How Accessible Technologies Impact Teaching Methodologies and Practice

In this episode, Casey McArdle explains how accessible technologies are impacting teaching and training methods and how teachers can create equitable learning environments, lessons that can be applied to similar practices in commercial learning and training environments as much as in the classroom.

Airdate: March 16, 2022

Season 2 Episode 19 | 44 min

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Transcript (Expand to View)

[00:00:11.350] – Liz Fraley

Greetings, everyone, and welcome to Room 42. I'm Liz Fraley from Single-Sourcing Solutions, I'm your moderator. This is Janice Summers from TC Camp, she's our interviewer. And welcome to Dr. Casey McArdle, today's guest in Room 42. Doctor McArdle is the Associate Chair for Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures at Michigan State University. He directs the undergraduate program in Experience Architecture, Professional and Public Writing, and the minor in Writing.

[00:00:36.770] – Liz Fraley

His research is centered around user experience, instructional design, technical communication, rhetoric and writing accessibility, product management, project management, and online writing instruction. His latest publications include “Finding a Teaching Ally, Designing Accessibility Centered Pedagogy,” appearing in IT Transactions on Professional Communication, which he coauthored with Kate Sonka and Dr. Liza Potts.

[00:01:00.230] – Liz Fraley

His book Personal, Accessible, Responsible and Strategic: Resources and Strategies for Online Writing and Structures, which he coauthored with Dr. Jesse Boardman, won the 2020 Computers and Composition Distinguished Book Award. That book was followed by their edited collection PARS in Practice: More Resources and Strategies for Online Writing Instructors. These texts were inspired by the website he co founded with Dr. Borgman, the online writing instruction community at owicommunity.org, which was created in 2015 as an open resource for contingent faculty struggling to find support for teaching writing online.

[00:01:37.190] – Liz Fraley

Today, Casey is here to help us start answering the question, how do accessible technologies impact teaching methods and practice? Welcome.

[00:01:45.890] – Casey McArdle

Thank you for having me. Excited to be here.

[00:01:48.470] – Janice Summers

We are thrilled to be talking to you again. It's always a delight. One of the things, this is interesting because this is teaching teachers how to teach in a way, right?

[00:02:04.670] – Casey McArdle

That was one of the main goals, was to develop something that would also…Initially, the idea was for students on some level with a particular class, but on other levels, we wanted to engage potential faculty on the line to what this would look like to take with them at other institutions or even K through 12. That was really the goal when we started to think about some of these conversations.

[00:02:24.330] – Janice Summers

Right. So that they're integrating these behaviors and these practices into whatever their subject is?

[00:02:31.910] – Casey McArdle

Yes, without a doubt. We start with the basics with regards to developing certain accessible documents and curriculum and what it means to create spaces that will engage students across all levels. We can really apply that to different disciplines across campus and across any area of education.

[00:02:52.310] – Janice Summers

The book was published in 2020?

[00:02:55.270] – Casey McArdle

The book came out in 2019.

[00:02:59.450] – Janice Summers

2019, yeah.

[00:03:00.190] – Casey McArdle

We developed the website in 2015. We were hanging out and we were presenting at conferences, and we realized there was some disconnect with regard to some of the best practices that were happening for online writing instructions. And so Jesse and I were like, why don't we just do it? And we made it. We just made a website. I can make a website. It takes me two seconds. I can do it, piece of cake.

[00:03:21.650] – Janice Summers

Right.

[00:03:22.270] – Casey McArdle

So we started to build up what the website could hold in terms of references for other types of texts, articles and books, workshops, conferences, those types of things. And then we started to realize that we had our own approach from reading all the different types of texts that people could come up with. And so that's where Personal, Accessible, Responsive, Strategic [PARS] came into play. And we said, not only is this perfect for OWI [Online Writing Instruction Community], but we started to realize that when we published the book because there's personal, accessible, responsive, strategic for teaching and instruction, but also for administration.

[00:03:55.200] – Casey McArdle

That was one of the key things on how to work with faculty, so you can develop a particular PARS approach to administrative style to help faculty who might be struggling to figure out how to connect with students in an online environment. We've realized that it was not only helpful with concern for teaching online, but also face to face. The lessons that we learn from our ones and zeros inform our face to face interactions.

[00:04:17.700] – Casey McArdle

We've been saying that for a really long time. Every innovation that we make should inform both spaces. And this is something that we're hoping the past two years have brought some insight into lots of these inaccessible moments and spaces with regard to education and a number of areas beyond education that we don't just assume that once this ends, if it ends. That we're done. That the lessons that we've learned, we take with us, and that we re-imagine that we think now at the beginning of every conversation about accessibility.

[00:04:51.350] – Janice Summers

Right. It's interesting, you talk about things that translate from zeros and ones into our personal interaction. It's really interesting to think about. Well, so many things are swimming in my head right now. It's interesting, the timing of your book was pretty fast. Who knew? Who knew, right?

[00:05:15.770] – Casey McArdle

Initially, we had a publisher a year or two earlier, and they were going to publish it for about $100 each for each book. And Jesse, well, no one's going to buy that. That's not going to help anything and our main audience is contingent faculty.

[00:05:32.420] – Janice Summers

Right.

