Open Pedagogy 9/19 Recap: Access Beyond the ADA

Open Pedagogy participants discussing access beyond the ADA.

On Thursday, September 19, faculty and staff from City Tech, CUNY, and other New York City universities (e.g. Pratt University)  got together for the first of two Open Pedagogy events the OpenLab is hosting this semester. Participants discussed “Access Beyond the ADA”

Note that the discussion was framed around access rather than accessibility. As we noted in our post announcing the event, the term accessibility conveys the degree to which a space, process, or concept is accessible. By contrast, access denotes the process by which accessibility is achieved. Our focus on Thursday evening was on broadening our understanding of “access” beyond compliance with the ADA. We considered the following questions:

  • How can open digital pedagogy impact, augment, and enhance access?
  • What are the limits of technology’s impact on access and accessibility?
  • What barriers to access have you encountered as faculty and staff? What about the barriers you’ve experienced students facing? 
  • What resources have helped you to improve access in your academic courses and projects?

Participants kicked off the evening by recounting how some of their own assumptions around access had been called into question. For example, a participant shared that once they included language in their syllabi inviting students to talk about their different learning styles, they experienced a drastic shift in their relationship with students. This faculty member noted that students had opened up to them in unexpected ways; most simply wanted to talk about how they learned and how they studied. Some were looking for advice, validation, and acknowledgement. Few were looking for technical “accommodation.” None, the faculty member emphasized, were looking for what some disparagingly call “preferential treatment.” Most students simply wanted to be heard—to have their differences recognized. This anecdote helped ground the evening in a principle that might be captured by a simple maxim: trust your students. Students are often quite aware of their needs and can tell you how to improve access to learning in your class. But they need to be given the space to do so.

Several participants echoed these experiences, including alluding to experiences of attempting to accommodate student needs and facing institutional guidelines that restrict faculty agency to grade, grant extensions, or even appropriately refer students to other offices on campus that may provide support. Even the simple awareness of which offices serve which purposes can be obfuscated to first-generation students and part-time, temporary, or contract faculty and staff, so it can be difficult to advise students on the best course of action without a thorough orientation, a luxury that seems to have diminished under austere working conditions in higher ed. 

Similarly, disabled teaching and non-teaching faculty in the room recounted having to stay in the disability “closet” for much of their careers. Rare are those occasions on which university instructors are invited to share the accommodations they might require. Some noted that the use of open digital pedagogy—and platforms like the OpenLab—had made their lives much easier. The ability to create interactive and accessible web content, and to teach meaningfully through this content has been invaluable, especially for instructors with chronic illness, autism, and other disabilities that impact their ability to stand, communicate verbally or nonverbally, and other traditional pedagogical expectations  in a classroom.

But significant barriers remain. The physical environment is a major obstacle to access: many participants remarked on the difficulty of getting around the CUNY campuses when disabled, remarking on simple architectural inaccessibility in the forms of steps and stairs and nonfunctional elevators, and other issues such as overcrowded hallways that can be difficult to navigate during class changes. Another barrier is that the websites students and faculty depend on—including the database search for the library—are not always easily read with a screen reader. Finally, while technology is arguable a prerequisite for improving access to learning, it can also be an auditory and visual distraction for students in the classroom. Participants noted that they sometimes struggle with what to ask their students to do with cell phones: should these be allowed on desks in class? For one math instructor, a smartphone can supplant the need for an expensive calculator as well as acting as a common means of accessing online material. But what about when they become a distraction and possibly undermine a student’s success in a course?

Finally, participants emphasized at multiple points that improvements to access must come from people—not technology. On its own, technology cannot transform a student’s learning or an instructor’s teaching or service to the university. But it can be employed with the intention of making learning affordable, accessible, and varied; it can be used to adapt teaching to different learning styles. The key word here is intention. To focus on access, participants noted, is to value the ongoing human energy that is required to meet people’s accessibility rights and, conversely, the energy people must put in to have their own rights met . The processes at play are not automatic. They have to be enacted. Our conversation last Thursday evening was one way to redouble our commitment to this enactment.

Let’s continue the conversation! Please comment on this post with thoughts/ questions. And don’t forget to join us for our next Open Pedagogy event, on November 7!

Open Pedagogy Event (4/4): Curating a Faculty or Staff Portfolio

Brooklyn-NY DUMBO by alh1

Curating a Faculty or Staff Portfolio

Thursday, April 4, 2019, 4:30-6:00pm (Faculty Commons, Namm 227)

*Refreshments will be served. (Thanks to the Provost’s Office for its generous support of this event!)

*Part-time faculty are eligible to receive a stipend for participation.

*Please RSVP by commenting on this post. Please share this invitation with your colleagues!

