Virtually Possible: Reflection #4

In this TLi Reflection Series: Epiphanies, Lessons, & Hard Truths post, CI faculty were asked to reflect on their teaching and learning experiences during AY2020-21 virtual instruction. The fourth reflection is by Lorna Gonzalez, a faculty member with the School of Education at CI.

What program or department to do teach for? If possible, share a picture of yourself or your virtual teaching workspace

Lorna teaches courses in the School of Education and shared two photos taken during remote work. {Click the arrows or dots below the images to change the image}

  • Screenshot of Lorna and her sons, description provided in caption
  • Handwritten note from her son, description provided in the caption

What revelations about inclusive design, universal design, or accessibility did you come to understand during virtual instruction?

The biggest revelation that I came to understand about inclusive and universal design is that it is not as difficult or labor-intensive as it can seem on its face. I used to worry that, to be inclusive, I needed to spend a lot of time locating and designing multiple pathways to learning. In my early years, this meant designing 2-3 projects that all might invite students to practice and demonstrate their learning in the courses I taught.

As I learned more about universal design and accessibility, I learned that there are small changes that can be integrated into my practice that honor the different ways that students might experience my course. For example, once I learned about text formatting and alt text for images, those considerations became second nature to my course development, much in the same way that I don’t have to think twice about capitalizing the first letter in a sentence—it’s part of the course composing process.

What lessons or innovations from pandemic teaching will you carry with you into your teaching going forward?

Spring 2020 really reinforced my value of universal design in teaching and learning. When we first learned that face-to-face classes would be thrust online, I worked with my students to draft a continuation and completion plan. While my first instinct was safety, empathy, and flexibility, my students stressed that they still wanted to learn everything that they were supposed to learn in the course. They did not want to sacrifice content; they wanted to see the work through.

With this in mind, I tightened up the learning pathway for the course I taught in Fall 2021. That is, I stated from the beginning where we were headed together, as well as how and why, and then every reading, resource, activity, and assignment linked back to that initial vision statement.

By developing that roadmap from the start, I was then able to really focus on inclusive design. So, for each course resource, I made sure it was available as text, audio, or video, if possible. For assignments, students could opt to submit as text, audio, or video. Occasionally, I provided a template as an additional option for those who might benefit from starting with more than a blank screen.

I learned that everyone experienced the virtual learning environment differently. Some dealt with anxiety; some dealt with illness; some had to manage school with work and personal responsibilities that were managed differently from their pre-pandemic life. Some attended class from computers, while others attended from mobile devices. When I saw that different students utilized multiple text formats (e.g., template, freeform text, audio, or video) to engage with the course, the revelation for me was that this intentional design was worth my time and labor. It’s something I intend to carry forward into future courses.

Please share any final reflections about teaching that we may not have asked about in earlier questions.

I already knew that educators worked hard. During AY 2020-21, some of the other pockets of invisible labor of higher education became more visible to me because of their necessity.

The Teaching and Learning Innovations team, with whom I work, drew from all of their expertise and experience to produce new resources, offer webinars and workshops, meet one-to-one for individual course consultations and support, and leverage cross-campus partnerships to create a wider net of support for our campus community.

Deans, Program Chairs, and other campus leadership redoubled their efforts to get technology, development, and support for teaching and learning into the hands of their faculty colleagues and students.

Our digital learning infrastructure was put to the test when work went online, but collaboration between units, like Innovation & Faculty Development, Information Technology Services, Faculty Affairs, Budget and Financial Affairs, and the Library ensured that students and faculty had access to certain basic technology and support, at minimum, and we learned how to improve and value such an infrastructure. So much of this work is largely invisible when it works well and troublesome for stakeholders when it doesn’t, much like the universal design and accessibility practices I adopted in my teaching.

One final reflection is about working from home. At first, I found it challenging to establish boundaries in both time and space between home and work. There were frequent disruptions, and I found myself working longer hours in part because of the convenience of my commute. There were so many other stressors, as well. Too many to list. However, upon reflection, one of the most frequent disruptions I received was when one of my children was requesting a hug or a little bit of my time to play a card game or to see a creation they had built. Because I had worked so much after my children were born, I suppose I was surprised (maybe I shouldn’t have been) by how many hugs they requested. As I sit, typing this reflection from an office on campus, I feel gratitude that, in all of the stress of this historical moment, I was given an unexpected gift that I didn’t realize I was missing.

One thought on “Virtually Possible: Reflection #4

  1. Lorna, what a fantastic post! I appreciate your sharing your thoughtful examples of an inclusive course design.
    (your sons are adorable! please give them a hug for me :-))

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *