Welcome to Episode 17 of the ThinkUDL podcast: Partnering with Students & Faculty with Suzanne Ehrlich. Today Lillian talks with Dr. Suzanne Ehrlich, Assistant Professor in Education Technology, Training and Development in the College of Education and Human Services at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, FL. In this episode, Suzanne and Lillian discuss the very interesting research Suzanne and her colleagues are doing with both students and faculty on the use and efficacy of UDL at UNF, the design and delivery of her UDL course in an effort to make area connections with UDL, as well as her role as a faculty fellow to build the UDL mindset with faculty across campus.
[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 17 of the ThinkUDL podcast: Partnering with Students & Faculty with Suzanne Ehrlich. Today, I talk with Dr. Suzanne Ehrlich, Assistant Professor in Education Technology, Training and Development in the College of Education and Human Services at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, FL. In this episode, Suzanne and I discuss the very interesting research she and her colleagues are doing with both students and faculty on the use and efficacy of UDL at UNF, the design and delivery of her UDL course in an effort to make area connections with UDL, as well as her role as a faculty fellow to build the UDL mindset with faculty across campus. Thank you for listening to this conversation, and thank you so much, Suzanne, for joining me on the Think UDL podcast.
[Suzanne] Well, thanks for having me, I’m excited to be here.
[Lillian] Well, I am so excited to talk to you because I enjoyed meeting you so much at the UDL IRN Conference Orlando, and I was so intrigued when I heard about what you and your colleagues are doing, and I’m hoping to get to talk about some of those initiatives. But first, I want to ask you a question that I ask all of my guests, and that is: what makes you a different kind of learner?
[Suzanne] So, other than my quirky personality, which doesn’t count probably as the qualifier, I thought about this question in reflection and preparation, and I am a mover. If you have me sit for too long, you’ll know that I’m sitting for too long. It’s very visible and its something I even struggle with in terms of workplace learning. When we have trainings or faculty groups, I know that I design my faculty workshops the same way, I like a lot of movement , I like a lot of activity and engagement, and I have to discipline myself to have the passive participation as much as the active participation. I might be the flip-flop of the two. So, in terms of my learning, anything that’s hands-on, visible, active, doing it, is where I really notice my acceleration in terms of learning. So, its funny that I’ve arrived slowly to a sit-at-the-desk kind of job, so I enjoy anything like a podcast that gets me engaged, that’s right. So that would be, I think in maybe this context how I think of myself in terms of learning.
[Lillian] Well, that’s great and when we look at maybe the traditional classroom and higher ed, there aren’t as many chances to do that kind of learning, or at least there haven’t been until people like you come along, and, yeah, help to engage those students in a number of ways. So, I’m really glad that you’re bringing that in and bringing options, too, to your students. So, it is such a pleasure to talk to you. I really want to find out about the initiatives, the things that you’re doing at University of North Florida in Jacksonville. And, the first thing I want to ask you about is your research that you’re working on with Dr. Jen Kirkpatrick, and Allison Archer. Can you tell me more about that?
[Suzanne] So, I have wonderful colleagues here across the university who are doing all types of work, I think that really walk the line of Universal Design for Learning in different ways, but I’ve been lucky to narrow down a few collaborators who’ve given their time and are really passionate about this particular topic. Dr. Kilpatrick is one of them, Dr. Jen Kilpatrick, she is my primary collaborator when it comes to some of our research projects on campus, and our recent project was a survey of faculty and students’ perspectives of Universal Design for Learning practice in the classroom. We replicated a previous study. We’ve not yet published our findings, it was an initial report at the UDL IRN Conference to get some feedback, and the feedback was–
[Lillian] It was super interesting.
[Suzanne] It was! The conversation was so fruitful and fantastic in terms of what we can do with this information long term. Some of the key concepts that we got from that–from that research was that we really feel that we’re narrowing too much on faculty, if you can believe it. So, we thought that we’d see a heavy indication of UDL integration perhaps from our faculty. But what we saw was a strong desire from our students to want more UDL-like practice in the classroom.
