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Engaging Cultural Teaching with Tolu Noah

Welcome to Episode 108 of the Think UDL podcast: Engaging Cultural Teaching with Tolu Noah. Dr. Tolu Noah is a faculty developer, speaker, educational technology specialist, and the Instructional Learning Spaces Coordinator at California State University, Long Beach. She is an incredibly engaging speaker and conversationalist as you will hear today, and has created a list of resources that accompany this episode that you can find on our website In today’s episode, we discuss how to engage students in face-to-face and online courses before during and after synchronous class times, the use of various reflection strategies, and how to model vulnerability and build trust and rapport in the classroom when talking about difficult subjects. Indeed this episode is chock full of so many ideas, you may want to refer to the episode resources often!


Find out more about Dr. Tolu Noah at or reach out to her at: @DrToluNoah on Twitter or on LinkedIn at Dr. Tolu Noah

Mentioned during today’s episode:
10 Easy Grouping Techniques for the College Classroom

8 Ways to Use QR Codes in Higher Education Classrooms

“I Used to Think…Now I Think…” Thinking Routine (Project Zero website)

Geometric Forms (Responsive Classroom)

What Works for Me: First Day Class Activities (Source of the “Me Bag” activity idea)

Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice

Turning to One Another (Book by Margaret J. Wheatley) The essay Dr. Noah mentioned is entitled, “Willing to Be Disturbed.”

“Word-Phrase-Sentence” Thinking Routine 

What to Do Before, During, & After Difficult Dialogues About Diversity

Active Learning Resources Wakelet

Designing Virtual Edtech Faculty Development Workshops that Sticks: 10 Guiding Principles

Instructors are Learners Too: Making Faculty Development Accessible to Faculty (by Sarah Silverman) 

The Importance of Teaching All Students About Tech Accessibility Features

A Handy Framework for Choosing Edtech




students, learning, UDL, share, teaching, strategies, lecture, faculty, teacher, faculty development, tools, class, learners, workshop, opportunities, question, ways, activities, create, people


Tolu Noah, Lillian Nave

Lillian Nave  00:02

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 108 of the Think UDL podcast, engaging cultural teaching with Tolu Noah, Dr. Tolu Noah is a faculty developer, speaker, Educational Technology Specialist, and the instructional learning spaces coordinator at California State University Long Beach. She is an incredibly engaging speaker and conversationalist, as you will hear today, and has created a list of resources that accompany this episode that you can find on our website. Think And today’s episode, we discuss how to engage students in face to face and online and online asynchronous courses, both before during and after synchronous class times the use of various reflection strategies, and how to model vulnerability and build trust and rapport in the classroom when talking about difficult subjects. Indeed, this episode is chock full of so many ideas, you may want to refer to the episode resources often. Thank you for listening to this conversation. And I hope it offers some useful strategies in your own teaching practice. Thank you to our sponsor, Texthelp, a global technology company helping people all over the world to understand and to be understood, it has led the way in creating innovative technology for the workplace, and education sectors, including K 12. right through to higher education for the last three decades. Well, I want to welcome to the podcast, Dr. Tolu Noah today. Thank you for being on the podcast.

Tolu Noah  02:25

Thank you so much for having me.

Lillian Nave  02:27

I’m really excited to talk to you about actually quite a few things that you’re up to. But first of all, ask what makes you a different kind of learner.

Tolu Noah  02:37

Alright, so I love this question. And I love that it’s consistent for all of your guests. And I’m not sure if this makes me super different, but I’ll share three things. One is that I really appreciate having time to process my answers to questions. And I’ll often jot down some thoughts in writing first, in order to make sure that I’m addressing the question fully and conveying what I want to convey clearly. And I think this comes from a few different places. So first of all, I’m super introverted. I’ve never been the person to raise my hand first and a group or class discussion and volunteer to share my thoughts. And I’m just much more at ease when I have some think time. And I’m also a perfectionist. And although I’ve been trying really hard to not be one, I think there’s still this underlying fear of saying the wrong thing or saying it in the wrong way and being worried about what people might think as a result. So I’ve always really appreciated having time to think formulate my response, and then contribute when I’m ready. And in thinking about this question, it made me really appreciate the ways in which technology can support learners like me who are introverted, or need think time or you know, things like that. They’re, you know, so many great tools out there like Mentimeter, and Padlet, and Google forums that give all learners not just the extroverted ones are the ones who raise their hands first, the opportunity to think and contribute their ideas to the conversation. And then a second thing that might make me a different kind of learner is that I’ve always tried to bring elements of my cultural background into my learning. So just to give some context, I am the daughter of two Nigerian immigrants. And although I was born and raised here in the US, I’ve always had a lot of pride in my heritage. So as a kid, I would bring that pride into the school projects I did. And I remember having to do a string art project in elementary school where we would hammer nails into a wooden board and the shape of an object and then wrapped different colored string around the nails to bring the image to life. And I chose to create an image of the continent of Africa with a Nigerian flag in the center. Also, when I was a K 12 Teacher, and when I was a college professor, I would wear Nigerian attire to school on October 1, which is Nigeria’s Independence Day. And that led to some really fun conversations with students about Nigerian culture. So I think that even from a young age, I recognize that people had a lot of misconceptions about Africa in general and countries like Nigeria in particular, and I wanted to share the beauty and the richness of my culture in any ways that I could. And then one Last thing that might make me a different kind of learner is that I really value creativity in the learning process. And I want to preface this by saying that growing up, I never felt, you know, quote unquote, creative in the ways people typically think of creativity. Like I don’t have any special talents or abilities when it comes to drawing, singing, acting, playing music, or anything like that. But I’ve always really enjoyed thinking of unique ways to demonstrate my learning, and then share that information with others. So as a kid, I love doing projects that allowed me to express what I had learned in different ways, whether that was creating a board game, or a picture book or a presentation. And as a college student who is preparing to become a K 12. Teacher, I really love designing lesson plans and thinking of different ways to teach the concepts and engaging ways. And that’s who I am to this very day, I express my creativity through my design of learning experiences for others. So that’s my super long answer to your first question. I love it more than you wanted to know. But yeah, that’s what makes me different.