Join the OpenLab Team, City Tech faculty and staff, and CUNY colleagues at our next Open Pedagogy event, where we’ll be discussing using Portfolios for faculty and staff on the OpenLab. While Portfolios are often associated with student work, faculty and staff have embraced the opportunity to create dynamic, compelling collections of their work in teaching and learning, research, student success, and academic initiatives across the college, as well as a space to reflect on these experiences. We’ll work to expand the portfolio beyond a “teaching” portfolio so as to consider its role for faculty and staff in non-teaching roles. We’ll discuss how Portfolios offer opportunities for authoring a professional identity within the context of the City Tech community, and some strategies for curating work in the open, public-facing space of the OpenLab. We’ll consider the following questions:

  • What are the affordances of creating and maintaining a digital portfolio on the OpenLab (or another digital format) instead of a collection of printed-out materials?
  • What curation strategies are important for Portfolios on the OpenLab? Is this the place for reflection or perfection?
  • How might Portfolios help you as you move through your career in higher education? In what other educational contexts could you see a Portfolio as a useful tool?
  • Considering the recentering of the teaching Portfolio, what opportunities and challenges arise when the teaching isn’t just in the classroom (e.g., OpenLab project, administrative responsibilities, committee work, altac careers)?

This event is the second of two in our Spring 2019 Open Pedagogy series on curation in open digital pedagogy. We’re excited to continue our conversation around how “curation”–practically and conceptually–can be integrated into professional development on the OpenLab.

Save the date for our upcoming linked workshop, “Curating Faculty and Staff Portfolios, ” where we will share best practices for developing a reflexive and professional teaching portfolio (Thursday, April 11, 2:30-4:00 PM Room L441A).

Recommended Readings:

Recap: Curating Student Work in ePortfolios

 

summer_grass by lia510

On Thursday, February 21st, faculty and graduate students from across CUNY got together over wine and cheese to discussing curating student work in ePortfolios. The evening marked the first of our two Open Pedagogy events this semester and drew faculty participation from departments like Communication and Design, Art History, English, and Biology. Each participant shared their concerns and hopes for student ePortfolios.

ePortfolios on the OpenLab are designed to allow students to create professional websites to showcase and reflect on their academic/ professional experiences. That said, providing students with built-in opportunities and guidance to curate their online work has not always been an obvious task. First, we might ask whose task it is: should it be the role of academic advisers, faculty instructors, or departments to work with students on their ePortfolios? To the extent that advisers, faculty, and departments are already doing this work, how can their efforts be better coordinated in service of guiding students in (dare we say?) the art of curating their work, reflecting on their City Tech career and academic growth, and transitioning, even, to building a professional portfolio they can share with employers? These were some of the questions animating the discussion.

We began by tackling the first of these questions: how and where to help students select their best work to showcase on their ePortfolios? Is the classroom the best space to do this? If that is case, then who should be providing students with feedback? Instructors only? Peers? Participants at the event shared some strategies. Some instructors set up detailed guidelines early in the semester, emphasizing to the class as a whole that seeming minutiae like Avatar images and usernames on the OpenLab can project an online image. They encourage students to think through how they would like to present themselves creatively, but thoughtfully. Others suggest to students that when coursework takes the form of public, multimedia writing-i.e. through blog posts and other reflective assignments-then the audience is not just the instructor grading the work: the audience is a larger online public.

Moreover, by reflecting in blog posts on their academic careers, students are writing for their future selves, giving themselves a record of their trajectories: milestones to commemorate and, yes, even early work to cringe at. Instructors hope in this way to equip students with a variety of perspectives, so that they can be the final curators of their own work. A challenge noted by participants was that advising sessions–which could theoretically be ideal spaces to guide students through curating an ePortfolio-are more often than not bureaucratic, demanding attention to administrative requirements such as course registration, rather than a broader vision for a student’s academic career. We wondered whether having more streamlined use of ePortfolios within departments might make ePortfolios easier to incorporate into advising sessions. Would this, we asked, lead to more robust portfolio use?

In the hard sciences, such as Biology, which are less writing-intensive, instructors wondered how they might effectively incorporate ePortfolios. Participants suggested having students blog to reflect on the ethical implications of experiments, as well as their own growth and challenges in learning scientific material. In photography courses, an instructor noted a more technical challenge: storage space-and limits- on the OpenLab! This is a broader concern for students whose coursework takes the form of larger files like images and videos. We noted that CUNY is hoping to soon offer unlimited Dropbox storage to students and faculty, which should be a good workaround.

A final question was when students should begin curating their ePortfolios? Are ePortfolios, which offer all of the affordances of open digital tools, best taken advantage of early in college careers? Or are they better saved for later, to avoid overwhelming students who are transitioning to higher education? Both perspectives were endorsed. Some noted that having students begin early gives them time to curate and look back at their work, if only to reflect on how far they’ve come and to select later, perhaps more polished, work to keep on their sites. It also improves buy-in from students to begin early, allowing them to gain familiarity with the digital tools of the OpenLab. Others argued for a more structured approach, streamlining ePortfolio use across classrooms, at least within departments, and easing students into the process. A long-term vision along these lines is to develop streamlined, but scaffolded ePortfolio assignments that help students iteratively build up their online presence.

Do your students use ePortfolios? Do you have ideas for how to help students with curation? Keep the conversation going by replying to this post and sharing your thoughts.

On a final note, folks interested in ePortfolios might want to take a look at the Association for Authentic, Experiential, and Evidence-Based Learning’s conference on ePortfolios, which will be held at Bronx Community College in New York City, July 15-18.

Here are a few additional resources and readings on ePortfolios that are worth a read:

This article highlights interdisciplinarity of using ePortfolios, which the authors contend is a critical skill for students to develop alongside critical thinking and transferring knowledge across fields. The appendices include assignments from General Education portfolio assignments in the author’s colleges.

  • Yancey, Kathleen Blake. “ePortfolio.” Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities: Concepts, Models, and Experiments. MLA Commons, 2016.

This resource explicates some basics and highlights creative assignments including ePortfolios.

The sample prompts included in this article are thought-provoking and gathered from CUNY-based research.

By thinking through the public online contexts of different types of ePortfolios, this article presents ways to use ePortfolios to develop digital literacies and tips for maintaining a professional online presence, including considerations of the specific needs of a digital format, architecture and design of a site.

Recap: Remixing and Sharing in Open Digital Pedagogy

Image Credit: starsandspirals

On Thursday, October 18th, CUNY faculty and staff got together for the second of two Open Pedagogy Events planned for Fall 2018, Remixing and Sharing in Open Digital Pedagogy. This event asked: What opportunities for sharing and remixing teaching materials do open digital environments like the OpenLab present? What responsibilities do you have when you share and remix the materials of others? What responsibilities do you have when you make your materials open and available to be remixed? What responsibilities do others have toward you when they remix and reuse your materials?

City Tech faculty from English, Mathematics, Computer Systems Technology (CST), and Biology, and the library  joined us in the Faculty Commons (N227). 

A special thanks to Andy McKinney, former OpenLab Community Team member, who joined us from CUNY Central, where he has been working on scaling up OER (Open Educational Resources) initiatives CUNY-wide. A huge thank you also to Cailean Cooney, OER librarian at CityTech, who has been working with faculty to create OERs on the OpenLab. Thank you both for attending the event, sharing your insights regarding open education and the steps being taken throughout CUNY to promote a culture of responsible sharing and remixing of course materials.

It is fairly common for instructors teaching a course for the first time to begin by looking into existing educational materials that can support them in devising a syllabus, assignments, and lesson plans. Such materials can be shared peer-to-peer among colleagues, as well as consulted—to the extent that they are “open” or publicly and freely available for reuse on the internet and the OpenLab. Many instructors acknowledge that sharing and borrowing educational materials has been part of what has made them successful educators. However, many also have honest reservations about making course materials open and sharing them freely given the significant time and effort they take to create. This recognition prompted and guided the evening’s discussion.

We began with a self-reflection and discussion of: “Creating and teaching a course can be time-consuming and challenging, and sometimes instructors are hesitant to make this work (either the process or product) public. How do you [faculty]  feel about sharing your course materials and pedagogy (syllabi, assignments, lesson plans) with others? What about using someone else’s materials? What benefits are there in doing so? What reservations might you have?”  During the discussion portion, we discussed a number of non-discipline-specific benefits and drawbacks of sharing:

  1. None of us can do it alone! At some point in our careers, all of us have been asked to teach courses we have not taught before. The ability to inherit existing syllabi or consult the OpenLab and other OERs for inspiration has been crucial. Open materials makes the sharing of instructional materials a public practice and validates it as a necessary point of departure for teaching.
  2. Remixing materials makes us better instructors. Whether we are teaching a course for the first or twentieth time, we all benefit from sharing ideas with colleagues and consulting open materials. Open materials get our creative juices flowing, serve as inspiration for new assignments and lesson plans, and introduce us to new readings and open textbooks that support accessible (and no cost!) student learning. When we share, borrow, and adapt, we participate in a process of collaborative pedagogy that puts a diversity of perspectives and tried and true practices into conversation. We are better instructors for recognizing each other’s wealth of experience and building on it. We can also model for students how to properly cite the work of others and debunk the myth that successful scholarship should be done alone.
  3. What is the value of sharing? Concerns and Reservations
  • When materials are open, how can we adequately value and remunerate the labor that an educator put into creating pedagogical tools? We can give proper attribution to the creators of the materials we borrow, but is such rhetorical acknowledgement sufficient? How can we ensure that the labor instructors put into pedagogy is visible and valued in concrete ways?
  • Do we need more time officially built into our instructor/ staff schedules for the sharing of pedagogical practice?
  • Along these lines, discussants expressed concern that creating an OER –or putting together an open textbook—is less well compensated than writing a textbook for a private industry publisher.
  • Quite frequently, instructors do not cite past course content creators when they borrow materials. This makes the labor of those who share invisible.
  • Many courses on the OpenLab remain closed—unavailable for consultation except by course members. This can create a tension for those who chose to keep their work open but find that their willingness to share isn’t always reciprocated.
  • Is it possible that students think less of an instructor who borrows and adapts the materials of others? Or do they recognize the value that is added when instructors build on existing tools and remix them for their own students and course?
  • How can we create a loop wherein, in addition to thanking and crediting those whose materials we borrow and adapt, we give them concrete feedback on how their materials worked in our (adapted) courses? In essence, how can we make reusing and remixing a collaborative and communicative process?

