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Emotion Science and Online Learning with Flower Darby

Welcome to Episode 56 of the Think UDL podcast: Emotion Science and Online Learning with Flower Darby. Flower Darby is an online educator and author widely recognized for her expertise in faculty development in online environments. In today’s conversation, Flower and I first talk about her concept of “Roundabout Design,” and how it differs from backwards design. And then we talk about her forthcoming book The Spark of Online Learning: How Technology and Emotion Science Invigorates Every Class where we will discuss many aspects of emotion and online learning, including how we can establish teacher presence and help students persist in their courses. Finally, Flower and I discuss some epic failures of our own and what to do when the emotional part of learning goes wrong. How can we recover from this? Have a listen to find out and thanks for joining our conversation!


Follow Flower Darby on Twitter @Flowerdarby or her website at

Flower references this book when she determined that she needed more rest – Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

Flower’s Roundabout Design idea is explained in this article in Faculty Focus

Flower’s next book project will apply Sarah Rose Cavanagh’s The Spark of Learning; Energizing the College Classroom with the Science of Emotion to the online environment.

Community of Inquiry Want to know more about the Community of Inquiry model? This will help!

Michelle D. Miller’s Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology is a fantastic resource that FLower mentions in today’s conversation

Michelle Pacansky-Brock’s Humanizing Online Learning is another great resource we reference in today’s episode


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 56 of the think UDL podcast, Emotion Science and Online Learning with Flower Darby. Flower Darby is an online educator and author widely recognized for her expertise in faculty development in online environments. In today’s conversation, Flower and I first talked about her concept of roundabout design, and how it differs from backwards design. And then we talk about her forthcoming book, the spark of online learning how technology and emotion science invigorates every class, where we will discuss many aspects of emotion and online learning, including how we can establish teacher presence, and help students persist in their courses. Finally, Flower and I discuss some epic failures of our own and what to do when the emotional part of learning goes wrong. How can we recover from this? Have a listen to find out and thanks for joining our conversation. Thank you so much Flower Darby for taking the time to spend with me and our listeners on the think UDL podcast. So thank you so much for joining me, Lillian. 

Flower Darby  01:51

It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.

Lillian Nave  01:55

Great. Great. So I’m going to start with the first question I asked all my guests and that is what makes you a different kind of learner.

Flower Darby  02:03

Well, Lillian, I’ve been thinking about this. And I’ve come to conclude, I don’t know that I’ve ever thought about that question before. But as I have reflected on it, I’ve realized I’m a voracious reader. And I’m a reflective processor. And whenever I want to know anything, I immediately turned to books and the funniest example, a few years back, I knew I should probably not be working so much. So I picked up a book that I can highly recommend called rest, why you get more done when you work less. And I was teased by my husband for having to read a book to learn how to rest that really did help me. So that’s the kind of learner I am I like to turn to books and look for the science look for the information to help me shape my own thinking,

Lillian Nave  02:47

Well, you know, we kind of met sort of in person, but not really in person at the Lilly Conference, when we both had the opportunity to share in our plenary presentations. And I must say when I followed yours, he followed mine and I followed yours and I thought oh my goodness, we need to be BFFs in like real life, it seems. And then I you know, thankfully I was able to contact you and you’re able to meet with me but there are so many things about your past learning or who you are as a learner that I am as well because my I pick a word my I got a small group of girlfriends we pick a word every year. My word last year was rest. Yes is like I wasn’t sleeping I you know, I have children so I was you know, always work until two or three in the morning and not sleeping enough and and just needed to calm down. And we were all joking that of all the words of 2020 rest was you know, so many so much of my schedule was blown apart. And I was able to just concentrate on kind of being in one place not traveling crazy amounts. And, and it was somewhat of a prescient notion to choose rest, and I needed it. And now I even track because I need data. So I track in my Fitbit what my sleep score is every day resting hardcore offline. I like so involved in anyway, but I’m the one who gets made fun of for having to buy books, or read about anything I’m interested in I’ll need four or five, six different sources and then I’ll need a long time to analyze. Right same idea. Okay, all right. So no wonder I was like immediately drawn to connected to you when I was watching your plenary to so. Okay, so um, the next reason to I wanted to have you on the podcast is because you have done so much for online learning. And lately, the UDL think UDL podcast has been especially focused on how to use universal design for learning principles in online environments. And you have a new book that you’re working on that I want to talk to About, but you’ve also been a major advocate for online learning for quite a while. And one of the more recent things that you’ve put out there is your idea about roundabout design. And I wanted to ask you tell us just a little bit more about that, why it’s appropriate for online and what might be different about it than, let’s say backwards design. So that was like a new thing for me as like, well, what is this roundabout design Flower, you’ve got to tell me more?

