Empathy Maps and Access

Empathy maps are a common assignment especially in business and design courses. However, the traditional template for an empathy map can suggest and prioritize a sensory reaction to the environment that not all students may be able to engage in.

I am always open to different ways of organizing assignments so that they are more inclusive and I would be really interested if any learners and instructors can share the different labels that one can use on an empathy map so that it is more inclusive.

Can you think of another assignment or template that also uses the same sensory nomenclature?


What is Digital Literacy?

It is definitely important to have a conversation about digital literacy as it is a term that is often used as a catch-all for many other skills that we assume that learners have. Similar to the discussion around the concept of digital natives, a concept which is much more complex than simple age bracket and rather has many class and geographical valences, digital literacy is often taken for granted and also very much misunderstood.

I like to conceptualize digital literacy as being subsumed under information literacy. Therefore, if we focus on information literacy primarily then digital literacy can be a subset of this. The diagram below indicates a conceptualization of  how I see the interrelation between information literacy and digital literacy (there are many others to add to this list but this is a start).

Information literacy as the root of digital literacy, numeracy, intercultural literacy, and research skills
Information literacy as key


Thus finding the appropriate source of information can lead to different pathways, which emphasizes the importance of literacies plural, one of which being digital literacy. So digital literacy is about taking the concept and finding the tools that will help connect to that concept and also help relay that concept to others. It has a technical aspect yes but it also has at its heart a pedagogical aspect for it does not exist in a bubble. Digital literacy is relational and is also (as mentioned above in relation to digital natives) based in class, geography, and access.

Engagement with digital literacy should be first and foremost accessible. If you approach tools from a universal design principle you then can decide why an infographic may not necessarily be better than a PowerPoint with voice over or a video with captions. Digital literacy is knowing that access should come first, and there are many exciting ways to impart that to faculty and then on to students.

Your Teaching Philosophy in a GIF

There was a really great hashtag that was started by Jesse Stommel I believe in December of 2018 called #TeachingInaGIF. https://twitter.com/Jessifer/status/1071042387764568065


Folks would post their teaching philosophies in GIF format and the results were really diverse and engaging.

Here’s mine:

Frances McDormand Saying "Inclusion Rider"
If it isn’t inclusive do you even pedagogy?

This is a great way to distill all the concepts that go into your curriculum and teaching. I encourage you to follow that hashtag and share your own teaching in a gif- you will be surprised with what your colleagues will come up with.

Using a Passage to Engage and Elaborate on a Topic

a small case a and an upper case AB with an arrow on top of each

Caption: Sometimes it’s fun to use math and physics symbols

Above is one of the first things I thought of when I stopped to reflect on what “thought vectors” meant, or using a passage of text to engage and elaborate on a topic.

This passage from “Professional Learning-What is it and What Does it Mean to You?  Or: I’ve Just Done a Bunch of Learning and Want a Plan to Learn More” below by Alana Callan at Fleming College really resonated as someone who is very much invested in my own professional development and the professional development of others:

”   1. Set clear and obtainable goals and objectives– just like you do with your students (Instructional Goals)

2. Critically review the resources(Materials) that you will use. Look for open resources that will connect you with the connectors that will help move (or push) you to advance your learning by constructing new knowledge

3. Develop (or create) your content, diagrams, maps, presentations (Materials) that showcase your learning (write a blog and publish it openly.)

4. License your work/picture/presentation to be reused for attribution so that your learning can be built upon

5. Evaluate your learning and refineit as necessary, seek feedback from other (local and online peers)

Most importantly, share your work. You’ll find that sharing and seeking feedback provides you with the next part of your plan and the next path you’ll take on your professional learning journey.”

Sometimes passages can create a meta resonance or a layered engagement. This is an example of one. It is a passage about PD that was found in a mOOC that many are doing as PD and it helps set up more PD. So basically it is this:

Cartoon door opening infinitely
Doors all the way down

Life-long learning is an important foundation of professional development and also forms some of the foundation of the mission statements of the colleges and universities where we work.  Point 1 in Callan’s piece is often forgotten when we think of PD for it may be something that is mandated instead of done for a person’s own goal. How to get buy-in from faculty for PD is to make sure that the PD is in line with their own goals.

