Whole-Student Learning Online with Michelle Pacansky-Brock

Welcome to Episode 42 of the ThinkUDL podcast: Whole-Student Learning Online with Michelle Pacansky-Brock. In this episode, which is part of a Summer 2020 series on Universal Design for Learning in online environments, Michelle discusses the importance of the affective domain in online learning, how to create community and humanize your course from the beginning, the merits of totally asynchronous online learning environments, liquid syllabi, and the use of VoiceThread and asynchronous tools for equitable participation in an online course. 

Dr. Michelle Pacansky-Brock, also known on Twitter as @Brocansky, is a noted leader in higher education with expertise in online teaching, course design, and faculty development. Her work has helped online instructors worldwide understand how to craft relevant, humanized online learning experiences that support the diverse needs of college students.  She is the author of Best Practices for Teaching with Emerging Technologies and has received national recognition for her excellence in teaching and faculty development from the Online Learning Consortium (OLC).Currently, Michelle is Faculty Mentor for Online Teaching and Learning with the California Community Colleges’ California Virtual Campus-Online Education Initiative (CVC-OEI). She is a generous and prolific scholar who shares her love of teaching, innovative skills, and ground-breaking ideas liberally with the scholarly community and I am so thankful to have the opportunity to talk with her in this episode!

Resources

Find Michelle Pacanscky-Brock on Twitter @brocansky or check out her Brocansky.com website for blog posts, slide decks, and amazing ideas

Pacansky-Brock, M., Smedshammer, M., & Vincent-Layton, K. (2020). Humanizing Online Teaching to Equitize Higher Education. Current Issues in Education, 21(2).

This recent article by Michelle and colleagues makes the connection between Humanizing online learning and Equity- a really great resource to use and share!

Laura Rendon’s Sentipensante (Sensing/Thinking) Pedagogy– Look here for some information on this and several recorded presentations by Laura Rendon to find out more

J. Luke Wood’s Black Minds Matter – Look here for resources on issues facing black boys and men in education

How to make a “Liquid Syllabus”– This gives step by step instructions on how anyone can create a humanizing, mobile friendly website syllabus in almost no time at all. And here is a little more information on what to include in your Liquid Syllabus
How to Humanize Your Online Course Infographic with great tips, perfect to share with colleagues!

Transcript

Lillian Nave:

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.

Lillian Nave:

I’m your host, Lillian Nave. 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.

Lillian Nave:

Welcome to episode 42 of The Think UDL Podcast, whole student learning online with Michelle Pacansky-Brock. In this episode, which is part of a summer 2020 series on universal design for learning in online environments, Michelle discusses the importance of the effective domain in online learning, how to create community and humanize your course from the beginning, the merits of totally asynchronous online learning environments, liquid syllabi, and the use of voice thread and asynchronous tools for equitable participation in an online course.

Lillian Nave:

Doctor Michelle Pacansky-Brock, also known on Twitter as @Brocansky, is a noted leader in higher education with expertise in online teaching, course design, and faculty development. Her work has helped online instructors worldwide understand how to craft relevant, humanized, online learning experiences that support the diverse needs of college students. She is the author of Best Practices for Teaching with Emerging Technologies, and has received national recognition for her excellence in teaching and faculty development from the Online Learning Consortium.

Lillian Nave:

Currently, Michelle is faculty mentor for online teaching and learning with the California Community Colleges, California Virtual Campus Online Education Initiative. She is a generous and prolific scholar who shares her love of teaching, innovative skills, and ground breaking ideas liberally with the scholarly community. I am so thankful to have the opportunity to talk with her in this episode.

Lillian Nave:

All right, so I have Michelle Pacansky-Brock today on The Think UDL Podcast. I want to thank you, Michelle, for joining me.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Thanks for having me, I’m so excited to have this discussion with you.

Lillian Nave:

I’m super excited. I’m going to try to contain my excitement to just normal levels, but there’s so much that you have done to integrate Universal Design for Learning principles in your online teaching and learning, and so much of what you have done for over a decade. So much that I’ve learned from you and so many others. In fact, your name has come up on several Think UDL Podcasts before I’ve had the chance to interview you. So, I know it’s going to be an exciting and fun-filled, informative, Think UDL Podcast episode for our listeners.

Lillian Nave:

So, I will start with the first question I ask everybody which is, what makes you a different kind of learner?

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

I love that you start with that question. I am going to share a memory from 7th grade, from a class experience. We were reading a book in 7th grade, the books go up a notch. Right?

Lillian Nave:

Yeah.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

I think it was Treasure Island, we were reading, but that doesn’t matter. We had been assigned a chapter and it was the time in class where we were going discuss the chapter. So I’m sitting there and the teacher called on me and asked me a specific question about the chapter. I had no idea what the answer was. I felt just really small, I felt that shame, I felt stupid, I was embarrassed, I was mortified. My teacher made some comment about me not doing the reading.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

So when the class was over, I went up to my teacher after everyone else had left and I was holding back tears. I said, “I just want you to know that I did the reading, but I don’t remember what I read.” That teacher sat with me, Mrs. Bennet was her name. She sat with me and she pulled up a chair and she said, “Here’s what you need to do.” She said, “When you read, you’re going to have to stop every now and then, make some notes about what you read, and keep going and take it in small chunks like that.” Of course, I remember thinking, I don’t want to do that. That sounds like so much more work, but she was totally right. To this day, I still have to incorporate that process into my reading.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

