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Engaging Lilly Conferences with Todd Zakrajsek

Welcome to Episode 33 of the ThinkUDL podcast: Engaging Lilly Conferences with Todd Zakrajsek!  This episode was recorded at the Teaching for Active and Engaged Learning Lilly Conference in San Diego, California, February 27-29, 2020. This conference is just one of the engaging Lilly Conferences organized by the International Teaching and Learning Cooperative and the fabulous ITLC team. This podcast also kicks off a series of four podcasts from the conference that focuses on UDL conversations that were discussed by participants or speakers that I had a chance to interview while the ThinkUDL team was there.

We start out this series with the President and Conference Director of the ITLC, Todd Zakrajsek. Todd has been organizing Lilly conferences for years all over the country and the world and he has incorporated so many helpful and engaging tools that showcase the effectiveness of Universal Design for Learning principles in the conference format that I wanted to talk to him and tell our listeners about how different the Lilly conferences are from the traditional academic conferences. He and his team have made so many innovations and improvements to the typical conference of yore. From engaging conference books to concrete learning objectives for each session, and even designated metacognitive exercises throughout the conference, Todd and the ITLC team have set the bar high for conference engagement and innovation! Additionally, I personally have learned so much in my participation in Lilly conferences over the years and have made lasting connections with other colleagues around the country and I wanted to share all of the good things that happen at Lilly Conferences with our listeners.

I think you will find our conversation full of insights about how to make a conference both adaptive to and empowering for conference participants and see how thoughtful and UDL-oriented the ITLC team is in organizing and presenting every one of the Lilly Conferences around the world.


International Teaching Learning Cooperative: Look here for all of the opportunities that ITLC provides for faculty!

Lilly Conferences: Take a look at all of the Lilly Conferences available year round and somewhere within a drive to you since they are held from coast to coast and in between! These are fabulous, friendly teaching and learning conferences that give you actionable items that you can use right away, and inspiration for more!
The Scholarly Teacher Blog gives great advice curated by the ITLC and often created by faculty from around the world. This is a really great resource and you can subscribe to get these nuggets of wisdom straight in your inbox.


[Lillian]  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 33 of the Think UDL podcast: Engaging Lilly Conferences with Todd Zakrajsek.  This episode was recorded at the Teaching for Active and Engaged Learning Lilly conference in San Diego, California in February of 2020.  This conference is just one of the engaging Lilly conferences organized by the International Teaching and Learning Cooperative and the fabulous ITLC team.  This podcast also kicks off a series of four podcasts from the conference that focuses on UDL conversations that were discussed by participants or speakers that I have a chance to interview while the Think UDL team was there.  We start out this series with the president and conference director of the ITLC, Todd Zakrajsek.  Todd has been organizing Lilly conferences for years all over the country and all over the world, and he has incorporated so many helpful and engaging tools that showcase the effectiveness of Universal Design for Learning principles in the conference format that I wanted to talk to him and tell our listeners about how different the Lilly conferences are from the traditional academic conferences.  He and his team have made so many innovations and improvements to the typical Conference of yore.  From engaging conference books to concrete learning objectives for each session, and even designated metacognitive exercises throughout the conference, Todd and the ITLC team have set the bar high for conference engagement and innovation.  Additionally, I personally have learned so much in my participation in Lilly conferences over the years, and I’ve made lasting connections with other colleagues around the country.  And I wanted to share all of the good things that happen at Lilly conferences with our listeners.  I think you’ll find our conversation full of insights about how to make a conference both adaptive to and empowering for conference participants, and see how thoughtful and UDL oriented the ITLC team is in organizing and presenting every of the lily conferences around the world.  So, we are here at the Lilly Conference in San Diego, and I am very happy to have with me Todd Zakrajsek, also known as Todd Zakrajsek. 


[Todd]  Yes, it just depends if its Slovenian or American. 

[Lillian]  Yes, exactly, and I’m so happy you took some time away from your busy running around, getting this conference going and your fantastic team to talk to us at the Think UDL podcast because as I arrived yesterday and started tweeting out a storm of look at what the Lilly conference is doing, I am super excited that you guys have created again an active and engaged conference that I love coming to.  I’ve come to over five, and really have enjoyed everything that I’m learning here.  And it’s the teaching for active and engaged learning conference  


[Todd]  Yay!  That’s great, isn’t it?  Well, thank you Lillian, I really appreciate that and the opportunity to come chat with you a little bit. 


[Lillian]  Yeah, there’s one question I do ask all of my guests to think about learner variability, and wanted to know what your perception is: what makes you a different kind of learner? 


[Todd]  Oh, for me, myself, I’m always thinking of others in terms of learners I don’t think of myself. 

[Lillian]  I’m turning the tables on you.  


