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Radical Hope for Online Teaching with Kevin Gannon

Welcome to episode 39 of the Think UDL podcast: Radical Hope for Online Teaching with Kevin Gannon. Today’s episode is part of a Summer 2020 series on UDL in online environments and I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak with Dr. Kevin Gannon today. Kevin is the Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) and Professor of History at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa. His book, Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto was released in the spring of 2020 and has already become a “must-read” in academic circles and faculty book clubs throughout the United States and beyond. In Radical Hope, Kevin notes that UDL is one of the most important topics in higher education today and so I was happy when he agreed to speak to me about UDL at this particular moment as countless instructors are moving their courses online. His book deals with both seated and online courses, as his teaching manifesto is modality agnostic. However, our conversation focuses on how to implement the ideas he offers in his book specifically in online courses. Kevin has been a generous scholar and faculty developer in the several years that I have come to know him through the Professional and Organizational Development (POD) Network and I am so thankful for his time to talk to me about Radical Hope for online teaching.


Reach Kevin Gannon on Twitter @theTattooedProf

Or see his website The Tattooed Professor

Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto by Kevin Gannon is part of the Teaching and Learning Series in Higher Education out of West Virginia University Press.

Kevin brings up Ken Bain’s idea of The Promising Syllabus in which instructors make promises to their students and students have a sense of control in their education.

Course Syllabi with Language about Universal Design for Learning, Accessibility and/or Inclusion This includes a short accessibility statement by Mark Sample from Davidson College that Kevin cites in Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto. (Originally Mark Sample, “Accessibility Statements on Syllabuses,” ProfHacker, Sept. 9, 2013)

Digital Pedagogy Lab: Kevin recommends Digital Pedagogy Lab as a great resource for instructors

D. Fink’s Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses asks instructors to think about what value a course has 5 years after the course is over. 

Lillian Mentions’s Ken Bain’s What the Best College Students Do, specifically the chapter “What Makes an Expert?” in working with First Year Students.

Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics This is the metastudy that Kevin references about active learning in STEM fields. Students learn more in active learning environments as opposed to lecture-based courses.

Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom This is the recent study Lillian cites about active learning gains in students even when students believe they learn more in a lecture class.

Kevin also recommends Sarah Rose Cavanagh’s The Spark of Learning: Energizing the College Classroom with the Power of Emotion for insights into the affective side of learning.

GroupMe A group text-messaging tool that allows for instructors and students to keep in touch outside the Learning Management System (LMS) or email.

Slack is another option for instructors and students to keep in communication outside of the classroom. Kevin uses this group web annotation tool and provides videos and introductions to students so that they know how to use this tool. 

Lillian mentions Michelle Pacansky-Brock’s idea of a Liquid Syllabus for online courses

Best Practices in Teaching with Emerging Technologies by Michelle Pacansky-Brock is an excellent source for those who are working on online courses.

Joshua R. Eyler’s How Humans Learn: The Science and Stories Behind Effective College Teaching  Kevin mentions his chapter on failure that is essential learning.
Kevin also mentions Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone: Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education by Tom Tobin and Kristin Behling in Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto


[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 39 of the Think UDL Podcast: Radical Hope for Online Teaching with Kevin Gannon.  Today’s episode is part of a summer 2020 series on UDL in online environments and I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak with Dr. Kevin Gannon today.  Kevin is the director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning and professor of history at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa.  His book Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto was released in the spring of 2020 and has already become a must read in academic circles and faculty book clubs throughout the United States and beyond.  In Radical Hope, Kevin notes that UDL is one of the most important topics in higher education today, and so I was happy when he agreed to speak to me about UDL at this particular moment as countless instructors are moving their courses online.  His book deals with both seated and online courses, as his teaching manifesto is, modality agnostic; however, our conversation focuses on how to implement the ideas he offers in his book specifically in online courses.  Kevin has been a generous scholar and faculty developer in the several years that I have come to know him through the professional and organizational development network or POD Network, and I am so thankful for his time to talk to me about radical hope for online teaching.  Thank you, Kevin Gannon, for joining us on the Think UDL Podcast!


[Kevin]  Thank you, it’s great to be here with you.


[Lillian]  So, the first question I ask all my guests is: what makes you a different kind of learner?


[Kevin]  I–you know, a lot of things.  I am one of those people that has never done well with group work, group assignments.  It’s not that I resent them actively, it’s just I’ve always–and I know it’s something I need to sort of figure out how to work with and I think I have in my career at least, but I’ve always been much more comfortable trying to figure out solutions on my own.  And I tend to jump from things really quickly, the order makes sense to me maybe, but not a lot of other people.  And so that for me early on at least that was a real struggle trying to work collaboratively and with people, was trying to explain kind of how I was thinking through something and not doing so very skillfully a lot of the time. So, I would say that’s what I think makes me the most different, is that for me still you know collaborative efforts and group work is a struggle.  Not because I hate it, but because I just sometimes I’m not very good at explaining my own process to the people I’m working with.


[Lillian]  So, does that mean that as an instructor do you shy away from group work?  Or, when you give group work, do you pay any particular attention to like instructions for group work?  How does that like process through your teaching?


