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Mindful Technology with Jenae Cohn

Welcome to Episode 68 of the Think UDL podcast: Mindful Technology with Jenae Cohn. Jenae Cohn is the author of the recently released book Skim, Dive, Surface: Teaching Digital Reading and is the Director of Academic Technology at California State University, Sacramento. In this episode, Jenae and I talk about using technology in the classroom and outside the classroom. What choices should we make for ourselves? And what choices can we give our students? This thoughtful conversation will help you think about the ways that tech can help you and your students more fully engage with materials and each other. We take a look at what has changed in the last decade or two and how, when, and why we can leverage tech tools to enrich the learning experience, or perhaps when not to use them, either! Thank you for listening to Jenae and me as we explore the use of technology mindfully and with UDL in mind!


Follow Jenae Cohn on Twitter: @Jenae_Cohn and check out Jenae Cohn’s website

Find Jenae Cohn’s book Skim, Dive Surface: Teaching Digital Reading on the WVU Press website and use the code SUMMERREADS to get 30% off through 8/31/2021

We talked about social annotation tools like Perusall and in our conversation today, you can learn more at their websites

Lillian mentioned this essay by Ethan Watters called We Aren’t The World about how our research is WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic)

Jenae and Lillian are big fans of Christina Moore’s work on mobile learning and you can find out more here: Now is the Time to Embrace Mobile Learning

Jenae mentions Jim Lang’s new book Distracted: Why Students Can’t Focus and What You Can Do About It to help us understand our students and their world at the moment

Jenae also recommends David Gooblar’s article Our Slimmed Down Pandemic Pedagogy (which is free to access with an email)


Lillian Nave  00:00

Welcome to think UDL, the universal design for learning podcast where we hear from the people who are designing and implementing strategies with learner variability in mind. I’m your host, Lillian Nave. And I’m interested in not just what you’re teaching, learning, guiding and facilitating, but how you design and implement it and why it even matters. Welcome to Episode 68 of the think UDL podcast, mindful technology with Janae Cohn Janae. Cohn is the author of the recently released book skim dive surface teaching digital reading, and is the director of Academic Technology at California State University Sacramento. In this episode Janae, and I talk about using technology in the classroom and outside the classroom. What choices should we make for ourselves? And what choices can we give our students? This thoughtful conversation will help you think about the ways that tech can help you and your students more fully engaged with materials and each other. We take a look at what has changed in the last decade or two and how, when and why we can leverage tech tools to enrich the learning experience, or perhaps when not to use them either. Thank you for listening to Janae and me as we explore the use of technology mindfully and with UDL in mind. Thank you so much, Janae Cohn for joining me today on the think UDL podcast.

Jenae Cohn  01:53

Oh, thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to get to talk with you today.

Lillian Nave  01:57

Yeah, I was super excited to finally send the email to ask you because you’ve actually been on my list for over a year. And then some are recent ideas about here we are getting ready for school again, and you have some amazing thoughts that have gone back for a long time, about educational technology, and digital reading. And all of those things said to me, this is the time. So thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. And for our listeners, because I think it’s a really important conversation. So I’m going to start with the same question I asked all my guests, and that is what makes you a different kind of learner.

Jenae Cohn  02:40

So I think what makes me a different kind of learner, are the multiple streams that I’ve I use to manage the information that I’m learning and the engagements that I’m having with learning, I tend to learn best when I start by getting to work with learning materials, at my own pace. And to manage one stream of material in text, I tend to work really well with having a reading or a transcript, or some text based form of content to manipulate, to annotate to create my own questions and notes on. And then from there. The other stream of information I really think I need as a learner is a little bit of collaborative dialogue, the capacity to talk through my ideas to share with someone what I wrote down and thought about and annotated or thought through before. So to me learning is a social experience. And so I don’t know if that makes me unique. Learning is social for many people. But that pairing of having that really isolated time to myself to kind of formulate questions, think analyze, in writing stuff, relying a lot on visuals and text to do that work. And then really moving to a very kind of an auditory discussion space is pretty valuable. And then closing the loop, right, I learned really well when I have that opportunity to reflect on the conversation to to archive my knowledge, take good notes, categorize it. And and move from there, I try to think of my learning processes is highly iterative. And it doesn’t always work out the way that I would ideally like it to. But I knew that I learned best when I get to sort of move pretty intentionally back and forth between sort of the, the kind of quiet, alone time with with text is how can I how I work best. And then two conversation from there. That’s really interesting.

Lillian Nave  04:35

I actually want to talk about this just a little bit. Sure idea about needing that written part. First is interesting. One of the things I’ve often asked faculty when I do a little UDL talk is I say okay, if I were to give you a TED talk, how are you going to access that TED talk? Are you going to watch it? video? Are you going to look at the closed cow gotta read it along, or are you going to go right to the transcript? Or are you going to kind of turn it on listen to it while you’re doing something else like ironing or whatever vacuuming, you know, that’s ends up, I ended up doing that dishes or something and listening to it. And then every once a while, I might peek over there. And I get all different answers, right? There’s, there’s not one particular one, that’s always the same. And so I really appreciate this is a is this Mednick metacognitive idea you have about how you do it is you have to have that reading part, and then the social part to really tease it out. So knowing that everybody is different, I found that you would answer it, you want to read it first. And I actually am also the, I go right to the transcript and see if it’s really worth my time. Just like zip through the transcript, and then maybe I will like watch a half of it or something. But then that other part about it, annotating it, or socially talking about it is something I find people are ready to do right away. Like even before they’ve read it, they might just start reading the first paragraph and they want to talk about it. And then there are others who are like, Nope, I want to read the whole thing. And then I’ve got to formulate my questions. And then I think I can come up with something. And I think it’s really important for us to realize as instructors, that we’re going to have students that are all along both of those spectrums. Absolutely. So how are we going to serve all of those students, right, who are ready to talk about right away, even before they’ve processed it? And those that want to read the whole thing? Think about it, come back to it, you know, that sort of thing?