[Lillian] Wow, that’s excellent.
[Suzanne] Yes. They couldn’t actually identify what the term meant, but they could identify and narrow in on those opportunities for integration, different modalities and so forth, that would enhance their instruction, and so we’re starting to turn a little bit of our lens toward how do we advocate and educate with and for students under the UDL lens.
[Lillian] Wow, that’s incredible research, too, and something we need to do a lot more of, asking our students what they need.
[Suzanne] They’re part of the puzzle, aren’t they?
[Lillian] They are, its an important relationship.
[Suzanne] It is, and it’s a juggle, too, in terms of, for us, what–how we encourage that development among our students, and we don’t yet know what that looks like, so that’s the fun, I think, that we have ahead of us in terms of identifying what that might look like.
[Lillian] Wow, and I remember in that session just how impressed I was about your–your understanding of the relationship that’s happening in that classroom, and the emotional needs of students, all of those things that is not just straight instruction, is super important and I’m really glad that you and your colleagues there are pushing forward on that, so I’m really looking forward to kind of more–hearing more about that as you move along in your research or publication or whatever you end up doing there.
[Suzanne] Yeah, great, I think that’s part of our struggle in terms of survey research, is the absence of story, and that’s another area that we’re looking to develop further because we know that there’s a context to the research, and how do we get at that context in the long term to really inform our practice in the long run. So, it’s great, we’re looking forward to it, for sure.
[Lillian] Oh, good, well thank you so much, that was like my initial “I’ve got to interview Suzanne! I’ve got to talk to her!”
[Suzanne] We’re passionate about it, too, we’re hoping that it really turns out to be something in terms of our practice within the university, but also beyond and contributing to the collective that’s really pushing forward on this effort.
[Lillian] That’s great, great. But that’s not all you’re doing, there’s a lot of things that I want to talk to you about today, and the next thing is about your efforts in educational technology and training and development with the support from your–and this is great, to get financial support, not just non-financial support, but financial support from your Center of Instructional Research and Technology, and can you help us understand what’s going on there with redesigning a UDL framework and what you’re doing?
[Suzanne] Well, you hit the nail on the head, that we are very lucky anytime there’s funding, right? But, in the world of education, we feel very lucky to have this opportunity. Our institution was wonderful in providing that opportunity for us to develop our program. And really the program, while its been in existence as–for probably about seventeen years–is really evolving more recently in terms of our focus on training and development in connection with educational technology as we see those connections from post-secondary education and transition to work place, and how to support learners in that transition. While our students who come to our program are becoming trainers in theory or are already trainers and professionals looking to develop their own skills in relationship to educational technology and teaching and learning, our program, in its redesign, is narrowing on a few aspects in terms of its full development, and that is one under the UDL framework. We have a team of instructional designers that have committed to and are awesome, just unbelievably awesome in their attention to all of our courses, to the design, under a UDL framework. Now, it sounds like we know what we’re doing, truth is we have no–I won’t say we have no idea, we have more of an idea that others, but it is purely an experiment and that’s exciting
[Lillian] Yeah, totally experimental, I see.
[Suzanne] Absolutely. We have a team of people who have that shared thought world in terms of experimenting with a new framework, knowing that we don’t know the answer, but we’re willing to go on the journey together to collaborate regularly to say does this align with the practice that we’re intending? Is this what it might look like from this first iteration? And revisiting it time and time again, and that looks different from person to person, so that is not necessarily a very quick and easy process.
[Suzanne] But, it’s a fruitful one. And so I think in the long run, what we’re really hoping for, really kind of following the trend with UDL CAST and UDL IRN in their efforts to talk about credentialing and certification, there is this hope of ours to fall in line with the formalization of recognizing UDL practice and implementation. And so part of that is our preparation for–should that be more so in the long run part of the collective world of teaching and learning. And our group CERT that I shared with you is a group that’s not just recognizing that effort in course design, but looking across campus to find opportunities to improve implementation. Some of their new hires, some of their new policies, making major strides to incorporate that kind of thinking and practice across the campus is pretty awesome–I love that word, awesome–but it is awesome!