Flower Darby  05:31

Sure, Lillian, thank you. I admit, I completely made it up. However, it really resonates with my experience. And I believe with the experience of faculty who have been planning and teaching courses for a long time. So roundabout design is my own spin literally, on backward design. I fully believe that all faculty engage in intentional planning of their courses. But sometimes I think, especially in online spaces, that intentionality is not quite evident enough for our students. So backward design is a great way to help us think about being intentional, helping us to get where we want to go and helping our students to get where we want to go. However, backward design encourages faculty to start with the learning goals, the course learning objectives. And I’ve always struggled with that, because that’s not how I start, when I start planning a new class. Even though I’m very familiar with backward design, I never think first about the learning goals where I want my students to get to. So over recent months, roundabout design has really seemed more accurate to me. The idea with roundabout design is that when we’re planning a new course, we can go round and round the traffic roundabout just as you would, if you come across a roundabout in an unfamiliar location. Sometimes you have to circle that roundabout a few times. And there are different exits that we need to take. There are things like the course learning goals. Another exit would be the textbook and class materials that you’ll use. Another exit would be things like inclusive planning, and teaching Universal Design for Learning, interaction and engagement. And so what the reason that I like roundabout design is it encourages us to enter the roundabout. From any perspective, whatever we’re thinking about first. And then we continue in that intentional process of circling the roundabout, taking another exit, exploring that area of the course, that element of the course components, coming back to the roundabout. And lest you think that we are spinning our wheels, and just hanging out in that same roundabout for the entire planning process, what I found is that every time I approach the roundabout again, ready to explore a new exit, I’ve traveled a little bit further down the course planning road. So the roundabout design helps me to make sure that I am considering all the elements that we need to be aware of making a very intentional plan for my course so that all learners are welcomed and supported. I truly believe this is a good way to plan any class. But especially in online spaces, we do need to go that extra mile to support and include our students. And this metaphor, this analogy has resonated with me. So I hope it helps people.

Lillian Nave  08:17

Yeah, you know, what makes it a big difference, what you just described is the place where we are now in the 21st century, right? We are in a rapidly changing environment in higher education. And, you know, week by week, it changes whether we’re moving all classes online, or students aren’t coming back because of high ICU bed counts. I mean, that’s what’s happening to in our state is, oh, you already planned your class, okay. But now you have to go back and you have to modify because you what you thought was a hybrid is now going to be online for the first four weeks, and then it might change. So I love that backwards design, I think we do need to start with our goals in mind. But it’s a very static plan. And what you’re introducing here is that we don’t live in a static environment. So things like oh, maybe we need to be aware of trauma aware pedagogy. And I need to be thinking about how that’s going to influence or be reflected in my class. Or maybe I need to think about activities that are engaging in an online platform that maybe not all of my students have access to because they were on campus and now they’re not on campus or you know, they’re not near the bookstore or Wi Fi or you know, or things like that. So maybe we need to be thinking about well, not maybe we always are having to be thinking about all these changes that are happening and going in and through the roundabout. Multiple times. is and improving each time you’re there is I think now a necessity, like we can’t create this course and say it’s done. Static, this is what it’s going to be for, you know, my fall courses or my spring courses. We’ve got to continuously revisit how we’re planning and in, in what we’re doing, even if it’s totally online, we’ve got students who are in changing circumstances, right?

Flower Darby  10:18

Absolutely. And to be fair, backward design does encourage us to go back and revisit different elements. But it does seem linear to me. And it doesn’t seem quite as nuanced as what we need right now, with all the change that we’re processing all the variables circumstances. So yes, I think roundabout design gives us permission to do exactly what you said, to revisit elements of the course plans that we made, and help us to take time to bring in new considerations and give those justice as we plan and teach our course, sometimes on the fly. We’ve all been in situations where we have to adjust the plan midstream. I think roundabout design gives us permission to do that.

Lillian Nave  10:58

Yeah, and and I feel like it’s encouraging that flexibility, which is an essential tenant of universal design for learning to as a guest recovering perfectionist and wanting to have everything done and organized and a right ahead of time. Finding that flexibility and the encouragement of that to continuously revisit has been really helpful to me. And I also have seen as I look at the landscape of higher education today, increasingly needed, because we have so many faculty members that are adjuncts who may or may not have a class make who are just told two weeks before you were adding you, you know, you’ve got to teach this class now, or it’s just precarious. So encouraging, I think that flexibility and the chance to revisit is Gosh, really helpful, at least for my mental state. So I really appreciated that metaphor. So I wanted to start out with it today. Thank you. So the first time I heard about your real influence in higher ed was with small teaching online. I had read James Lange’s book, and then I had really benefited too, from what you have done to translate a lot of the tenants there into what it might look like online. And in fact, that’s sort of what I borrowed when I’m trying to do UDL online in this past year, really. And you have thankfully, we are so glad you have decided to take another book and use its learning science principles and apply it to online. And that is the spark of learning how technology and emotion science invigorates every class, which you are doing to remaster Sarah Rose Cavanagh’s book, and wanted to know why of all the books out there is this the second one, you are remastering and reimagining and applying to online?