So reading for me, which I think that I remember that because first of all, those shameful feelings that I had, being embarrassed in front of all of my peers and being accused of not doing something I had done. That of course, shaped me growing me and it shaped my perceptions about I think my abilities. Anyway, that was really powerful for me but it also made me recognize that reading isn’t for me. I’m not a good reader, so that’s been my internal dialog and it was hard because my father is a prolific reader. He’s 81 today and he has a PhD in chemistry and he still reads books about quantum theory. You will never see him with a book, a big, thick book in his hand. So for me, that was difficult for me.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

But, I just want to stay on the topic for one more second because when I look back now, now that I’m the age that I am. I can look back and think about what was happening with reading at that time, what happens. Well, when you’re younger than that, you’ve got pictures in your books, and as you get older, the pictures start going away and the books start getting longer. I can remember that transition and I can remember looking forward in a book and thinking, oh, there’s a picture in 20 more pages. That would be my motivation to keep going. So that tells me something else though, about what makes me a different learner.

Lillian Nave:

You bring up something really important in that story, which is about the non-cognitive parts of that learning experience. You said you felt shame, you felt embarrassed, all of that was part of the learning environment. I notice on your webpage, which I will attach or have in the resources so everybody can find your incredible resources that you have there. One of the things you said in your Who I am section is, “I believe that college professors must more fully support the non-cognitive aspects of learning.” I wanted to ask you, why do you say that? I mean, I have some ideas, you just told us some of it, but that’s one of your core beliefs. So, can you tell me a little bit more about why that’s on your page?

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Yeah, gosh it’s hard for me to figure out where that all started, but I think it very much has to do with becoming an online teacher and recognizing how when you teach online, you don’t have that. It’s harder to make that relational connection unless you intentionally do it. I can remember teaching online when I first started back, I think it was around 2003, maybe 2004, but I can remember feeling disconnected from my students. I can remember sitting at a graduation ceremony and hearing the names of my students be called as they’re walking across the stage. I can remember one of the names was my online student. I got so excited because I’m thinking, oh, what does that person look like? I realized, oh my gosh, we’re going to walk by each other and not even know who one another is.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

It was really in that moment where I thought, this isn’t right. Online can’t just be about content and completing assignments. That relationship, that’s the core of meaningful learning. We only look back on our teachers, we remember the people who saw us, we remember the people who challenged us, who supported us, who encouraged us. That is what that effective part of learning is. We cannot think without feeling, and this notion that we can separate those two, it’s ridiculous. I think that in higher education, we privilege cognition so much without really delving into the other side of the coin. So yeah, I guess that’s where it came from for me.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

I’m reading a book by Laura Rendón called Sentipensante, it’s sensing, thinking pedagogy. She really couches this whole concept in the construction of western culture and Descartes and when we go back to our native civilizations that this concept of separating thinking and feeling, it’s ridiculous.

Lillian Nave:

Yeah, yeah. Okay, so it’s a podcast, so nobody could see how giant my eyes got there when you were talking about this cultural construct that happens. It’s something I’m really interested in, in how really, in the western world, European, American, that idea of privileging those abstract ideas and only concepts, rather than emotional or effective domains. Like being introduced to something using storytelling or a more collectivist idea about how to approach a subject, rather than rational facts, bullet points, dots, those sorts of things. We really in academia, I’ve noticed only after doing some kind of cultural competence studies is understanding that was the culture that I was in. That was the only thing that was privileged or allowed in that way.

Lillian Nave:

So, when you say that college professors need to more fully support that non-cognitive aspect, I think you are as you say, humanizing that curriculum and making it so that online learning is not learning alone. Again, I’m taking that from your website because you said that too. Learning online is not learning alone. I so appreciate that and what you’re doing to help us to make sure our learners aren’t alone as they’re learning.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Yeah, and I think that’s an interesting connection that we just had. The next phase of that that I have to mention. I’m participating in Luke Wood’s Black Minds Matter, so I’m looking at this now through my privileged lens as a white person and recognizing that I don’t know the stories. I haven’t been educated to learn the realities, those rich, thick stories of the students in my class, the black students in my class. That’s where I am now, is really trying to add that racial lens to it, which is so important right now in this, not only viral pandemic, but also racial pandemic that we are in.

Lillian Nave:

Yeah, and my eyes are getting constantly opened to the differences in our classrooms. Higher ed for a long time could get along without doing that because it was a smaller place with fewer people going. That’s not the case now, and luckily for us, we have a lot more people in higher education. We have a lot more different kinds of people, and that’s really, really great. How are we going to leverage that so everybody benefits?

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Yeah, and hopefully we’ll look at different kinds of people teaching our courses too.

Lillian Nave:

Yes, exactly. Okay, so that brings me to one of my first questions about your online teaching and your skills and abilities. That piggy backs on this idea of having lots of different learners. So, what are your ideas, tips, best advice, for creating community in your online courses?

