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New Paradigms in Course Design with Lee Skallerup Bessette

Welcome to Episode 71 of the Think UDL podcast: New Paradigms in Course Design with Lee Skallerup Bessette. Dr. Lee Skallerup Bessette is the Assistant Director for Digital Learning at CNDLS, the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship at Georgetown University. She also co-hosts the podcast “All The Things ADHD” and is an active presence on Twitter as @ReadyWriting. In fact, one of Lee’s Twitter threads prompted this conversation about assumptions we make about students, learning, universities, and course design. I wanted to bring a UDL lens to this discussion and talk about what those assumptions are, what options and pitfalls we might have, and just dream of a few solutions with Lee. This episode captures that conversation and pushes at the boundaries of UDL, current course design, and institutional policies. We don’t have all the answers, but we do wonder aloud what these new course designs might look like. Thank you for joining us as we discuss old assumptions and new paradigms in course design on this episode of the Think UDL podcast!


Follow Lee Skallerup Bessette on Twitter @ReadyWriting and the Georgetown Center for New Designs in Learning @cndls, too.

Learn more about Lee Skallerup Bessette 

CNDLS @ Georgetown: Learn more about what Lee and her colleagues do at Georgetown’s Center for New Designs in Learning

Lee’s podcast is All The Things ADHD and can be found wherever you listen to podcasts!

Academic Ableism by Jay Dolmage is open access and available to read by anyone!

Lee’s Women in Higher Education article by Lee is forthcoming. When it is released, it will be added here.


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 71 of the think UDL podcast, new paradigms in course design with leaf scholar up beset. Dr. Lee scholar up his set is the Assistant Director for digital learning at candles, the Center for new design in learning and scholarship at Georgetown University. She also co hosts the podcast, all the things ADHD, and is an active presence on Twitter as ready writing. In fact, one of these Twitter threads prompted this conversation about assumptions we make about students, learning universities, and course design. I wanted to bring a UDL lens to this discussion, and talk about what those assumptions are, what options and pitfalls we might have, and just dream of a few solutions with Lee. This episode captures that conversation and pushes at the boundaries of UDL, current course design and institutional policies. We don’t have all the answers, but we do wonder aloud what these new course designs might look like. Thank you for joining us as we discuss old assumptions and new paradigms in course design on this episode of The think UDL podcast. Thank you so much, Lee, for joining me today on my podcast knowing that you are yourself a podcaster but I wanted to thank you for your time in talking with me today on the think UDL podcast.

Lee Skallerup Bessette  02:13

Not a problem. I’m so happy to be here. I’m glad you invited me I love I love. I love doing other people’s podcasts almost as much if maybe not more than doing my own podcast because I don’t have to edit them.

Lillian Nave  02:24

Exactly. Well. Yeah, I’m really happy that I get to talk to you and ask all the questions today. So I’m gonna start with my usual first question, and that is what makes you a different kind of learner.

Lee Skallerup Bessette  02:37

Um, so I am a different kind of learner in that I have ADHD. I didn’t know I had ADHD until I was almost in my 40s when my son was diagnosed with ADHD, because he was having problems in school. And, of course, you know, I’m an academic. As soon as I hear something like that, something I’m not as familiar with, as I’d like to be, of course, I read about it. And, you know, so reading and reading and reading and reading and started recognizing, within those descriptions, particularly as ADHD manifests in girls and women, you know, I figured out that like, Okay, well, I have ADHD, or I have ADHD, I managed to get a diagnosis of it. Um, and then just to be able to have that language to be able to articulate what it is, what those differences are, and how they impact how I learn how I work, how I organize my life. It’s just been really, in a way empowering. Even before I knew I had ADHD, I knew I had sort of a different learning style and different teaching style than a lot of my colleagues. So I always was a little bit more attuned to those things. I had, you know, stereotypically I had been diagnosed with anxiety and depression. And so was, you know, more aware of mental health struggles that students may or may not have, and those kinds of invisible, you know, the invisible stuff that people are struggling with, that you can’t necessarily see on the surface when they’re when they’re just sitting in front of you in a classroom, right. But again, it’s really shifted the way I think about teaching the way I think about design, the way I think about all of these kinds of things.

Lillian Nave  04:28

Yeah, so it’s like, we are now the people who can make a change. You’ve made it to this place in your career and as a teacher, and as you’re talking, I’m thinking, you know, you have come to redesign or rethink how you’re teaching, because it’s sort of like the movie trailer. This time. It’s personal, right? Yeah, you have this diagnosis. You’re used to teach this way and now it’s the sequel. Lee scholarship is set. It’s perfect. All right, you know, I’m redesigning courses, I’m thinking about it. Well, this has given you a really incredible perspective. You know, as we said, This time, it’s it’s personal, and you can understand why there is difference in students. And that there might be reasons for changing the way things have always been done. And yeah, that that has brought me to your office to this conversation today. Which is something that you wrote on Twitter recently. About course design, in a Twitter thread, I’ll have to, I’ll put a link to that in our in our episode notes, but you made this lovely eye catching caught my eye, Twitter thread about rules and regulations, and course design based on outdated assumptions, specifically, presence or attendance. And this is where it intersects with my work with Universal Design for Learning. I know options are key because of the wide diversity of students, learner variability, neuro diversity, invisible differences, or disabilities. And your Twitter thread lays bare with this, this notion that we have worked to do you know, so let me start with what assumptions are being made, in course design about presence and attendance, especially in in person courses.