[00:05:33.070] – Casey McArdle

Who would not be able to afford $100 books—

[00:05:34.470] – Janice Summers

They don't have deep pockets.

[00:05:35.940] – Casey McArdle

No. Because we are contingent faculty. We couldn't afford our own book. We had an honest conversation with them, and they let us out of our contract. And then we went over to WAC [Writing-Across-the-Curriculum] Clearinghouse and Open Resource, and we're like, “Hhey, we got this idea.” And Mike was like, “Love it, let's do it.” And part of that was like, all right, here's the book. And then we have an idea for an edited collection that will put PARS in practice, hence the edited collection that came out afterwards.

[00:06:04.700] – Casey McArdle

It was a great one-two and it worked out really well. Yeah, in terms of timing, yes, we did a lot, a lot of workshops and conversations and talks and events all throughout summer of '20. Large universities to small colleges, to organizations, helping them re-imagine what online instruction could look like.

[00:06:24.290] – Janice Summers

Right.

[00:06:24.710] – Casey McArdle

All of those places invited people outside of just the writing discipline. So there are people from the social sciences there. There are people from businesses all over there because you can take PARS and you can apply it to all those different spaces.

[00:06:36.430] – Janice Summers

That's what I was going to say. It doesn't matter the discipline that you're teaching. That doesn't matter, it's the fact that you're teaching humans.

[00:06:45.040] – Casey McArdle

Yes. That's the whole point of every single interaction that we talk about. The first word is “personal.” Remind them that you are a human being, that this just hasn't been posted and you'll see the students in six weeks when you grade everything. No, that's not the goal.

[00:07:00.110] – Janice Summers

Right. Yeah. It is interesting. Which is one of the things I really want to talk with you about, because the practices of accessibility, this is something that you model in your behavior, right?

[00:07:16.570] – Casey McArdle

Yeah. Everything that we do, I believe as teachers and educators, we're not just teaching content on some level, we're also modeling particular behaviors beyond that.

[00:07:24.920] – Janice Summers

Right.

[00:07:25.880] – Casey McArdle

When I have conversations with students or if they say, “Hey, I'd like to do X, Y and Z,” I should be able to provide an environment for them to be able to do that or at least generate that conversation so that once they are advocating for themselves—because they should be doing that anyway—after they graduate, they can have that conversation with their colleagues or peers or employers and say, “Look, in order for me to do this, I would need X, Y and Z. When you give me this, we'll all be successful.” And so it's ensuring that I put into practice the very things I publish on.

[00:08:00.310] – Janice Summers

Yeah. I also like the fact that you point out that the student needs to advocate for themselves, and that's part of creating an accessible environment. You're teaching teachers to have an accessible environment so that they can be responsive and receptive to a student advocating for themselves. It's a two-way, it's a reciprocal street, it goes both ways. Like I need to have an environment where a student can come to me and I need to have a conversation and how to set those things up, right?

[00:08:31.550] – Casey McArdle

Yes. Without a doubt.

[00:08:34.030] – Janice Summers

Yeah.

[00:08:36.730] – Casey McArdle

And I think this is the key thing where Jesse and I, we talk about being strategic and how we scaffold assignments and how we structure everything. I'm OCD in that I plan my entire semester out from day one. I want a student to be able to see that schedule so they can plan their life accordingly as well, because they might be doing a number of things as well. But I've also built into that schedule; it's extremely agile and malleable.

[00:09:03.000] – Casey McArdle

If we're having pain points and issues, we can pivot and do other things without a doubt. And so I think that's the key thing is that when we saw everything happening, when people started to transition to online, they took those rigid structures that they built for face to face and just said, “Well, I'll just stay with it and nothing will change no matter what,” rather than understanding that everything is changing.

[00:09:25.750] – Janice Summers

You bring up a really interesting point, because I know I was talking with a lot of teachers and professors, and some of them really had a hard time pivoting to online. Now, for me, I couldn't understand that so much because I've lived in a world where it's online or face to face.

[00:09:47.260] – Janice Summers

I've had to have that agility for the last—over a decade. I mean, I was using Voiceover IP before it was really a thing. But it was really interesting to watch and to observe. How do you adapt when you're one of those who has a very rigid framework? Because I think that's one of the key things you bring up is that rigid framework has to change.

[00:10:17.990] – Casey McArdle

Part of it, what we learned—and this stems from this past fall where I did up the high flex model for teaching, where… I'm also doing it again this semester. But that class in fall, though, I'll speak about because there were 30 students in there. We had issues with concern for spacing. We wanted to make sure we're doing social distancing. They're seniors, I want to make sure they're prepped for market. Many of them are going to graduate and go into a professional space where they might be working remotely to start.

[00:10:42.840] – Janice Summers

Right. They might have a hybrid situation.

[00:10:44.950] – Casey McArdle

Correct. So they might be interacting with part of their team members who are face to face in the office while they're remote, or they might be in the office and part of their team might be remote.

[00:10:53.410] – Janice Summers

Right.

[00:10:53.780] – Casey McArdle

And so we wanted to build in what that could look like. And so it worked on a number of levels, it also gave students options as I told them, if you are not feeling well, you will Teams into class. Let's establish that now, if you're not feeling good at any level, regardless if we're in a pandemic or not, if you're not feeling good, please don't come.