[Todd]  Wow, this was not– this wasn’t– hey everybody this was not scripted and she surprised me with this one.  I am a learning challenged person, actually, which is kind of– I’m glad you asked the question though because it’s kind of something I hadn’t really thought that much about is it’s not easy for me.  I really have a hard time learning.  I’ve got a bit of a ADD, some people will say ADHD, but you know, hyperactivity runs in the family so it’s not my fault or anything.  But, it’s tricky for me to focus.  I tend to work a lot, so I get tired.  Which I’ve written the book with Terry Doyle and we talk about the problems of being fatigued, and I think really fast.  I will say that I believe I think really fast, and so once you kind of have a sense of where somebody’s going with something, and you’ve got attention deficit issues, and you’re fatigued, it is really difficult to kind of focus and do these things.  So, I will say that I do– you know, for me a good learning style and someone who’s fairly quick and direct, it’s very helpful for me.  But there’s so many different ways to learn.  But that’s– as for me is I really benefit really well quite frankly from direct instruction.  Just the personality, I guess. 


[Lillian]  Yeah, but you recognize, as you have with running these Lilly conferences, how variable so many others are.  So, you’ve got all these– that’s what I was super excited about!  You have all these ways that your learners, who in this case are faculty, instructors, administrators, people who come to the Lilly conference are– have a variety of ways to learn that they learn best.  And you are– man it’s like gangbusters– what the Lilly team is doing recently to make sure that all of the participants at this conference are actively engaged.  So I mean there’s so– we’re going to talk about the book that comes along with this, we’re going to talk about the engaging strategies, talk about plenary speakers, and all those sort of things.  So, what makes a lily conference so different than other let’s say academic conferences? 


[Todd]  Yeah, and there’s so many good conferences out there, so I mean, I don’t think it’s any better than any other conference, but I do think it’s unique, a little bit different, and my biggest thing is I think it’s comes from– and this is the long history of UDL that I’ve done– is it comes from thinking about the learners as unique human beings.  And so if the person coming through the door to the conference is a unique human being, then my position is that I should try to figure out how can I meet the needs of as many people as possible.  And so I know we have some individuals who are introverts, I know we have shy individuals, we have individuals with social anxiety, we have extroverts, we have very big risk takers who will throw their hands up at a moment’s notice when somebody asks a question or they’ll yell something out in the big ballroom when the plenaries speakers presenting.  We have other people who would never dream of talking like one of a group that size.  And so you have to sit back and say, alright so how do we make this a good learning experience for everybody, and how do we help people to interact with each other when there’s so much variability?  To me, that’s no different than what we should be doing in the classroom.  And so I try to use the conference as a reflection of the classroom.  That’s why there’s– often we have the sessions are 40-50 minutes, they’re not really long sessions, but that’s what happens in the classroom.  30-minute sessions, I have 30-minute sessions because if you can do a really good 30-minute session with some active learning and get something across that’s valuable, then 50 minutes is actually easier.   


[Lillian]  Yeah, I was talking to folks at our table today and they said– and they were first-time Lilly conference goers– and they said I really love this 30-minute session and then you’ve got time to process it, too.  But you can get so much accomplished and learn so much in that short time period.  And you have, in this case, 30 minutes and then 60 minutes and kind of switches back to 30 minutes, so you’ve got all these options. 


[Todd]  Yep and we try to bounce it around a bit.  So we have a plenary presentation for instance where everybody’s in a big room, still active, I actually meet with everybody who does a plenary presentation.  I meet with them ahead of time and they talk through what their presentation’s going to be, I explain to them what types of things tend to work well is structure, but they have to pick their own content and they pick the only thing their own thing they’re doing.  And I do that on purpose because they don’t really know the audience as well as I hope that I do just because of my number of years of doing this.  


[Lillian]  Right, you’ve been doing this a while. 

[Todd]  Yeah and so the concept of kind of working through those little details and giving people– in the book there’s the coloring pages in an adult color book kind of thing where you have the pens and the cityscapes that adults will sit down and color and it’s very relaxing.  Well we have them in the book and we have Soduko’s and we have crosswords and some things for people who just can disconnect for a minute, or help them to focus, but we’re not all the same.  


[Lillian]  Doodling often helps my students.  I taught art history before I moved into my newer role, and I’ll be doing like a long like 75 minute lecture, and I would see these students doodling and I first have you think they’re not paying attention!  And it wasn’t till I read an article about just the kind of doodler’s brain– that’s just a way they’re actually listening better, you know can glance up at the slides and kind of take in little bits.  But then that ability to doodle is actually helping them to learn the material better than if they weren’t allowed to doodle.  And I’ve known other instructors who will say hey, stop doodling and they see that almost as an affront, but it turns out everybody’s different and that just might help them! 


[Todd]  Isn’t that strange? It’s a crazy thing, isn’t it?  And that’s what I did–the opening plenary we did this year is a big thing I’ve been on a rampage for a while is we shouldn’t teach– people will say you teach the way you were taught, and my argument out of the gate was we’re actually taught in a lot of different ways, so that’s probably not true.  You probably don’t teach the way you were taught.  We, as egocentric human beings, because nobody knows me better than me, I know how I learn.  We also tend to assume that other people are like us.  People say oh you’re going to love this dish, oh you’re going to love this candidate, oh you’re going to love this drive, oh this car is fabulous, you should get one.  We do that because we think other people will like what we like.  So, why wouldn’t we think that they’ll learn the way we learn.  Which means I’m going to go off and teach the way I best learn, not the way I was taught.  And then the opening plenary again– the thing that I’ve been pushing is that’s dangerous because if I teach the way I best learned, then what I’m going to do is connect really well with people who are most like me.  That’s going to reinforce the fact that people can learn from that system, and those who don’t must not be good students.  But what they are it’s just different from me. So my goal these days is to find out ways to teach or to give presentations or to work in such a way that the people who come up and talk to me are very different than me, because the more different they are from me, the better I am at meeting a variety of learner’s needs.  And so that’s what I try to construct the whole conference around. 


[Lillian]  And I’ve noticed that all the plenaries that you have if you’re talking with them, there’s always an interactive portion.  At other academic conferences there’s– sometimes it’s talking at, you know, and you’re kind of wait and listen the whole time, because you’re kind of there for the big events.  Like that kind of idea about somebody, you’re paying for this or you’re getting this information, and at the Lilly conference it is a very different field.  There’s always that interactivity and the focus is always turn to talk to the people at your table.  And you’re saying there’s value with these people at the table that you probably have never met.  Here’s a chance, they’ve come from all over the country, all over the world, we’ve got international folks at these conferences, and there’s a lot of value, a lot of information, a lot of intelligence just to the people at your table, let’s dig in and let’s find out.  


[Todd]  And you notice how seamlessly that the presenters are having interactivity with groups of 250 and 300 people.  So implicitly– and I don’t actually point this out to folks, I suppose I could, but I get a lot of people say well in these in the concurrent sessions it’s great to you having their interactivity with 30 40 or 50 people that’s fabulous.  But I teach 200.  And so when somebody like Jennifer Imazeki or Kevin Kelly get up there and tomorrow David Betancourt get up there and do an activity with 250 people in the room, then if you’re teaching a class with 200 people, 250, it’s like ha I could do this too.  So it just helps to show how we can do active and engaged learning in large courses. 


[Lillian]  Yeah so yeah you are giving a template for all of us to follow. 

[Todd]  Just give some opportunities and you can choose to follow them if you wish 


[Lillian]  Yeah and one of the things that you were talking about yesterday, and I’ve heard you say this before, which is I still think the best illustration of why the Lilly conference is different and why people might want to come to learn about active and engaged teaching strategies and different ways that you could enhance your teaching at your university is maybe the difference between a Lilly conference and the traditional academic conference that you may have been to many years ago, can you tell us that? 


[Todd]  Oh yes.  This was– I use this example over and over again to help people understand kind of my framework for this, and yeah that was the– I remember that too when I was a graduate student, I worked so hard on my presentation.  I had the traditional like 12 minutes to present, and I’m so scared, and I’m at the American Psych Association and I present it at the end of the session, and I don’t remember the exact citation so I’m just going to call it Smith and Jones, but at the end of the presentation someone raises his hand and I said yes and “well given– I see you didn’t mention Smith and Jones of 1947, and given that you’ve left that piece of information out, it really brings doubt into the whole findings that you have here, you can’t leave such an important piece out.”  And at the time, it crushed me, it’s like oh my gosh you know this is valuable.  And later, I now jokingly will say and I do believe this is– that was either Smith or Jones who said that–yes, himself or herself– or one of the grad students who had Smith or Jones as a faculty member. And so at the Lilly conference my joke I will often use is if you’re the kind of person who wants to do that, I suggest you just you know go sightseeing.  In fact, I’ll pay for the trolley ticket, just go sightseeing.  Now on the other hand, if you come through the door and you think– watch a presentation and somebody like me presents and you say wow they didn’t mention Smith and Jones, I bet they don’t know who it is, and this is a whole different thing for attribution and mindset.  I don’t assume that you’re an idiot, you forgot it, I assume you haven’t yet heard of this great piece of research which will now enhance the otherwise already good stuff that you have.  So, what I want to hear people say is hey I notice that you didn’t cite Smith and Jones, do you know of their work?  And the presenter would say no I don’t, yeah that’s totally cool it’s not that well-read, but it will fit perfectly in with what you’re doing.  How about if you and I have lunch together and we talk about it?  That’s what I want at this conference. 


[Lillian]   Yeah, and you facilitate this.  I’ve noticed that when you hand out– when I got my Welcome Packet or my book, you also have the nametag packet that has networking cards.  So that if you have that situation, it has your name already pre-printed.  So let’s say you forgot your business cards, or you don’t have them because you’re an adjunct and you don’t get funds for this, right, you’re– any number of reasons why you don’t have business cards, you actually provide for each conference member a set of business cards, really. 


[Todd]    Yeah and to be perfectly honest, I just want to jump in there and say is that you’ve actually– you picked it up, you’re very perceptive– it’s trying to be equity all the way across.  And so on our name badges, the first name is very large, it doesn’t say Dr. Todd Zakrajsek, and the name of the institution that’s large, it says Todd.  And below it and smaller print will be Todd Zakrajsek and below that in small print will be University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.  From 20 feet away, what I see is Todd.  That’s why we have our word search puzzles, they have everybody’s first name– only their first name– because I don’t want doctor in there.  So, exactly what you just said, at some institutions there are many more doctors than there are non-doctors, and other institutions there’s not many people with PhDs.  The other issue we have is some places provide everybody with business cards, and yet oftentimes in community colleges, you don’t automatically get business cards.  So, if you show up at a conference and everyone says drop your business card in this this folder or in this bowl for a free registration, they’re making an assumption that you have a business card, which is an assumption that you’re at a place that provides business cards, and if you don’t and you’re too embarrassed and they don’t even provide a scrap of paper or anything, you don’t get in the drawing because you don’t have this business card 


[Lillian]   You’re left out, yeah, you don’t have access to that. 

[Todd]    Terrible!  And so you shouldn’t not have access.  And so we provide everybody very quietly with three business cards, and you know probably should do more, but the one sheet that’s all they can fit, but at least for three different people you can say here’s my card.  And so yeah. 


[Lillian]    And you also have a place on there– talk to me about blank and then you can fill it in.   So of course I put UDL on mine  


[Todd]   And that actually bumps people along, I get excited about these things, is that people will hand business cards to other people and say hey Lilian we should contact– here’s my business card, you give me my your business card, I get home I’ve got twenty business cards I pull them out of my pocket and I put them on the corner of my desk.  Three weeks later I pick them up and think, Lilian Nave, well why in the world was I supposed to call her?  I was a little embarrassed to send a note to you that says why were we supposed to talk?  So, I thought why not put a prompt in there.  So we’ll just say talk to me about ___.  And now we’re good. 


[Lillian]   In addition to that, okay, so you’ve got the big Todd or Lilian right the big first name, you made a mention of this I wanted to bring this forward, this is I think newer in the Lilly conferences is you have a word search for kind of in between, if you want to take a time out, you’ve got a particular area for kind of introverts anonymous. 


[Todd]   Introvert corner. 

[Lillian]    Yeah!  Tell us about that and why you decided to do that. 


[Todd]    So, we try really diligently in everything we do to create an introvert space, or just a social, I need to decompress from human beings for just a little bit, and so if you look carefully– so here’s the little secrets on this one– you’ll notice that the word searches are set up on poster boards that are like two three feet tall and four feet wide.  There’s three of them and you put those on a round table and they create essentially a wall.  We put that up and behind that are two benches, two seats and like a small couch that’s got a puzzle, a connect four, and there’s some books there and some other things.  So you can actually sit behind the word searches in an area that’s kind of segmented off from people and be in a quiet space.  Last night at the reception, it was absolutely packed, but there was one small corner at the end of this thing and the introverts found it, and they even said hey we’re over here in the introvert corner, and they–so they picked up the verbiage.  And so we keep trying to do that to say if you want to decompress for a few minutes, just– you can do the word search even standing next to somebody else for 10 minutes and nobody says anything 


[Lillian]    Yeah it’s kind of like you’re in a voting booth, like the way it is.  There’s a sort of partitioned off so that was– that’s like, fun, it’s– you’re injecting these kind of little fun things like in the book that accompanies what the conference is, you’ve got the coloring pages, crossword, Sudoku, etc., and these other things kind of outside that people can retreat to and oh yes, you also have ways for people to win books, you like people to win stuff. 


[Todd]   I want people to be winners. 

[Lillian]    Yes, exactly and you give everybody like a little chit with their name on it that they can put in  


[Todd]    Yeah, preprinted book raffle tickets. 

[Lillian]   Pre-made with a couple different drawings. 


[Todd]   You know why? 

[Lillian]   Tell me why. 


[Todd]   I’m going to tell you why.   

[Lillian]  I want to know why.  


[Todd]   That’s why I’m I tell you, because you want to learn, and I want to teach. 

[Lillian]   I do, I’m here to learn. 


[Todd]    So, for years I gave the tickets away that was like the two tickets that you always get at raffle places–  

[Lillian]   “Keep this coupon.” 


[Todd]    Yeah and you know what faculty have trouble with is keeping the coupon.  Because they want to– they’re so excited about being in the raffle, they’ll come over to me periodically and I love– I’ve been a faculty member since 1986– I love faculty members, but they’ll come over and say hey a quick question how do I know if I won and I say well you had the tickets you separate those and you keep the one and you put the other one in, oh, I have a problem, I say what is that, I put all six in the envelopes.   Because there’s three tickets and they divide in half.  And I say well  how would we know which is your ticket?  That’s why I’m talking to you, Todd.  I always thought well what the heck, instead of making somebody feel silly for doing that, which, quite frankly, if this is a– this is a diversity issue. If you didn’t grow up with 50/50 draws and raffle tickets, these are foreign to you.  And so instead, I thought why put a person in a situation where they feel awkward, and we’ll just print a coupon and there’s very little confusion when you have something that says book raffle, Todd Zakrajsek.  I drop it in a slot.  And then the way we set it up is that there’s a–and you may not have caught this– there’s like little boxes that are popped up, but on the front of the box has a little sleeve, they’re the old library cards. 


[Lillian]    Oh yes, I did see those.  

[Todd]   This is great, so the people who are old get excited about it.  So I’m glad you got excited about it. 


[Lillian]   Yes, yeah, so like this is such an engaging way to participate in a conference.  That’s what I love about it, but all of these things were new to me, but I’ve always known ever since the very beginning of coming to my first Lilly conference– which was around 2011-2012– and met somebody, you create times to network, and one of the things that you do to encourage different learners is a bingo sheet that included things like did you nap? Because what happens if you’re overloaded, right?  You’ve learned five different sessions and oh my goodness I’m need to nap or I need to decompress  


[Todd]   I need to de-compress, to get a little cognitive load off.  And one of them on there is take a selfie with a person who has published a book.  If–and again, I mean, I get– in this conversation I don’t want anybody down the road to feel bad.   When you’re a good teacher, you create ways for students who struggle to feel like they’re part of the community, but if you say I’m doing this so that you feel like part of the community, then they don’t feel like part of the community.  So I don’t want to do that, but there are faculty members here who–and graduate students– who would be scared to death to walk up to Milt Cox and say hey could I–  


[Lillian]   A well-known and respected author, founder of the Lilly conferences  


[Todd]   And faculty learning communities.  I mean the guy who started faculty learning communities, and by the way, in case people don’t know this the Lilly conferences were an outgrowth of faculty learning communities as a concept.  Because once you put faculty into faculty learning communities and they engage in the scholarship of teaching and learning, they have to have some way to distribute that work or to demonstrate it and to share it.  Well, there weren’t a whole lot of conferences around where you could share teaching related things because 40 years ago it was all disciplinary conferences.  So, Milt started the Lilly conference so people could actually go and share their work.  So, for me it’s that concept of I can help you because if one of the bingo cards is to take a picture with a textbook or with a book author, you can go up to Milt Cox and say hey I’ve got one square that I have to do in here and it says on here you’ve written the book, right?  And Milt says well yeah several of them, yeah yeah if we could just please do a selfie that would be great and I could get my Square.   


[Lillian]   And that becomes part of the culture here, you know, meeting people.  But, you also have the other parts about take a nap or introvert’s corner, so if that’s not your thing you’ve got options! That’s– you don’t have to have that one. 


[Todd]   Go work on the little puzzle for a little bit, you know, hey yes we did that because I love jigsaw puzzles.  So now we have a Lilly jigsaw puzzle. 


[Lillian]   Fantastic.  

[Todd]   Yeah so that’s good too.  And the other part is– I want to make sure to get into– is that with the conference program, a lot of people don’t catch this right out of the gate, but the first half of its your traditional program the second half  


[Lillian]   Just saying what their abstract is, what the–you know, you can decide which of the five different concurrent sessions you want to go to.  And there’s so many to choose from, but you can decide take this one that one yeah like a salad smorgasbord sort of thing.   


[Todd]   And so it’s got the abstracts in there, but the concept for me was okay so fifty years ago when you went to a conference everybody read papers– not everybody, but most people read papers.  Which is fine, you’re disseminating information.  Remember, this is before the internet, so if there’s a two-year pub lag, if you go to the conference and have a person read a paper to you, then you get the information now that’s going to be in a journal two years from now.  Well, you fast forward to the point that we’re trying to teach with learning outcomes and engaged learning and everything, and I’m thinking well if a person comes and does a session, if you do a session in the old school and you’re reading a paper, what would make most sense is you can’t print the whole paper in the program, it would take up too much space, so you print the abstract.  Now what’s funny is you go to teaching conferences and there’s a book full of abstracts.  That’s where it comes from.  So we say hey instead of abstracts, let’s have the short abstracts because quite frankly, people get really freaked out if you don’t have them, but there’s also three outcomes.  So, we include three outcomes, and the abstracts– 


[Lillian]   Which is what somebody who goes to that session should be able to do or learn or get from going to that session. 


[Todd]   Yes, by the end of this session, something should happen.  So we do that, that’s the first half of the book.  The second half of the book, I thought, well if this were going to be more like a really good system where we do a lesson plan and we think about different types of learners and we’re going to follow UDL principles.   We’re going to say we have to have multiple means of representation, multiple means of expression, we have to have all these different possibilities.  So I have a reflection guide.  So in this reflection guide you do things like do a one-minute paper why are you here for a minute.  And then there’s course enrichment, what types of things do you want to change in your course?   


[Lillian]   So, you’re helping your learners here kind of focus on why am I here?  Maybe I’m here because I’m doing a new online course, or I’ve got a new course that’s 200 students, maybe I should look at the large lecture enrollment course you know abstracts.  Or I might go look at my– oh wow there’s three of them that’s about online learning– but you’re focusing your learner when you have that one-minute paper or you have your course outline. 


[Todd]   Yeah, well there’s a lot of learners who will show up at a conference– and again it’s one of those things that if we if we assume that everybody knows how to engage in a conference in a meaningful way, we’re not taking into consideration, we have people who are graduate students, or individuals from different institutions that just don’t have money to come to conferences.  I have several people who will tell me this is the first academic conference they’ve ever come to.  They don’t know how to approach the conference.  So what I thought through was okay so how could I help them?  Here’s an idea: what’s your overarching goal for coming here?  What’s your frustration in terms of classes?  What would you like to fix?  How might you fix that?  What kinds of things might you think about?  Look through the program, what book, what abstracts, and what outcomes meet those types of things that you’re interested in?  Write those down as the sessions you’re going to go to.  While you’re in the sessions, what’s your one or two takeaways?  When you get done with the whole conference, what could you implement six months from now?  And I even have in here a template for a thank-you note.  


[Lillian]   I was going to ask you about that! 


[Todd]   Yes, to send a thank-you note to the person who made it possible for you to come to the conference.  That could be a Provost, it could be a department chair, it could be a significant other. But you send that person a note that says thank you for this opportunity, here’s what I learned, here’s from whom/which I have learned it, and it helps them for someone who says I don’t know how to write a thank-you note.  So each– try to help them to like jump up a couple of steps in terms of learning how to be a good conference participant. 


[Lillian]   It was– the first time I went to a Lilly Commerce was in Greensboro way back when it was in Greensboro, now that one is moved to Asheville or something like that  


[Todd]   Yeah it– kind of– it, technically speaking, that conference got moved to Austin because it was Lilly South at the time and it didn’t feel south enough for me because first of all the state you’re in shouldn’t have the word North in it, so if you’re in North Carolina, I mean, it’s North Carolina is South, but, I don’t want to start to fight please all can’t we just get along?  But, Texas is definitely south. 


[Lillian]   So that moved to Austin and so was Asheville added? 


[Todd]   Yes  

[Lillian]   Okay, and that is a smaller conference like, I was talking at lunch with two people who had never been to Lilly conferences before, and there were two of us who had been to several, and talking about the different feel about each one.  So I guess if our listeners are thinking oh my goodness this Lilly thing sounds amazing, which one should I go to?  There’s some differences, like Asheville is rather small it’s only about a hundred, 125? 


[Todd]   225  

[Lillian]   Oh, it’s gotten bigger, okay  


[Todd]   Well, it did– it started out about a hundred and seventy five.  It feels smaller.  


[Lillian]   It does!  It feels a lot smaller, more intimate.  


[Todd]   Because of the footprint that we have there.  So, each conference I also go in and I’ll look at the property and try to figure out how can we use the property in such a way that there’s a certain number of people that will feel right?  And so this particular one we’re in today in San Diego, yep,  so we’re here and the conference overall can fit about 325 people.  But I just– I like the way it’s laid out.  There’s places that you can get off quietly to do a podcast if you wanted to.  But you can also be– find a quiet place to sit but you also feel like you’re part of a group, so its not spread out a lot.  And so when we were in Greensboro, one of the issues with Greensboro was that we were spread out in a very large convention center for which we had a small corner.  So as soon as you left your corner, you just felt like you are like an ant in a big ant farm kind of thing, and it’s not bad I mean it was great to be there, but it just didn’t have the community that I wanted.  And so I want that feeling that I’m part of something. 


[Lillian]   Yeah, and hey, being in San Diego in February is also kind of nice.  In fact, I talked to several people who came from blizzard-ravaged campuses, including my own to come here.  So, you know–  


[Todd]   But, you know, let’s be careful because we do love snow, too. 


[Lillian]   Yes, yes absolutely.  But, you know, having a chance to get away from it.  But the fact that there’s– we have Lilly conferences in Bethesda, and Traverse City,  


[Todd]   Traverse City and Austin and San Diego and Asheville, and then the original Lily conference in Oxford, Ohio.   


[Lillian]   Yes, so that means that professors, instructors, adjuncts, administrators can get to one probably in driving distance at some point, we’re hoping.  But at least spread out around the country that it becomes doable.  That’s also a very UDL principle.  So, you’re making it more accessible. 


[Todd]   So, I try to give people– and again multiple– you know, UDL really boils down to just options.   

[Lillian]   Yeah, a lot of options. 


[Todd]   If you just have options so that we can meet the needs of an individual ideally from where they’re at in such a way that you can advantage everybody without disadvantaging anybody.  And if you can do that, we’re all good.  So, if I have– if you happen to be from Colorado– nah Colorado’s a bad idea– Los Angeles, we’ll say.  If you’re in Los Angeles and you want to come to this conference and you don’t really have much money for travel, you get in your car in an hour and a half and drive here.  If, however, you say you know what, I do have a little bit of money for traveling, and I would like to do something in the late spring after the courses are over, and I want to spend the summer working on it, come to Bethesda.  That happens the first of June, it’s a perfect time to finish up the spring semester, turn in your grades so that’s totally out of your mind.  Here, we’re in the middle of a semester at this time of year, but in June then you’ve got the summer to think about it.  You say, you know, what I’d really like to do is go to a little bit smaller event because bigger crowds kind of freak me out a little bit, then you fly into Asheville from LA fly into Asheville.  The audience there or the group there is only going to be a couple of hundred at most, and then you’ve got outdoor areas, it’s August and the mountains — 


[Lillian]    Yeah, which is right before– maybe you want to try something new or you want to get some new fresh ideas, right, so that’s right before usually fall semester starts. 


[Todd]     Yeah, so you’ve spent the summer actually working on things and you think I’ve kind of got my layout, but I’d like to just get excited about teaching.  Maybe that’s your conference.  And so, the idea is it’s what do you want?  What do you want?  It has different opportunities.  If you want big ones, we’ve got bigger ones.  If you want smaller ones, we’ve got smaller ones.  And if you want to fly you can, if you want to drive you can, right?  So, multiple opportunities. 


[Lillian]   Fantastic, and you also have– so these are all teaching and learning conferences all over the country every year, and you have something that’s a little bit different called some Institutes.  Can you just tell me about what that has been in the past? 


[Todd]     Yes, so I really try to look at learners and say what is it the folks are after?  One of the things you run into with the conferences is you get– it’s like going to a really good buffet where you can go through and take little scoops of lots of different things, and at the end you think oh my gosh this is all great.  But sometimes what you want to do is sit down at a meal that’s got just two or three items.  I’m not opposed to a really good filet mignon with the garlic mashed potatoes and the asparagus tips.  Those are only three items, but they’re a little bit bigger portions and I’m going to spend more time with the three items.  So the idea of an institute– see, and this is with me the ADD– know that this meal was going to come back to an Institute.  The Institute is you go for two and a half days and it’s one topic with about 35 to 40 people, smaller group, and you work through it.  So the Institute we have in March is finding your teaching balance.  It’s looking at how do we know how much to lecture, and how to lecture with how much active learning to do, and how to do it well.  We’ll spend three days just on that.  And by the end of it, people will practice mini lectures, they’ll practice integrating it into active learning exercises, and we just work on that.  We have a technology one– because we only do two– a technology one in July which is up in Traverse City, Michigan, beautiful place to be in July, but that one’s all on using technology in the classroom and the idea is a heavy mix of the learning theory behind why students learn and then pairing it right up with a technology.  So if you really want students to go and watch a YouTube clip for– I want students to learn the content of a perspective.  Here we go, I wanted them to learn from a perspective of an individual who’s different from themselves.  So, you go find a YouTube clip for somebody who has got schizophrenic symptomology, and so this individual puts together a YouTube of what it’s like to live with schizophrenia.  So, what we’d love to do is have you as a student watch this video, but watch it in a very critical way or a careful way with the instructor giving tips.  Well it turns out if you use Ed puzzle, you can pull any YouTube any YouTube any video out on the Internet, and embed questions for a quiz, voice over, and actually pause and talk a little bit about what’s happening.  That would meet all of those goals of helping a student to understand what it’s like to live with schizophrenia, and but you know in a workshop here all I could say is ooh there’s Ed puzzle, you should try it.  In a two and a half day Institute its okay everybody fire up your laptops we’re going to do one.  


[Lillian]     You’re going to get into this, you’re going to be doing it, you’re creating it, yeah.  That’s fantastic.   


[Todd]    So, I think those Institutes are great for more in-depth studies of specific issues and in this case it’s teaching, its lecturing, active learning balance, and then technology in the classroom. 


[Lillian]    Yeah and you’ve done lots of other topics, faculty learning communities and other things like that, so  


[Todd]     Yeah, we’ve done the FLC for the last three years and yeah 


[Lillian]    So, I think there’s going to be more great things to come, fantastic. 


[Todd]     We just have fun.  And then we have the scholarly teacher blog.  


[Lillian]   Tell us all about that because that might be a great way our listeners–more resources! 


[Todd] so the scholarly teacher blog is a blog we started three or four years ago, and I thought it’d be kind of nice to just have a blog to talk about a lot of the stuff that comes out of the Lilly conference.  Turns out– it’s twice a month now that it comes out– but I got to thinking about this.  Well, if a faculty member wants to use this for like a journal club or like a discussion group.  Or if you want to assign in a class, you know, we want to make life easier for teachers, so I put discussion questions at the end.  Also, these are research evidence-based kinds of topics and so there’s always three– there’s sometimes more but I really shoot for like three to five references.  So you don’t just tell me what you’re thinking, this is what the literature says. So they hit around a thousand words 1,200 words, it usually takes between five and six minutes to read one, so five minutes to read it answer three questions it makes it easy to say to a faculty group hey everybody, read the blog on not everybody in the classroom who is quiet is an introvert, answer the three questions, we’re asking your perceptions of things and how you feel about things, and let’s get together next Tuesday and we’ll talk about it.  That allows a person to read it like well if 15 minutes before the discussion they haven’t done their work yet, they still can read it, look at the responses and show up and participate.  So those have been going on a long time and we have over 8,000 subscribers.  And we had one 


[Lillian]    Wow, I’m one. 


[Todd]     Yes, thank you, I’m glad to hear that, yes, and we have some of them that have had close to 20,000 views, so pretty good exposure.  


[Lillian]    Its really helpful.  Really helpful in bite-sized pieces, yeah. 


