Welcome back you fabulous Imagine Otherwise listeners! Thanks for supporting the show’s crew as we took a much-needed July production break. We’re back now and have some fantastic episodes lined up for you.
To kick things off, today’s episode tackles something many of you are navigating right now: how to take your courses online in the middle of a pandemic while making them truly accessible to students and faculty alike.
More than just a call to reproduce in-person teaching in digital environments, this pivot to online education has a powerful potential to help us reshape higher education for the better, to ensure it embodies the racial, gender, and disability justice principles those of us in the interdisciplines have long championed. But that takes rethinking some of our most basic assumptions about what education means and who it is for.
In episode 115 of Imagine Otherwise, host Cathy Hannabach interviews Temple University media studies professor Adrienne Shaw, whose approach to the classroom provides a variety of ways educators can foreground accessibility in their daily work. Cathy and Adrienne’s conversation illustrates some of the more practical aspects of what it means to do pedagogical and scholarly work in quarantine, as well as the kinds of work/life blurriness we’re all navigating now.
In the interview, Cathy and Adrienne chat about building assignments and course structures that enable students to participate in diverse ways; why online teaching is often more accessible for faculty with chronic pain and other disabilities; how administrators can better support teachers and mitigate uncertainty; and why creating accessible education systems by design rather than exception is key to how Adrienne imagines otherwise.
Guest: Adrienne Shaw
Adrienne Shaw is an associate professor in Temple University’s Department of Media Studies and Production and is also a graduate faculty member in the Lew Klein College of Media and Communication.
Her book Gaming at the Edge: Sexuality and Gender at the Margins of Gamer Culture (University of Minnesota Press, 2014) won the 2016 Outstanding Book Award from the Popular Communication Division of the International Communication Association.
She is a founder of the LGBTQ Game Archive and co-curated Rainbow Arcade (2018–19), an exhibit of thirty years of LGBTQ video game history at the Schwules Museum in Berlin Germany. She is the co-editor of the Rainbow Arcade exhibit catalog (2019), Queer Game Studies (University of Minnesota Press, 2017), Queer Technologies: Affordances, Affect, Ambivalence (Routledge, 2017), and Interventions: Communication Research and Practice (Peter Lang, 2018).
Adrienne became a Higher Education Video Game Alliance Fellow in 2018. She is an associate editor for the Journal of Communication and series editor for NYU Press’s Critical Cultural Communication book series.
We chatted about
► Leveraging a/synchronicity while teaching online (05:26)
► Material and infrastructural challenges to working from home (07:58)
► Reducing uncertainty in course preparation (16:03)
► Foregrounding accessibility and inclusive pedagogy (22:02)
► Privacy, intellectual property, and consent issues (37:21)
► Contextualizing social and political events in the classroom (41:35)
► Imagining otherwise (46:42)
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It’s my job to make sure that the students who can’t make the live session don’t lose out but for the students who do make the live session, there’s a reason it’s live and that’s largely through the kinds of activities and discussion we do. I don’t want to have them sign into a Zoom meeting and just listen to me talk. They can have the video where they get to listen to me talk. It’s meant to be so that the people who really want it can do it and the people who can’t aren’t somehow being disadvantaged.
Accessible course design for faculty with disabilities
For me, as somebody who has chronic pain issues and migraines (and insomnia that makes both of those things worse), online teaching has actually been really good for me. I don’t spend an hour round trip walking to campus. If I am having a particularly painful day or a particularly sleepless night, it’s easy for me to go upstairs and lie down in bed for a few minutes in between classes… I can record everything over the summer so I know my lectures are solid. I know the content that I need my students to get is there. So if I get sick or if the internet goes down or if something else happens or if I just get a really bad migraine, the bulk of the class can run even if I’m not having a good day. That was something that I tried to work into my design of my classes. I don’t have to worry about canceling the live session if the live session is bonus.
Recording lectures at home
I’ve recorded probably 25 lectures between the end of May and the end of July and in order to break it up I have a costume change in between each lecture. It’s silly. Most of the students won’t notice but it helps me feel like each is a discreet moment and at least pretend like these are different days even if I’m recording five in a row because the construction next door is stopped for a period of time and I have no idea how long it’s stopped for. So I’m going to record as many things as I can before they start again. Or because the neighbors’ kids are loud. It’s a lot of doing as much as I can within the constraints of where I’m trying to record, which is not an environment I can really control.
Developing online classes with intention
I’ve had so many people I know this summer talk about how awful online learning is. And I was like, “Yeah, but for some, that’s what they get. That’s the option.” It’s harder, it’s different, but it’s not bad necessarily. Getting out of that mindset of online is somehow lesser is one of the things that helped me and my co-instructor think about what’s good about moving online. We can focus developing our classes in ways that are better than just trying to adapt to what we had done in the classroom and move it to Zoom.
Meeting students where they are
This class can work even if you can’t physically make it. If students are sick, they can Skype or Zoom in and participate even if they’re not really talking. They can just listen to us and that’s fine. Meeting students where they are and making the class work in that way is not actually that hard. It just required thinking through why my policies were policies or my assignments were structured that way. It meant rethinking what were the things that actually mattered to me in terms of what students do….It’s about trying to figure out what do I actually care about?
