Minding Bodies, Senses, and Perception with Susan Hrach

Welcome to Episode 63 of the Think UDL podcast: Minding Bodies, Senses, and Perception with Susan Hrach.  Susan Hrach is the author of the book Minding Bodies: How Physical Space, Sensation, and Movement Affect Learning and the Director of the Faculty Center for Enhancement of Teaching and Learning and Professor of English at Columbus State University in Columbus, Georgia. In today’s episode, we talk about the content of her Minding Bodies book as it relates to perception, specifically the UDL guideline to provide multiple options for student perception which often include alternatives for auditory and visual information. We also talk a little neuroscience and brain efficiency, multi-sensory learning, how emotions influence learning, how important really noticing is, and questioning or interrogating our own perceptions. Aside from a reference to The Princess Bride, we share some really helpful resources along the way that are listed on the ThinkUDL.org webpage for episode 63, so please peruse those at your leisure. Now, go out and take a walk, move your body, smell some flowers, put your feet in a creek or some other form of bodily or sensory stimulation while you listen to this episode of Think UDL.

Resources: 

Find Susan on Twitter @SusanHrach

Get Susan Hrach’s book Minding Bodies: How Physical Space, Sensation, and Movement Affect Learning to learn more about body movement and learning

Susan is joining us from her partner’s podcast studio where he records the Carson McCullers Center’s Weekly We of Me Podcast

Susan Hrach was featured in a recent “Teaching” newsletter from The Chronicle of Higher Education

TILT Higher Ed (Transparency in Learning and Teaching) has been mentioned on the podcast before. This is a great resource to guide instructors in how to create direct, understandable, purposeful assignments and assessments.

Movie clip of “Inconceivable”- (You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means) from The Princess Bride movie

Susan recommends Lisa Feldman Barrett’s How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain and John Ratey’s Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain for further research into how bodies affect learning

Lillian mentions @CleaMahoney and @ProfWehler as proponents of taking breaks, and you can listen to longer conversations on Episode 49: Pauses Make Learning Visible with Melissa Wehler and Episode 45: Maybe It Doesn’t Need to Be a Video with Clea Mahoney

Susan and Lillian mention social annotation tools Perusall and Hypothes.isSusan recommends Greater Good in Action from the University of California, Berkeley, for simple exercises to add to your classes

Transcript

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 63 of the think UDL podcast, minding body’s senses and perception with Susan Hrach. Susan Hrach is the author of the book minding bodies, how physical space sensation and movement affect learning, and she is the director of the Faculty Center for enhancement of teaching and learning, and a professor of English at Columbus State University in Columbus, Georgia. In today’s episode, we talk about the content of our minding bodies book as it relates to perception, specifically, the UDL guideline to provide multiple options for student perception, which often include alternatives for auditory and visual information. We also talk a little neuroscience and brain efficiency, multi sensory learning how emotions influence learning how important really noticing is, and questioning or interrogating our own perceptions. Aside from a reference to The Princess Bride movie, we do share some really helpful resources along the way that are listed on the think udl.org webpage for Episode 63. So please peruse those at your leisure. Now go out and take a walk, move your body, smell some flowers, put your feet in a creek, or do some other form of bodily or sensory stimulation while you listen to this episode of think UDL. Thank you so much, Susan Hrach for joining me today on the think UDL podcast.

Susan Hrach  02:20

I’m so excited to be here, Lillian. I’m a frequent listener myself. So this is a real thrill for me. Oh,

Lillian Nave  02:28

I’m so excited to hear. You know, you throw these out into the universe and you don’t hear back. So I’m really glad to hear that you’re listening. And then you’ve heard I heard the podcast before

Susan Hrach  02:39

I am and and you can know that others may have heard it vicariously because I listened to podcasts while I am commuting by bicycle to school. And because it’s not supposed to be safe to have had a you know, had earbuds in while you’re cycling. I just kind of blast it out as I’m going along. And you never know who has heard your podcast as I’m passing them. Oh, wow. So

Lillian Nave  03:07

on the on the streets in the Dales of Georgia. They are exactly. Oh, great. Oh, that makes me feel great. All right. Thank you. So well, I’m ready to find out a little bit more about you and get into your work. But the first question I have for all my guests, I’m going to ask you and that is what makes you a different kind of learner.

Susan Hrach  03:28

I’m so excited to answer this. I’ve been thinking about it since I’m a listener. And I know this is the opener. Yeah, um, so my strength as a learner has actually been my, my struggle as a teacher. And so I don’t know if this is something that other guests would want to think about. But I I grew up with a mom who is very like feelings oriented and intuitive. She’s a real people person, their whole side of my mom’s whole side of the family is very social and funny and, and then I had this particular interest in language, and written and verbal, English and non English. And so all of that meant that I’m very interested in sort of listening for what’s not being said on the surface. Okay, and I, you know, school helps you to also hone those skills. So as a, as an Language and Literature person. I’m all about, you know, what else is being said, besides the surface level here. And I, you know, that helps you that helps you to excel in the game of school because you can, you know, figure out what the assignment isn’t saying but is implying Yeah, and that’s all cool, except that when I got to be a teacher myself, I was you know, continue Using and frustrating people on a regular basis, because I thought this was a fair thing to ask, Well, you should be able to figure out what’s not being said here, right? This is part of the game. I know. Okay, and then right, so now I’ve become a convert, you know, after realizing there was really no point to making people struggle on purpose. Yeah, I’m wit to the transparency and learning and teaching the tilt method. And, and even before that, really just trying to get myself to be much more explicit and detailed than I had typically been, you know, accustomed to expecting from my own teachers. So, um, yeah, so it’s been a journey for me, but I, you know, I think sometimes the, the preferences we have as learners are the things we’re good at, and then we, you know, it’s harder for us to anticipate what others who don’t think like we do, might need to know, right?

Lillian Nave  06:05

Yeah, that’s so true. It sounds like you’re now really attuned to barrier removal, like you realize, those are the things that were making it harder for your students, you’re still trying to see the things that aren’t being said, right, and making now making those apparent for your students. And I must say, I’m a big fan of the tilt method. And someday I’m going to get married one comments on the the hopefully on the podcast to, to, to help our instructors and help others to really make the purpose clear for assignments, and to not have our students to have to read between the lines. Whereas I was good at that. You’re good at that. But we can’t, we can’t say that everybody is and that’s not what we’re trying to teach either. Right?

Susan Hrach  06:55

That’s right, exactly. And then when you realize that that’s that, okay, it’s a skill, but it may not be the most important skill for this particular course, or this, you know, this degree plan or whatever. And I’m having to think through the purpose and, you know, tasks and criteria. I mean, that’s just a good exercise for us to feel clear about what it is that this What’s the point of this activity?

Lillian Nave  07:22

Yeah. And, you know, I’ma say, when I work with my first year students, we have a great writing center. And I know most universities will have a writing center that they can send students to. And so I’ve worked with folks, I’ve had them come into and teach, you know, a day on the class about writing. And one of the first things they say is, you know, what, you can come in with your assignment, and we’ll try and figure out what that assignment is actually about. Because that’s usually the first problem, right? Yeah, yeah. What is this paper supposed to be about anyway?

Susan Hrach  07:56

Yeah. And and, you know, people who are not intuitive, but what’s the other Myers Briggs thinking? They’re, you know, they’re all about what is explicitly being said here?

Lillian Nave  08:11

Yeah. Yeah. So making things clear for our students is is definitely one of the Universal Design for Learning guidelines, and being explicit. So trying to remove those barriers. And I’m really interested in what you have written about in minding bodies, and which I’m going to ask you quite a few things about because you get into something that I think is the oft overlooked UDL principle, in the multiple means of representation column of the UDL guidelines, and that is perception. And yeah, so I wanted to talk to you and you’ve already led into this actually, his perception and the opportunity for multiple means of perception and how that might inform our understanding of something. So yeah, what can you tell me about that? Okay, well, you’re

Susan Hrach  09:11

gonna need to tell me if I’m, if I’m talking too long here because this is, this is such a fascinating subject. So what I learned when I was doing research for this book, on the neuroscience of perception is that our brains are always trying to be efficient and save energy. Because brains are very energy intensive organs, right? So um, so in order not to just use up all of our bodily energy, we operate on this default prediction mode. And that means that you’re basically perceiving everything your that your senses can perceive Through a predictive model of what you’ve seen before, and so your shift your perception is absolutely shaped by what your brain expects to be seeing in this context. It’s drawing on all of its repertoire of prior associations. And so that means that, you know, at any given time, the same person can have a more acute degree of perception, if they’re willing to sort of bring their whole bodily energy to it, right. And that’s the whole being present in the moment and being genuinely open to the, the, you know, whole body effort of understanding what’s what’s in front of you. So perception is more than just differences among individual people, you can be a different perceiver, in your in within yourself, yeah, from, you know, one day to the next. And so, you know, that’s, that’s the, you know, biological reason behind implicit bias between, you know, implicit and associate Association, because we were always just, you know, perceiving what we expect to see. And that can be shaped by real human beings who we’ve interacted with, it can be shaped by fictional, you know, TV and movie depictions of people who remind us of the person who we’re dealing with, say, so that it’s a pretty tricky thing to override those prior expectations. And that means that if you offer learners multiple opportunities to perceive something in from different angles, from different senses from, you know, literally move being able to move around it physically. Yeah, you’re more likely to foster a, you know, kind of holistic and more accurate understanding of either the concept or the object,

Lillian Nave  12:19

right. So it sounds like an if, please let me know, if I’m getting this right or not, we need to hang our hat on something like if we’re getting a new idea, or new knowledge has to connect to something that we already understand. So Right,

Susan Hrach  12:34

right, right. There’s, you’ve got your your existing framework, prior knowledge, right. And so that has to be there for you to be able to connect new information to the familiar. But what can sometimes take a lot of effort is revising what you expect to hear with something that’s not that is genuinely new. Okay. So that’s why, you know, there if there are certain terms or vocabulary that are specific to your discipline that students always get wrong, you know, they, they tend to confuse it with some other word. For example, that might be a more familiar word and ordinary vocabularies. That’s why because, you know, we were always trying to anticipate where we think we’ve seen this before, and how this might be the same thing.

Lillian Nave  13:30

Right. Oh, that reminds me of the Princess Bride line, which is that word, you keep saying that word. That is I don’t think you know what that word means. Is it inconceivable? Something like that? Right? Yeah, right. Oh, throwing that word thrown The Princess Bride in our resources for this one of this. But, um, I really believe I’ve seen that many times is that students, they really think that they’re, they understand this particular concept, but it’s, they actually have a either a misunderstanding, or a previous understanding. And then yeah, they they kind of Oh, yeah, yeah, I know what I’m doing. And they move forward, not realizing that there’s a tweaking at least, or maybe a major, major shift that has to happen. And so being able to provide multiple ways for students to perceive of something, whether it being reading or listening to something or a close inspection of an object, or multiple ways to do that, or a video about it, or something like that. Absolutely. is going to help right. Yeah,

Susan Hrach  14:41

those are great ideas. And that’s exactly the sort of, you know, approaching it from multiple angles that that that I think is not it’s not hard to do you just you know, it’s an it’s an effort of just curating more resources. Yeah, um, yeah. And, and, you know, the, the reward for doing that is not only a more accurate understanding of the, you know, the concept or the the object itself, but in fact, there’s a pleasure in it. And this is the thing that I think surprised me the most, many years ago, before I really had any had done any reading in the the neuroscience of perception. I wanted my students in a world literature course, to read multiple English versions of the same text that was composed initially in a foreign language. Okay. And I, you know, I wanted them to do that, just because there’s, you know, they needed to be sensitive to the fact in a world literature course, that none of the texts we were reading were composed in English, okay, and we’re such an English centric universe, that they, you know, this is this kind of a mind blowing thing for a lot of students watch their, you know, something would have been composed in something that’s, you know, a different language. And so, when I, when I planned to show them these multiple versions of, you know, say a, you know, an early modern sonnet, I was really nervous that this would be the most like, terrible class plan ever, because they’d just be bored out of their minds, and no one would want to do it, because it was just seemed tedious and hard. And, you know, the cereal is hard enough as it is, and now you’re making us look at it three different times. And what I didn’t anticipate is that they loved it. Because our brains really like encountering the same thing with a twist. Yeah. And so once they were introduced to the text once, then we could show it to them over and over again, in a slightly different rendering. And the more versions we saw, the more fun it was, and the more they enjoyed jumping in and saying, Oh, I

17:21

hate that one.

Susan Hrach  17:22

Or, you know, they really, it’s fun to pass judgment to, isn’t it? And so, you know, they but but it was great, because it gave me the opportunity to say, okay,

17:32

that’s fine. But

Susan Hrach  17:32

let’s talk about why like, Well, so what is it that makes you so angry about this particular version? Or? Why do you love this one the most? And, um, and, you know, it also gave me a really healthy respect for the fact that whichever, you show them first, that the one they think is the original? Yeah, the current version, right? And then I had to keep saying, No, no, no, no, none of these are the original. The original is in Sanskrit or whatever, you know.

18:06

Now I start with the, the source text in its own language, and that tends to

Lillian Nave  18:13

cut down on their confusion about which of these is the real poem. Wow, that is that’s really amazing about that. Whichever one the students get first becomes the the original, but it isn’t. Right. But we do that all the time. Right. If we’re going to introduce a theory, they Okay, that’s the correct one. No, no, no, there’s like five of these. We’re just we have to find one of them at first. Yes. And isn’t it so interesting? I mean, I think we need to appreciate that that’s not a student. Like, what’s the word I’m looking for? failing? Yeah, failing, or? Yeah, that they’re, they’re ill prepared somehow. That’s how our brains work. You know, this is just this is how humans learn things. Yeah, yeah, we have to hang our hats on something, right? We have to kind of glob it on, and write and learn to kind of modulate and understand as we move through them. So we’re okay. This is giving me a lot of things to think about, about that perception. And that’s why I just am excited about this conversation. We often overlook and, and skip this part, when we think about universal design for learning that we need lots of ways to create this more nuanced, richer understanding of things. Because, you know, all students are different, and one of them might get it with the first one and one of them might get it better with the third one, and we just don’t know.

19:48

Right,

Susan Hrach  19:48

right. And that that’s all dependent on not only their own prior experience, but how much bodily energy they have to bring to the task on that particular other day?

Lillian Nave  20:00

Yeah, well, um, okay, so I want to ask kind of a further question that has to do with multiple senses that you have gotten me very interested in. And we really privilege and think about sight, especially reading a lot and learning. And you’re, I think, asking us to start to pay attention to multiple senses more than just sight. So I wanted to ask you, what is the benefit of awakening these senses?

Susan Hrach  20:34

Yeah, well, you know, I think where I started on this subject was with a more I don’t know, sort of obvious respect for the fact that it’s fun to do multi sensory learning. And, you know, I had gotten really interested in full immersive learning experiences as a result of leading study abroad programs. And, you know, I mean, especially when you’re, you’re dealing with historical subjects, if you get to go to the place where it happened. Yes. You know, Lillian, you know, with art history. Yes. After you’ve studied something for a long time, and then you get to see the thing.

Lillian Nave  21:16

Oh, my goodness, it’s like, you get a real bodily reaction. I’ve cried. I’ve like felt like, the the blood has gone out of my body, you know? Yeah. Isn’t that amazing?

21:27

Yeah.

Susan Hrach  21:28

And it’s so important to have all of the like, prep for that as well. Right? Yeah. Just drag students in front of something important and say, Okay, this is really important. And here’s why

Lillian Nave  21:38

expect them to feel odd, right? Oh, my goodness, I have a great story about that really quickly when I was in Italy. And I had learned all about the Italian Renaissance and was in a group of about 25 people. And one of them had never taken art history. And then every place we went, it was Donna tellows. David, oh, and he would say, is this important? Should I be taking a picture of this? And here I am almost hyperventilating. This is the first dude since antiquity. Yes, yeah. And he had no background. So it made no impression at all

