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Reflecting On A Starfish Difference with Joe Houghton

Welcome to Episode 91 of the Think UDL podcast: Reflecting On A Starfish Difference with Joe Houghton. Joe Houghton is an Assistant Professor at the Smurfit College of Business at University College, Dublin. In this conversation we talk about the usefulness of reflection and feedback in various projects, and talk about a lot of collaborative projects that Joe has been implementing in his graduate courses, along with the fantastic work he has been doing to raise awareness and spread the effectiveness of Universal Design for Learning principles in higher education in Ireland. He has his own podcast, called the Plus One podcast, which is also about UDL! In fact, I met Joe when he asked to interview me on his podcast over a year ago. You can find a link to his podcast in our resources for this episode, and look for his interview with me on Episode 5 from May of 2021. The title of this episode is Reflecting on a Starfish Difference because not only do we talk about reflection and how important it is in learning, but also how important one little change, one small effort can be to just one student, and to that student, it makes all the difference. You’ll hear the story of the starfish a little later on as Joe tells it.


Find Joe Houghton on LinkedIn or Email –

CANVA SDG assignment template link that other educators can copy and re-purpose: – 

The Smurfit 2022 report created by the students in 1 week 

The MAD 117 Project created by Joe’s class 

The Plus One project has really great information that Joe mentions about UDL in Ireland and his Plus One Podcast is a must listen for more UDL in practice! 

University College Dublin (UCD) UDL Case Studies (published in 2023 and added to resources after podcast interview)



udl, students, learning, reflection, podcast, sdgs, teaching, starfish, people, called, important, learner, link, educator, teams, put, reflect, udl principles, class, charity

Lillian Nave  00:00

Welcome to Think UDL, the Universal Design for Learning podcast where we hear from the people who are designing and implementing strategies with learner variability in mind. I’m your host, Lillian Nave. And I’m interested in not just what you’re teaching, learning, guiding and facilitating, but how you design and implement it and why it even matters. Welcome to Episode 91 of the Think UDL podcast: Reflecting on a Starfish Difference with Joe Houghton. Joe Houghton is an assistant professor at the Smurfit College of Business at University College, Dublin in Ireland. In this conversation, we talk about the usefulness of reflection and feedback in various projects and talk about a lot of collaborative projects that Joe has been implementing in his graduate courses. Along with the fantastic work he’s been doing to raise awareness and spread the effectiveness of UDL principles in higher education in Ireland. He has his own podcast called the plus one podcast, which is also about UDL. In fact, I met Joe when he asked to interview me on his podcast over a year ago, you can find a link to his podcast in our resources for this episode, and look for his interview with me on Episode Five from May of 2021. The title of this episode is reflecting on a starfish difference because not only do we talk about reflection and how important it is in learning, but also how important one little change. One small effort can be to just one student. And to that student, it makes all the difference. You’ll hear the story of the starfish a little later as Joe telson. So thank you for listening and a special thank you to the folks at the UDL he network. That’s Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education Network for their financial support of the think UDL podcast. Welcome, Joe. It is so great to see you again. Thank you for being on the podcast.

Joe Houghton  02:27

Thanks for having me, Lillian. Yeah, it’s been a little while hasn’t it? But yeah, it’s lovely to be with you. Yeah.

Lillian Nave  02:36

Yeah, this is great, because I met you when I when you interviewed me, and we’ll have a link to that on the show notes. But I am so excited about what you’ve been doing. And since we talked, so that’s why I wanted to have this chat today and tell a bunch of people about the case study. It’s gonna be great. So let me start with my first question. That is what makes you a different kind of learner.

Joe Houghton  03:02

Yeah, the scary question that comes at the start of each of your podcasts, right? Yeah. And I’ve, you know, I’ve been listening over the last few months to a few of them. And, you know, you’ve had some really good answers. So I’m under pressure. Now. I don’t know that I am a different kind of learner. And the reason I say that is, is that I mean, isn’t isn’t the whole thing about UDL, that we are all different learners. And I mean, we are that’s probably what the question is about, really, that we are all different learners. And so I’m, I’m different in that I’m me, and I come at things from my biases in my background and my assumptions and stuff, but I’m a different, I’m different to some people, and I’m the same as other people. And that’s the problem, isn’t it? Right. So I suppose I, I mean, I come at this, this whole learning thing, from the point of view that I love, to learn to do things better. Whatever I do, I like to go and research it, look at other people who are doing it, practice it myself, so that I get better at doing whatever it is that I want to do. And making new connections. You know, whether that’s meeting you on the podcast, or whether that’s going to a UDL conference and being exposed to other practitioners or, you know, listening to Dr. Perry the other day. He’s amazing, amazing show that one was so exposure to new ideas, I think, but but I want to be able to apply the ideas. So when I’m listening and when I’m, you know, bringing stuff in. I’m always thinking how can I how can I apply that to my teaching or my whatever it is that I’m doing I mean, I think it was checkoff who said knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice, which is going to cause you know, all kinds of screams from the the theorists. But that’s where I come from, from a learning perspective, I suppose. Yeah.

