May 8 Event: Disability Justice and COVID-19

Hi OpenLab pals! Sending all of you tenacity and compassion in these trying times.  

I’m sharing this upcoming event here on Open Pedagogy for a few reasons:  

This event is run by and features Black disability justice leaders, including Dorian Taylor, Elandria Williams, Lateef Mcleod, and Leroy Moore Jr., in a time when many disability organizations center white organizers over BIPOC activists. Listening to Black and brown disability activists is crucially important for us as members of the CUNY community, as COVID-19 is disproportionately harming Black and brown New Yorkers, many of whom also work and study at CUNY.  

The organizers of this digital event have also included ample details about accessibility, including information about interpretation services, breaks, and descriptive alt text for their chosen images. This level of detail is crucial when planning accessible events, and must be a central aspect of coordinating remote and online events!  

From the organizers:  

We’re hosting this webinar to offer the perspective of people grounded in #DisabilityJustice work as we all respond to COVID-19.  

ASL interpretation and live captions will be provided. We will also have breaks.  

Register at: https://bit.ly/djgrounding

Open Pedagogy 2/27 Recap: Access in Service

Last Thursday, February 27, we met with faculty and staff from across CUNY for another Open Pedagogy session, the first of the semester and the third of the year. At previous Open Pedagogy events, we’ve discussed how federal guidelines like the ADA fall short of providing for student, faculty, and staff needs in higher education and how we can improve access in our pedagogy.  This time, we continued the conversation by focusing on another aspect of our professional lives: Access in Service.

First, we introduced ourselves; we had participants from all over CUNY, including from City Tech’s own English, History, Psychology, Communications Design, and Business departments, LaGuardia Community College’s Center for Teaching and Learning, City College, and John Jay!

While folks talked about what attracted them to this Open Pedagogy session, we were livetweeting the event:

Then, everyone got a chance to collect their thoughts by choosing and freewriting about one of our discussion questions:

  • How can university faculty practice inclusivity in mentoring and advising disabled and non-disabled students with shifting and complex needs?
  • How do shifting  cultural attitudes and norms impact how we think  about access in higher education? What kind of shifting norms come up around using technology to facilitate access?
  • What barriers to access do you encounter when you advise students and mentor students, formally or informally? What strategies have you used to reduce these barriers, and how do you learn from others about access-centered service opportunities?
  • How can we, as individuals and institutions, reframe access to consider the full range of what a person (student, staff/faculty member) encounters at the college?

Next, we grabbed our favorite color of marker and spread out to add our ideas to giant wall sticky notes! Check out everyone’s responses in the photos at the bottom of the post, as well as accessible transcriptions/textual descriptions of each sticky.

Then, we discussed each question as a group while looking at the collaborative notes and sharing/explaining our responses. Everyone interpreted the questions differently, so we had a beautiful variety of responses! Participants reported that the conversation left them with lots of ideas for how to adjust their pedagogy and service work to better serve the needs of everyone in our campus community.

Let’s continue the conversation! Once you’ve browsed through the responses from our session below, please comment on this post with thoughts/ questions.





Answers written on each sticky are numbered here for ease/accessibility; on the sticky, each answer was written in a different handwriting/color of marker.

First Sticky Transcript

Question: How do shifting cultural attitudes/norms impact technology and access in higher ed?

Answers:

  1. Providing access as problem/panic vs. opportunity to push for change via code
  2. Laptop bans suck! Normalize tech as teaching tool!
  3. Tech use = equity + agency. Finding ways to incorporate tech will support process + access needs
  4. New language for digital tools + their presence in classsrooom itself, e.g. “cell phone policy” on syllabi– less punitive, “high school” language + more scholarly language
  5. CUNY First doesn’t work well for us, as educators, yet we expect students to use it well
  6. Technology ubiquity, digital natives myth, access + technology costs/rents/connectivity, workflows across/with tools –> assumptions + non-obvious
  7. *Being culturally sensitive, aware, and empathetic towards students of various backgrounds, e.g., language barrier, struggle from class demographic
  8. Expectation of students = digital native, BUT expect no tech in the classroom, expectation of students using tech for coursework, plus: access to internet, device, training, confidence, time on campus? on commute? in real life?