Flower Darby  13:04

Well, Lillian, you’re being extremely kind and gracious, we could focus on how I just took somebody else’s good idea again. But But and truthfully, I do hope and plan to write a whole new book at some point. But I just couldn’t resist the lure of revising, re adapting the spark of learning into the spark of online learning. The reason is that that book, The Spark of Learning by Sarah Rose Cavanagh, resonated with me so profoundly, on the one hand, it gave me permission to do what I do, which is to deliberately evoke emotional responses from students in order to engage them specifically, and most frequently, in terms of bringing in fun learning activities and bringing in my passion, my energy and my enthusiasm. But I’ve also found ways over the years of evoking a more sobering emotional response, or helping students connect with material and concepts in a way that allows them to experience the gravity of these things. And because the book was so profound for me, and to be fair, I used to do those things. And I used to kind of hide them from my faculty colleagues, because I thought, oh, people are gonna think she’s a clown, or whatever it might be. But after I read this book, it gave me permission, again, to rely on science to do what I do to engage my students. So I would say, the spark of learning was one of the most transformative books for me, and that’s why I approached Sara. And, again, I fully believe that we need every tool that we can get our hands on in these online spaces. I believe they’re cold and awkward and inhospitable. I believe they’re going to improve I really do but right this minute, what can we do to enliven these spaces? And so I I really see emotion science as a powerful tool that we can put to work for us. And when I approached Sarah with the idea, she was gracious Enough to embrace the opportunity. And so we are collaborating, collaborating on the new book. And it just again, the more that we have gone through the pandemic, the more I see the value and importance of emotional connections to help our students who are at a distance to engage, to learn to persist and to succeed.

Lillian Nave  15:20

You know, that idea about emotion to in learning, I don’t think at least in my educational background, as an art historian, it was not privileged, let’s say, that had to be a lot of cognitive load, right? And even though art is amazingly emotional, the scholarship is seemingly dry, I would have to say, and and when you were explaining this, it made me think about just how different I felt when I was in graduate school for art history. And I was so excited by the works of a German artist named Grunewald, Matthias Gotthart Niedhart, called Grunewald, and he makes these really ill looking crucifixions, right, there’s one in the National Gallery. There’s, there’s several in Germany and in Europe, and he didn’t make many paintings. But the ones he did are just like gross, like pustules, and like blood and gangrenous lips, and like, it is really macabre. And this was like 1500. And I’m like, what this is amazing, and imagining them in a interior with flickering lights from candles, and the smell of incense, and the entire emotional experience that that would have been, I was fascinated by that. And so when I went to do my, my, you know, seminar report on these crucifixions, and I was excited and thought, what if I kind of tried to include some of these elements, and I went to our professor who was, you know, from Germany, and had come to United States to do like a seminar on Grunewald. We had an amazing faculty. And I was like, Ah, what do you think about this, I’m kind of excited. And this is really interesting. And she said, we are not in the business of performing, you know, something like that. I just remember being totally shut down. And I thought, Okay, back to counting the wormholes because we were, we were counting how many wormholes were in the Back Stretcher of a, of a cradled wooden board of this painting. And I thought, Oh, my goodness. And I felt, I still remember that 25-30 years ago, I’m totally crushed. However, that was my, like, emotional connection. And I feel like there are a lot of times when that was not appropriate, like we weren’t allowed to bring emotion into learning. And with Sarah’s Rose Cavanagh’s book, and with a lot of other learning science, including the universal design for learning principles that talks about the effective parts of the brain and how we engage students. that’s essential. It’s important and essential. And so now, I’m really glad that you’re saying you know what else, it’s essential. Even in online courses, even if we’re not in the same room, even if you can’t see my, you know, wild hands gestures in my eyes get really big. We can do that in an online setting. So that that makes me feel like, maybe I was right, when I was that little 20, some year old girl, thinking about Grunewald. But I was crushed,

Flower Darby  18:37

I am sure you were right, and look how you were shut down. And that’s what academia does. Again, Cavanaugh makes the argument that based on recent neuroscience findings, that emotion and cognition are inextricably linked. And when we see that level of enthusiasm, and that level of passion and excitement in our students, we want to cultivate that we know now based on again, on recent neuroscience, we know that we cannot think about what we don’t care about. And so how can we help our students care about us and each other? And our courses and the materials and the concepts? What can we do to engage them to invigorate their learning? That’s really what this book is about. And again, I really felt compelled. And I’m so thankful that Sarah agreed with me, I felt compelled to bring this to, you know, just make this resource available, because I feel that we are up against so much in online spaces. And as I said earlier, I believe we need every tool that we can get. And I have come to conclude as I’ve been working on this book during the pandemic, I’ve come to conclude that the most powerful tool that we can put to use in our online teaching is emotion science. So

Lillian Nave  19:50

you also added in when you reinvention re envisioned the book you’ve added to emotion science, technology, right? That’s In the title of the book, how technology and emotion science are that spark of learning. And of course, we need that if we’re going to be doing online courses. I mean, this is where faculty now are learning how to use technology if they hadn’t learned before. So I’m really excited about how you are pairing that technology and emotion science throughout the book. So I know you’re going to have lots of examples as we go. But was there anything that made you think that technology is this? The most important thing we can have, as we partner with emotion science? So what do you think about that?

Flower Darby  20:46

Yeah, sure. So I believe that there is so much potential in technology. And I’ve also believe I believe this anyway, but the pandemic has solidified this sense that if we are teaching, then we are teaching with technology, there is no such thing as teaching without technology anymore. I do not believe that all the innovations that have emerged over the recent months, almost a year now, I don’t think they’re going away. So technology can be really awesome. They can be so fun, it can be really engaging, as simple example is Kahoot that quizzing game that many people use in the classroom. It’s fun, it’s it is emotion science, it is learning science, it taps into the emotions of enjoyment. It’s good retrieval practice. And it welcomes and includes all learners. So those kinds of technologies. That’s just one simple example. I’m fascinated by the developments in adaptive courseware. I’m fascinated by of course, virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality, these technologies are amazing, they have so much power and potential to truly engage and immerse our students into wonderful learning experiences. When we pair the potential of these newly emerging technologies, and what we are learning about emotion science, we can achieve pure learning gold. Nice,

Lillian Nave  22:11

yes, I have been so amazed by the things that I’ve seen even in our history and archaeology, with augmented reality, and going to conferences long ago, they were starting to use augmented reality to go to an archaeological site. And then if you pull out your iPad or whatever, your your iPhone now and you can just point it towards what looks like a square on the ground. And then on your screen, it completely creates a temple of building or can I can explain, you know, what is no longer there? I mean, it’s just fascinating. And, you know, I’m, I guess I’m easily fascinated, but, but the, the constant amazement I have at my colleagues who are using technology, in ways that I never would have dreamed of, is really encouraging and really empowering.

Flower Darby  23:08

Right. So I believe that many faculty have been forced into embracing and getting a little bit more comfortable with technology, as a result of the pandemic. And so I certainly hope I fully understand and resonate with an emphasis empathize with the idea that many faculty are not loving the current teaching circumstances that we’re in. But I truly believe that there is so much potential with technological developments and advancements, I really do think that in order to serve today’s students, the new majority students who are coming to us perfectly capable of achieving college success, but perhaps facing existing systemic barriers that are they’re not of their own doing. I believe that we can put technology to work for us to help our students to be successful in our environments. And I, I would love to see even even our Luddites, I talked to a lot of Luddites, who described themselves as such, I hope that as we emerge from this pandemic season that they will see the value of what we can do with these technologies. And with these tools to enhance our own teaching. My big point is that the technology does not do the teaching, but we can put it to work for us to help our students learn. Yeah,

Lillian Nave  24:27

I have been it’s a it’s a rapid uptake, you know, lots and lots of new technology out there. I am one who gets very excited I keep trying all these things and then realize maybe that wasn’t the, the the most exciting way I could have done that. Or maybe that wasn’t the best. And so I’ll move on to something else or try something that works. And then I’m finding that my students are the ones who are showing me technology who introduced me to things like group me, who were so they could work together. in groups, and then I could help them out or have a messaging platform that they introduced to me. And that we, we can’t expect that our students know how to use technology automatically, right? I know that I made that mistake in the beginning, oh, they’re millennials, they know, you know everything about it. And they don’t. But they do have some really great ideas that have helped me to teach better, as well, that that I never would have thought of, you know, I’m 25 years older than my students now. So I know I’ve got a generational difference. I asked my teenagers who are younger than my college students, what seems to work for them, and what is really weird mom, okay, you know, don’t do that. But that it’s a just a continuous learning journey, as the technology moves forward, and helps us and it’s kind of exciting, overwhelming at times. But that’s why I’m really looking forward to this book, that helps me to know what technology is going to work and how I can use it in a bunch of different ways to really, you know, kind of clue into that emotion as we’re learning.

Flower Darby  26:13

What I love about what you just said, Lillian Is that you, you demonstrated through your comments that you are in a learning posture, and that you are willing to be transparent with your students and recognize that they might have suggestions, or they might have ideas of what we can do better and differently. And I love that I definitely think with something as rapidly evolving as technology, that we need to demonstrate that lifelong learner attitude. And that will benefit our students in so many different ways as well as they see a grown up and an adult, a professional in a position of some authority, who is willing to say, I don’t know, everything I would like to learn from you as well. I think that’s a hugely important mindset to demonstrate, especially given, again, the increasing precarity of our world, and the ongoing political tensions and race relations, challenges that we’re all dealing with right this moment. And again, those things are not going to go away. So for me, teaching our students is more than imparting information and sharing content knowledge, it is about modeling a good way to be in the world. And I love what you just said about being willing to learn.