Lillian Nave  05:16

Oh, excellent. You know, when I get real, like UDL practitioners, the ones who are just totally in the thick of it, that becomes such a philosophical question, what kind of what makes you a different kind of learner and you, you really gave us an expert definition of, of what we’re after like to become an expert learner where you are continuously learning. And that is what our goal is when we implement universal design for learning. So I was an excellent I love that answer. That’s like, one of one of the things that explains why we do what we do. So thank you. Yeah, so So you have been really immersed in Universal Design for Learning. In the last, I don’t know, 12 to 18 months, especially. And so I wanted wanted to ask if you could tell us a little bit about your, your interest and your involvement in UDL recently. Yeah,

Joe Houghton  06:13

yeah. UDL is something that I got exposed to, I suppose if we rewind to probably mid 2020. So it’s almost two years now. And I don’t know whether you’ve interviewed Lisa Patton. On now cast yet? Well, it wasn’t she’s one to add to your list. Dr. Lisa Patton at UCD in Dublin, and Lisa, along with the team at ahead in Ireland, have put together this amazing national rollout for UDL. And they have a full it’s all online. It’s facilitated by UDL practitioners, who perhaps have done the badge themselves, and then come back and facilitate, you know, groups and stuff. And I did the badge in 2020. So it’s about three months, five hours a week, something like that. Really accessible. You you’re learning from each other, you’re in triads, or quads. And I met on that course, a lady called Jen Lynch, Jennifer Lynch. And Jennifer Lynch actually won the 2021 John Kelly award in the big UDL award. That’s given out once a year, and we ended up doing another course together with the Innovation Academy at UCD. And we started doing some work together, we put some seminars on for the European adult learning network around teaching and UDL and stuff. So kind of, you know, I came in with Jen and learned off her and we we’ve become good friends. And then the Innovation Academy where we were doing the diploma, for some reason gave me a fellowship in 2021, which was a funded Fellowship, which basically bought out to my teaching requirements for a whole semester.

Lillian Nave  08:07

Wow, fantastic. Yes. You

Joe Houghton  08:10

know, I mean, I’ve been a university educator for 15 years now. But this was the first time I’d had a semester off. Yeah. But it wasn’t enough.

Lillian Nave  08:20

You were busy. I talked to you, then.

Joe Houghton  08:23

You did. So I had 14-16 weeks that I could do anything I liked with. And so I decided that one of the things that I’d always wanted to do was put a podcast together. And I’ve never done one. And I thought, right, well, let’s just jump in. Let’s just do it. And, and I started a podcast, which you very kindly came on, you were one of my first interviewees, which was brilliant. And we call that the plus one podcast. And I think you’ll probably put a link to it in the well stuff. Yeah. So what I decided to do was interview inspirational educators. And the reason, obviously, that I called it the plus one podcast is because of UDL, plus one, this thing of, you don’t have to do everything all at once. Just make one small change at a time. So I’d wanted to try a podcast. So I tried it. And I learned loads while I was doing it. I met so many interesting people. And every time I interviewed somebody, I asked them, right, who else should I talk to? So it just grew and grew and grew. And that’s turned into? Well, I’m halfway through writing up the first 16 episodes in a book. So that will be a book about inspirational educators and their stories and what they do and how they do it. I’ve had a poster presentation, which was my first academic kind of exposure at a conference and then done a couple of papers since then as well so you know, broken into that side of things being into a few symposiums and conferences. And then in 2022, this year, my university has really got behind UDL. There’s a national, there’s a national thing called path one and path two, which is which is funding national funding for UDL and universal design generally. And my my University is one of the leads on this. In fact, I was at a symposium about it even just yesterday. And they’ve made available on a competitive basis funding for staff who want to roll UDL out. So that’s great in my college of business Murphy at the College of Business at UCD. There are three of us who are faculty partners, between now and the end of 2024. And we’re tasked with raising awareness about UDL. In however we want to do that, you know, and we get, I think it’s 10 grand funding that we can use however, we like to do that. So it’s actually quite difficult to know what to do with 10 grand, it’s kind of not quite enough to kind of retire on is it but you know, you can do stuff with it. Yeah, so what I did was I said, Well, I’m still quite new to this UDL stuff. I still feel like I’m learning every day about UDL, even though I’ve been in it for a couple of years now. Yeah. But what I want to do, and it goes back to this application of learning, I want to come up with maybe a course on UDL that I could create. It would I want it to be online, so that it would be accessible globally, to everybody. So I said, Well, who were the best in the world doing this stuff? Yeah. And I started looking around, you know, I mean, I looked at CAST, and fine, okay, but I’ve got, I’ve had access to the cast stuff. But Harvard, do a series of three courses on UDL, run by Jenna gravel. And so I’ve signed up for those. And that’s that those three certificate courses over the next 12 months or so $2,000 for the three courses from Harvard. So yeah, yeah. So I’ve done one of those completed it. And it was, it was actually reflecting on that course, that caused me to reach out to you, you know, a few weeks ago, so. So during the Harvard course, I’ve signed up for a course at Oxford, which is, you know, obviously one of the top universities in the UK on creating online learning experiences. So I’m going to synthesize those into an online course probably aimed at educators who are quite new to UDL. You know, I’ve heard about this UDL stuff, what’s it about? What should I do? You know, and just put something together on that. And I think that will help me contextualize a lot of the stuff that I’ve seen recently. And hopefully then give something back to, you know, to the wider UDL. Audience, if you like.

Lillian Nave  13:18

It’s just fantastic. So you’re not not only are you becoming this UDL expert learner, I didn’t know gonna be you. You’re gonna be a Harvard graduate from their three course program. And I, when you’re talking, I’m just writing down all these things that you’re gaining along the way, which is inspirational to me, the friends, that’s one of the things you’ve mentioned, is wonderful colleagues. That’s something I have found so much in this UDL journey, the resources you’re coming into contact with and that you’re creating. And the scholarship. Those are just three wonderful parts of the UDL family, it seems to me that I’ve come in contact with and I just I want people to learn about it, because it’s, it’s different than the usual academia, it’s different than the usual, I would say, somewhat more stuffy, competitive kind of thing, where there’s just so much more sharing and wanting to help others succeed. And it’s, it’s just a fantastic place to be. So whatever discipline somebody is in, they can add UDL, and it’s bringing so much joy, not only to their teaching, but to their professional life.

