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Culturally Responsive Choices with Courtney Plotts

Welcome to Episode 70 of the Think UDL podcast: Culturally Responsive Choices with Courtney Plotts. Dr. Courtney Plotts is an author, speaker and the National Chair of CASEPS, the Council for At Risk Student Education and Professional Standards. Today we talk about the intersection of Universal Design for Learning and Culturally Responsive Teaching, how to create a culturally inclusive environment both in person and online, the difference between collaboration and cooperation, invitational teaching, and the “Dos and Don’ts” of starting your journey in Culturally Responsive Teaching. We both mention plenty of resources and those will be available on our website if you want to learn more. Thank you for joining us for this conversation on the ways in which UDL and Culturally Responsive Teaching work together on this episode of the Think UDL podcast!


Follow Courtney on Twitter @Courtney_Plotts or reach out to her via email:

Find out more about CASEPS (the Council for At Risk Student Education and Professional Standards) and the work Courtney is doing there

Courtney mentions a Culturally Responsive Rubric. This is an example that is graded (as shown by different colors), but students can also grade themselves/their community with something like this as well.

Lillian mentions a favorite article that explores our western data sets and about how the “West” is WEIRD: 

We Aren’t the World in Pacific Standard

Jenae Cohn and Courtney Plotts recently published two articles in Faculty Focus that we reference on today’s episode:

How to Structure Your Online Class for Inclusion, Part 1

How to Structure Your Online CLass for Inclusion: Two Principles for Fostering Engagement, Part 2 

And Courtney and Jenae also just released this article for EDUCAUSE:

Encouraging Ethical Decision-making in Academic Technology


Lillian Nave  00:00

Welcome to think UDL, the universal design for learning podcast where we hear from the people who are designing and implementing strategies with learner variability in mind. 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. Welcome to Episode 70 of the think UDL podcast, culturally responsive choices with Courtney plaats. Dr. Courtney plaats is an author, speaker and the National Chair of case apps, the council for at risk student education and professional standards. Today we talk about the intersection of universal design for learning and culturally responsive teaching, how to create a culturally inclusive environment both in person and online. The difference between collaboration and cooperation, Invitational teaching and the do’s and don’ts of starting your journey in culturally responsive teaching. We both mentioned plenty of resources, and those will be available on our think website. If you want to learn more. Thank you for joining us for this conversation on the ways in which UDL and culturally responsive teaching work together on this episode of The think UDL podcast. Well, thank you so much, Dr. Courtney plots for joining me on the think UDL podcast today. Thanks for having me. I am excited about our conversation. I’ve seen your presentations before and read some of your articles that we’re going to get into. So I’m really excited about what you have to tell us about cultural relational theory, teaching. And But first, I want to ask you what I ask all my guests and that is what makes you a different kind of learner.

Courtney Plotts  02:17

Yeah, okay. So I don’t think it is, or was different before, I think it might be different now. I love my textbooks, and I love walking into a room and listening to somebody lecture. I am, it’s just I like that kind of thing. Anything I can learn from someone. When I when I started my first full time teaching gig, it was right when ebooks were coming out. And you know, kind of helping students navigate that and but I just I am I’m perfectly content, you know, just being, you know, an academic and going in and learning and taking notes and looking at a textbook, which didn’t used to be a different type of learner. But now it is, I think, in some respects, because of the tech influence. So I think that’s what makes me a little bit different of a learner. Okay,

Lillian Nave  03:12

so like the low tech traditional, kinda, yeah, you want some nice books, you can smell an open.

Courtney Plotts  03:18

Yeah, yeah, exactly. And I know it’s not, it’s not good for trees. But for me, it’s it definitely is a thing. And some people know this, some people don’t, but I have a severe processing disorder. So it’s just what works for my brain. Okay. And so it takes me a lot longer to write or put thoughts together or do it effectively. And so it’s just that’s how I learned originally. And so that’s kind of what helps me but I also don’t mind my double monitors, either. I love my monitor. Yeah. And I’m working at a distance. So yeah,

Lillian Nave  03:49

yeah, I know. And I’ve spoken with Janae Cohn who’s talked about digital reading, right, and yeah, II reading and all of those things, how great it is. And it is great for many students. But I do have a little bit of a preference for an actual book. I’m really, really trying to do a lot more, you know, ebooks and things like that. But I love to turn over a page. I love to write in a book with my actual hand, not a cursor. Mm hmm. Yeah, yes. Some old habits are dying hard for me, but but I have seen how great it can be for many of my students to to have that e portion or E reader. Oh, absolutely. Yeah. Or listening to it. That kind of that’s the whole UDL part. So we need to have those options, right? Yeah. For us dinosaurs like you and me and our students. Yeah. Great. Okay, so, um, well, we’re already talking about variability, which is, of course, what almost every one of these podcasts is about. And so I wanted to ask you about a field that you are really opening up a lot of people too, I’ve seen many of the ways you have been kind of infiltrating higher ed, which we need with culturally responsive teaching. And it’s a little bit of a buzzword, CRT for short. And I think we would be better off if I had a great definition from you about what is culturally responsive teaching before we go on.