The goal of my teaching and research is to encourage people to figure out how to make the world better for other people, not just themselves. Thinking about the bigger structural issues, the longer historical issues, and how we talk about things making the world harder for different kinds of people is something that I encourage my students to think about. It’s also the goal of the changes I’ve made to my teaching over the years and also the things I see people changing about their teaching right now. How do we make education work for the greatest number of people? And how do we make it work for people by default rather than by exception?
More from Adrienne Shaw
► Adrienne’s website
► Adrienne’s Twitter profile
People and projects discussed
About Imagine Otherwise
Imagine Otherwise is a podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice, and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining and creating more just worlds.
Imagine Otherwise is hosted by Cathy Hannabach and produced by Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency helping progressive, interdisciplinary scholars write and publish awesome texts, enliven public conversations, and create more just worlds.
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Cathy Hannabach [00:03]:
Welcome to Imagine Otherwise. The podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice and explore the nitty gritty work of imagining otherwise. I’m your host, Cathy Hannabach.
Cathy Hannabach [00:23]:
Welcome back you fabulous Imagine Otherwise listeners. Thanks for supporting Chris, Michelle, and I as we took a much needed July production break. We’re back now and we have some fantastic episodes lined up for you.
To kick things off, today’s episode tackles something that I know many of you are navigating right now: How to take your courses online in the middle of a pandemic while also making them truly accessible to students and faculty alike.
More than just a call to reproduce in-person teaching in digital environments, this pivot to online education has a powerful potential to help us reshape higher education for the better, to ensure it embodies the racial, gender, and disability justice principles those of us in the interdisciplines have long championed. But that takes rethinking some of our most basic assumptions about what education means and who it’s for.
Cathy Hannabach [01:15]:
My guest today is Temple University media studies professor Adrienne Shaw, whose approach to the classroom provides a variety of ways educators can foreground accessibility in their daily work. And as many of you know, Adrienne is also my wife.
I wanted to have her on the show to illustrate some of the more practical aspects of what it means to do pedagogical and scholarly work in quarantine, as well as the kinds of work/life blurriness that we’re all navigating right now.
In our interview Adrienne and I chat about building assignments and core structures that enable students to participate in diverse ways, why online teaching is often more accessible for faculty with chronic pain and other disabilities, how administrators can better support teachers and mitigate uncertainty, and why creating accessible education systems by design rather than exception is key to how Adrienne imagines otherwise.
Cathy Hannabach [02:10]:
Thanks so much for being with us today, Adrienne. I know this is a little weird interviewing you from our own house and this is a new experience, but let’s just see how it goes.
Adrienne Shaw [02:21]:
Yes. Just try not to be too loud because I’m recording an interview. [laughs]
Cathy Hannabach [02:25]:
[Laughs] Exactly. Let’s just jump in.
For the past many months I’ve watched you do this, I’ve watched my friends do this, I’ve watched my colleagues and my clients do this as professors across the country and really the world have been frantically redoing their syllabi, getting intimately familiar with Zoom fatigue, and generally trying to figure out how to make their fall teaching situation better than the on-the-fly version that they were forced to enact this past spring.
Before we jump into some of the specifics, can you tell our listeners what is your fall teaching lineup and how are you structuring those classes?
Adrienne Shaw [03:06]:
Sure. For the past three years, every fall I’ve co-taught two classes with my colleague, professor Laura Zaylea. They’re both classes that merge media production with research.
One is an MA workshop class that is designed to get our MA students who are doing a creative project to finish their degree. It gets them set up so that they can finish by the end of spring. It’s sort of a structured workshopping class.
Then there is Mobile Media, which is an undergraduate class focused on mobile media, which is a weird concept to think about in the middle of a pandemic when people can’t be particularly mobile.
We’ve found ways to restructure assignments so that they make use of technology that students can have regardless of where they are. So we found software that is easy to use regardless of what kinds of devices they might be working on—largely free software or software that is free to them as Temple students or software that allows them to edit video on their mobile phone. Or really easy to use, downloadable tools like Audacity for audio projects.
We have focused the assignments on reflecting about what it means to design media for non-mobile audiences but through mobile means.
Adrienne Shaw [04:24]:
I also teach Technology and Culture as a solo class. It’s actually one of the classes I taught in the spring and had to shift online. So I’m applying a lot of what I learned in that weird moment where suddenly I had to throw all of my lesson plans out the window and move everything online simultaneously. That was useful because it allowed me to figure out what does and doesn’t work for my online classes.
So for every class, I prerecord the lecture and upload those to a YouTube playlist for each class. Then have a live Zoom session during what would have been class time. Those live Zoom sessions are focused on answering students’ questions and having a more engaged discussion based on students’ discussion questions. We also do activities that bring people together and have them sync the readings together. I
I have them do additional discussion on Slack, which is where they post their discussion questions. So there’s both a synchronous and asynchronous element to all of the classes.
Cathy Hannabach [05:26]:
One thing that we’ve talked a lot about and I’ve seen you kind of go through variations of is wrestling with the synchronicity question and how that enables or prevents different students from participating. There’s a value to live in-person conversations that mimic what happens in a physical classroom. But I know something that you’ve run into a lot is that many times students can’t really do that for a variety of reasons.
Adrienne Shaw [05:55]:
Yeah. For all of my class designs, I have opted to treat the live Zoom session as a bonus, as a thing that is just there for people who can do it. But if you can’t do it, you don’t actually miss out on the class.
