Welcome to Episode 38 of the ThinkUDL podcast: Online Faculty Learning Communities with Christina Moore. Today’s episode is part of a Summer 2020 series on UDL in online environments. Christina Moore is the Virtual Faculty Developer at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. In today’s episode we talk about faculty Online Learning Communities, also known as Personal Learning Networks. In this time of separation, how can colleagues come together and share ideas? We will discuss organizing resources around teaching topics with multiple formats that include podcasts, articles, videos, and even people to follow on Twitter, plus “Mobile learning” and accessibility in online environments. I have learned so much from Christina in her role as a Virtual Faculty Developer and I am excited to share this conversation with our listeners!
Reach Christina Moore on Twitter @fontanamoore
Check out Christina Moore’s website here!
Teaching Without Walls: 10 Tips for Online Teaching (Michael Wesch, 10-minute video)
Tom Tobin & Kirsten Behling’s Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone
Christina Moore’s presentations can be found HERE
Examples of teaching topics that Christina has created with multiple means are Here
Of particular note are the culled resources for:
[Lillian] Welcome to Think UDL, the Universal Design for Learning podcast. Where we hear from the people who are designing and implementing strategies with learner variability in mind.
I’m your host, Lillian Nave, and I’m interested in not just what you’re teaching, learning, guiding, and facilitating, but how you design and implement it, and why it even matters.
Welcome to episode 38 of the Think UDL podcast: Online Faculty Learning Communities, with Christina Moore. Today’s episode is part of a summer 2020 series on UDL in online environments. Christina Moore is the virtual faculty developer at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. In today’s episode, we talk about faculty online learning communities, also known as personal learning networks. In this time of separation, how can colleagues come together and share ideas? We will discuss organizing resources around teaching topics with multiple formats that include podcasts, articles, videos, and even people to follow on Twitter, plus mobile learning and accessibility in online environments. I have learned so much from Christina in her role as a virtual faculty developer and I am excited to share this conversation with our listeners.
So, I have Christina Moore here who is the virtual faculty developer at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, and thank you, Christina, for joining me on the Think UDL podcast.
[Christina] Thanks so much for having me and I’m a big fan of everything Think UDL.
[Lillian] Thanks so much and I have learned a lot from you from several different conferences we’ve run into each other and I like to compile a list of UDL web resources that I can just sort of hand out like candy to people when they ask me and I must say that you have authored many of those things that I come to love and handout and enjoy. So, I have benefited from your hard work in the UDL field and I’m really happy to talk to you today. Especially in the time we are right now, we’re looking at UDL and online environments in the summer of 2020, so I’m excited to talk to you about a lot of your ideas. So, the first question I have for you, though, is one I ask all my guests, and that is: what makes you a different kind of learner?
[Christina] So, I–without overcomplicating it, I would say that I tend to complicate things when I’m learning something. You know, in some ways in education, that can work fine, a lot of it depends on context. So, growing up I did fine in school. I did school well, I got high grades, but when it came to those standardized tests that are so important for scholarship money and acceptance, my scores didn’t at all match how I felt like I was as a performer as actually learning. And so first I just thought well, I’m not a good test taker, what we’re learning you know we’re taught to say. That’s what we hear all the time and so I figured oh well that’s bad and–but the more that I thought about UDL and I thought about learning, the more I realized that it’s not just about not being a good test taker, it could have to do with anxiety, it could have to do with over complicating things, things like that. But, fortunately, I found that being–once I was doing well in my undergrad, that I found out that I could go to graduate school and they basically said overcomplicating is what we do.
[Lillian] You found your tribe!
[Christina] I was in an English program, the literary studies really values that type of thinking. Just analyzing things, questioning things, so that’s overall worked out for me, but I also realized that I sidestepped a lot of other opportunities that could have arisen. Like, I never would have thought of going to medical school, because I know it’s such a test-heavy culture, that’s not me even though I considered that for a while. And even taking the GRE to get into potential graduate schools, that was a major stumbling block even though I had publications as an undergraduate. So, just putting the UDL spin on it, I would say that I complicate things as a learner, but that doesn’t always have to be a bad thing.
[Lillian] Yeah, and your story makes me think of all those barriers that we have systemically in so many professions that complicate things for our students, and do we really want to be putting those barriers up anymore. I think we used to want to, I think that’s why they’re there.