[00:11:14.470] – Casey McArdle

Six students per week were assigned to work remotely, and the other 24 worked from the office, our classroom, and rotate. And we averaged about maybe eight per week that ended up being remote. The six normal, about two that couldn't make it. Some commuted, some didn't feel well, and that was totally fine. The option was there for them, and I wanted that to be present.

[00:11:34.440] – Casey McArdle

I also wanted to set up a particular schedule so that they knew that they had to come to the office, the classroom, but could feel comfortable saying, “Hey, I'm not feeling good, or hey, I have a commute or the weather is bad.” We're in Michigan. “Is it okay if I work remotely?” And I'm like, “Yes, of course.” I think that really worked well.

[00:11:51.680] – Casey McArdle

I found over the course of the semester is that having conversations with MSU Information Technologies and then Scott Schopieray and Caitlin Kirby, some other people conducting research for the EDLI [Enchanced Digital Learning Initiative] cause (education, literature and technologies) that they were working on at MSU, was that faculty…Because there were a couple of times where the microphones didn't work and the overhead and the cameras didn't work, and I couldn't get Teams to work.

[00:12:14.080] – Casey McArdle

And so I had my laptop that I would carry around. It wasn't ideal, but the microphone worked out okay, the camera worked out okay. I run everything through Google Docs and our slides. So students are in groups constantly, each group gets a slide and they're writing on each slide to inform one another. And so we have a daily record then of the entire class there for everyone to see.

[00:12:36.760] – Casey McArdle

Even if the audio is bad or the video is bad, they can still see the conversation we're having either in the chat or in the documents. Everything is there. And so I think what we found is that those who really struggled from that transition, and this was echoed before, was that lack of confidence or on many levels, perhaps the overconfidence of that If I just plug in my face to face curriculum, it'll be fine, without realizing it is a lot of work to get students to engage. A lot of things break down, a lot of things don't work, and you have to be confident enough in the system that you've built because if it is accessible from the ground up, it's accessible for students. It also has to be accessible for you to deploy to students so that they can engage.

[00:13:22.030] – Casey McArdle

If you've done that, you're good. If you haven't done that, you are scrambling. You are freaking out. You become your own information technology support, which is not an easy task. That was, I think the biggest thing was the confidence. I always tell the story that one of the first times I taught online was the summer well over a decade ago, a long time ago. And I remember my classes, I had a lot of international students, and we were using Google. More than half of my students resided in the country that did not give them access to Google.

[00:13:57.050] – Janice Summers

Right.

[00:13:57.840] – Casey McArdle

And I can't ask them to download a VPN to circumvent the laws of their nation to access course content. I pivoted and moved everything to Eli Review and our CMS [Course Management System] Desire2Learn so that way it was accessible for everyone to look. It was really important for me to see that type of failure for me to happen so the next time when I taught my face to face class, guess what I was doing? I wasn't using Google anymore. I was using all these other things specific to that.

[00:14:26.750] – Casey McArdle

That was a better way of me understanding that I could learn from an experience and that would inform it. Those who transition from face to face online have none of those experiences to fall back on. And they had articles and workshops and talks to help as best they could but some of that personal experience and failure, and that is understanding that it is okay to fail and for students to see you fail so they can understand how you deal with failure. Then how you can iterate, hopefully it doesn't happen again, but if it does, you're still finding solutions for it.

[00:15:01.290] – Casey McArdle

I think that was the biggest problem I think that we saw lots of faculty have. Confidence, lack of failure, lack of appreciation for those types of things.

[00:15:09.660] – Janice Summers

Well, failure is a really good teacher.

[00:15:13.190] – Casey McArdle

Without of doubt. When my daughter gets frustrated all the time like, this is good. We're both frustrated. This is 6th grade math. It's stumpy. I don't understand it either. We're both freaking out about fractions. Let's solve it together. Let's go over it. I don't know why they're not teaching you decimal points, but it's okay. We'll have a good conversation about it. Failure is fine because that's how we learn.

[00:15:35.680] – Janice Summers

Well, you work through, when you have failure, when you have challenges. That's why those are oftentimes the best teachers because we remember them the most.

[00:15:46.130] – Casey McArdle

And you develop learning paths that you can then build on your own that you take with you.

[00:15:50.670] – Janice Summers

Right.

[00:15:50.980] – Casey McArdle

When I teach the internal web authoring class, we're talking basic HTML and CSS. If you've never had any of that coding experience at all, it's a brutal class for lots of students who have never taken it before. And so I tell them by week 10 or 11, you'll be really freaking out because you will have learned just enough to realize you don't know enough.

[00:16:13.090] – Janice Summers

Right.

[00:16:13.420] – Casey McArdle

And then week 13, without fail, it clicks. And then some of them might get frustrated with some of my feedback, but it's helping them establish a particular line of reasoning and understanding so they can develop their own resources to find their own answers. And so I help them.

[00:16:29.100] – Casey McArdle

We have a list of resources for them to all find, and then they pick the ones that work for them, that speak to them. Because some are just code dumps and others are actually like walk throughs of how to use it. This might work for some, this might work for others. So having them figure that out because failure is crucial.

[00:16:45.850] – Janice Summers

And I think that frustration part, too. Like, if you're trying to learn how to do accessibility, how to be a teacher who has incorporated accessibility, you have to be confident in failing. You have to be confident in stumbling and in feeling frustrated. Like, embrace the frustration.