Joe Houghton  14:33

Yeah, there’s a lot of talk at the moment, certainly in stuff I’m involved in around communities of practice. But I think UDL really is a community of practice. I mean, more than almost anything else. I’ve come up for us in the last 15 years of being in various kinds of academia. You just once you get into this stuff that people that you encounter like yourself, you know, are just making stuff available there. Share Eric, and like you say, it’s not this kind of like dog eat dog. I’ve got to get first publication. I’ve got to, you know, get make my name is it’s, I’ve got this stuff. Is it any good to anybody? Let’s let’s put it out. Yeah. And it’s fantastic. It’s a great place to be, isn’t it? It is

Lillian Nave  15:17

it is. And I’m so thankful that people will share that with me. So otherwise, I wouldn’t have a podcast either. So it’s been great. So now I do want to ask, you have been putting this into practice. That’s like the theme for for our talk today. But can you tell me how your class modules have changed? Now that you’ve infused them with UDL, just tell me what you’ve done with this recently.

Joe Houghton  15:44

Yeah. It’s strange, isn’t it? Some of it is kind of when I came across UDL, you look at what you do. And you think, oh, that’s what it’s called? Yes. Yeah. I mean, you know, I teach project management, and a lot of people come on my courses like, and then they say afterwards, you know, I didn’t realize I was already a project manager. And yeah, I say lots of people are accidental project managers, you do a lot of this stuff. Already, you just didn’t know it was called that. And yes, so, you know, in a nice way, I suppose I realized that some of what I already did, linked with UDL principles and stuff, I’m building and building on top of that, and learning, you know, better ways of doing more, hopefully, for my students, and for the learning spaces that I’m trying to create, that we’re all trying to create. So it’s definitely a work in progress. And I mean, you know, it’s a bit terrifying coming on a podcast like this and following some of the giants that you’ve already interviewed. And thinking that I can add anything to the conversation, but that’s the thing. If, if you can one thing out of the conversation today, it’ll be worthwhile. You know, the plus one thing is so important. I mean, I made a few notes about that question when you sent it to me. And I haven’t seen this one in any of the UDL stuff. So I don’t know, you tell me whether this is UDL or not. But it came out of a reflective piece that I’m grading at the moment. And I always ask my students to write a short reflective piece about, you know, the assignments and the module. One of the things that came out of one of those reflections was, I when I put students into teams at the start of an assigned module, I generally don’t ask them what team they want to be in. I mix them up, you know, and I mixed them up by gender and by background and buy, you know, culture and and everything as much as possible. And then I the first piece of homework that I give them, and you got to remember this is Dublin, Ireland. Yeah. Is go to the pub. Yeah. Yeah, I and I say this, and they look at me and kind of laugh. And I say, No, I’m serious. I said, I want you to go out. And he doesn’t have to be to the pub. But I want you to go out and socialize. I want you to go and spend a couple of hours with each other and not talk about college.

Lillian Nave  18:12

That’s great. Yeah, yeah. And they look at me,

Joe Houghton  18:14

and they want why why? Yeah. And it’s all about building trust. It’s all about, I want you to see each other, not as names on a spreadsheet that you’ve just been assigned to work with. I want you to see each other as people. And I want you to share stuff about your background, and what you’re good at and what you’re not good at. And whether you are normal, or neurodiverse, or whether you are dyslexic, or whether you you know, love doing this stuff, or you’re terrified by it or whatever, get to know each other and share a little bit. And the teams that do it. Build into teams from groups so much quicker. And generally will, you know, do better, as well. So building trust, I think is really, really important. And I don’t know whether it actually falls under UDL. But I think it’s really important.

Lillian Nave  19:10

Well, that is an engaging principle, right? That that that part about getting to know each other, that social emotional part is a very important part of the learning process. So things like just like recruiting interests and sustaining effort, usually group projects, I shouldn’t say usually, sometimes they can totally fall apart, because the communication between the group is terrible. And what you’ve done is you started the communication early in a low stakes manner. And that allows the high stakes communication to function much better. So yes, I would say that is UDL that, yes, focusing on that sustaining effort and persistence because we’re creating this group structure that is set up first success, not failure. Brilliant,

Joe Houghton  20:02

I’m, I’m so glad that you asked me to come and talk about this stuff because I knew you would be able to kind of plug that make connections. So that’s, that’s lovely. And I mean, the student reflection thing, I think is also really important because it provides a feedback loop. At the start of each new class, I share the student reflections from the last class with them, and I share the changes that I’ve made to the class based on the previous classes, suggestions, they they get that at the start of the module. And then at the end of the module, when I’m asking them to do their own reflections, they know, it’s going to carry forward, if you like, yeah. So yeah, it’ll have an impact. There’s an impact. They’re giving that I’m trying to make them feel empowered, that they have a, an input into this learning journey. And it’s not just me telling them how it’s going to be. And they seem to like that, you know, I get good feedback on on the fact that that is happening.

Lillian Nave  21:07

Yeah, that’s super important. Reflection, like I’ve had a couple episodes just focus fully on reflection. And I’ve got another reflection question for you later. But that is something that I’ve found is so important, that I included with almost, let’s see, I do it the first day, it’s a my syllabus, and then we do it like three or four times when we have our synchronous meetings for my online course. And I will look at Kolb’s experiential learning cycle and I know you have a blurb I printed it out about the learning cycle. And critical to that is the reflection. And so helping our students to reflect on their learning that self regulation, reflection, and knowing like what to do better next time just for themselves. And the way you’ve kind of implemented is so important. I don’t think there’s learning without that step, that critical step. So I was super excited to see that in your, in the, I guess, syllabus, the kind of it’s sort of like an infographic syllabus is so beautifully put together, that you include that whole process, and being very explicit with your students, because I’ve had students before and tell you what I was that student that was like, I don’t want to reflect that just I just want to do the work and get a grade. And that reflection part seems so extraneous, and now I’m, I’m all about reflection.