Courtney Plotts  05:26

Yeah, yeah, so culturally responsive teaching in my world, just a little bit of a background. I’m a school psychologist by trade. So what I do is I look at learning environments and barriers to learning, and what can be measured and what can be implemented to, to reduce that that barrier for student learning. And, to me, culturally responsive teaching is when you recognize that no matter who you are, where you come from your cultural lens is not the same as the people in front of you. And realizing that a lot of the best practices and theories that we rely on, were created in kind of a vacuum that didn’t really represent groups of other people. And so culturally responsive teaching is really looking at the different ethnic influences of learning, and in and incorporating them in your teaching, whether that’s building academic feedback, whether that’s building assignments, whether that’s looking at how you create collaboration in a course, and how you support collaborative efforts, and really just looking at all those pieces that can enhance your teaching.

Lillian Nave  06:35

Okay, so, culture, this is something I talk about a lot in my class. In fact, I just made a movie course trailer that asked that question, what is culture? That’s one of the things? Yeah, that that we look at, in my first year seminars, I’m dealing with first year students, where I teach, and what are the things that that create? Or what what kind of things do you say are big influences in someone’s culture? That shapes the way they might learn?

Courtney Plotts  07:09

Yeah, so there’s five areas that that if you took any cultural responsive cue or strategy, that that it’ll fall into. So there’s five areas so you’ve got academic culture, which is kind of that the framework of, of what academics is and how it happens. And then there’s three C’s. So there’s the community culture, which is how you’re building community and your class. There’s collaborative culture, how you’re having students collaborate, and what that looks like. And then there’s also cognitive culture. And that’s really looking at the difference between convergent and divergent thinking. And then there’s the ethnicity and intersectionality piece of pulling those pieces in and looking at those pieces and how they may influence any one of those other four areas.

Lillian Nave  07:57

That’s a lot. Yeah, that’s, that’s a lot for an educator to be thinking about as they’re designing a course. So it’s somewhat overwhelming to think about all of those things. So you know, the lens that I use the most is universal design for learning, which provides lots and lots of options for for our students. So if we are thinking about things like academic culture, community, collaborative, cognitive, and then ethnicity and intersectionality, what are some ways that culturally responsive teaching and Universal Design for Learning might intersect?

Courtney Plotts  08:37

Yeah, so so there’s a lot of examples for this. And I think the big question to, to ask, before we ask that is, how many of our students are familiar with the culture that we’ve already created in our course room? Right? Because if we’re more of a traditionalist, then there are certain expectations or certain norms or certain things that that kind of go into that. And so then the next question becomes, well, what, what can we do to make this in space more inclusive? So this is one of the easiest examples that I’d like to give. And it’s one of the ones I give a lot and, and keynotes and things like that. But basically, you know, I’ll ask you, what was your last introduction question that you put in a course. Just think back to the last introduction question you had, like,

Lillian Nave  09:25

how students might introduce themselves? I asked them about the origin of their names. Perfect.

Courtney Plotts  09:31

That’s a great one. Yep. Excellent. Right. Yeah. So that’s perfect. So that’s a perfect example of something that that anyone could look up and that anyone could access, right. Another example of something really, really similar, is something like this. If you want to tie it to your content, you’d say, if you were born 150 years ago, what would you tell your ancestor or someone who looks like you about the content you’re about to learn? Huh? So it can motivate people to really kind of take a step back and think about that piece. And then it can also, you know, have them have another reason to be motivated to look into the content. And, and, you know, we’re we’re in the middle of a culturally responsive teaching certification, and one of the teachers said, is a professor of higher ed. And, and she said, you know, she said, For the longest time, I was just kind of doing these generic intros. And she said, it was so fascinating to read those responses, because there was so much more information. And I learned so much more about my students. And it really helped me kind of guide the curriculum in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to do before and know kind of these other, you know, interesting facts I could throw in or these other things. So it was really interesting.

Lillian Nave  10:50

Wow, you know, you brought up this idea about how many students are already familiar with the culture are familiar with the culture of the class, and that academic culture, I think that one of your five areas that you mentioned, and I have thought about this quite a lot in working with Universal Design for Learning is making explicit those implicit things, whether they’re biases or ways of thinking that we assume students know we like, we assume that if a student needs help, they’re going to come to us and maybe in office hours, like let’s say, if we were on a physical campus, and that may be something that is totally foreign to a student that they don’t understand the academic culture is to will come and get help. Sure. And I think they’re signaling that they’re not prepared. They’re not ready. They’re not a good student. Right. And but we haven’t made that rule explicit enough. We haven’t said, here’s the academic culture that we have, we just assume that the students get it. And that may have worked years ago. Yeah. But we got so many different students, it doesn’t work out.

Courtney Plotts  12:03

Right, right. Well, and that’s the whole thing, right? When you have a group of same people, regardless of who those people are, the system was, was working very well, when it was homogenous, right. It’s the same group of people. And so cultures change, time has changed. And, and it’s also it’s a, it’s a two way street, I think faculty has to get more comfortable with tech, and students have to get more comfortable with faculty. And it, you know, I had a conversation with the professor not too long ago. And he, you know, his main point was, you know, I used to put an office hours. And he said, but he said, the majority of my students communicate via text. Yeah. So he said, you know, why am I, you know, if I’m in my office, I don’t mind being in my office, but he’s like, I shouldn’t expect students to come because the majority of my students, you know, communicate through text. So I think it’s just, I think it’s just that that happy medium of what’s effective, and what works. And that’s going to change semester to semester. And I think that’s something that higher ed is just waking up to where it’s at, you know, what work two semesters in a row is not going to work the third, fourth, and fifth, and so it’s really, really getting a handle on who’s in front of you, and really starting to challenge some of those teaching practices and, and really starting to, you know, gain some new skills that aren’t, that aren’t kind of overhauls of what people are already doing. But just gaining those small, simple skills that can really make a big difference.

Lillian Nave  13:24

Yeah, it is changing so rapidly, I must jump on that point there too, because students, they were less likely to come and find a professor in an office in the last 10 years anyway, because it’s intimidating. There’s, you know, 20,000 students at the University, and then you’ve got to walk across campus. And now you add masks, social distance, pandemic COVID testing, and that face to face part is even harder. And so students are far more likely to have a zoom conversation, right, a FaceTime, or via text or even more so than email, because I’ve noticed that either a group me or some sort of more informal chat is where those conversations are going to happen. And they can be very quick. It doesn’t have to be a half hour meeting, let’s block it out. And I’ll see you and my appointment schedule, right. It’s just, it’s really changing rapidly. And but what’s interesting to me too, and maybe you have some insight in this because you’re kind of outside and helping a lot with higher ed. But in the institution, the institution is not changing very quickly, because there are still you need to have this many in person office hours for your students in your office. Or maybe we’ll let you have 1/3 of your office hours online, but the rest need to be in person. And really, that’s not serving the students but it’s still kind of in the bylaws or it’s in the that’s the way we I’ve always done it, and it’s really slow to change. Yeah, yeah. And

Courtney Plotts  15:03

that’s common anytime you have, obviously a big institution, old institutions changes slow, because the people who want change usually don’t have the power to make the change. Right. So, and it’s growing. And I think that’s changing as well. But I also think it really comes down to a trust factor. It’s trust between students and faculty, and it’s trust between faculty and their higher ups. You didn’t you didn’t hire the best of the best not to be the best. Yeah, you know, and you can’t dictate where they’re the best, you can’t say, well, you’re not your best at home, or you’re not your best when you’re not in your office hours. And, And truth be told, a lot of faculty members have had more communication with their students in the last two years that they hadn’t last 10. And so, you know, we have to kind of just be honest about, you know, what’s out there. And I, you know, in people’s defense, I think it is a huge shift for a lot of people, you know, how do I manage people who are in 10 different locations? You know, I’ve been a dean for 15 years. So how do I, you know, go from seeing my people everyday having our Thursday meeting every week to? I don’t know where you are, how do I know if you’re working, you know, finger quotes. And so I think I think that it comes down to a trust thing. And, you know, I’m fortunate where, you know, I’ve been working remotely for almost 15 years. So in some sort of capacity face to face as well. But But, but also remotely, and it’s just what I know. And so it’s not a big shift for me, for for the people that I work with, we we just kind of do what we do. But But I but you have to, you know, kind of offer grace to people, because what you’re seeing happening is that shift and acculturative stress, it’s just going up, you’ve you’ve taken someone from a culture, they’re very familiar with face to face institutional culture. And you’ve removed that and said, Now you’re at home, your remote worker, well, that culture is completely different. So a lot of people are experiencing cultural stress just based on that shift.

Lillian Nave  16:59

Yeah. And the administration, I think, is feeling it as well, like, how do you? How do you run a system in this radically different way? And I know there was such a push this fall for people to go back to normal air quotes, what back to normal means. But still, we are dealing with this very different. And I love that your word culture, it’s a different culture of learning. Yeah,

Courtney Plotts  17:26

it’s very different. I think, I think that was just kind of glossed over by a lot of administrators, you needed to give people time to norm to that culture to kind of get their groove. What does working at home look like? For me, people weren’t just going to pick up their offices and go home. And it was it wasn’t going to be be the same. And also, you know, just to build on your point as well, this whole this whole return to work phrase, what did you think people were doing for the last two years?

Lillian Nave  17:54

Were they not working?

Courtney Plotts  17:56

Right? Right. And so you hear that term a lot, which I think is really not sitting well, with a lot of faculty, you know, return to work, you know, and some people, again, they’ve been working more the last two years than they have in the last 10, because of the technology curve, because of the number of students because of the meetings because of the need to connect, you know, writing more articles reading more, you know, learning more doing more professional development. So, and I definitely think there are two sides to that, I know that there are people that may have said, Wow, this is a lot, you know, less for me, this is better for me. But I don’t think we can demonize either of those two positions. I think it’s just what it was at the time for, what it was and what it is now. So

Lillian Nave  18:34

Well, I think that you’re making me think about that, you know, how familiar are your students with the academic culture they’re coming into, and making those rules, whether they’re noted or discussed, you know, making those apparent and letting students know, here’s what the academic culture is going to look like in our class, whether it’s online or face to face, I want you to be able to ask questions, you will be able to risk and fail with no penalty, because you’ll get a chance to fix it if you want, you know, those sorts of things. And I’ve noticed a big difference in just the year when I had students who again, I teach first year coming into college, who had a full year of pandemic High School, Russia students who kind of had the weird spring 2020. And here’s the one thing that I think is a culture changers culture difference, and that his students who were in high school and had zoom classes when they get sent into a breakout room, it goes dark, they are not communicating well, or or they are just waiting it out. Sure. It’s kind of the K 12 or you’re waiting for someone to do something for you, rather than the mutual here. We’re working together. And you really have to set those guidelines because my students who had either had a fall where they were a regular student That in person. Sure. And then we went online, they were still participating in a way that was more on the kind of college culture level about, oh, I’m gonna have to pick up or somebody else left off, I’m going to need to put in and be part of this community. And now I have students, and it’s a, it’s a different expectation, their own expectations very different. Yeah. And so the first thing I do in my intercultural dialogues class is we have to discover what our own culture is, what is our background? What’s our name story? Why do we think the way we think, and I realized that I hadn’t done that with our academic culture? I go over the difference between, you know, collaboration and cooperation, like cooperation is you do Part A, I’ll do Part B, together, we handle it and just get this done. Yeah, yes. And then collaboration. And I’ve said it many times, like, here’s where you guys have a dialogue, and I want You’re in a small group, and you actually have to negotiate What is your answer together as a group for this thing? And it’s a, it’s really hard to change that culture.