Lillian Nave  27:21

So I often will use that cave spelunking idea that teaching and learning is a lot like just cave exploring. Maybe I’ve been in the cave before, but there’s absolutely no way I know everything about this cave, it changes over time. But if we’ve got 30 people who have headlight headlamps on, and they are looking at the cave and can say, oh, come over here and take a look at this part, or look over here, I see this, this is really new and interesting thing. And here’s what I think that’s going to serve us better than me saying, here are the three places that you need to look in this case, because they’re the ones I know, you’ll be better off, we’ll be better off together.

Flower Darby  28:04

I love the way you invite your students to partner with you and to explore with you and to share their discoveries and knowledge. I think that’s exemplary. That’s wonderful.

Lillian Nave  28:12

Thank you so much. And and I love what you do. So I definitely have some more questions about this connection between technology and emotion science. And my next question is about how that you can help students persist in an online course. And that’s one of our universal design for learning principles, which is to help recruit interest, but also to sustain effort and persistence. So that long engagement throughout a course. So how is it that you’re seeing technology and emotion science intertwined, to help with that persistence in an online course, and we know that’s hard to persist in an online course,

Flower Darby  28:55

it absolutely is. But again, I’ve just come to believe that emotion science gives us a range of different tools. So one of the things that I have concluded in recent months is the the best way that we can put emotion science to work for us is to foster caring relationships with our students and to foster their ability to connect with us as people. So emotional connections really, are the basis of relationships. And I believe that teachers in K 12 environments get a lot more preparation, a lot more exposure to some of these ideas. I believe that educators in higher education, have had less opportunity to reflect on how relational teaching really is. So for me, it is about using the technology in order to help our students form an emotional connection with us. And I’ll just share one quick example. My and again, I’m certainly getting lots of new perspectives, as I’m sure you are as we watch our own kids learning in these times. And in the fall, my 16 year old daughter was having a really low day and that That’s to be understood in a pandemic. And she said to me, Mom, why does this even matter? Why am I even working on school? Who cares? People are dying, we could die. And I was kind of blown away. And she said, My friends are saying the same thing to who even cares, why are we in school? And as I was struggling to articulate my answer, she really stunned me by saying, but I’m going to work on this project anyway, because I care about Stearns, I like Stearns, and I don’t want to let her down. And this is my daughter’s favorite history teacher. And even the way that they were able to form the connection through zoom, I know it’s not ideal, but it’s something even the way that we can communicate with our students at a distance using technology, using the announcement tool in our learning management system using deliberately choosing to post encouraging comments in discussion forums, and using, again, the communication tools that these technologies make available to us. That is a way to encourage those emotional connections. And I’ve really come to conclude that the more our students can see us as real people, which is hard across a distance, it is hard behind the screens. But the more than we’re willing to open up a little bit more share, share who we are and foster those connections with those students. This is just one example. But I really do believe that fostering the personal social connections is a great way to help people engage and persist. Lots of other ideas that I have in the book that of course are eluding me right now. But but I truly have come to believe that the social and emotional aspect of learning and online environments is the way to help students, hang with us stay with us and finish the course.

Lillian Nave  31:44

You know, you start out with that teacher presence part, which is super important with the community of inquiry framework, having that the teacher being a part of the course, a lot of folks will erroneously think of online learning as a correspondence course, or it’s all out there on the LMS. And then the professor or instructor doesn’t facilitate or just sort of grades, the quizzes or something like that. And that’s certainly not what you have espoused and all of your online learning books and, and, and talks, it’s really about that teacher caring presence, and saying, you know, I’m a real person on the other end of the screen, and I care about you, I care about your learning, I care about your success. But also, as you were talking about the learning management system and putting in like encouraging notes. It’s also that community. And I know you’ve talked about that community of learners many times as well. And, in fact, it seems like online learning, and in the online environment can allow for even at times, I think a greater sense of community than if you just are meeting Tuesdays and Thursdays for an hour. And then maybe you don’t see these other folks at all. And if you’re not connected to a learning management system, which many before the pandemic it was just show up on Tuesdays and Thursdays and do your work. And if you happen to run into somebody in your dorm, you could make a connection or if you you know created a study group or something. But in the online environment, boy, we can have a lot of touch points, it seems and create this community that people would want to be a part of and persist through. Does that make sense? Absolutely, I

Flower Darby  33:31

think there’s so much so many affordances. In our learning management systems, I think they have a long way to go. But I think they’re pretty functional. And we can learn a little bit more about our students. Here’s one example. I teach a graduate class in technological fluency. By the way, talk about being open to learning about technology from students in that class, I absolutely invite my students to show me what they’re excited about. But I usually do encourage students to post short videos alone. In line with UDL principles, I often give them the choice of a video recorded response or audio or a written reflection. But I still remember several years ago, I had a student he was an active military member. And he was taking this online class in order to pursue his masters for career and personal growth. And he recorded his video from the floor of his daughter’s bedroom. His daughter was probably three or four years old, the bedroom was bright pink, and purple with all kinds of toys all around him. And I thought I never would have seen that side of this student. If he hadn’t chosen to be open himself up, use the technology, use the video. You know, when we do interact with students in the classrooms, there’s so much of their lives that are left outside of how we get to know them. And I know that some of some of this isn’t possible in larger enrollment classes. But I still believe that when we encourage students to take again, take advantage of a simple technology. It doesn’t always have to be VR all the time. post a picture of your pet. I want to To know a little bit more about you and see that glimpse of your life. In these ways, I believe that technology can foster those connections. And help us as you said, to form a stronger community connect with each other as people in these spaces.