The lectures are prerecorded. One, so that anybody who can’t join the live session gets that experience. But also, we’ve had internet problems while I was trying to lead my classes. So not having students miss half of a lecture because their internet crapped out for a minute and then they had to sign back on. The lectures are there and accessible to any student whenever they want to engage it.
For the Slack discussions, the discussion questions are ones that I always use in class and I incorporate them into the class discussion. I have students also respond to them on Slack so anybody who can’t join that live session can still be part of the discussion.
What I have done as an instructor is instead of recording the live sessions, which I feel engages in a lot of weird privacy issues, for anything that got said in the live discussion that I thought would be particularly useful or interesting for everybody, I incorporate that into my own post in the Slack discussion.
Adrienne Shaw [07:06]:
So if one student said something really interesting in response to the reading, I might tag them in my discussion response and say, “Phil said this really interesting thing regarding this reading by Ryan Milner, maybe he can elaborate again on what he was saying here. I’ll try to summarize.”
I find it’s my job to make sure that the students who can’t make that live session don’t lose out but that for the students who do make the live session, there’s a reason it’s live and that’s largely through the kinds of activities we do and the kinds of discussion we do. I don’t want to have them sign into a Zoom meeting and just listen to me talk. They can have the video where they get to listen to me talk. It’s meant to be so that the people who really want it and can do it can do it and the people who can’t do it aren’t somehow being disadvantaged by not being able to do that.
Cathy Hannabach [07:58]:
You mentioned internet crapping out, both your own experience, my own experience, as well as your students’ experience. This gets us at something that I think gets lost in a lot of the conversations, well meaning conversations perhaps. Faculty are wrestling with these brand new transitions that are often coming down from above, from administrators. They’re trying to figure out how to make these radical changes to their teaching structures without much university or administrative support for building an infrastructure that would enable that, whether that’s needing to upgrade to high speed internet, which I know you and I have had to do. We had to pay for the next tier or whatever from Comcast in order to make our jobs work in these conditions.
But its also things like, how do you maintain privacy when you’re broadcasting live video from your home? What does your home look like and what does that reveal about you? What kinds of assumptions are audience members going to make about that? Who can afford to do that?
So I would love to talk about some of those material constraints or contexts. Maybe we can start by talking about, what are some of the changes that we’ve had to make to our house to make our jobs working from home actually work?
Adrienne Shaw [09:18]:
Yeah. Obviously, there’s the upgrading the internet example. I think we spent probably a week’s worth of hours troubleshooting the internet. My office was a dead zone apparently. We had to figure out how even with this new upgraded internet, how to get it to work in my office despite the fact that for some reason it doesn’t work on this side of the house. Like for no apparent reason. Even when the router was in my office, for some reason my computer was super slow.
Cathy Hannabach [09:50]:
There’s something about the walls in your office that just do not like internet.
Adrienne Shaw [09:53]:
No. I don’t know why. Maybe when they added this addition they put in a Faraday cage or something and that just encompasses where my computer sits. So we went through multiple different router options and extenders. I finally found xFi pods on eBay bought one and then went through a week of troubleshooting to figure out how to make that work the best.
In the spring, I just used Zoom and my headset that I’ve always used for my computer because I’ve done a lot of projects where I had to have Skype meetings and so I’ve already been used to engaging in online video conference chats. I just recorded and went from there, and not really thinking too much about it.
But at the start of summer, I mean, I rearranged the pictures on my wall because all of our wedding photos were behind me—
Cathy Hannabach [10:45]:
—Which are lovely.
Adrienne Shaw [10:47]:
They’re perfectly lovely.
Cathy Hannabach [10:49]:
But not all students probably care.
Adrienne Shaw [10:50]:
It’s not they might not care but also I felt like that was revealing personal things about me that I don’t necessarily reveal to my students. I put up things that are a little more neutral in terms of who I am. There are still the kinds of things I have up on my office walls, like nerdy posters or pictures of places I’ve been.
I used your webcam, I used my laptop webcam, I used my computer webcam, trying to figure out what the best webcam configuration is for how I wanted to record, even though I know that the vast majority of the time I’m recording myself as this tiny little square at the top of a PowerPoint image in a video that’s 10 minutes long. But making sure all of that works, troubleshooting different audio setups, figuring how to set up the microphone so that it would record the best while minimizing other noises, testing different free or free-to-me via Temple video editing software.
Adrienne Shaw [11:56]:
I’ve really tried to do all of my lectures in one take. They’re short because I think that more students will watch them that way. Also they’re short so that I can get through it in one take. But sometimes it’s easier to just edit some things out. I found easy but not expensive editing software so I can cut out that one section where my computer is flipping out about something.
I also discovered, depending on how the sun moves through the sky, what times of day I can in fact shoot in my office and what days I can’t because it’s too bright and it basically washes out the entire camera. Every single person I know who’s at least spent their summer thinking about recording has been dealing with those same issues. I know people who actually bought video cameras so that they could record their lectures outside. I know other people who use different Zoom backgrounds to hide what their apartment looks like. I don’t like those because they cut off my hair in weird ways and they don’t work on everybody’s computer. I feel like half of our spring faculty meetings were people playing around with what they wanted their Zoom persona to be because for a lot of us, we’ve spent decades creating our in-class, this is what we wear to class persona. And suddenly it’s like, what is that behind me in my home office?