Lee Skallerup Bessette  06:36

Yeah, we basically and I’ll back up a little bit and just say that what what sort of inspired this Twitter thread is that this semester has been you know, we are, we’re back, everybody was so excited, right? We are back on campus, we are back almost 100% in person, with some exceptions. Everybody was very excited to get back even with even with some nervousness around the Delta variant, but, you know, I’m at Georgetown University, I feel we feel very privileged, that we, you know, everybody, we mandated vaccines. Okay. Right. DC has mandated safety as possible. Yeah, yeah, if we’re trying to make it as safe as possible. Again, you know, I’ve, this is also my background as well, that are that I sort of want to put in here to previous to work in Georgetown, which again, fancy private school, get it? Yeah, I’ve only ever worked at public regional institutions. Okay. Um, so I worked at a flagship for a hot minute, in Kentucky. But other than that I have worked at, I’ve worked in an HBCU, I’ve worked at a Hispanic serving institution. I’ve worked at a institution in rural Appalachia that drew from some of the poorest zip codes in in the entire country. And I worked at a public liberal arts that’s in sort of a rural bedroo from a more rural environment. And so I’m worked almost my entire career with students who have always struggled, struggled, right, for whatever reason, you know, there’s always been reasons why people couldn’t come to class and always really good reasons, right. But what what is laid bare and so now now, I’m in the most privileged position ever in one of the most privileged institutions, right. And we’ve done everything we can for the safety of our faculty for the safety of our staff for the safety of our students, right. Yeah. And yet, the semester for a lot of faculty is turning out to be a disaster, right? Because the

Lillian Nave  08:45

fall of 2021 is when we’re getting a Delta variant is all over. People are back in classes.

Lee Skallerup Bessette  08:54

But yeah, but we have had almost zero issue with COVID. Okay. But the flu and other illnesses, yeah, has wreaked havoc. Okay, right. Everybody’s gotten the flu. Now. There’s a gastro that’s going around.

Lillian Nave  09:12

Yeah, yeah.

Lee Skallerup Bessette  09:13

But what the faculty are saying is that half of our class are absent half of the time. No, one’s coming. It’s a lot. It’s a lot. Yeah. And it’s a lot. And but, but again, for the first time, I think, perhaps in history, like in the short history of higher education, you know, modern higher education as we know it. Students just aren’t coming to class when they’re sick.

Lillian Nave  09:40

Yeah. They had been before they they would come before. Oh, yeah. Because there was no way to get the notes.

Lee Skallerup Bessette  09:49

Or we just said attendance was mandatory. Yeah, right. Again, working at these institutions that serve students who are less likely persisting graduate, let’s put it, let’s put it that way, right serving students who are less likely to persist in graduate institutions that have poor retention rates, and poor six year graduation rates. And so, you know, it was drilled into my head when I started, make attendance mandatory. Because we know that it strongly correlates with academic success. If the students come to class, they are much more likely to succeed, much more likely to persist much more likely to graduate. Right? Yeah. So you, as an instructor have the power to help make that happen by making attendance mandatory. But I mean, even back when I was a student, right, you never wanted to miss class. Yeah. Right? Because that’s the kind of missing class is a cardinal sin. Right? And so you would show I mean, I can remember showing up, show up with a fever, you’d show up, like with chills, you’d show up, I just, you know, I just threw up, but I gotta go to cloud. Yep. And then I’m gonna go and throw up during break and then come back. Like my like, but but I mean, but that was, but that was the that was station. Yeah, yeah. And so and art, and that’s continued on. I mean, we’ve stood in front of classes before were students hacking up lungs, where you’re just like, why did you know making everybody else really uncomfortable? But you know, but

Lillian Nave  11:22

and this, Messrs. You with us? Yeah, I was early stages pregnancy. And throwing up constantly would stop long enough to teach a history class, and then go back to my can go back and teach. And what got me through was a banana flavored popsicle. And that’s all I could then some grits.

Lee Skallerup Bessette  11:47

Same and you know that where it’s like, Okay, well, how bad how badly sick? Am I? Am I that? Can I teach? Yeah. All right, I can stand up for 15 minutes. And then you just like, go back and pass out. So there is this? There is this expectation of 100% attendance by 100% of the students? Yeah, that’s how our system has been developed and set up. And we are being confronted with the reality that that is not going to be says that that has never been sustainable. But even more so now that our students and ourselves to a certain extent, have been forced to confront that we are human bodies that are not indestructible. Yeah. Right. There is a certain expectation of super humaneness in ourselves and our students in order to be successful. This is incredibly ablest right, just ratably ablest and people in disability studies, again, it’s one of those things where it’s like, oh, we’ve been saying this for years. Yeah, and disability, but nobody’s live, right? Like, and no one’s listening. But but we’re we are really being confronted with this reality that the way we have set up our courses are not going to allow for these fallible human bodies to be successful. Even the most privileged ones at a most privileged institution. Yeah, right. Like, if our students are dropping like flies, I can’t even imagine what you know, because, again, I’m making blanket statements about our students, we do have, you know, and I think this was one of the I don’t want to say good things. But one of the things that came out of the pandemic was our faculty going into the homes of their students, and seeing the reality that a lot of our students that we could kind of gloss over, when everybody’s on campus, and everybody’s at Georgetown, and so like, you know, we can we can sort of live with the myth that it’s an equalizer. Yeah. But, but then, you know, so there’s a deeper realization of that, that all of our students are not privileged at all. Um, but but also like, when when you think about it, you know, there is something deep in the particularly I think, American psyche, but we’ve certainly Western where health is associated with moral goodness. So that if you’re not healthy, there is something wrong with you, if you got sick, there is something wrong with you, right, that you didn’t have the moral fortitude or you didn’t have the you know, whatever it is right. Now, getting sick is a sign of, of physical strength. It’s a sign of mental strength. It’s a sign of moral strength. It’s a sign of like, I do not get sick, right? Yeah,

Lillian Nave  14:53

I take care of myself. I have control over that. And I yeah, I’m no no Yeah,

Lee Skallerup Bessette  15:01

and if you do get sick, well then what is wrong with you? What did you do? To get sick? Right? Clearly you were not doing enough. Clearly you were a weak character, or we weren’t being careful. Yeah, you weren’t being careful enough. But again, that this like reeks of privilege. It’s like, Well, can you afford to get preventative medicine? Can you afford to eat good food on a regular basis? Are there because we know also that stress deteriorates our immune system? And so can you live? Do you live in a life that doesn’t have a lot of external stressors? Like, where am I going to eat? Where am I going to sleep? How am I going to feed my kids? Is my car gonna work so I can get to school on time, right? All of these things. You know, and even with all even with all of those other things being equal, people are still getting sick. Yeah, right. And so there’s this, there’s this realization, or I’m hoping there’s a realization that all bodies regardless, get sick, can get sick, can get very sick and can get very sick for a long time. And so we’ve we’ve, so we’ve designed this system. And again, there are people from the K to 12 system is sort of chimed in on that as well. And there’s, you know, the whole childcare League, you know, and standing up for childcare, and all that kind of stuff that is hard to unpack in there as well. But particularly in university, I think that, you know, for too long, we have we’ve divides stuff like contact time, those schedule, you know, the semester, all of these kinds of things, and how we sort of shaped that, on the default assumption of nearly 100% attendance for nearly 100% of the students. Yeah, nearly 100% of the time.