[Christina] Yeah, and I mean that’s where I was really lucky and probably had some privilege there is that I had professors who saw what might be an incomprehensible sentence and said oh she’s thinking very deeply, whereas there’s another student that we might look at as not fitting into academia and we might say they have no idea what they’re talking about. So, I think I reflect on a lot, too.
[Lillian] Yeah and UDL has given me that new lens to look at things and see them not as my let’s say fault or my deficit, but maybe a just a systemic difference or barrier and it’s really changed the way that that I think about and also like how I’ll see my students. I won’t say oh, it’s their fault, rather I say let me look at this system, let me look at my class, let me look at how I’m asking questions.
[Christina] Or, even just seeing what’s really going on and how people are thinking. Like you’d rather them reach a little bit further for something complicated rather than to do something that’s way oversimplified, but they never challenge themselves to do.
[Lillian] Well, that’s a very complex answer, so thank you.
[Christina] I live up to what I say.
[Lillian] It’s great, you’ve demonstrated it already. So, I’m really interested in an interest of yours, actually, and that’s what I wanted to start talking about, which is your idea about faculty online learning communities, and that’s actually pretty broad. There’s a lot of things that go into it, so I was hoping you could tell me and our listeners more about those ideas you have.
[Christina] Sure. So, being a virtual faculty developer, one of my main jobs is to provide faculty development and online format so that faculty who can’t come to campus workshops from 12:00 to 1:00 p.m. can still come to us at whatever time, whatever need they have, and find some support and resources as far as developing their teaching or trying something new. So, I’ve done that in lots of ways trying to compile resources, make things that are more specific to the University so that there’s that sense of belonging and connection, and those things have gone well but what I realize is an important opportunity in faculty development online is connecting faculty to one another. That’s one of the main ways that faculty learn in their research in their disciplines is from their colleagues and when I talk with sort of our frequent flyers at our teaching and learning center, that’s also what they say. They value our expertise and input of the staff at the center, but they’re really just wanting to see their colleagues in different disciplines and hear what teaching and learning is like in their neck of the woods and they’re constantly inspired by that. So, what I keep thinking about now is how can we do that better in an online environment so that faculty feel like they can ask not just the colleagues down the hall what questions they have, especially if they’re in departments that aren’t very supportive, but that they have a larger network that they can reach out to. And the more I’ve inquired about this, I think a lot of faculty deeply desire that as far as extending their teaching practice specifically, but they just don’t know how to get connected. So, what I’m hoping to do more in my dissertation work specifically is to sort of de-mystify that practice and to help cultivate more online learning communities. And this work isn’t necessarily new, but I just think there needs to be more of it as far as showing faculty how they can learn from one another in online spaces and how they can find their people online. I know that’s been important for me because I was an undergraduate, graduate, faculty, and staff at my institution so when I’m looking for broader ideas I’m fortunate that I recently had the opportunity where my job allows me to go to conferences and meet people like Lillian Nave and many other wonderful people. But, I think of all the other people who–whose jobs don’t allow them the funding to do that and how they have just as much to share and want to be engaged. So, that’s again where online communities can really diversify how you’re looking at teaching issues, teaching opportunities, really anything related to your career. So, especially in the last year, I’ve sort of been experimenting on myself and trying to find more online communities and grow those, and there’s been some success there. It’s still ongoing, but yeah I just think if we’re thinking bringing it back to the UDL lens, that when we miss out on the opportunity to learn informally from one another, from people beyond their classroom, even from people beyond our University, we’re missing out on a lot and I think when people have a network or a community that they can learn from and turn to as questions arise, we’re teaching people to be lifelong learners and–
[Lillian] That’s one of our main goals of UDL, yeah, you know and the very beginning as you were talking I was thinking about how did I form these connections? And it really had a lot to do with going to a conference, and how I didn’t go to a conference when I started out as an adjunct. You don’t get conference funds and even if you are in that–in many of the 3/4 time or non-tenure-track as they’re called, or other kind of spaces in the university, there often isn’t money or incentive to go to a conference where you would meet other like-minded individuals, people who are interested in the same topic or the way of teaching or something like that. And it wasn’t until relatively recently I’ve been able to really delve into things like the Lilly conference that we did a whole series on, or service-learning got a lot, you know, there’s some people who I really connect with there. And then we’re able to meet and then continue that relationship, and that’s not even possible for so many people in the university, and also think about children and travel and all of those other things and now nobody’s going anywhere because we can’t!