Adrienne Shaw [13:18]:
We had to buy an air conditioner. We had to buy an air conditioner for the second floor because we’re not usually both working here all summer long. If it gets too hot I always had the option to go to campus and I don’t have that option anymore. Or go to a coffee shop or something.
I’ll say one of the other things I do too is that in order to break up recording lots of lectures. I mean, I’ve recorded probably 25 lectures between the end of May and the end of July and in order to break it up I have a costume change in between each lecture. It’s silly. Most of the students won’t notice but it helps me feel like each is a discreet moment and it feels like it’s important to at least pretend like these are different days even if I’m recording five in a row because the construction next door is stopped for a period of time and I have no idea how long it’s stopped for. So I’m going to record as many things as I can before they start again. Or because the neighbors’ kids are loud. It’s a lot of doing as much as I can within the constraints of where I’m trying to record, which is not an environment I can really control.
Cathy Hannabach [14:29]:
Scheduling is also something that we’ve dealt with a lot. In the spring, when you were doing this kind of on the fly and I was also having to make adaptations on the fly, we did as much as possible to make sure that it didn’t conflict. And this was when we had crappier internet. We tried to not be on Zoom at the same time because it would take out the internet for both of us.
We set up a shared Google calendar which we already had anyway just to keep track of stuff. But we made sure that our work stuff was on there too so that we knew that if you were recording a lecture or you were having a live chat with your students, I knew that I couldn’t have a meeting with a client or I couldn’t talk to one of my editors during that time. That got a little busy and challenging at times.
Adrienne Shaw [15:17]:
It was even harder at the start of summer. I co-teach in the fall and my co-instructor has two small children. So we were trying to record as many of the lectures we both had to record at the same time early enough so that we’d have time to edit those because those require a bit more editing.
We were scheduling around your work schedule, my work schedule, her work schedule, online kindergarten, online speech therapy, and finding a time when everybody’s light is good and everybody’s home is quiet. I feel like we hit a few magic hours in the middle of June where we got all of those done. But I don’t know quite how we did it.
Cathy Hannabach [16:03]:
In so many ways a lot of these difficulties or challenges that faculty are dealing with in terms of transitioning their classes to online or hybrid versions is just the sheer amount of uncertainty. This is certainly not something only faculty are dealing with. This is our world right now.
In terms of how it’s affecting teaching, university administrators are often delaying making decisions—sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for less good reasons. Those decisions often change at the last minute and faculty are kind of like, “Wait, what do I need to be doing now?”
Obviously parents are dealing with uncertainty about whether their kids are going to be home and if they need to participate in their homeschooling or their online education in any way.
I know you and a lot of your colleagues are being asked to prepare multiple versions of a class: the purely online version alongside the hybrid version, alongside the just in case we happen to all be on campus that’s not going to happen version, and some other weird combo of things.
I’d like to talk about that uncertainty because it shapes how we approach teaching and how we can approach any of our jobs these days.
Cathy Hannabach [17:17]:
What are some of the ways that you’ve tried to decrease the amount of uncertainty that you’re facing and how has that helped you design your fall semester?
Adrienne Shaw [17:28]:
Yeah. Temple didn’t decide to go online until after spring break, whereas most other institutions decided during or right before. So I spent all of spring break pretty sure that we were going to go online but nobody had said anything. They were just like, “Just in case, make some contingency plans.” I spent spring break figuring out how I could move my class online and then imagining every single week moving forward if we were in person, hybrid, or totally online.
Soon we went fully online, by which I mean that Temple told us on Monday to get ready for the possibility and then Wednesday night by like 6 p.m. said, “By the way, we’re moving online starting next Monday. Get ready.”
So it’s like okay, well I’m ready. But it was super stressful but it helped that I had worked through what it would mean for me. So before the spring semester ended, I and my co-instructor went to our chairs and were like, “We knew we can make really good versions of online classes if we have the summer to do it. We also know that we cannot pivot to co-taught classes in addition to our other solo classes simultaneously if we move online suddenly. We need to plan ahead.”
Adrienne Shaw [18:52]:
Our co-instructor planning always happens months in advance because we have very different schedules and we have very different teaching loads. My co-instructor is a non-tenure-track faculty member and she has more classes than I do. So we need to get everything together.
Fortunately, I have very understanding chairs. We had to have a meeting discussing what the plan was. They wanted to make sure that the students weren’t going to be disadvantaged by us moving online and that we thought of all of the contingencies and how we would include students who don’t have high speed internet access or who might even be in a different country. Especially in our MA program, we have a lot of international students. And we had thought of that. We had planned it.
This reduced my uncertainty. I’m very much of a type A, plan everything in advance person. Even if this wasn’t a pandemic, my lectures would have been prepped by the end of July for fall regardless. They probably would have been prepped by the end of June if I didn’t have to record them. That’s just the kind of planning I do.
Adrienne Shaw [19:54]:
But for my co-instructor, she still doesn’t know what school for her children is going to be like in the fall. They still haven’t made a final decision for the school that her kids go to. Having to plan for potentially online kindergarten and first grade as well as possibly online, possibly in-person classes was a lot. So I was like, “Well at least we can minimize these two classes for you and make sure these are ready to go.”