[00:17:13.550] – Casey McArdle

I think part of it also is, this is a great conversation to have about embracing feedback and what that looks like.

[00:17:20.520] – Janice Summers

That's a hard lesson to learn.

[00:17:22.650] – Casey McArdle

It's extremely difficult. And having worked with faculty in the past, when you say, “Hey, listen, here are some templates that you can use to make your documents more accessible for your students.” And they take it personally. And I'm like, “This is not about you.” You can still use these different types of fonts. This is just a template. This is why we use headers. This is why we use all those things to help students and screen readers navigate these spaces. Like, well, I can't believe…I don't think I've done anything wrong. Students have never said… It's just not about you.

[00:17:53.510] – Janice Summers

That's a big thing, though. I think that's a really big thing is getting over, it's not about you. Even as an individual who might know this and then you're receiving criticism from somebody and then you forget “It's not about me,” but how do we get around that?

[00:18:13.710] – Liz Fraley

Someone's not going to tell you, “Here's some ideas” if they don't care about you. If they don't care about you, they're not going to tell you. They give you feedback in order to help you get better because they care, too.

[00:18:27.390] – Casey McArdle

We care about the program. We care about students. We care about you. If you are successful, our students are successful, the program is successful, it all works together. All the boats rise. And so I think, I hope… Maybe not. I've gotten better at having those conversations saying-

[00:18:46.280] – Liz Fraley

That's hard, too.

[00:18:47.280] – Casey McArdle

It should be really good if we tried it this way, because then maybe more of your students might be able to engage with the content. This is when it talks about the design and the course management systems and the 50 different clicks to get to different content and trying to advocate for faculty of simplifying so that it doesn't need to be all those clicks. You can set it right there and it's easy for them to manage. It doesn't have to be a 20 page long syllabus. It can be a conversation with students.

[00:19:14.020] – Janice Summers

I just wonder, it's an interesting thing. Do we ever try to imagine ourselves in the receiver's role when we're designing things?

[00:19:25.090] – Casey McArdle

This is what Jesse and I have talked about a lot. I've had lots of CMS course management systems companies come and talk to me over the years. And I had one that came and spoke to me back when I was in grad school at Ball State. And they sat me down—I was the nerdy techie guy, grad student—and it was like, “Go talk to Casey. He'll give you some feedback on what you guys are doing.” I was like, “Listen, I don't really want to have this conversation because you're not going to listen to me.”

[00:19:49.230] – Casey McArdle

“No, we promise. We promise.” Because I'd given them feedback before. I sat with them for an hour. I'm in the middle of dissertating, and I was like, so every minute is precious. I gave them an hour, and then they implemented none of those particular changes. But the biggest takeaway that I kept saying to them, which is what I say now when I talk with people is like, the faculty really aren't the primary users of this space. It's the students.

[00:20:12.770] – Janice Summers

Yeah.

[00:20:13.730] – Casey McArdle

You have to understand that you have to give us an opportunity with this very rigid structure you've given us to make an inviting space for students, because if they can't find it, they will give up and they will do something else. Think about you when you're on your phone or you're doing something. If it's too many clicks and you can't find it, you're like, well, that is a poorly designed app. Done, next. If they're looking for an assignment, if they're looking for a resource and they can't find it, they'll be like, “Well, it probably wasn't that important to begin with so then why should I try?”

[00:20:46.030] – Janice Summers

Or you'll end up with a lot of people pinging you personally to get the information as they're tired and fatigued of trying to find your stuff buried somewhere.

[00:20:57.320] – Casey McArdle

Yeah. That's one of the key things, is making sure that we understand… Rhetoric and why it's so important, understanding who our audiences and the text that we are composing for those specific audiences.

[00:21:10.750] – Janice Summers

Keeping things nice and simple, creating open space. I think that's the other thing, too. I am notorious for over-sharing and putting too much information out there. So editing and minimalism is important for me. It's my battle cry because I know in my comfort zone I'll write you an epic story, but nobody wants to go through that when they're trying to search for something. You know what I mean?

[00:21:43.820] – Casey McArdle

Yeah. The irony to so many of the things that we do, I think in writing is that, I love to write my narratives and I'll still do my text messages and I'll still do my emails. But if I can have a quick 30 to 40 seconds conversation with someone over the phone, there's—again, because rhetoric permeates everything we do— then they can hear my voice and they can understand on some level what I'm trying to communicate a little bit differently than how I would have to compose that email.

[00:22:17.090] – Casey McArdle

It's always fascinating to me about the different types of modes that we use to communicate and a few seconds can shift a particular understanding.

[00:22:25.810] – Janice Summers

Because they get the emotive value when we're speaking. A lot more senses are involved. Even though we're on a Zoom call, we're not physically in presence, still more of our senses are involved in the communication when we're in this environment. That's why face to face is so powerful.

[00:22:46.860] – Casey McArdle

Yeah. That's why making everything personal is so powerful. The faster that you can then realize is a human being on the other side of that email or that Zoom call or that conversation to ensure that so when we make things personal, we've got images— share pictures of our dog, a three year old Chihuahua that runs around nonstop. It's my daughter's, who's is in the back of most Zoom calls. A picture of ourselves or something that we care about so that students can realize and make those types of connections.