[Christina] It is a good time to be thinking about online communities.
[Lillian] Yes, it is! And so I’m really interested in like what are some examples that you have of some online communities?
[Christina] So, my favorite online community right now is called Gather. It’s organized in sort of a social media-esque space called Mighty Networks. I think the best way I’ve heard it described is it’s like a mix between social media and like a learning management system. It’s sort of for sustained learning communities that aren’t necessarily organized by an institution or an organization. They have a free version of that platform, but then you can pay up for more options. So, what Gather is, is it’s a collaborative space for women and higher education. So, it started off as sort of an informal get-together. Another online educator named Karen Costa*** sort of put a call-out to say who would like to get together for an online meeting of women in higher ed and that your administrators, instructional designers, faculty developers, faculty, lots of different people working in higher ed. And there was this sense of we’re glad we got stuck to one another, but what happens now? And so first, it started off as gathering a contact list, what are people interested in, what’s their expertise, and then just contact info, but still no generating community. So, finally there was some talk with some people, Mighty Networks was mentioned as a platform that can pull people together, and then the community was created I think this was just back in January, so just a few months ago. And so I think it immediately got almost a hundred members joining, and as of right now we just passed 200 members. So, that’s just a few months after that. So, it’s a really–I think it’s a sort of safe space for women in higher ed who are looking for career advice, are looking to develop their writing, are just looking to make connections and troubleshoot in ways that they don’t have to fear being judged too negatively if they’re troubleshooting things that maybe they feel like they should already know, or they’re trying out a new project or things like that. So, it’s just an incredibly supportive community, but we also do sort of self-sustained webinars as well so that we’re sharing our expertise with one another. Because a lot of these women are interested in starting podcasts, they’re interested in starting social media accounts, writing books, things like that. So, that’s a community where there’s–it’s not a course, there’s no formal learning goals, but the goal is that we support one another and that we contribute our expertise and efforts when people reach out and say they could use feedback, you support or just gather advice.
[Lillian] So, if any of our listeners are hearing this for the first time, how would they go about being a part of this community?
[Christina] They can go to I believe its gather2020.mn [CORRECT LINK: https://gather2020.mn.co/] for Mighty Networks. I can also provide the link for ease because I know you have a resource website.
[Lillian] We do, and we will definitely put that on our resource page because that sounds like a really supportive wonderful place where you’re actually getting lots of ideas that are outside of your institution, and I know that institutions like to hire folks from other institutions, right, so you’re bringing in other knowledge into your space. And also like that–a little bit of the anonymity, so if I were to ask what I think is a stupid question and my Dean or my superior is there listening on the same, you know, email group, I might feel less likely to ask that question because I don’t want to show my ignorance.
[Christina] Right, and I mean especially with a group of women, you know, who tend to be afflicted with imposter syndrome more often, the questions normally are not dumb questions or someone saying I want to try this this thing but I don’t know if it’s–if I should be peddling back, and normally the members on there say no this is all the valid reasons why this is the thing you need to do and you need to do this and get results and publications. It results in going for job opportunities, so that’s certainly true. There’s other–I think Mighty Networks as a platform is I’m hearing a bit more now, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it suddenly come up it’s just probably on my periphery, but I know that there is also a Mighty Network called Keep Teaching that was specifically for support of anyone who’s making this move to teaching remotely and is supporting others in doing that, and I know that is a huge community as well. I believe it was started by Katie Linder*** who’s now at Kansas State University.
[Lillian] And we’ll have a link to that as well. So, that might be a very good place for our listeners to join the conversation there and get some other support. Because, you know, in this time when we are–a lot of the faculty and faculty developers, well most of the university is sort of doing the university from home, that is really going to cut down on our ability to walk down the hall and talk to a colleague to have our–those little conversations that often help out a lot more than a staff meeting or a faculty meeting might do. So, this is actually really well timed–unbeknownst to you, maybe you put your finger on the pulse of what we need in higher ed just before the coronavirus.
[Christina] Well, I don’t think I can take the credit there.