[Kevin]  So, for a long time, I did avoid group work in my courses.  But, I don’t think that’s something that necessarily serves students well just because of all the expectations.  And I, you know, students need to know how to do this, I needed to learn how to do this for my own work, and I don’t think it’s fair to not even attempt to put tools in people’s toolboxes.  But that being said, it was still really hard to kind of figure out what that would look like for students.  I’m a real big fan of the team-based learning pedagogy because it gets rid of a lot of the things that typically go wrong with group work like the free-rider phenomenon and things like that.  I like the intentionality of it in the sense that like this is how it’s going to work for the whole course, and I really like the way that groups can you know–and in fact are encouraged to–think about each member and think about how they might contribute most effectively and what their role might be, and then how that might switch to keep things equitable.  And then the groups are actually producing something on a regular basis.  Like it’s not one huge summative project that all the chips are on, but it’s basically you know recurring applications.  And so yeah I use team-based learning for one of the courses that I teach in person, and I’m a real big fan of it.


[Lillian]  Awesome, that’s great.  Yeah it’s–isn’t it funny how much we have to collaborate and we have to do that and so we better be thinking about ways to teach our students, you know, like they actually will have to go into a real world someday.


[Kevin]  Right, right.  Yeah as if college isn’t the real world, right, but yeah I just–yeah.  But for a long time, I did no group work in any of my courses, and that eventually became unsustainable.


[Lillian]  Gotcha.  So, okay, so now I really want to get into your book Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto, and I was super excited to see–in fact several of my friends sent me a picture of the page where you say UDL is so important!  I said okay well now I’ve got to move it up on my reading list.  And I–when I read the book, I must say that UDL was shining through in so many parts of the book even outside of just the chapter where you like name it and explain it, but so many other chapters are using many of the UDL principles, and so I wanted to specifically talk about this summer in our series we’re talking about UDL and online environments considering that many professors, instructors are going to be working online in any number of ways, and wanted to kind of apply Radical Hope to online environments and how you do that because I know you’ve taught online for many years and so you mention in your–early on in the book–that teaching is more than just content delivery and I totally agree and UDL guidelines would say that content delivery is really just one of three of the main guidelines for UDL.  And you really suggest something I take a keen interest in which is taking a mind/body/spirit approach to education.  So, can you tell me what characterizes for you a mind/body/spirit approach to education?


[Kevin]   Sure. I think, above all, it’s a recognition that our students are coming to us as you know full and complicated human beings.  That they aren’t just brains on sticks and that you know content is important, but whatever the learning space is whether it’s a face-to-face a hybrid or a totally online space you know this is just one facet of my students’ daily lives and experiences.  And so if I’m not thinking about what that learning space looks like with an eye towards that reality, that my students are for example coming out of structures of inequality that shape their access to things like technology, if I’m not designing an online course with that realization in mind, then it’s not going to be successful.  And I also think it’s our ethical obligation, you know, we want to be recognized by our students and our peers as the full and complicated human beings that we are.  I don’t think that it’s ethical for us to not extend that same recognition to students.  Whether it’s in the abstract when we’re designing a course, or in actual specificity when we’re with them together in that learning space.


[Lillian]  You know, you mentioned–just to add onto that–you mentioned in your book that students should be considered allies, not adversaries.  And I think you’re–when we’re thinking about students as the, as a whole person, we are much less likely to take on that adversarial role of get to the deadline I mean come on you go we’re the enforcer, we are the judge–all of those kind of attitudes seem to melt away if we are really considering our students as our allies and people like us.


[Kevin]  Right, and I don’t think policing is a really good approach to pedagogy, and certainly at the moment that we’re in now, we’re seeing all the problems that come with a sort of a policing mindset, right, where the people that you’re supposed to be working with are implicitly your adversaries.  You know, we see that writ large in society what the deep fundamental corruption that that attitude brings.  And I think a similar thing is true when we work with students.  If we’re assuming that given the barest opportunity that students will try to game the system, you know, we’re basically telling them we think you’re going to cheat, you know, so for some students they’re like alright screw you I’m going to cheat.  And for other students it’s you know why am I even bothering being here, like, I have already been judged, my story’s already been written, what is the point.  And certainly no education, no teaching and learning is going to happen in that kind of space, you know.  Students want the same things that we want for them.  They want to learn, they want the course to be meaningful, even if they’re just taking it as like a checkbox requirement you know, they would rather it not suck than suck.  Which is, you know, what I want for my courses too, right?  So, our students you know we are trying to get to the same things.  So, for me it doesn’t make any sense to have this sort of–I mean it makes sense, I see how it happens, right, but it just it can’t–this implicit narrative that students are somehow not on the same side as we are.  I think it’s so pervasive and it’s really at the root of the lot of the problems that we complain about as faculty.  We’re the architect of our own frustrations in many ways.


[Lillian]  Exactly and this–your teaching manifesto, Radical Hope does move against what seems to be the implicitness of what teaching in the university Western world system has been for so long, and that’s what I really appreciated it about you kind of pulling out each one of those as you move through the book.  And so, ok, so you mentioned in the beginning there are four features as you call them, which Derek called them values, and in your pedagogy–


[Kevin]  Yeah, you could use that word. 

[Lillian]   Yeah, of Radical Hope and so those four features are that it is life-affirming, it’s centers student agency, it is inclusive, and it is praxis.  So, for each of those four features you list, can you give like a concrete example of how you see that feature is manifested in your online courses?