Joe Houghton  22:39

Yeah. And so many of the students, I mean, not all of them by any means, but but so many of the students reflect that the reflection process has added value to them. Yeah, they get it. They didn’t perhaps get it beforehand. But having gone through the process, they get it. Yes. Yeah. Which is really, and I think it’s that, you know, sometimes I say, you know, you know, trust the process, per se, for some of you right at the start this, this won’t necessarily all make sense. But give me the benefit of the doubt for a few weeks. Yeah, run through the process. And let’s see what happens. And almost always, you know, some at some point in the journey, you know, they’ll they’ll stick their head around the door, or they’ll they’ll grab me in the corridor or grab me at lunch or whatever. And say, Joe, you know, you said that one day? Well, no, I getting out. Yeah,

Lillian Nave  23:37

yeah, you know, I have a sort of a tangent question. But you teach slightly older students than I do so because you have some graduate courses that you teach

Joe Houghton  23:49

postgrads. So that, that 22 upwards.

Lillian Nave  23:53

Okay. Yeah, so and I teach in the early part of the undergrad, so around 18 to 20. But we do have students that are coming back after a military career or that are just entering in their mid 20s, or 30s. But mostly, I get the 1819 year olds, and I have seen that pushback, or at least against reflection, or at least the fact that they are not asked to reflect very often when it they’re in their K 12 lives. So so much. And this is my question, have you seen that also in Ireland, but in the United States, where I see our students in K 12. And what I see with my own children who are somewhere between 16 and 21. At the moment, there’s not a lot of reflection that’s asked to them, it’s mostly knowledge generation, remembering kind of the lower smaller, lower levels on Bloom’s taxonomy. And they aren’t used to it and they aren’t asked as much. And so it’s kind of a new concept when we get to the university. So what what’s your feeling? And that too,

Joe Houghton  25:01

I think most people haven’t done it before. So it’s not just the US. It’s, I think it’s higher ed, generally. I, what I do is I explain why it’s important. So I, I answer the the elephant in the room, you know, they look at this and they’re saying, I’ve got to write a reflective paper, what’s this about? And I’ll put up Gibbs reflective cycle or Kolb or whatever. And I’ll say to them, you know, there’s this theory behind this, but then I talk about previous students, and how they have reflected in the past. And I share with, you know, the class, some of the stuff that came back from those reflections in terms of not just not just how they want me to change the course going forward. But also I’ll share maybe a couple of, you know, quotes from a student about how this made a difference, or how they got more out of this as a result of it. And that I think contextualized is a new experience that I’m asking the students to go through, you’re asking them to walk down a path they’ve never walked? Yes. And there’s a there’s a reluctance to walk down a path you’ve never walked because there’ll be dragons, you know, I’m scared. Yeah, I don’t know what’s expected of me. I don’t know how to do this. Is this going to affect my GPA? Now? I always might make my reflections, low stakes. It’s 10%. Yeah, module. So you know, and I say, you can’t get this wrong.

Lillian Nave  26:39

Right. It’s just it’s an effort based thing you need to reflect there’s not a correct reflection. I’m not looking for you to answer this. In this way. It’s really up to you. But you have to put in the effort. Yeah,

Joe Houghton  26:51

I mean, I’ll give them I’ll give them some indicative ideas of things that they might touch up. But I say these are just indicative. And if you want to go a completely different way, you know, what I really want you to do is I want you to talk to me, as if we were having a chat over coffee, and just just tell me what came out of this experience with you. And it’s great. That that works really, really well. So yeah, so that that reflection is an important part of, of all the teaching experiences, I think the that I try and put together. Yeah, yeah.

Lillian Nave  27:26

And, and putting it into practice. Right away. As I’ve said, I worked, I worked with younger students, or I guess, newer students to the higher ed landscape. And I remember one of the most telling parts where I got the importance of reflection was an exercise. And it was, it was a conference with young people. And it was like a game, but we played it as a class where you had they were soft, like plushy toys like like little stuffed animals, or little rubber lizards, I remember those. And it was a game where you had to you were with a partner and you that they were blindfolded. And you had to explain to them how to get to the plushy toy, and then they had to throw it and I think you had to try to get your other team out or something like that. Yeah, it was so fun. You know, there’s little stuffed animals being tossed around the classroom. That’s always fun. And at the end, we all talked about it, like, how could you explain better? What happened? The second round? What did you put into practice? Yes. You know, after, after you had been blindfolded. And then you were giving the directions, you know, what were the the ways that you improved? And but we like, went through each one of the stages and called it out, like, here’s where you did the experiment. Here’s where you reflected upon the experiment. Here’s when you put the new design principles in action. And here’s where you’ve, you know, taken away the kind of the big idea. Yes. And yeah, we walked through it. I was like, Oh, that theory finally makes sense to me. Because it’s been

Joe Houghton  29:05

put into a context that you’ve experienced yourself. Yeah. I mean, yeah. There’s a lot of work around agile, I mean, I do a thing called the ping pong ball challenge. Same kind of thing, iterative learning, you know, do it once. Now. How can you do it better next time? How can you do it better next time. And then and then this, but that’s the last stage. That’s the important but it’s then it’s then the discussion afterwards, where you actually link the theory and you link the stages with what they just experienced. So it’s not just a fun 20 minutes, right? So they have a fun, 20 minutes, they all sit down. They’re all energized. They’re all smiling and all the rest of it. And now you say now, look, this is how it actually works. My connections, yeah.