[Lillian] You did, yeah, this is really great. I’ve seen especially with the coronavirus that popped up and we have this global pandemic, I’ve joined and well I’ve seen two Facebook groups that have started automatically with you know higher ed and the coronavirus or in the time of COVID, also a cooking group, you know, locally and in our area and things that you’re making. So, people are really starting to and needing to make alternate delivery methods for this type of social interaction and learning interaction. So, I’m really glad to be getting kind of the top tier here of finding out especially about our–what faculty can do to be in a supportive environment. So, these online learning communities are really very helpful. I found them very helpful for me. I know our listeners are going to be able to look into at least these two that you’ve told us about that are super supportive; and, I know you’re also doing something about organizing resources for your faculty there around teaching topics, but you’re doing it in a very UDL way. So, I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit more about how you are providing multiple means for your faculty to learn about teaching.
[Christina] Yeah, so currently with our institution trying to offer things online, there can sometimes be limitations depending on what web content provider the university is using. So, first off, the main way that I share teaching resources with our faculty is both on our web pages and also through Google Docs. And what I try to communicate through using that is that everything that we create has a Creative Commons license and that we’re actively inviting faculty to save it, remix it, make it your own, and let’s see what great things you do with that. So, our weekly teaching tips would be an example of something that we’re really hoping faculty own and put their stamp on and tell us what this looks like in their classroom. So, but in addition to that, what we often hear from faculty is that they really value some of those traditional learning opportunities, such as workshops, I think it just feels familiar as far as being in the same place learning, looking at some slides, learning about some new resources, getting to talk with your colleagues. But we also hear that they want to extend that learning beyond just whatever happens in that hour. So, what I’ve done through our Center is try to identify those teaching topics that are most relevant, most timely to faculty and instead of just offering a list of books or articles from The Chronicle or recordings from our workshops, trying to think as broadly as possible about what voices they’d like to learn from, what media they might listen to, where they might be able to learn. So, to that effect all of our teaching resources will be listed by topic and then each of those topics will have links to articles, and as much as possible with guidance on how long they are, how long the read they are, whether they’re mobile-friendly reading items, and then also differentiating what’s offered at our institution and what’s beyond our institution. So, we have a library of books I know a lot of teaching and learning centers have that as well, but also what’s available beyond that. But also listing either whole podcasts or podcast episodes, instructional videos, because just like our students faculty learn in different ways as well. A lot of our faculty have to make long commutes so podcasts is going to be a main way that they can widen their breadth of knowledge on a certain topic where they might not be able to otherwise. Other faculty really want to know what research has been conducted on this teaching strategy. So, the research articles are there. I’ve even started to add more of who to follow on Twitter, because Twitter such a rich learning environment and it’s also a way to help fill in the gaps as far as what voices we’re hearing from on specific topics. So, those are always living documents that can be added to, and people can save them and add what they want to them or delete whatever section of stuff that they definitely don’t want to look at. But, what I’m trying to do with virtual faculty development is not just piling on the resources because you know we all just you know are getting inundated I’m sure especially now, but also thinking inviting people to be a part of what their own learning experience is by having this resource that they can clearly customize for themselves and see variety in, but also modeling how we can reimagine what their own curriculum might look like. Would they be able to offer their students articles, podcasts, videos, people to follow on Twitter, even online learning communities to pay attention to.
[Lillian] Wow, you know, one of the first things I saw out of Oakland University were your short videos that you made about UDL. When I first started doing this several years ago, you guys were already putting together some really great higher ed aimed UDL videos. Because there were a lot of k12 kind of videos and resources and you know that’s one of the reasons why I’m doing this podcast is because UDL and higher ed didn’t have any podcasts about it and in fact the two UDL podcasts with Louise Lord Nelson*** in her UDL in 15 minutes–which spans k12 and everything else, too– we all, we came out at the same time, within a month of each other. But because we need more resources. So, I’ve known about what you’ve been doing at Oakland for boy three years, maybe four, I’m not sure. But it’s been really great resources for me that I’ve shared with others, too and you make it very accessible. I love how you have the Google Docs, things that you can easily share, and a really great website. So, we will definitely have a link in our resources so people can check out all the things there that you guys have done a very good job in making it virtual as you’re a virtual faculty developer. And you are real, we do have to get that out there, you are a real person, not a computer or a robot, real person. And you’ve been doing a lot of real good work, so I appreciate that. Now another thing that you have done a lot of good work more recently is about mobile learning. And in our discussions–in fact, we were going to see each other at a real conference, ACU in New Orleans, and that was cancelled as many of these things rightfully were. But, you were telling me in our emails back and forth about reading Tom Tobin*** and Kirsten Billings*** Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone and thinking more about that mobile learning. So, tell me, what is that?