[Kevin]  Yes.  So, online you know is a different sort of animal in many ways.  But the same questions that we’re asking ourselves designing any course and creating any learning space are as the salient ones for online as well.  And so when I think about what does it mean to teach and learn in a life-affirming way you know, as opposed to the deathly, the stilted, necrotizing right, so is the course a vital one?  Is the learning connected to student experiences?  And that’s, you know, that’s a hard question sometimes you know.  My current online class is African-American history this summer.  So, that is directly relevant to what students are experiencing around them in the world today.  But when I’m teaching medieval world history, you know how do I make that something you know, and so how do I you know–what are the things that I’m able to do to create a space where students could make those sorts of connections to see the direct and even urgent relevance of this to their life; and to affirm them as learners in progress, not just empty vessels to be filled up.  And so that you know moves into this pillar of student centeredness, right, you know that for the outcomes of the course all the way to the things we do on an everyday basis in my online course, how are students creating their knowledge?  I don’t want to be the knowledge dispenser you know because otherwise we could just hand them a textbook and sit them in front of YouTube videos and say you know call us in four years and we’ll give you your degree, right.  So, clearly there’s something else that has to happen there.  So how am I making the space where students are the active agents of their own learning?  How are they not just creating their own knowledge but understand how and why they’re doing so, and given the opportunities to reflect on that so that they are adding these sorts of cognitive or metacognitive tools to their toolbox and they know what those tools are and they know how they might use them in different circumstances.  And so, you know, that accessibility, that you know that if students can’t access that meaningfully then what’s the point?  You know, that’s not equitable.  So, that’s the big part of the inclusive pillar, right, that you know if all of my students don’t have an equitable opportunity to achieve the learning outcomes of the course, then the course is not going to be successful because you know like Ken Bain talks about when he talks about a promising syllabus, right, like we are making promises to students that you know you will be literally different as a result of this course experience.  So, if my students don’t have the opportunity to fulfill that promise for themselves then that’s not a successful learning experience.


[Lillian]  You know, when you’re talking about the–I have this first three before you get to the practice, it makes me wonder about the idea of how long a course will stay the same.  Because I was–I teach a class on World War II in The Monuments Men that idea because I’m art background and I’ve been teaching it for five years, five plus years and I’m realizing that it’s–the parts that I started when it was super relevant like there was a lot of talk about it, the movie came out, you know things like that and now I’m thinking how do how can I tweak it and change it so that it is still relevant to my students now.  Because I had a very good negative review I don’t know if you’d say negative review but it was it was honest let’s say, and the student said you know I came in this class and I really just had no interest in this subject matter because he does not come from a European background, has really no interest in like the high European art that was saved, you know, and considered important and I thought gosh he’s right you know like yeah I think this is amazing and I find it really relevant, and I tried to bring a lot of emphasis to that, but I also started to think you know what is it that would make it even more relevant to a wider array of students?  And I think there might be like a shelf life for how long you can teach a particular way or particular topic.  Have you found that as well?


[Kevin]  Yeah, absolutely, and so you know, in terms of popular culture’s influence, my medieval world history class you know when Game of Thrones was dominating the pop culture radar you know a lot of people were like “ooh, medieval lit,” but even now you know that’s a really in some ways not very good gateway into medieval history.


[Lillian]   Its not all true?! 

[Kevin]   No, you know, the dragons don’t come till a century later you know.  But that was the entree right you know and so it’s like that was a good starting point because we you know one of the things that we do talk about in the class is what does medieval mean and what is medievalism you know in other words, the way that future generations have interpreted the medieval.  And you know Game of Thrones has some cultural tropes in there that as we study world history, not just European medieval history you know we can talk about how you know how are these different cultural you know features represented in pop culture and what does it mean to interpret medieval history.  So we would have some really good discussions but you know those–that platform where it’s very easy to jump into those discussions is not what it used to be.  And so I need to be thinking about different ways and you know and students are taking the course for different reasons too you know I don’t have nearly the same amount that are taking it because they like Game of Thrones.


[Lillian]  Gotcha, I gotcha.  Well, that may have kind of entered into that praxis part, how do you do that in your online environments?


[Kevin]  Well, and so for online I think it’s really important you know I mean obviously we’re trying to be mindful in any teaching and learning situation we’re in that what we believe in theory is informing our everyday practice, right.  And so this idea of praxis that we’re critically reflecting on our actions to make sure they align with our sort of theoretical framework that we’re coming from, that theory is not effective without it being embodied in not just practice in a general level, but like the day to day specific even boring kind of stuff, right.  So, in my online course, you know if I think that access is important and I do and I think online learning has tremendous potential for increasing access to higher education, but then the question becomes access to what?  And if so students have access to a really shitty online course and that’s not embodying the principles that I’m approaching this environment with.  So, you know are my PDFs OCR compatible?  Like, again, the really routine nuts and boltsy kind of stuff, that’s the Praxis part.  That’s the non grand pronouncement part of making sure that your theory lives in the world.  And that’s what I think is so important, you know, syllabi should embody the principles that I approach learning with in this sort of universal way, right.  The design of the course should you know reflect those values the way that students have choice and autonomy in a course, right.  So–and all of those spring from not just the sort of grand theoretical pronouncement that I might have, I mean, that’s important, you should have your framework.  But then, again, what are the everyday decisions and actions that I’m taking.  The quotidian kind of stuff, right you know what are the discussion prompts asking students to do: to converse or to recit,e right?  You know, again, those the everyday choices that we make, especially in an online environment which is–can be so often mediated by simply text, which I think we need to actually break up a little bit and work more multimedia opportunities in there and more presence.  But where you’re largely asynchronous if not completely and you’re missing the things that you would normally have in a face-to-face class, vocal inflections, cues, things like that, so you know how am I really ensuring in an online learning space that I’m still able to be you know to have this course embody the things that I think make for successful teaching and learning.


[Lillian]  You know, that reminds me of your–you cited another Davidson college professor who really changed around even just the wording in the syllabus, and that–I was going to ask you about that.  You already have answered, how–what are the things in your course that are those quotidian things?  But I really liked how that was like a policy change or not it wasn’t a change, sorry, it was a framing of how students might go to the office of Disability Services or something like that and you really brought out how to change that around.  Is that something that you do in your syllabus, or how do you do that?