Second Sticky Transcript

Question: What barriers to access do you encounter when advising/mentoring; how do you work to reduce the barriers?

Answers:

  1. I have only ever worked in higher ed (basically)- how to advise ppl with diverse career goals?
  2. Advisement knowledge –> college catalog, ask
  3. Educating students how to find resources + advocate for themselves
  4. Build in advisement/advocacy to my classes
  5. QUIET PRIVATE SPACE
  6. * Certain lack of equipment or resource to carry out a learning tool or projejct
  7. * Being fully aware of what the dept and full time faculty can provide and/or allow
  8. *Telling students what is possible but was not told to them from the admin department
  9. SHARED LANGUAGE
  10. CUNY First – confusing, hard to find things, no training, documentation/support???? [Someone else added to this: awful design)]
  11. My first teaching/advising/mentoring experiences were at the same place I did my undergrad, so I knew A LOT about the school. Not so much here.
  12. Time, lack of skills, lack of equipment, no computer at home, may be monetary issue

Third Sticky Transcript

Question: How can we [underlined] reframe “access” to address the full range of what higher ed students, staff, faculty encounter at City Tech/CUNY/higher ed?

Answers:

  1. I struggle w/ this b/c access still feels like accomodation when I discuss it in class w/ students
  2. Tech for All!
  3. We need both institutional accountability and a sense of informed individual responsibility to become a truly welcoming learning environment for students and workers
  4. TRY to pre-test or PUT MYSELF into the situation, first, before I ask the student to perform their task. i.e., I [underlined] talk to CATW; I try to access open lab, et al.
  5. WTH is a “reasonable accommodation”??? What do fac/staff do when only dis services office is “student dis services”???
  6. Use empowering language, Access provides low cost learning materials/tools, Access is social + professional
  7. Recognize people are differently abled–variety not disability
  8. Multiple channels + paths to resources and education about resources
  9. Raise awareness of access issues for faculty, not just students. It will matter to conversations about student access!

Fourth Sticky Transcript

[This sticky was placed in between two others, so some of these answers are in response to the question on the Second Sticky and some are in response to the question on the Third Sticky]

Answers in the section dedicated to Second Sticky:

  1. Lack of training
  2. At present, most spaces are not clean enough or feel safe enough for me
  3. Where students meet me on their terms
  4. Barrier: lack of awareness of one’s own ableist assumptions

Answers in the section dedicated to the Third Sticky:

  1. Create a COMMONS [underlined], LOCUS “non-labelled” space where those “abled” and “differently abled” are indistinguishable
  2. Faculty most feel safe as well
  3. Present, non-traditional spaces I have utilized include: The NYCCT Gym (a very good and under-tapped spot), The Cafeteria, The Campus Bookstore Cafe (very successful), the 5th Floor Game Room, the 4th Floor Game Room, the (gasp!) LIBRARY
  4. Mix of Staff [underlined] and student
  5. (Private) physical meeting space
  6. No such place exists yet, exists for my use, where I can implement mentoring

Last Sticky Transcript

Question: How can faculty practice inclusive mentoring and advising for students w/ shifting needs?

  1. Don’t be an assole
  2. * Advisors need to encourage students to take advantage of available resources, e.g. disability office
  3. Acknowledge own [underlined three times] limitations/needs, take stock in what that looks like and reflect on it as if never previously considered…students don’t have to be the only ones who are vulnerable
  4. Creating space- increasing visibility…by having (more) ability challenged educators
  5. Sensitivity to needs and realizing needs shift
  6. Cross cultural understanding, understand different student situations
  7. Be aware that genre expectations vary widely + realize students might need support for discourse environments beyond the university + work to fill in your own knowledge gaps (also be aware of opposite- norms of higher ed must be learned [underlined]!
  8. Introduce them to common unchanging loci of help, witnessing, listening, e.g. office hour, etc.
  9. LISTEN [box drawn around this word]. Embodied needs aren’t static [underlined] – needs change over time. Respect knowledge of people’s experiences
  10. Share/empathize/common ground/shared experience

Open Pedagogy Event (2/27): Access in Service

Access in Service

Thursday, February 27, 2020, 4:30-6:00pm (Faculty Commons, N227)

*Refreshments will be served.