Susan Hrach  22:11

right? Yeah. Right. Well, you know, it, I didn’t appreciate that as much until I did a short term study abroad trip that was only a it was over spring break. So we had something like 10 days. And I was a real skeptic about that. Because I, you know, I myself had done a year long study abroad program as a college student. And I just really felt that, you know, you needed that full cultural immersion. And how could that happen in 10 days, and it doesn’t the cultural immersion may not happen in 10 days, but what you what I did get was the January and February and half of March leading up to the trip, to do all that priming. Yeah. So that then when we got there, they were totally thrilled. It was, you know, much more impactful than the summer program, where in the space of a month, we had to zip around to everything that was important and explain why it was important at the same time. Yeah. So anyway, to backtrack about the senses. So that’s, that was sort of what got me interested in why does sensory immersion help learning. Um, and then I started reading more about and I really want to recommend this book to to listeners as well. Lisa Feldman, Barrett’s how emotions are made, okay. And she is a neuroscientist at Northeastern University. And she’s got TED Talks, and she’s actually got a new book called seven and a half myths, something like that myths about the brain. But at any rate, she was able to, to elucidate for a general audience, this predictive default prediction mode of how the brain works, and it affects your sensory perception. So that, um, even though multi sensory learning, in and of itself is enjoyable and valuable. You have to be also very critical of your own perception. So that’s why in the book, I chose to use the word interrogate, because you have to be willing to question even what seems sensible to your, to your eyes and ears and nose and taste and, you know, all of these things are very shaped by your former experiences. They’re also potentially, you know, affected by other factors that you know, will lead you to kind of mis enter, your brain will misinterpret what it’s encountering. Okay? So sensory perception is a lot more complicated than I realized. And so for example, I think most people are familiar with the idea that smell is somehow connected to memory. Okay. And, um, the the reality of smell is that it’s just hugely susceptible to suggestion. So, you know, you can they’ve done studies where a roomful of people will, will start to feel ill or even potentially, you know, faint, if they’re told that they’re being in, they’re inhaling some sort of noxious fumes, okay? Right. So like, you know, smell is, is very,

25:55

it’s a,

Susan Hrach  25:56

it’s a experience in which you can, you can easily be, this is why this is why if essential oils are can be very effective for the same thing, right, because you say, Oh, this is so calming. And, and it’s, it’s real, like, it will have that real effect on your body, because that’s what you’ve told yourself, it’s going to do. And so, at any rate, smell can be very useful as a learning tool, if we’re, if we’re really intentional about why we’re using it. So if we want to form associations with our students, um, you know, for our students with particular smells that are connected to disciplinary objects or places or, you know, like, I think of musty books from the archives, or, you know, a lot of a lot of disciplines have physical things that have smells, those are ways to kind of build your students identification with the things that your discipline values, and, and that you, you want them to notice. And, you know, you can use smell in ways to introduce novelty into the classroom, which is always a good thing, the brain sort of wakes up when something new and unexpected is happening. Yeah. So you know, it’s not the typical class where you’re being asked to smell something. Um, but you know, there could be creative ways for you to ask students to bring in things that they particularly you know, enjoy as, as sense, as smells, as a way to say, learn each other’s names and have a different way of associating the person with their favorite scent that they’ve brought in. or other, you know, I mean, I have such a huge respect for all of our teaching colleagues, they, they’ll think of way more creative things to do than I could possibly come up with. But, um, but smell is just one of those things that you, you have to sort of ground it’s meaning. It’s not going to, it’s not going to have it as an essential quality.

28:17

Okay, you know, you need to decide

Susan Hrach  28:19

how you want it to be interpreted. And we take sight and sound, I think more at superficial value, but they sight and sound deserve their own very careful anterograde interrogation as well.

28:34

I mean, you know,

Susan Hrach  28:35

I think seeing people with with sight, are not as acute at listening. And we need more practice to notice things that we’re hearing. That’s another, I think, under utilized resource in classroom teaching, just to have students use only their sense of hearing as a way of becoming more just observe carefully observant, yeah,

Lillian Nave  29:11

paying close attention. I know as in our move to online and the lack of videos on some of my students, or many of my students, it was a totally different experience, to to be having conversations online, where you’re not getting those facial cues, and also paying attention to whatever chat you know, reading at the same time and listening. It’s a very different and heightened experience. I’m kind of looking for different things, things behind what’s going on. as well. It’ll be interesting to know if, if, as a I don’t know

Susan Hrach  29:54

as a collective, we’re better at listening to voices than we used to be.

Lillian Nave  29:59

Yeah. I wonder, right? I’ve certainly been stretched in the last year during all Yeah. And you made me think of a couple things about how rich my memories are especially of good things. As far as smell and school, and you mentioned like musty old books, but I love opening a new book and smelling it. It’s one of those.

30:23

Yeah,

30:23

I thought it’s weird, but, but I love it. I mean, why? So that’s a perfect example. I think students

Susan Hrach  30:30

would love to talk about that kind of stuff. Yeah. Do you know what is it? What’s your favorite? The smell of a new book? That that is awesome. Yeah.

Lillian Nave  30:38

So I mean, we could introduce ourselves with a smell, that would be interesting. And maybe, you know, even if you’re online, you can just talk about what that smell is. And people could maybe make an association. Especially if people have some, you know, allergies or issues with, you know, sensor perfumes or something like that. But it makes me recall, I think, the most pungent and my favorite elementary school smell, and this will you know, age. date me, I’m sure. Is the purple mimeograph machine. Oh, girl. Oh, my gosh, I think you could get high from a good night. Yeah, I probably did. I probably did, too, because we were the ones sent to the office to pick it up. Exactly. And I would see it turning and just and it was warm, and you’d pick it up. And I would totally just stuffed it in my face and take a big, big whiff. And then bring it back to my classmates. Right, I can smell it right now. It there was a happy feeling about that I enjoyed math, silly, you know, is third, you know, third and fourth grade, and you get to finish and handed in and it’s complete. Right? You know, that right? feeling great.