[Lillian] It is! That’s always–that’s a really hard step. A lot of people can be excited, those navigators–Eric Mora and Jodie Black have called people like you and me the starters starting out, but having that systemic implementation is really a big leap to make, from those early, excited, passionate navigators, to oh well we’ve got a whole university here, how are we going to get that across to everybody. And that’s a really tough move, to go from one to the other.
[Suzanne] Well that’s what your podcast is going to do in one swoop.
[Lillian] That’s right!
[Suzanne] When everybody–and the swoop is actually our–its nice that I integrated that–is our mascot, and that’s what we say, one fell swoop.
[Suzanne] I just worked that right in there for you. But we’re excited about the opportunity to see where that growth happens. But we do have those barriers and challenges, not in a way that is resistant, necessarily, but in the not knowing what you don’t know in terms of opportunities for enhancement, and so we’re looking for those opportunities across campus, as navigators.
[Lillian] Yes. And, what is a swoop?
[Suzanne] Swoop is our osprey, the bird, and we–and no one can see, but I am using my arms, hopefully correctly, to do the swoop, as my students tell me
[Lillian] Move your wings as an osprey.
[Suzanne] Right, I’ve only been doing it for four years, I don’t know when competency or expertise occurs in swooping, but, you know, at some point.
[Lillian] Its part of the new faculty orientation.
[Suzanne] It is.
[Lillian] How to move the arms in an osprey-like fashion.
[Suzanne] Very much so.
[Lillian] Ok, perfect. So, and you’re working on this with a couple key members there at UNF is that right?
[Suzanne] Yeah, absolutely. I’ve had some other opportunities to work with individuals here on campus. One of which is my graduate student, Alison Archer, she is absolutely fantastic in terms of collaboration, and she was a student in my Universal Design for Learning course, and she identified a particular piece of work in the course that she thought would be wonderful in terms of sharing with a larger community, and she reached out to– the University of Central Florida has a teaching online pedagogy repository that
[Suzanne] Yes, and its an open access, open source publication outlet for learning objects, which is wonderful. A new trend, and if you–its not necessarily a new trend, but a new opportunity to share knowledge that’s demonstrative of the work that we do in lieu of publications. So, we’re really excited about being a part of that effort in open access information, but also in sharing the work that we’ve done in Universal Design for Learning, in particular, this course where it’s a particular strategy and developing mindset. I know others have talked about developing mindsets, its perhaps–
[Lillian] Its important!
[Suzanne] It is, and that is what we’re finding in our research as I’ve indicated before, but also within coursework and course development, and I haven’t yet shared about that particular course, but she was a great collaborator in getting that publication out so we could start sharing what it looks like in terms of curricular development to support UDL integration or UDL practice, and in particular to developing a mindset.
[Lillian] Oh, great. Well I’m furiously writing down all of these resources we need to add to our resource tab on the podcast, so as people are listening they can say, oh I want to find out about–
[Suzanne] I’m happy to share.
[Lillian] Yeah, get these resources and publications and things like that, so we’ll make sure that our listeners are able to find those that we’re talking about
[Suzanne] Thank you
[Lillian] And you mentioned your UDL course you’ve designed and delivered , that should be a movie, Design and Deliver: UDL. No, to–in an effort to make connections in your program, can you just tell our listeners and me all about that, too?
[Suzanne] I’d be happy to. I do think a UDL documentary might be in your future, perhaps.
[Suzanne] Podcast goes live into a documentary. But–
[Lillian] That’s right.