Lillian Nave  35:14

So you often do this when when I’ve heard you talk or read, what you’ve put in magazines, and blogs, and and plenary addresses is that we value that emotion and we value the person, which wasn’t always the case, we often asked students to leave the rest of themselves, who they are their identities, their beliefs, their situations outside, okay, who you are in the classroom now, and I expect this and this and these other things should not be a part of who you are in as a classroom student. And we’re realizing that we can’t make that distinction. You can’t compartmentalize, you are a whole person. And when we recognize and then value and say, you know, what you bringing, you’re bringing in your distinct understanding of the world, your cultural differences, your identities, is actually making our classroom richer, and helping us to understand the material oftentimes, in a new way, in a more nuanced way, or something like that. And it seems like it’s a shift that’s been happening. When we have voices like Sarah Rose Cavanagh, we have voices like yours, that’s a we value, this whole student learning like Michel pakulski, Brock, who also talks about humanizing online learning that that makes a huge difference. And I definitely see it in my students who feel welcome and therefore are better able to take academic risks, because they feel emotionally safe enough to really engage with what may be difficult material.

Flower Darby  37:01

You know, that that raises an important point, I believe that maybe there are students of 40 or 50 years ago, maybe they were able to check their personhood at the door and come in as purely rational learning machines. But we have different students today. And we want to support those students, in order to contribute to a society filled with more tolerant people better critical thinking, thinkers, better creative problem solvers. And people who can do exactly what you just said, to respect the diversity of perspectives and voices, in order to be stronger together, and to come up with better solutions. So you also mentioned as sort of an emotional safety feeling. And I think, I do think some of these approaches might feel uncomfortable for academics who have never thought about this before. And let’s face it, many faculty teach the way that they learned best. And let’s face it, we’re the weird ones. We’re the ones who liked higher ed so much that we made it our whole life. And our students are not always like that. So what can we do to welcome them? What we do know is that the emotional responses that we could evoke in our students, guide and direct their future behaviors. So if a student comes to us with a question, and we are, perhaps even unload unknowingly dismissive or demeaning, the negative experience that the student then engages in the negative emotions that they experience will dissuade that student from reaching out for help again. So what we do and say, even in unguarded moments can help students be successful in their careers, or can discourage them and shut them down. And those emotions stay with us and guide future decisions. So another aspect of how we can put emotions to work and recognize the influence that emotions have on our decision making processes to help our students make those good decisions that can help them persist and succeed.

Lillian Nave  39:03

So you bring up one of my questions here, too, which is about what happens when it goes wrong, right? What happens when that emotion is volatile? Or is or it has maybe a different effect than what we thought it was going to have? Because we are we’re playing with something then that’s not necessarily fire, but that could go out of control, but but something that could ignite a passion. It could also have this negative effect is Is there something that we can do or what advice do you have if maybe something goes wrong like that?

Flower Darby  39:45

Yeah, Lillian, absolutely. There are endless possibilities for things to go wrong and playing with emotions. And certainly we’re not playing with emotions, but deliberately choosing to harness the power of emotions can certainly backfire on us. Sarah Rose Cavanagh writes about that. So does Michelle Miller, the author of minds online teaching effectively with technology? And so I have not a perfect answer. But I do think it’s important to recognize, first of all that that things can blow up. And so for example, if you engage your class in creating a class contract, or a norms document or a community values document that we all agree on, something that we that will foster civil engagement and discourse, so that we can refer back to that say, okay, things got a little heated. Let’s remember what we said, we would agree to do, let’s remember our community values, that kind of a document can be helpful. I also think occasionally, these kinds of things blow up when you least expect them. And everything that you did with your planning was intended to prevent them. But these kinds of challenges will arise. And so for me, it’s just as important not only to manage it in that moment, and say, Alright, everybody, we’re going to tone this down. Now, let’s take a break, let’s pause. I also think it’s hugely important to reflect on what happened, and to learn from that. And so, a number of years ago, I was trying a new technology tool, it just blew up on me, it just made everything so much worse, the students hated it. And I had, again, a veteran student accused me I think appropriately and legitimately, I really do, he accused me of triggering his PTSD, because of my in expert application of a technology tool that was meant to help. And instead, it made everything worse. And I learned a hard lesson. But I learned a lesson that has stuck with me, I do not use technology anymore, unless I am 100% confident in how it will work, how it will help my students. And I that was one of the key points in my evolution, to help me recognize that people in my classes are just that they are people they have a life. Outside of the learning experience that I have designed for them, they have a history, they have their own emotional scars and wounds and joys and successes. And so it does help me to remember that even though in the gradebook, they’re just a name on a screen, that this is in fact a fully embodied person. And I need to be attending to their full experience as I plan the interactions and work to engage their emotions using technology in my classes.