[Christina] So, with UDL, if we’re thinking about access to learning and making that as broad and barrier free as possible, you can’t not consider mobile learning and that is the main takeaway that I took from Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone just because I think that chapter on meet the mobile learners was where I went from yeah, yeah, you know, this is familiar, to like oh, this is what has been neglected at least in my own mind. And I just think there’s a very accessible argument made there for the opportunities that are there even if we are not app creators and coders and things like that. So, what my attention was drawn to from a faculty development side was to try to make the idea of mobile learning less intimidating. Because even as someone who focuses a lot on technology, I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself extremely tech savvy. I’m more interested in learning potential and capacities online, but you know I’m still not ready to just jump in with any new technology tool or know a lot about apps and things like that. So, what my strategy was as I think a lot of us do, is to first experiment on yourself, look at your own mobile learning habits or just your mobile habits first. And I saw a lot of what I think we see in ourselves in that we’re kind of mindlessly looking at our phones when we’re bored or when we have you know three extra seconds to breathe without something to do, and I didn’t like this. Like I saw my own behavior being very mindless as far as what apps I went to, like I wasn’t even looking for anything and didn’t even like anything I was looking at and yet the behavior continued. So, with mobile learning on my mind, I thought: what can I do intentionally to leverage these moments to broaden my knowledge about whatever it is I want to learn? So, it was actually at that point that I was more intentionally listening to podcasts. I actually hadn’t before that and that very much increased my knowledge immediately. But that’s where I started to be more strategic about social media. That’s where I really started to find my people and my voices on Twitter and that has just completely led to new resources, new people in my ear, and even people that I’ve come to know pretty well, they’ve led to the learning communities that I’m a part of now. And I’m also just thinking about process about how we save what we read, how we stay connected to our learning communities, how we put things in the format that are easier to read on our phones, what free apps can help us do that really easily. So, in translating that sort of self-study I’ve started to present and write about some first steps that we can do as faculty to make our curriculum more mobile-friendly without getting totally overwhelmed. Because I know all of us are overwhelmed all the time, and this only added to that. But I really encourage faculty in my writing and presentations to start with that sort of self-study about what they do online, what they wish they did a little bit differently, because what I found through the most recent Pew Research, the 2019 research on mobile phone usage, is that really all of us want to be using our phones better. We want to use them more intentionally, we want to actually learn something, to have meaningful engagement, and that spans down to teenagers. So, it just seems like such a lost opportunity for us to not at least be thinking about what low-hanging fruit there is as far as mobile learning opportunities. I wrote a recent teaching tip about online teaching tips that was inspired by Michael Wesh’s*** Advice for Teaching Online, and what he does that is a little bit more labor-intensive is he essentially creates an audio track of as much of the material in his online courses as possible so that students can read along with the articles and books that they read, that they have audio tracks of some of the videos that they watch for their course, because he knows that that’s the way a lot of students are going to be constantly thinking about the content and I think that’s what I found about mobile learning is, I mean, I come from a literature background so I value large chunks of time to just read and dig into a text, but if you leverage mobile learning, then you’re giving students the opportunity to be thinking on things over a long period of time by being engaged more often even if it’s in smaller chunks. So, if you’re giving students something they can do every day, if it’s a five-minute read if it’s a 20 minute podcast episode, but they do something every day, I mean, just think about how much extra time that gives them to think over it and hear an idea but from a different voice and a different perspective and like it can just totally expand everything that students are learning, and even how they’re critically thinking when they do actually have the time to sit down and read.
