Open and Accessibile Education

Megan Heidenreich

Spring 2022

That the Cluster Pedagogy Learning Community (CPLC) began with the book Generous Thinking by Kathleen Fitzpatrick and ended with it are fitting bookends to this experience. You have all been most generous with your expertise in teaching, learning, and working at the University. From shared assignments and syllabi to support groups for those “what do I do!? My student said, “I’m choosing to fail this class.” moments. As a beginner, you taught me what pedagogy is, showed me new ways to teach without always using a rubric, and encouraged me to try new things. I looked back through my notes and course files from over the past three years as I began this reflection. I see a continual theme of community and shared vision and values for PSU. The values identified in the article “The Values that Guide Us:” are present in all years. These values of accessibility, community, empathy, equity, inclusion and respect are core pieces to the success of PSU.

While generosity is not listed in the shared values document, it is exemplified throughout as faculty describe how to execute these values in the classroom. From giving time for the community to build, flexibility in modality/attendance, to shared empathy, the building of equity and respect. These are already costly values, requiring much of our time, presence, and mental and emotional energy. After going through department cuts, reduced staffing, and a pandemic, we are rather depleted. The past three years have been full of hard things!

I particularly appreciated Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s suggestions during her talk for working together better instead of just doing more with less. Doing more with less is just toxic. So how do we acquire the resources to care? This CPLC Community has been a well to draw from when I am depleted. The small group meetings and MS Teams have been a space to share and care for one another. It is easy to retreat into isolation, but one can’t carry the load of living out these values alone. You’ll burn out. Preventing burnout is one area where I see the CPLC being a model for the rest of campus. Is there a way to share this community model with others on campus? As this draws to a close, How do we draw more faculty and staff into our community or form smaller communities that can support each other well?

The other area I see our values play out as we move forward at PSU is accessibility, equity, and inclusion. I see these are three threads of the same rope, empathy. One of the strengths of the CPLC was a community full of empathy that enabled us to be vulnerable with each other. One struggle I have heard from students is sometimes faculty do not understand their accessibility needs or learning struggles. We need to build empathy to get to the place where we can be fully accessible, equitable, and inclusive. When I look for how others are doing this work, I find two that stand out. has a series of videos that share life through your child’s eyes. Children share their own stories of what life is like learning differently. ( The Foundation for Fighting Blindness has coordinated “Dining in the Dark” events so family members can experience a night out like their blind relative. We could really use a program to build empathy for mental health and the challenges mental health brings to learning. This is complex and brings us back to the community. How do we structure a classroom so we can better support students to overcome these struggles? How do we take more time to purposefully train everyone to be people-centered and work on relationship building? How do we build relationships when we are already tapped out busy with 100 fewer faculty on campus? How do we do this and not burn out? I see the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Ungrading to be great steps within the classroom to create an accessible, equitable learning environment and help with the above goals.

Students do not necessarily enter the school with these values already in place. I think almost all of us want to live with these values, but not everyone has had good experiences with them. Some have been so hurt by previous communities it is terrifying to try to join another. Students may have preconceived ideas about different communities that make them hesitant to join in. Respect can look different to different people, and misunderstandings can happen. Equity is challenging as you need to know where people are starting from to know how big of a box they need to see over the fence. Designing a course for all learners is no easy task, and when we give students team-based project learning, they are also encountering these challenges. How do we design an action plan, so everyone is doing a “fair share”? What does a “fair share” look like if we are starting with different abilities, different areas of expertise? When we include conversations about these values in our classes, it can only help students work better together. It builds understanding and empathy between students.

Thank you for your generosity over the past three years. It has been a great pleasure working with all of the participants. I hope to continue to work together even without the formal programming of the CPLC. I look forward to learning more about how to implement the methods and pedagogy of both UDL and Ungrading in the classroom. I’d love to see more variety in how work is turned in for assignments– videos, poetry, etc. I need to work on clearly explaining what I’m trying to do with that and why so students understand the freedom within the assignment. I’d be thrilled to master Ungrading as I see so much potential there for students to get out of the obsession with points and onto the real work of learning.  The workshop last week on UDL was so helpful as I continue to improve on my course. I look forward to learning more in the upcoming workshop on May 16.


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Cluster Learning at Plymouth State: A Community-Based Approach to Pedagogy Copyright © 2019 by Megan Heidenreich is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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