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

So, when you’re teaching online, I think it’s so important to recognize that students will feel more isolated. All students will feel more isolated, and that can add, it can exacerbate a lot of the negative mindsets that people have about their abilities that are shaped through stereotypes as they grow up. It can also exacerbate, or I should say have professors lean more on stereotypes.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

So when you’re teaching online, it’s very easy for your students to be only names on a screen. That’s all they are, that’s all they are unless you intentionally do something to ensure that they’re more than that. So when it comes to building community, I mean so many times your online instructors say, “Well, put those discussions in there.”

Lillian Nave:

That should solve it.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

We’ve got instructions but students just don’t engage. We go right back to our deficit mindset and it’s our student’s faults, they’re not present, they’re not engaged. When instead-

Lillian Nave:

It couldn’t have anything to do with the design.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Right, or the facilitation. Right?

Lillian Nave:

Right.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

I mean, that’s the other thing that I’ve learned is that course design and teaching are again, that metaphor, two sides of the same coin. They go together but if you’re just focusing on course design, you’re not going to have a meaningful course.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

So really intentionally at the start, thinking about the cues are that your students experience from the very first click, what are they experiencing? So yes the course design, the intuitive course design and the alignment of the objectives to the assignments and being sure that how they’re assessed is transparent, and the expectations are made clear, and that there are regular announcements. Those are all best practices, but on the student side, I’ve got this 30 second video clip of an online student from a panel that I was part of many years ago. He said something like, it’s those announcements that come out every Sunday at 12:00 AM. I know you don’t care. What are the cues that our students are being sent, and how do those cues communicate whether or not you care or not about this course, whether or not this class is important to you? So, visual cues can say a lot.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

When a student comes into the course, are they greeted with a warm, friendly video from you or do they have to sit there and look at the screen and figure out where they’re supposed to click next. Right?

Lillian Nave:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Then also, even pre-course contact. I think that is a huge opportunity that we have as educators to start building trust before the course starts because in a face to face course, there’s a start date, there’s a time, there’s a room. In an online course it like well, instruction has begun, it’s Monday. But if you’re new to learning online, what does that mean to you? So as an instructor, you probably have certain expectations that maybe the student doesn’t understand. So, if we can start to cultivate that culture of the course before the course starts, then I think that that’s a real opportunity. That’s where community building starts because students aren’t going to lean in, students aren’t going to care about what you know until they know that you care. So creating that environment and ensuring that they trust you and that they’re willing to lean in, all starts before the course starts. That’s ideally what we want to do.

Lillian Nave:

You have done this, and I’m going to have to bring it up again. I’ve brought it up several times on other podcast’s episodes, is your liquid syllabus. That blew my mind. I shared it with some of our faculty in our faculty development this summer, and we have a huge amount of liquid syllabi that are being created this summer and we have you to thank for it. Can you tell our listeners, what does that mean? What’s a liquid syllabus?

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Yes, and first I want to say that I’m still amazed to see the response to this concept because it really isn’t that innovative. I mean in my eyes, but I think as educators who are maybe coming into this space with online teaching or digital pedagogy trying to figure out what’s the role of technology. Many times they’re looking for an entrance point. How am I going to get in? Where do I start with this? So, I think that’s why the traction is so powerful with this concept, but.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Several years ago, I think it was 2017, 2016, I wrote a blog post about, are you ready for the liquid syllabus? I had already been doing a lot of very intentional redesign of my syllabus. My syllabi, they were beautiful. I used to teach art history full-time, so very visual. By the way, that probably connects back to my learning story. Right?

Lillian Nave:

Right, yes.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Art, images, exactly, but they were in PDF format. With smartphones, we know that nearly every college student has a smartphone. It’s actually even more so when we get into students from lower income groups because smartphones are the access point to everything. Right?

Lillian Nave:

Yeah.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

It’s not this extra thing that we get on top of our laptop, and it’s the thing that they use. So I teach in the California Community College system and provide professional development in that system. We serve 2.1 million students and their most vulnerable student population. So thinking about mobile through everything that I do is a really, really important point.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

So, by that time I’m starting to recognize that there are all these conversations going on about responsive. Is your website responsive? Is your website responsive? I just started to apply that to my course materials, and I thought about my syllabus and I was like, it’s so beautiful but oh my gosh, look at it on a phone. It’s like, oh, how awful is that?

Lillian Nave:

Yeah.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Of course, my eyes are getting worse.

Lillian Nave:

You have to do the pinching, yeah.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Right? So, that was the thing for me when I stopped and I started thinking about these super easy to use tools out there. At the time, it was a different tool I was using which I don’t recommend anymore because it has accessibility issues and I don’t think it’s actually being maintained very well, but basically single page website creation tools that allow you to go in, create a webpage without any knowledge of HTML. You could put videos in and you can look at that page on a computer, on a laptop, on a desktop, but you can click the same link on a phone and it’s going to render beautifully. I just was like oh, this is can be really interesting. So I started dabbling around with it and I created my syllabus in the form of a webpage and that was where it all started. Now, you can use any web tool but the point is, is that it is responsive.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

When we think about why that makes a difference is, when we’re using a tool like Microsoft Word or if Mac, Pages, that’s a tool that you’re creating with a tool that is made for paper output. Right?

Lillian Nave:

Right, so you could-

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

I mean even though nowadays we don’t print, it’s still, that’s what it was made for. So when you shift to a tool that is intentionally designed to create responsive digital content, you can do so much more with it. It’s also the video piece, right?