Courtney Plotts  21:13

Yeah. Yeah. And I also think it’s, it’s the nuances of all that, right. So you’re talking about collaboration, and, you know, conflict resolution and negotiation, you know, there are very specific cultural cues for that, right. So, so part of part of effective collaboration for students who may not be familiar with that environment is putting cues in that are reflective of something that they would recognize, and that other people can value. Right? So for instance, if you took something like, Mexican culture now, this is not saying that every person who’s from Mexico or is familiar with Mexican culture values, this is saying, What is your best chance for, for providing? A a healthy collaborative relationship? Well, that’s harmony, right. But the question is, how often in your class, do you talk about harmony? what that looks like, you know, you know, what is your you know, risk tolerance for conflict, things like that. Also looking at, you know, again, this is the UDL thing, right, where it’s where it’s everyone can benefit. A lot of people skip over the change in leadership that happens in a group, right? So if there are people who are just used to leading, they’re gonna lead? Yeah, if there are people who want to lead and aren’t gonna say anything, they’re not going to say anything. So the question is, what mechanisms are in place in those assignments that help those two things kind of happen, that don’t cause you know, a huge power dynamic that is reflective of, you know, other structures that are not providing support for students. Right. So

Lillian Nave  22:43

it’s a lot about this design, then. Yeah, how do we design a group project, or a breakout room or a face to face, you know, split up and let’s tackle a problem, a case study? That is culturally sensitive, right? Right, that allows it’s not just Okay, guys figure it out? I know you can. And then you’d have various different cultures? Well, I know if I want a good grade, a good grade, I need to talk first, right? Or I need to put my hand up. Whereas we need to really be explicit in you know, it’s not necessarily the first person who talks it’s, how are you negotiating? Did you get everyone in your group to offer an idea? Right? Did everybody have a chance? Yeah. To to play a part. Did you name what those those roles are? That’s one way you can do it, you know? Yeah.

Courtney Plotts  23:37

Yeah. And people and people who are introverts, you know, they take a while to say something. And so you have to give people the time. And I think that goes back to your point about the collaboration versus like cooperation, right? It’s like really making that that effort to, you know, take the time and really, you know, hear every voice and, and support, you know, every thought that is beneficial for the greater good of the group.

Lillian Nave  24:02

Yeah. And, and offering leadership opportunities for those who might be less likely to go out and grab it and say, all right, there are four questions. I want your group before to answer the first person, you know, I sometimes do the first one who’s lived in North Carolina the longest is the scribe, you’re going to report out sure the person who’s lived in North Carolina, the least you’re going to be heading up this question, you know, the person who has the most siblings, you know, and the person who has, you know, something like that, that eventually all of them right, it really much right, have a chance to lead, even if that is not how it kind of shuffled out in the first place. But it’s in it’s so much about design.

Courtney Plotts  24:47

Yo, yeah, yeah. And the cultural influences and how people receive and create leadership, you know, and just asking, you know, students, you know, what’s been a good experience for you? What hasn’t been You know, discuss that in your group and discuss how you know how you want to prevent those things or how you want to support those things. You know, you don’t want to trigger anyone or traumatize them either, right? When you want to, you want to just give people the opportunity, and I found it’s best just to do it in an anonymous kind of survey way, you know, like, kind of just getting a feel for you know, our most of students comfortable with leadership, are they not? And, and that will change based on every class.

Lillian Nave  25:26

Yeah. And I’m thinking about how students are, say, receive information to or process information. I realized, when I first started getting into universal design for learning that I preferenced, or privileged a certain way of designing a course going through presenting information, that sort of thing, and realize that if there if I had a student who wasn’t like me, then I was giving them sort of the second shrift. Every single assignment every every day, every lecture or whatever. And then when I realized that there are a multitude of ways that I could, let’s say, present information that I could run a class that I could design a module, some that preference, let’s say storytelling, and sharing one’s own personal response to something rather than, let’s say, bullet points, analysis, you know, something that would be very abstract first, right, you know, so learning about various ways to process information or to be introduced to information that we’re in some ways countercultural to my academic culture. If I remember being in high school, and if we could derail our Spanish teacher to talk about anything besides what we were supposed to do that day, we thought we had one right, like, Yeah, she can tell a story, right? Yeah. So I didn’t think storytelling was an important part of learning. Like that was just sort of fun. It was adjacent. But it wasn’t a main way to divergent Yeah. To what you were used to. Yeah, yes. And come to find out much later, I am so glued into and captured by stories, that it makes me engaged and interested and wanting to know more. And now I use storytelling, you know, so much, but it wasn’t my academic culture. Right, right. Yeah. But I can’t do that every time either. Or then I am preferencing. Those students who are storytellers, over the people like me, who were, I’m ready for a lecture and a couple racetracks, right. And I take my notes and be real happy.