Lillian Nave  16:47

Yeah. I work at a public institution, a state institution, and we have very strict guidelines about how many minutes, we need to be in class. And that includes a final exam. And so my course when I was face to face right now I am online. But when my courses face to face, I did not have a final exam because it was a first year seminar, they created documentary films, it was there was not a, you know, time to sit down and take a paper exam. And so but I was mandated, and still would be to have a final exam time. And so yeah, would come together and have a party pretty much a celebration of learning. We did a couple things. Maybe we watched a couple documentaries, too. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. It was mandated because that somehow meant that they had got the learning that they were supposed to. To get

Lee Skallerup Bessette  17:43

y’all then y’all are y’all are in the south. And y’all are a sack. All right. Yes. Yeah. Nothing but almost nothing but tax schools myself. So like I yes, I guess that’s

Lillian Nave  17:53

the requirement. You’ve just asked the butts in seats time. And it means you’ve learned like, that’s the correlation is you did not get an education. If you were five minutes shy of this, I don’t know how many 1000 minutes or hundreds of minutes that you had to be there. That’s why you need to be there for two and a half hours on the Thursday, you know, at the end of the semester, in order to satisfy the learning that was going to happen, and it made no sense. And it made even less sense. How can you make lessons the no sense, but it was just absurd when we went online, and then what happens to that guideline, it totally doesn’t work. If you’ve been, you know, zooming, and then what are we going to do? We are going to sit in zoom for two and a half hours on one particular day, because there’s there’s no counting for butts in seats, time when you had the COVID, you know, rethink, and, and asynchronous and whatever. So it is it is throwing these old assumptions into the light, I think for us to reconsider.

Lee Skallerup Bessette  19:00

Yeah, for sure. Well, and it also it also fills into that idea, and particularly these regulations. On the flip side, it’s also the commodification of higher education. Right, I paid for it. Right, right. Right, money’s worth, right or particularly on the politician sides, his students have paid for this, we have to ensure that they’re getting what they paid for. Yeah.

Lillian Nave  19:25

That students were really happy to have class canceled. They’re the only folks who’d love to pay tuition, and then hope that the class is canceled. Everyone’s in what?

Lee Skallerup Bessette  19:35

Yeah, you get less than what they paid for. But yes, and again, it’s this idea that you know, we have elevated and again, I sort of asked this question on the on the flip side, I dawned on me, but like, okay, so we know attendance positive It really correlates to academic success. Right? So, but is that because we’ve designed a system that rewards attendance? Yeah, right, right. Like, if you’re in a system that rewards attendance, of course, attending will be rewarded. But what if we flipped that and and, and took that took that requirement out of it? Right? Like, yeah, I was I was writing I wrote, I write for women in higher education. And so I wrote something a little bit more thought out version of the Twitter thread almost in preparation for today. And as I was writing it, I wrote the paragraph about, as I said, right, you have to attend class, because multiple mountains of studies have shown that attendance equals persistence, better grades, more chance of graduating, right. But then I’m like, Yeah, okay. But that’s how we’ve designed the system. Yeah, right, right.

Lillian Nave  20:56

If you miss two classes, you are penalised to lettered grade or three classes, you go from an A minus two A B plus, you know, yeah.

Lee Skallerup Bessette  21:04

Or, you know, even even that like that the only way to access content is during that one hour, three times a week. Yeah. Right. assumption. Yeah, that’s the assumption and the faculty member, you know, we’ve all had it, and this is doing in a way to encourage attendance. Well, if you’re not in class, then you better ask for somebody else’s notes, cuz I’m not going over this stuff again. Right? You missed it. Right. And some of that is changing with particular with COVID. And recording lectures, we’re less, you know, and flipping the classroom sort of turn that I literally on a TED, it’s a bad pun. But, but again, like, and this is, this is the thing about it to where even the faculty and this is, this is what I this is what really, I found striking in sort of inspire this as well was that even our most generous and flexible and inclusive, faculty are struggling, we’re struggling, because that flexibility that we have, and that we work into our course, still assumes that only a small fraction of the students will take advantage of it. Yeah. Right. Like, I can be flexible with deadlines. But this also assumes that 90% of my students will probably get it in on time. And I’m only going to have a couple stragglers, not that 190% of my students aren’t going to get it in on time. And they’re going to get it in at like, 17 different dates. Like that’s, you know, again, that’s my ADHD nightmare. where, like, I have students submitting things at multiple different times, and I somehow have to keep track of who’s handed in what, when and where. Right, yeah, um, you know, just again, from, from my perspective as somebody who’s neurodivergent, but I mean, you know, that’s hard to keep track up. Right?

Lillian Nave  23:10

That’s a nightmare. That’s the whole time. Yeah. Yeah. Or so how, yeah, how can we flip that on?