Lillian Nave:

Yeah.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Putting a video in there is huge. So if we connect this concept of the liquid syllabus back with pre-course contact, I mean what a beautiful link to include in a simple, brief, welcome letter to students before. Maybe, seven to 10 days before your course starts, “Hey, take a look at our liquid syllabus,” whatever you want to call it. Call it whatever you want, but and then in that email because you know they’re reading those emails on their phone. Right?

Lillian Nave:

Right.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

The hardest part is getting them to read the email, getting them to check the email, I should say, but tap the link and there it is. The first thing they see is your warm smiling face and a real quick video and everything that they need to get started. So, that’s what the liquid syllabus is and that’s how it connects back to humanizing pre-course contact.

Lillian Nave:

Yeah, and creating that community. You’ve already said you’re a real person and you’re expecting them to be real people. You’ve designed for actually people and how they’re going to access the course. So, we’ll have on our resources for this episode, a couple links about that blog post and the liquid syllabus. You have put together a really great step-by-step what to do in making a Google site and a couple examples. So I’ve been following that over the summer, and if I can do it, and I am tech savvy, then anybody can do it. It is, you don’t have to have code, you don’t have to do anything. I’ve been spreading the news to our faculty and just it’s a very easy entrée. It’s a beginner type of thing that so many people can do. That makes a huge difference, just before classes start they’re getting oh, this is a real person and somebody who actually cares about my learning.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

I’m so happy to hear that it’s getting traction like that. It really does matter and the other reason it matters is because pedagogy needs to guide our technology but when you start using different tools you do start thinking about things differently. I mean, that’s where I got that idea. So I think it is really important for that reason was well, because it takes people in, faculty into just a different way of thinking about content and connection, both of those things, yeah.

Lillian Nave:

It’s mirrors this idea of, think about last spring when most of the world had to switch from an online face… sorry, from a face to face into emergency remote. So we took all those things that we had designed face to face and said, “Okay, we’re going to mix it up or try to replicate face to face in some sort of online environment.” That worked to varying degrees, not great, but to varying degrees. What we’re now able to do if we are designing from the beginning for online, rather than saying, “I’m going to take this old course that was meant for this place, and I’m just going to try translate those things into something new.” We have this opportunity now to say, “Oh wow, there are tools here.” There are different ways that people can communicate online with text, with slack, with discussion boards, with VoiceThread, with flip grid. There are all these ways that are now available that we wouldn’t have thought about if it were a face to face class. That provides so many opportunities.

Lillian Nave:

So you’ve done a lot with VoiceThread as one of the special arts related type of things. I was wondering if you could talk about that. That’s similar, it’s a tool that we wouldn’t have necessarily had in a face to face class, but it’s really fantastic. It has lots of options for students, so UDL designed to have multiple ways for people to communicate. Can you talk a little bit about your use of voice thread and why that’s a great digital tool for you?

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Yeah, I started using VoiceThread in 2007, it’s a long time ago. I literally remember the day that I saw it and the day I started. I created my first VoiceThread and how excited I was because for me coming from a visual discipline, at the time I was teaching on Blackboard. Oh, it was awful, my course was awful. I mean, my students would things like, “Oh, this is such a class.” I’d be like, “Really?”

Lillian Nave:

Because I don’t think so.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

That makes me sad, but you think about in art history classroom, what’s the center of an art history class? It’s the image. What I had to do to get an image into Blackboard at the time was, I mean it was impossible. So my discussions were like, the prompt would say, “Take out your book and open it page…” it was terrible. Look at the image and… so when I saw VoiceThread, it was literally an image-centric space. It was asynchronous, so again, it really does go back to the students that you’re serving. However, I think I could make this argument for any group of students particularly now, when so much is happening in a home.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Synchronicity, it’s a barrier, being a single place or being online at a certain time, that is a barrier. So if our goal is to move towards an equitable learning experience, that is a barrier that I believe is problematic. I’m thinking gosh, how many students, just this one example alone, are going to have to choose between oh, I need to meet my professor or my class on Zoom, or I need to sit down and homeschool my child at that time because that’s when their Zoom session is too. So that’s an example, and that really starts to undermine community when you feel like you’re missing out when you really can’t be there for something. So, that was a big part of VoiceThread for me too, was just knowing that it fit into that asynchronous modality, but that’s what drove me to it was the image centric-ness of it.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

So if you’re not familiar with VoiceThread, for those of you listening. It is a web-based tool and a VoiceThread is kind of like a photo album or a media album, I guess I should say, and every slide could be a different kind or the same kind of media. So a slide could hold an image, it could hold a video, it could hold a presentation slide, it could hold a document. You decide what goes onto each slide. So you upload your content into the slides, and then every slide becomes a conversation. So you and or your students come in and leave comments on the slide and as you’re speaking, actually, let me back up. When you click comment, you have the choice as you mentioned, Lillian, you have the choice to choose how you’re going to comment. So there’s a video option, there’s an audio option, so voice only. Then there’s also text writing. The other thing that’s beautiful about it is that there’s a VoiceThread mobile app that works very, very well.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