Lillian Nave  29:47

Yeah. And I’ve also seen that after so many people went online, and the classrooms were flipped, so that you would get a lecture like ahead of time and then the time in class was a discussion And or it kind of moved? It did it flipped into now you’re with a professor, you can kind of talk about what the lesson was, that changed so much where I saw the learning become visible, rather than here’s where I’m going to talk to you, I’m with you on the professor, I can tell you what to do. And then the actual, like, reflection, like, did I even understand that was in isolation. So it’s all it’s been a very eye opening experience, to focus on that reflection that you’re talking about, and see how incredible valuable it is. Because I think I already said, when I was younger, I didn’t care for it at all. And now it’s like the central part of what I do.

Joe Houghton  30:45

And I think it’s becoming more of a, an accepted norm in informed teaching, certainly online, I mean, you know, this, this model now have you present them something, throw them into a breakout room for 15 or 20 minutes, get them to make note. And what I do on a breakout room, generally, when I’m asking them to do do notes is I say, open up a jam board, yeah, in your team, or I will give them what I’ll generally use, I’ll create a jam board with 10, with 10 pages on it. And I see one, go to page one, and team two, go to page two, and whatever. So they’re all working away on this single jam board. And then when they come back into plenary session, I get each of the teams to present their own page from the jam board. So everybody can see everything, we’ve got an artifact at the end that they can save as a PDF, and you’ve had all the generated information. So you know, it works in lots of ways. There are some challenges, because if people are on phones or their, you know, their mobile devices or not right then, but, you know, generally, most of my classes and you know, good or bad, most of my classes, they’ve got a laptop. That’s, that’s kind of an assumption I can make. Because of the course that they’re on, but I realized that that’s not always possible. Yeah. So yeah,

Lillian Nave  32:11

yeah. And I noticed in your deliverables and your management course that you sent ahead to me, that you concentrate on, like, the whole class is them working together, and getting all of those voices, and you’re more of a facilitator of bringing those amazing ideas together for them to learn from each other. And that’s probably more of a graduate level, you know, kind of thing, but it’s brilliant. And it is, you know, so much about what, what is so great about teaching is learning from the students and having them make it their own. And they get choice, which is a great UDL, you know, guideline, they have a choice of what topic to do, they have a choice of how they’re going to do it, you give lots of options and an opportunities for your students to be successful. But it’s all the same rubric. It’s not some willy nilly, you know, do whatever you want. But


how are you or whatever? And then, and then they can do a lot within that normally. Yeah, yeah. And some students push back on that. Because, you know, some students who’ve come through the classic mode of exam based learning and MCQ is and you know, multiple choice questions and all this kind of stuff. And you give them an open brief, and say, There’s no word count. Yeah, yeah, you can do this as a paper, you can do this as a consultancy report, you can do a video, you can do a website. But here’s, here’s what I want you to look at. And they come to me, and they say, What do you mean, there’s no word count? Yeah. And I say to them, Well, you know, you’re, you’re looking to be a project manager, or you’re looking to be a management consultant. You will never, ever have a client come to you and say, write me a 5000 word report on the marketing implications of entering the German market. Yeah, you know, they’ll come and they’ll say, we’ve got a problem with our business, fix it. And getting them into that mindset of these problems are wicked problems. They’re not clean problems with, you know, a pie that says, This is marketing. And this is leadership. And this is project management. And, you know, I just want you to look at these three things in isolation. Nobody, nobody wants that. That’s not helpful. That’s not helpful. So I think that’s one of my jobs that I see is as an experienced business person as well, is to prepare my students who are going into the multinationals and the big corporates and the big consultant Sit for life in those environments?

Lillian Nave  35:03

 Yes. And it’s messy. It is not. Yeah, it’s an ill structured problem that they go into, or that they have to solve not a very easy multiple choice answer. Yeah. And I spend a lot of time actually, with my first year students explaining that pretty much up to their senior year in high school, they were doing those well structured problems can vain and his What the Best College students do talks about that, and I have them read a couple chapters, that life is just gonna get messier and messier. And and hopefully we’re providing the tools to solve those problems. That’s what we want to do. But there’s, there is an awful lot of pushback, like you said, they and I’ve gotten those, you know, anonymous feedback forms that are like, I just wanted her to tell me what to do. Yeah.

Joe Houghton  36:01

I mean, they want they want to know that there’s a right answer. Some students who’ve come from that background, and I think this is one of the this is one of the the opportunities for us as educators is to help students understand that sometimes there’s more than one right answer. And that those right answers can be presented in different ways. And that’s where we come back to choice. You know, and I don’t care whether you express that as a as a report or a written report, or whether you record a video, or you, you know, do a slide deck or whatever. I mean, I asked my management consultancy students, one of their assignments is go and create a learning experience for the company, you’re about to join. Wow, you’ve just finished how many years of school and college, you’re probably the most educated people on the planet right now. And you’ve come through all the modern technology and all the rest of it now, create a one hour learning experience that you could deliver to colleagues at your new company. So I tell them, it has to be capable of being delivered online or in person. And I want the material for the students. So I want to be able to do this course. But I also want material for the delivery of the course the facilitator of the course. So they have to put themselves in the students head but also in the teachers head. And yeah, it’s such a good assignment.

Lillian Nave  37:38

And how fun for you to read to mean Oh, yeah. So much better than answering, you know, reading through the same essay.