[Suzanne] I would watch. So, our UDL course is part of our collective effort for our program that I was sharing before in terms of developing under a UDL framework. One of our greatest opportunities to create that continuous feedback is also by developing a UDL course. That course looks different from semester to semester, because we support a lot of different educators from different backgrounds, different disciplines. So, this go around is early childhood education, which is wonderful, and then the one before that, training and development was the focus. So, we’ve adjusted this course as an opportunity to capture different groups, and to support those different groups through different iterations of this particular course. So, their projects or assessments might look a little bit different, but the core concepts are fairly common. One of the–I think–exciting activities that I do in this particular class is I give them the opportunity to assess my course for UDL implementation.
[Lillian] Oh that’s brave, too.
[Suzanne] They are very nervous about it, I do not give points for accuracy in terms of application, it’s a checkmark, either you did it or you didn’t, because I want them to take risks in doing evaluation, and I always say this, it’s a little bit cliché, but I learn more from my students than they ever do from me. Its true when I see this work in action. Their knowledge, their experience feeds their learning. They’re very excited about this particular topic with the second go around teaching this particular course, the enthusiasm for this idea, but similar themes to others and how do we get this off the ground. Once I start looking at this framework, I realize the value for it, but I don’t know necessarily where to start, and that’s why we’ve developed this course, to support area educators, to have a platform and, if you will, a springboard even, to move forward in the work that they’re doing with UDL integration to start conversation with collaborators. So, within the course, other assessments that we’ve included are UDL consultation. And of course I have students that may not initially want to do a consultation because they’re just learning about the topic, but part of our encouragement is taking risks in applying your knowledge, again in that forum. Identify someone that you know and you’ve worked with before, and start working through these concepts. What would you change about your environment, your curriculum, sometimes it’s a mission statement, but there are different ways and opportunities that they can identify opportunities for growth, and its that type of learning in this particular class that I think hopefully becomes the web of change for UDL practice. Look at me, I’m very optimistic.
[Lillian] Yeah, oh no that’s great. Now, was that consultation is that something within your class, and are they then going outside of your class?
[Lillian] Ok, and working with somebody else and offering, like, here would be a UDL –how you can UDL up your course or your activity or something?
[Suzanne] And oftentimes–that’s absolutely true, and oftentimes, its starting the conversation that’s the most complicated.
[Suzanne] Who do I talk to, who would be receptive to this idea? They work–some of our teachers work in area schools, and they want to approach their administrators, but that might not necessarily be the norm of practice. And this really pushes them to engage in those kinds of constructive, change-making opportunities with a new lens that may be new for everyone. And that too is a risk, I’m bringing in information that’s new to the collective, how will it be received? And, its only been two iterations, two offerings of this class, I’ve not yet received any negative feedback in terms of, they absolutely refuse to do this. I think they’re often engaging with other navigators, instinctively, that are interested in development and quite often I think most educators are positioned that way who are interested in new ideas and new opportunities for growth, and so they have worked both within schools, but they’ve also worked within organizations, nonprofit organizations and corporations that haven’t considered this framework before.
[Lillian] Oh, that’s fantastic. One of the major focuses of this podcast is looking at higher ed and beyond. So, not just working with soon-to-be teachers in k12, but thinking about applying it in higher ed workforce development, how these can really change significantly how adults learn, and an organizational culture that’s now valuing how everybody interacts with the team, the product, the whatever your–either what you’re doing or selling or making, it’s a framework that is useful everywhere, not just inside the classroom, and not just inside the k12 classroom or the college classroom. So, so important because it does–it values everybody. It values and includes all of those incredible brains, all those different kinds of people and learners, and I’m so glad that you are integrating that in your college classroom. So, people aren’t saying oh wow, I should–this is something I’m not just going to put to work when I become a teacher, but is useful, helpful, needed in all of these other facets of life.
[Suzanne] Yeah, we’re excited in the same way. I think too, part of it is our push for experimentation and exploration that’s key to the work that we’re doing, that we had not yet perfected the system. I don’t know that there is–of course, I’m a–I love the notion of failure as an opportunity for growth and learning, so there is no perfection in my world, but that often isn’t the case necessarily with standard driven experiences. And so, we’re experimenting with how to build that frame, and I do see a contrast doing workplace training myself, as a trainer, in what experiences are occurring in postsecondary, versus what experiences are having in workplace, and the two groups I’m convinced that in time, through bridging, will create that amazing pathway, and in particular with this particular lens.
