make an argument paper that a lot of people do.

Cate Denial:

And I give them some space once that’s it. We’re going to have all this time where we’re going to be grading. We’re going to be talking to one another. Take a breath, take a breather. I’m also not backward about saying we’re all exhausted, we’re taking off two days this week. So when I was in a seated classroom, I would literally just be like, “No class on Wednesday.” Right? And I’m going to find some way to do the same thing as I’m sort of reading the room and learning what my students, where they’re thriving, whether or not. I know the stress points. I know that stress points are always around midterms. And then about week eight, we’re in a 10 week term at my college. Week eight is when everyone falls to pieces, including the faculty. So just knowing that week eight, we’re not going to really push the limits of what we can do. We’re going to back off a little bit, give people some breathing room. So definitely building in space and flexibility. I think that’s the thing. Not having a hard and fast way that things have to be done, but being adaptable.

Lillian Nave:

Yeah. I often will try to plan the hard parts of my class around the easy parts of the semester, and vice versa. Knowing that I always have freshmen or first year students, and knowing they have that midterm break, or the midterm weeks, or the right before fall break. Of course, we don’t have those things anymore. So I think need to just add a lot of flexibility. So whatever students in whichever head space they are can make that movement to choose to take the two days off. And this is where I’m going to take your words. I need to believe them, and believe in them that that’s where they need to be or what they need to be doing. So one of the last parts of that executive functioning is self-evaluation too. And being able to know how you’re doing. That’s also an engagement, the self-regulation.

Lillian Nave:

And I know we’ve talked a lot. I love talking to you about your grading. And you said in A Pedagogy of Kindness when students turn in their paper or un-paper, whatever it is that they end up turning in, you ask them what they might do differently the next time, how pleased they were, what they learned about themselves. And I’m wondering, and you talked about this already today, those questions that you ask your students. Are you going be adding any questions about how they’re doing just in their online course? Are you changing anything? Are you doing anything differently in that online environment?

Cate Denial:

I think that the self-eval that’s attached to the assignments will look more or less the same. Because the open ended questions at the end of it will give people the scope to say, “This is not working for me, or I’m really struggling with X,” or things like that. But I am also going to have little drop-in evaluations throughout the term where I’m like, “It’s week three, how’s it going?” How are your other classes going? You know, what’s the workload like, how are you balancing things? Where do you need some help and some support to be able to make this work for you? So I will probably do that a couple times during my 10 week term, just to get their feedback. And then I can adapt, and be flexible, and change according to what I hear from them.

Cate Denial:

So their experience again, of their own educational experience is so important. And I think if I just sail through the term without ever asking them, “Is this working, is it working across all of your classes or not?” I think that would be a terrible idea. So I’m definitely going to make sure that I’m asking them how’s it going?

Lillian Nave:

This is so fantastic. I love this. I think it’s so important to be making these connections with the students. I would love to be a student in your class. I wish I had this type of relationship. I also wonder, do you ever get pushback from your students at all about this is a really different way of being in higher ed. It’s a bit against the current. The current is changing though. I must say the current is changing. But have you ever gotten students who were like, “I wish you would just grade me. I can’t handle all of this pressure, self-evaluation. Aren’t you supposed to be telling me what to do?” Have you ever experienced that or had any pushback?

Cate Denial:

I haven’t. I really haven’t. Instead, what I tend to get are comments at the end of term. The last thing they do for me is a self-reflection. So I’m trying to sort of tap into that metacognitive stuff. And I ask them just to write me five pages where they assess their learning over the term. And they tell me what was most successful and what wasn’t. “And where do you feel like you really engaged? What was the most important thing you learned all term?” In those papers, I get so much really thoughtful essays where they’re trying to sort of say, or they are saying, “This worked for me, this was totally different. I like this.” And then I also hear from my advisees sometimes where I get pushback is that they’re like, “You ruined me. This is not happening in all of my classes. I wish it was happening in more of them.” So I definitely hear that from students sometimes.

Cate Denial:

Especially, I co-teach a class on social justice dialogues with another one of my colleagues, Gabe Raley. And we frequently hear from students after that class, like why isn’t everybody doing dialogue in their classes? So that’s more of the sort of pushback I get, which is not really pushback at all.

Lillian Nave:

I am glad to hear of that pushback or lack thereof. And I do see it in at least in what I can see on social media and in a lot of pedagogy. This is much more where higher ed is moving into. And thankfully, it is creating expert learners, learners who are thinking about their own thinking, who are becoming experts. I think it begins with this kindness, this Pedagogy of Kindness that you wrote about.

Lillian Nave:

So thank you so much Cate, for your time and explaining so much about what you’re thinking about as we move into hybrid and online, and a different fall for 2020. And I just thank you so much for sharing your knowledge, your encouragement, your ideas with so many of us. And now our listeners can find you and learn from you. We’ll make sure we put your Twitter and your webpage as our resources. So thank you so much Cate, for talking to me on the ThinkUDL podcast.

Cate Denial:

Thanks so much for having me. This was so much fun.

Lillian Nave:

You can follow the ThinkUDL podcast on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to find out when new episodes will be released, and also see transcripts and additional materials at the thinkudl.org website.

Lillian Nave:

The ThinkUDL podcast is made possible by College STAR. The star stands for Supporting Transition Access and Retention in post-secondary settings. And the website provides free resources and instructional aids based on UDL principles. If you’d like to know more, go to the collegestar.org website.

Lillian Nave:

Additional support for the podcast is made possible by Appalachian State University. Where if you call Appalachian, I’ll throw an apple at you. The music on the podcast was performed by the Odyssey Quartet comprised of [Rex Shepherd 00:57:01], [David Pate 00:57:03], [Bill Falwell 00:57:03], and [Jose Coachez 00:57:05]. Our sound engineer is [Tanner Jones 00:57:07]. And I am your host Lillian Nave. Thank you for joining us on the ThinkUDL podcast.