A lot of the concern for us moving online preemptively before the university made a decision is that there are a lot of vocal students who hate online learning. I have to say that I blame faculty for that. Faculty have also poo-pooed online learning. We disparage online learning on a regular basis, despite the fact that we are constantly asked in a survey every single semester whether or not we’d be willing to develop any of our classes to be online classes.
Adrienne Shaw [20:54]:
We’ve been asked that question every year since I’ve been at Temple. How willing would we be to move to teach online?
There are reasons faculty have been resistant that are good and that’s around questions of intellectual property and who owns the class. If I record all of my lectures and put them online and then you give it to somebody else to teach and they’re teaching with my videos that I created that I’m not getting paid for. Those are questions that the university really has never answered.
But there are others that are just like, I just don’t like it or it’s not as good. I’ve had so many people I know this summer talk about how awful online learning is. And I was like, “Yeah, but for some, that’s what they get. That’s the option.” It’s harder, it’s different, but it’s not bad necessarily. I think that getting out of that mindset of online is somehow lesser is one of the things that helped me and helped my co-instructor think about what’s good about moving online. We can focus developing our classes in ways that are better than just trying to adapt to what we had done in the classroom and move it to Zoom.
Cathy Hannabach [22:02]:
So much about that online teaching conversation, both the easy or simplistic dismissal of it and the figuring out what works about it and how can we make it work for your individual situation aspects, is about accessibility. Accessibility is obviously a concern for any university classroom or it should be. But I think the expansiveness of that term and of that concept has really been brought home and become more salient in this current transition to online and hybrid classes.
Disability activists have been fighting for these issues and for the right to online education for decades and to make it better. But I know for folks who don’t have any experience with disability activism or disability justice, they’re often learning about these things for the first time. For instance, they’re learning that things like childcare are accessibility issues. Scheduling of classes or class meetings is an accessibility issue. Internet speed and who has it and who does doesn’t, and when can you access the internet and through what kinds of devices, is an accessibility issue. Video captions, transcripts, making your course content and even the websites that you’re posting that course content on ADA compliant are perhaps a little more straightforward in the sense that people without experience with disability activism might have heard of those issues.
Cathy Hannabach [23:30]:
Faculty are still trying to figure out how to actually do those often without a lot of support from administration, who often just send them to the disability office website and says, “Do this,” without any kind of answer to, “Well what does that mean in this context and how do you actually do that?”
How do you generate video captions? Where are you supposed to post transcripts? What about childcare? That’s not on the disability student website. Things like that.
How are you addressing accessibility in your teaching and what kind of support do you wish that more faculty got around the kinds of accessibility issues that this transition to online teaching is raising?
Adrienne Shaw [24:12]:
Several years ago, in conversation with other faculty, I realized that my lateness policy was built around the lateness policy I had grown up with. That was, it’s due at that time and no excuses unless you’re dying or something like that. I don’t think I ever phrased it that way. But it was that version of very draconian due dates are due dates.
I realized that that it wasn’t necessarily true, especially in conversations with my friend Katia [Vavova] who teaches at Mount Holyoke. We were talking about the fact that we don’t want on-time crappy papers if getting another 24 hours would have led to a better paper.
I explain to students that the due dates are in place so that I can plan my time. I know that I’m getting a batch of papers in on this day at this time, so I’ve scheduled into that week that I have grading to do so that I can plan the rest of my life around it.
I adopted this very lenient lateness policy which is basically no penalty, just tell me by the due date and time that you can’t get it into me and tell me when you are going to get it into me.
Adrienne Shaw [25:22]:
I have to say that in, I think it’s been five years of using that now, I’ve rarely had a student ask for more than, say, 48 hours. And I’ve rarely had students who have needed an extra extension on top of that. Usually in those cases it’s because other more serious things are going on.
It is a policy that seems really minor but it actually means a lot to students, especially for students who do have disabilities or have children who need to go to the hospital. I’ve had many students with kids need to ask for an extra couple of days because their kid’s sick and they have to go to work and deal with other things.
It’s a very easy thing. I only need to know that you’ll get it to me eventually. I don’t need to know why. I don’t need to know all of your personal information to give you the benefit of an extra few hours to work on this paper that I’m going to grade later. It’s worked to better or worse extents for some classes.
Adrienne Shaw [26:25]:
In large part because we had a mumps outbreak on campus a couple of years ago, I also instituted a new policy where if you can’t physically make it to class, as long as you tell me with enough notice that I can get the tech set up, you can Skype in to class. I had one student who was a single mom do that that semester where she’d either bring her kids and have them hang out at the computer lab near the classroom or she’d Skype in because she or one of her kids was really sick. It wasn’t ideal because the wifi in that room was terrible, but it was an option for her and it meant she didn’t miss the entirety of class.
The semester after that I had a grad student who lives a couple of hours away from the city who was adjuncting at one university close to where he lives and then jumping on a train and taking it to campus for my class and then jumping back on a train and getting home at like 2 in the morning to wake up at 6 am to go teach a different class. I was like, “Or you could Skype in.” Him Skyping in made it that he could participate in the class. It worked really well.
Adrienne Shaw [27:31]:
Because they were grad students and because they were friends, one student was basically in charge of calling him in and maintaining that connection so I could lead class. That’s one of the harder things of about having students Skype in: I’m simultaneously troubleshooting the internet connection while teaching. But this way, it was the reason he was able to take that class and fully participate in it.