Joe Houghton  37:46

50 times. Yeah, that’s why I made that choice, that choice in assessment, but the choice and delivery and the choice in giving them a playing field that’s wide. That can be scary for them. But as long as once you once you’ve established psychological safety. Yes. And I work hard at doing that in the class, I encourage questions. I never, never put anybody down, you know, there’s no such thing as a silly question, all that kind of stuff. Then they, it’s like, they open up, they’re like flowers in the sun. And they kind of suddenly realized I can try stuff here. You know, and if it doesn’t quite work, that’s okay. Okay, but then reflect on why it didn’t work.

Lillian Nave  38:30

Yeah, that’s important. So you have to put that within the design of your course. So, so you can’t make a assignment like that. The first one that’s also worth a lot of their grade, because that’s really scary. And so the fact that you have a chance to fix any problems, they can workshop it, they can add or change, and make it better. That’s part of the design. And people forget that, like, if you want to have that great word psychological safety, you also have to design that, okay, if your first try doesn’t work, you get a second try within, you know, the curse the course confines, right?

Joe Houghton  39:12

I’ll generally do that. Because Because Because we’re on a modular system, you know, semesters, semester year, it’s difficult to give them another chance at the assignment, because they’re into a new semester. But what I do now is, I’ll give them the brief in week one, I’ll ask them by week two or three to have come up with an initial proposal in their teams, pretty quick, you know, get something together. I’ll review that with them, and kind of gives them some pointers. And then around week seven, they have to present an interim version of whatever it is. So that means that got stuck in because they’ve got five weeks now to produce something and I give them detailed feedback on that. And where it’s not good, I’ll tell them, this isn’t good enough, this isn’t up to standard or whatever. And sometimes, you know, they sit back to the whole what you know, but I tell them why. And you always see this this amazing kind of growth of knowledge and understanding and the standard of the output as well, so that by the time they get to the summative assessment, they’ve had two or three touch points with me. With back,

Lillian Nave  40:26

lots of feedback. That’s the key. Yeah, absolutely. So, okay, so I’ve really been focusing on reflection, I know. But I loved that when you sent some things for me to look at. And you’ve done a lot of work redesigning assessments using UDL. And I’m really intrigued, especially by what you sent to me about your final reflection assignment. You redesigned after that Harvard UDL course that you mentioned, and you had like three options for reflection that you incorporated into that process? So I guess I’m just asking for a little bit more about that, that you can

Joe Houghton  41:05

share. I had to go back to the, to the, to the reflection I’ve written and look those up. But this was the collaboration in teaching collaboration in learning choice. The three C’s, yeah, okay, which would kind of came down to the bottom. So collaboration in teaching. I mean, this, I suppose this comes down to multiple means of representation, and student choice and all kinds of stuff. But I, I, I’ve become more enamored in the last couple of years, with the idea of co teaching. I think, before I encountered UDL, I will hold my hand up and say I was probably largely sage on stage. And you know, but look, we learn we develop as educators. And you know, maybe I’ve been doing it wrong for 1015 years, but but I’m learning I’m getting better I’m trying. So bringing in this choice in the journey that we’re going to take over the next 12 weeks. Yeah, it takes away some of my power, it takes away some of my control, it’s makes it a slightly scarier place to be, because I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen when and all the rest of it. However, what I see is high levels of engagement, I see greater levels of interest, I see learnings coming out of the experience semester after semester after semester, that I didn’t see coming. And that’s magic. As an educator, you know, for me to see stuff that come out of a positive, you know, engagement that I didn’t see coming. I love that I love that. That That to me was was was wonderful. I mean, an example of this, of this collaboration, in both teaching and in learning was and you you referenced my my module outline that I sent you that’s that’s a bit like kind of a, an infographic. And I came up, I developed a brand new module this summer. First time, I’ve had to develop a module from scratch for six or seven years probably. So in a way, it was a bit of a challenge. But I also wanted to incorporate all the stuff on UDL, and all the rest of it. So I came up with this idea of make a difference. I wanted to do something around the Sustainable Development Goals. I wanted the students to feel that it was worthwhile. And I wanted them to utilize design thinking and objectives and key results. So to pretty important kind of theoretical basis from, you know, project management and business, the SDGs to connect them with the world and what’s important and all the rest of it. So I did that. And we did an initial session and introduce these these different concepts and stuff. And then I created a Canva. I don’t know whether anybody out there knows about Canva if you if you’ve not used Canva ca NVA.

Lillian Nave  44:24

It’s a free resource. Yeah, well freemium, you can pay for more.

Joe Houghton  44:29

Well, even the free version is really, really good. And I created a template in Canva, which was a 20 page template with kind of an introduction, a summary, and then one page for each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The class of 2017 and I gave them a week, and I said to them, this is an ungraded piece of work. Okay, but what I want you to do, and I assigned each team, one of the Sustainable Development Goals, and I said, I want you to add four or five pages to that Canva. Report, I gave them all edit access to the same document. Okay, so what we ended up with is a document that’s 106 pages long. Wow, which was created by the class in a week, which is full of curated resources around the 17 SDGs. Because then their summative assignment was do a project in individuals or pairs, that links to one or more of the SDGs and makes a measurable difference. Kind of starfish on the beach, it doesn’t have to be a big difference. It might just be a little difference to one person, or it might be something amazing, but, but I want you to so this was a way of them learning about the SDGs, if you like, but in this amazing artifact, which is now accessible, and they can put it on their LinkedIn profiles. And you know, we wrote a book about sustainable development in a week. Yeah. Wow. And they loved it. And no team failed to deliver. And it was all high quality. And I’ll send you the link to the online final version. So anybody that wants to click on through to Canva. And I’ll also send you a link to the template. So if anybody wants to go and grab that template and repurpose it for their own use, they’re very welcome to do that as well.