Jenae Cohn  06:43

Right? Well, I love that you ask faculty participants question I think it’s always important to situate I love this question, what makes you unique as a learner, because it really situates people in educational roles to remember what it’s like it’s, it can be easy to forget. And also, we’re often learning all the time, but we might not think of those experiences as learning experiences. I also appreciate your reminder that students are going to be across the spectrum. And I think the other angle of that, that I always need to be reminded of too is that we need to ask students always what they prefer as well, because it’s really easy to make assumptions. I mean, I’ve experienced this myself as a learner, but now being in a tech ball. I’ve been in a technology based role for about seven years now. But it’s often assumed that because I’m in a technology based role, that I’ll love video right away at that will be my primary modality or that I want kind of learn experienced all the bells and whistles, but in truth for myself individually as a learner, really, I videos. And that’s not me at all. Um, and maybe that’s just my training my background, it’s hard to say right kind of what leads to the preferences, the awareness of how we learn. But what got me into technology space in the first place was really feeling excited about the potential or opportunities to, to open up those options when we ask to make those pathways clear. So long as we sort of avoid, I think some of those assumptions in the process. So yeah, great metal level thinking for the faculty, participants that you’re working with. That’s awesome. Yeah,

Lillian Nave  08:19

yeah. And and I think it’s a great way to start, kind of as we are thinking about what your next semester is, whenever you’re listening to this podcast, thinking about that variability in your learners, some are going to want that reading and take the time to think about it before they come to whatever class is, is that online? Is that in person is that? You know, is it synchronous, or, or whatever. And then having those options for I have found during the massive change to online, that when we have a chat, available, like a chat room, a chat box or something, having that chance for students to think, stop think right, and then press return after, you know, a few minutes. Yes, yeah, they’ve got the time to kind of let their thoughts settle. And when we were in just classrooms, that was you, I realized I was preferencing, those students who were actually a lot like me, which is the Oh, I’ve got an idea. I want to get it out, even though it’s not fully formed, and found that there were a lot of really brilliant ideas. I was not getting out. And those students who were just really thoughtful had really good things to say. We didn’t get to them because it came by the end of the class. Oh, time to go. There’s no way for me to capture that. So you didn’t participate today, you know, realizing I wasn’t it was not very good.

Jenae Cohn  09:47

Oh, what’s hard. I think it’s pretty if you had a kind of classroom environment that you worked at a student that privilege that kind of discussion and response to discussion. as a learner, you were very enthusiastic. about speaking up, it’s hard not to privilege that if that’s kind of what you know and value and enjoy. The feelings based component is really important here that the ways that we like to learn the ways that we like to interact, can really shape what we do in classrooms, because we tend to gravitate towards what we enjoy. So I appreciate your observation about the benefits you saw being online, I that’s what I like about teaching. And being online, too, is just getting to give students who might not otherwise feel empowered an opportunity to share, giving them some of those opportunities to share. But I know the next semester or whenever someone’s listening to this is. I know from the perspective, we’re talking now, July 2021. Yeah, the future feels pretty uncertain. There’s a lot of choices ahead of us, which is, of course, a little stressful, but also an opportunity, I hope,

Lillian Nave  10:51

yes, yes, I’m finding that this is now is the time of the summer, at least, where I can slow down and really start to think about the mistakes that I made. And that’s when I can learn and like, oh, wow, when I used to do that, I can see how I left at least students or this didn’t work, and I can see the way to improve it. That’s what I really appreciate about having some time to think. And trying not to let that get me to doubt about all the things I did wrong, right. And try to move forward with the things that went really well.

Jenae Cohn  11:28

Absolutely. And I think, you know, it’s one of these common expressions that that unless you make mistakes, you know, you’re not trying new things. I’m someone I used to work with, when I was at Stanford, always challenged instructors at a certain point to throw out their favorite activity each semester and try something new, it was quarters there each quarter. And that was a prompt that like deeply troubled me as an actor, but was also such a fabulous prompt, because it really inspired some productive, sometimes mistake making, but he does, you don’t see new things to do unless something goes wrong. And that’s good. And okay. And we learn from him.

Lillian Nave  12:07

And I encourage my students to fail like spectacularly. And here I am playing it safe. So that you have just encouraged me again to to do that and learn from it.

Jenae Cohn  12:17

It’s not easy to do but kudos kudos for when you get to try it, it’s it’s it’s good to model failure, I feel like I i model struggles, literally all the time that are kind of funny thing about me being a technology space is I don’t always feel like a super competent technology, user 100% of the time with everything. And I joke that 80% of my job in a technology space is like anxiety management, and just sort of helping people say it’s gonna be okay. And if something doesn’t work right away, let’s be kind to ourselves and patient with ourselves. And we’ll get there.

Lillian Nave  12:52

Yeah, I agree. There’s a lot again, that emotional part of learning, we really have to pay attention to it and and help our learners and our fellow faculty feel empowered to take on all these challenges. And yeah, not perfect along the way. So I wanted to talk to you about this intersection between UDL universal design for learning and the tech space that you inhabit. And one of the things that figures heavily into the application of universal design for learning principles is the use of technology. And I’m thinking specifically, educational technology, like when we think about making materials accessible, so we want it to be text or audio, or at least be able to be read by screen readers and things like that. And when we think about allowing choices for students, to show what they know, in their action and expression, so that could be presentations, whether they’re written papers, or they are audio, or videos or things like that. So can you elaborate on your choices for when, for why for what to use in tech, and Ed Tech? Because I feel like you’ve got a lot better handle on this than I do.