Lee Skallerup Bessette  23:16

Yeah. And so our, I’m perfectly willing to sit down with students if they miss class? Well, if I’m doing that with one or two students, all right, not a big deal. If I have to do that with 20 different students at 20 different times for when it fits in with their schedule. I mean, again, you know, we’ve already asked our faculty in a lot of cases, and I mean, we’re talking also adjuncts here, right? Yeah, you so much. That it’s unsustainable for us, right? It’s unsustainable for us to the most generous out of all, who, again, tend to be women tend to be people of color tend to be already people who probably have their own invisible disability, and so are more aware of these things, or have somebody in their lives with one. And so also caring for that, that we are the ones who are making the effort to be flexible. But in a system that, again, is only set up for perhaps only one or two students requiring it maybe three, right? And this semester, 90% of the students need it. So then what do we do? Like how, how do we manage this? How do we make this sustainable? How do we rethink fundamentally rethink how we design, you know, a, our courses because that’s the thing we have most immediate control over, but more generally, how we have set up our system, like you said, with accreditation, with contact time with our definitions of contact time, with our requirements of synchronous versus asynchronous with our requirements of like, like, Saks has the route, you know, I’ve worked at Sac schools where it’s like, if it’s more than 50% Online, then it’s an online course. And you have a whole different set of standards that you need to adapt to. And, you know, part of it is this ongoing bias against online learning. Right, that online learning is somehow subpar to the in person experience. Um, it’s just different. Right? It can be done well, it can be done poorly, just like in person.

Lillian Nave  25:28

Right, right. Oh, yeah. Does anyone have classes? Yeah,

Lee Skallerup Bessette  25:32

exactly. Right, where you’ve sat there for three hours, but who knows? If you, you know, learn anything? Oh, yeah. Rob, but the budgets been in the seat. So I guess it’s the class. Yeah. Um, so it. So again, it’s an, you know, I want in person experiences for students, right? I want these opportunities I want, you know, our students are so happy to be back on campus, they’re so happy to be back on campus. You know, I want there to be those opportunities for the in person experience for the community of learning for the community building. For that we know learning is social, that it is more successful, when it is done socially, with other people alongside other people collaborating with other people. You know, we know all of those things, right? And so then it becomes Alright, we want to preserve that we do, you know, I’m not saying let’s just throw it out, and let’s all go remote. Let’s all go online. But we need to rethink how to take the best parts of the in person experience, while also designing for this new reality that like, Look, I want us to continue where students who are sick don’t come to class. Yeah, right. I joked a joke this year that everybody was nervous. And again, I’m privileged to go to a place where there’s vaccinations and we read the the H Mac system, and you know, we’ve got air filters everywhere, you know, um, but, but I said, I feel safer teaching now than I did. Five years ago, when I was teaching an undergraduate class with 30 students, of which any week five to 10 of them would show up with some various illness that they shouldn’t come to class with. But did anyway.

Lillian Nave  27:15

Yeah, right. Oh, yeah. I lost my voice every semester, as I would get some sort of cold in the classroom and teach all day, and wouldn’t be able to speak for two days, every semester. Yep, yep,

Lee Skallerup Bessette  27:27

I would get, you know, I would be able to, then again, this, I’m gonna use the kind of language of like, you know, my moral fortitude or whatever, but I would, I would, I would almost will myself not to get sick. Until final grades were in, right. Like, I would feel like crap. But then as soon as I submitted final grades, I would just be out, like spike the fever, I would get the chills, I would be like, I gotta sleep for three days. You know, I’m, in part because my immune system was compromised, because it’s a stressful time of final exams. And when you’re teaching a five, four course load, and you’ve got to correct like, 150 papers in three days, did you know it impacts and you’re feeding off? Or at least I do, I fed off the anxiety of my students who were trying to do finals and worried about grades and all that kind of stuff. So that compromises your immune system, but it’s also a bunch of six students walking around like that. How, yeah, like the insanity of this, that this is how we set up our system. Yeah, right. That really is a survival of the literal fittest?

Lillian Nave  28:33

Uh huh. It is the way it’s set up right now. And you know, I, you even said in the Twitter thread, you’re like, sure, flex, I’m going to quote you, sure, flexibility, different modalities. But at the end of the day, we’re trying to make a course designed on these old assumptions into this new reality, which is post COVID. And we need a complete rethinking of what a course is and how it can be designed. So you know, of course, I’m all for flexibility, for options for different ways to interact, to demonstrate learning, you know, different modalities to show those things, but I it looks like you’re pushing the envelope even further. It makes me think UDL is offering solutions, but their solutions to perhaps the wrong questions. And maybe I need to reframe that UDL lens. To think about some totally new paradigms, like the UDL that I mostly talk about is about using that old paradigm and how to create flexibility within that paradigm. But I really wanted to talk with you today about what could these new paradigm paradigms be? What might attendance or participation look like if it’s not about butts in seats if it’s not or exit tickets or some other measure of Yes, I heard you and here’s my token of my presence. What you know UDL certainly helps with this, but I feel like we need to be Outside of this paradigm, what would it look like? If there’s no longer that assumption? And that it’s not a makeup or subpar? like okay, if you miss this opportunity, here’s your backup, right?

Lee Skallerup Bessette  30:13

Here’s your backup. Right? Yeah. And, and, and part of that reason is that I’m thinking of the students. But as I said, I’m also thinking from the faculty perspective, because like I said, at a certain point, it becomes unsustainable. Right? To think about it in terms of constantly accommodating. Yeah. Right, because that’s what it starts to feel like and, and accommodations are important. I’m not saying don’t accommodate,

Lillian Nave  30:44

but Well, I saw two definitions of accommodations there. Yes, like, accommodations for disabilities, but also just, on the moment, accommodating. Yeah, right.