[Lillian] Oh, fantastic. This is already–you’ve got the pebble, and the ripples are moving.
[Suzanne] Let’s hope.
[Lillian] Yes, absolutely.
[Suzanne] I’ve convinced myself, now I just have to convince everybody else.
[Lillian] You know, you’re working on all of these different fronts, which is really impressive, what you’re doing at University of North Florida. How many students do you serve there at UNF?
[Suzanne] We have–I think its close to 16-17,000. I hope I don’t get in trouble for not knowing the exact number, but we’re a regional university, big-ish.
[Lillian] No, I didn’t want the exact number, I just wanted a general estimate. Yeah, that’s a lot. That’s quite a lot of students that are going to be interacting with this and thinking in this framework, hopefully getting that mindset, and then the ripples will just get bigger and bigger.
[Suzanne] We hope so.
[Lillian] And you are talking to a lot of folks there, your research with Dr. Jen Kilpatrick, you put together an interesting survey too about your faculty and students on their experience with UDL in the classroom.
[Suzanne] And that was the one that I was referring to earlier in the podcast that we did work together, and we really translated that work now into the faculty fellows work that I’ve been doing across campus. But now, when we engage in conversation with other faculty, they’ll say–well, we’ll be asked well what research is out there. And, we’re trying to contribute to that body of research that we’re often asked about in terms of well why are we making the decisions that we are. I like to say I feel like something’s here, but that may not be sufficient to answer the question in the long run.
[Lillian] These pesky academics want data.
[Suzanne] I mean, you know, what were they thinking. No, but we want to be a part of that, too, both in practice, and what we observe, and what we experience, as well as concretely documenting those experiences to inform practice in the long run, and contribute to the body that a lot of us that I met at UDL IRN are working heavily toward exploring even further. So that faculty fellows position has been incredible this year in terms of putting me in a position where I can conduct seminars and outreach to faculty who are interested in exploring the topic. And often, with faculty, in my experience–and it may be different for others–our first stop is distinguishing between accessibility and Universal Design for Learning, and I say that there –they may not –maybe they’re cousins, I don’t know that we can separate them completely, they inform one another , but we–I think, people who are involved in the UDL world, you know are–I see a contrast in terms of perhaps knowledge base, that we come from different worlds with different sets of knowledge, and the two complement one another in terms of thinking of all as the core concept, or considering all in design. So, in moving our faculty, we use the term–I know others do the same– of proactive versus reactive action and curriculum development. So, it has been the most impactful in terms of our conversation around UDL implementation. Working through your course development, whether it be for online or working through your course development face-to-face, how do you start that conversation for UDL integration and thinking for all. Because the conversation then turns occasionally to–I was asked to do this for this one student later on, and so its moving back and forth between the two worlds, and then exploring strategies and concepts that would support the UDL framework for any course development. And so that’s where faculty fellows has really been supportive. I had the opportunity again this summer to participate in the faculty–I believe it’s the faculty summer seminar, where they–a group of faculty attend to develop their courses even further and in different ways with new–perhaps current strategies for teaching and learning–and had an opportunity to share this particular framework. And so its an experiment I would say. And that is–when you introduce a new concept or new idea–and the UDL that we know is not necessarily new, but it may be new to that person. It’s a seed that has to be planted and then the growth perhaps might take some time.
[Lillian] Right. And every semester, you can do that plus one. You know, add one more thing to make it more accessible to allow for more diverse learners to participate more fully, and just one thing at a time because you’re right–UDL could be very overwhelming if you look at, say, CAST guidelines, and there’s three columns and three sections each, and you’ve got a whole lot of words there, and thinks well what does that mean? Its–in trying to apply all of that at once is really not possible. But taking one thing and saying oh I can add this engagement to my class time, or I can make this assignment more flexible. And each time, you’re saying well I can move this along and improve as you go. And, you know, we have a course redesign institute as we call it–about four days where faculty come and they don’t get paid to do this either, but they are there to make their courses better or to design a new course, and we do also introduce Universal Design for Learning at those retreats. And it is a real mindset changer, a real game changer, but it can’t be fully incorporated when you’re, you know, you can’t change everything, you know.