Jenae Cohn  14:09

First of all, I don’t know about that. I think I think every faculty member I’ve worked with knows knows more about technology than they think they do. So I’ll start actually by just peeling back a little bit to just unpack what what we are talking about when we talk about technology, which is that I think in 2021, and I think even prior to the pandemic, we tend to think of technology largely as digital technologies, things that need to be accessed on a computer or on a smartphone even. But we’ve always worked with technologies in our classrooms, whiteboards, or technologies, pencils, or technologies, construction, paper, and scissors are technologies. These are all technologies. And so I think instructors in general are really well poised and have already without perhaps realizing I’ve been thinking about how spaces, environments and technologies impacts the choices they’re giving their students for participating in or engaging with an assignment, where there is potential for digital technologies, in particular, in response to providing multiple means of representation and engagement, is in making visible all those technology options that perhaps have always been there, you know, even before the ubiquity of digital technologies, perhaps, but are easier to access and easier to engage with, and more customizable to individual students than they ever were before. So I appreciate Lillian, your example of certain kinds of assistive technologies, because assistive technologies also have this very long history of being initially created for people with disabilities, but then getting adopted or being used in a number of different ways that benefit everyone, whether that’s someone with a documented disability, or someone who just has a different way to approach something, or has a preference for how they access their material. So speech to text applications, or a text to speech applications are great for that for people who really want to listen to text based information who don’t want to access it visually. That’s a perfect technology for providing multiple means of engagement. I’m gonna go really low tech with one of my recommendations like, you asked about your what, when, and how. Yeah, and I’ve answered a little bit of the of the one, which is I think, we need to be thinking about technology’s role in our teaching all the time, because you can’t escape the material constraints of your environments and your conditions for teaching, it’s just baked it in always has been, we have greater complexity, the more choices that we have. So if we’re feeling like we need to get more discerning about those decisions, that it’s worth thinking through what kinds of thought processes, what kinds of activities are most critical, with the use of those specific handful of technologies available within the material affordances and constraints that you have access to, in your local environment, whether that’s face to face, excuse me, I want to use the language brick and mortar environment here. Because zoom in video conferencing it is face to face, I need to bake that language into my brain. So whether it’s brick and mortar, it’s hybrid, or it’s fully online, we just have to think about what are the activities I want students to do, and kind of work our way backwards the technology from there. So in terms of specific recommendations, then one thing I would suggest for practicing UDL is if you’re having your students work with texts, or reading in any capacity, I would say, encouraging your students to use any kind of PDF reader that allows for customization in some capacity, whether that’s customization of the appearance of the text, ability to plug that PDF reader in with a text to speech application, and especially PDF writer reader that can be accessed on a mobile phone. So students who might prefer to take their work on the go, or who might have their own sets of material constraints around accessing things digitally, or accessing books or paper, I find it’s a PDF readers always sounds like the most boring suggestion of educational technology possible. But it is one of the most versatile, most important kinds of tools to use. And I’ve

Lillian Nave  18:35

noticed that we don’t see as instructors that that is our role to introduce that to our students. And I found that that is the key to making classes so much more approachable and easier for my students. If I if I’m the one that says, hey, do you know that you could listen to this on your phone if you wanted to, or you know, on your way to work or whatever, you know, your constraint is while you’re putting your kids to bed, I’ve had plenty of students who were attending newborns. So being able to listen to that in a dark room rather than reading, you know, as they’re trying to put a child to bed. That flexibility in ways that I could never think about all the different ways that it could be used. But just to offer and say, you know, if it helps, you can do these readings or look at all of these, you know, parts of our class. And with this one technology that’s free, that’s part of our learning management system, or you have immediate access to through our library or something like that. They’re out there. Our universities have them the students have access to them, but they just don’t know. And I was always expecting somebody else to do that. Like they’re like they had their own tech fairy, that would tell right, and I realized that I’m the tech fairy, I need to be telling them and that would make it easier that would that would it would deviate a lot of those barriers or take away those barriers. And that never happened for me. But you know, I was in college A long time ago, and, and a lot of this text was not available. But I, I am now seeing that that’s part of my role as the instructor too is just, I don’t have to, let’s say, change everything, record everything in my voice, I don’t have to do all this. But I, I really could help my students by just saying, you know, there’s this PDF reader, it’s free, here’s how to do it. Here’s a one minute video that if you want to you can look at and it’s gonna make your life a lot easier. For whatever reason.

Jenae Cohn  20:34

Absolutely. I completely agree that faculty are such great advocates for promoting, or not even promoting just awareness building, building awareness of just what’s out there. And I would just say, as someone who’s listening to this thinking, Oh, my gosh, but I don’t know what all those options are. I don’t know how to share those things. I will say this is where this is my plug for your university staff, which is that I bet you there are staff members in your disability accessibility office, who would have great suggestions for things that any student can use? I bet there are folks in your instructional technology office who would be really excited to hear from a faculty member with a question like, I want to introduce my students to a range of things available that are free at our institution, what would you suggest What’s here? Because I think it’s all too tempting sometimes, as instructors, I’ve done this to just sort of go out and Google, like, what’s a tool that will do this, which is fine, you’ll find some things that way. But whatever you sort of show up on Google might not have been tested by students or faculty at your institution. Here’s my technologist cap, it might not have been tested for accessibility, yet. So it might be that this cool tool you found is going to be impossible to use with a screen reader. That’s a really big problem. And it takes a sophisticated skill set to do those tests. And I can guarantee every institution has hired someone who knows how to run those tests, and make it really clear what’s usable. And you don’t know if it’s secure or safe. From a cybersecurity perspective, tools that you just sort of find in your own hunting around so safer, you know, so yes, I do think faculty are the advocates and champions for making these options visible. And faculty aren’t alone in making those choices. Either that, that there’s a reason the campus infrastructure exists to offer some recommendations for things you don’t take them all the time. That’s me with my technologists cap off, you know, you have to do what’s best for you. And you know, how you want to run the class, but at the same time, you’re not alone. And there are a lot of concerns and literacies that that some staff have specialized in, which can support this process of building that awareness and being part of that decision making apparatus for faculty who are wanting to do some different things with the technology of all kinds for their teaching.

