Motivation: March 5th Readings by Kahdeidra

Hey! This is cool! As some of you may know, I am a former special education  teacher and coordinator of after-school programs. Thus, I have experienced a lot of trial, error, heartache, surprises, and major wins in discovering how to engage learners with diverse interests, skill sets, and goals (PROBLEM).

I have separated this provocation into three prompts, and you can feel free to respond to whichever one speaks to you the most, or try your hand at a combination of the three (CHOICE).

  1. Bean’s chapters on integrating writing and critical thinking in the classroom makes several interesting arguments about the value of writing. Bean’s central argument is that writing is both a process and a product. When the connections between writing and critical thinking are explored, the value of writing as a process can be gleaned. Once writing is imagined as packaging, he argues, devoid of thinking and creating, it loses value among learners (Bean 16). He gives examples of how different European cultures have words to express the concept of writing as a process (ie. ‘brouillon’ < French which means to scramble, to place in disarray). English does not have an equivalent concept. Another example that I can think of that the English word ‘essay’ is derived from the French essayer (to try, attempt) and essai ( a trial). Currently, we retain the meaning of essay as an attempt or endeavor in formal use, but the most common usage is for a structured composition. The dual meanings of ‘essay’ as both a verb and a noun illustrates Beans’ argument of writing as a process and a product. Why and how did we come to emphasize the product over the process in the United States? Is this related to a larger discourse on experimentation and conformity in schools? What do you think?

2. In Chapter 3, Bean addresses cultural assumptions about the centrality of writing in academia, and argument writing being the preferred “academic discourse” over other modalities in particular. Was it satisfying to you? How is his rationale in conversation with UDL principles? Do you agree with his characterization of “three cognitively immature essay structures” as “organizational problems”? Be honest. Does it vary by context, or are these structures universally flawed?

3. The three principles of Universal Design for Learning–multiple representation of content, multiple opportunities for expression and action on new content, and multiple opportunities to engage in learning–have been the most useful for me as an educator. It provides a cognitive basis for addressing diverse learners by presenting difference as the norm, not as a deficit that minoritizes learners. Because cultural and neurodiversity are facts of life, curricula must attend to this diversity. My colleague Luis Oleander, who created the UDL for Teachers website (http://udlforteachers.com/), and I  have collaborated on topic briefs to explain how UDL can be used to support linguistically diverse students. Using the videos on his website, and the video on the SPS Faculty Community site, consider the following questions:

  • How does UDL align with the Composing practices of expert academic writers (Bean 30-31)?
  • How does UDL align with Bean’s conclusion on integrating professional and personal writing? Do you agree with these categorical distinctions in writing? Have you encountered and used expressive writing in your own academic courses? Explain.
  • Review the poster descriptions on “Do’s and Dont’s on Designing for Accessibility.” Is it possible to use the  UDL framework to consolidate the advice given? Why or why not? Are there any commonalities among the suggestions?

How to use technology to teach and learn?

The three readings discusses the use of technology from different and unique perspectives: what is the goal of teaching and learning? Coverage or developing fundamental disciplinary capabilities? How to use technology to achieve this goal? What affordances or characteristics of are conducive to achieving this goal? And how are they achieved? Under what circumstances?


Harbinson and Waltzer (2013) point out that the key to teaching history classes for undergraduate students, especially non-history major students, lies in how instructors perceive the goal of teaching. According to this article, the goal of teaching that can engage students and enhance their development is to develop their fundamental historical capabilities required for real historical studies. However, in reality, instructors usually put “coverage” as the main goal of teaching. This is the fundamental reason that they spend a lot of time on covering the basic facts of history.  Therefore introductory level history classes for non-history majors are usually reduced to memorizing historical facts. Students are thus not interested in this class based on the reduced and mechanical teaching model. In order to train students to learn the fundamental abilities of a historian, which are transferable to other disciplines and will be beneficial for their future academic endeavors, technology can play an important role in achieving the shift from “coverage” to “development of historical abilities”. How to do this then? Harbinson and Waltzer (2013)  illustrated the process of teaching history classes at Baruch with the affordances of Blog@Baruch and achieved “active, social, open, media rich, metacognitive, and immersive” teaching and learning experiences. Students are engaged in meaningful dialogues through such learning processes and fall in love with history.