*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!

 

Access in higher education means more than implementing accommodations and access-centered pedagogy. Outside of the classroom, students face barriers to access in areas like advising, tutoring, and writing centers. These include a lack of culturally-responsive writing support,  legal and advising support tailored to students’ needs, and transparency around registration and financial aid. Faculty and staff who serve on committees, mentor students, and participate in various types of teaching and learning centers must think through how to  serve both multiply-marginalized students and our institutions with access and justice in mind. In this event we will consider the following questions:

  • How can university faculty practice inclusivity in mentoring and advising disabled and non-disabled students with shifting and complex needs? 
  • How do shifting  cultural attitudes and norms impact how we think  about access in higher education? What kind of shifting norms come up around using technology to facilitate access?
  • What barriers to access do you encounter when you advise students and mentor students, formally or informally? What strategies have you used to reduce these barriers, and how do you learn from others about access-centered service opportunities? 
  • How can we, as individuals and institutions, reframe access to consider the full range of what a person (student, staff/faculty member) encounters at the college?

Recommended Readings:

 

Image Credit: meme by Sharona Franklin on her @hot.crip Instagram account 

OpenLab at the Living Lab General Education Seminar

 

Coloured board game playing figures
PublicDomainPictures.net

The OpenLab grew up alongside the Living Lab General Education Seminar, and the success of both is thanks in part to a commitment to high-impact educational practices and open pedagogy.

The OpenLab team is collaborating today with the Living Lab General Education Seminar to get creative and think about ways of engaging students in the Intercultural Knowledge gen ed student learning outcome through open digital tools, using a game-based approach.

Interested in learning more? Check out our slides!

Commons in a Box OpenLab at NYC Digital Humanities Week

Blocks. Spinning.

Did you ever show friends or colleagues City Tech’s OpenLab, only to have them ask, “How can I have an OpenLab at my school/institution/organization?!”
The answer is Commons in a Box OpenLab!

Please share information about the NYCDH Week workshop introducing CBOX OpenLab, tomorrow, 2/7, at the CUNY Graduate Center:

RSVP

UPDATE: Slides from the 2/7 workshop

This workshop introduces Commons In A Box OpenLab: free, open source software that enables anyone to create a commons space specifically designed for open learning, where students, faculty, and staff can collaborate across disciplinary boundaries and share their work openly with one another and the world.

Funded by a generous grant from the NEH’s Office of Digital Humanities, the project brings together Commons In A Box (CBOX; http://commonsinabox.org/) — the software that powers NYCDH — and City Tech’s OpenLab platform for teaching, learning, and collaboration (https://openlab.citytech.cuny.edu/). The result is a teaching-focused version of CBOX that provides a powerful and flexible alternative to costly proprietary systems, and is already being adopted at CUNY and beyond.

We will begin by introducing CBOX OpenLab and demonstrating its features and functionality, using examples drawn from City Tech’s OpenLab and BMCC’s new installation. We will then engage participants in group discussion of how they might use (or are already using) CBOX OpenLab, and the benefits and challenges of open learning.

Equipment: Laptops helpful, but not required

 

Open Pedagogy 11/7 Recap: Access Pedagogy

Participants at the 11/7 Open Pedagogy event on Access Pedagogy, gathered around for a roundtable discussion.

Last Thursday, November 7, we met for our second Open Pedagogy event of the semester. Our theme for the evening was Access Pedagogy. Against the backdrop of austerity and persistent budget crises at CUNY, we considered how we could make ourselves accessible as teachers. We asked:  To what extent are our classrooms accessible, and what can we do to center access and equity in both in-person and online teaching?