Susan Hrach  31:48

So here’s the interesting thing about that memory, and I’m hoping that I’m getting this the right way. So the the smell science that I read suggested that we have those associations with powerful memories. And we they seem magical, because we didn’t put a lot of intentional effort into connecting the memory and the smell, okay. But, um, if, if we had been asked, for example, to describe the smell of the mimeograph ink or write a short little, you know, passage, a poem about it, or, you know, in some other way, like, call intentional, you know, energy to talking about it thinking about it, then then it would be a sort of not a surprising thing, just to dredge up from your memory when it’s unexpected, but a much more sort of conscious, intentional memory that you had built on purpose.

Lillian Nave  33:01

Okay. I gotcha. Yeah. Yes. And it’s, they’re quite, you know, vibrant to think about that. And I have another really vibrant and important memory that has to do with multiple senses. And I must say, they’re very few because I think that so much of my education was not about the senses. It was really just about reading and writing. And, you know, that not experiencing so much. But there was one professor that introduced to me, the goodness of I was a biblical studies scholar for a while and Old Testament or Jewish Bible, the Torah, and had a great Israeli really, professor who said, You brought honey, to smell and to taste? Because that was what the, the Psalms, the the words of the prophets were to be like, honey, the sweetness of it. And I just thought that was kind of magical, to if and look how it stuck with Yes, absolutely. And it’s biblical. I mean, it’s, it’s that that’s in the scripture itself. So learning about that, and then experiencing that, like somebody thought it was important enough to bring that in. That was phenomenal to me, isn’t it though, and, you know, eat

Susan Hrach  34:30

food and drink are also a way of building community. Yes. Because it’s a very, like, evolutionary response among humans to think of eating and drinking together as an expression of our trust. Yeah. Yeah. So, you know, the most casual thing that you might, you know, consider like well, I had a cup of tea or Coffee when I was meeting with a student, could could be actually a much more important gesture than you imagine. Because on some really, you know, fundamental level, the student or group of students experiences you as a fellow human being, and you’re sharing this, you know, yeah, this experience together,

Lillian Nave  35:22

right? It’s a super important cultural experience to what sort of foods are offered or cooked or explained to that’s, I love it. When we had in person classes, I would have my small seminars over for dinner. And that was something that I got to do when I was in college. And because I went to a college that allowed for that, and that actually encouraged it. And so I’ve wanted to do it, and it’s just lovely. It’s, it is an

Susan Hrach  35:49

you know, that they will remember that for a long time that that is an immersive experience of you know, the person who is the human being who they’ve been learning with. And that that means a lot. I mean, I think we maybe fail to appreciate the way that we our brains on sticks for students. And, I mean, I can remember some sort of ridiculous things about perceiving my faculty members as somehow not really, you know, having bodies Yeah, like, just planet size brains. I remember thinking, yeah, I mean, Okay, so here’s a sort of, I don’t know, silly anecdote, but um, I remember in graduate school, being in the restroom, with another one of my classmates, and then our professor came in, oh, oh, and we talked about it afterward, we’re like, oh, my gosh, that was so weird. And, you know, I mean, why would that be weird? Like, she’s a person with a body. But, um, but we just weren’t used to thinking of her as you know, having a body.

Lillian Nave  37:02

Yeah. Isn’t that interesting? No, I totally agree. Now that you said that, I just didn’t even think about that before. So I mean, this is along the lines of humanizing the the classroom or humanizing an online environment by introducing yourselves or, you know, the, you bring up the idea of brains on sticks, which is something I’ve used before. And I see in your book, as well, the idea that we are not embodied people, or our students are not embodied. They’re just brains that we need to fill up. But you’re calling us to really think about the body that in that, you know, encapsulates that brain. And that makes it move and breathe and all of those, those things, how important that is?

Susan Hrach  37:43

It is and and, you know, I think even the way we talk about these things, that the other metaphor that I love that someone else suggested is that your body’s a chauffeur for your brain. It’s a good one. Yeah, but you know, what, what continues to just, you know, I find amazing about our perception is that, that, you know, your brain is just another organ of your body, your head is your body, your brain is your body, we you know, why we tend to, I think it’s because of the way it’s physically arranged. At the end of our bodies at the top, we find it easy to segment at our neck. But you know, your whole body is part of your cognition.

Lillian Nave  38:28

Yeah. Yeah, it’s, this is a very interesting way to think about our learning. And I feel like in my past, and in my education, we privilege the brain and we try to ignore the body, for the most part. And so I do want to ask you about something specific, you talked about in your book, it was in the in the preface to your book mining bodies, how physical space sensation and movement affect learning, you start with this hypothetical situation, in which a professor would hand out a contract of sorts to students explaining to them how much time sitting in the seats, the college course would take hours upon hours upon hours and explaining the deleterious effects of prolonged sitting on the body because not only in lecture class, but also you’ll be reading so you’ll be sitting down to be doing that and, and that, do you realize as a student that you’re going to be sitting for a long time, and we now know, sitting is not very good. It’s sitting as the new smokings what I hear, can you explain a bit about how bodies do affect this learning process? And I know, as a UDL specialist, I know that not everybody, you know, exe has the same mobility, but to the extent that we have mobility, everything is different. Yes,