[00:23:15.590] – Casey McArdle

There's a number of things built into the particular ways that we can communicate that remind us who we are and those connections that we have. And accessibility is really at the heart of all that, because when we're doing that, we are being inviting, we're being much more inclusive.

[00:23:28.700] – Janice Summers

That's what I was just going to say, because one of the phenomena that happened, two people started realizing when a lot of people are in a home environment and conferencing in, and they don't all have fancy studio settings and nobody has that private office in their home. Sometimes it's a corner of the kitchen table, if you can get it.

[00:23:50.250] – Casey McArdle

Yes.

[00:23:51.320] – Janice Summers

And if you've got kids and… Life happens. But I think one of the things people organize is, people create a different bond with each other because of that. And I think it brings to that point that you just made that's accessibility as well.

[00:24:09.780] – Casey McArdle

Without a doubt. And I think those are the types of connections that we all make with one another that we build on. I was just having a good conversation with a colleague of mine who was talking about wanting to make more connections beyond our university. You know, how did you do it? Well, there's a number of topics I'm passionate about that don't necessarily reside at my institution.

[00:24:30.790] – Casey McArdle

I'm passionate about accessibility. I'm passionate about program administration and what we do in project management, building, mentorship and leadership, online writing instruction. So I've gone to all these conferences throughout the years so I have many, many friends all over the country, and I love getting emails from them in conversations or seeing them at conferences and present to hear their ideas.

[00:24:50.680] – Casey McArdle

We have that… It's never a critique when we have those conversations or panels or presentations or conference. It's like, “That's fascinating. I'd like to hear more of that. That's really cool, because I didn't think of that, and I'm glad I didn't, because you thought of it way better than I would have. And I'd love to know more.”

[00:25:10.970] – Janice Summers

Something really interesting, in that situation you might be passionate…Somebody might not be as passionate about a lot of things like you, but it's that translating what you're passionate about for those who aren't in that area.

[00:25:26.150] – Casey McArdle

Yes. Being an advocate, yes, without a doubt. I think that's what Kate Sonka and I, when we created that AL 111 class [

Introduction to Accessibility in the Humanities], we're like, we're passionate about this. We know that people will be if they can actually start to understand what it is and how it impacts their lives.

[00:25:40.950] – Janice Summers

Right.

[00:25:41.500] – Casey McArdle

So a one credit class, five weeks of theory and understanding, five weeks of practice with regard to digital environments and spaces, and then maybe five weeks of physical constructs and examinations. You're applying all those things, then they can start to make those connections from each week the way it was structured out with their own lives, not just their personal lives but their professional lives as well.

[00:26:02.520] – Janice Summers

Right.

[00:26:02.800] – Casey McArdle

And I think that's the key thing is, once you get people to sort of see a little bit of it and they go, “Oh, that does impact me on some level,” then there's a shift of understanding the connection.

[00:26:11.990] – Janice Summers

Yes. Because that's again, back to accessibility. That's inviting them in. It's like the chihuahua in the background.

[00:26:17.310] – Casey McArdle

Yes. Without a doubt.

[00:26:18.750] – Janice Summers

You've got to be that chihuahua.

[00:26:20.470] – Casey McArdle

Yes. And I tell this to the students in my class, I'm like, you guys are part of a large cohort. Look around this room, look around the Zoom room, make connections. You are all going to be advocates for one another. You'll be graduating together and working together. More than just connections, you are unified, a loud voice. Champion usability, accessibility and sustainability as loud as you can.

[00:26:44.330] – Janice Summers

Yes. And the more the merrier, the more the better.

[00:26:48.740] – Casey McArdle

Yes.

[00:26:49.390] – Janice Summers

Louder voice. Interesting.

[00:26:55.470] – Liz Fraley

Are you seeing this translate now that we're moving back into real—let's say back into the in-person world. Are you seeing people who had a difficult time moving out of that world and into virtual, who adopted new practices? Are you seeing that—because that can only improve the real experience, too, to make the classes more participatory, the more accessible, more inviting to all of students. Are you seeing that translate back out now or do you expect it to?

[00:27:25.170] – Casey McArdle

I hope it does. Have I seen it in practice yet?

[00:27:30.240] – Liz Fraley

Early. I get that.

[00:27:32.110] – Casey McArdle

We're early. Have I seen it at the level I would like? No. I will give you an example, and this was a frustrating one and I get it. But my daughter is over at grade school and she was given a packet and that packet was something that she didn't bring home. So we had to go back to campus, her campus, to get that PDF packet and come back. This was this past fall, but wait a minute, didn't we just learn how to put all of this online and accessible so we don't have to have that physical construct, that we can basically access that information whenever we need?

[00:28:13.470] – Liz Fraley

Right.

[00:28:16.270] – Casey McArdle

Was that not a larger conversation that the district had? Was that not something that took place at the school? Was that not reiterated? So there's a number of factors that could have gone into that particular choice. It's funny that I refer to a physical copy as a PDF now. It's just one of those things but I was like, wait a minute. Let's not just automatically say, “So that just happened,” and then go back. Let's say, “So that happened. Now let's take everything that we learned from that and put that into practice so we are creating much more accessible spaces for our students to engage and so for our peers and our colleagues, so people aren't left behind.”