[Suzanne] You can’t do everything, right, at once. Well, I think one of the strategies that we’ve used is not just identifying opportunities for growth, but identifying greatness within each faculty member, that making the connection, you have already addressed and implemented in various ways, and here’s what that looks like. And so I think, in terms of the enormity we experience the same by looking also at what has been successful because we have many wonderful faculty
work very hard to advance their practice on a regular basis, that by really identifying those areas of greatness as well, I think helps to shift that mindset in terms of, I’ve already started down this path, now I can pick up some momentum by doing even more like you said in terms of finding those small opportunities rather than, you know, that’s educational technology for you too, in terms of I’ve seen a hundred tools and I don’t know which one to use. Try not to use every single one, maybe pick one or two, and that’s what we encourage as well in terms of, you know, the trial and experimentation with Universal Design for Learning integration at the course level.
[Lillian] We read a book a couple summers ago called Switch: How to Change when Change is Hard, and one of the major points of the–of that is called identifying the bright spots, which is exactly what we’re doing. How do you get other folks to follow along, how do you create major change, is hey look at what you’re already doing, there’s this one little thing that you’re already doing, and it is very successful, but people don’t sometimes realize what it is that they’re doing, or with Universal Design for Learning, they often don’t know, oh that’s UDL? I’ve already been doing that, Ok, so some of those things they’re already doing, so then you can look at their course again or they can look at what they’re doing and say wow, there’s quite a few things that align with this framework and what else then can I be doing that, you know, brings along even more.
[Suzanne] I think we’re also in the world of evaluation, much like students, and the pressures of evaluation and assessment of practice, and so by shifting to the storytelling and the experiences from faculty, there is this natural celebration of, this is what I do, this is my passion, and then really leveraging that passion for change, and empowering–no I shouldn’t–I don’t empower them, they empower themselves to look for those opportunities, and I do think that the storytelling and contextualization of the work helps so significantly, you know, that they’re–one faculty in particular attended the workshop, and–from this past year–and is showing up to our sessions and our work groups and is sharing stories, this is how I made change, and is–now can identify the ways in which she’s integrating that change slowly and celebrating her own effort to do so, without the necessary demand of a student requesting any kind of change to her course. It is truly, I am thinking of all the ways in which I can diversify this learning experience for all now, and that including maybe even faculty members or work or professional development group for teachers or for coursework. And so seeing those small stories and those opportunities for change really do fuel our work as well.
[Lillian] Oh, that would be great, that gives me an idea for an episode, those stories of success, those stories of change from professors. I had a wonderful student explain how one course that was transformed by UDL was the first time she, as a student who had attention deficit disorder, says the first time she felt she was learning, because there were just a multitude of differences in that UDL course, as opposed to a typical lecture course she was taking, which was so hard and made her struggle so much, just to get a small increase in her knowledge, but the other course that had all the –so much of it transformed by UDL principles–was fun, interesting, and she learned. And just to hear that–and she had tears in her eyes, like, this is such a struggle for me when it is in this format, and this, I didn’t know it existed, you know, and for her to seek me out and say, look what UDL has done, and made a huge impact, and oftentimes, I guess, students don’t know what they can’t have, right, or just they might be struggling, and didn’t know there was this other option, so what a wonderful thing that both students and professors are saying wow, this has made life easier, its made learning better, and, boy, I want to get the word out, I’m glad you’re getting the word out, Suzanne, its just fantastic.