Susan Hrach  39:57

yeah. So So our Our bodies are a little bit more mechanical than I think we generally like to recognize. So for example, taking a walk after you’ve eaten a big meal, yeah, literally gives your intestines a gentle massage, that’s good for your digestion. Yeah. So you know, our habit of just moving on over to the sofa, no surprise that then, you know, we feel that we need to Tom’s later like, we didn’t give it the mechanical assistance that it needs. And then, you know, stretching and contracting your limbs and your torso, those are ways that your lymphatic system gets circulation. So standing and walking, actually offers the brain a chance to perform under the conditions in which it involves evolved. The the work that I read about this, that I thought was super fascinating, suggested that, you know, because human beings have so many different ways we can move our limbs, where the the phrase is, this is john radies phrase, I believe that we’re the Swiss Army knives of movement, okay. And so that’s why that’s why our brains developed to be so complex and large to begin with, to facilitate all of this, you know, crazy arm, finger, you know, knees, toes, all the different ways that we can move. And then our, you know, our mental abilities, were able to kind of harness the networks that our brains had developed in order to produce more abstract thinking. And so your brain is optimized to work while you’re moving. And that’s why taking a walk is often a good, you know, practice for coming up with a fresh idea. Yeah. And so, you know, obviously, any mobility that you’ve got, is a possible way to improve your cognitive function. And if you can even improve the mobility that you’ve got, then that’s, that’s all going to be good for your brain. Yeah,

Lillian Nave  42:31

you know, I’ve come across some fantastic ideas when I’m interviewing folks for this podcast. So and a couple of folks that I worked with, especially in online environments, we’re talking about the idea of taking a break. And like even putting that in an online course, like Claire Mahoney, and Melissa Wheeler, both had said, you know, taking a break, and go take a walk and kind of listen to this reading or stand up stretch, and then come back, you know, this next part, is really paying attention to that, that body part. Yes.

Susan Hrach  43:11

That’s fantastic. I mean, I so just so listeners can picture I’m standing now on purpose, because I feel persuaded from having experimented with it in the past that I can more coherently string together sentences when I’m standing. And I think, you know, there’s no, it’s not a coincidence, that lecturer stand. Yeah. You know, I mean, or even move around that, because that’s part of how you’re facilitating your thinking.

Lillian Nave  43:42

Yeah. And I’ve found, I did before the pandemic, when I would have office hours I had learned from another colleague about walking meetings. So one of my office hours, I would say, we’ll, I’ll be at this kind of the lawn Sanford lawn on on our campus, and I’m just doing laps. And so I would walk with students, and we sort of talk about what their major was or what they were interested in or something like that. Of course, it doesn’t work if you’ve got a mark on a paper or something like that. But it was a great way to enjoy the day it was beautiful, and to get out and walk and talk and so much better than sitting in an office because so much of our world is sitting and listening and I Yes, really

Susan Hrach  44:31

appreciated that. It that is a thank you for mentioning that if people could take up just the even the occasional walking office hours. What a What a great thing that would be I think it’s more approachable for students. Yeah,

44:46

um,

Susan Hrach  44:47

I mean, you could do it in the Student Rec Center around the track. That was you know, a convenient place or if you live in a place where the weather’s not great. But also, Lillian, I’m curious Do you think students found it easier to talk with you while you were walking?

Lillian Nave  45:04

Absolutely. First of all, they didn’t have to go find their professors office, which is squirreled away behind hallways in a building they haven’t been to, because it’s not the same place where I would teach in the classroom. And it’s so much easier than and, you know, it was a place that was the central place of campus. So hey, here’s where, you know, people put out towels and blankets and read their textbook. So it was a much more inviting way to and made it I think, easier, you can just walk around, you can have a cup of tea or coffee or something and, and walk with it. And I that’s one thing I look forward to when I’m teaching in the classroom, again, is trying to do things like like that. Yeah, yeah, I love that. And I must say that I think a lot better. When I’m walking, I hike, I live in the mountains of North Carolina. And I came up with an entirely new, like grading scheme three or four years ago on a hike. And it just took me putting my feet one in front of the other to really think it through. And it’s one of those eureka moments, where I just needed to kind of be out and walking, and then all these, you know, thoughts raced through my head, and I was able to sort them out. So I totally, absolutely feel like that’s so much better for me than just trying to sit in a desk and try to figure things out.

Susan Hrach  46:29

Well, you know, I would be willing to bet that lots of people have their own story of the great idea that came to them while they were walking or biking or hiking. I bet that’s a it’s a really common kind of experience, but we never talk about it. Yeah,

Lillian Nave  46:49

yeah. So maybe we can do that for our students as well. Allowing them to be listening to something or thinking about something. I’ve, I’ve told students, they’re some of the readings that I have them do that are more stories, I kind of want them to digest the story, especially if it’s about a cultural, you know, story, you’re hearing somebody else’s perspective. They don’t necessarily have to write down point by point, here’s this theory versus that theory, right. So it’s not that kind of reading, where they might need to annotate, I just really want them to get a bigger picture. And I say, hey, Here, take this recording of it, or, you know, listen to the ebook part, or maybe it’s a TED talk, and just listen to it and go on a walk or bike ride or, you know, while you’re cooking dinner, you know, or something like that, while you’re doing something not other homework, but you know, doing something, yeah, your body.

Susan Hrach  47:46

Right. That’s the key thing. I mean, you know, the temptation is going to be to do it while they’re working on their

47:52

homework. Yeah. But I think if you,

Susan Hrach  47:54

you know, this gets back to the transparency, if you explicitly say, I want you to do this while you’re doing some other physical activity that you don’t have to, you know, focus intensely on, which might even be like, you know, doing laundry or something. But the reason why is that, I think you will be able to process it more attentively if you’re moving while you’re listening to it.

Lillian Nave  48:20

Yes, I agree. So I am, I have another kind of follow up question on this. And it’s that I noticed something very intense about my body when I’m concentrating. And yeah, it’s been brought to my attention now that I do these podcasts interviews, and I appreciate that you are standing now but I, I’m sitting and maybe I should take up standing while I’m doing this. Because at the end of the podcast, I realized that after 45 minutes an hour, I am sweating, like I’ve just run a 10k or something like that I get really, this might be too much information, right. But I get very sweaty, like, I’m so intensely listening and, you know, writing notes and thinking deeply. Yeah, I feel and it’s so it’s wonderful for me. But I realized, oh, my goodness, my body has been doing something I did not realize, I mean, I’m just sitting but I have horrible, you know, sweaty armpits, by the end of this conversation. So I’m like, What do you notice about your body when you are learning? I mean, it feels like a very intense thing for my body that I didn’t realize.