Courtney Plotts  27:46

Right, right. Right. Yeah. And I think that’s the thing, I think, and I think people are tired of hearing the statement. So I apologize in advance. But I really think it’s looking in your teaching toolkit and saying, what are the seven or nine skills that I can learn and rotate as needed? And, you know, I always ask people to things, you know, when you’re talking about cultural responsiveness or UDL, it’s, it’s, are you trying to give information or gather it? Or, you know, for your students? Do you want your students to listen to the information you’re giving? Or do you want them to gather information based on what you’ve said? Or when it comes to UDL and cultural, you know, cultural responsiveness? You know, if you’re not sure where to start, it’s either your delivery or your content. Okay? Right. So it’s, it’s either in your delivery method of like, you were just talking about, you know, storytelling versus lecturing, or, you know, is it that I’m going to deconstruct this content and rebuild it in a way that is, you know, anti racist, or, you know, whatever, whatever your you know, important pieces that you think that you know, you can you can do. And for me, that’s it’s such important work. It’s not the work that I focus on, what I focus on is looking at the the current methods that we have, and how they’re really void from ethnic culture, and when what can be put back in. So even if we’re doing UDL design, what can be put in that would be a cultural cue for people. That wouldn’t hurt other people, and it wouldn’t harm other people. It’s just, you know, something that can be put back into the learning space.

Lillian Nave  29:24

Well, that brings to mind one of my favorite articles I’ve mentioned on the podcast before and that is the article, we aren’t the world. I’ll put it in our resources. And that talks about how our research for so long has been on a very small subset. If we think about economics, resource research, a lot of psychology, a lot of academic research, research has been on kind of asking college students to answer surveys, right and we get their ideas about things and that population is weird, weird stands for Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic. So if we are looking at European and American students who are oftentimes the guinea pigs for a lot of this study and research, we’re getting a small, like the smallest of the smallest weirdest subset of humans, not thinking about people who’ve grown up in much more community centered, rather than I’m going to go off to college and be something rather than I’m going to stay here and be a part of my community and going away would be counterintuitive to right who I am and what I want to be in my life. Yeah,

Courtney Plotts  30:45

yeah. And a lot of times, that’s a really great point. Because, because when you look at, you know, who comes back home? Yeah, you know, to do the work. If your community doesn’t need you, there’s no need to do that. It’s a, it’s just just a choice. Right? Yeah. Where when you know that your community needs you and you want to make a difference. It’s going to change how you influence, you know, where you’re going to college, how your education can influence, you know, your career in the law, like so many other ramifications, you know, but yeah, just a subset, you know, and just yeah, that that I love that. You said that. I can’t wait to check out that article. I haven’t seen that one yet.

Lillian Nave  31:21

Oh, yes, I’ll have it. I’ll send it to you. But I’ll have it with our resources for this episode. And your your point about, you know, coming back, or do you even go away? there? I remember having a well, I didn’t know it was a bias back then, when I was in high school. But thinking, of course, I’m going to go away to school, I’m going to go away far away. I’m going to try to reach for the stars. Right? Why would I stay close to home? That would be a failure? That was my head? Yeah. I don’t know. Exactly. You know, I’m not sure exactly how that got in my head. But you know, education was very important. And it was a stepping stone for I think, individual accomplishment. Yeah. And if you’re, let’s say your family, your community doesn’t necessarily need you to come back and fix things, then you can just go and do whatever you want. Right. So I think that was my mindset. And that is, that’s not our students. That’s not every one of our students. And there are so many important things that really, we need to be keeping in mind, as we’re thinking about why are they learning this? What are they learning? How, how important is this to our students? And keeping that in mind as to what what we will include in the curriculum? Yeah, too. Yeah. And what gets excluded?

Courtney Plotts  32:46

Yeah, that’s, that’s one of the things that one of our standards, for course, design is really just posting a brief case, a brief history of the course. And what’s been done in the course to make it culturally responsive. So you know, how, when you open a package, you know, there’s information like if you open a, I’ll just use a book, you open a book, and there’s information about copyright. There’s information about how to publish and stuff like that, just keeping those updates to say, Hey, listen, this course was reviewed at this date at this time. These are the you know, and you’re not you’re not giving real specifics, but you’re saying hey, we These are things we noticed this is what’s in process. This is what’s being working on, worked on. Just so you know, when it’s when it’s, you know, revealed to the student, you know, five weeks later, it doesn’t kind of stop them in their gums. Oh, yeah, I remember they said something about that, like, okay, yeah, we’re in the process, or, hey, we remove this from this for this reason. And it doesn’t have to be fully everything, right? Because that’s a lot of work. But you can just start somewhere and say, Hey, listen, we recognize this, because that’s one of the pieces that’s missing in the communication as well. For course design and for UDL, like, we know what UDL is some of our students do, some of them don’t. But you know, just saying, Hey, listen, I, we recognize that this wording wasn’t necessarily appropriate. So we change it to this, for this reason, so we want you know, we’re working on it, we’re working on it. And I think those are the micro steps, you know, we see all the big stuff, right on the news and at our campuses and, and that kind of stuff. But I think there’s just these smaller steps that really connect students to the university students or their faculty and students the environment, part of that’s just being honest and saying, Listen, this is a change we made. This is this is who made the change why we made the change, and we’re working on it and, and nothing that you know, is you know, it’s it’s, it’s everything, everything, you know, so much stuff has to change. So if we all just take little pieces, I think that’s the that’s the bigger point just being transparent with your students.