So at the time in 2007 we weren’t quite there yet and the app has come a long way since then. So, that’s something that I’m very mindful of these days is thinking about okay, if I’m going to do this, how does it work on a mobile device? Speaking on a phone, if that’s your access point that’s [inaudible 00:30:12], that’s something I think about. So again, I was driven by that image-centric nature of it, but what I did not expect was how much it contributed to building community because my students could see me, my students could hear me. I could respond to them in voice individually.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

That was really the first time where I felt like I was teaching online instead of just saying, “Oh, here are these assignments,” because I could come in and respond to what a student said and say, “Hey, that connects with…” and I could start bringing in content that we had covered in the past weeks or where we’re headed, and helping students to make those connections. So I found it very empowering for me, I felt more engaged as a teacher, and I know my students did too because I started collecting data about it.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

But I have another story, and this was very pivotal for me. There was one student in, I think it was the first year that I was using VoiceThread, who had shared with me that she had dyslexia. So, thank you for letting me know that, let me know what you need from me, the kind of thing that most instructors would say. Right?

Lillian Nave:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

So we had discussion, text based discussions in the course, and we had VoiceThreads. I remember reading her discussion replies and keeping in mind that she had dyslexia. A lot of fragmentation for me, difficult to really comprehend what it was she was trying to communicate, but at the same time that same student, when she turned on her video and she started talking to that camera, I mean I still get chills thinking about it. She was so eloquent, she was engaged, she was pushing herself. When I saw that contrast, when I experience that contrast between how that multiple means of expression, giving her the option to express her… the ability to express herself in different ways, how it transformed her ability to demonstrate to me what she knew in the online environment, it changed me forever. So I think about that a lot.

Lillian Nave:

Yeah, it’s an equity issue. It’s allowing all of your students to bring their full selves when we provide those options.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Exactly.

Lillian Nave:

So when you said that your student was so eloquent when she was speaking, I think we also have to think about, what is our goal? You wanted to know what they were thinking about how they were putting things together, what their ideas were about the work of art. It wasn’t important to you that it was necessarily written in a paragraph format or had the right APA citation. So often, we clump all of these goals that we think we are putting on like, oh I want it in this format or I need it in this way. We realize, that’s actually not my goal. I just want to know, is this student synthesizing the information? Is this person analyzing it? Then we throw a barrier in their path by saying, “Okay, but it has to be typed with your left hand and only in 30 seconds. That’s how you’re going to tell me that you’ve understood something.” But really, the VoiceThread is allowing her to synthesize in a way and for students to explain what they know, without a barrier.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Yeah, yeah. Yeah, and absolutely. At the same time, voice is a barrier for some students, right?

Lillian Nave:

Right.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Writing is a strength for those students. Yeah, so I mean when I teach online now, I am very intentional about thinking, I want all of my students to write and I want all of my students to speak. Now, if anyone needs an accommodation for whatever reason, that’s fine. I have a student who had epilepsy and she shared with me, she said, “I had a major seizure and my speech is very slurred. This is my first class back.” Fine, use the text response, that’s fine. So I just want to be clear that I don’t force students to do one or the other, but.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

I think that when I think about online classes, I certainly hope that we are ensuring that all of our students are speaking because what I see in my students and I’ve collected data about this in surveys, is that they are so nervous at the beginning. So much in fact, that if I just respond to everyone in the VoiceThread, most of them will just type. I have to say, “The first one, we’re going to do together. You’re going to do voice, you’re going to do video unless there’s some compelling reason why you can’t.” Once we get through that together and if I’m super supportive and I respond to every comment and I’m very welcoming, they’re good with it moving forward.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

But when I think about online classes, asynchronous or whatever, even synchronous online classes, how many students are speaking? I can see through the data that over time, they tell me that their confidence in their ability to speak has increased. I hope everyone agrees with me that that’s a fundamental skill that we want all of our undergraduate students to possess when they go out into the world and doing so in a digital environment. Right?

Lillian Nave:

Right, and it takes practice.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Absolutely.

Lillian Nave:

Right, like your story about your teacher Mrs. Bennet sitting you down and saying, “Oh, here’s how you do it. Here’s how you’re going to remember what you read.” You’re saying, “Hey, it just takes practice and you can do it. We’re going to do it together.” We have this affirming community so that by the end, there is a confidence and they can communicate in multiple ways. That’s one of our general education goals is to communicate effectively. So, is that written? Is that verbal? Is that by making a documentary film? Is it by creating an art piece?

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Yes.

Lillian Nave:

We work on those skills as we move forward.

Lillian Nave:

I also have to share a story which is, I taught art history online when I was pregnant and then had a young baby. I had moved and I was adjuncting and I taught an art appreciation online, and this is 2005, 2006, somewhere around there. I was awful at it. I was horrendous and I didn’t teach online again until the pandemic, that’s how bad it was. But it was things like, in order to write on papers, I used all caps. I got the feedback, “Why are you yelling at me?” I was like oh no, I didn’t mean I was yelling, I didn’t mean or try to yell at you. Things like, “Oh, you need to go look in your book, chapter three, look at page 75. Look at this picture. Now, turn over to page 78, and I want you to compare.” It was horrendous and just so clunky. Thank goodness we have learned from mistakes, I’ve learned from mistakes, and we’ve gotten tools that are making this so much better for our students and so much better for ourselves.