That in turn led to how I designed my online teaching. This class can work even if you can’t physically make it. If students are sick, they can Skype in or Zoom in, rather, and participate even if they’re not really talking. They can just listen to us and that’s fine.
I think that for me, meeting students where they are and making the class work in that way, it’s not actually that hard. It just requires thinking through why my policies were policies or my assignments were structured that way. And it means rethinking what are the things that actually matter to me in terms of what students do and what are the things that are just rules or attendance policies or lateness policies had just been copied over from things I’d experienced or other people’s syllabi I’ve seen or what my colleagues are doing. It’s about trying to figure out what do I actually care about?
Adrienne Shaw [28:56]:
I think that helps make the classes a bit more accessible to more students. At least that’s what they’ve told me.
In terms of online teaching, for me as somebody who has chronic pain issues and migraines (and insomnia that makes both of those things worse), online teaching’s actually been really good for me. I don’t spend an hour round trip walking to campus. If I am having a particularly painful day or a particularly sleepless night, it’s easy for me to go upstairs and lie down in bed for a few minutes in between classes, rather than try to get in a couple of minutes of sleep on my office floor, which I have done on many occasions. It’s not a very comfortable floor.
I can record everything over the summer so I know my lectures are solid I know the content that I need my students to get is there. So if I get sick or if the internet goes down or if something else happens or if I just get a really bad migraine, the bulk of the class can run even if I’m not having a good day.
Adrienne Shaw [30:03]:
That was something that I tried to work into my design of my classes. I don’t have to worry about canceling the live session if the live session is bonus.
When it comes to what I wish universities would do, our Center for the Advancement of Teaching has a lot of great people in it and a lot of great technicians in it. But every single session I went to this summer—I was required to do online teaching training this summer—in every session I went to, when I asked an accessibility question, I was told to go speak to the DRS [Disability Resources and Services] office.
I was like, “Yeah but the DRS office can’t control the fact that the learning management software we use and have a contract with doesn’t have accessibility tools built into it.” The voice thread app that’s supposed to be great and that a lot of the various trainings covered and seems like a very interesting tool, the only way it can have closed captioning is if you transcribe the talk yourself and upload them. And I was like, “Or I could use YouTube.” I have decided to use YouTube for my classes because YouTube auto captions and they’re pretty good auto captions.
Adrienne Shaw [31:16]:
Some of the biggest issues are with author names or with my poor enunciation. But I can go in very quickly and edit those to make sure that they’re correct. It means that regardless of whether or not my students are deaf or hard of hearing, sometimes maybe they just want to watch the video with the sound off and that’s fine too. They can just read the words. It’s easy enough to do automatically.
I’ve gotten a lot of advice from the university to just do it if you have a student who needs that. I don’t think that that’s necessarily right. Because not every student who needs it will ask. And not every student will have, if we’re not on campus, access to the DRS office. The DRS office, I’ve spoken to those folks and they’re overwhelmed. They are short staffed and are dealing enough with trying to figure out what students need. They don’t have a dedicated office to accessibility technology.
If DRS and CAT could get together and have an office that is dedicated, that has technicians who can help faculty do these things rather than say, “Yeah we have a computer lab that has that software that will transcribe your videos but you have to go there and do it yourself.” A lot of faculty won’t do that.
Adrienne Shaw [32:34]:
On the one hand, I think faculty should take responsibility for making sure their materials are accessible. But on the other hand, we’re all basically working for free this summer redoing all of our teaching.
If there were a centralized office that it could at least give better advice on how to make these individual things successful, that would be super helpful. In the same way, we’ve had students who are blind or have very limited visual capabilities and whatever software some production class is using doesn’t work with screen reader software. It becomes a question of whether or not the student needs to drop the class or the class needs to pick a different software. And that shouldn’t be the fight, where a class is built around learning a specific tool that is used in the industry and the student can’t use it so that student doesn’t get to learn how to do this thing. Or this industry standard that the other students are learning because it’s an industry standard. Maybe we need to fight with the company that is producing this industry standard software to make it accessible. We can advocate on behalf of our students in that way.
Sorry that was kind of long and rambling.
Cathy Hannabach [33:54]:
It’s a complex issue. One thing that I’m seeing a lot of thoughtful conversations around is that a narrow understanding of what accessibility means just doesn’t work. It’s never worked, as disability activists have long been screaming at the top of their lungs. But it encompasses more things than I think a lot of non-disabled people are used to thinking about in terms of time, in terms of space, in terms of labor, and in terms of intellectual property, in addition to the perhaps more well known issues of transcripts or captioning or things like that—which also, as you point out, still need a lot of work.
Adrienne Shaw [34:37]:
Yeah. There’s also the idea that faculty themselves don’t need accessibility concerns addressed. The move online presumed that all faculty members were able to see and hear adequately enough to do a Zoom class.
Cathy Hannabach [34:55]:
Adrienne Shaw [34:55]:
Every single bit of advice has presumed that you are normatively bodied, that you are in a heteronormative relationship. There’s one session I went to where they were talking about a getting-to-know-you video to introduce yourself to your students and the fact that you’re teaching from home. They advised you to show them your kids.
And I was like, or not. I mean we don’t have kids. Once they heard him barking, my students wanted to meet our dog. But I don’t think it’s our job to display who we are as humans to students necessarily. That can be something people want to do but for that to be best practice advice seems really weird to me.