Lillian Nave  22:55

And I know also, a lot of the students have these ideas. And one of my colleagues did something early on in her class that asked students to put up on their discussion board or something like what is a tool or something that’s been helpful for you to, to access or, you know, what’s your, your best cheat or your best trick for getting stuff done? And, you know, that’s when I’ve learned about, you know, listening to the reading on the bus or something or some other option about I, I dictate my papers by using the dictation, you know, keyboard shortcut on my Mac Book, one of my colleagues told me about that I was like, No way, I can do that. Because I’m doing that on my phone all the time when I’m, nevermind, I never do that when I’m driving. ever do that. But sometimes, I use my, you know, phone to dictate things. And it’s, it’s a really great thing that I’m learning from colleagues. So even asking, so we don’t have to, you know, have all the answers. And maybe there’s 20 different things out of university, but we could just tell them one, right, just one is a start and having students come up with that, because they would know, Wow, I can’t you know, the best Wi Fi on campus is over here. Or if you’re at the library, you can check out this thing that makes life so much easier, that sort of thing that I wouldn’t even know.

Jenae Cohn  24:20

Totally it, it takes a village like so many other things in life. And this is one of them where I think at least when I was trained to teach I thought of so much of the work is this really individual effort that I had to be the one solely responsible for doing every single thing as part of my course design. And that included for me like I had to be the one to troubleshoot all the technology and test everything out and explore all the options. And again, I to your earlier point, Lillian, I still think that faculty need to be the ones to raise even just one option, but you don’t have to find that one option alone. And crowdsourcing from students asking what they want what is useful to them. Everyone likes to feel helpful. Everyone likes to share their ideas. So I love that suggestion to invite that idea sharing as much as possible. Yeah, there’s

Lillian Nave  25:16

so much out there that I know, I know enough to be dangerous, you know, and enough to know that I don’t know so much. And I still consider myself more of a technophobe that I’m, and here I am with a podcast, right? Like, there’s some inconsistency there. But knowing that those feelings of anxiety around technology are not just for me, for my colleagues, also for students. And I think combating that feeling that I have to that sometimes it’s cheating, or we feel like it’s cheating, we’ve put such an emphasis on reading paper books, right? Not necessarily digital, or videos or, you know, things like that, that I am trying to tear down some of those assumptions that I have made, and that students make and that colleagues make that, you know, I’m after these goals. And there are many, many ways to get to those goals, those learning goals, those outcomes for our students. And it doesn’t have to be the one way I did it right in the one method that I was trained in. And that’s, that’s an ongoing thing, I think. And so the edtech things that that weren’t around when I was learning this, and I’m slowly embracing them, and also sharing them with colleagues, you know, on the podcast and things like that.

Jenae Cohn  26:40

Wonderful. Yeah. And I think I just I just want to underscore that if you’re making a podcast, you are definitely technically proficient. Even if you feel like you’re a technophobe. But other capacities, I, one thing I so wish we could have in higher ed is I don’t have the language for this myself. But something I’m craving is is more precise language around saying what we mean, when we talk about technological or digital literacies. There are tons of really great frameworks for digital literacies out there, but they’re primarily used to talk about children are used a lot in K 12 contexts. I know there’s lots of conversations about digital literacies, and adult literacies, as well. But I think especially in this moment, we could continue to get really precise about what we’re talking about when we’re talking about our strengths, with using certain technologies or limitations with others. And I’m guilty of this, too. I’ve said many years of my life, that I’m bad at doing certain things, and I’m good at doing other things. But it’s very rare that it’s so black and white. And the same goes for any engagement with different kinds of technologies. It’s very rare that any one person is bad at using all technology, I can guarantee it’s not possible. So I think the more that we can, we can aim to recognize the spectrum of skills that we have and the spectrum of strengths. We’ve curated for ourselves over the years, the more that we also model to students that recognizing our strengths and limitations is not just so binary doesn’t have to be that you’re bad or good at one thing. This is part of developing a growth mindset, of course, as well. And this is so much easier said than done. Right? I totally recognize that. But I think but with technology again, especially now, I’ve heard throughout the pandemic, a lot of faculty feeling really distressed, because they were worried they were bad technology, it was like, I felt like I was just doing a lot of reassurance of you’re not bad. This is learning. And there are things that we can use as comparison points and launching points to help you feel more confident. That’s really what what learning a lot of online technology is about.

Lillian Nave  28:51

Yeah, it seems you know, now I’m sort of during our conversation, I’m reframing this for myself, which is I either have more anxiety or less anxiety about different things, right? So less anxiety, if we’re talking kind of more old school ways of doing things, I’ve got a lot of background in it. And a lot of familiarity. More anxiety when I’m trying something new, whether it be an in person type of exercise, or using a new technology, of course worried is it going to work? Do I have the right? The you know, boxes clicked and switched in? And am I going to be able to not look like a fool always thinking you know that it’s a problem when you’re in front of students and and so I feel like maybe I should just be thinking about the anxiety gauge rather than Am I good or not, I’ll just jump into something and this is a little bit more anxiety and this is a little bit less and that that’s at least a little bit more approachable for me rather than good or bad at certain things.

Jenae Cohn  29:54

Absolutely. And I hear you on certain things evoking more anxiety. I it is scary to go in front of a room and not know whether a projector is going to work. Yeah, it sounds really simple. But it’s, it’s a part of performing preparedness. And I think that you’ve really unpacked it really well, the way in that this bundling of the technology with the identity, of being the expert of being in charge, makes a lot of people, myself included, so really vulnerable, and really uncomfortable. And so that’s exposing that vulnerability around that anxiety spectrum can be a really powerful modeling moment. And I think you’ve been preparing before you launched online class or before you walk into face to face room, just what your plan B is going to be, you know, if the project doesn’t work, it probably doesn’t mean your whole lessons ruined. Realistically speaking, if you have prepared your slides, and posted them to learning management system, could our students who brought their own devices, just pull them up? Yeah. Or they can partner with someone who has a device that they don’t have one in the room? Right? That’s one option or online. If you can’t get zoom to launch, you’ve got email, you’ve got messaging, like there’s always something you can do instead of just thinking through, okay, what’s my plan? And what’s my plan B? Yeah, it requires a little bit more cognitive space to do that. But I hope it’s reassuring to kind of de escalates some of the anxiety that can be part of navigating new new pieces of the environment, or new ways of thinking about or doing things that