Lillian Nave:

So, you also brought up something that I really wanted to talk about from the very beginning. That is your idea about asynchronous versus synchronous online courses. Just, what are the differences? What do you see as advantages with an asynchronous course? We talked a little bit about that. You mentioned that if you’ve got other family obligations, when can you actually participate in them, but can you tell me more about that idea?

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Yeah, I think it’s really important for us to know who are students are. I also don’t want to suggest that I have all this data about synchronous classes and I know everything. I’m sure there are amazing things happening in synchronous online courses. I also want to say that… oh my gosh, I cannot imagine being a faculty member and having to transition multiple courses online right now. It blows my mind to think about what that must be like, because it’s a lot of work. So, I just want to say that, but.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

I mentioned the different between asynchronous and synchronous, and if we’re keeping equity in mind in terms of creating environments that you want to pull down the barriers, identify what the barriers are for certain students that keep them from being successful and remove those barriers, synchronicity as we mentioned is a barrier. But in addition to that, if I link that to the story I told at the start about my 7th grade experience and that feeling being in front of all my peers and that feeling of shame. That shaped me forever. I can remember sitting in college classes, I never said anything, I never asked questions, I had questions. I never asked, I never raised my hand and said, “Oh, can you explain that? Can you go back and do that again?” Very few students did, there’s usually a couple that always sit in the front row. Right?

Lillian Nave:

Right, of course.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

I can remember every time there was a discussion and I could see the professor’s eyes scanning the room looking for someone, that feeling that would go through me like, please don’t call on me. I know now, I’ve learned now that I process things more slowly than some other people. So I can remember there being discussions in class and listening in that fishbowl, then driving home or at night when I’m laying in bed going oh yeah, and starting to really make these connections. So that’s another reason why I think asynchronous really brings value to students, because it allows to learn more so at their own rhythm. It removes some of those social barriers that occur in a group. Depending on who you are, your identity, you feel less comfortable speaking when you identify with marginalized groups. Right?

Lillian Nave:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

So that I think is a big factor to consider as well.

Lillian Nave:

Yeah yeah, I know that feeling, I’m sure many of our listeners know that feeling of all eyes are on you. When you raise your hand and you’ve got 20 people that are looking at you and you feel like they’re judging you all the time. So, I know I can spend a lot more time constructing an answer rather than speaking off the cuff. It is, I’m going to come up with a better answer than if I’m just blurting out something in that particular time. So we’re giving our students a lot better chance to go deeper, I think, in the material and really wrestle with it or just give them time to think about it, rather than, I got to make it through this 45 minute class and I’ll say my three things. I’ll get my participation grade, it won’t go very deep but I will have done it, rather than hey, take a day, think about it. What connections are you making? How can you connect with other people in that way? You can hear 20 different people rather than four people because that’s how much time we have in this particular class.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Yeah yeah, and I think an area that I’m interested in that I would like to probe into is the decision to do synchronous versus asynchronous, from a faculty perspective, assuming that they hopefully have the option to make that decision on their own. What are the drivers in there? From my peers who support faculty across the California Community College system, one of the things that I hear is this fundamental disbelief that you can community in an online course.

Lillian Nave:

Yeah, I’ve heard that too.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

That’s a problem because when… and I should say in an asynchronous online course. There’s something about like “Oh, well when we’re in Zoom together and we see each other…” it implies that it’s better suited for building community, but I think that really needs to be untangled and unpacked. I’ve had students mail me gifts, students who I’ve never met before, students who I’m still in touch with and I’ve mailed students gifts also. So those relationships, to think they can’t happen in asynchronous courses, that’s a barrier that we as faculty need to get over.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

I think it starts with professional development and being a participant in a course, an asynchronous online course where community is built, where there is an engaged, present, empathetic facilitator who is aware of the story that you bring to the table. So going back to community, and it’s not just about video, it is being intentional about trying to understand who’s in your class, what their stories are. What challenges are they concerned about that might get in their way, and how you can support them through that. So yeah, community and asynchronous online courses is so very possible. You have the opportunity to see all of your students depending on the tools that you’re using, but also all of your students have a seat at the table because they’re all required to submit work and make contributions, whereas in a classroom, it’s just those few in a discussion. Right?

Lillian Nave:

Yeah, it’s amazing. In the world we live in today and have been living in for 20 years, probably more, people fall in love online. You know?

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Yeah.

Lillian Nave:

People can create incredible relationships and have communities, social network groups, met friends on Twitter and follow and learn so much in all of these different digital environments. Then to say, “But you can’t really create community in a class,” is just totally negating all of that emotion, all of that going back to that first thing we talked about, that affective part of the brain, not just the cognitive. You probably don’t create community if all you have are a series of quizzes and no personal interaction or no back and forth. But as you said, if we’re intentional about creating community, then it has an outsized effect on the learning that can happen in that class.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Absolutely yeah, yeah.

Lillian Nave:

Quite amazing.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Tools do not create community, human connection creates community. Tools can foster that a bit, but yeah. So yes, I totally agree, yes. That’s such a good point about all the relationships and connections that are established online these days, but yeah.

Lillian Nave:

Yeah, exactly. So another question I have for you and what you’re doing in online classes, you’re just far ahead of so many of us who are rapidly moving into online that may not have done it before is, how you account for the human factor, learner variability, in something in regards to deadlines. So, we have to have a rhythm of the course, you have to have people handing in stuff. How do you handle things like flexibility and deadlines for an online course?