[Suzanne] Thanks, I think that’s our hope as well, and interesting that you share that story because this is the semester that I received an email from a student who, you know, not giving any details necessarily, but revealed their own story, and I know that students don’t always want to do that, and don’t feel comfortable doing that, I don’t know if it’s the basis that it was a Universal Design for Learning course, the information that was shared was quite helpful in terms of just acknowledging and knowing, but even without, I hope, like you said, that getting a course without having to tell the story is an option as well, right? In both ways that students feel either comfortable in sharing, or have the opportunity to participate as themselves without any constraints, or at least mitigating what that might look like, in terms of their engagement in a particular course or learning experience, and I think also, your great point about shared conversation between faculty and students also gives me an idea in terms of what that might look like on our campus for a learning work group between faculty and students. I know our Student Government Association is very engaged in a lot of our groups and committees. They have representatives that come and ask extraordinary questions about teaching and learning from their perspective, and wouldn’t it be great to have the two come together to share their stories, share their experiences as an opportunity for change.
[Lillian] You know, that makes me think of one of the new ideas I learned at the conference where we met when we were looking at spaces, right, different spaces on campus, and there were these great little cards that maybe mapped out lots of different space ideas. And one of those was about faculty office space, that had multiple areas, so its not just faculty sequestered in tiny offices with no window and so they can do their research and not be bothered, but rather kind of three different areas of space, so a space for faculty to do their research and they aren’t bothered, but also within that space, a time to consult with students, work with students, and then also this kind of larger community space where faculty and students are working together and interacting. And I thought, this is brilliant, why aren’t we doing this so that we have really made it our life that faculty is put away and a student has to go through a labyrinth, really, to find them.
[Suzanne] Well, these experiences I–and the stories, and the research, all build for new innovation and–innovation’s a little redundant there, but give birth to new ideas constantly, even for us, at every turn, at every session, it’s the oh let me write that down kind of effect that comes from these conversations creating continuous change. And not change for change sake, but change because now we know better, we do better. Which is our philosophy–or at least what we’re attempting to do, that if we know this, then we should do this more consistently. Easier said than done. Our expectation is one of lets hold each other accountable in terms of reminding or supporting or creating and using the collective as an effort to make change. That doing this work is difficult to do alone and that doing it together is even greater.
[Lillian] Wow, fantastic.
[Lillian] You know, Universal Design for Learning is one of those things that, to me, is a threshold concept. Once you have crossed that threshold and you know about it, you can’t, in good conscience, not think about it, apply it, use it in your class. You can’t just say well, I know there are lots of different students in here that learn differently, but I’m only going to teach the ones that I like, who like me.
[Suzanne] That goes back to I think what you were talking about before in terms of faculty and developing awareness in practice. And we had that faculty member who made a lot of change, but at the beginning said how am I supposed to do all this? And we said sometimes its just your raised level of awareness that will help move you through this, like you said, that knowing you didn’t know, and now you know what you don’t know, so now moving through that competency model that will slowly over time that will occur in a different way and then where she started, and that’s the same for all of us, I think, in terms of our learning in this world.
[Lillian] Wow. Yeah, it is, its inspiring. Its inspiring to be in this work. It is a lot of learning, I feel like I’m learning so much all the time, and I’m just a learning junkie. I think that’s why many of us are in the, kind of, higher ed or in the teaching profession, I just love learning and applying and trying new things.
[Suzanne] Well, I didn’t get a chance to mention my colleague Dr. Terry Cavanaugh yet, but he is my collaborator in the program, and I was mentioning before about the value of collaboration. And its not often–well, perhaps it is often that I shouldn’t make that judgment, but that you’re paired with somebody in your work group who sees, or has the same passion for that kind of work, and what an opportunity for acceleration in design for us, when we share that same interest in terms of UDL integration, but I will say the ways in which we find opportunities are very different, that the puzzle pieces we put together really are pretty incredible that I wouldn’t be able to do solely alone, and so I do really think, again, finding those opportunities for collaboration and collective thinking really create a different kind of wave of change and we’re always looking for those opportunities.