[Lillian] You know, that is something I’ve been thinking about as I’m planning some asynchronous online courses which will be about intercultural dialogues, and so it’s really important to get lots of different perspectives to see how different people act in situations, or how they feel, or how they might think about something. And in that–the idea of having students listen to various perspectives, like hearing a voice and hearing it in that voice rather than reading, has been really interesting to me and that’s going to add value. That’s a very UDL thing, too, is hearing somebody else’s voice and not necessarily seeing me in every lecture, right. So, really providing multiple perspectives from other countries, other people. I would really like also to have other languages with subtitles, you know, and so seeing another person speak their own language, and then also be able to translate it or having those multiple ways to be engaging with the material. And, I don’t know if I will do this, but my dream is to record like I have the podcasting stuff here, I can read to my students. Like I could read the material and I thought about having you know annotations you know, just you know kind of reading out that paragraph, you know that makes me think about this, this, or this. It might be something like the lecture might have incorporated, but then they can do that at their own time or whenever. And, I must say, one of the most profound books I’ve read recently is about sleep and how much we process and retain if we get enough sleep. That comes up a lot in learning. But, if I’m going to listen to something and then sleep on it, I can think about it the next day and I have committed it more to memory. Especially if I get a good night’s sleep, and then can really work through it. So, that idea of having like every day thinking about something and then it sort of builds on and tweaks it, I think that’s actually an advantage of having a totally online asynchronous class, is that you can do it over a series of days rather than just we only meet during this time and students, people, humans tend to cram you know right before, instead of I’ll read five pages today and five pages tomorrow.
[Christina] Yeah, it takes intentional design for sure and that challenge may not have an easy answer, but there could be opportunity to incorporate social media, and if you’re asking someone: tweet about your thought about this article at least two times throughout this week, then there’s something with a date stamp on it and that’s not something that they can cram. But I also think cramming it comes from course design that we just had these big due dates. I taught–I’ve mostly taught first year composition, which is mostly made up of freshmen students, so those students will need a lot more scaffolding and ideas about how to break that up, and I think if we decide to take on mobile learning as an intentional course design, we should explicitly explain that to students. Like, take audio notes, you know, for five minutes on thoughts about the course so far. I mean, it could be something very broad. So, I think if we put it into chunks that says okay, I want you to do this twice a week, but you can choose you know which two days it is, and its ten minutes worth of your time, then I think you’re a lot more likely to have success. When I think back to the idea of reading to your students, I have to admit that when I adapted that teaching tip for the faculty at our institution, I decided to sidestep that one just a bit, not that I don’t think it’s wonderful, but I think it shows his growth as an online instructor that you start with the things that are less–they’re more exciting and maybe less resource-intensive, and then I think he probably saw what was occurring in his courses and that just boosted up the motivation to actually like read the book write to his students. So, it’s more of just not wanting to intimidate faculty, because you don’t see the growth of their in this 5-10 minute video of his of his top teaching tips. But that being said, I think really paying attention to podcasts, or just students hearing from you and seeing how you pace a reading, can be really powerful even if you just choose a shorter reading and show how you’re analyzing it, what you’re taking out from it, things like that.
[Lillian] Yeah, and we’ll have a link to your teaching tips and also to Mike Wesch*** and his information as well. And I must say, I have all these really grand ideas and maybe 1% actually get done, so I do have that analysis paralysis with all the things that I know could go into this class and I have not decided which of those things they are, and I also know that will take a long time if I’m going to read a lot of chapters to my students so
[Christina] Yes, you know, that’s a common UDL challenge is knowing the possibilities
[Lillian] Yes, you know, another thing about this mobile learner as faculty is I didn’t join Twitter until relatively recently you know the last couple years, people have been on Twitter for a lot longer you know than I have. And oh my goodness it has opened up my world. I have learned so much from so many people, people I never would have been in contact with, and it has really greatly magnified my understanding of higher education, of the fields that I’m interested in which you know intercultural competency in first-year seminar, in UDL, and service-learning, so all these different you know kinds or smaller you know portions of academic Twitter, man I have learned so much just through that one social media you know mechanism or way. And others, you know, other groups, Facebook, we have a Facebook group I started for our first-year seminar faculty, that’s you know that’s a really great social way to talk about you know how are you incorporating the common reading this year, and that’s a really great way to talk to your to kind of people in the same–well they don’t even have to be in the same discipline because I’m also in other Facebook groups of you know larger groups of intercultural educators or things like that. But that mobile part, I realize that when I’m on Twitter I’m always on my phone. I’m never on Twitter on my laptop or a desktop or anything like that, so it is always a mobile thing like when I’m you know on the on the way somewhere if I’m not driving or usually a lot of times just kind of before I start work or afterwards or something like that and have that chance to look and then I think whoa, an hour later I’m still on there learning or finding out more. So, I love that you kind of curate people on Twitter to follow for your faculty. I think that’s something that we don’t talk about enough is how much learning there is out there if we can connect people, and as your–I love your title: virtual faculty developer, you are facilitating and connecting people virtually to kind of get their needs met academically.