Lillian Nave  05:58

No It’s fantastic. And you know, what’s, what’s interesting to me your first answer that talked about your perfectionist tendencies, and then your sense of creativity being a typical, like, it’s not the usual type of creativity, like the singing, dancing, or creative arts, that sort of thing. Because I also have felt that way. In fact, I never thought I was creative at all. And I think that’s one of the reasons why I gravitated gravitated towards the field of art history is because I saw these amazing artists and creators. And I thought I could never do that. And I don’t have any talent or skills in especially the visual arts. And I was just so fascinated by it. And I just never thought I was very creative at all, because I really defined creativity by those types of very traditional ways. And being a perfectionist kind of hampers that freedom to create, in what I felt like in those ways. And because I was very much by the book, and kind of that perfectionist tendency, but it wasn’t until much later that somebody else had to tell me, No, you aren’t creative. You’re just creative in these other ways. Exactly the kind that you’re talking about.

Tolu Noah  07:13

Yeah. And I think that’s a common misconception is conflating creativity with artistic ability. Yeah. And it’s really about ideating, you know, coming up with new ideas and, and demonstrating your creativity in those ways. And so, yeah, I’m like, Yeah, I’m creative. I just, it just doesn’t manifest in the same way that it does for maybe a lot of other people.

Lillian Nave  07:35

Yeah, I had this like, really slim definition. And I like it, that you’re, it’s like going off script and to just try different things. ideating. I like that as a much better understanding of creativity. So well, you’ve already started telling me a little bit about your multiple means of engagement. But that’s a really big part major part I one of the three columns of our UDL chart, but multiple means of engagement is so important. And my first question is something you talk about a lot, which are strategies, and for multiple ways of engaging our students, and what do you suggest to engage students, both before and during, let’s say, a synchronous lecture, and then also after lecture or class times?

Tolu Noah  08:24

Great question. So I am a huge believer in active learning and making sure that students have frequent opportunities to engage with the content and with each other throughout each class session. And I think a lot of the strategies I’m about to share align well with the UDL engagement and representation principles. I also want to warn listeners that I love teaching like I’m one of those people who’s known since elementary school that I wanted to be a teacher. So I could literally talk about this question all day. But I will try to, you know, limit myself to a few strategies that could work well for each portion of the lecture, starting with before lecture strategies. So one strategy that I used as a professor was a song of the day where I would arrive to class a few minutes early and have a song playing that related to the topic I was teaching that day. So for example, I would play this is me from the greatest showmen for my lecture on social identities. And we’re all in this together from the popular High School, High School Musical series for my lecture on professional learning communities and so on, and even had some fun ones in there like Survivor by Destiny’s Child for the fight. Yeah. And what this did was it served as a hook and actually prompted students to think about the lecture topic from the moment they entered the room. So as students came to class, they would hear the music and try to figure out how it related to what we were going to be talking about that day. And it was so fun when later on, I’d be in the middle of my lecture, and I would see the light bulbs going off like, oh, that’s why we played such and such and sometimes it was like an audible and it was also just a really fun way to build class community because students would often sing or dance along to the music and share memories connected to the song On switch really helped to create a warm and welcoming environment. Another helpful pre lecture strategy is providing a roadmap for the class session, where you share the agenda and learning outcome so that students are clear on what they should know or be able to do by the end of class. And for me, this was in the form of a where we’re headed today slide that had the agenda on the left and the learning outcomes on the right. And I thought that the strategy really aligned well with the UDL piece about, you know, heightening the salience of goals and objectives. And one of my students even share that having that roadmap really put them at ease, because they knew what to expect during class, and they knew how we were going to get there. And then a third, helpful pre lecture strategy is activating students prior knowledge. And there are tons of techniques that educators can use to do this, such as anticipation guides, entrance tickets, kW L, or what I know what I want to know what I learned charts, Mentimeter polls, retrieval practice activities, card sorts, and so much more. And activating prior knowledge is a really important way of supporting student comprehension. So those are some pre lecture ideas.

Lillian Nave  11:08

Fantastic, I love it.