[Kevin]   Yeah, absolutely.  So it’s Mark Sample back when the prof hacker blog was a thing in the Chronicle of Higher Ed, he wrote an entry one time several years ago where he talked about you know this problem you know we all have to have these accommodation statements, right, but UDL goes against this you know we don’t want to keep doing one accommodation for students you know for one student one time, right.  So, how do we get out of that?  How do we frame it as something other than like you know these different people have to sort of out themselves to get what they need to learn.  Well, everybody needs stuff to learn, right, so what if we framed it in–Sample’s question was well what if we frame it as you know all of us learn in maybe slightly different ways, maybe those ways are significantly different, but we should be supporting all of those ways in this class.  And so he frames the statement you know and I largely you know used it as kind of a template for my own about how you know everybody learns in ways that are useful for them, some of that looks the same, some of it looks different, but I support learning in all its varieties, and I want to make sure that this course does too.  If some of the things that help you learn better require assistance from our office of disability services, let’s talk about that.  But it’s it becomes that a whole class thing, not a you know here’s this thing for a special subgroup and nobody else needs to pay attention to it.  No, learning is learning and so just you know turning it around like that just this nudge in this into a different sort of direction changes the entire tone of you know what might ordinarily be just sort of routine policy language.


[Lillian]  Exactly, so I really appreciated that.  I think that’s something that is hopefully a sea change that’s coming.  I mean, we’ve already talked about how your book Radical Hope is going against those implicit biases so what if you know how wonderful would it be if that was the new implicit way we do things, is with that kindness, with that invitation and in a way that values learner variability.


[Kevin]  Yeah, absolutely and I think you know and Mark Sample deserves so much of the credit for putting it out there, and putting it out in a way where he basically invites folks use this as a model if you want, because I definitely took them up on that invitation.  And I’ve seen other examples from other you know in digital pedagogy lab, you know this is some of the things that some of the participants have talked about.  And you know just how do we frame learning in a syllabus and then let things proceed from there, rather than you know if you learn this way, then do these things, and if you learn this way, don’t do these things, right, that–the first of those seems to me to be the more effective approach.


[Lillian]   Exactly, exactly.  So, in your chapter on cultivating transformative teaching, which is what we’re talking about, you propose that faculty should move from this instructor-centered to student-centered orientation.  And that is definitely a tenant of Universal Design for Learning and its value on learner variability.  So, this change from the norm can cause some friction with students and also with other instructors when students are like hey I don’t want to do group work, that’s your job, or I don’t like the way this, you know, this is really different from the way I supposed that college was going to be.  And, same thing with instructors who are like this isn’t the way we’ve always done it and this isn’t my job.  What is your answer or how do you answer students and fellow instructors who are saying this to you as a pushback?


[Kevin]  Right, so for the student, you know this was something that when I started teaching one of my courses in the team-based learning format that I really had to work with students because it’s so radically different than what they’ve experienced before.  And I think the key is to be, you know, completely transparent and explicit about our own thought process.  Like, why is this a thing that’s going to work better you know why is this not going to suck basically is kind of the question that we wanted 


[Lillian]  Yeah, because they want to know!

[Kevin]  Right, and if we can’t answer it then we’ve got problems, right, so I you know–and I think that the stuff that I try to be as transparent as possible for my students you know in so many ways and my syllabus and but you know I have my students we collaborate on some of the class expectations part of you know whether it’s a face-to-face or an online course and I think that starts out with conversation.  So, one of the things that I think is really helpful to do is to ask students in the beginning of a course: what helps you learn?  One of the interest–I always have very interesting discussions with students especially in 100 level course because we’ll say okay this is a history course, why are you taking it you know no one in there’s a major, they’re all taking it because it’s a core class.  And then I say you know what are ways that you would describe your previous experience with history in an academic setting, you know whether it’s you know your high school or college and I say you know keep it anonymous you know but be honest, right, and you know so many of the you know there’s you know interesting and exciting and all but then there’s like names and dates, and it sucks and boring, and you know and so but getting all that out there and then saying okay here’s how we’re going to try to avoid those things in this class.  If you don’t want the same crappy outcomes you got before, then we’re not going to do the same methods, right, and so really just inviting students in that conversation and having them think of themselves as learners, right.  Like, you know so many times the implicit narrative is open up your head will pour in knowledge and then you’ll be done, and you know we know at least implicitly in the college level that that’s not true, but we still in some cases act like it is.  So, I think getting students to say you know this is not the expectation I have of myself or this course, and I don’t want it to be the expectation you have of yourself either you know.  And for faculty colleagues it’s somewhat of the same experience you know.  When your classes have gone well, how have they gone well, right.  What do you really want for your courses, you know.  And faculty, a lot of times you know when we say what is it I like D. Fink’s question a lot when he talks about significant learning experiences, he says you know one, five, ten  years down the road when this course is done, what do you want your students to still have with them?  You know and if the answer to that question is like specific chunks of content you know I want them to remember when the Battle of Hastings was like you know maybe that’s not you know what do we really want them to have?  And then how do we get there and you know what proceeds naturally from that logic is that it’s got to be a collaborative effort, it can’t just be the instructor pulling all the weight if the class is to be significant for the students.  And regardless of you know a faculty you know they may be just totally committed to lecturer and you know all you know and just the sort of the caricature the crusty old cynical professor is like they can’t learn they still want their students to learn, right.  They still do care about that in ways that might be different from mine but that’s still our common goal and so there’s at least some common ground to have that conversation.