Lee Skallerup Bessette  30:53

And so, so yeah, so I mean, and, and I think faculty, and part of this is, faculty often, almost always have very little training and pedagogy. Yeah, even less training and course design. Right? Yes. And so we are presenting and and if we think about all of the adjuncts not even adequately compensated for the work that they do, yes. Right. And so we are asking them to, again, just keep doing more and more and more and more, with very little support, right, I’m in one of the role, I’m in a role where I, you know, my job is to support faculty in this. And I hear their exam aspiration. Right. And when those best faculty are exams are exasperated themselves, the ones who are like, you know, the good ones, let’s say, like, yeah, you know, when they’re like, I can’t do this anymore. Right? Like, I’m, I’m trying so hard to do this, and to help all my students be successful, right? Because ultimately, they care about their students success. They want their students to be successful. But it’s this environment in which again, success is equated with attendance. Right? Yeah. Um, what happens if they miss things? So, and I’ve been again, this was quite I had this Twitter thread. What? early this week, lad late last week last week. Yeah, it’s, yeah, their time has no meaning. But But I’m still grappling listless because I honestly don’t know what it looks like. And I think I know, like, we can throw at a term like hybrid. Like, what does that mean? Right? Where it’s like parts of synchronous parts are asynchronous. It’s like, Okay, well, how does that? How does that even work? Like, how does that how to faculty navigate through that? Right, like, and so that’s the that’s the kind of thing where, right, we need to really think long and hard about this. I think we I don’t think it’s, it’s because it is so far outside of the paradigm of what we think about, right? I think you’re right, I don’t know, a lot of cases even accommodation or UDL like, it’s, it’s great. We should do it. But like you said, I think it’s asking the wrong questions. Whereas, like, why have we set up a system that is based on 100% of attendance? 100% of the time. Yeah. And if we play out that notion, where, you know, it’s hard to think outside of that box, because we’ve all lived in that box. This is the sweep through? Yeah, like this is it is the box, it is the education it is yeah, this this system, it’s like, oh, who has just said it’s like waters, like the fish? He doesn’t know he’s in water, because it’s just, what’s their

Lillian Nave  34:01

water? Yeah, yeah, right.

Lee Skallerup Bessette  34:02

What? That’s all I’ve ever experienced. And so like, I think it’ll look, it’ll inevitably have to look different depending on the discipline, depending on what it is, depending on. But I think it’s a lot of mixing of synchronous and asynchronous. I think it is a redefinition of contact time. I think online learning and so here’s the other thing I’m struggling with is that, how do we make this? How do we develop a language by which to talk about this? That does not alienate everyone? Because Well, no, because there is this bias against online learning. And I think there’s a lot we can learn from online learning about stuff like contact time about stuff like what a three credit course looks like, because they’ve done a lot of work doing that. Right, yeah, but online learning I mean, it’s actually incredible people from online learning get mad about this all the time. They’re like, you have no idea the oversight that I have to go through to teach an online course, versus the oversight, which is non existent for any in person course that I teach.

Lillian Nave  35:14

Right? Yeah.

Lee Skallerup Bessette  35:17

Particularly a sec school, but at any school, right? They are, you know, because there is this bias against online learning. There’s incredible oversight over it, because we want to make sure that people are getting what they pay for. Yeah. Right. They

Lillian Nave  35:30

don’t want it to be a correspondence course. Right? Exactly.

Lee Skallerup Bessette  35:33

Even a correspondence course, like, those can be really good.

Lillian Nave  35:37

They can write there are biases, assumptions against race modalities, right.

Lee Skallerup Bessette  35:44

And so I wanted to think about, what do we learn from a hybrid as we understood hybrid pre COVID, because I think hybrid shifted its definition. Because hybrid used to be like a mixture of, you know, you would do some things in person, some things asynchronously, virtually. And then hybrids, or under COVID became like, some people are in person and some people are zooming in.

Lillian Nave  36:09


Lee Skallerup Bessette  36:11

Yeah. Which are two very different definitions of hybrid, they are hybrid. But yeah, very different definitions of it. But there’s a lot we can take from what we’ve what we already know and what we’ve already learned. But how do you frame that in a way that is palatable to faculty, to administrators, to legislators, to parents? That doesn’t, that doesn’t automatically have the knee jerk reaction of, oh, you just want us to move everything online and turn us into a degree factory, and take away the in person experience and the power faculty even more than they’ve already been empowered, right? Like, or you want to own, you want it all online, because you want to own all of my content, or you want to use this as a surveillance. And again, these are legitimate fears, right? You want to be able to surveil me, right? If I record my lectures, you can go back and watch them. Mm hmm. Right? I mean, these are all legitimate concerns. So that that’s the that’s gonna be the I think the trick, okay, maybe not the trickiest part, first, trickiest part will be just like to accept that it’s like we have set up a system that is not going to work moving forward. Because of this 100% attendance 100% of the time. But then the next one is is then how are we going to get over our biases against online and hybrid learning? And our How can we ensure academic freedom? How can we ensure intellectual property? How can we ensure that our faculty are supported and compensated? You know, like, I think it looks like I think it looks like hybrid courses. I think it does look like hybrid courses where there’s in person elements and a lot more asynchronous elements. I think there’s, um, but to say that, like, you can’t say that

Lillian Nave  38:16

you get a lot of flack when you say that, and because it’s going against so many assumptions. And we’ve talked about some but there are assumptions about going away to college, living on campus, even the shape of a classroom, if anybody thinks of a classroom right now, they’re gonna not have anybody, most people will think Yeah, rows of desks, or a column like a theater, where it’s one lecture and many many people listening that is our bias our assumption of what education is and we are also you know, folks who study this know that the real learning happens in interactions in small working together and at an active learning it’s not the the thing that we think that we assume is education is a college education is not necessarily going away to school or being on campus or being in that classroom that we imagine that it’s like you know, Dead Poets Society or whatever, that that is a sage on the stage and we all listen that’s it’s it’s not where the learning happens but our system is predicated on all of those assumptions and so we have to start breaking down all of those about you know, what it would look like what it could look like all flexibility even flexibility in seating. Yeah, stability and timing flexibility. Naturally,