[00:28:51.560] – Casey McArdle

It's like, “Well, sorry, you can't be on campus today. Thanks for being a part of our department.” No, we can Zoom out that meeting so everybody can attend. And I think that is one of the things where I really hope that we really take time to stop and look around at all the advancements that not necessarily have happened but have been around. That we started to implement, that we can then sustain and make more iterative going forward because we saw how important they were.

[00:29:19.530] – Janice Summers

It's interesting. We were talking with another professor, and they're back to a hybrid environment. It's a lot to try and manage the online chat and then the in-person conversation and then remember your material that you're lecturing on. I'm like, why don't you just have a TA in class? Like somebody gets some brownie points.

[00:29:42.110] – Liz Fraley

Why don't the students rotate it around?

[00:29:42.740] – Janice Summers

Because Liz manages the chat for me all the time when I'm in Room 42. That's why she's quiet a lot, because she manages the chat. Assign it to somebody so you can stay engaged and you're focused on your core competency and somebody else gets a chance too, because that helps them. Whichever student is helping you to stay engaged with what you're saying as well, because they're not going to—

[00:30:08.090] – Liz Fraley

And if you're rotating among the students, everyone gets to feel that they are participating and they are encouraged and they are invited and they're welcome. It's not just the favorite student or whatever. There's a lot of benefit to things to what we have learned from this whole experience in teaching online.

[00:30:26.230] – Casey McArdle

Yeah, I had a ULA, an undergraduate learning assistant in the fall for the last 10 weeks. She was a student that was paid by the EDLI fellowship, which is the education that Scott and them pay for. And she had taken the class in spring of '21, so it was my ULA for fall '21. So there was extra insight into what our methods are. And then I started to ask her—because I always do mid semester debriefs—I'm like, “Alright, what extra questions can we ask? Because I implemented the suggestions you guys had last semester into that and then this semester.”

[00:30:57.290] – Casey McArdle

And so she started developing questions for that. Then she started to develop extra readings and observations and things that could be contributed, which was great. And then we started to have…Towards the end of the semester, when the weather got really bad, more people were working online. I maybe had like 10 or 12 sometimes that would be Zooming in. And so then she would handle and work with those who are in the remote groups, and then I would handle the face to face, and then we would rotate.

[00:31:23.420] – Casey McArdle

And so it really gave a pretty good idea of support. And it made me realize that we can do this. And this is set in a way that I think not every room has to have all these amazing bells and whistles. You just have to have a strategy in place to make sure that you are engaging with students. And once you do that, it works.

[00:31:48.590] – Janice Summers

And that's the key thing. That's what your book is about. That's what that resource follow up is about. It's about teaching people how to build strategies.

[00:31:59.580] – Casey McArdle

Without a doubt. And I think that's one of the key things, especially with XA, Experience Architecture program. We always talk about on some level, being a strategy degree. We're developing products and processes as well to help people work through them and navigate for other human beings. We did the design challenge the other day that I did with students. Some students were like, this doesn't seem like we're really designing something. I'm like, no, because they weren't necessarily producing mockups.

[00:32:23.830] – Casey McArdle

No, but you are being asked to develop what an ecologically friendly campus might look like. Now, how do you go about that? So let's talk about design processes and research and who we're going to connect with and bring into that conversation. So, yes, it's about developing strategy.

[00:32:42.210] – Janice Summers

Which is design.

[00:32:43.710] – Casey McArdle

Yes, without a doubt. I tell them all the time, they go, “This doesn't seem like one” and I'm like, “Trust me,” and at the end they're like, “Oh, right, yes.”

[00:32:57.490] – Janice Summers

But that's an interesting point because aren't there things that oftentimes we just overlook? We get into patterns in our life, I think, and we just overlook it. We don't think about it.

[00:33:10.960] – Liz Fraley

Well, we learn those patterns by watching whatever experience we were in and like, oh, this is the appropriate pattern to do. But that isn't the only way to evaluate something. I mean, there are other patterns, there are other perspectives. There's no one way to do anything.

[00:33:28.630] – Casey McArdle

We see two extremes come from that. We see a pattern of convenience and like, alright, so I'm used to this, I'll just keep doing it, all good. And then the other end, which is like, there's got to be something different. We've got to have a better way. We've got to try something else. And so we're always going to ask students to do that because otherwise, if you do it the same way, you're inviting in a small amount of people to have the same conversation over and over again.

[00:33:53.870] – Janice Summers

That's right.

[00:33:54.700] – Casey McArdle

We' have to think differently about it to bring in new conversations. That's what accessibility tells us to do.

[00:34:00.100] – Liz Fraley

Right. You can't be participatory or accessible if you were doing the same old thing with the same old people every time.

[00:34:06.970] – Janice Summers

Yeah. That's one of Liz's biggest things is: bring in strangers. Bring in people you don't know to collaborate with. People that don't know you, you don't know them. They're going to have different perspectives and create an environment where they can feel free to share and it comes back to that—

[00:34:25.900] – Liz Fraley

Constructing that environment where they feel comfortable to share because they're strangers. You're a stranger to them, too. But I think I'm seeing that there are some of those strategies that you are addressing in the book and the research that you do, because every semester you got a whole new bunch of strangers and you're a stranger to a whole bunch of people.