Lillian Nave  31:31

can be challenging. And I must say that in some of the larger, like, total mistakes that I’ve made in this past year, they ended up bringing something new to the table, meaning, for example, I had something in mind or cultural class where we were sharing something that was an artifact somewhere in the room, and I had turned off the mic, so I could rumble around while they were doing something, you know. And then I was able to share had this, you know, explaining, got a big picture frame and going back and forth, where I’m pointing to different parts. And then after about four minutes, a student, you know, put in the chat, are you supposed to be off mute? Because I can’t hear you? What are those and I and it just made me more human? It didn’t make me an idiot. But it did. It just made me more human. And here we all are, you know, together as a learning together. And yes, I know what a microphone does. Yes, I know that you’re supposed to turn it back on. But I had, you know, simply forgotten. And it took one of the students to you know, I pretty sure you with all your gesticulating you meant to actually have us listen to you. And so we got to actually a nicer little place where, you know, they forgave me, and we were all human, and it worked just fine. And now I’m extra, you know, looking out all the time to make sure I’m either on or off mute when success Yeah, works out that students who speak up. There’s my plan all along, right. So okay, so you’ve had me thinking to more about the things that you do about reading and digital reading and how edtech use works in that space. So I did want to ask you, how has detec educational technology transformed learning, in your opinion, especially with regard to something we’ve already mentioned reading or digital reading? And I think even have a book about it.

Jenae Cohn  33:42

I do have a book. It’s, you can get it now. It’s very exciting.

Lillian Nave  33:47

Yes, skim dive surface, and we will have a link to it actually, in the podcast website.

Jenae Cohn  33:52

Awesome. Go check it out. I think that’s what I’m supposed to say. So I think that educational technology has transformed reading, I’ll speak to that specifically in a couple of core ways. One is the customizability of the experience, that paper, as a technology has a lot of benefits. It’s very lightweight, it’s very portable. And the text is very stable. Every paperback book you have is typeset in a very specific way with specific margins, and specific fonts. And all this impacts the experience. And I’ll say as a as a huge fan of books and book history, I can really geek out over things like that. And from a learning perspective, sometimes it can be very frustrating to have a paperback book where you can’t write in the margins because they’re not typeset in a way that gives you space to do that. Or there are lots of studies on readability research that certain font types and sizes are just not as accessible. To all readers. So while book design is a very beautiful thing, and it’s its own kind of construct, it can be a real barrier. So I think that digital reading has the potential to open up opportunities. And when I’m talking about digital reading, I’m thinking about reading happening in all kinds of different spaces. So I spoke to PDF editors as one technology for reading. But certainly reading in a web browser, reading in a specific application. In any digital space, you have this flexibility to customize your experience and to comment on it, I think a barrier for some folks that digital reading or some sense, it’s, it’s harder to annotate, it’s harder to take notes. But in many ways, it’s actually easier. Because online, you have a full arsenal of note taking tools at your disposal. And this is another awareness building type of technology, right? So a big way that attackers transform digital reading is by creating all kinds of different ways to comment on to highlight to clip parts of text to save as parts of text to manipulate them. Of course, some of the ability to manipulate text is what sometimes leads to concerns with plagiarism in student work, because it is so easy to copy and paste and remix plain text well enough. So that takes framing. But it’s important to have those conversations regardless of the media for accessing text. And I think the benefits of being able to customize an access text in more diverse ways. And even through things like three meter technologies or text to speech applications. It’s just really transformative. The other way that I think Ed Tech has transformed reading is by making it more social. So social annotations, an extremely popular practice. for reading on screen there are several specific technologies that are specially built for collaborative social annotation, where students can see what comments or what highlighted moments have been highlighted upon or commented upon by by their peers or by their instructor. And making the work of reading visible to others, I think is just transformative marginalia, when you go into a youth bookstore, and you find a book that has a bunch of scribble notes in the margin is such a delight. Because you see that someone else was there before you it’s like finding a little treasure map of someone’s thoughts. And those moments are spontaneous, you can’t plan for them. The beauty of collaborative adaptation is you can construct those moments of discovery, to be the thrill of seeing everyone in the document together, or working thinking, brainstorming, writing. Like that’s just the coolest, because you get to make visible these ways of engaging with information that so often feel mysterious or inaccessible. So those to me are the two major, I think potential realities for for digital reading. I think the accessibility and flexibility point is probably the more important of them, because it’s the easiest to forget. And it’s the easiest to take for granted that print, for example, is a superior learning technology. And in some ways, there is lots of research to show that students are retaining information better through print. I do wonder, upon reading this studies, whether some of that has to do with the types of students who are sampled, I would guess most of the students are probably neurotypical. I would also guess that a lot of this is behavior and building the metacognitive skills and awareness for reading in different media. I know I mostly learned how to read with print based techniques. And it took me time, the intro to my book is basically my story of realizing grad school, like I just didn’t know how to read anymore and feeling extremely flummoxed that I just had no techniques to help me. And I got there, it just, it took time and modeling and talking to other people. And that was sort of how my, the inspiration of my book was born, you know, over a decade ago, basically. And so it’s exciting to get to share the thoughts now it’s a long way of saying I think that print technology is valuable. And print technology is better for content absorption for some people. And I think for others digital reading could be better. And we just need to be open minded is really my main point to different media, different approaches. And so that’s, that’s the potential point plus print is not a has not always been there, so that we forget that print technology. reading from paper is actually a relatively modern invention. It’s only a couple 100 years old. Yeah,

Lillian Nave  39:39

yeah, we learned a lot through memorize poems, and sagas and stories. And your question the meaning of the data about you know, how do people retain information or how do they learn best? It hits a nerve with me too, because I I assign a reading about How weird Americans are. And weird means Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic. And if we look to other places in the world that are not Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic, we find very different ways of being, of learning, of creating community of passing down thoughts, ideas, cultural norms, those sorts of things. And all so much of our research, and I’ll put a link to this article too. It’s called we aren’t the world. And if you’re a kid of the 80s, like I am in, remember we are the world is the big thing. This is we aren’t the world. And it’s made me think about so if we think about the students who have been questioned, and who were asking these, these retention ideas, we’re probably asking the same small subset of a small subset of students that do not really represent the whole world. And don’t represent especially the students who are now in the educational system in North America, and increasingly around the world. And so there might be a lot of variability in our students that we haven’t really tested for, or, or gotten all the data about them. So I’m having the options. And saying, there are lots of ways to access this. And you may find it much easier for your life circumstances or for who you are, as a person, if you are listening to this or talking about it with somebody else, rather than sitting in a quiet place, reading an actual book, which is the way I was trained, you should do this, you know, go away, I’m reading don’t bother me. And, but I find now Gosh, I’d much rather be reading it with somebody talking about it along the way. And I don’t retain so much more if if I’ve got the chance to, or annotate on a document about it or, or a PDF or something like that. So it just it keeps on asking these questions that keep coming up in my mind about, there’s more that we don’t know. And therefore, it requires me to continue to have this flexibility, right, to allow for all of these different ways of learning and being for multiple participation.