Lee Skallerup Bessette  39:49

that’s, that’s that’s a tricky thing, the flexibility in CD right now because the one thing we’ve been told is keep a seating chart because of contract. Yes, right. Right. I mean, you know, so there is there is also the constraints of Our new reality as well, right? Like we want to have contact rising. But some of the pushback I’ve gotten against this that come from the faculty who are not sages on the stage, but do active learning, because, again, presence is the thing. Right? They need to be in class, because, again, I know that it happens in those small group discussions in the collaboration, but if they’re not there, then they can’t do it. And so learning can happen. Right? And again, it’s like, how do we design asynchronous engagement activities? And I think there’s been some shift towards that, you know, during, during COVID, particularly because of screen fatigue. And even the faculty were like, I cannot do three hours, you know, for three hour zoom. Yeah, session, it’s not even lectures, sessions. Yeah. Right. Because it’s, you know, but but again, it but the institution has to also support that, because right now, the institutions and a lot of cases, and I’m not talking about mine, in particular, but I mean, you know, you you see horror stories on Twitter, of like, you know, I have to be in class, they have mandated I can’t do an asynchronous class, or, or the flipside, they’re mandating that I’m recording all of my lectures. Or they’re, they’re mandating that and, and there’s, there’s actually, in response, in a lot of cases, there’s less flexibility that faculty have now than maybe they did before, where sometimes, you know, faculty, we go to conferences, and you know, what, Friday, there’s an activity on your LMS, there’s an activity on Blackboard or canvas that I want you to do, while I’m at my conference. Right? Or, you know, I, you know, this week, I think it’s important that everybody work on their papers. I mean, I used to do this, I taught writing, right? I’ll be in class this week, if you want, or on this day, if you want to come and talk to me about your essay, you can come and talk to me about your essay. But if not, I want you to go and work on your essay.

Lillian Nave  42:05

Right? Where you feel comfortable in this classroom. Yeah,

Lee Skallerup Bessette  42:08

exactly. Right. But just know that you have an hour on Friday, that you might not have had otherwise to be able to get this work done, or to come and see me where you know, you have nothing else to do, because you would usually be in this class. Right? So like, there seems to be and again, that it depends on what kind of institution depends on what kind of department culture you have, you know, all of these things. But, you know, I keep reading these stories on Twitter, where they’re just there, again, to reassure students to reassure parents to reassure legislators, to reassure even faculty themselves, that, you know, learning is happening, we are going to impose all of these measures that don’t necessarily make sense pedagogically, nor do they make sense, even within this new normal, but we have to do it, you know, in order to like, like you said, right, I have to have that three hour exam at the end of the semester. doesn’t count as contact time. Yeah. You know, so it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s gonna be hard. Like, again, I, I think I know what it looks like, it looks like a lot of really cool hybrid courses that incorporate different kinds of engagement strategies, both synchronous and asynchronous, and has a lot of learner agency, in particular, that it’s agnostic to whether or not it’s because you’re sick, or whether or not is because your car won’t start, or whether or not is just because, you know, you made a mistake and went out and got too drunk last night. Right? Like, yeah, you know, I mean, I don’t think you can

Lillian Nave  43:55

still get the work done. Whatever the reason, you have the opportunity, it’s not about punishing for whatever reason. It’s about providing opportunities to get the work done. encouragement, options, flexibility, I mean, with my UDL lens on, I’m thinking about how it requires a lot of design work, right to set up this system, a lot of design work, so you’re not privileging what we said at the very beginning of this conversation, which was, well, if you can make the lecture, that’s great, but if you can’t do this, and you kind of get 90% of it, but what are the options that all provide an equal pathway for all students at, you know, in each step of the way, so you can record a lecture and make a video then that that’s the easiest thing that you can do. So if somebody misses class, that they have not lost anything, but when we’re talking about student to student interactions that are timely Maybe you need to do a peer review or something like that before a paper is handed in, right? Or I really want my students to learn each other’s perspectives, because the way somebody else sees the situation is going to be different through their cultural lens. And mine’s all about intercultural, you know, communication and competence. So it’s really important to hear somebody else’s perspective, not just me putting out ideas, they need to be communicating with each other, which can be done asynchronously, it can be done on a discussion board, it can be done nowadays with video, you can, you know, put up your own video on those. So but saying that that’s, that’s just as good as raising your hand in class for that 15 minutes that you could have been there or you could be sick, or you have a funeral to go to or you have, you’re in quarantine, you’re not sick. You don’t have COVID. But you got 10 days. Yeah, yeah. So how can you do that from a safe distance and not be penalized, and it’s actually expected and part of the learning rather than substandard? And penalize? Let’s say, yeah.

Lee Skallerup Bessette  46:11

And part of it is also part of the resistance is also a technophobia. Right? Part of it is also technophobia. Where, and, you know, I’m skeptical, I’m skeptical of big ad tech is anyone Well, maybe not anyone, but like, I’m up there. Right? Like, I’m up there in terms of like, I don’t, as you know, I, I help faculty with Canvas, I see the The, the, you know, the value of an LMS like Canvas, but I don’t use it, you know, like, it doesn’t fit with my pedagogy, and I don’t necessarily agree with how it confines course design. Yeah. Right. Um, you know, I, there’s questions that I think there are very real questions and surveillance and privacy. There’s very real questions of cost. There’s very real questions. I think there’s all of these questions that need to be addressed. But at the same time, we do have tools available to us that can help us do these things. And again, as you said, it’s really intensive. And, again, it’s this is the challenge is that, how are we going to help faculty do this? Because we have to sit, they have to fundamentally rethink a course. Right? And what a course means, right? Step one, right? Like, it’s like, yeah, like you said, you have to shift the paradigm. And that just doesn’t happen. Right? Because it’s not like you said, this doesn’t happen, right? Yeah. And then you’ve got to get into the design work of doing it. Right. Once you’ve shifted the paradigm, then it’s like, okay, now we got to get that we’re starting from scratch. Yeah. In some cases, maybe not all, but in some cases, it’s now we’re starting from scratch. And then it’s like, then you’ve got to get over your technophobia. Yeah. And then once you get over the technophobia, then you actually have to learn the tool to be able to use it,