[Lillian]  You know, I saw that you used to run the first year experience or is it visit first year seminar program there?  And that’s my current situation, it’s a great gig.  I love getting students as they come into college because I feel like it is a lot of unlearning how k12 worked and how they came in.  And I use Ken Bian’s What the Best College Students Do and we read the chapter “What Makes an Expert?” but we’re talking about deep learning, surface learning, and strategic learning and ask them what kind of learner were you?  Yeah it’s pretty much a surface or strategic learner, and I say what did you learn in your sophomore year in math?  And they’re like nothing, I don’t, you know, I maybe I learned something because I got an A, but I can’t tell you, you know, what it was.  I said I don’t want you to go through this class–we’re going to spend three hours a week you know for fifteen weeks and I don’t want this to be you forget it like that what a waste of time, what a waste of my time.  And yeah, why would anybody want to do that, it’s just a time filler.  I’m you know babysitting or something.  So having to get students on board and really frame that learning experience I have found is imperative.  And so for the last five or six –well, five years I’ve been teaching in the first year seminar program.  I spend the first–this may be a lot–three weeks talking about how we are as learners, what we have been as learners, how we’re going to proceed because like you I’m a lot of times a facilitator, not a lecturer and they’re not expecting that and there’s some pushback about you’re not doing your job or this is not what I expected, and found gosh I’ve got to spend a long time to say here’s how we’re doing this and it’s not easy, it’s a little bit of an uphill climb to get everybody on board with that.  So, I wanted to find out how you’re doing that, too.


[Kevin]  Yeah, and sometimes I think it’s useful to cite research with students.  Be like you know hey there’s this really cool study you know like the active learning meta study that the national–what is it National Foundation– it’s a stem oriented one but it’s basically a survey.  The one that everybody cites right, but it’s like–


[Lillian]   We’ll put it in the web resources for this episode so we’ll be able to find it.

[Kevin]  Awesome, yeah so you know that big study right–I’m a little more prepared to cite it when I talk to students–but I’m like look here’s what it found, right like this is why active learning is a thing and passive learning isn’t.  Like even though you know your expectation is like I teach you, you know that’s not going to work.  And so what your real goals for this course are not going to be met by the methods that you might expect, so let’s talk about what that means and what we do differently.  You know it’s you know I think you know and this is true for a lot of faculty, too like you know there’s research on this stuff and not everybody knows about it but it’s like oh hey you know we’ve actually thought about this and there’s evidence-based solutions that will help learning in ways that you know are pretty significant.  And so to not take advantage of that knowledge that we have is a real problem.


[Lillian]  Yeah, I noted recently there’s this year I think the study about even the perceptions that students even believe they’ve learned more if they’re in a lecture based class.  But if you have the same section and one was more lecture based the other knows more collaborative, student-centered, those students actually perform better and can demonstrate more learning even though the ones who are in the completely lecture class or mostly lecture class think they learned a lot more.  But it’s actually the opposite, its crazy.


[Kevin]  You know in history that’s one of the big you know debates that we have as a discipline, right this lecture versus active learning based pedagogy because there’s this sort of perception that if I don’t say something to you know when my students are in the same place, that I say it then they haven’t learned it, right so but I think you know what we need to realize–it’s covering content is what I do, it’s not what students do.  So if the instructor says well I’m covering it, okay great, that’s what you’re doing, what are your students doing while you’re covering it because it might not be learning, right.


[Lillian]  Yeah exactly, and there’s so much more in learning than just listening.  In fact in your teaching and learning inclusively chapter you mentioned that there are those who create an artificial distinction between cognition and emotion, but there’s been much research that has proven that emotion is essential to learning.  So, therefore you advocate that faculty need to prioritize a collaborative and trusting learning environment rather than that hierarchical and adversarial one.  So, how is it that you’re doing that in your online environments that you’re kind of switching that?


[Kevin]  That’s a great question because you know Sarah Rose Cavanagh’s book The Spark of Learning you know where she takes the insights from research on emotion and cognitive psychology and applies them to learning I think you know really you know just opened my–you know there’s one of those like I sort of knew this was a thing and I knew there were connections, but seeing just how powerful and prevalent those connections are was a real eye-opening experience for me.  She came and did some workshops for us right when that book came out at Grand View and you know the faculty you know we were just amazed at the ways that you know this could inform our practice you know even for those of us who are like yeah I’m super student-centered, right.  Well, there are still ways to draw on those insights and more importantly to take down some of the implicit barriers we might have put up to learning and so a lot of it goes into you know student motivations you know you know if I’m not motivated genuinely to learn, then what’s happening in the class isn’t going to be very meaningful for me.  So, in an online space what does that mean?  For me, choice and autonomy and flexibility are the values that I try to design an online space around.  And of course that can’t be a complete design because I want the students to be involved in it too, and so there are sort of places where it’s like okay we’ll figure this out during the first week or the first module, right.  And I think sometimes there’s a fundamental tension with that because you know a lot of times you know program administrators want the class to be built and completely ready to go.  And it’s a hard sell to say like well actually we’re going to figure that part out you know in week two, so you know but coming up with pathways you know for students you know multiple means–like UDL principles, right?  Multiple means of representation, multiple means of assessment, you know its students can you know select this particular pathway or this particular assignment.  You know my good course outcomes can be accomplished in a variety of ways.  So, if I’ve got learning goals that that students can demonstrate in multiple fashions then why wouldn’t I give them the opportunity to at least choose from some of those options if not all of them, you know. So for this fall, for example, you know my university we’re using the high flex model to prepare for the fall, which is a ton of work, but I really like the model because it extends that choice into you know into at least during normal non pandemic times students choose their mode of attendance for a particular day or a particular module or for the course, right, in person, online synchronous, or online asynchronous and they can move back and forth as life happens or things change and you know it’s to me that’s like it’s taking this idea of agency and motivation and then putting it up to the next level and so I’m really intrigued by the possibilities that high flex offers and I’m hoping that you know this experience that we have planning for a pandemic and socially distanced fall with high flex will actually pay some long-term dividends for the online courses that we offer at my university.