Cathy Hannabach [35:43]:
It’s very exclusionary, right? It presumes a certain kind of normative family space, home space, living space, and familial situation that most people in the world don’t even have, just numerically. And most people aren’t inherently comfortable with sharing, both on faculty and the student side.
Adrienne Shaw [36:06]:
Exactly. I don’t think in my department but in some of the online teaching sessions or in various online teaching groups, some people are like, “I really want my student to turn on their cameras so I can see them.” And it’s like—
Cathy Hannabach [36:20]:
Adrienne Shaw [36:21]:
But if they don’t want to, that should be fine. There are lots of reasons students don’t want to put their face on a camera. For whatever reason, it’s fine. There are a lot of reasons they’ll have their microphone muted until they’re actually talking. Actually that should be just a go to for everybody. Always mute your microphone if you’re not talking.
Cathy Hannabach [36:42]:
That’s a life lesson.
Adrienne Shaw [36:45]:
There was a how to be professional on Zoom thing that Temple was sending around. It was through the Temple News so this is from the student paper but it was getting sent around to all the departments. One of the examples was to use a Zoom background to hide whatever your space looks like. A student was Zooming into the class from their tub because it was the only private, quiet place they had. I was like “No, the answer should be that student doesn’t need to use their camera if the only private place they have is a bathroom and they don’t want people to see them there.” It doesn’t have to be like you have to wear a suit and tie to take class on Zoom.
Cathy Hannabach [37:21]:
On the issue of accessibility and students faces being on camera or not, I know one thing that some folks are running into is there are some faculty who record live conversations with students or the live class session, whatever format that looks like. This sometimes means recording students, not just themselves, depending on how you have Zoom set up.
So if you’re recording a video that includes student faces, that just raises all kinds of issues around intellectual property to start. Who owns that video? Does your school own that video? Do you the faculty member own that video? What happens when it’s not just your face and your life and your home in that video? When it’s those of your students? Did they consent to that? Where are you sharing this? Are you putting it on YouTube, either unlisted or public? Are you putting it in the school’s learning management software and who owns that content?
The amount of issues that that raises is just staggering. But I think it’s something that a lot of faculty just don’t think about. I don’t think they’re inherently making conscious terrible decisions but they’re making unconscious terrible decisions.
Adrienne Shaw [38:29]:
I think the biggest takeaway is that you have to think about why you’re doing the thing you’re doing. There were a lot of faculty who were just recording it because somebody showed them that that’s what you can do on Zoom. They just set that as the default when they set up their meetings and in some cases, never informed students that that’s what they’re doing. Worse, they would record it to the cloud on Zoom and then have it up because the only way you can get it to upload directly to Canvas is if you record to Zoom’s cloud.
There are so many levels of issues with that. I’ve gone on rants at faculty meetings and have shut down email threads back and forth when people were suggesting how to record things. Because we’re in Pennsylvania and it’s a two-party consent state, I lean very heavily on that. When people ask why I do or don’t record various events that we’ve done internally on Zoom I can say that unless every single person agrees, we’re not going to record this. If the thing that needs to be recorded is my lecture, I’m just going to do that separately. There’s no need to record that on the fly, and not just from a student privacy perspective.
Adrienne Shaw [39:38]:
One of the reasons I know that people don’t record and upload to YouTube is because there are people who have been targeted for harassment on the internet. Nothing I’m recording is something I’m worried about angry people on the internet getting ahold of. But other people are.
I know several colleagues at other institutions who have had students record their teaching and upload it to the internet so that other people can talk about what horrible people they are and it leads to very virulent harassment of them. Recording a live lecture where people aren’t thinking about every word that’s coming out of their mouth is something that can set different faculty up for things like harassing emails, things like harassing phone calls, things like attention from right-wing news media outlets, and up to and including people getting fired for those things. We have to be cognizant of what it is we’re recording and leaving traces of with regard to our teaching, just like we have to do in terms of our scholarship or our online presence generally.
Adrienne Shaw [40:54]:
An added layer of concern that a lot of people advising online teaching don’t think about is, what am I opening myself up to if this is the thing I record? Now, the way I’ve recorded my own lectures, none of that is stuff I’m worried about being online. But I think that that’s something people need to consider as they decide how and what they’re recording and making available. Because even if you just put it on Canvas, students can download that. You can’t control what happens to the content you put out there. I think being more thoughtful about what gets recorded isn’t just a privacy issue, it can also be a safety issue.
Cathy Hannabach [41:35]:
Obviously as everyone is pivoting in some way form or shape their fall semester, they’re also trying to figure out how to address the context that made that pivoting necessary. Obviously there’s COVID-19. But there’s also the global uprising against police violence, the broader political, economic, and cultural structure that is producing the world that we’re living in right now.
You teach in an interdisciplinary program. You teach media studies, you teach fields that are about current events in many ways, so bringing current events into your syllabi and your classroom is nothing new. You’ve always done that. Indeed all social justice-oriented fields work like this. But I’m curious, how in particular with regards to the global uprising and COVID, how are you integrating those as topics into your teaching, whether that’s readings on it or a specific discussion scheduled about it or something like that? Also, how are those things shaping your classroom space and how you’re organizing the structural elements of your class?
Adrienne Shaw [42:52]:
To the structural elements, I think that’s a large part why I’ve designed it so that it can run even if I get sick but also that students can still engage with it even if they get sick. There are ways for them to continue to engage. It’s built in that if you miss some things here or there, you’re not going to fail the course. It’s also built in that it’s easy to catch up whenever you feel up to catching up.