Lillian Nave  46:41

Fabulous. Thank you that again, about that sharing. And, yeah, call it collegiality and UDL. Thank you so much. Yeah.

Joe Houghton  46:48

So that that teaches that talks to collaboration in teaching and learning, because it’s co development of the materials and stuff like that. And then the teams who are deciding what, what was important to them around each of the SDGs, and what they wanted to put in. And then they did final presentations as well. So we did a zoom session where everybody presented for 15 minutes on what they done that week. And then we and what I said up front was these are all going to be videoed, they’re going to be put on YouTube. Okay, and they are going to be incorporated in the final report. So we now have this, this, this hybrid document, which is an online document that could be printed out, but also has got links to all the YouTube videos, where the students are talking about what they were researching and stuff. So I mean, I think that takes quite a few UDL boxes.

Lillian Nave  47:44

It does, it does, it’s multimodal, and it’s really engaging with all the students, and then yeah, and teaches others. So, of course, we learn so much more when we have to teach somebody else. So we all learn that when we had to teach our first class, oh, my goodness, you thought you knew the material, and you had to teach it.

Joe Houghton  48:02

And a lot of the reflections from that module have come back and said, doing that ungraded piece informed me about stuff that I needed to know to go and do the graded piece. That was exactly why I wanted them to do it, because a lot of them had never heard of the SDGs. and stuff. So it was it was a great way rather than me just giving them slide decks on 17 different tests DGX, you know, go off and learn this yourself and then learn from each other and share all the information. And

Lillian Nave  48:32

yeah, that collaboration and community is so important. That’s an important part of the cast guidelines about universal design for learning. I really think it it drills down into how social and emotional learning is if it’s dry, and I’ve got to go look up the 17 guidelines all by myself and try to figure them out. Boring. And not not I’m not interested at all, but especially if I can do it with my friends. And you’ve already set them up to be friends because you’ve told them to go to some third place that’s not school. And it’s not home. It’s some other place. So a coffee shop, a pub, whatever. Yeah. To get to know each other is is so important. It makes for successful learning successful teams and successful learning. Yeah, so I was just intrigued by it.

Joe Houghton  49:26

Yeah, yeah, that’s, that’s a good one. I mean, another another one. And it talks to the third of those C’s, which is choice, again, is is another project that I set up the teams to do, which is to choose a charity of their choice or a nonprofit of their choice. And I’ve run this for 15 years. Now no seed money. They have 12 weeks to run a project with the charity that they they want to link up with and they either have to raise four ones or awareness or build some kind of capability for the charity. Okay, so they have to have some measure of success. So they have to, you know, it has to be measurable. So if it’s, if it’s funds, I say 5000 Euro, that’s your, you’ve got to raise five grand. Now, okay, if you don’t, it doesn’t matter. But it’s a target to aim at, yeah. But it might be to get 10,000 hits on their Facebook page or, or to empower their website developers with, you know, more information, or whatever it is. So it doesn’t doesn’t matter. But they just go off and they have the best time. They connect with these charities and these nonprofits, and they find that they care. Because they’ve connected with a charity that they care about, whether it’s children or dogs or, you know, refugees or whatever it is. And they’re utilizing the project management skills that we’re trying to teach them in the program. But for real, again, a messy project. And it’s facilitated, and we have the touch points, and, you know, the interim reports and feedback and all the rest of it. A lot of them reflect that that’s the best kind of activity that they’ve had in the whole of their time at university. Wow. Yeah, I’ve had people come back afterwards, a year later, and say, you know, after that charity project, I went on the board. Wow, you know, or I’m still working with that charity. And we raised another 10 grand for them this year, and this kind of stuff. Phenomenal stuff. And we’ve raised three quarters of a million dollars over the last 1012 years. Whoa, with with from those charity projects?

Lillian Nave  51:42

Well, there you go. Putting your knowledge into action again, Joe, what is that? That is what you do? That seems to be exactly what you do is making it very palpable, and, and meaningful. And you actually have results, which is great to see. Yeah, for a humanities person like me, I’m glad to see you’re making big differences in the world right away.


Whether they’re big, or whether they’re little their differences. And I think I think that’s the plus one thing, it doesn’t you don’t have to boil the sea. It doesn’t you don’t have to change everybody’s world. You just change one person’s world. Yeah, and make their world a bit better. And if you can do that, if I can do that, as an educator, if I can make one, you know, students world better. Yeah. Job done.

Lillian Nave  52:31

Yeah. You made a passing reference earlier on when you talked about that, that it’s like a starfish. And I know that story. I don’t know if all of our listeners listeners know that story. But why do you say it’s the starfish thing?

Joe Houghton  52:43

There’s an old story, and I’m paraphrasing now, okay. But guys walking along the beach one morning, and out in front of him, he sees washed up on the shore, millions of starfish, and the sun’s coming up. And all these starfish, you’re going to dry out and die on the beach. And in the middle by the in the middle of the starfish in the surf. There’s another guy and he’s picking up starfish one by one. And he’s throwing them back into the sea. So the first man walks up to the sky who’s throwing the stuff back in the sea and says What are you doing? You’re wasting your time. You can’t? What possible difference can you make? Yeah. And the guy who’s throwing the starfish back turns around and says well makes a difference to the ones I throw back.

Lillian Nave  53:27

Yeah. matters. It matters to this one. What I have in my hand. Yeah.