Point 2 is all about  the importance of resources and as I have discovered through experience it is important to have a place to curate resources. Some will use a blog (or blogs for this). For a time I used to use Evernote https://evernote.com/ but some modifications in there terms of service meant that I had to stop using it because privacy is important and too often commodified

https://gifer.com/embed/JbcVvia GIFER

I look forward to more suggestions on where to curate resources from my PLN.

Connected to resources in Point 2 is Point 3 which speaks to all the time and effort we put into creating something that is useful and engaging for others and ourselves. I have so many Piktocharts https://piktochart.com/ but it was Point 4 that really drew me to this nugget which was the licensing aspect. We often don’t think about licensing and how that in turn allows folk to build on the work you have already done.

Cartoon seagulls on a rock saying "mine"
Mine mine mine and yours yours yours

The more open educational resources created the more students and other learners will see how learning is a collaborative process that allows for analysis and refinement of concepts Step 5. Sharing ideas and resources on a blog is but one way to allow for collaboration. Often we leave it to the comment section of a blog to help move analysis and refinement along and that can be the big barrier to creativity and pedagogical invention.

We need to move beyond that and sometimes sharing on social media like Twitter helps the discussion along and allows for an increase in your PLN- so let’s move this learning in a positive direction.


Introductory Ice Breaker

Four people holding a golden trophy made out of cardboard

There are many kinds of ice breakers but one that I found really works well because it pushes folk to think of something that often people don’t ask is the following:

  1. What are 2 things that you feel you need to work on in this class/workshop? How do you know this?
  2. What are 2 things that you are really good at in relation to this class/workshop? How do you know this?

Question number 1 usually brings up things that people have told them in the past that may have changed how they view their competency in the material. Question 2 is often the most difficult question for folk because they are used to people asking them what needs work instead of what they are already really comfortable with or where they excel. I have had students and faculty both tell me that they had no answer to this second question, and I make them search further and think about not just mental or physical skills but also emotional skills that will assist them. Are they great listeners? Do they have great awareness ability and skill?

By asking folk to think about what they are good at instead of just what they need to work on, it sets a more positive tone to the beginning of the semester.

The Importance of Inclusive Metaphors

Cars seemingly coming out of a cell phone that is being held by a hand onto a road

The idea of threshold concepts is an important one in education. As much of the discussion in the mOOC has explored it becomes increasingly difficult to scaffold teaching and design concepts within curriculum without an awareness of these “expert blind spots.”

For example, if you have been writing and editing learning outcomes for a long time just presenting a learning outcome formula to a student or a faculty is not going to get at the root of why a learning outcome is structured that way. Sometimes we forget the reasons or the beginnings of our thought process because it is so much part of what we do in our daily lives.

The metaphor used in the mOOC is “like driving a car” and though I understand the principle, it also brought up something that I think is equally important with threshold concepts and the metaphors we use to explain things, which is having inclusive metaphors. Not everyone drives so not everyone will understand the terminology around “checking blind spots” or how mirrors should be positioned. I have been using the same “I have faith in you, not just the George Michael kind” line for years and increasingly less and less folk get my joke.

Inclusive metaphors are difficult to be sure. Not everyone remembers that Simpsons episode about the Island of Dr. Moreau (though you should look it up). So when you use comparators in your classes and curriculum don’t assume everyone will get the one concept you have picked and maybe have a back-up. I often use wraps as a metaphor because many people eat different kinds of wraps.  Driving is a threshold concept many have but I don’t and I think that it is very geographically dependent (if you live in the city you don’t need to drive as much if there is good transit). It’s very interesting to get meta on threshold concepts and this is an excellent concept to continue discussing going forward.


I am using this activity to think about the conversations that I have with faculty around curriculum. So why address curriculum and take time to understand the foundations that inform curriculum from both a pedagogical and policy perspective?

  • It allows to scaffold the learning in your classes and makes learning “easier” for students
  • It gives you new techniques and philosophies that you can use outside your classroom as well
  • It makes sure that quality is present in all aspects of programs
  • Allows for interdisciplinary discussions to happen which create communities of learners
  • Allows for the creation of a support group for ideas and feedback
  • Defines boundaries and barriers that need to be addressed
  • Creates discourse around differences (and similarities)between higher education institutions and what is seen in K-12