[00:34:44.710] – Janice Summers

And you can't always do things that you did the same way last semester. This is part of that building that arsenal of being more accessible or creating accessibility, because you can't rely on what you did. You have to look at each semester as a new learning opportunity for you to improve your strategy.

[00:35:07.450] – Casey McArdle

Totally.

[00:35:08.310] – Janice Summers

Because it comes right back down to that strategy word you talked about.

[00:35:12.040] – Casey McArdle

I have a folder for each semester that contains my classes. And then in that folder has all the activities and Google slides and Docs and everything in modules. And in that is the notes document. In that are the notes that I make that say “This is what you have to change for next time.” And I've got links to the particular slides or links to the module and notes on it, because I can't change it right there in the middle of semester, because students are going to be like, wait a minute, that changed.

[00:35:38.240] – Casey McArdle

I have to make notes, so that I can be be consistent. So I make those notes that we can do the next iteration. We can always, always improve. Like I told you a little bit earlier about the design challenge and next semester we're going to do one to start, we're going to do one mid-semester, and then we're going to do one at the end, because I just now realize that that's a better approach.

[00:35:57.930] – Janice Summers

Yeah. It's interesting because one of the projects that I was talking to you about earlier is a brand new one, we haven't done it before. I was really clear with everyone, we're just going to do the best we can, see how it goes. We're going to shift and change as we go. Feedback is important because nothing is really set in stone and you have to have that agility to be able to pivot and change when you need to. I do get the point. You have to have consistency in this semester-

[00:36:30.910] – Casey McArdle

Yeah.

[00:36:31.300] – Janice Summers

-and then you learn for next semester.

[00:36:35.810] – Casey McArdle

It doesn't say in the notes, but in that is the out loud thing that I've said to the students, “Oh, I need to change that for next semester. Next semester, I'm going to try this,” so that they know that it's okay to make change, and it's okay to have those iterations. I think this gets back to one of those key elements of letting students know that it's okay to fail and learning how to process feedback.

[00:36:58.820] – Casey McArdle

I am processing the feedback of that moment that we need to spend a little bit more time having conversations about what some of these design challenges look like and how they incorporate all of these classes that they have taken in the curriculum together in 30 minutes. That's on me to find a better job of doing that, because what I just saw tells me I'm not doing a very good job of that. So I can try that again next time. So the consistency is there, but also with the reminder of them that this can change and we are agile and we will move and we're malleable.

[00:37:31.370] – Liz Fraley

That's a difficult concept because one of the things teachers are up against is like, I have to make it identical every time. But that means that you're not improving. It means you're not treating the people in your class as individuals who have unique needs. It's not wrong to correct yourself and fail.

[00:37:53.110] – Casey McArdle

Without a doubt. We're working on a large assessment for both of our programs right now, and we're developing surveys to help people to get an idea of what's happening in terms of learning outcomes for the classes. And what Kate and I have had good conversations about is that the learning outcomes will stay the same, but the goals will shift given the different perspectives that each unique instructor brings to that class.

[00:38:17.070] – Casey McArdle

The outcomes will stay, but the goals, you might have different community partners, you might have different assignments and modules. I mean, the outcomes will stay the same, but these goals, these are going to be malleable and they're going to change because you're different and you have a new cohort coming in, and we have different technologies.

[00:38:32.280] – Janice Summers

Right. And I think that's the key thing, is the learning objective is the same. How you get there needs to change, as culture changes, as society changes, the mix of the group changes, you need to be able to adapt.

[00:38:48.350] – Casey McArdle

And getting people together to have an honest conversation every couple of years about what those objectives are, how you're going  to put those outcomes in place, what types of readings you are putting, what types of activities, those types of things are absolutely essential. And we always stress it of like, look, I like assessment because it makes us reflect and think about what we're doing. Are we actually doing what we say we're doing?

[00:39:16.140] – Casey McArdle

It's not something critical of like, oh, we have to double check to make sure that we're… No, like are we doing it? Oh, we're not doing it. What can we do to make sure that we are doing it so that students can get what we're trying to do and why they've signed up for this particular program? So those are the key things of making sure that we are iterative and that we are listening and we are factoring in feedback.

[00:39:38.610] – Casey McArdle

Yeah. I'm excited to see what the data says when we get those results. It'll be interesting because we have all the course goals that have been listed because we want to shift them over to outcomes, and then people can then develop their own goals, what they'll say. And we are trying to reiterate to them that you'll still be able to write your own goals and still be able to as long as they're connected to the outcomes. It doesn't take that away for you. If anything, it should empower you.

[00:40:07.350] – Liz Fraley

Yeah. I totally get that. The outcomes are the things… That's what you're really trying to teach. Goals are just a method of getting there.

[00:40:17.800] – Casey McArdle

The aspirational notion by which we're trying to attend.

[00:40:20.910] – Liz Fraley

Yeah.

[00:40:21.890] – Casey McArdle

And they can change because you might have different community partners, you might have different projects. You might shift part of what you wanted to do that semester from last semester, giving something that's happening in the world today.

[00:40:34.110] – Janice Summers

Right.

[00:40:34.850] – Casey McArdle

It's fine and timely.