We began the evening by exploring how our day-to-day experiences in the classroom and with students continually challenge our assumptions about teaching and learning. One participant shared that, as an instructor, they assumed that students would contact them or come to office hours if something weren’t clear. Other participants nodded and laughed in agreement as this same instructor then explained that this was 1) false; 2) untrue of even their own behavior as a student. Many of us admitted that, when we were in college, we were often too shy, intimidated, or busy to go to our professors’ office hours ourselves. The implication? It’s actually our job as instructors to make sure we are being clear and to check-in regularly with our students!

More generally, our students continually and productively challenge our assumptions. At CUNY, many of our students balance careers, caretaking, and college. In many ways, they are expected to be superhuman. As instructors, we learn again and again that our most engaged and creative students may be frequently absent or late for class. We learn again and again that access to basic technology—including a computer and safe and stable internet connection—is not a given. Nor can we take for granted that our students will have had the time and resources to complete all of their coursework. This entails a need for some malleability and ingenuity on our part.

Fortunately, we can work to reduce barriers to student learning; we can work to improve access. At the event, we discussed softening the language in our syllabi, such that policies around punctuality, attendance, and late work submission are made somewhat flexible and always compassionate. We can provide students with laptops and other forms of accessible technology, including by using open and free software and open platforms (like the OpenLab!). We can help our students seek out resources and list these on our OpenLab course/project sites. Moreover, we can do all this while still teaching students the importance of advocating for themselves, and of making their own needs clear to their instructors.

Of course, not all of the problems we face in higher learning today have straightforward solutions. Despite our enthusiasm for open learning platforms like the OpenLab and, especially for Open Educational Resources (OERs), a participant reminded us that we must be careful to not simply replicate the textbook format. Working digitally gives students an opportunity to express themselves not just in formal essays, but in memes, gifs, and blogs. We should not shy away from multimedia, nor from opportunities to make students co-creators of a course. Moreover, while we can all strive to make ourselves more accessible as instructors, we also have to confront the harsh realities of the trauma, racism, and poverty many of our students face, as well as the high workloads and precarity many of our adjunct instructors live with.

Let’s continue the conversation! Please comment on this post with thoughts/ questions.

Open Pedagogy Event (11/7): Access Pedagogy

Access Pedagogy

Thursday, November 7, 2019, 4:30-6:00pm (Faculty Commons, N227)

*Refreshments will be served. (Thanks to the Faculty Commons 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!

Despite CUNY’s historical role as an opportunity-granting institution, austerity—that is, rising tuition and numbers of contingent faculty, failing infrastructure, etc.—impacts teaching and learning conditions across the university. As we’re facing budget crises, overburdened adjuncts, and students balancing careers, caretaking, and college, how can we make ourselves accessible as teachers? What does an accessible syllabus look like? To what extent are our classrooms accessible, and what can we do to center access and equity in both in-person and online teaching? Join the OpenLab Team, City Tech faculty and staff, and CUNY colleagues at our next Open Pedagogy event, where we will discuss how we can increase access in our pedagogical practices in and out of the classroom, on and offline.

  • What changes have you made to your teaching documents and practices to center access and equity, specifically thinking about office hours, handling lateness, absences, requests for extensions or make-up exams, with access in mind?
  • Many Black, brown, first-generation, and other marginalized students bring experiences of educational trauma to college classrooms. What can we as instructors and advocates do to combat the normalizing, hegemonic goals of gatekeeping institutional spaces like the classroom? What resources do you make students aware of for when they need support?
  • What role can open digital pedagogy play in increasing access to education? What pitfalls must we avoid to ensure access?
  • How have you as staff and faculty members worked to care for both your students and yourself in spite of austerity? Are there supports on campus that you have found useful? How about support elsewhere? 
Recommended Readings: 

 

Image Credit: Old Barn – Sweet Briar College by Rick Stillings is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

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!