Reflecting on my teaching, I think the reason that the shift from coverage to developing fundamental  abilities can be achieved successfully with Blog@Baruch is that the affordances of the technology give students the tools to find and express what they really care in a way that is unique to themselves. This has also provided me with a framework to study the use of educational technology. I could potentially investigate if the use of a certain technology gives students “active, social, open, media rich, metacognitive, and immersive” learning experiences. Are they facilitating active learning and knowledge production? Are they facilitating collaboration and interaction?  Are they open to students and instructors? How are they open?


The shift from coverage to ability development also means that students should be allowed to “digress”, using the word from Ugoretz (2005), from a single goal and path of learning, and actively explore their own paths to learning. This article points out that not only digression can not be simply “a distraction or a waste of time,” it can serve the purpose of facilitating “higher order thinking” and improving “student satisfaction”. The author illustrates the benefits of “productive digression” for teaching through the experience of teaching an asynchronous online course. The author finds that students explores their interests through threads on discussion boards of an online asynchronous course. According to Ugoretz (2005), positive digressions are student-centered, allowing them the opportunities to make connections between the course materials and their own experiences, so that they can achieve active and deep learning. Positive digressions are also open and collaborative. They encourage students to engage in deep and meaningful dialogues with each other through their own experiences. They have influence on life in general and expand the scope of education from classroom to real life connections. Students can also build communities through the discovery process of digression, collaborate with each other, and learn from each other.


Ugoretz (2005) identifies a problem that I had never thought about critically as a teacher: digression. I used to think like the teachers in the examples provided in the first few paragraphs of the article: there should be no “digression” in the classroom. Ever since I was an elementary school student, “concentration” was an absolute rule that should be obeyed in the classroom. Teachers would criticize students for even the slightest sign that may show that the students were “losing their mind”. In addition, the talk of the students should only be related to the questions that the teachers asked, and other “talks” will be regarded as “irrelevant” and even “disruptive” to classroom teaching. Students who made those talks would be asked to “summon” their parents to school and discuss how to “concentrate” in class.


I think “digression” is very useful in designing teaching and learning. In my own teaching, I should make sure that there is space for students to make positive and productive “digressions”, and not be obsessed with coverage. I should take the text book or class materials as a starting point, to really let students explore what they are interested in and engage in dialogues they are passionate about, so they can learn actively and achieve deep learning. I should use the affordances of technology mentioned in Harbinson and Waltzer (2013)  to achieve such goals.  This is also important for doing my project. It tells me that in teaching or using technology in teaching, a teacher should leave space for students to explore and discover their own interests and not fill the precious  learning space with what the teacher thinks should be covered but may not be beneficial to students’ learning and development.


Smale and Regalado (2017) analyzes the “affordances and barriers” of educational technology through the “learning space” where they are present. This book analyzes the answers of a survey from undergraduates from several CUNY campuses that aims at investigating the use of educational technology in their daily lives. A key point in this book is that “space” is “how you make use of a place”. For example, the a subway train is a space for transportation, but for some CUNY students, they are also a space for learning. Because they have a busy schedule, so they have to use what little time they have to study, including the long commute on the train. The affordances and barriers of certain educational technologies are studied in such non-conventional learning spaces. For example, it is crowded and noisy in a subway train and the internet access is low there. This environment is also unstable – students cannot have a comfortable space, like a desk or a bed, to study. Therefore laptops may create some barriers for studying in such an environment because it requires a relatively stable environment. Mobile phones may also create some barriers for learning because a lot of its features rely heavily on the access to the internet. This analysis demonstrates the importance of analyzing the use of a technology through the perspectives of “affordances and barriers” in specific time and space, which is inspiring for studying the affordances of my project. The categorization of fixed and mobile technology may also be useful for understanding the use of technology in my project. I can try observing the differences of mobile and fixed educational technology through analyzing articles in related academic journals.