On today’s episode, Lillian talks with Tom about how he has used videos to circumvent the increasingly over-scheduled lives of students and faculty to get information out to everyone. This leads to a discussion about the role of the instructor, and how that role has shifted in the last several years. Tom and Lillian talk about specific techniques (videos, checklists and scaffolds) but also wax philosophical at times to talk about growth mindset, teaching practices, and what new faculty need, but in the end they know…it’s all about the story!
UDL in the Cloud: How to Design and Deliver Online Education Using Universal Design for Learning
Transforming Higher Education Through Universal Design for Learning: An International Perspective : This book provides best practices and implementation strategies for UDL implementation in various Higher Education contexts around the world.
Find Tom Thibodeau on Twitter @ThibodeauTom
New England Institute of Tech
[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 5 of the think UDL podcast where my guest today is Tom Thibodeau, assistant provost at New England Institute of Technology in East Greenwich, Rhode Island and co-author with Dr. Katie Novak of UDL in the Cloud published by cast professional publishing. He also teaches UDL online for Novak Educational Consulting, The Online Learning Consortium, and the higher Ed Consortium of Central Massachusetts. Today, Tom and I get to discuss how he has come to use videos in a wide variety of ways for students and faculty at New England Tech and throughout his career. Tom, it was a pleasure to meet you at the inaugural UDL Conference from Novice to Expert: Implementing UDL Across Academic Disciplines at Goodwin College and I am so glad to welcome you to the think UDL podcast.
[Tom] My pleasure.
[Lillian] I wanted to ask you first of all — my first question for you is what makes you a different kind of learner? Is there something about you that makes you different quirky something that’s maybe made you think differently about the way that you learn?
[Tom] Well that’s a very good question because it’s a type of thing where I’ve always noticed that I am never a learner who gets it the first time around I have done an awful lot of technical things throughout my career especially and I you know I remember that first time on so many occasions where it’s just I don’t get this at all and it’s kind of disheartening to start off that way and you just want it so much that you will persevere through those things and you know you’ll get it a little bit more of it the second time you’ll read something else you’ll look at something else and by the third time you’re feeling a little bit more comfortable so to handle that what I’ve always tried to do is whenever I’m trying to learn something new I make a project out of it and give myself a deadline and I found that by having that mindset you know where I have to get this done has always been a help to me and I will typically get through the process and learn what I’m trying to learn.
[Lillian] Oh excellent! I see, so when you said you have a hard time learning it the first time around does that mean repetition is your friend?
[Tom] Repetition is definitely my friend. Getting it from different angles is my friend yeah if the first resource doesn’t help you know make that magic learning happening then look for another one and if it’s a hands-on type of thing an application you have to learn trying it again review the material that you have whatever it takes to break that something like that the ice and get inside of what you’re trying to really learn.
[Lillian] Right, I’ve been reading a lot about brain science lately – and makes me think about those pathways those general pathways the more we do something it’s moving from a tiny little spider web to like a Teflon cord right the more we make that pathway over and over again the slightly worn path in the grass turns into a wider path in the dirt and eventually we’re laying stone and we become you know Romans in a civilization we’re building those networks.
[Tom] ready 2,000 yearly 2,000 years later the stone walls and stone roads are still functional.
[Lillian] Exactly! Well fantastic, I suppose then you’re doing that for your students if that’s something that you found was helpful for you is that something that you’ve done for your students as well?
[Tom] Definitely — be very patient, be very persistent, you know develop some grit and keep trying and give them the encouragement that they need, the support that they need so that they can find the magic sauce that’s going to get them to the point where they are truly comfortable with the new information or the new application or the new skill.
[Lillian] Wait, are you saying that you actually let them like they could mess up and then you give them another chance to –
[Tom] I do, I encourage it! I you know I basically tell my students that some of this stuff is a very hard don’t expect to be a winner on the first try and that you’re going to have to really try whatever it takes to learn this information so I’m going to scaffold the information so it’s going to be incremental e able or assessable to them and as they fail I will give them the hopefully the mastery oriented feedback from the UDL perspective to help them get to that next level where they can accomplish that next step and put it all together in the end to finally make sense out of whatever it is for themselves.
[Lillian] So you are the assistant provost at New England Institute of Technology and what sort of classes are you teaching there where you give the chance to your students to fail and then try again?
[Tom] Okay, well as an assistant provost unfortunately I don’t teach here anymore. But when I did teach I was teaching video productions and that’s a very hands-on team oriented creative technical operation and in order to learn all of the different skills necessary to put together a quality video production you have to have a plan and you can’t learn it all at once and you know we’re going to do this as if we’re peeling that onion or the reverse of peeling an onion once you peel an onion you can’t put it back together again but that’s really what we want to do we want to start you know with the small stuff and the center of the onion and layer on top of it all those different things and it’s a multi-dimensional project which you know they have to do you know I have to write the script come up with the concept do all the planning do all the video camera work do all the audio work edit it all together package it all up in some sort of a file format that works for the intended use taking all of that in you know is really a process and understanding that it is a process and that it’s going to take time that you have to be patient are so terribly important to all of it and in the end I don’t think that’s any different if you’re trying to write an essay or trying to understand you know an event in history there are multiple layers there and be patient with yourself but be persistent in that and I really believe that teaching is probably 90% motivation and 10% information you know so you’re always just kind of encouraging and pushing and guiding and helping the students to make their own sense so that sounds like a really complex process.
[Lillian] What you describe to me so for that very technical very long video production process and when you say anything that’s in that technical realm you’ve almost immediately lost a humanities person like me so I have to follow very closely on everything that you would say if I were one of your students and so I would be thinking how would I be able to put this really long process together how would I know when to start how do I know when to move on to the next step and I’m wondering how is it that you help your students with things like putting that process in order so things like executive functioning how do we keep that working memory where we know after step one we do step two we do step three and we’ve got to keep all those things in our minds we have to know that this follows this that follows this that follows this and you as an expert you’ve got it all right because you’ve done it a million times you’ve got the network’s figured out but a novice learner they’re gonna need a lot of help so how is it that you have kind of laid it out to your novice learners?
[Tom] Well first off, I’m a humanities persons – to start off with well I started off wanting to be a high school English teacher you know my bachelor’s degree is in secondary English education and my specific pleasure of all of this was in the short story and the novel and things like that you know so I’m probably most happy you know sitting on a Sunday afternoon reading a novel and once I went through that initial exposure to teaching I realized that I wasn’t quite ready for that because of you know certain things that happen in the student teaching experience I decided to go back to school and I chose broadcasting as a as a discipline to study and get my master’s degree in and then started out in the process of working in that industry but in the end it’s all about telling the story and trying to make a technical process a human process by you know concentrating on the content and we always used to say that content was king though the story was everything that all you’re trying to do is grab people’s attention pull them into your story so that they can learn what you’re talking about you know what the content of the video is going to be and that’s where the fun is you know pushing the buttons can get very repetitive because you push the buttons the same day same way every day but what you’re doing when you push those buttons is really the fun of it all and so the first thing that we tell our students is you know what’s your idea what do you want to do while you are here. You must have chosen this program for a reason and try and coax out of them you know those reasons for wanting to do this because if you don’t have the drive to do it it’s going to be very hard if you don’t have that you know that inherent or implicit motivation the amount of technical work is going to be a challenge and so working with all of that providing examples and exemplars of how to do it providing whatever types of resources that the student needs whether that be a checklist of things that you got to do scaffold in that process so they get the practice by doing very simple project so as they go through the program to getting much more complex every time and kind of guiding them that through that process so that in the end they are self-sufficient independent problem solvers that think creatively and solve not only technical problems but creative problems with the story.
[Lillian] Wow! That I love how you get those students to talk about motivation and have them think big picture because if we don’t know why we’re gonna learn something we really have no follow-through on it were persistence right we’re really not going to follow through at all especially with a long technical process so that’s how I’m sure you have just explained how you sustained all of those students through that long and very technical process.
[Tom] And sometimes, you know, there’s a student who really has chosen poorly you know that they don’t like doing the project or the process and at that point in time you know you’re kind of trying to help them find the place where they should be now on they can still stay in the video production industry because it’s multifaceted and in the end people usually pick a portion of the program or the process to specialize in you know they’re going to be camera man they’re going to be editor is they’re going to be lighting technicians you know whatever that might be but you know at those point in times if they’re not able to you know handle all of it you really want to give them the options and the assistance to find the thing that they really will fit in and will they will enjoy doing and at that point in time if they can’t find that you also have to help them consider the other options of finding something else you know so that whole growth mindset concept is very evident in these kinds of situations where you know hey maybe this is not the right place for you to be you just haven’t found what you need and want to do yet so what’s not investigating that and you can get pretty crafty on those kinds of things too all right by suggesting that they do a video on you know some other career path or something like that and see if you can get them engaged with you know that way because I’ve always found that if they can find that great story that appeals to them that they will be able to do the technical stuff but if you know they can’t get that connection boy it seems like they’re there a tire spinning in the slush of the mud and they’re not making getting an interaction out of it at all and they’re going nowhere.
[Lillian] What a very good New England analogy you just came up with.
[Tom] Yeah, you should see out the window right now.
[Lillian] So, you bring up video production and that’s one of the things I wanted to talk to you about today; which is you incorporate video feedback. You incorporate using videos and I know that that’s something that you have done a lot with in your classes and you’re a real expert in so it’s wondering how is it that you have been able to incorporate videos in your teaching in what you do and how do you link those with how do you see that related to the UDL guidelines.
[Tom] So, in my job as an assistant provost I do use video quite often because one of my primary responsibilities as the supervisor of the faculty Resource Center is coordinating schedules and getting faculty to come to our weekly seminars is really quite a tricky. We offer weekly seminars on all sorts of different topics whether it might be on how to use the latest feature of canvas or how to use the new student information system banner 9 which we just implemented a couple of days ago. There are all sorts of things that faculty really need to know how to use. We do some stuff on using classroom technology as well as — you can imagine a Institute of Technology has an awful lot of that so if we can’t get people there and we still need to train them how are we going to do that so video comes right in to play there and we do an awful lot of screen casting and making demonstration videos and while we demonstrate the software we can talk about how they might be able to use it the reasons why they can and we always try and make it a two-edged approach where everything that they we hope that they will learn as faculty members that they can then teach to their students to do. So we can stop providing some options for the students to either reach you know retrieve the information through different forms of representation or to express what they know rather than always the same format and that then gets us the ability to get the information to the faculty that they know and now when we do the weekly seminars and are in a class and we you know get a low turnout which is unfortunately very common we do record those live sessions and then put the video up so that in case you missed it that way we can get them to potentially look at it when they do have the time now that’s my day job. I happen to do an awful lot of online teaching as another thing to do at night and about so six years ago I got involved in universal design of learning with my daughter and my daughter’s doctor Katie Novak and she is been presenting UDL Oh for all of these six years and now she is presenting all over the world and has written four books and one of them we wrote together on using UDL on the cloud and having that as an opportunity to really dive even deeper into UDL has been a terrific thing for me you know very engaging in the process and getting the chance to work with my daughter as an added bonus has given me an opportunity so far I think I’ve taught about eight or ten UDL classes online this year alone I think I’ve done six by and Disney it does get busy but it has been pretty manageable a lot of it is done as professional development which is a nice overlap to my day job and I get to work with teachers from all over the country and how they are trying to implement UDL and in these environments we try and not only teach UDL but use UDL in the process of delivering the course so everything that we do is done with options everything we do is done with some sort of a challenge in reality and as much hands-on project-based work as we can so that we can give the feedback and the mastery oriented feedback that these teachers need and their journey to implement UDL in their classrooms so we almost always start out with the shall we say the talk that says you know we are not our students and we came through a completely different system of Education and we came in through a completely different use of technology but you know the students today and starting in great in kindergarten are you know living a completely different experience that is very integrated with the technology they use we cannot continue to use the same techniques that we were instructed with and what we have used in the past simply because the world has changed and it’s no longer a fact based knowledge-based economy where you know you can get the answer to anything you want in Google and you know 15 seconds or less so we have to really help our students to develop those 21st century skills of being able to work with each other being able to communicate with each other and be able to find the resources that they need to solve the problems that they’re faced with and that presents some real challenges to many faculty who have done nothing but give textual responses to everything and then that’s how they basically expect their students to work and obviously this is this not as bad as that sound so there is plenty of options going on there but not in a concerted dedicated effort it is almost random as it occurs so trying to get them to think big picture and trying to get them to create options really has to start with them trying out all these different options so I asked them to do videos I asked them to do podcasts I asked them to do posters info graphics on try something different why does it always have to be text I tell I asked them and it’s very funny out of a class of twenty for instance if they pick a round number the first week I might get only one or two that do anything but text they’re comfortable with texts they know what it is but by the end everybody will have tried something differently which is really cool and that pretty much makes me remind them every week you know hey don’t forget try something different you know it’s okay I’m not expecting you know gone with the wind Here I am you know I’m really looking to see how you like this you know what your experience was and you know I never give them any negative feedback on the process you know that’s not the point it is how long did this take you what did it feel like you know and a lot of people talk about being nervous on camera or on the microphone and you know the even though they do a really good job which is really funny so you know working all of those things together and trying to get them towards some sort of a final project where they get to integrate all of the concepts that we’ve given examples from and then create some sort of a plan as to how they will go into the next step and choose the next thing that they’re going to do in the implementation of UDL so it’s a it’s a fun process for me to see that kind of growth in that kind of experimentation and it seems to be a very fun process to the participants in the courses as the you know if the feedback I’m getting from them is true you know they’re enjoying the process.
[Lillian] Well you really bring up what I think is an important question too in that in that discussion when we think about what teachers used to be and in what teachers used to provide and that was a lot of the answers or just knowledge or information and now in the 21st century knowledge is everywhere information is everywhere and so we’re no longer the keepers if we are instructors we’re no longer the keepers of information it’s out there so what is the role of the teacher or the instructor it’s no longer giving out information but it’s becoming more of this coach to help the student to be able to find it to evaluate that information to know how to use it to put it into practice in a variety of ways and kind of figure out which is the good information and which is the bad information and UDL and the guidelines and then all the different ways to go about getting it seems like the perfect way to approach all of this, right?
[Tom] Definitely, definitely.
[Lillian] You have so many different ways to get at information to approach it and to use it is the only way to be working in the 21st century with all of these different means and methods and ways of getting to information accessing information using information that teaching is just a radically different profession it seems then what it used to be and if we’ve been teaching for twenty years when you first started you’re doing a completely different job it seems like –
[Lillian] — then what you did twenty years ago
[Tom]Definitely, One of the other things I’m in charge of here at New England new faculty orientation
[Lillian] Oh wow
[Tom] And you know it’s part of the faculty development or faculty resource role and every quarter we’re on a ten week system here I’ll get anywhere from eight to twenty two new faculty mostly adjuncts who have never taught before and you know we’re hiring them for their technical expertise in whatever area that they are in and we have you know 60 different programs here so we do everything from Auto Body to nursing and I start off basically by saying hey you know welcome this is going to be a lot of fun it’s gonna be a lot of a hard work in the beginning getting adjusted to all of this new system but I’m gonna challenge you right here right now on day one to not teach as you were taught and you know that was the old saying that you know somebody you’ve had somebody in your lifetime that you really were impressed with in their classroom and you want to be like them and you can certainly be like them and you know you can model a lot of what they do but you can’t model everything they do you have to find new paths you have to you know you have a different set of students in front of you so the next question is usually well how do I get all of this stuff in you know I have you know I’ve been given a syllabus I’m supposed to cover ten chapters a twenty chapters or whatever it is how do I do all of that and I say well I’m gonna give you permission to drop some of them you know it is much more important that students learn the foundational information that they need to build than it is for you to cover ten chapters you know so if you were to drop chapters six through ten and order for them to get a solid foundation where that they can basically individually find their own information because they understand how it works you know on that level you’ve done your job you know we’re not hiring you to cover ten chapters we’re hiring you to help students learn and…
[Lillian] They can figure out where to get those other ten chapters it’s right figure out how to if you can help them to understand how to interpret those chapters once they get to them then they can figure out how to get to the chapters
[Tom] Right it’s a scary place though because they think their job as the teacher is to cover the ten chapters no that’s not it at all
[Lillian] So that also makes me think about this same a question that we have as faculty developers if that’s one of your roles and that is we think about teachers new instructors coming into Higher Ed and many times we’ve got experts in the field we hope right that’s why they’re hired but they come with absolutely no background in how to teach
[Lillian] So that we have so long for like hundreds of years we just thought if you were an expert in the field it meant you could transmit that knowledge to somebody else and I think we’ve all had experiences where that just isn’t the case all.
[Tom]Right doesn’t work at all sometimes
[Lillian] Yeah, so what is your advice to two new faculty when they say, “Well, how is it that I how can I teach this?“
[Tom] I tend to tell them to create a plan you know this is you are an expert in your field because you know how to do whatever that is and you didn’t get there you know day one it was a process and some of that process was very linear and sometimes it was you know making big leaps where you were able to truly see things differently and how do you get your students to do that well you kind of have to help them get to that point so it’s more again important for you to figure out how you can get the students to experience it in an active sort of way so I don’t plan on lecturing for two hours, ever! Always think in terms of small chunks so you know start with a concept and then get the students to do something with it and you know if you happen to be in a situation where your lab is also your classroom like most computer classes are you know you’re gonna talk about some sort of sequencing issue in coding and you’re gonna have them try it out and then you’re gonna talk about that so we have nicknamed what we call the New England tech method here of called 2020 teaching and it’s basically don’t do anything for more than 20 minutes at a time and you know that could be lecturing because sometimes you know that’s appropriate but if you spend 20 minutes lecturing you’ve got to do 20 minutes of something completely different that’s going to help all of your students with their executive functioning with their ability to stay focused and engaged you have to reach you know 20 different types of students in your room you have to — one way is not gonna ever reach all of them so you have to constantly mix it up and you have to as much as you possibly can when you switch those gears that you give students some choice in the matter as well and you know as you get higher and higher up in education um you really are trying to get more and more specialized and there are certainly some things which aren’t going to have as many choices as others you know if you’re in a research writing course for instance you’ve got to learn to write the research and that means on that you’re going to have to struggle through learning an APA or Chicago style citation format or you’re going to have to learn how to find the research that you want all have to be done but there are so many different ways that you can support that process at that point in time that will give the students the options and that’s I think where the fun of teaching really come in where you know you know you know this information going over it and lecturing it the students you might get some personal satisfaction as being the sage on the stage but the students really aren’t gonna get a lot out of that so you know don’t even go down that road you know find your motivation in what your students learn and take it slow break it into the small chunks that they need to digest this in processes and get them engaged in the process of giving it back to you in lots of different ways
[Lillian] It sounds like you’re hitting on this point about whoever is doing the work is the one who’s actually doing the learning
[Lillian] So, if the teacher is up there lecturing for 40 minutes that teachers doing a lot of work and learning again you know anybody who’s had to create a lesson and teach it realizes they learn a lot more about it that’s sunk in a lot more
[Lillian] But the students, they’re not doing too much.
[Lillian] So, I love that 2020 idea of nothing more than 20 minutes give the students 20 minutes to work at it that they’re talking or they’re working on a problem set or they’re creating a video they’re creating a podcast they’re doing something and even if they’re struggling or they are they’re risking something maybe they don’t get it right maybe they fail at first…
[Lillian] …but they’re learning
[Tom] Exactly and you can scaffold all of that you know the first time we’re gonna do anything it’s no points you know this is not gonna be graded at all this is for purely for feedback it’s purely for a reflection it’s purely to figure out what you did wrong in most cases you know how can you improve it the next time and then maybe the next time you know of this it’s not you know a heavy weight on the total grade of the course you know maybe it’s a 10% kind of thing the next time and then maybe the next time you know as you grow and into the this whole process you know you have guided them along you’ve supported them all along the way so that by the end they know how to do it and can provide you some real great work and truly understand at that point in time.