[Lillian]  Well, and it also sounds like that is a way you’re recognizing that these are not brains on a stick.  You are recognizing that these are real people and they’re just like us and therefore we are making things flexible just like we need to have some flexibility if we’re sick or if we are–have something that changes in our lives and we’ll still want to have that access, right?


[Kevin]  Right, and it goes like when UDL talks about we want to go beyond one accommodation for one student for one occasion, right high flex lets us go beyond the one absence for one student to you know when we have a student who’s traveling for an athletic event, or another university activity, or their car breaks down on the way to come you know there are other pathways.  You aren’t missing things, you can just re-route onto another pathway for that particular thing and so I’m not constantly trying you know I have a I work at a university where 2/3 of our students almost are student athletes, and so I’m not trying to keep up with okay who travelled for this, and who needs to catch up with this, and did they get the notes from a classmate, you know all you know that goes away with this sort of hybrid flexible idea.  And so that’s one of the things that intrigues me is you know again we’re being flexible ahead of time in order to make learning as seamless as possible when life happens.  Because of course life happens.


[Lillian]  Right.  Well, and you’re also doing the work this summer so that in the middle of the semester when things will be crazy, no matter what’s happening it’s going to be crazy, you are making it less work. You’re not in a rapid move to remote pandemic type of thing, you’re planning for that flexibility so that you can be flexible and it’s like you can breathe. 


[Kevin]  Right, you’ve already built a reboot you know an online asynchronous pathway into your course because that’s one of the options that students would have, then you know I’m not sure it’s if but when we pivot to remote again in the fall right and you know the spring our students extended us a certain amount of grace as we did to them.  But, I don’t think that’s going to be viable in the fall, right.  We need to be ready you know and there’s no excuse not to be even though we all freely admit it’s a ton of extra work, and for our adjunct colleagues in particular we need to think really hard about how we’re supporting that work and more importantly compensating it.


[Lillian]  Exactly, yeah I’ve been thinking about that as well.  I’m working with a couple people about maybe we can get something together that’s like an online course template that’s UDL ready so that our adjuncts and it’s less work you know not every single person needs to be reinventing the wheel this summer, we need to share our resources.


[Kevin]  Yeah that’s–so we’ve built accessible templates for our learning management system.  I’m building a library of tutorial videos and an online training housed in our learning management system on high flex.  So, you know again the more tools that people have to choose from you know the better off we are come August when classes start whatever that might look like.


[Lillian]  Exactly.  Okay so that brings me to your chapter on making access mean something.  Because in that chapter I was like my eyes got really big like a cartoon, and you note that UDL is one of the most important topics in higher education today, woot woot!  And that the goal of UDL is to create learning spaces in which students would not have to request accommodation at all because it’s accessible to all.  So, you say you ask the question do all of your students do all of our students have the same degree of access to these four things: to us, to the course, to the material, and to learning. So, can you give us examples of one way that you make sure that’s that you’ve provided access in each of those areas: to you, to the course, to the material, and to learning.


[Kevin]  So, yeah, in my online courses in particular I really try to schedule you know what I call student hours as opposed to office hours or chats.  You know, in a normal semester even I’m doing those both in person and online you know and we have students who in our online courses some of them are our full-time day students taking them, but we have an evening and adult learner program as well and these are folks who work full-time during the day, so am I making times where you know they actually you know so are some of these in the evening or some of these in ways that my adult students can access those opportunities for discussion.  You know again one simple choice but you know here’s the way that you can access it.  But I also use depending on the class I’ll use things like group me or slack and it’s one of the–the tension is some people will say well I don’t want to feel like I’m you know a 24/7 help desk and it’s like you’re not but you know these are ways that someone can ask me a question and I don’t have to respond right away but it’s still a lot better than playing phone tag, right.  So it’s increasing access that way and I’m also making the expectations clear to students.  Like, it may take me a little bit to get back to you even if you ask a question this way, right.


[Lillian]   Well, do you have any particular way you have students address you?  Like how do you, what do you have them call you if you’ve got many different ways I’m interested in that kind of emotional part of how you are monitoring that or participating in that relationship.


[Kevin]  So, I tell them that I’m Dr. Kevin Gannon and they can use any or all of those three in whatever combination.  There is this sort of culture at my university where they just sort of use your last name which is kind of funny.  Now, having said that you know I’m an older tenured like dude and so you know I don’t have my credentials and expertise implicitly doubted sometimes just because of the demographic I’m in, so I think this is one of those your mileage may vary in the solution you know may look different for different folks but you know it is something that I think is worth putting in front of students you know like you know because there is a like what do we call you?  You know and so–


[Lillian]   Yeah, just having that conversation.  So, I’ve also noticed that when I was first teaching, it was definitely had to have a professor or a you know something in front of that, but now I look at least older than them now you know when I started I was mistaken for a student all the time.  And so it was only in in me feeling comfortable and then you know old enough really for them to say I want them to call me by my first name because I want that to be a good relationship and so they feel accessible.  But also have noticed culturally, that may not be appropriate.  Some of our students are–culturally they find that a little bit abrasive to call an adult by their first name, that’s just not appropriate for them.  So, I don’t want to put them also feeling out of the norm either.  So, allowing lots of options, I appreciated that you had options there too.