Joe Houghton  53:32

Yeah. And that’s the starfish on the beach story. You don’t have to save them all. You can’t save them all. But you can save one or 10 or 100. And you start with one and carry on. And then it’s five and then it’s 10. And then it’s 101 Step. Yeah,

Lillian Nave  53:49

yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And that’s important for our students to know too, because it is overwhelming that say they have this impossible. Yes, question. A really messy problem. How do we solve this terrible world hunger? You know, how do we solve this horrible human trafficking? You know, but it’ll matter to the one person? Oh, yeah, absolutely. The five people that you help

Joe Houghton  54:11

one of my one of my student teams has written up a project and they they were looking at kind of the health problems around the world. And they said when when they they were doing that five pages, it was just like overwhelming. Yeah, malaria, and typhoid and all these impossibly big diseases and all the rest of it. Anyway, they found a charity in Africa, which for $5 Will inoculate a child against malaria. Wow. $5. So the cost of a latte, you save a life. You save a child’s life. And it matters to that one, the starfish on the beach story. So they’ve, they’ve started to fundraise, and they’re breaking it down in $5 increments. And so how many how many kids Can we save? And when you put it in that frame, and you start to think of children, that whose lives are going to be saved or going to be, you know, not taken by malaria? If you contribute the cost of a cup of coffee? It’s It’s like magic, isn’t it?

Lillian Nave  55:17

Great. And then, and then so many people can make a difference. Yes. Yeah. Yeah. Oh, that’s wonderful. This is so it is so inspirational. It’s like, oh, man, I love your business. Your assignments and the things that that you get to do, I think is like, so practical. And I live oftentimes in the less practical, theoretical world. And I just wanted to talk to you about how that UDL is making such a big difference at UCD. And in with, I mean, I’m amazed by the changes that you’ve made in the last two years that you showed me and how engaging Yeah, very powerful, powerful

Joe Houghton  56:03

stuff. And I’m learning from so many amazing, other educators, and yourself included, you know, so it’s just been fantastic. Yeah, I mean, your last question to me was about what advice do you have for others?

Lillian Nave  56:19

I do I What, what advice do you have for others? Who would do what you’re doing?

Joe Houghton  56:24

Yeah. And it echoes what you said a few minutes ago. Don’t be put off by the size of the possibilities. You know, you get into this UDL stuff, and you do a course or two, or you listen to your podcast and look at however many episodes you’re up to now, it’s a crazy number, isn’t it? It is yeah. And like, it seems like it’s overwhelming. This was all this stuff. But go go back to plus one, just make one change at a time. Just start with your old texts, or start with your contrasts on your slides or putting full stops at the end of your slides or whatever. Yeah, you don’t have to do the whole thing all at once. Just do one thing at a time, and connect, connect with other UDL practitioners. Because I tell you, what, if you’re a committed educator, and if you’re into this stuff, and you’re listening to this podcast, you’re kind of almost by default, a committed educator, because you’re self selected. But you’re connecting with other UDL practitioners. And I found that that has been one of the most empowering and inspirational things for me as an educator over the last two years. And we needed that, particularly over the last two years, when we were all stuck in our kitchens and our, you know, back bedrooms and stuff on the Zoom call, and whatever. I’ve made more friends, in the last two years in the teaching space than I’ve made in the 10 years before that. Yeah, because I’ve been to so many more things on Zoom, than I ever have done in person. And I’ve found when I go on a course or when I go on a conference, I’m active in the chat. And I’m sending LinkedIn connection requests, and I’m following up on emails and stuff, to connect and to share and to talk to people. And I’ll schedule a chat, I’ll say that I look really loved what you were saying, Could we have a 15 minute zoom on it? You know, and, and have made some amazing friends from that?

Lillian Nave  58:24

Yeah, oh, well, you are a committed educator from, from all of those things. Those are great pieces of advice like that we can make these connections. I’ve got so many friends I’ve never met. Yes. And they are really good friends, like through on Twitter and on LinkedIn. And, you know, we’ve written articles together, I’ve never met them. And, and I’ve learned so much. It’s just so phenomenal. And talk about committed educator in order to talk to me You’re I believe it’s the hottest day in Europe, ever. You’ve turned, you’ve turned off the only fan you have so that it doesn’t interfere with our sound. And it’s in the heat of the afternoon for you and you’re talking about UDL. So it’s just going over 32 degrees here. So luckily, I’m in North Carolina, we do have air conditioning, so but I it was hot today and I had to turn down, you know, yeah, turn down the air because I sweat. We were both podcasters. So we both know, it takes a lot out of you. And by the end, I’m sweating.

Joe Houghton  59:32

Yeah, it’s a good thing. This isn’t video. Yeah.

Lillian Nave  59:34

Yeah. Well, that was great advice. Thank you so much for taking the time, the energy, the heat. To talk to me today. Joe, I’ve learned so much again from you. So thank you very much for being on the think UDL podcast. 

Joe Houghton  59:51

Well, thank you for having me. It’s been great to talk again. Yeah,

Lillian Nave  59:54

and I’ll put a bunch of the links that we talked about, so all of our listeners can find the things you’ve been doing and what you’re interested in and find out more on today’s episode notes.

Joe Houghton  1:00:06

Yeah, and you know, reach out back to me if you want to have a chat anytime. Love to love to talk.

Lillian Nave  1:00:11

Great, we’ll put your contact info also on the website. Thank you so much You can follow the Think UDL podcast on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to find out when new episodes will be released, and also see transcripts and additional materials at the think website. The think UDL podcast is made possible by College STAR the star stands for supporting transition, access and retention in post secondary settings, and the website provides free resources and instructional aids based on UDL principles. If you’d like to know more, go to the college website. Additional support for the podcast is made possible by Appalachian State University where if you call it Appalachian, I’ll throw in Appalachia. The music on the podcast was performed by the Oddyssey quartet comprised of Rex Shepherd, David Pate, Bill Folwell and Jose Coachez, and 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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