I think in terms of COVID especially, for Mobile Media, Laura and I very specifically decided to not make the assignments about COVID and quarantine. We felt like students are probably overwhelmed with that in other classes. Also, a lot of the spring production projects pivoted to talk about quarantine. So we wanted to sort of give them a bit more space to move with it.
But the class is about mobility and thinking about that. We do an augmented reality project where they’re making augmented postcards of a place they are or a place they want to be. We know that people can’t travel the way that they used to be able to travel. We know that students might not be able to go do projects that allow them to take pictures at various different places. So there’s some freedom in that to play around with what you do have access to.
Adrienne Shaw [44:10]:
There’s a mobile audio project where they make an audio story about a space they do have access to and objects within that space that’s meant to take the listener through that space. What the project was last year was a sound walk, which is an audio project designed to be experienced within a specific physical space. So while the actual skillset of the assignment isn’t different, the concept of the project had to be different because students won’t be able to physically be in the same space.
The video project is a project exploring the idea of what it means to be mobile and what that idea evokes to people, like what is the idea of mobility to people? Some student might talk about that in terms of life in quarantine and others might talk about it in terms of the ongoing protests in Philadelphia and other students might think of it in terms of the trip they wish they could have taken. There are lots of different ways students can go with it. Not forcing them to talk about that was something that was important to us.
Adrienne Shaw [45:19]:
In terms of Black Lives Matter and the ongoing protests against police globally, that’s actually been a topic in my classes as long as I’ve taught at Temple. This is the place that I’ve been teaching Mobile Media and Technology and Culture. I’ve had a unit on cop watching in both of those classes on and off over the years, depending on what different configurations the class is in.
While the prerecorded lecture and the reading is about cop watching generally, in the discussion we can talk about it specifically in terms of what’s happening now. It’s important to me to not just treat what’s happening as current events but as things that come up again and again. So cop watching and police brutality have been issues. They’ve always been issues. They’re things that we can talk about in relation to technology for many, many years and then also talk about what’s different now or what particular things are happening now.
Adrienne Shaw [46:20]:
I’ve always relied on either supplemental readings like optional news articles or videos to talk about current events but always connect them to things that are sort of perennial in the course. It makes it easier to show students that these are structural issues, not the special-of-the-day issue.
Cathy Hannabach [46:42]:
This brings me to my last question, my favorite question, that really gets at the heart of this podcast. It’s a question that has certainly taken on a new frame in the past recent months. But I’m also curious how it applies to how you’re approaching pedagogy in this moment. The question I usually ask is, what’s the world that you’re working towards? What kind of world do you want—in as broad and big and excited of a sense as you want to take that?
So I definitely want to hear your answer to that. But I’m also curious, what’s the world that you’re wanting for this new form of pedagogy? What kind of radical pedagogy or feminist pedagogy or social justice-oriented pedagogy are you working towards when you are designing your classes?
Adrienne Shaw [47:33]:
I think that for me, the goal of my teaching and the goal of my research is to encourage people to figure out how to make the world better for other people, not just themselves. Thinking about the bigger structural issues, the longer historical issues, and how we talk about things making the world harder for different kinds of people is something that I encourage my students to think about.
It’s also what I think is the goal of the changes I’ve made to my teaching over the years and also the things I see people changing about their teaching right now is about. How do we make education work for the greatest number of people? And how do it work for people by default rather than by exception?
Temple recently released new guidance on language for syllabi that include things that I’ve had in my syllabi for a decade at this point. Things like a code of conduct that’s not just this amorphous, be good student code of conduct or we will kick you out of university. But it is like, be kind to other people. Think about other people. The syllabus language we were given talks about that in terms of mask wearing, but it doesn’t have to be just in terms of mask wearing. It can also be in terms of discussion board posts or how you respond to your classmates.
Adrienne Shaw [48:59]:
They also include language about acknowledging difference and making things more accessible and being lenient with students who are having a hard time. And I’m like, yeah, I’ve been doing that. Part of me is glad to see other people’s teaching becoming more like what my and people I admires’ teaching has been. I hope that it doesn’t go backwards. I hope that it keeps going in that direction.
On the one hand, there are very real worries that this move to online teaching and the crashing economy will result in fewer secure jobs in academia and that’s totally true. But I also think that the way we’re approaching this move to online teaching can also make academia more accessible to more people. That’s the thing that we have to hold onto as faculty members—not that we can be replaced but that we can make ourselves available to more people more readily in different ways using these technologies.
Cathy Hannabach [50:01]:
Well, thank you so much for being here in our own house on this episode in this unusual but kind of fun version of Imagine Otherwise.
Adrienne Shaw [50:14]:
Yes. Though your office is the one with air conditioning so I would like to open my door now. [laughs]
Cathy Hannabach [50:19]:
Cathy Hannabach [50:26]:
Thanks for listening to another episode of Imagine Otherwise. Imagine Otherwise is produced by Ideas on Fire and this episode was created by Christopher Persaud and myself, Cathy Hannabach. Audio editing was provided by the awesome folks at Pro Podcast Solutions. You can check out the show notes and transcript for this episode on our website at ideasonfire.net, where you can also read about our fabulous guest and find links to the people and projects we discussed on the show.