Lillian Nave  34:35

You’re talking my kind of language here. Something that I have been in contact with several of my UDL colleagues about how Invitational Universal Design for Learning is and that’s also what culturally responsive teaching is. It’s Invitational to the learners, to the students to say what are you bringing that we can capitalize on that we can leverage your strengths Oh, this this might need changing, I can see why or you know that I’m listening to you, I’m tweaking things. I’m in a constant state of improvement. Yeah. And that’s, that’s very different than the this is the way it’s always been. Here’s, we’re gonna uphold our traditions and our rigor, which is often the word that comes in with that, and, and what CRT, cultural responsive teaching and Universal Design for Learning do is, I think, turn that on its head and say, we’re here to listen to our students to involve and collaborate with students, what they bring to the table and find out also what works for our students as we move forward learning together.

Courtney Plotts  35:50

Yeah. And the new tradition is collaborative, right. Like, that’s the thing. It’s not about, I think, tradition is important. I do I think tradition is important. But I think that making new, there’s nothing wrong with making new traditions, right, there’s nothing wrong with saying, you know, we can take parts of this and parts of that, and, you know, it takes time, you know, you know, changes and institutions, they take a long time. And I know, a lot of us get frustrated with that. But I just have to take it as a day by day process, you know, I can control what I can control, and I can focus on what I can focus on. And, you know, thank the universe, there’s a bunch of people all around that are in this work as well. And, you know, it’s just you just stay on, you know, what, you know, and keep it.

Lillian Nave  36:35

Yeah, it’s, um, it’s a lot of releasing and sharing power that I certainly did not do and couldn’t do when I was first teaching. When I first started teaching, I was very young, I was very insecure. I was younger than many of my students, when I started teaching a late night, three hour art history course in a giant lecture hall, right, and had to prove that I was good enough to be there. And I wasn’t gonna listen to people, I wasn’t gonna listen to suits, I had to make sure they knew that I was an authority on the subject. So I mean, I’ve had this conversation with several others who are interested in relational cultural theory. And in, in listening to and inviting, that power sharing. It’s scary. Yeah, I think it’s, it’s a different kind of, of teaching that is vulnerable.

Courtney Plotts  37:39

Yeah. And I, I like that you said that, because I think that’s true. And I think it’s true for a variety of reasons, the reasons that you said, a lot of times people come into academia without an educational background. So yes, so they’re learning as they go, which is a very intimidating thing to do. And then, you know, just being a human, you know, just being insecure in general, and just, you know, being like, you know, is this what I’m supposed to be doing? What if they think that it’s, you know, every everyone has those thoughts, and people can pretend that they don’t, but I’ve had a lot of people sit in my counseling chair, and I’ve heard a lot of people say, say similar things, right. And so, I think that, that some, you know, that’s just where we have to be honest. And I think there’s a lot of pressure for educators to feel like, they have to get it right. And they have to get it perfect. And, for me, in my world, that’s just not a reality. For me, just because of the disability that I have, there’s always a missing space, there’s always a missing period, there’s some word that’s missing. And sometimes I have editing and sometimes I don’t, and so, you know, that may turn some people off from reading what I write or, you know, talking with me, and I understand that, but at the same time, it’s also just part of what it is, you know, so I, I had to ask myself, you know, am I going to stop doing this work? Or am I just gonna do it to the best of my ability? And, you know, and keep it moving? So I understand that and I respect it.

Lillian Nave  39:03

Yeah, it’s, um, it’s a, it is a long journey, from starting out teaching and then where I am now, I’ve learned so much from not just, you know, my colleagues, but from my students as well. And I didn’t allow myself to do that. I would say the the first five years maybe, of teaching, I was just too, maybe insecure to, to really go about it. And you know, you’re right. You said there’s not much educational training, which is a complete and utter weird conclusion, but it’s true. Why aren’t we educated about how to educate in graduate school, but we aren’t. We are taught our subject matter and really to be a researcher. But very, very, very few programs actually teach a PA HD or an add a doctorate? How to teach others There’s hardly anything about what a learner goes through. Yeah, how to teach somebody? What are different educational theories? How are you going to get that information into their brains?

Courtney Plotts  40:14

Yeah, that was a huge shift for me because I taught public school originally and then moved into the college sector. So for me, it wasn’t necessarily a big deal to kind of shift like that. It wasn’t until I became a director, and I was hiring faculty that I realized, like, oh, okay, because I don’t know everybody else’s program, or where they were coming from at the time. And I thought, okay, we’re gonna have to kind of change this up, we need some better PD, because and it just, it’s just so sad, because it leaves so many people at such a disadvantage. You know, you’re coming in, you know, your research, you know, your subject matter, but the delivery of it is, yeah, very, that’s a whole different matter. And then people default to how they were taught. Yes, right. So people default. So they’re like, Who’s my favorite teacher? That was my favorite teacher, I’ll do this, who did I not like, Oh, I’m definitely not doing that. And that’s kind of who comes in. And then depending on the population that they’re working with at that time. That’s where UDL and culture responsive teaching can be so beneficial, but if you don’t have that information, you know, and and just to draw back to a point you said before, I think a lot of people think if I’m doing UDL, and I’m doing culturally responsive teaching, we lose the rigor, right? Right there if you’re doing it well, especially in my world, because I’m able to measure it and look at it to see what’s most effective. You know, it’s it’s not that different from what you’re doing. It’s just that you’re you have to be comfortable doing it. Yes. And so I think it’s just that support and just learning those skills that that really make the difference.