[Lillian] Yes, I echo that, that there are some collaborators I have on campus, some colleagues that I work with that are so very different than I am, just, I’m loud and tall and imposing and energetic, and I have a wonderful colleague who is the introverted, incredibly brilliant, and I sat in on her–and teaches math and I teach in the humanities, so I sat in on her class and I thought, this is the most brilliant way I’ve ever seen a course taught, you know, where there were lots of backchannels, under the table ways for students to get their voices out and heard, and participate in an intimidating subject that has a lot of right or wrong answers, you know, in math, and risky, and I thought, I have learned so much in like 50 minutes of watching how she moves through the world that I never would have done, right, I never would have moved through the world in that fashion. And wow I better start thinking about how I can incorporate that because I know I’ve got students that are like that, that I hadn’t even kind of thought that they might be participating in that way or moving in the world that way until I saw her masterful integration of those things.
[Suzanne] And then its right there again, where its–students are the observers of these differences. They have such an opportunity to see, but not necessarily know how to identify and then apply that to their own–and I don’t want to say expectation, because that certainly brings it to a different realm, but their– maybe not identifying their needs, but participating in a way that they’re advocating for other opportunities in particular situations or learning experiences. And that challenging for anybody who is in that kind of partnership in a learning experience, to express that interest, but if the knowledge and the language isn’t there on what that looks like or what that means, which is why, again, we’re looking at students, then its difficult to have that conversation or engage in a conversation that’s constructive to moving the learning partnership, if you will, forward together. And so we’re hoping that through all these conversations, through all the learning experiences, through all of our failure in our attempts to make those changes, that student and faculty learn from those differences, that’s really a–its that river of embracing differences among learners that we’re after, and its doing just that through these conversations. So, you know, we’re looking to building our partnerships outside of the university, and we’ve explored some of those partnerships thus far, and what that might look like in terms of not just looking within our university, but, similar to what you’re saying, what are faculty doing here, but what are faculty doing there, as in other institutions and other groups in terms of UDL implementation and this work, you know, your podcast here of course is helping springboard us into that conversation, so its good.
[Lillian] Well, I’ll tell you, I learn so much from every conversation that I have, its really incredible and I know that there are just hundreds of other folks out there that I haven’t had a chance to talk to and I think, my goodness, there’s all of this work that’s being done, how can we highlight it and move from that one step of navigators, lots of people, very enthusiastic, and then into the larger scale, and implementation. So, we’re hopefully, you know, moving those ripples, moving forward, but I just know there’s so many wonderful people like you, like my other guests that I’ve been talking to that are really fantastically applying Universal Design for Learning principles, and making a difference for their students and for their workplace and for the world.
[Suzanne] Right, I think the same thing happened for us when we attended UDL IRN in terms of, no matter the group, no matter the background, it was this hunger to want to know more about what one another–what each of us were doing in terms of this work and UDL integration and tell me more. That those short sessions just weren’t enough, especially if you found a particular area of interest, and even for our session, I remember leaving and thinking, I wish we had a couple of hours, I don’t know that I’ve ever wished for a couple of hours of a presentation, but when you’re getting– you’re receiving wonderful feedback and you’re engaging in conversation, that, even in a short time its shifting your thinking in the moment about work that’s being conducted in this world, that I definitely took a lot away from that, and, like I said before, we’re looking for those opportunities to do that continuously with others as well.
[Lillian] Yeah, its really exciting. Its exciting work. Well, thank you so much, Suzanne, for talking to me about all this exciting work that you’re doing and really important, inspirational work that’s going on there, and I certainly enjoyed hearing about it back at the conference, so I wanted everybody to hear about it, too.
[Suzanne] I appreciate the opportunity where, we are always happy to have a conversation, and when we get this invitation for me to come on and share the work, we really appreciate the opportunity.
[Lillian] Well thank you so much for your time and speaking to me, and I know our listeners will appreciate it, so thanks so much.
[Suzanne] Great, thank you.
[Lillian] You can follow the Think UDL podcast on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to find out when new episodes will be released, and also see transcripts and additional materials at the 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.