Jenae Cohn  42:40

Absolutely. That’s at the core of UDL. Right, is is is being willing to make space for. I always appreciate when Tom Tobin says just add one, I guess, add one more thing. And I think that’s particularly true with with reading, where for a number of reasons that I also trace in the book have to do with scholarly identity that has to do with sort of affective associations with acts of reading, particularly, I think, for contemporary readers, where, you know, print books have emotional value, because they’re often attached to childhood memories and experiences. And there’s documented value towards reading to children from print as a means of bonding, oversharing language, like all that is, is real. And it all gets wrapped up in our teaching practices. And we think about our preferences and what we like. And it’s really that that matter of just picking one other thing, it can’t hurt, it can’t hurt to expose to one other option. A student might decide the end of the day, you know, I really do want to print out all my articles, and use my markers to highlight them. And I need to get people away from me and do it quietly. Great that you need to do, yes. But just to sort of stay doesn’t always have to look like that every single time. I think it’s something a lot of students don’t hear. It’s not something I heard, ever. And I sort of wish I had just just to know that it doesn’t have to look one way or the other fact I’d like to share about reading that has already sort of blown my mind is that literacy has not always been to find either as the ability to use your visual capacities to interpret language, that is also a relatively modern understanding of even what basic literacy is. So a lot of our assumptions around what it means to be educated and what it means to be literate are really grounded in a very narrow framework. And I appreciate the framework that you shared too weird. The spirit framework. Yeah, little hands off. So check that out. Once this is published, I can see the links. Yeah. So that’s all to say that I think is just worth kind of checking in with ourselves and reminding ourselves that, that our own norms our own practices are not everyone’s and that’s not a bad thing. Yeah,

Lillian Nave  44:59

yeah. And one other part to what you had mentioned about the digital reading that has blown apart my assumptions to is the asynchronous nature of those things that you’re talking about annotations, like when you can see somebody else has written about it, or has written in the margins, or if they’re using some of those annotation, social annotation software, things like perusal or hypothesis, and I’ll put links to that if people are interested, then having this asynchronous, but group reading, right, so allowing that flexibility to see that other people, maybe they read it on Tuesday, and I read it on Friday, and I’m seeing their thoughts there. And I can agree with them across time, or when you’re looking at an you know, an old bookstore and find someone 30 years ago wrote about it and seeing that, I think it’s, I think it’s really great. It’s so much better to then, okay, we’re, we’re only in this 30 minute classroom time, synchronously, whether are online or, or brick and mortar, right. And that’s the only time we get to talk about it, we can talk about it. And the the discussion can be so much richer, can give you time, as you were saying in the very beginning to kind of percolate on it right to read it, and then think about it, and then sort of talk about it. And that’s when I get some much better ideas is I’ve got to then go for a walk or something and let it sort of settle down. And then I might be able to go back and say, Oh, yeah, okay, I can I can add this point there. But that there’s just so many more options that we did not have.

Jenae Cohn  46:41

Yeah, that’s that’s what gets me excited in this space. Again, being a technology space, for me is about exploring what those options are and how you apply those. I’m not necessarily just about things being like ice for the sake of being like I see that I know, that’s sometimes a reason why. Or that’s a draw. Sometimes the technologies is the excitement of the invention, innovation. And that’s, that’s part of it. But inventiveness for mental mistakes sake is just collected from human experience. That’s not personally of any interest to me,

Lillian Nave  47:15

huh? Yeah. Okay, you are just like one step ahead of me, because that’s my next question, which is about your thoughts on the use of technology? And you know, so we’re not, you just said that. Don’t use technology just to use technology, right? There’s got to be a purpose, but what about your ideas about the policies you have for using technology even in a seated classroom and online classroom? And that is a hot topic. Still, I thought 10 years ago was a hot topic. And now it’s a hot topic. So I wanted to know, your thoughts too on that?

Jenae Cohn  47:54

Yeah. It’s amazing that the device debates like it’s a zombie debate, like, never ending, but just never. It’s just constantly out there eating at our brains. To me, any kind of ban on a device is a little bit fruitless. I’ll just be blunt about it. Yeah. Because we know and I’ve really valued edgy cars, collects data on this basically every year on student device usage ownership, experiences of using campus, Wi Fi, etc. that data has basically revealed that smartphone usage at a minimum is nearly ubiquitous on every kind of college campus, whether it’s a two year or four year college. Students have little computers in their pockets. Sometimes the little computer in their pocket is their only computer.

Lillian Nave  48:50

Yes. And they’re doing all their assignments, all their papers, whatever is all on their cell phone.

Jenae Cohn  48:57

Right, right. So we need to have no Christina Moore is writing a book about mobile learning that I’m very much looking forward to I can share. At some point, she wrote a great piece on how Now is the time to embrace mobile learning.