[Kevin]  So, the course–you know UDL right, I mean it’s making the course as accessible as possible.  You know all the material that’s on it, the tools that students are using and so again it goes more beyond or it goes beyond just you know are my PDF’s OCR compatible, do I have alt text for images, I mean those things are super important.  But, you know do students know how to use the tools that I’m asking them to use?  Are their clear and accessible instructions for those, right.  Like if I use a web annotation tool called hypothesis in my courses for example, which I love, but my students have never encountered before and so it is a little wonky to get used to.  So, how you know am I making this an accessible and easy tool for them to use you know tutorial videos and things like that that I’ve made.  So, increase you know the course structure you know do the students have the tools that they need to navigate through that course and am I making it an easy one to navigate?  I think one easy thing to do in an online course is to have you know we do a lot of welcome material so a welcoming video is absolutely something to do.  And whether it’s part of that or a separate little you know shorter video is a tour of the course.  You know just like you know and I have a colleague who actually does a really funny where she dresses up like a flight attendant and said you know and doesn’t like a flight safety thing like you know welcome to this course, your emergency exits are here, and your modules are here you know she does it in front of a green screen and it’s hilarious.  But you know just something like that right like welcome students to the course and to help them kind of you know navigate the landscape around it and I think that’s you know for the course materials as well you know thinking about not just the stuff that they’re reading or doing, but what about my assessments, right.  So again, you know are there multiple means for students to represent the knowledge and so this is where choice and flexibility come into the equation.  


[Lillian]  Yeah, you know Michelle Pacansky-Brock has this idea of the liquid syllabus.

[Kevin]  Yes I love that, I love her stuff.


[Lillian]  I love that, so for our listeners who haven’t heard of it we’ll put this definitely as a link in our resources.  But it is that welcome that is what I love about it is she said it needs to be like mobile friendly too, so, chances are as your students are just starting to know that they’re in your class, they’re probably finding out on their phone.  So, if you click on something that then goes to a mobile-friendly site that might have a welcome video and I might have the syllabus that’s formatted for something that it’s not like a PDF that they have to squeeze down on and look at what all those things are that it really makes a big difference.  That first impressions really are important for the students finding out like wow what kind of class is this going to be for me.


[Kevin]  Exactly and it doesn’t even take you know you don’t need to know how to code or do web design.  I mean, you could use a free WordPress template, or Wix, or Weebly, or Google Sites if you’re a Google campus.  And have that initial you know launching pad for your course right that landing site exactly like you talked about where you can send an email to students you know “Welcome to this course.  You’re registered for history 104 online.  Click here to get introduced to the learning space.”  And then they get to that platform you know which again you know if you use a template like on WordPress for example it’s already adaptable to mobile devices so I don’t need to know how to do any of that sort of design stuff I just need to find a template that works and I preview it and it looks good on my phone so it’ll you know and there we go.  So it’s actually a lot less complicated.  I know when I first started getting into all this stuff it was like man, I’m never going to figure out how to do any of this crap.  But, you know, I can’t code!  But now I have course websites right so you know the tools that are out there are easier to use than we think.  


[Lillian]  Yeah and I’m starting to do my liquid syllabus, I have no idea what I’m doing, but there are wonderful people who’ve gone before us like Michelle Pacansky-Brock who has a whole here’s how to do it step-by-step and I need that.


[Kevin]  Yeah her book Best Practices and Teaching with Emerging Technologies is one of the books that had the most influence on me as I really thought about kind of my own online teaching.  And I teach a lot with technology my face-to-face courses, too, so it was a really clarifying read and got me thinking about the ways that I was doing things and actually changed a fair amount of my practices as a result.


[Lillian]  Yeah, I’m so thankful for so many people who are helping us in this crazy turnaround and so many more people are going online.  So, that’s why I’m really glad to be talking with you.  We can share this great information.  So, did we cover everything about access to the professor, the course, the material, and to learning?


[Kevin]  Yeah, I think you know again for me in my online classes in particular you know what are the different ways that students can access material and be assessed on the material, and then demonstrate their learning.  One of the most important parts I think for students to be able to not just learn, but to be aware of their learning, is the opportunity to do kind of reflective metacognitive work.  And so I try to include elements, and not just in my online courses, but you know whether it’s informal reflections after an assessment, you know what worked, what didn’t, what are you going to do better the next time, or the opportunity to explicitly reflect on course themes.  So, like part of their final project is actually a reflective component you know they look at the course goals for the course which I use Fink’s Taxonomy for Significant Learning Experiences and you know did I do these things, how far did I get?  You know, what worked you know what am I taking with me and so some sort of guided work to get through that reflective part and to understand you know it’s one thing to learn but it’s another thing to understand how you’re learning and what worked for you more effectively than other things, because that’s the kind of stuff that you take with you from the course.


[Lillian]   Yeah, absolutely, so thank you for that.  And you hit on another thing that is really important to Universal Design for Learning and that is reflection and self-regulation.  And so how do you give your students time to as you say reflect on themselves as learners in an online environment?


[Kevin]  Well I think you have to be really intentional about doing that.  You know it’s a lot harder in an online course to do some of the things that we might do more informally in a face-to-face course, right, like you know I can’t do a minute paper at the end of class or a muddiest point exercise.  So, there are a number of different ways you can get at it.  It can be in the discussions, it can be in a voice thread, it could be in the journaling feature of your learning management system, it could be some combination of those things, it can be email check-ins.  But I think having you know whatever is most appropriate for your context and your learners having that intentionally in there, and signposting that for students.  Like there are these opportunities here where I want you to do some reflecting and here’s why.  Like here’s why that’s important and here’s why it’s important for us to be able to think about ourselves, to think about thinking, right, to learn about learning.  And for me that’s one of my course outcomes is this larger metacognitive dimension.  So, that’s where I tie it for my students, but whatever it looks like in your course I think it needs to be there and we need to be very explicit about what and why that component is there for.