Lillian Nave  41:50

Rigor has, oftentimes, when I look at it, it is putting up barriers that don’t need to be there. Sure. The rigor was, gosh, that was really hard. But it was really hard because I couldn’t understand his accent, and therefore, I needed to transcript and that wasn’t available. And that made it really difficult. But if I just had those, the transcript or a recording, I could go back through it. And it’s no problem. Exactly. That was false rigor. Right, right. Right. Right. One example. Yes. That’s a great example. Yeah. Many others. And something that I’ve talked with my students and my own daughter in in college about how we wish UDL were more widely practice. I guess I could, I could say that without implicating anything. Yes. But let me ask you specifically about the online community to that that’s still the world I’m in I am teaching online still. We have a lot of professors instructors now and continuing that are online, either by choice or by pandemic, because I continue to get emails from students who have tested positive, and I know that we’ve got to do some sort of hyflex or Sure, sure, something. So how can we implement this culturally responsive teaching? Or UDL friendly principles in an online community?

Courtney Plotts  43:19

Yeah, the good news is for for my work, and over at the Council, we we really took the time during COVID, to identify what will work in both spaces. And so there are definitely things that can work in both spaces. So again, just the example that you gave earlier, with your introduction, or the example that I gave with introduction that works in face to face or online. One of the things that is super helpful, and again, people hear me talk about this a lot. And one of the reasons I talk about it, because it’s just an easy place to start, if you haven’t had a lot of training is really using something like a culturally responsive rubric and just looking at, you know, taking a step back bi weekly and saying, What’s the community doing? You’re not really looking for right or wrong answers, you’re looking for things that are themes, right? So how are we doing with civility? How are we doing with leadership? How are we doing with sharing resources, or whatever is a value to your community that you’re trying to create? And, you know, if you do it, well, you talk to your students about their values, and kind of build the rubric based off of that and what you want out of the course, I think that’s a big piece. Janae Cohen and I, we wrote an article back in March, it’s a two part article. And it really talks about just the engagement. And you know, how do you engage someone if they don’t feel like they belong? So if if they’re accused in that environment that are that are creating a barrier, and you’re not using UDL practices, and you’re not using culturally responsive teaching practices, it’s gonna be very hard for that person to sense a sense of community in that course. And so you know, just kind of looking at those pieces I think are important. And you know, lastly, really thinking about who, you know, depending on your content matter? Who do you want your students to be? In the space? You know, in the online space? Do you want them to be citizens? Are they citizens of a place? Are they stakeholders? Are they learners? You know, what are those other aspects of, of your students that can help them really engaged? And I really encourage everybody to really create some culturally responsive learning goals. What is what do you want the community to do? What do you want as a collective body? What do you want the class to get out of it? Because I think the individual learning goals are different than group goals, they can do the same in a lot of instances. But I also think that there’s a difference there. And that that can definitely support students having a roadmap to kind of feeling included and engaging in an online environment.

Lillian Nave  45:49

That is excellent advice. And I now am convicted, I need to add that because I do ask my students for their own individual goals, but I have yet to ask them, you know, to about group or community goals, or some of them, though their individual goals are things like, many of them are things like, I’d like to make a friend access class. And those are that’s important as well. Being able to study with somebody, you know, is great for learning, but also for staying in college having a friend having somebody to talk to about the university or about the actual content, or how do we get lunch, you know, today, something like that is going to help with the overall academic course, as well.

Courtney Plotts  46:38

Yeah, and part of that is, and I don’t have time to explain all of it to you here. But part of that is also really changing how we’re designing discussions and making more of a neighborhood type of discussion, which is, there’s one topic for one week, but there are five or six ways to address that topic. It’s also creating a community forum, where part of it is graded, and you do have to share a resource or you do have to share something that can help somebody else, you know, that’s part of the community sense of community rubric. Are they doing that every week? No, they just have to do it, you know, maybe once throughout the course or once the first week, or once in the middle of the week, when you kind of see that everybody’s waning. So it’s an eight week course, week four, everybody’s kind of, you know, but but really just pulling that together, it’s just an expectation. And that helps people connect. And that’s, I think that’s what the main goal is, is to help people connect and learn.

Lillian Nave  47:31

Yeah, one of the things that I have found has been really helpful for my class is the use of something called the reflection table. And I have them in place of exams. So I have three of these reflection times where after two modules, it’s six module course over 15 weeks, after the first two modules, they have a reflection where they go back over the things they did they submit some sort of evidence, like a screenshot of the discussion or what they added, or sometimes they’re creating visual representations or journals. So take a picture of that. The second, so that’s one column, the second column is okay. What did you learn when you did this? Sure. And talk about and I really asked them about what emotion did you have? What surprised you? What, tell me what you learned by doing it. And sometimes it’s very content driven. And sometimes it’s, I should have started earlier, because I could have done a lot more when I saw these others. And then the last column is what did you learn from other people in Excel? Because instead of just handing these assignments in, I have them, put them up on a discussion board? Because this is all online? And then they comment, or I call it three CQ, or pick that up somewhere about compliment comment connection are a question. And then they’re learning from other people’s perspective, so they can find out how somebody else approach the same problem. I asked them, sometimes it’s like four different groups, right. So they know how the other group tackled this problem. And that is such an essential part of our learning community, that they, I want them to express what they learned by actually going back to that discussion and saying, oh, somebody else commented, or they did it a completely different way. And for them to really think about that.

Courtney Plotts  49:28

Yeah, yeah. And just providing that space. That’s an excellent example. It’s just, you know, or you could have them do the discussion. And then, you know, so all the discussions have to be done by Friday, but the Friday to Sunday, your job is to find the discussion that best encapsulates what, you know what you learned, put it in a different section. So some people will use a Padlet and then just print that out. So that’s the those are the main learning goals that were reached that week. So those are all goals that are then added that may or may not be in addition to the learning goals you already had. Yeah.