Lillian Nave  49:08

Yeah. And I think I’ve seen her stuff, I think Yeah,

Jenae Cohn  49:10

yes, it’s, it’s worth reading. Because I think that at the core of these conversations about about bands, and the reason I say that they’re fruitless, is because it’s about power dynamics in the classroom. And it’s about having transparent conversations about those power dynamics about respect. I’m really sympathetic to proponents of laptop bans, who claim that laptops can get in the way of interaction that cell phones can get in the way of interaction, because they can there are certainly ways to be using laptops and phones that feel very isolating. I think everyone’s had the experience of trying to talk to someone and not having their attention because they’re distracted. So I’m I sympathize with that. But to say in a blanket capacity, no one can engage in this That creates another kind of barrier that might not be accessible to everyone. But that’s a barrier to many students who might be engaging with learning material and all kinds of ways that we just might not be able to anticipate by instituting bands. So I have a really big proponent of faculty even now, in this post remote learning moment, to just draw students attention to their environments to just create awareness about how and where and when they’re using devices for their learning. I often ask is a first activity for students to contribute to class norms, right, some things that we all want to do to respect to space respect each other, and devices inevitably come up. And students are usually even stricter with themselves, then the faculty are and that’s why it’s an opportunity to help explore students, hey, we’re gonna be really intentional about our usage. And you know, kind of trying to find moments where we want to be connected, maybe defining moments where we want to be less connected. I like I don’t want to say disconnected because again, some students do rely upon laptops and smartphones for assistive technologies in various ways. And that’s something I usually will acknowledge chooses doctor and kind of inclusive learning statements. They’ll put in the syllabus like I used to do, but I still do I haven’t done it recently, because we’ve been fully online. But perhaps now as we move to hybrid, I have a conversation about technology, an inclusive language policies, because to me, they’re they’re really deeply intertwined. So I think there are ways in other words to talk about laptops and smartphones and mindful usage, without keeping it so binary, so much choice of you, you have it, you use it, or you lose this. It’s more about when, and why and how and what spaces are, we’re going to make for you to engage. And I think for faculty to if they’re thinking about this to sort of take a look at themselves and think about well, what do I expect from my students? What am I really asking them to do here? And if the answer is pay attention, or more specifically, pay attention to me? That’s something to to reflect on? Why? Why should they only be paying attention to you? And why is this? Why are we so concerned about controlling that attention to the instructor? That’s just another right identity piece to to keep unpacking? I would say if that’s something you’re in conversation about,

Lillian Nave  52:33

this is a very Yeah, very philosophical discussion, I really appreciate it too. I have really had to ask a lot of those questions. When I have been tasked with creating a first year seminar that’s totally online, and the way and I had the choice. So I have 150 minute, not 75 minute, but 150 minute synchronous session with the students. And so I really had to think about, well, what needs to be done during that part. That’s not the mostly asynchronous part of the class in which they’re looking at, you know, resources, whether they’re readings, or podcasts or videos or things like that, and participating in asynchronous discussion boards. So like, what happens that we actually need that 50 minutes of, of shared time? And I’ve had to ask, each session is like, could this have been done another way? Like, could I don’t, I should never be just delivering content that can be done online, that can be done when students have the option to tune into it when they can. But what needs to happen during that synchronous 15 minute time? And I’ve had I’ve come to really the the big answer to that is, it’s, it’s so that students can know about the other students at the same time. So things like answering questions together, well, they’ll see that 35% of you know, their co class of their classmates think this way and 25% thing this way, right. And we can have this discussion in real time about how you saw that particular action or, or how that affected you. And you’re actually getting to suss out or understand those things. That or we have and share an experience that we need to have together. So that if somebody had had it a day before, it doesn’t have the same effect, as if we all kind of have that experience together and can reflect on it together in the same moment, and it’s really changed a lot about how I think about teaching like so much of my teaching really can be a video. It’s this it really has to be important. I mean, it really has to be important to be in that kind of sacred space so that they’ll want to pay attention, you know, and, and then I also know some students can’t make that, right. So I, as a UDL, coordinator, I make sure that there’s options, you know, some things happen where you can’t be there. And they’ll be able to participate by, you know, watching the video answering questions and, and kind of participating asynchronously. But the real crux of that is the actual being together part is the only way it’s going to work. And it totally changed the way I think about that time. And there’s no, so if I’m trying to give a lecture and people and it’s so boring that people are on their phones, that tells me a lot, right? means I need to have that done differently, probably make it shorter, make it more direct to the point. And if students can read it, instead of watch it, they should do that, you know, that sort of thing. It really just makes me ask a lot of questions of myself that I’d never asked before, because it was just, you’ve got these 315 minute time periods or 75 minute time periods? And, you know, how are you going to manage that. And it really it is about managing your students during that time. So you make the rules about you can’t have phones, no laptops, you’re going to be looking at me, you’re going to be nodding your head? Or else you don’t get a participation point. Right? Those are the things that had gone through my head beforehand.

Jenae Cohn  56:31

Right? Well, I really appreciate your framing, about thinking, thinking of your values, the value of the time, the value of the activity in the time, that’s at the heart of what I think good technology decision making is all about which is what’s going to really support me in the in the time that I’m valuing with these other human beings with these students. And I think a lot of this performances like you were describing of, Okay, I want to manage students attention, even their behavior looking for those nods or signs of conversational recognition, even though it’s a a one way conversation. Yeah, much of the time. It’s a cultural concern. It’s how a lot of us learned in our own classes as students, I was an English major in college. So my introductory classes were, they weren’t the like 1000 person lecture classes, a lot of my colleagues in STEM classes, I was still in many lectures with hundreds of people and I probably spent half the time doodling.

Lillian Nave  57:40

Thinking about something else.

Jenae Cohn  57:42

Yeah, I’m not sure it was performing attentiveness. 100 prototype would be exhausting to do that. Yeah, that kind of space. Even if in a 20 person class, it’s exhausting to have every single person performing the same kind of attention. It’s just there’s just a lot of assumption making happening there. But again, it is it is cultural is part of a certain identity. and I aren’t and again, I’m sympathetic to wanting some of that performance to validate the value of the work. I think faculty care a lot about the content, you know, you wouldn’t wouldn’t commit their life to teaching and engaging these things that they didn’t care about it. So it’s sort of like like searching for a kind of validation of the value of the work, which I just think can happen in many different ways of students in your class, I think we need to have some good faith that at least some of them are, are there because they value the content and some might not value it, they might be there to check the box. And that’s, that’s cool, too. I always joke that I took a class on dinosaurs in college, not because I was deeply invested in dinosaurs. Yeah, but because I had to take a stem biology class, and for whatever reason, or schedule, it would fit my schedule. I thought dinosaurs would be cool. I don’t know. It was a hard class. That’s all I’ll say about that.