[Christina] Yeah, and I think it’s particularly useful for hearing voices that are underrepresented in the academic literature as well. People who are actually putting the things that we research into use whether it’s activism, whether it’s other practicing ways. Twitter is commonly upheld as a way to tune into those conversations that might not otherwise be available in your institution.
[Lillian] That’s great. So, maybe we can have in our resources of an example or two of some of your teaching resources or teaching tips that you have like a curated list.
[Christina] Yeah, that would be great. I think I have a UDL one
[Lillian] That would be great, I hope I’m on it!
[Christina] Yes, you are. You know it.
[Lillian] Yeah, oh great. Okay so, the last topic I also want to talk to you about is accessibility in online environments and that’s something that’s near and dear to both of our hearts. It’s certainly an important part, an essential part of Universal Design for Learning, so I wanted you to talk a little bit too about the things you’re doing to bring our awareness to that accessibility in online environments and mobile learning and those sorts of things.
[Christina] Yeah. So, our institution was starting up what–really I should say our teaching and learning center was trying to drag our institution into–a focus on Universal Design for Learning. And I say that in jest, there were a lot of people who were really interested in how to promote it across the institution. And it was kind of after perhaps an academic year of starting things up, starting to figure out what we might do at a larger level, that our higher administration said digital accessibility is your job now. And I’m like, oh, what’s that? So, that was something we quickly got swept into, and it was an interesting moment that I think others have experienced where they’ve been holding up all of these UDL– I’m holding quotes here, I’ve got to remember our listeners can’t see–practices using a plethora of Technology tools, things that make stuff look cool, things that might make work more exciting or interactive, and not thinking about digital accessibility as far as which of those tools is really going to truly be UDL-inspired or fit that framework. So, we had this interesting moment of learning more about what web accessibility is, I tend to call it digital accessibility so that faculty don’t think it’s just for web designers and coders and things like that, it’s how we use the web and how we even display things digitally. And we realized that–so, the things we may have been promoting is UDL, we’re not perfectly meeting those web accessibility guidelines. Things like podcasts that might not have transcripts with them yet, or videos that didn’t have proper captions. I think the biggest challenge that we faced at our institution was lecture capture and I know that universities across the United States dealt with that very differently depending on who is leading, how dire the issues were their institutions, but I know that a few institutions decide to do away with lecture capture even though from an accessibility–from a broader accessibility standpoint lots of students benefited from having those lecture capture videos even if they didn’t yet have the transcript. So, we were at first feeling this–we were wondering what would we call it? Is it a tension between UDL and accessibility, is it something that could be oversimplified as a conflict, and of course the more you learn about accessibility and you learn about Universal Design for Learning is that they absolutely work together. That they are both advocates for one another and generally for accessibility. We even had accessibility advocates were very much against the institutions that decide to just take down their instructional videos because they recognize that as an overall loss for accessibility. I think the overall goal and message is that we proactively think about what we can do as far as digital accessibility to make our material as accessible as possible. So, with that–especially in the context of teaching during a pandemic–I am encouraging as much as possible without overwhelming that we’re still mindful of accessibility in its full definition. So, thinking about Universal Design for Learning, if their learning materials can be accessed on multiple devices, multiple you know a range of internet strengths based on people’s–the time that they have. But even while we’re creating these digital materials are there easy things we can do so that they are more web accessible. Can we put things in documents that are easier to customize and read. Can we search a little bit longer for videos that have really good captions with them. If we’re the type to really plan out an instructional video and we’re writing something that’s essentially a script anyway, can we share that with the video. So, it’s taking what we can do right now and then building on top of that. That’s also why I created a digital accessibility checklist that isn’t saying do this, do this, but it is giving faculty a list of statements about what are they doing right now that is a good web accessibility practice? Are they making their course materials available ahead of the class so that students know what to expect? And then are there things that again are low-hanging fruit that they might do to make sure that their course is more web accessible. So, the more that I’ve learned about digital accessibility, the more it’s just enriched Universal Design learning practices. So, those two should definitely stay together and be seen as advocates for one another, even if some of those accessibility practices as far as a UDL standpoint are still working towards their solutions to be perfectly web accessible.