Lillian Nave  50:00

That’s very collaborative.

Courtney Plotts  50:02

Yeah, yeah.

Lillian Nave  50:03

So okay, my last question for you is like do’s and don’ts, what are some helpful things of moving forward with a culturally responsive teaching approach? What if somebody wants to implement CRT but doesn’t know where to start? What advice would you give them?

Courtney Plotts  50:20

Yeah, I think the biggest thing is start small and think big. Okay? There’s so much information on culturally responsive teaching, it can be very overwhelming. My mom is an educator and I have watched her try to learn to online teach, she taught in person for like, 24 years. And, you know, just watching her trying to every time someone taught her something was like, Oh, my gosh, that’s new, I have to implement that. Oh, my gosh, that’s it. Okay. That’s because it’s so good. But I really think it’s really focusing in on, you know, one of those five areas of culture, what are you? What areas do you want to focus on do academic cognitive community, ethnic or collaborative? And it’s start with that, and then say, Okay, this is what I can do here for now. And then in the meantime, educate yourself, right? Number two, educate yourself, talk to your, your peers, and, and I do recognize some of you who are listening, you are kind of on a culture responsive Island, right? It’s just you and two other people in this institution, and no one else is listening. definitely find those resources. There are people out here, email me, I’m happy to listen. I’m good at listening. So if you just need me to listen, I can listen, if you need me to help, that’s fine, too. And I also think it’s just important to partner with your students, you know, ask your students, you know, those those culturally responsive questions that can help you learn about yourself and your students. There’s, there’s, that’s the relationship piece, I think, just really understanding who’s in front of you. As far as don’ts, don’t guess at what’s culturally responsive, that will end up badly. So I think a lot of people just, you know, if they’re if the if the literature or the discussions that they’re around are too overwhelming, they either hide, like an ostrich with their head in the sand, or they just say, Okay, I think this is culturally responsive. That’s how people end up on the news. So don’t do that.

Lillian Nave  52:07

in a bad way.

Courtney Plotts  52:08

Right. Right. Right. Right. So too, I think it’s also just just be open minded. You know, I think we’re educators. So we are people who like order, and we like organization, and we’re good at sticking to what we know. And it’s very comfortable. And so you know, just having an open mind to say, you know, what, this is something I can add, I might not understand it right now, but I’m willing to at least give it the next year to explore it. And three, again, you know, it goes back to other point that I made, which is content versus delivery, if you’re not sure where to start. You know, a lot of people start with their subject matter. But you don’t have to do that. You don’t have to say, How do I take this math problem and make it culturally responsive? What you can say is, is this is a math problem, I need my students to understand, where can I be culturally responsive? Where can I use UDL? Is it the delivery? Or is it the content? And I think that’s a that’s a really robust place to start.

Lillian Nave  53:05

That’s great. It is overwhelming, I must say, when there’s no way you can account for in a higher ed classroom, especially if let’s say you’ve got 250 people is that in your chemistry lecture, you can’t know that I have three students from Malawi, one from Zimbabwe and a Vietnamese. Right, we cannot then say, Okay, well, let’s find out what are different ways of communicating and these right in these areas, that’s we can’t create. And that’s not helpful. But giving choices allow allowing for options for students to kind of move in a way that is culturally appropriate for them, but still satisfies the, the outcomes, the goals of your course. Sure. It takes a little bit of you know, this open minded thinking, but it has great, I think I’ve seen it have great results, right? That everybody gets a chance to learn that nobody’s disadvantaged over and over and over again, right? That kind of everybody is advantaged and disadvantaged in an equal measure, I guess. So this may not be your preferred preferred way. But at least I’m not going to start by storytelling every, every single time. I’m going to start, you know, and try these, you know, options. You may be less comfortable with this one and more comfortable with this one. And that’s the opposite for you know, the other students in the class. Right, exactly. Yeah. Yeah. So providing for those options, engaging students trying to sustain that effort and persistence. Those are all UDL principles that I think if we look through that culturally responsive lens, it I think it adds a lot to UDL. So I that’s why I was really excited to pick your brain and find out about what you have to tell us today. Yeah. Well, thank you so much. You mentioned a couple articles, I’m going to make sure that we have your articles that you wrote with Janae. Cohn, in our, in our resources and the other things that you and I mentioned, any culturally sponsored rubrics and ways of thinking, I think we’re gonna have a lot for our listeners to look at.

Courtney Plotts  55:20

Awesome, awesome. Yeah. And Jen and I have another article coming out it, it’s there today, I think it might drop tomorrow or by the end of the week. So we’re super excited about that. So it’s about tech decision making academic tech decision making and partnering with your D, ie office and dei office, I always and the IE d i office, and really just kind of pulling those things together. So we’re super excited about that.

Lillian Nave  55:48

Great, yes, well, I’ll add that in to our resources. So our listeners will have those too. So thank you so much for a wonderful, value packed conversation. We’re gonna have lots Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you for your time, and thank you to everybody listening, have a great day. You can follow the think UDL podcast on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to find out when new episodes will be released, and also see transcripts and additional materials at the think website. The think UDL 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 college website. Additional support for the podcast is made possible by Appalachian State University where if you call it Appalachian, I’ll throw in Appalachia. The music on the podcast was performed by the Odyssey quartet comprised of Rex Shepherd, David Pate, Bill Folwell and Jose Coachez our sound engineer is Tanner Jones and I am your host, Lillian Nave. Thank you for joining us on the think UDL podcast.

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