Susan Hrach  49:29

Yeah, well, so it’s so great that you’ve paid attention to that because I mean, that’s, that’s the sort of body awareness that we really want to develop for ourselves and for our students. It’s just like, notice what’s going on. And, um, yeah, I, you know, I think when I’m concentrating intensely, I tend to get a little bit fidgety if I’m, if I’m sitting somewhere and I have to I have to, like, direct my, like, if I’m reading and then I, something makes me want to pause and sort of Mull that over, I have to direct my eyes at something they can just rest on and not really be looking at. Right where I can I, I can be concentrating on some ideas without it’s all it’s the best I can do to sort of shut down sensory perception. temporarily. What?

50:31

Yeah. Well,

Susan Hrach  50:33

I’m thinking through this, you know, connection with something else that I that I want to think more about. Um, but, yeah,

50:43

I mean, I,

Susan Hrach  50:44

I think the fact that you notice the bodily energy that you’re exerting while you’re while you’re doing podcast interviews, that’s, that’s really important. I mean, this is a primary piece of evidence that learning is energy intensive. And you know, there’s a reason why you feel wiped out after teaching several classes in the same day. Yeah.

Lillian Nave  51:11

Oh, man, it’s, uh, I switched from  three 50 minute classes to three 75 minute classes on the same day. And I was I sat down and couldn’t get up for about an hour. Just moving to, you know, instead of a Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule, I stacked them all on Tuesday, Thursday again, and I realized how intense that day was. And I would walk around a lot working in small groups, and I’d have 10 to 11,000 steps, you know, after three classes.

Susan Hrach  51:43

Yeah. And it was the end, then here’s the irony, like, you are the lucky one. Yeah. Because your students couldn’t, they didn’t have the luxury to be like, you know, getting in 11,000. Right. That day, they weren’t just stuck in their seats. Right. And, you know, I think about that, when I’m in back in the day, when we used to go to conferences. And remember how, you know, sometimes by the end of the day, you would be so sore and stiff from just sitting? Yeah. And people would complain about their Oh, I just I really want to hear this session, but I just can’t, you know, yeah. And, and, I mean, you know, that’s what we ask of our students all the time that they’re supposed to be sitting down all day. Yeah,

Lillian Nave  52:29

I really appreciate this conversation to think about different modalities and ways I think that would add to our student perception, understanding something in multiple ways. And this is really, I think, thinking outside the box, sort of adding on to the UDL guidelines, and kind of in a different way about the the perception and allowing for movement, body movement, body processing, if it’s not always reading a book, or, you know, having to be seated or something like that. Yeah,

53:07

yeah. Yeah.

Susan Hrach  53:08

I mean, I have to confess, I mean, you know, I don’t have all the answers, I’m hoping that these conversations will lead, you know, lots of people to be just thinking about these these tensions more carefully. But like, for example, I really believe that going outside more often is a good idea. But we are all at this point, pretty heavily tethered to our tech. Yeah. And so you know, oh, gosh, you know, we’re How can we be outside but still be able to access this particular, you know, Google Doc, or whatever that we’re working on? And

53:51

I don’t know, I

Susan Hrach  53:52

don’t have that fully worked out yet. You know, I mean, I think people are coming up with some really creative solutions. And maybe on some campuses, the WiFi is good enough to stretch out through the quad and everybody can have their devices but um, but that’s a wrinkle, you know, and obviously, like, I’m also now really enjoying the since the pandemic, the platforms that allow you to the students to do social reading, psychosocial annotations, this and yeah, I’m perusal. So they’re, they’re do so many cool things that allow you to pay attention to really specific details of the reading, but then you got to be in front of your computer to do and so you know, it’s it’s always I guess, maybe the best thing we could conclude is just that, you know, it’s good to mix it up.

Lillian Nave  54:49

Yeah. Oh, yeah. Anytime we can. And I, I would love to share this one thing that just happened in my daughter who is a college sophomore just finished her sophomore year, had a fantastic course talking about going outside. And she’s at a college that has a two semesters and then a one month interim period. Some places call it a January term or a May-mester or something like that. Well, for the first time ever, this was in May because of the pandemic instead of January. And so she had a one class and met for, like three hours every morning for four weeks. And it was totally up her alley, she has always loved finding crawdads and the creeks and picking up toads. And it was about wildlife and scat. So we just joked every day, what poop did you find? And that’s finding skulls and you know, they would go to a different Park each day, and kind of put their learning in action. And I would, you know, get these pictures. Look at this fuzzy Caterpillar, you know, and look at this, you know, that I found and they’re listening for bird songs. And it was, she was so joyful. I bet I love that. I mean, I you know, I assume Was it a natural sciences? Yeah, so she’s a biology major, but this was just really fun. But she learned so much about mammals and the area and the critters, you know, and identifying things, things that actually that I would say are pretty useful later on, when she’d be like, well, that’s a raccoon track. And that’s a, you know, a tea or something like that.