[Lillian]   Yeah, I’m trying to figure out for my class this summer and the–I’ve come up with kind of each module having students learn, reflect upon what they learned in each of the activities about the–like what they learned during that activity, and then what they learned from other people.  Like, we’ll share those online.  Just starting to say, “hey, this is really important, this is going to be the capstone part,” but it’ll be the first time I’m doing that online, so that’s going to be difficult.


[Kevin]   Yeah, and it looks different in a student–it looks different for students, too.  One of the things that I’m experimenting with is having to make videos about their takeaways.  You know, just informal stuff recorded on your phone.  I have a YouTube channel for the course that you know they could just upload it right there.  So, we’ll see how that goes, but I think I want it to be less formal but more substantive if that makes sense.  So, you know, giving them the freedom to sort of say you know “hey, do a video, and whatever you think kind of looks cool you know do that,” but here’s–here are the things that I would like for you to talk about and that I want you and so a lot of that is in you know we do a course blog you know where they’re really working together as peers.  So, what are you taking out of that, what are you taking out of these other things that we’ve done as a group.  So, we’ll see how that goes.  I like the idea of doing that more than just mediated through text.


[Lillian]   Yeah, that’s great.  So, and that’s one of those really important parts for UDL is self-regulation and understanding because we want students to become expert learners or lifelong learners, right, that’s the skill we want them to have.  And you put a heavy emphasis on failure and I do as well Ken Bain talks about it in his book, What the Best College Students Do, I talk about it a lot, can you tell us how you design or let’s say bake in failure into a course or maybe additionally how do you create assignments that support students so they’re unlikely or less likely to fail?  But, both of those are good and they’re not mutually exclusive, so I wanted to ask you about that.


[Kevin]   So, a couple things I do.  One is in the courses where I use exams students have the opportunity when they get an exam back if they didn’t do as well as they would have liked they can go back and fix it.  And so I give them the opportunity to do that to earn some points back.  But also in order for any of that to count they have do a reflection and it’s a real basic one, but basically you know how did you prepare for this, was it effective, and usually the answer is not very.  And then so what are you going to do differently next time?  Like, what are you taking out of this, what are you going to change?  So, basically having them do kind of an action plan you know, what are your next steps.  So even on something that seems a summative and final as a unit exam, it’s still in process, right.  You know it’s like I haven’t just you know–because a lot of times it’s you get your grade okay that’s done we will never learn it again and I failed.  You know it’s like that’s not really the point right you know it’s you know this is still an iterative process.  The same is true for essays and I take a real process-oriented approach in teaching writing, so you know everything’s a draft.  Even what we call a final paper is still a draft and still part of a conversation.  So, working with a lot of peer review you know having students sort of look at you know what ways that they have been successful and unsuccessful in these types of assignments before, and then ways that we can support them being more successful in a class this time around.  So, a lot of dialogue with students and just try to create a culture of “in process” as opposed to finality.


[Lillian]   That’s great, yeah.  It has been one of the biggest parts of my movement from being a learner to a teacher or / facilitator is the fear of failure, and I was I think a little different than you as I read your book I was the kid that was so afraid of failure, that I did everything in a very small in strict way.  And I realized how much I missed out on by not risking and not taking chances that would have broadened my knowledge and broadened my abilities.  So, I was what Ken Bain might have called a strategic learner for so long you know.  And so I’m trying in my teaching to push students away from that safety zone, and finding ways that it–that failure is really good.  I was just too afraid of it.


[Kevin]   Yeah, and we have to do that in ways where you know this is where creating–whether it’s an online or a face-to-face class–an environment where students genuinely feel welcome and safe in this sort of metacognitive sense.  Because otherwise they’re not going to risk failure you know it’s and so we often talk of “well, I want learners to be uncomfortable,” I do, you know, but not in a sort of feeling danger sense, right.  Because for some of our students, you know, discomfort has a lot higher stakes. You know they’ve been marginalized throughout their educational experience before.  So, if I say you know I want you to not be afraid to fail, I’m telling them something completely different than everything they’ve been told up to that point and I’m asking them to risk a lot.  So, is this in an environment where there’s a net you know there’s a safety net.  There’s something there where you know failure is not the end.  Josh Eyler in his book How Humans Learn has a really good chapter on failure and how you know he argues it’s an essential part of learning.  But, that being said, you know there are ways to sort of create an environment where we can learn from failure and then ways that might not be as effective.


[Lillian]   Yeah, we are going to have a lot of resources and you’ve mentioned Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone as well, all of these great books that we’ll have–definitely have for our listeners on our web resources.  And, I think that faint barking tells us that we’ve come to the end of our conversation in the background there you’re well known dogs.


[Kevin]   Yes, Yoshi has apparently spotted the mailman doing his rounds in the neighborhood.  You can almost set your watch by it.


[Lillian]   Nice.  Well, I so appreciate you going through so many of these important ideas that you put–laid out in Radical Hope, and specifically applying them to online environments.  I think this is going to be very helpful for our listeners out here, and I really can’t thank you enough for your time, Kevin.


[Kevin]   Well, thanks, and I hope it’s helpful and I’m in the struggle with everybody trying to figure out high-flex, trying to figure out the fall and you know fortunately there’s a great community of practitioners that you know makes it so we don’t have to rediscover fire all the time.



[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 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 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. 


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