Open Pedagogy Recap: OpenLab at the CUE/OER Showcase!

On Friday, October 30, the OpenLab team along with City Tech librarian Cailean Cooney hosted a digital workshop as part of the 2020 CUE Conference and CUNY OER Showcase.

This conference was originally planned for March 2020, but was rescheduled due to the pandemic. Because so much about our teaching and learning environment has changed since then, we adapted our February Open Pedagogy session to talk with folks about access and accessibility in our current circumstances.

Below are our discussion questions- talked through together via Google Docs instead of on chart paper!- and some highlights from participant comments.

1. What connotations do you have with the word “accommodation”?

people shouldn’t be “accommodated for,’ but instead design should consider the full range of human experience / abilities / dispositions”

“an accommodation is a place to stay…it’s a place at least comfortable, ideally welcoming and friendly, for all of us.”

Requires medical documentation, submission to disability office, approval and recommended “reasonable accommodation” for traditional learning styles”

Flexibility, willingness to make things easier and accessible.”

2. How do OERs help us address equity and access? What does the platform you use to share open course materials with students have to do with access? 

if students can’t get to materials from their available devices, this is a huge barrier to entry! mobile/tablet access is how many CUNY students (and honestly fac/staff) use the web!”

The platform is critical and should not be a secondary consideration. Using proprietary platforms to share open content is (IMO) problematic, and is a reason I’m happy that open solutions like openlab exist.”

Our LMS on campus simply can’t be used on a mobile phone even though the vast majority of my students are using mobile phones”

3. How does our current sociocultural situation affect how we think about access in higher education? What new questions or concerns have come up around using technology to facilitate access?

Access to … food, health care, child care, technology, space to work– it’s all part of the mix. We have to think of “access” in this much larger context.”

I’m thinking much more about how to take time into account in course design, course expectations for students, and for faculty. For instance, the time it will take to do required readings?”

I’ve most of all been thinking about how to make my sites accessible to those with poor internet access. Post-COVID, I realize that I need to redesign sites checking for bandwidth, loadability. I tested my sites with Google Page Speed, and although they seem fast on my internet, they clearly are not easily loadable.

I’ve been using more radical course policies than I have been brave enough to try in the past. I don’t want to go back, even after the pandemic. The current situation is just a more heightened/visible version of a situation that totally already existed.”

FLEXIBLE DUE DATES”

The technology needs to be taught, not just assume everyone knows how.”

4. What are some current strategies you have, or would like to try, to make course content accessible / useful / usable to all students, with shifting and complex needs?

Reflection-based grading: students respond to their own work from a reflective perspective, analyze what they struggled with and did great at, and assign themselves grades based on their work towards each project in the first-year writing/whatever course. (Read Jesse Stommel on ungrading!)”

Check-ins with students”

Lastly, some resources that might be useful in considering accessibility strategies:

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 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.