Tolu Noah  11:11

And then moving on to mid lecture strategies, I think here, it’s really important to think about breaking up the lecture and providing learners with frequent opportunities to process the content and collaborate with each other. So one strategy that’s helpful for the processing piece is providing students with a graphic organizer or guided notes sheet which is like a skeleton outline with fill in the blanks that they can complete during the lecture. So this can help them see the big picture of how all the concepts are related and help them focus their notes on the most important points. And you can even have students pause and create sketch notes at strategic points in your lecture, where they can use drawings and images to synthesize what they’ve learned so far, and make connections between the different ideas. And so I think, overall, graphic organizers, guided notes and sketch notes help support that piece of highlighting patterns and big ideas of relationships, which once again, contributes to student comprehension. I also recommend doing a lot of low stakes partner and group activities during the lecture. And this can include things like think pair share, jigsaws carousels, you know, case study analysis, silent discussions, peer review, you know, the list goes on. And I personally like to mix up students as much as possible for these low stakes activities. So they really have the opportunity to connect with more of their peers. So for example, I would frequently have students grab an item as they enter class and then use that item as a grouping tool. So they would grab a playing card. And that way, you could have them grouped by suit or by number. And if listeners are interested in learning more about ways to mix up students, I wrote a piece for the scholarly teacher blog a few years ago, that includes some practical ideas. One thing I would add to that blog that wasn’t initially there is that if you’re planning to use color as a way of grouping students, which I did a lot like grouping by the marker color or the handout color, it is really important to be mindful of students with color blindness. So I would label things with the name of the color as well or just try to, you know, avoid like color based grouping strategies like using numbers or letters or other tools instead. And then another important midlux Your strategy is including frequent checks for understanding so that students can monitor their progress and so that you have a good gauge on where they are in the process. And I’ve used no tech strategies like index cards and multiple choice sheets, along with tech tools like Plickers, Kahu, Mentimeter, and Google forums. And I’m also a huge fan of QR codes. And I’ve used them for a wide variety of purposes in my lectures, but one way that you can use them is to incorporate student choice into your lectures. So when I was a professor, I would create Tic Tac Toe choice boards, where there were nine squares, each of which contained a QR code. And students could choose three of the QR codes to scan in order to look at examples or complete brief activities related to the topic of the lecture. So for our lecture about multilingual learners, I made a tic tac toe Tic Tac Toe choice board where the QR codes linked to short videos of K 12 teachers using different strategies to teach their multilingual students. And then my students got to choose three videos that were of interest to them to watch and then afterwards, they broke up into small groups to share what they observed and learned with other people. And once again, if anyone’s interested in learning more about QR codes, I can share a helpful article with listeners later on. And then one last mid lecture strategy I’ll share is having students complete collaborative projects during class that are authentic, their choice based chunked scaffolded and incorporate frequent opportunities for feedback and revision. So that’s a lot right. So I’m gonna give a concrete example of what that might look like. So in my own practice, one of the courses I used to teach was intro to teaching as a profession. And a key skill that my students needed to learn was how to do backwards planning and lesson planning. So to situate this within an authentic context, I first introduced my students to the concept of professional learning communities, which is a really common collaborative structure that’s used in K 12. Schools. And PLCs are groups of teachers at a school site who meet on a regular basis to engage in collaborative planning, reviewing student data, and so on. So I told my students that they would be working in PLC to draft their first lesson plan for my course from scratch. And then to incorporate student interest I surveyed students to find out which grade level and subject they were interested in teaching in the future. And then I formed the PLC groups based on those common interests. So there was a kindergarten PLC A third grade PLC, you know, a ninth grade English PLC, and so on. And each PLC also got to choose a specific subject and standard that their lesson plan addressed. It was also really important to me to ensure that the process itself was chunked, and scaffolded, so that students were practicing skills over time, receiving ongoing feedback, and then revising accordingly along the way. And so I decided to break up the PLC lesson planning task over the course of about six classes or three weeks, and each class was broken up into two parts. So during part one, I would do a mini lecture on a specific part of the backwards design or lesson planning process, such as how to deconstruct standards and turn them into measurable objectives. And in this mini lecture, I would model skills have students participated discussions and practice activities, just to help them build their background knowledge about the topic. And then during the second part of class, students would get together with their PLC and work on drafting that specific part of their lesson plan in Google Docs. And as students worked in their groups, I just had all of their lesson plans open on my computer, so that I could monitor their progress, add feedback via the commenting tool, and then meet with groups to provide additional support. And we continue that split format for each class period until students had drafted a complete lesson plan with their PLC. And overall, I just found that structuring the group activity this way was incredibly beneficial for students, because first of all, they were able to complete it during class. So they didn’t have to worry about juggling a bunch of schedules, which we know is it’s really tricky to do. Yes, they were able to focus on just one aspect of the planning process at a time, they immediately applied what they learned during the mini lecture. And they built upon that knowledge from session to session. And perhaps the most valuable piece was that they were getting immediate feedback about their work during each class session. And for me, it was also super helpful because I didn’t have to grade anything outside of class, I just opened up their documents commented in the moment, walked over to groups to you know, engage them in conversation and provide additional support that way. And then some other benefits that students shared were that they appreciated like doing something that teachers actually do. So they’re completing an authentic tasks that aligned with their personal teaching interests. And they were also able to gain confidence with their lesson planning skills, because most of them had never done it before. And it was helpful for them to do it in a group before they were later on going to do it independently. And they were just able to build community with the members of their PLC, so a lot of them and that ended up forming friend groups, because they had worked with those people for you know, three weeks. So yeah, I’m a huge fan of providing students with time to work on group projects during class and then structuring it once again in a way that’s authentic, and chunked, and scaffold and full of feedback. And I think these types of group projects really align well with the UDL engagement principles about choice and autonomy, and relevance and authenticity, and then collaboration and community. So those were mid lecture strategies. Fantastic. So I’ll just move on to some post lecture ones, and then I’ll stop talking. So post lecture, it’s really important to think about how you can have students reflect on their learning and how you can set them up well for what’s to come. So this can include things like exit tickets, where you have students respond to questions about the lecture on an index card, or via a digital tool like Google Forms or jam board or Padlet. There’s also a ton of different reflection structures you can use. And a few of my personal favorites are a HA and HA, where at the end of the lecture, you have students record and Aha, which could be a takeaway, or something new they learned or something they found interesting or surprising. And they also record a hum which could be a question concern, area of confusion or something they’re still grappling with. Another favorite format is I used to think now I think, which comes from the Harvard Project, zero thinking routines. And I think this one really encourages students to reflect on how their understanding of a topic has shifted as a result of the lecture. And then one last personal favorite reflection strategy is geometric forms, which comes from Responsive Classroom. And this one’s kind of cheesy, but it’s it’s cute. Basically, students respond to four different shape related prompts. So the first one is something I learned that squares with my thinking and there’s a picture of a square on there. A question that is still circling in my mind. Three important points I want to remember and there’s an image of a triangle, and then a new direction I will go in or an action I would take and there’s a an image of an A Arrow. And I think that when it comes to reflection, it’s really important to consider how we can provide students with multimodal reflection opportunities because typically we tend to focus on writing. But we can also give them opportunities to use tools like mode or flip to record audio or video reflections. One last post lecture strategy I’ll share for now is doing assignment recaps. So at the end of each of my lectures, I would put up a slide that said assignment recap. And on this slide was a chart with three sections this week, next week and on the horizon. And in each section of the chart, I listed any assignments or long term projects that were coming up along with reminders and things students would need. So for example, in the THIS WEEK section, it might say, Oh, you have a reading response due. And then the next week section, it might say that we’re going to be on site at the elementary school for a service learning project. And in the on the on the horizon section, it might say that their personal culture study papers coming up in a few weeks. And I found that this really simple strategy was a super helpful way to help students plan ahead, and to also address any questions that they had about upcoming assignments. And it also helped me to ensure that I was providing students with the information and tools and tips that they needed to be successful on those upcoming tasks. So those are some of my favorite strategies for engaging students before, during and after lectures.