Lillian Nave  58:58

You know, your make me think of a class I took in college that we I’ve not I was not a science person at all. So I took a it was like environmental science as a freshman. And I it was, you know, if at least it wasn’t like chemistry, right? So I took that and talk about low tech and distraction. But I was in that environmental science class, and I barely remember anything from my first year in college, which was 1991. Now people know how old I am. And but it was the fall I went to school in Massachusetts, and I am from Florida. I grew up in in Florida. I had never seen snow that I could remember. It started snowing during this class. And we had we were on like the third floor of a building and there was a window and it started snowing. I had never I was 18 I’d never seen snow that I can remember. And I it was disruptive my like gasping like what that’s, you know, stuff like that would be completely normal to all of these. You know, she’s lived a mass To use it or wherever else they’re from. And I was so mesmerized by looking out the window like, Oh my gosh, this is the first No, this is the first and I was in class that, um, I think they let us out a little early or something because I, I mean, I audibly You know, it was like jumping up and down and like, What does really snow and it was an environmental science class, because so it seemed like it was important. But you’re gonna be distracted. It doesn’t have to be a cell phone, there were no cell phones at that time, there was no computers, there’s no laptops, but there was snow falling outside the window. And that was so much more important to me than who knows whatever we were discussing. And maybe that’s just the chipmunk that my brain is sometimes, but that I was that distracted. So it doesn’t even have to be technology. It happens. It’s happened since the beginning of time, as far as you know, professors or instructors complaining about these students don’t know how to write on slates anymore. Right? You know, they don’t know how to use this the slate and the chalk or whatever properly. And people do have, you know, 100 years ago, that was the complaint, this technology.

Jenae Cohn  1:01:09

So totally, I love that story. That’s so great. Of course, Jim Ling’s new book on distractions, probably a good one to consult as part of this conversation too.

Lillian Nave  1:01:18

So let me ask you My last question here. And that is what is your advice to instructors about UDL edtech the or if you are going to give advice to instructors who are preparing for classes next semester? What is your advice?

Jenae Cohn  1:01:33

So for next semester, I would advise faculty to think small, that is think about one activity, just one that could be augmented with one addition. I know that for this fall, many faculty may be negotiating some form of hybrid, or flexible instruction and definitions of hybrid I think keep getting kind of confused, they keep evolving, and that’s fine. We’ll have to see what how the dust settles on this. But I know that some faculty people are nervous about managing a classroom environment where Some students may be online and some may be in their brick and mortar spaces. Some still might just be feeling nervous about maintaining a lot of online infrastructure, even if they are having live class sessions in a full brick and mortar environment. So I’d say to really prioritize regardless of modality, really just think about what kind of learning activity just again, just start with one is really, really core to your class. Is that discussion? Is it problem solving? Is it a particular group project? Is that quizzing? Even, right, like, what is the one thing? And then just think about? What How do I accommodate that one thing across these multiple learning environments? How can I make this activity this one kind of activity successful, online and in person, and just really hone in on that one thing? David Kubler wrote a really great piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education called our slimmed down pandemic pedagogy. And I would keep that advice going for this fall. I mean, if you’re listening to this, and July of 2021, we’re still in a pandemic, it’s not a river. And the fall might look different than emergency remote instruction, but it’s still going to be uncertain, and it’s still going to be stressful for everyone. So it’s worth to sort of thinking about how can I privilege or prioritize or value a few things and not stress too much. I think the other advice I would just offers to also encourage doctors to let go a little bit of the concern with is synchronous learning betters asynchronous learning better, recognizing that different students are going to value different times to do their work different ways of engaging with their work. So again, kind of trying to think about not just the where, when and how, but the why really focusing on why Why are certain activities so core and then work back to that where, when and how Don’t let the the were in one condition, shape, everything else that comes because I can guarantee there’s options for most of what you want to do with maybe some rare exceptions, like, you know, hands on mechanical,

Lillian Nave  1:04:24

yeah. You know, task labs. absord.

Jenae Cohn  1:04:27

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. Or like dance or theater, I guess that those have real real kind of canonical constraints, so to speak. But beyond that, I think just trying to be really patient and just just picking picking one and and not being afraid, okay. I just had three pieces of advice. Be afraid to consult and get help. You know, again, this is what your staff are trained to do on your campus, your technology staff, your teaching and learning staff, your library, your accessibility office, these are all people on campus, who really want to be a part of the teaching experience with faculty and who often aren’t invited to be. And this semester now more than ever is a great time. Just reach out and ask any of those people for help with questions that you might have. With a lot of these questions, I guarantee they probably have really good answers and can support us you’re not doing it all on your own.

Lillian Nave  1:05:22

Yeah, I in fact, I will put a link to a conversation I had with Travis Thurston, who said, Here are the people you need to contact on your campus to ask. So that’ll be a great, you know, finish this episode and go to that one. And I’ll put a link in our in our web page for that. So thank you, thank you so much for your time, especially and for your brainpower on all of this. I was really excited to talk to you and really glad to get this out to our listeners. So thank you very much, Janae for talking to me today.

Jenae Cohn  1:05:53

Oh, thank you for the delightful conversation and I look forward to more to come with you and other listeners. I just happy to engage with all these ideas and hear other people’s thoughts too. It’s really fun. Thanks.

Lillian Nave  1:06:17

You can follow the think UDL podcast on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to find out when new episodes will be released, and also see transcripts and additional materials at the think website. The think UDL podcast is made possible by college star the star stands for supporting transition, access and retention in post secondary settings, and the website provides free resources and instructional aides based on UDL principles. If you’d like to know more, go to the college website. Additional support for the podcast is made possible by Appalachian State University where if you call it Appalachian, I’ll throw in Appalachia. The music on the podcast was performed by the Odyssey quartet comprised of Rex Shepherd, David pate, Bill falwell and Jose coach as 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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