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Yeah, well I first of all want to couch my response in a journey because when I started teaching, I modeled everything I learned in grad school. I was awful, I mean everything had to be on time. Then I got really flexible and I was like, oh, well you can turn it in 24 hours late. Then it was like, oh okay, well two days but you’re going to get half credit or something like that.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Today, I still have due dates, I still make it clear to students that I expect them to turn their work in on time, but I also make it clear to them that hey, I’m a human and I know that life happens. There are things that will likely happen to you that should take a priority over you meeting a deadline. So what’s more important is that you and I have a relationship, that we have a two way dialog. When I reach out to you and I say, “Hey, you’re late on this, what’s going on over there? How are things going on your end, is there a problem?” You’ve got to be responsive, you’ve got to let me know what’s going on so that I can support you.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Ideally, what I ask my students to do is to let me know in advance of the deadline if they’re going to be late. Then we just agree upon an extension, but that doesn’t always happen either. So, I am very aware of when students are late, and they know that because I reach out to them immediately. I’ll reach out to them multiple times, and sometimes it takes three times before I get a response. I think that that’s my obligation for my students.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

This past semester, I definitely was way more flexible than ever. Okay, the world didn’t end. I mean, more students succeeded in the course. Why is that a problem? Why do we do the things that we do? So-

Lillian Nave:

Yeah, we often tend… and I did the same thing, tend to teach from the way we were taught and what we thought was important. It took me a long time to question those things, about why does it need to be printed on this kind of paper in this kind of font on this particular day? That’s just the way it was always done, so that’s the way I’m going to assign it. Never really questioned those things that I had been doing for so long, until in the last five years or so, really trying to see my teaching in a different way and understanding the learner variability. Also, really pinpointing, what did I want from students? Do I want them to think deeply, and that’s more important than getting it in on time or doing it in a smaller timeframe or something like that. Then, that allowed me to allow form some flexibility because I was able to regulate or prioritize my goals for what was important, I think.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Right, and I think there’s one more thing, if I could just add one more thing to that. I said all of my assignments have due dates and I expect students to meet them. I think that part of it is explaining why. For me, we know that when students get behind in online courses, it’s that snowball effect and it’s very overwhelming. So that’s my, why. This is what I expect you to do and this is why because I want you to succeed. I know that when you start getting behind, it’s harder to get back on track. So I think that that’s important to include in the messaging.

Lillian Nave:

Yeah, and if we are in an online course, then you’ve got to be putting all of this out beforehand. You can’t just do this in the first day of class, here’s my policy, whatever. It’s all got to be sent out to your students and be available for them throughout the course.

Lillian Nave:

So, when you said some students would come to you and say, “I need an extension.” There are certain students that know they can do that, and then other students who it would never occur to them that I could even ask for an extension. I was one of those students who knew I could ask or felt confident enough that, can I have an extension on this? It was very rare, I’m not even sure if I did, but I thought that’s probably within the realm of possibility, but if we offer it to students, we need to offer it to all students. Let people know ahead of time, oh, that’s how this higher ed thing works, or what is the policy? We have to be very explicit, I think, in our online courses so that all students are going to know that that’s how things are. Those are the policies or those are the guidelines. I hadn’t made that explicit for a long time. So I appreciate that you are doing that, letting your students know ahead of time what to do.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Yeah, and what you just said about students wouldn’t know to do that. It just triggered something in my mind. Some of the work of Claude Steele around stereotype threat. Sometime we, I will just generalize, we as faculty get frustrated because you tell your students that, “Well, they didn’t do it.” Then really trying to unpack what it means for some students to lean in and ask for an extension. So stereotype threat is that fear that you are going to succumb to a negative stereotype about your identity. This is huge for our students of color, also for women in math and STEM.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

So again, when we expect a student to lean in, that’s a risk for them because it could signal to a student, here I am, I’m going to blow it. Here I am, I’m stupid.

Lillian Nave:

Yeah, I don’t belong here.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

I knew I was going to do… right?

Lillian Nave:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

It really does go back to that trust. When a student feels like you care and they don’t feel that threat that they’re going to be shot down by reaching out to you, that’s the context, that’s where it starts. So the policy is important, the communicating of the policy is important, but without that trust established, there are students that just will not do it. They will just drop the class.

Lillian Nave:

Yeah, and I think that relationship. You are setting the tone, you’re setting those guidelines and policies. That relationship is as we’ve said a million times today, so important for the success of the student. That they’re not in it alone, that more than just the cognitive brain, that effective part is being employed. All of those are actual, important things that we have to pay attention for student success.

Lillian Nave:

I think one other question I have that goes along with that idea is, how are you helping students with their executive functions? With appropriate goal setting? With meeting deadlines? With that sort of thing, we might call them soft skills, but they’re really essential skills. When it’s in an online course, it could be a pretty long jumble. So, and students have to be doing a lot of this self starter stuff. Well, I need to look at the video now, I need to hand this thing or start working on this project four hours before I have to post it. Sometimes, that’s more difficult for others. So how about, what are some strategies you have about those sorts of things?

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Yeah, that’s where course design really comes in too, right?

Lillian Nave:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

So the notion of chunking all of your content up into consistent modules and communicating to students like, what does that pattern look like for the course? Trying to keep consistency, and that’s hard. I mean, consistency in terms of the duration of each module.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

I just did a professional development course for faculty and it was a six week course and we had four, one week modules and we ended with a two week module. The feedback was, “No, that didn’t work. We’re used to one week.” You know?

Lillian Nave:

Yeah.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

So, that’s very telling. So the consistency. Have your module open on the same day each week, and if possible as much as possible, have some consistency in the due dates during each week. I think that’s really, really important. If you do have a bigger project, don’t assign it in one module. You’re going to introduce it maybe three, however modules in advance, and then really chunk up that assignment so that it’s scaffolded so that students don’t… first of all, they’re not overwhelmed by, oh my gosh, this is due and I need to get from here to there, this long stretch. Instead, okay, that’s the end but this is where I’m going to start. I’m going to go to this first point first. Then they get that first chunk done, and they start to feel some confidence and they know that they’ve already finished part of it. So, designing projects in that way I think is so very important. It’s hard, it’s hard work, it takes a lot of effort and time to really do that in an effective manner, but I think those are really important aspects of supporting executive functioning.

Lillian Nave:

Yeah, that’s one of the biggest things I need to be looking at I think, because you’ve made me think about my course and I have one module that’s half as long as the other ones, so maybe-

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Okay, here’s the thing. Survey your students. Everything done in my teaching has been guided by what my students have shared with me. I mean, and the things you learn, because there’ll be things that you think about your coursework are terrible and you’ll be like, oh it’s not so bad. Then there’ll be other things like, oh, I thought I was doing pretty good in that area. So it’s very illuminating, our student feedback is so important.

Lillian Nave:

Oh good, yes. I will have to do that and see what they think about my one weird module, so. I’ll have to work on that one.

Lillian Nave:

Okay, so my last question there, I so appreciate your time, is in highlighting patterns and big ideas. So, I went to the… how do you make sure the students are getting their executive functioning, but how are you also making sure they’re following the arc of the course or highlighting patterns, big ideas like the big value that five years down the road you want them to get this out of it? I mean, I feel like we have to do so much. We’re thinking in the molecular structure of the course, we’re also thinking in the overall arching part of the course.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

You’re so right, yeah.

Lillian Nave:

Yeah, so I’m looking to you as someone who has been doing this for quite a while and have a lot of reflection. How do you do that?

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

I think a lot of it comes down to… well, I don’t know. I always say I’m really lucky because I teach these visual disciplines. So really strive to have student… I incorporate assignments for students to make real world connections. So, and that’s something I do with VoiceThread too, we’re learning about historical photographic processes and the history of photography. So I have a VoiceThread that only has the title slide in it, and the student’s task is to go out into a particular online database of digital images from a well known museum and I point them to it and I say, “Okay, you’re going to look for a daguerreotype,” which is an early photographic process. “Find one that resonates with you in some way that another student hasn’t already picked, and upload it into this VoiceThread. Then I want you to leave a comment and tell the class about that image from the database.” So, at the end of the assignment there’s this whole collection of daguerreotypes that have been uploaded.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Then in the next module, one of their assignments is to go back into that module. Okay, so now I want to look at the collection, but pick at least 15 of them. Listen to the comments, think about who’s in the image. Try to make some connections between what you’re seeing, who’s in the image. What’s going on here? What were daguerreotypes used for? That’s their discussion, is trying to really think about, this is a revolution in portraiture. Also, who’s included? Where are the people that aren’t white? That’s another important element of it. So, making those real world connections is really important, but also that metacognitive later in terms of, so as you’re moving through the course, stopping and giving students assignments that require them to look back and reflect on what they’ve learned. That can be very empowering for students. I think that’s the biggest key that I would say, is that metacognition, the active, really developing the skills that make you aware of your learning.

Lillian Nave:

Yes, yeah. That was my entering point for UDL, was that metacognition and saying, “Wow, have my students learned anything unless they’ve actually thought about their learning?” Now, all of these assignments have a reflection part. So they’re telling me what they learned, and often times what they learned was so much more than what I wanted them to learn. They’re coming to me with a whole lot more, oh wow, that was a lot better than I thought.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Yeah, and that’s the stuff they will remember. That’s what they will carry with them after your course.

Lillian Nave:

Well, thank you. You have given us so much to think about as we’re moving online as many people are hybrid or fully online and may be totally asynchronous online. You have a wealth of knowledge. We will make sure that your website and blogs and I’ve made a list of the things that we brought up today, are available as resources. So anyone listening to this conversation can dive deeper into the liquid syllabus, into VoiceThread, and to any of the things that you’ve brought to our attention. As someone who has gone before us as we are going to be teaching online. So thank you so much, Michelle, for spending the time with me.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock:

Thank you, I’m so happy you found me and we made a connection.

Lillian Nave:

Yes, thank you.

Lillian Nave:

You can follow The Think UDL Podcast on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, to find out when new episodes will be released, and also see transcripts and additional materials at the thinkudl.org website. The Think UDL Podcast is made possible by College STAR, the STAR stands for Supporting, Transition, Access, and Retention in post secondary settings. The website provides free resources and instructional aids based on UDL principles. If you’d like to know more, go to the collegestar.org website.

Lillian Nave:

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, 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.