Lillian Nave  21:20

Fantastic. This is a highly organized, I mean, what incredible tips for somebody, I’m actually in my head, I’m like, Oh, my goodness, I shouldn’t be doing this every single time. I go back into the classroom from I mean, right now I’m teaching mostly online, and I’ll be back into the classroom. And I’m like, oh, I need to do this. Exactly, exactly. So and students are going to be so thankful for this, this is so helpful, especially first year students who are a bit overwhelmed by all of the executive functions that have to happen that are, you know, from going from high school, which is much more directed into going into college, this is so helpful for our students are just going to be much more successful if we can help organize, and we have it all organized in our heads. But yeah, but expressing that to our students sometimes gets lost. Right, fully agree with you. Yeah. And you know, I have one question about your tic tac toe board that you were talking about, where would the QR codes, and I made me think in my game brain, do the students have to make a tic tac toe, like they have to go across like three in a row or diagonal or something like that?

Tolu Noah  22:37

So technically, I’ve let them do whatever they want. Some of them will treat it like the game, and we’ll try to do it in a row. But if there’s really, you know, if there’s one that they see that they really want to do, I don’t want to be like, You can’t do that, because it’s it’s not in the order. Gotcha. Because I also put the titles like, for example, the multilingual learners, one that I did I put the titles of the videos that they had some context about what it would be about, yeah, and some of them kind of lended themselves to different grade levels that people might be interested in teaching in the future. So I didn’t want to commit them too much. But technically they could.

Lillian Nave  23:10

Okay, gotcha. Yeah, that helps me with designing it, too. It’s like, oh, do I need to be making sure that all the different possibilities have this sort of depth? And I’m glad, yeah, that they can choose. Okay. Yeah. So I know you are, you know, quite an amazing speaker and get to share your knowledge with lots of faculty. And I feel like I just got like the, the, the small version of one of those those talks, which is really, really helpful. Yeah. But you do a lot. And one of those things that I’m really interested in is intercultural competence, and in a course that focuses on skills and attitudes as well as knowledge, which are all part of intercultural competence. How can the UDL principles be used to foster things like connection among that diverse student body?