Lillian Nave  48:12

and teach your students and make sure they have access to. Yes,

Lee Skallerup Bessette  48:19

yep. Like, it’s just, it is so broad. And so it’s easy. It’s way easier, obviously, to just keep going with the status quo, right? Because just the way I outline that I’m like, again, putting my hand in my head going, Oh, god, this is never gonna happen. But but but we’ve got to, we’ve got to think about that we have to sort of really reevaluate because we can’t just, I mean, we could I guess, but wouldn’t go over well, we can’t just start failing students, just because they got COVID or just because they got the flu. I mean, we’ve been failing to appear students with disabilities and people on disability studies are screaming me like they’ve been failing disabled students just for being disabled for you know,

Lillian Nave  49:13


Lee Skallerup Bessette  49:14

Right. I mean, I’ll tell you, I had a student at a at the flagship I worked at, I had a student who was taking my course that I was teaching, which was just an intro to literature course. And she was hard of hearing. And she changed majors three times, because they would not accommodate her. Wow. just told her point blank it STEM disciplines. She wanted to be a scientist told her point blank in the STEM disciplines, that they would not accommodate her. And that if she couldn’t do the course without accommodations, then that was her problem. Yeah, right. Like, you know, I know it exists, right? Like and this is why the other challenge is that it is so entrenched, right? This ableism is so entrenched, um, but, but again, like it’s going to take, it’s going to take places like Georgetown, where the most privileged kids, unfortunately, this is what it’s gonna take, it’s gonna take a privileged institutions where the privileged students is on the verge of failing, because they had COVID, or because they had the flu. Right, and were knocked out of commission for two to three weeks. Right? It’s for the student who ends up getting long. COVID. Right. And, you know, and and then that, you know, and then that privilege student and the privilege parents at the privileged institution, are going to have to address that. Right. And that’ll be the reckoning, unfortunately, right? That’ll be the reckoning. So yeah, I mean, it’s, that’s the, that’s, unfortunately, always how change happens. Right? It’s always, it’s always something that the, that the minority have been talking about forever, but until it impacts the majority, you know, then then it’s not going to, it’s not going to get any traction. Yeah. And, and, you know, individual, individual faculty, individual adjuncts, I would say, individual programs, I’m sure quietly, you know, there there are, you know, you hear about it on campus, again, that one student who I was talking about, she, she finally was advised, informally, this is the major you should take because they’re the most accommodating, right? Um, and, and we see that on campus with, you know, queer folk, neurodivergent folk, all of that. Visible minorities, right? They they’re like, Well, why are they all going? Where are they all? See you the same cafeteria table? Why are they all majoring in the same thing? It’s like, because this is the major, or these are the classes where they feel the most welcome. Right? Yeah, these are the classes and the, the either the faculty or the department or the program have created conditions that will allow them to be successful. And so they are going to go to the those places where they’re going to be successful. You know, but it just sort of happens under the radar. And it’s sort of, you know, word of mouth and that sort of network that ends up happening. It’s like, Oh, you and even within like gen ed courses, right? We all know that there’s a whisper network. It’s like, take it with this one. Don’t take it with that one. Right? Yeah. Oh, you’ve got ADHD? Definitely don’t worry, you know, you’re you’re sick a lot. Don’t take it with that Professor, take it with this professor. Because they’ll, you know, so we have individuals in the UDL community is a great example of that. Where these things are happening, right? Again, I worry about the the institution’s community colleges, the only one I had worked at, but like at community colleges, HBCU is a spanic serving institutions, where COVID has hit this community the hardest and will continue to hit it the hardest. You know, those are the students who are going to suffer the worst.

Lillian Nave  53:21

Yeah. And I think those are, those are the places we need to be looking for innovation. What are the ways that are working there that are that we can bring more to the mainstream, let’s say that that’s the expected not the 100% attendance 100% of the time, or that you go away to a campus or that you have all these amenities? The things that make it so kind of safe, and in that equalize things, which is very, very good. But not everybody has that opportunity. Not everybody has that chance. And then the there second class citizens somehow that are sort of beamed into the population, and are discounted because of their inability to be on the, I guess, the same level playing field. But so how can we re envision? I mean, we keep asking this question that we had some great ideas about re envisioning that world of, it’s not about attendance, and necessarily tests on where you listening. But competency and demonstrating competency in a time frame, and not necessarily showing up on the exam day or else Oh, if you miss the exam, sorry, you fail or Yeah, you have this makeup and it’s a lot five times harder and because it’s your fault that you miss it. That those sorts of things. We have a lot of punishment in there if people aren’t conforming to the so called right ways of doing things. And so how do we reframe that flexibility as the right way of doing things? How do we reframe choice as the right way of doing things? reframe student agency, like you said, as the right way of doing things, and, and student responsibility and accountability, when you were talking about I have 17 different assignments coming into 17 different times. And then we’ve got to be, you know, on top of that, sending it back, that makes me think about well, what about shifting that two students who are in charge of, Okay, well, by the end of the semester, I had to have all these things done, I’ll be in charge of that. And that’s part of their, you know, assignment, their grade there, you’re in charge of this and getting it done so that you have another week, and you can get reminders. But instead of us being the the timekeepers. We give students control or agency over that, that provides that flexibility also provides, you know, engagement because they have choice over that. I mean, that’s just when I think about how Universal Design for Learning has, has color colored or change the way that I see courses. If I’m trying to apply it to this wider paradigm. It looks like the students are more in charge of some things rather than let’s say the teacher of the institution, the accrediting body, those sorts of things that maybe a landslide or an earthquake or something that people don’t want to hear. I don’t know. But it seems that that that also makes my life a little easier if I’m trying to shuffle around 17 different deadlines. And I say, you know what, I’m going to trust you guys to do it. And you’re, you’re in charge of these things. And if at the end, they haven’t, then that was their responsibility, right? It’s not necessarily mine to be doing all that.