Lillian Nave  42:25

So when this is a really important point, so when something goes wrong, and as you said, You learned from that from a very good student who was honest enough to point it out. How did you address that, like going forward are from that with that student and with the class and then I’ll tell you my really big mistake, too.

Flower Darby  42:49

Sure. You know, Lillian, the only thing that I found that’s worked for me over the year over the years is to be very vulnerable and humble when something like that happens. And in that case, I apologize to the student, I feel like many times faculty might be uncomfortable doing that, and recognizing and admitting to our students that we may have done a misstep or made a mistake. But I’ve had that experience a few times where I just have to say to my students, hey, I blew it. I thought this was going to work. It didn’t work, I’m sorry for the damage it caused, we’re going to do something different now. For me that willingness to be humbled to be vulnerable. And to acknowledge that mistake. Again. For me, it’s important to demonstrate that ability to admit when we were wrong, and to learn from our mistakes, so that we end up with a society that can uphold democracy and, again, tolerate diverse perspectives. But I’d love to hear your story.

Lillian Nave  43:43

Yeah, well, I made a mistake. But it was in using emotion for with my students. And I have taught a course about Nazi looted art during World War Two. And students have a long running research project where they create a documentary film, but there’s a lot of research about the artwork, and it had to be an artwork that was either stolen or lost or somehow disappeared. You know, during World War Two, I’d be at the hands of the Nazis. And there are just tons and tons of them. So we always have hundreds of 1000s to choose from. And, but the going the slow going of the research is not fun. Oftentimes, it’s hard to find sources that are in English. It’s really hard to go through museum databases. It’s not fun. And so as students, you know, had an initial idea, and then they start their research. It’s kind of a big Roadblock, and they’re not all that excited about it. And so I decided I wanted to remind the students that this was a very important thing for many families, that the owners, the descendants of the owners, that they are Had a personal connection to almost every single artwork that we were talking about. Usually they weren’t state collections. But we had some of those too. But that was about a people in a nation in a, in a country. And so I devise this thing, I don’t know, some students later said they felt they were punked. But they liked it. But it was I brought in a work of art that I had purchased a print, that that was at the point at that point cost more than my minivan, which was, you know, at 200,000 miles and was barely on four wheels. And I said, You know, I have this, this is something that’s an insurance policy at one point, it’s really one of my prized possessions. And one day, I’m going to give it to the university, you know, later on, or maybe I’ll sell it to pay for my kids to go to college to some part of it, it’s not worth that much. But I just kind of, you know, said that it was an important piece. And then I devised a colleague of mine to come into the class and say, Lillian, you’re needed somewhere else. And then that colleague came in to tell my students and I had to leave the artwork there. And, and then I had the colleague come in saying, I’m sorry, your professor has been escorted away because of something she did. And usually it was something silly, like when I dressed up for Halloween, right. And this is, you know, two thirds, three quarters of the way in the semester. So they’ve gotten to know me, we were a meeting face to face three times a week. And so but she said that you need to determine what’s going to happen with this artwork. And then they got to try to figure it out, like, you know, we had to say, look, you’ll still get a grade for this course. So you don’t have to worry about that. But she’s not going to be your professor anymore. And she’s no longer with the institution, you know, but you need to figure out what to do with this artwork. So they had to determine if they were going to find me and give it back or if they should give it to the university, which now had in some ways betrayed me because of unlawful termination, or some of that, which was pretty much what was happening, right? The government had swooped in and taken artwork from people and you know, all this stuff, but then they had a personal connection to me. So usually, I let them flounder for just a couple minutes. And so they can figure out like, do they really have a connection? And what could they do? And then one time, I just and all I’m doing is waiting out in the hallway. That’s all I’m doing, waiting and listening for them as they’re determining it? Well, one time I got a call on my cell phone, because I had students that I was taking abroad. And hit this was one of the students. And and I remember him saying, Lillian, this is like a low key, high key important, but we’re not sure what to do. And he was just sort of distressed about it. And two other students went to the Secretary to complain, this is out outrageous or whatever. And I thought, I’ve taken it too far. A little too far. I needed to go in right afterwards and say, Okay, now what would you have done in that situation to give them that sense of, alright, this is related to people, there’s a story about this, this is important. It has a place in history, there are people who care about this, rather than I’m doing some stupid old research on a painting nobody cares about, and it doesn’t matter. So it’s true. That was the idea. But it backfired in that I was I felt later on I felt I was playing with emotion more than it harnessing that power of emotion. And so I don’t do that anymore. I don’t have an on an in person course in which I can do it. But I realized I needed to kind of dial it back in order for it to still be effective, but not traumatic, I should say, you know, so I learned I learned a really valuable lesson about where not to go students were, were fine. In the end, they said, but they’re like, Man, that was, that was pretty good. But some I thought, Oh, I bet there’s some tender hearted people like who I would have been at age 20. And I might not have appreciated that sort of, in essence, a manipulation. And I’m being really honest with that, that I think I went just a little too far. But one of them to know, like the power and the passion. I just didn’t do it really well.