Tolu Noah  24:05

That is such a great question. And as you mentioned, you know, Fostering Connections and building community really is key. So just to provide a little bit of context, one of the courses that I used to teach was diversity in the classroom. And in this course, we discussed important topics like culture, race, gender, socioeconomic status, and the importance of creating inclusive K 12 classroom environments. And as a professor, it was incredibly important to me to lay a strong foundation for the conversations we would be having in the course. So one of the main things I focused on from the start was building trust and rapport with and amongst students, because I knew it was really important for students to have the opportunity to get to know each other better and identify points of connection before we jumped into conversations about more challenging topics. And there are you know, lots of different activities you could use to help students build trust and rapport, but I’ll just share two that I’ve personally used and found really helpful. One is a bio poem assignment where students write a poem about themselves that follows a specific format. So typically, the first line of the poem is their first name. The second line is for adjectives that describe them. The third line is an important relationship like child, friend, sibling, or partner of, and so on, and so forth. So I start by sharing a bio poem about myself so that students can get to know me better. And then their first assignment is to write a bio a poem about themselves, which they use to introduce themselves to their peers. So on the day, the bio poem is do I break students up into small groups to share their poems. And before they move on to the next person, they have to respond to the person who shared by asking follow up questions, sharing personal connections, or just highlighting something in the poem that stood out to them. So the biofilm really became a catalyst for conversations about who each person in the group was and the different points of connections that they may have had with each other. I also made it a point to comment on every student’s bio poem in Canvas by sharing the comment question or connection as well. So students knew that this wasn’t just for them to get to know each other, but I actually wanted to get to know them to. Another strategy that I’ve used is a me bag activity. And I got this from an article I read called what works for me first day of class activities. And in that article, Mary, Esther and share the strategy. And I was like, That’s brilliant. So the way this works is you have students bring five to seven items to class, that represent three categories, who they are, where they’ve been, and where they’re going. And you intentionally leave it open ended like that, so that students can bring whatever it is that they feel comfortable sharing for each topic. And then students use those items to share who they are with their peers. And it was really awesome to see how this really simple activity allowed students gain so much insight into the background of their peers, along with their peers, like hopes and dreams for the future. So those are two activities that I’ve used in my courses to build trust and rapport. I also incorporated frequent low stakes, reflection and discussion opportunities into my courses, just to help students connect with each other. So I had my students do a reflection activity from a book that I highly recommend. It’s called teaching for diversity and social justice. And in this activity, students reflected on how they typically respond when they’re triggered by something someone else has said. So for example, do they tend to avoid the person who trigger them, attack the person confront them, respond with humor, and so on. So students read over this list of common responses from the book independently, and they check off how they typically respond. And then they break up into small groups to discuss the responses along with why they tend to respond in those ways, and how like contexts might impact their responses. They also talk about which of these responses do you want to start, stop or continue using, and I found that this activity all resulted in some really robust conversations as students connected over their similarities and differences in how they respond to you and interpret situations. And it also served to introduce them to other ways of responding that maybe they hadn’t previously considered, which by the way, was really helpful for them to think about as we were approaching conversations about more difficult conversations later on in the course. Another reflection and discussion activity I had my students do was reflecting on their cultural values. So thinking about things like, are you more time oriented or event oriented? Do you tend to conceal vulnerability? Or are you more willing to expose your vulnerability and so on. And I think this also helps students to connect with each other and better understand why people may respond to the same situation and very different ways. And one last activity I’ll share that was you know, helpful for fostering connections among students, was having them do video reflections and flip. So my diversity class was a service learning course, where once a week, students would be on site at an elementary school mentoring a small group of fourth graders and teaching them about college and careers. And so each week, I had my students record a video reflection and flip about their service learning experiences, and how the theories we were talking about in class connected to their experiences at the school site. And students share that they really enjoyed being able to watch their peers videos on flip and see what others were experiencing and learning and celebrate with them, too. So those are some ideas for Fostering Connections.

Lillian Nave  29:21

Oh, yeah. So important. I mean, the first thing you start out with is trust, and how can we really talk about these difficult issues if we don’t trust the people in the room or who we’re talking to? And yeah, it’s not something I thought about when I was a student in and I don’t, you know, think that my professors spent a lot of time making that happen either. And so it’s that intentionality I think is so important for our students to know that we’re, you know, trying to make this a place where you really can do the hard work that has to happen.

Tolu Noah  29:58

Yep. And I like this. This is You have like, it’s easier to have conversations amongst friends than complete strangers. Right? You know, it’s I think it’s really tempting as a professor, because there’s so much content that, you know, we have to address within a course, that it can be really tempting to just jump into that content because we feel like we don’t have enough time. But I am a huge believer in do Les and set the foundation so that it’s actually successful. Because especially in courses like this, like you’re talking about really important topics, and you want to make sure that students are going to feel comfortable having those discussions, but you can’t do that if they feel completely disconnected from the people in the room.

Lillian Nave  30:37

Yeah, an important point there. And, you know, let me ask a kind of a follow up question there. And if we are going to have some difficult discussions, how can an instructor establish that clear expectations for what the dialogue in a class might look like? And you’ve said to so that you can help students engage in honest and critical reflection on their personal identities and beliefs? Yeah.

Tolu Noah  31:07

So one strategy, I suggest is actually encouraging disturbance. And what I mean by that is encouraging students to embrace the uncomfortable feelings that come with having their perspectives challenged. And a key way that I used to do this in my diversity course was by having students read Margaret J. whateleys. Essay willing to be disturbed. And in this essay, Wheatley does a really incredible job of framing the value of not knowing and the importance of being curious, and the benefits of having our perspective stretched. So I used to have students read her essay on the first day of class. And they would use the word phrase sentence thinking routine from Project Zero to record a word, a phrase and a sentence from the reading, that were particularly meaningful or powerful to them. And then I had them break up into small groups to share their selected words, phrases and sentences, and to discuss additional questions such as you know, what common themes emerged among your responses? And what are the implications of the essay for this course. And I also use wheelies sa as a segue to discussing group agreements by asking them, you know what is necessary in order to create an environment in this class where people can risk being disturbed. So when it comes to group agreements, there are lots of different ways that you can go about generating them. And I’ve learned a lot of helpful tips from Tasha Sousa, who I had the opportunity to partner with several years ago, when we were co facilitating a series of workshops about facilitating conversations about difficult topics in the college classroom. And Tasha shared a few different ways for creating group agreements. So one option is that you can have students generate all the agreements, you can provide a few agreements, and then have students co construct the rest. Or you can generate a list yourself and then ask students if there’s anything they want to add, omit or modify. But regardless of the format that you’re using to generate them, it’s really important to ensure that there’s buy in and that the agreements are really reflective of what’s important to everyone in the room. So in my diversity course, I had a combination of agreements that students generated plus ones that I picked up from Tasha and from others, such as you know, as a speaker, consider the impact of your words prior to speaking, ask clarifying questions, instead of making assumptions, and listen to understand rather than to respond. And Tasha also talked about the importance of group agreements being visible, because so often group agreements are something that we talk about on the first day of class, and then they just kind of fade into the background never to be seen again, it’s kind of like that Homer Simpson meme, where he kind of where they go. But if group agreements really are meant to guide the discussions and interactions in your course, then they need to be visible, and they need to be revisited often. So I used to display the group agreements at the beginning of every class session on my welcome slide. But you can also incorporate reflection on the group agreements into your course by having students pause a few times during the term to reflect on their strengths and areas for growth. And even if you know, there might be amendments that might be needed. And then one last recommendation I’ll share for now is to model vulnerability because I think that when we model that for students, then they may feel more comfortable being vulnerable and engaging in honest and critical reflection on their identities and beliefs. And modeling vulnerability can include sharing appropriate parts of your story and background like your successes and challenges and lessons learned along the way. So for example, in my diversity class, I would share personal stories related to the topic we were discussing, like ways in which I have experienced privilege or oppression based on different aspects of my identity or related stories from my experience as a K 12. Teacher. And I do want to emphasize here that it’s important to take into account your specific context and what you feel comfortable sharing, while also avoiding oversharing. Because that could be a little messy there too. Yeah. And I think modeling vulnerability also includes operating with humility, you know, so I always hold with my students that when it comes to di or intercultural competency, we’re all on a lifelong journey. And I positioned myself as a co learner right along with them. And then lastly, I think it’s important to cultivate an environment where vulnerability matters more than perfection. So students need to know that their voice matters, and that it’s okay to not have everything figured out.

Lillian Nave  35:23

Perfect. Even though we said we’re against perfection right now. But that’s it like to to be okay with imperfection. And we’re all learning together. One of the, the metaphors I use is that were spelunking, we’re all, we’re all in a cave together, right? And we all have our little headlights, headlights on. And maybe I’ve been in this cave before, maybe I’ve been in the cave 20 times before. But when you kind of explore and show me something new and something has changed to, then I’m going to be learning as well. And we’re all doing this together. And we’re all going to move along together to to get through it. And that metaphor. Yeah. That’s what the teaching and learning to me is a lot like spelunking together? Maybe I’ve got a map, but everything is new when you show it to me with your eyes. Yeah. Beautiful. Yeah. So your, your universal design for learning. Expertise, I would have to say, has shaped and informed your faculty development in the last several years. How has that worked for you?

Tolu Noah  36:35

Yeah, so the first thing I would say is that UDL along with everything that’s kind of happened over the last couple of years with the COVID 19 pandemic. Yeah, has made me be much more intentional about ensuring that faculty have multiple ways to learn the information in my faculty development workshops. So if I’m facilitating a virtual workshop, I make sure that I record the session so that faculty who wants to revisit the content or are unable to attend live can watch the sessions back as many times as needed. I also like to use tools like Canva keynote and Google Docs to create one pagers are infographics for many of my workshops, and that way faculty have another avenue for learning or reviewing the content. So the one pagers and infographics will typically summarize the key points from the workshop. They’ll include some teaching and learning application ideas, and provide links to supplementary resources and some of the one pagers infographics also have QR codes that faculty can scan if they want to watch a video instead, to review the content from the session. I’m also a huge fan of wakelet. And I’ve been using that to create collections of resources that I can easily share with faculty at the end of each workshop. And that way they can use them to continue their learning after the session has ended. So for an active learning workshop that I recently did, I created a wakelet collection that included links to general articles about active learning research articles, websites that they could use to find active learning techniques, videos of active learning techniques and more. So the wakelet collections along with the one pagers, infographics and session recordings, give faculty different options for ways that they can learn about and review the topic of the workshop. And then I would also say that in my general design of faculty, faculty development workshops, I’m very intentional about making the learning experience as relevant, applicable and hands on as possible, so that faculty can see the value of it. So if I am teaching faculty about an edtech tool like Eclipse or flip, I’ll have them use that tool during the session in the context of how they would actually use the tool for teaching and learning. So for example, I might have them you know, make a micro lecture using the tool. I also incorporate choice by having faculty choose topics related to their field or discipline that they want to use as a basis for the activities that we’re completing during the workshop. It’s also really important to me to foster a welcoming and collaborative environment where faculty can connect with and learn from each other. So if it’s an onsite workshop, I’ll mix them up a lot and have them engage in frequent paired and small group activities throughout. And once again, I’m using strategies that they can also use with their students in their classrooms. And then if it’s a virtual workshop, we’ll do discussions where faculty have the option to respond in the chat or off mute or via online collaborative tools like Padlet. And I embed frequent opportunities for discussion throughout so that faculty can really think about the many ways that they can apply whatever it is that we’re exploring to their teaching and learning practices. So I’ll stop there for now. But if anyone’s interested in learning more, I have an educational piece I recently wrote that talks about some principles that have informed my design of Faculty Development Workshops, specifically about educational technology, but they can also be applied to other forms of Faculty Development. And I want to give a huge shout out to Sarah Silverman, who has really stretched my thinking about how UDL can shape our faculty development practices. And she recently published a fantastic article called instructors or learners to making faculty development accessible to faculty. And I highly recommend checking that out.