Sharing and Adapting on the OpenLab

As we shared our experiences of sharing and adapting course materials, we noted that the OpenLab, in more ways than one, lends itself to the kind of open, collaborative pedagogy many of us aspire to. Instructors can peek into the courses of others that are left open, consult their syllabi and assignments, and use these as a point of departure in creating and teaching their courses. OERs and the “shared cloning” functionality take sharing a step further, offering built-in mechanisms to keep full courses open, available for reuse and even exact copying. We offered an overview of these two new OpenLab features related to OERs and shared cloning:

  • OERs refer to educational content that is free (educational materials are provided at no cost to students) and openly-licensed, meaning that the creators of the educational content have made their work available for others to use. Learn more here. Faculty and staff have been building OER course sites on the OpenLab. The August release of the OpenLab added an OER badge, which appears on the avatar of course or project designated as an OER. Courses and project with an OER badge can also be searched for in course and project directories. You can learn more about the OER badge and searching for OERs on the OpenLab here.
  • The August release of the OpenLab also made changes to the course cloning functionality, called “shared cloning.” This feature can be enabled to allow other faculty to clone a course that is designated as available for shared cloning. Course creators who choose to enable the feature will be allowing other faculty and staff to clone the course, creating an exact copy of the existing course, including all content created or uploaded by the course admin, which can be reused, remixed, and transformed in the new version. Cloned versions of the course will include a list of credits on the course profile and in the site sidebar with attribution to any of the original courses. If the original course was itself a clone of another faculty member’s course, that course, as well as all previous iterations, would be included in the credits list as well. You can find instructions on shared cloning in our help section.
  • Please note that our linked 11/1 workshop on “Sharing & Remixing on the OpenLab” will cover how to use the shared cloning functionality, and how to search for, link back to, and properly cite OERs. RSVP here. Agenda here.

We also named a few additional resources for those interested in sharing and borrowing, both on and off the OpenLab:

  • In the Spotlight is a blog series on The Open Road that highlights a different innovative OpenLab site each week. Review the archive, and check back weekly for inspiration. The courses/ projects highlighted change every week!
  • The L4 site (Living Lab Learning Library) is “a resource exchange for innovative teaching practices, ideas big and small, and a place where educators within and beyond City Tech can interact with each other, share classroom activities, and search for inspiration.”
  • The OpenLab is home to a growing list of OERs. Find them easily by going to the search page and filtering for OERs.
  • The Teaching and Learning Center at The Graduate Center, CUNY has a site called Visible Pedagogy in which members of the CUNY community dialogue about teaching and learning.

As we wrapped up the evening, we recognized that some of the barriers to valuing open pedagogy are deeply institutionally entrenched throughout academia. To be sure, much work still remains to be done to reinforce the value (financially and otherwise) of open pedagogy. There is much work to be done to proliferate the culture of responsible sharing that undergirds open pedagogy. Proper citation practices are a good starting place, but continued development of best practices for sharing and adapting existing open course materials is also necessary, for  like all things, these will age and need to continually updated. As noted, the culture around sharing and remixing at CityTech is, opening up. The (growing) resources for making digital pedagogy open on the OpenLab are a testament to this.

Have you ever borrowed or shared your instructional materials?

Have there, in your experience, been benefits to keeping pedagogy “open”?

Do you share any of the concerns about sharing and remixing outlined above?

Do you have any additional resources for sharing and remixing you think should be highlighted?

Join the conversation below!

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All-in-all, it was a great evening! Thanks to all who attended the event for a rich and provocative discussion, and for the support from the Provost’s Office.

Join us for our upcoming linked workshop:

  • Workshop, Thursday 11/1 2:30 PM – 4:00 PM (AG-21): A hands-on look at remixing and sharing on the OpenLab RSVP

Learn more about workshops and office hours on The Open Road!

Check out our student blogging team, The Buzz!