[00:40:37.030] – Janice Summers

And one of the key things as teachers is we're trying to teach those humans that we're teaching how they can adapt when they get out into the world. Even if they end up in acting as professionals in academia, there's a shift there but you need to learn that agility.

[00:40:59.130] – Casey McArdle

Totally.

[00:41:00.090] – Janice Summers

And you know that's the number one at the top. Prime criteria in hiring is agility.

[00:41:08.310] – Casey McArdle

Yeah.

[00:41:10.290] – Janice Summers

If you're able to adapt and to adapt to new situations and apply skills, that's the number one thing.

[00:41:22.890] – Liz Fraley

Yeah.

[00:41:24.090] – Casey McArdle

Hopefully we've given students and over the past, maybe faculty as well, we've  talked about not so much confidence, but slowly building up that confidence to be able to do that and to be able to not think, “Alright, everything is going bad, I guess we just shouldn't do it.” Alright, so some things are going bad. What can we do to help and solve these?

[00:41:42.440] – Janice Summers

Right.

[00:41:44.610] – Liz Fraley

Not very many people are comfortable with ambiguity, and you can see that as being the big fear behind a lot of that.

[00:41:53.970] – Casey McArdle

Yeah. I think I love my protocols, I love my processes, but also the confidence I have and how those work gives me the confidence to be agile as well and be in a number of situations where…The past two years have produced a number of situations that have not necessarily been positive. And so being able to say, “Alright, let's try to find a way to solve some of these,” and so a lot of problems that we've solved in admin and education that we normally would never have had to deal with, I think has informed us going forward to be much more conscious of our students and our faculty and our staff and our institution of what are we really doing here.

[00:42:32.510] – Casey McArdle

What is our real goal and to have honest conversations rather than “Oh yeah, just go there and you'll do fine.” As opposed to, “If you go there, here are the things you can encounter and expect in terms of resources and support, and we hope that you will check them out. And if you can't find them, please come talk to us because we are happy to do that.”

[00:42:52.770] – Liz Fraley

What a great way to end the call too. We are right on time. What great advice to end with.

[00:42:57.980] – Janice Summers

I was just going to say resources and support is the name of the game and hence your book and the follow up to the book, it's all those resources that teachers need to help incorporate this into their plan. Whatever they're teaching, it doesn't matter what you're teaching. You could be be teaching any subject, it doesn't matter. It doesn't have to be in technical writing or any kind of writing or English. You could be in science, psychology. You could be teaching anything, advanced basket weaving.

[00:43:28.050] – Casey McArdle

There you go.

[00:43:29.790] – Janice Summers

You can teach anything. It's really about teaching humans and how to do that accessibly. It is just always a delight talking to you. I am so glad you could spend time with us.

[00:43:44.240] – Casey McArdle

Thank you for having me. This is great. I enjoy these conversations. I love having them. So many committee meetings I have to go to all the time, we get reports and stuff like that but I love talking about education and pedagogy and students and stuff. So this is great. This was a joy.

[00:43:58.930] – Janice Summers

It just gets you… It gets you all fired up.

[00:44:01.320] – Casey McArdle

Yeah. I'm excited to teach tomorrow. I've got some other ideas.

In this episode

Dr. Casey McArdle is the Associate Chair for Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures at Michigan State University. He directs the undergraduate programs: Experience Architecture (an undergraduate user experience degree housed in the Arts and Humanities), Professional and Public Writing, and a Minor in Writing. His research is centered around user experience, instructional design, technical communication, rhetoric and writing, accessibility, project management, and online writing instruction. His latest publications include “Finding a Teaching A11y: Designing an Accessibility-Centered Pedagogy” appearing in IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, which he co-authored with Kate Sonka and Dr. Liza Potts. His book, Personal, Accessible, Responsive, Strategic: Resources and Strategies for Online Writing Instructors, which he co-authored with Dr. Jessie Borgman, won the 2020 Computers and Composition Distinguished Book Award. The book was followed by their edited collection, PARS In Practice: More Resources and Strategies for Online Writing Instructors. These texts were inspired by the website he co-founded with Dr. Borgman, The Online Writing Instruction Community (owicommunity.org), created in 2015 as an open resource for contingent faculty struggling to find support for teaching writing online.

Dr. McArdle explains the ways accessible technologies and curriculum are impacting pedagogy and how programs are preparing students for professional spaces beyond their institutions. He will discuss how using his role as an admin can better connect his faculty and students with innovative spaces that create equitable learning environments while also modeling such practices to be used post graduation.

Resources

Personal website: https://www.caseymcardle.com
The OWI Community: https://www.owicommunity.org
Faculty page: https://wrac.msu.edu/faculty/casey-mcardle-2
Twitter: https://twitter.com/crmcardle
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/caseymcardle

Borgman, Jessie and Casey McArdle, editors. PARS In Practice: More Resources and Strategies for Online Writing Instructors. WAC Clearinghouse, 2021. Print.
https://wac.colostate.edu/books/practice/pars2

Borgman, Jessie and Casey McArdle. Personal, Accessible, Responsive, Strategic: Resources and Strategies for Online Writing Instructors. WAC Clearinghouse, 2019. Print.
2020 Computers and Composition Distinguished Book Award Winner
https://wac.colostate.edu/books/practice/pars

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