Lillian Nave  40:03

Well, we’re gonna have all of these resources on this episode’s resource list on the website for think And yeah, I have been furiously writing and storing in my notes. And now I have a three pages. So I’ll make sure that we have all of these all these articles you’ve mentioned. And resources will have links for those. So anybody who’s listening can will be able to find them really easily on our website, for sure. Great. Yeah. And I love Sarah Silverman, I interviewed her earlier on in this podcast of years ago, actually. Brilliant. Yes, and continuously learn from her. So we’ll have that as well, we’ll make sure we’ve got that listed on the resources too. So you also focus quite a bit on accessibility. And you’re an Apple certified educator, amongst many other things. You are just multitalented, I’m learning in a very deep way. And that accessibility part is, of course, essential to Universal Design for Learning. It isn’t everything about UDL, but it is essential to it. And what guiding principles do you suggest for faculty as they maneuver through the many options of, of Ed Tech. And I know you’ve written on this, too. Yeah.

Tolu Noah  41:23

So I want to start by acknowledging that accessibility is an area in which I still have a lot to learn. And so I’ve been really intentional about following others who have expertise in this area and attending workshops and seminars so that I can continue to learn more. So shout out to so many people on Twitter, I couldn’t name them all. But people like Sarah Silverman and Kate Kirby, who continuously challenged my thinking in this area and helped me to do better. I’m also really grateful for my prior experience as a senior professional learning specialist at Apple because I think that experience really illuminated the power of educational technology for helping to minimize barriers and empower learners. So in my previous role, I had the opportunity to partner with K 12, teachers and college professors nationwide by facilitating professional development workshops, and personalized coaching sessions, about ways that educators could use iPads and MacBooks to enhance teaching and learning. And one of the areas that I supported them with was accessibility tools. Now there are dozens of incredible accessibility tools built into Apple devices. Things like Assistive Touch, which makes it easier to navigate and control your device. spoken content where your device will read aloud text dictation, which turns your speech into text and Safari Reader, which eliminates webpage distractions like ads and menu bars. And it also allows you to customize the display the content. And I really believe that it’s important to teach students about accessibility features, so that they can really customize and personalize their own learning experiences. So I won’t get into the weeds of all of that right now, because I could probably, you know, that could be an episode of itself. But I’ll share an article once again, that highlights some helpful Apple, Google and Microsoft accessibility features that can be helpful for students to learn about. And in terms of like general principles that can help faculty sift through the massive sea of ed tech options. I recently had the opportunity to do a keynote for a school district where I shared 10 C’s that could help guide their edtech decisions. And I think these c’s apply regardless of the level you’re teaching, so I’ll just briefly walk through them. And once again, I’ll provide some additional resources. So the first six C’s are content, which means that your learning objectives should guide your decisions about pedagogy and technology context, which means that you need to take contextual factors into consideration like who your students are, you know, what your university is, what their goals and initiatives are, the tools that are provided, and also thinking about your own personal bandwidth and resources. The third C is creed. So thinking about how the technology aligns, or contrasts with your beliefs and values, channels, which is all about choosing tools that are accessible, and that allow learners to see themselves represented in the instructional materials and empowering ways choice, which is about choosing tools that provide students with options for how they can learn about the content and how they can demonstrate their learning. And then cauliflower was I’m gonna be honest, this is the one I’m the most proud of. And I was like, Yeah,

Lillian Nave  44:26

I was not expecting that as the next word as the next seat at all the element of surprise. Yes, exactly new.

Tolu Noah  44:35

So cauliflower is all about choosing tools that are versatile and that promote transfer of skills to new situations. So similar to how the vegetable cauliflower has been used in so many innovative ways for a bunch of different food products. So we want to go deep with our edtech tools and think about things that yeah, once again, can transfer to other situations. And then the remaining four C’s are not my original creation. They’re actually the popular four received from the Partnership for 21st century learning. And these are critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. So we want to choose edtech tools that allow students to develop and strengthen their critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creative skills. So those are the tendencies. And once again, I’ll provide some resources for anyone who’d like to look into that more.

Lillian Nave  45:21

Oh, yes. So definitely, we’ll put it on our episode resources for the thank you deal podcast for this episode. And yeah, I love that. I think the article should be called Nine season cauliflower. highlight that one for sure. So you, you just have an amazing wealth of practical, I would say, practical interventions in using UDL in a variety of ways. And I appreciated that you. You mean, you spent some time still as an educator, but outside of the classroom, necessarily working for Apple, right. And that was a very eye opening and really helpful. And it seems like that, too, is really good in the I hate to use the air quotes, the real world experience because everything is we’re in the real world. Yeah, but just like a little follow up, how did that experience differ from everything else, you’ve been kind of working with students, whether K 12, or teaching in the college classroom. And then you kind of had a stint where you were corporate or, you know, working with Apple, sort of a strange, I don’t often interview folks who’ve had those various backgrounds and bringing it into their, their practice today, because now you’re back at a university, and you’re doing this and so much more. Can you tell me kind of what that difference was like?

Tolu Noah  47:03

Yeah, so I’ll start with I’m gonna go back a little bit. Yeah. Which is, I think I mentioned at the top of this interview that I always thought I was going to be a teacher. So I’ve known since fourth grade that I wanted to teach, you could not convince me otherwise. My parents tried hard to convince me otherwise, they’re like, I’m not gonna make any money. Yeah, I’m gonna be able to, to support yourself as a teacher. And even, you know, little fourth grade me was like, No, this is my dream, right? To the point where I even like, begged my parents for a chalkboard easel. And when I got that one Christmas, like, that was the highlight of my Christmas was like, I can now play school. Yeah, real teacher, because I had my chalkboard easel. So I never envisioned that my, my journey would look the way it did. So I was a K 12, teacher for nine years. And while I was teaching, I started having opportunities to facilitate professional development at my school site. And I was like, Oh, this is kind of fun. Like, you know, maybe one day, I might, I might go down that road. Yeah. And I had a really unique opportunity to also help teach the next generation of teachers. So I was part of Teach for America. And one summer institute, they were like, hey, we’d like you to come and help facilitate some, some sessions for others about how to teach. And I didn’t feel equipped by any means I’d only been teaching for two years. At that point, I was like, I am not a veteran, I should not be teaching anyone anything. But I took a leap of faith. And I did it. And I found that I really, really enjoyed that, like teacher education side of things. So I think I kind of kept those things in my pocket while I was a K 12. Teacher. And then that actually led me to pursuing my doctorate. So I got my doctorate in educational leadership with a focus on teacher education and multicultural societies. And that’s what led from my transition from K 12 to higher ed. So I ended up being able to teach at the same university that I had attended as an undergrad student, which is an amazing full circle moment. Yeah. And I was teaching in their teacher ed program that I had also gone through, and I absolutely loved it, I, man, I still miss it. I love teaching. I love teaching future teachers. And I did that for seven years. And the same thing kind of happened that happened when I was a K 12 Teacher, where I would have these opportunities to facilitate workshops and present at different conferences like the Lilly conference and the teaching professor conference. And I was like, this is like a lot of fun, I really enjoy supporting, supporting other educators. And I also was kind of recognizing this need because since I had had experiences the K 12 Teacher, like active learning was was in my blood, like I didn’t know any other way to teach. And I remember even when I was when I made that first shift, I was like, do I need to stop like doing interactive activities? Because most college professors don’t do that. You know, a lot of them are standing out the room and lecturing and I was like, Nope, I’m gonna be who I am and, and, you know, live that out. So yeah, Same thing happened where I had these opportunities, you know, to present at these conferences, and I was like, Okay, this is this is actually really fun. And I think, you know, even though I love teaching, I was like, I think I need to explore this faculty development piece a little bit more. So I started, you know, throwing my hat into the ring, looking at different opportunities, saw this position at Apple, where they were looking for a professional learning specialist who would be partnering with schools, to help them learn about how they could use technology in their teaching. And to be completely honest, I did not think I was gonna be selected. Yeah, it’s one of those things where you’re like, you put your hat in the ring, and then you’re like, Oh, I’m still here. I’m still here. They still want me like this is this is so weird. And then yeah, it worked out where I was selected. And I had the opportunity to mostly work with higher education institutions, which was really awesome. Meeting with professors, and then also working with some K 12 schools around yeah, how do you use your iPad and your MacBook for, you know, creativity and collaboration and all those four C’s. And so yeah, that experience, I think, was really the launching pad for getting more into this faculty development side of things. And I think it really bridged my my passions for pedagogy and technology. So really thinking about how the to work hand in hand. So I did that for about a year and a half or so. But to be honest, I really missed academia. And so I was like, Okay, I’m going to look for a faculty developed position out of university that still allow me to do all these things. And so now I’m the instructional learning spaces coordinator at California State University, Long Beach. And so I do workshops about iPad and MacBook. But then I also do things about active learning and pedagogical practices, and so much more. So I’m really excited that I am in a position now where I can do all the things that bring me joy, as an educator, and really bridge all those different experiences that I’ve had up until this point.

Lillian Nave  51:56

Wow, you are the complete package then. All of that. Yeah, I’m just blown away by all of the things you speak so well about, you know, and expertly. And with so many great practical things. That’s, that’s really what when people come to me, they’re asking, Okay, but how do I do that, like Tom taught me something I can use right away. And I do, I want to try and do that, as much as possible. And you you’re just full of ideas. And it’s been just such a pleasure to get a chance to talk to you Tolu and thank you so much for your expertise and for your time and for sharing it with me. And thanks for being on the think UDL podcast.

Tolu Noah  52:39

Thank you so much for having me. It was great to be here today.

Lillian Nave  52:47

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. Thank you again to our sponsor, Texthelp Texthelp is focused on helping all people learn, understand and communicate through the use of digital education and accessibility tools. Texthelp and its people are working towards a world where difference, disability or language are no longer barriers to learning and succeeding, with over 50 million users worldwide. The Texthelp suite of products include Read and Write equates to an orbit note, which work alongside existing platforms such as Microsoft Office and G Suite, enabling them to be integrated quickly into any classroom or workspace with ease. Texthelp has changed the lives of millions worldwide, and strives to impact the literacy and understanding of 1 billion people by 2030. 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 Oddyssey quartet comprised of Rex Shepherd, David Pate, Bill Folwell and Jose Cochez, and I am your host, Lillian Nave. Thank you for joining us on The think UDL podcast!

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