Lee Skallerup Bessette  57:00

Yeah. And there’s, there’s there’s a lot of danger in that too, though, again, yeah. As our assumptions of what the job of a faculty member is. So I’ve done, I did peer driven learning. got almost a decade ago now I started doing peer driven learning in my writing class where we drink where we’re doing exactly what you’re describing. Right? And, you know, I got a lot of accusation, I blogged quite openly about it. And I mean, I was blogging on inside higher ed about it. And like a lot of people came at me saying that I was abrogating my job as a faculty member. I wasn’t doing my job. Right? If I’m not, like, you’re not doing your job. Like, I’m just a lazy faculty member, like I mean, that’s how I was portrayed. And so and what you’re saying as well about like looking to community colleges looking to, you know, HSI or HBCUs or regional comprehensives and that kind of thing. There’s there is I’d be interested to know the ones that are doing it institutionally. Yeah. But part of the challenges is that I’m sure it’s a lot of individual faculty who are just doing it secretly.

Lillian Nave  58:16


Lee Skallerup Bessette  58:16

right. Because of sacks. Because of, you know, they just, they’re doing their course, under the radar. Like, again, when I was when I started doing peer driven learning. I was a non tenure track faculty member, I was full time instructor, but non tenure track faculty member, and I was doing this kind of experiment. And, you know, again, it’s the it’s the good part about being the adjunct, at least in the, in the conditions I was working under. One of the tenure newly tenured faculty members heard about what I was doing was really curious about it, but advised me, don’t ever let the department know that this is what you’re doing. Because they will put a stop to it. Right? No, they would, they would write like, I mean, we actually, I mean, again, this is we actually drove out a really innovative tenure track faculty member, because the department didn’t agree with our pedagogy. Right? Again, we’re teaching intensive institutions on the one hand, you’re like, great teaching is actually an important part of tenure. flipside of that is that you have a whole bunch of older tenured professors micromanaging your teaching, at least as a way as it like sort of manifested itself. So that’s, you know, I there is so there’s so much bias, there is so much baggage that makes that that makes it difficult to have these conversations because, you know, particularly as an adjunct faculty, right, where you don’t want to get fired as a if you are on the tenure track as a junior faculty member. You don’t want to get not get tenure. You don’t want to I mean, we’re talking to teachers right now. You know, in certain states, I don’t want to raise the ire of my legislature. Yeah. Right, because we’re being piled under a microscope right now. And so anything that deviates from this norm that everybody has in their head is heavily in a lot of cases. punished. Yeah, right. Or at least there’s a threat of punishment. But so so it’s really, um, you know, again, I’m not saying it’s impossible, but they’re like, but you need a place that has privileged to stand up and say, This is what we’re going to do. Because a, they’re private, B, they’ve got prestige. And see, everybody takes notice and will actually go like, Oh, hey, they’re doing a maybe this is a good idea where, you know, the rank and file are like, we’ve been saying this for years.

Lillian Nave  1:00:52

Yeah, yeah. We need to put some oomph behind those innovators. And right, I mean, I feel like that’s part of my job is talking to innovators and trying to get the word out. Yeah. and applying Universal Design for Learning to, to the courses, but now also to systems. So that we can bring a bit of the weaken a bit of a revolution, you can’t really be a bit, so, so that we can change the way things that I think are harming students and not recognizing the assumptions that we have.

Lee Skallerup Bessette  1:01:26

And I want people to be like, I want people to call me out and say, like, I’ve been doing this for years, I’m like, great, I will amplify that. Right? Like, that’s what we want to do. You know, when if people listen to this podcast episode, and email me and angrily say, our institutions been doing this for years, but again, I want people to do that I want people to reach out and like, because if there’s anything, you know, I’ve I’ve had a plot I’ve had a pretty big platform, I used to blog it inside higher ed, I still have a fairly sizable Twitter following is that, like, I want to amplify that, you know, I wanted to, I want people that Chronicle and inside higher education and notice it because I’ve amplified it or that like, my, my network has amplified it enough, that it gets their attention so that they write about it. You know, again, I know I have these blind spots, I know that I’m not like, I’m not trying to Columbus, this I’m not being like, I’m the first person to think about this. I’m sure I am not. I’m not that smart.

Lillian Nave  1:02:28

But but we want to amplify

Lee Skallerup Bessette  1:02:30

these exactly right, like, like, call me out, point me to the people who are doing this point me to the people who have been talking about this, because I want to read them because that’s, I mean, that’s what I say in my in my thread is that I’m gonna have to really dig into what the Disability Studies community, the disabilities communities have been saying about this, to help if if I do offer anything more than a provocation, I want it to be really well informed.

Lillian Nave  1:02:55

Yes. Right. And I yeah,

Lee Skallerup Bessette  1:02:57

that’s, and I think that that’s where, you know, again, this is all very fresh, but that’s where I am right now is it’s kind of like, you know, I want to do the work, right? I don’t want to rely on the disability community to teach me and then that, but um, you know, if you do know, of the writers, you know, I, again, I haven’t had time to do it yet literally happened last week. But like, but that’s but that’s my next, my next strategy is to dig into the disability studies to see what’s been said about this idea of 100% attendance and physical attendance, right? Physical in person synchronous attendance. Again, and really is to be able to have a more informed discussion about it, rather than just a Twitter provocation, which I think was still important because it gets me on this podcast and the podcast, we’re different audience and, and the Twitter discussion did go, you know, minorly academic about Twitter viral? And I’m glad because I want people asking this question, but you know, if we are going to have this discussion, it’s gonna be a hard discussion. And I want to make sure that people who have been trying to have this discussion for decades aren’t excluded from it.

Lillian Nave  1:04:15

Yeah, I agree. And my next step is studying academic ableism by Jay dommage. I’ll get that in the the list of things that would this podcast, but that’s my, my next part of this journey. And I’ve got to be in a book club about it. So I’m excited about that. Yeah, so I’ll put that down in our in our notes as well. But I, I really appreciate Lee what you’ve done and our conversation today. And I just thank you for pushing the envelope and making me think about how to apply Universal Design for Learning in wider systems base two, and what assumptions we really have and what we can maybe do to change things for the better for our students. for learning and for us in general. So thank you very much for talking with me today Lee, I really appreciate it. 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 has 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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