[Todd]     Yes and I do write most of– I shouldn’t say most of them, I try to write one about every three or four, and then the rest of them are just guests.  So there are all kinds of people.  From this conference we’ll have a half a dozen people who’ll write blogs. 


[Lillian]     Yeah, that’s fantastic.  So, I love the way Lilly is– the Lilly conferences are all about sharing this information in just like your illustration about being at a longtime academic conference, it is not like that.  It is about sharing an offering out to others, and you’ve done it in a multi-modal way with lots of choices.  So, I think it’s really helpful for other folks who, you know, if we’re thinking about conferences or we’re thinking just about teaching, this is a great place to get a lot of information and resources 


[Todd]     That is fabulous and a great summary and the only thing I would add to that is I still love the concept– UDL, the one thing that’s always amazed me with it is if you can build a system that again is that advantageous for everybody, doesn’t disadvantage anybody, but just kind of levels it out, the old standard for those of you who understand where a lot of this came from for early examples was the curb cuts in sidewalks.  And the whole idea was well we should cut the curb so that people who are in wheelchairs can get across the street, but that’s not what curb cuts are for. Curb cuts are so people don’t trip over the curb, they don’t fall if you’re pushing a stroller, if you’re in a wheelchair, if you have a walker, if you just happen to be in a big crowded area like in New York City you can’t see where the curb’s at.  People would break ankles and sprained their ankles all the time on them.  So it helps everybody.  And so what I try to do at the conference, I’m glad you point it out, is you come through the door and it doesn’t make it feel like I don’t say because you’re in a certain group you get this advantage, and because you’re in a different group you get this advantage.  You come through the door and my goal is– my hope, my dream, and what I strive for is people will leave from all different academic backgrounds, from different ethnic groups, from different experiences, different life, lived experiences and say I don’t know why but that just felt right.  But if I can get people from all different areas to each say that specific three days just feels good, without them knowing why, then they don’t have to feel like there’s any special treatment, it was just there for them and that’s what we want to create. 


[Lillian]    Well, and you have and I must say that it changed my life the first Lilly conference I went to, because it was there that I met a colleague who was there from the junior faculty from Afghanistan, they were there from like Indiana University or something like that and there are 13 of them and made a friend and we have continued to work together.  It has brought six projects, one book chapter, and now a Fulbright  


[Todd]     That’s amazing! 

[Lillian]   From that Lilly conference  


[Todd]   Excellent!  That’s all we’re after, sure.   

[Lillian]   Just a couple publications and a Fulbright, yeah . 


[Todd]     That’s it, if you can just do that, that’s all good.  But everybody has the possibility and that’s what I really like about this, and a person can come through the door who’s never published anything in their life and we just say you know what, write a blog.  And that’s one of the other things I will say is we do a little differently too is proposals.  When you submit a proposal, you can either be accepted or rejected or accepted with revisions.  I thought well if journals do that, why wouldn’t conferences do that?  So, in most conferences– pretty much every conference I’ve ever applied to– you’re either accepted or you rejected.  Here, we might say you’re accepted, but you’re going to have to do these revisions and work on this area for us to be able to put you on the program.  If you can’t do them, that’s ok,  we won’t put you in the program this year, we’ll do it next year.  But I have multiple people every year who are accepted with revisions and that’s because if you’ve never presented at a conference before, teaching or otherwise, when you write an abstract you might not know how to write it.  And so I can look at it and say love what you’re going for, but the reviewers didn’t like the fact that you left this whole chunk out.  So, put that chunk in there, I’m going to send it back out.  And so we try to get people involved that way.  


[Lillian]     And oftentimes like especially for Lilly, you want that interactive part.  So, maybe what might fit a different kind of conference is going to need a little tweaking to be that interactive and engaging type of Lilly conference.   


[Todd]    Yes, and if we can pull that off, I mean, that’s creating a space for people and that’s all –that’s all we want. 


[Lillian]     It’s a whole– it’s a tall order and you’ve done it, so, thank you so much.  And thank you so much for taking time out– I know you’ve got actually a lot of things you’ve got to get going now, but I appreciate your time and appreciate all what the Lilly conferences bring to teaching and learning, and has helped so many of my colleagues, so many people I know.  So, thank you so much! 


[Todd]    Well I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today.  I love the pod series you’re doing, this is great information and actually mostly just great to have you at the conference because the conference is made up of the participants, the better the participants, the better their conference.  I can build a framework, but I can’t fill it out.  And so thank you for being part of what makes it really a successful event. 


[Lillian]     Very welcome, thank you very 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 website.  The Think UDL podcast is made possible by College STAR, the STAR stands for supporting transition, access and retention in post-secondary settings, and the website provides free resources and instructional aids based on UDL principles.  If you’d like to know more, go to the website.  Additional support for the podcast is made possible by Appalachian State University, where, if you call it Appalachian, I’ll throw an apple at you!  The music on the podcast was performed by the Odyssey Quartet, comprised of Rex Shepherd, David Pate, Bill Folwell, and Jose Cochez.  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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