[Lillian] Fantastic! I love the idea that the very beginning there no points how Fanta…
[Lillian] How hard is it just to get out there and they’ve never done something before it’s super risky and everybody’s worried about failing ah you know I can’t it to make it a high stakes quiz or version of whatever it is makes it so hard for a novice
[Lillian] So let’s get out there let’s just try it no you know there’s no pressure and that’s it seems it makes it such a better learning experience
[Tom] Right, and I think if you combine that with an outcomes driven course you know that we have very specific things that you know we want our students to get out of these things that are measurable that are active that are engaging and we concentrate on that more than the details and you know obviously in a video production course the video production is one of the key outcomes of it that you are able to do this but the you know that that is not just can I run the camera it’s can I make a program that people want to watch so that you know along the process you know we have to concentrate on both and they have to have some sort of an equal weight so it is very possible that a student can produce a video program that technically in if you know inadequate unfortunately that happens at times. It and that may interfere with the storytelling or the you know the concept behind the whole program but you know we don’t have to fail them be you know because you know it doesn’t look good you know we have to support them in their process find out what they did do well and tell them how they can improve it the next time and set it up in such a way that there’s time to do that
[Lillian] So, I have another question. You’ve got another project or a chapter that’s coming out can you tell me about that
[Tom] Yes! It’s all about the use of video in UDL so basically in the chapter I’m reviewing the different types of video that are available both from a kind of like buying show or find in show perspective as well as how you can create them yourself and what necessary in that process so when you start looking at how video is used or how video has been used you start to see that it’s often used as a an independent part of a lesson and not fully integrated all the time into the total package and when we start looking at it as an add-on you know as something we’re going to bolt on to this lesson as a separate kind of component we lose something in that process and so what I’m trying to do in that chapter is really get people to realize all that not only the different ways that you can use all the different types of video all the way from live local video from the cable station all the way to augment of reality and virtual reality is that if we spend a little bit more time thinking about you know the outcomes of the lesson and a little bit more time as to how we’re going to integrate it into the lesson as a choice that we can then find a lot of different ways to engage our students on a very different level and so if we’re going to use a video it’s and we’re going to integrate it in it that means we need something out of the students in return you know that you’re going to watch this video hopefully a short portion of it so we can do some deep learning and then dig deeper into it now we spend a lot a lot of time helping students read and write but we don’t spend a lot of time helping students decode a video you know that’s almost either it happens or it doesn’t for in most people’s minds so how can we help them learn deeply from the video and that means we have to probe we have to ask lots of questions we have to ask them to process the information through reflection through questions through in some cases trying to make a similar video that would be a wonderful way of doing the whole process in there so that’s been a very interesting process to try and get my head around and look at it from that point of view but the book will be coming out in Ireland at the ahead conference in March and we’re really looking forward to that and hoping to go to Ireland.
[Lillian] Well I look forward to that book as I am always interested in international perspectives in teaching and learning in Higher Ed. And thank you so much for joining me on the Think UDL podcast! I really appreciate your use of videos and how you’ve been able to integrate it outside and inside of the New England Institute of Technology and for sharing that knowledge with the rest of us in your books, both, “UDL in the Cloud” and also the upcoming book, “Transforming Higher Education Through Universal Design for Learning: An International Perspective”.
[Tom] Well thank you very much for inviting me. It was a pleasure to talk to you about video and UDL and how we can help all students succeed.
[Lillian] Fantastic and we look forward to the new book coming out and I think everybody should be able to pick up a copy of UDL in the cloud now too with Dr. Katie Novak. So thanks so much for joining us!
[Tom] Thank you!
[00:40:45] [Lillian] 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 UDL dot-org website. The think UDL podcast is made possible by College STAR the “star” stands for supporting transition access and retention in post-secondary settings and the website provides free resources and instructional aids based on UDL principles. If you’d like to know more go to the College STAR dot org 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 cha. 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 our social media coordinator is Ruben Watson and I am your host Lillian Nave. Thank you for joining us on the think UDL podcast.