Flower Darby  49:26

Well, here again, it’s a it’s a fabulous story and emotions are powerful tools. And if we handle power tools, we have the potential to do damage it but I definitely think that with deliberate thoughtfulness with care and attention and with a willingness to learn from our mistakes or things that didn’t go the way that we anticipated that they are still a valuable piece of what we can bring into our classes. I do just want to highlight what was perfect about your example so that maybe there are more to maybe tone it down. But there are so many elements that tap into emotion science, based on that scenario, that you described, the fact that your students had a connection with you, as we were talking about earlier, that’s hugely important. The fact that you created a story that your students could then relate to could care about that is hugely important. And, and the fact that you are providing those kinds of emotional connections in order to in order to inspire them to dig in to what might be kind of a tedious way to start the project. All of that is exemplary. So yes, maybe it went a little too far. We can extract elements and create scenarios for our students. We can even create case studies stories, fictional personas, characters with faces and names, all of these things that help our students to, again, form enough emotional connections with people with the relevance of what we’re asking students to do. Those are all wonderful things to do. So proceed with caution. But I encourage us to proceed. Yes,

Lillian Nave  51:02

I must say that I saw some of my students, I’ve taught that course for, you know, five, six years. And recently, I saw one of my former students who was had a job, your part time job at the grocery store. And I went and checked out. And she and she said, Oh, I remember when you got fired. And remembered, you know, that five years ago, and you don’t remember too much about your freshman year, I think, and I teach just freshmen, so. And she did remember, you know, what it was all about, and the reasons but that emotion, it just sticks, it sticks with us, it’s so important. And like, yeah, creating that presence as a teaching presence and creating that community with students is just so important. And you know, the thing that I keep coming back to now when people say, but online learning, it’s so impersonal, or it’s so it’s so hard. How do you How can you? How can it even compare to in person seated learning, and I still hear that all up from a lot of people. But you know, people fall in love online. There’s a lot of emotion. What do you say to people when they when they say, well, it’s just, it’s not as good? It’s just not as good? What do you say?

Flower Darby  52:21

Do you know what I usually say first, you’re right. I usually validate and affirm what they’re expressing because they are right, it isn’t the same and it can be not as good, it certainly will not be the same as what’s happening in person. And I argue that many faculty today have not been equipped appropriately to really know how to function in these spaces. And so we can’t blame or shame faculty for not knowing how to create those kinds of invigorating learning experiences, that is what drives my work. So I don’t disagree with people, I’ve seen lots of terrible online classes, I’ve probably taught several of them myself. But it can be good, it can be better, it can be just as rewarding and satisfying and meaningful as what we can do in the classroom. And that is what I strive to help people see how we can do those things. Oh, great.

Lillian Nave  53:13

That is a fantastic answer. And I’m going to have to incorporate that into my answers as well. Thank you so much Flower, appreciate that.

Flower Darby  53:20


Lillian Nave  53:21

And, and thank you so much for spending the time to talk with me and and my listeners, the one of the three main guidelines of universal design for learning is engagement. And that has to do with those affective networks of the brain that emotion that parts persistence, and and getting interest in the material in the first place. And then also that self regulation, and you spoke many times about reflection and how important that is. And you know, that’s that’s one of my kind of number one aspects of my course right now is reflection, lots and lots of time for students to think about what they did and their learning. So I thank you so much for giving us a little sneak peek. And when when can we expect when I told people I was going to talk to you they said you have got to find out? When can we get our hands on this book. So

Flower Darby  54:17

Oh, it’s so kind of you to ask and I will just have to be honest, the pandemic has slowed me down a little bit. But I’m actively working on it right now, which I’m going to also say as a challenge during a pandemic, but I am hoping within the year I really am it’s there’s so much potential. So if I would finish this fabulous conversation with you and get back to work, but it might be done that much sooner. Exactly. Exactly.

Lillian Nave  54:41

So well. I don’t want to keep you from it. Because we are there are a lot of us who are waiting to see this as well to help us out so thank you so much flour for coming on the think UDL podcast.

Flower Darby  54:53

What a treat to be with you Lillian and someday I can’t wait till we can actually hang out in person because that’s going to be a blast too. But for now, today This was great. Thank you.

Lillian Nave  55:01

Thank you so much. 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 aides 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 falwell and Jose ko chez 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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