Susan Hrach  56:32

Yes, that’s fabulous. Kudos to that faculty member. And, you know, but I think even for, you know, those of us in the humanities or social sciences, like, it’s just going to take us a little bit harder thinking to come up with a reason. Yeah, we, we can go outside too. And, um, you know, I have a colleague in the English department who takes her students out to wheat with Columbus is on a river, and they sit on the riverbank, and they have an exercise they do with 19th century poetry. And I know it’s fabulous, you know, and, and she has, you know, successfully just made it a part of the her it’s a first year course that she’s teaching. But you know, that, that that’s one of the highlights for them. And I have lots of other I mean, you know, people are so creative they have, they have great ideas for how to make it work. I think you just need to keep it active. And, you know, for the same reasons that listening to continuous exposition for too long in the classroom. Yeah, is not not super successful. It’s super extra not successful outside. Yeah. Right. Yeah.

Lillian Nave  57:53

So that’s, that sounds like some advice. I mean, that was gonna be my last question, but about what advice do you give others about incorporating various bodies and mobilities and senses into learning in higher ed, and you’ve already given us a couple examples? Do you have like a kind of a first thing to think about?

58:14

Hmm, well,

Susan Hrach  58:17

yeah, I think maybe the, the small step is to imagine how you might get students to be moving to different places in the classroom. Okay. So, you know, we don’t all have to have coming into the room and then leaving the room as the only times that we leave our desks. Yeah. So is there something that you can do that would send them to different spaces in the classroom? to work on different aspects of the content? So that they’re shifting around in the space itself? Yeah. And, you know, the, the neuroscience of our, of our, you know, how our brains work in space, different environments, and spaces is just fascinating, as well. But, but, again, it’s sort of tied back to perception, like, can you inhabit different spaces of the classroom, that will give you a literally, like a different perception of that space, and the human beings who you’re in the space with, and a little variety, and then you know, that small step might lead to? Well, we don’t really have to be in this, this room all the time. Do we have to be in this? You know, can we go somewhere else could we, you know, we don’t have to stay here. And so, you know, I think those are the, those are the baby steps. Yeah.

Lillian Nave  59:54

And I could also see that in online environments. Were asking Like your students to go into a different room or, or walk or listen, while you’re doing this, and just paying attention to, to what those modalities could be, and, and incorporating senses. Yeah, could be, yeah. hopeful.

Susan Hrach  1:00:20

It could be. And also, I think, you know, wouldn’t it be interesting to explicitly, like, assign them time at the beginning of the semester to arrange their spaces where they’re going to be online, to be more conducive to like, being able to focus and being able to feel? Um, you know, like, it’s a pleasant area, like, you know, they would they want to, would, they want to open the window, sometimes what they want to light a candle with, they want to, you know, make sure that they’ve made their bed before, before. And just kind of, you know, again, be transparent about why this matters, because, you know, it literally affects how your brain is going to be able to process the, you know, in focus and be drawing on the energy that it needs to, to learn. Yeah, wow, I,

Lillian Nave  1:01:24

so I’m taking away from this, to pay attention really, to be to pay attention to not just my body, but to direct my students to be paying attention to their bodies as they’re learning. And that may be just a simple reflection, or it may be some directions to, like, do this or, you know, in a different area, or what, what you can do. And I think that will create this much more nuanced, robust understanding of what I’m trying to get at, if I can pay more attention, I think to that.

Susan Hrach  1:02:07

Well, it’s, you know, I mean, it’s uncomfortable, I think you have to work up a little nerve to talk to students about things like this. It’s just not the typical classroom conversation, you know, but, um, but I, and I, and I have to confess, I mean, I’m still sort of feeling my way through it, too. I, you know, I was doing chair yoga, and oh, other deep breathing exercises with my online students this spring, and I was nervous that they would think like, Okay, this is ridiculous. What are we? Why are we doing this? Um, and, you know, and I’m not a certified yoga teacher, I, you know, I’m just sort of winging it. And I also make heavy use of resources, like the UC Berkeley’s greater good. And action has all of these terrific. Recorded, you know, like, deep breathing exercises, okay. And things that you can use, there’s a really nice one, a self compassion break, and they’re short, they’re like, five minutes or sometimes 15 minutes. But, you know, the main, you know, could be pandemic influence, but I suspect not. The students really responded well to it, they were grateful that I seemed like I cared about their well being. And it allowed us to have a different kind of relationship from the very beginning. And, you know, I think if you’re willing to be a little bit vulnerable, and admit that, you know, your neck get stiff sometimes to it, that goes a long way towards you know, sort of just seeing ourselves as shared. Human. Yeah,

Lillian Nave  1:03:50

there you go. Again, not treating them like brains on sticks. Thank you for that. Well, thank you so much, Susan. I really appreciated I’m sweating and talking to you today. I appreciate your sweating. Yes, thank Yes. So I know my listeners. Now we’re going to really appreciate that as well. Thank you so much for spending your time to talk to me, and for sharing this with our listeners. And I will have links to all of those resources that you’ve mentioned along with the book that you’ve just written about minding bodies, how physical space sensation and movement affect learning, because I think we have a lot more to learn.

Susan Hrach  1:04:32

Well, thank you, Lillian. It’s been a real pleasure. And I appreciate your allowing me to ramble on about these things I’m enthused about. So thanks for being such a good listener.

Lillian Nave  1:04:42

Thank you. You can follow the think UDL podcast on Facebook, Twitter, and And Instagram to find out when new episodes will be released, and also see transcripts and additional materials at the think udl.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 aides based on UDL principles. If you’d like to know more, go to the college star.org website. Additional support for the podcast is made possible by Appalachian State University where if you call it Appalachian, I’ll throw in Appalachia. The music on the podcast was performed by the Odyssey quartet comprised of Rex Shepherd, David pate, Bill falwell and Jose ko chez our sound engineer is Tanner Jones and I am your host, Lillian Nave. Thank you for joining us on the think UDL podcast.