[Lillian] Yeah, I must say, first of all I would love to have that digital accessibility checklist on our resources page for this episode so people can check that out, awesome, and second of all, as I started this journey to create an asynchronous online first year seminar course, we were presented wonderfully through our center of teaching and learning about a lot of different ways to make your lessons interactive. So, things where you can stop a lecture, ask a question, have students write an answer, check their understanding, those are things that are very much UDL design principles about recall, checking for understanding, not just a long boring lecture let’s say but having ways to check that knowledge. Well, so I worked for hours and hours and hours on–oh, I found a video that was really great about culture and then I’ve got I made these questions that would stop the student had to listen and mark their answer and then that would even it even connected with our Moodle system it would go right to a gradebook for a short you know low point assessment something like that just to know that they’ve done it they can think about it. And I was so excited about it, and then I put it in our in my course my learning management system and found that all of those closed captions that were in the original video they don’t show up. Yeah, and as the UDL coordinator at the University, as I’m teaching this class, that’s not going to work. So, is it okay alright, let me try it this way. So, then I used a whole other program I had my questions and I want my students I want this to be so interactive. I’m going to get so many props for my students about being interactive, not such a boring lecture, and then I put it in through another way I won’t go into all of these because we’ve been talking with all the tech people about how can this be accessible, oh do we have to change the code we have to go to the YouTube and change the code and it’s going to show up– it didn’t work again. So, I am really seeing this tension between digital accessibility and UDL. Like, knowing the best practices about knowing I don’t want to give my students a 20-minute lecture because I want there to be times to stop and think and interact and do that, but when I make it into this interactive product, I have lost the accessibility. So, I’m still working on it, I’m finding other ways to get this across, but there is a tension there and I have to be thinking about it as I’m designing what these little mini lessons and lectures and interactive parts are going to be, because I thought I had it all under control and then we find oh this technology that is really great though somehow through a little glitch in the system the way it is right now is not accessible anymore. So, things we have to keep in mind as we are creating these online learning environments for our students.
[Christina] Yeah and I think its getting better as far as the people who program these tools or who create educational technology in general. Like they’re having to be a bit more accountable to the digital accessibility, so I think at least the more that we sort of expose how you know a tool like that was obviously not designed you know by someone with a visual impairment, that we’re more aware of that and I also encourage faculty to be asking if they’re using publisher content you know for their assessments and things like that to–they don’t have to know everything about digital accessibility, but asking how does this product rate as far as accessibility. And sometimes they don’t fully understand it, but the more people who ask that question, the more urgent it becomes. Because faculty I mean you shouldn’t have to do all of that leg work. This is one of those stories that you hear and you’re just like I wish I could fix it for you, but you know that’s where we have to rely on our trusted tech company you know the tech tools that we trust that tend to put accessibility first and work with those as much as possible.
[Lillian] Yeah so but I have been learning quite a lot about accessibility in online environments as I am moving everything online. So–and it’s actually a new course, so it’s not like I have all my lectures and everything done and I just have to switch it, it’s more coming up with a lot of that in a different environment. So but it’s helpful. I will be following up on your teaching tips and your online–I’ll be leaning more on Christina Moore and her virtual faculty developer goodies over at Oakland University. So, but thank you very much, Christina, for spending the time to talk with me and the Think UDL podcast and I think we’ve got a lot of great resources that people will be very happy to put into practice in their new normal, online learning environments. So, thank you so much for joining me.
[Christina] Yeah, thanks so much for having me. It was a wonderful conversation to have, especially during this challenging time.
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 ThinkUDL.org website. The Think UDL podcast is made possible by College STAR, the STAR stands for supporting transition, access, and retention in post-secondary settings, and the website provides free resources and instructional aids based on UDL principles. If you’d like to know more, go to the CollegeSTAR.org website. Additional support for the podcast is made possible by Appalachian State University, where, if you call it Appalachian, I’ll throw an apple at you! The music on the podcast was performed by the Odyssey Quartet, comprised of Rex Shepherd, David Pate, Bill Folwell, and Jose Cochez. Our sound engineer is Tanner Jones, and I am your host, Lillian Nave, thank you for joining us on the Think UDL podcast.