Category Archives: Uncategorized


Student Self Portrait Artworks created by LaGuardia Community College students in the workshop Seeing Each Other: Identity Self-Portraits

Professor Dahlia Elsayed and Professor Liena Vayzman
April 13 and 20, 2021

Kyana Neil

This is a representation of my activist side and my normal side. By bringing art and social justice together, I decided I wanted to remake a famous painting by Norman Rockwell. My head is served on a silver platter, hard to ignore, but I have very vibrant 60s/70s influenced makeup on. I’m surrounded by people laughing and talking, but all of the white people surrounding me have copied my makeup… and now the laughing seems to be more of a “haha we look just like her.” I tried to connect the “Culture Vulture” experience people of color always go through. Famous celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Gwen Stefani are infamously known as Culture Vultures… they wear people’s culture like it’s a costume. (From Asian, Native American, Black people, and much more!) And me a person of color, surrounded by white onlookers is having the first-hand experience of only being a “thing to eat, or to take from.”

Kyana Neil self portraitDaniel Herrera

I an Industrial Design major at LaGuardia Community College and a future Architecture major at City College of New York. I wanted to show a physical and creative representation of myself. To illustrate this idea, I divided the painting into two pieces. The left side shows my physical self-portrait and the right side represents the creativity coming from my mind. I painted a color explosion full of different paths and figures in contrast to the realistic representation of my face.

Daniel Herrera - self portrait

Giulia Armentano

The work is a reflection on the experience of grief. To create my portrait I went through photographs I recently shot and decided to combine two of them together in Photoshop.  Even though letting myself feel the pain is hurtful, it can also be comforting, an idea rendered by the image of the water carrying me.

I found the workshop interesting in how it showed the different ways in which artists think about themselves and their approaches to describing the aspects that make up their identities. This has given me more confidence in expressing something which, although it has been redefining my entire self, I am not comfortable sharing, even if just through my artwork. Hearing others describe their portraits was rewarding because I learned a lot about the creative process involved in the realization of works that are very diverse, although they were made by people who, at least partly, share the same educational path.

Giulia Armentano - self portrait

Scottie Norton 

I used a 3D rendering app called Blender to create an 8-second looping animation called Late Bloomer (and a still 2D image seen below), a figure representing myself with flowers cascading out of his head, and five hands surrounding the body.

As a non-traditional student, this artwork represents me pursuing my passion of becoming an artist and “blooming” or discovering my power through art after years of working as a retail manager. Each of the hands represents something different. I chose the image of the pencil in white and the black goblet to represent the positive force of creativity and the negative concept of vice. The black hand around my neck symbolizes self-doubt and self-destructive behaviors. Last year I was involved in an attack that broke the right side of my face, and this artwork symbolizes me overcoming this event and emerging with a newfound sense of purpose

Scottie Norton - self portrait

Teshaba Barlow

The work that I made was about working with the materials that I love and reflecting on why I choose to major in Fine Arts at LaGuardia. I painted myself and park-like scenery in the background, with a burst of cherry blossoms on the trees. The workshop helped me identify certain aspects about myself. Some of the words to describe myself in the workshop activity are: an artist, a woman of color, a naturalist, a palette knife, and Guyana, which is the country I come from. I started to sketch in charcoal. After, I painted. Working with thick layers of paint and a palette knife is always fun for me. 

My experience with hearing other people describe their work in the workshop discussion was altogether great. I enjoyed listening to everyone’s backstories, or struggles they faced with the project. I thought some were inspirational. And I found myself relating to them.

Teshaba Barlow - self portrait

Noelia Carrasco

I loved seeing everyone else’s work, which gave me a sense of what other kind of artists there are in the world and OUR SCHOOL!! 

[Self-portrait description: Drawing of the head and torso of a woman with long wavy brown hair, cat-eye makeup, and a nose ring. She is wearing a long-sleeved pink and green striped shirt under a black tank top, and an earring in the shape of a red heart. Two butterflies are flying above her and a halo of flames surrounds the butterflies and woman.]

Noelia Carrasco - self portrait

Kristen Chan

I am an Asian American artist from Hong Kong, currently studying photography at Laguardia Community College. I chose to base my self-portrait on five words that identify who I am, and repeat them over and over until they fill a silhouette of myself. The words “Asian American”, “Dreamer”, and “Immigrant” all refer to my identity as a Chinese immigrant growing up in America, while the words “Gamer” and “Artist” refer to hobbies important to me. The silhouette features a girl wearing floral hairpins. Such hair ornaments are typically matched with traditional Chinese hanfu clothing. The black silhouette was drawn using the software Procreate and text added on in Photoshop.  

Kristen Chan - self portrait

Lucas Neira

Art is about freedom and life. This portrait is about me and my dog. I painted the sky yellow because yellow means joy and happiness. The reason I’m happy is because the dog symbolizes a special key to achieve my smile. I always wanted a dog and now I finally have one. I named him Choco and he is a beautiful brown shih-poo. He is my 21st birthday gift and I am so happy for what I have.

Lucas Neira - self portrait

Liah Paterson

I loved the idea that self-portraiture does not have to be a literal image of one’s face – something that I had not previously thought about before this workshop. I sewed symbols onto an article of clothing. The symbols represent specific family lore and imagery present in my childhood.  It was difficult to challenge myself, to not only pick up embroidery after a five-year hiatus but to identify strategies to allow the imagery to maintain what I often try to capture with paint – an eerie familiarity, a questioning of what tales are behind this image.

[Self-portrait description: photograph of a black dress with embroidered words and symbols with close-up images of a duck, a tree, and house with flames coming out of the window]

Liah Paterson - self portrait

Zonghua Zhang

Hand-drawn with multi-colored pencils, I created a lizard man —  a scene with a joyful atmosphere to show a true me and my love of reptiles.  It was a fantastic experience to join the workshop. It brought me to a wider horizon level to understand what self-portrait is and can be shown from many different perspectives and it also can be expressed in different techniques.  I’m really happy to see other classmates’ artworks, full of unique creative ideas that inspired me. It was a good opportunity to share our ideas and learn some new styles of art from others.

Zonghua Zhang - self portrait

Tanesha Jenkins

The 5 words that came to mind to describe myself were creative, photographer, artist, magical, and extravagant. I like to embrace the concept of black hair with visually beautiful details like flowers, butterflies, plants, colors, etc., and make it over the top to place emphasis on its versatility and beauty. I used glitter and crystals as a nod to the “Black Girl Magic movement” which celebrates the beauty, power, and resilience of Black women. She’s holding a camera because I’m always taking pictures. 

I loved all of the examples and styles of what a self-portrait could be. I even researched some of the artists that I heard of for the first time in the workshop. I wish there was more time to see everyone’s work because it was fascinating seeing how other people portray and think of themselves. The creativity was great and now I actually want to play around with digital art. Great workshop!!!

Tanesha Jenkins - self portraitRongxin Xu

[Self-portrait description: digital painting of a woman wearing a hooded pink coat, holding a book with handwriting open with one hand, which is also carrying a bag of mandarin oranges]

Nour Mohsen    

I am studying Industrial Design at LaGuardia Community College. In my self-portrait, I decided to draw one of the pyramids, of Khafre (خفرع), in the background with the Egyptian flag above it, representing my culture. As all Egyptians, I love football, so I represent it in my self-portrait with a (Soccer) Ball symbol. I played video games from when I was 10 years old. I drew a gaming mouse in the bottom left of the portrait to represent how the gaming world took place in my life. I connected all those symbols with a drawing of myself looking back toward the things that represent myself both past and present. For the border, I used the ancient Egyptian language (Hieroglyphics). I used a pencil and a marker on a drawing pad.

NNour Mohsen - self portrait

JunHui (Erik) Chen

The five words I chose to describe myself in our workshop “Seeing Each Other: Identity Self-Portraits” are freedom, curiosity, loner, nervous and slow-to-warm-up. When I see these words, I think of cats. I consulted cats’ movements — like when they stretch their waist — and combined them with a human, plus some of my characteristics such as short hair and wearing a T-shirt.

JunHui (Erik) Chen - self portrait

Alvaro Chavarriago

My self-portrait is based on my own experiences, struggles, and battles to get ahead in this country as an immigrant. I chose to draw my hand because with it I can create a lot of things and help many people. My hand represents what I am and what I came to do not only in New York but as a Human Services student at LaGuardia Community College: Educate myself to help others.

Alvaro Chavarriago - self portrait

Leuvy Alvarez

I am a future teacher from LaGuardia Community College who loves art. I made a self-portrait using a photoGrid app. The photo I used in this picture was taken by one of my best friends as a model for her page, which is a small business clothing page, where I had to show my confidence. I’m using music notes as my arms. A raining cloud in my head includes a sad emoji, a flower, a sun, and a thankful emoji. The objects in the cloud represent insecurities, sadness, hope, and thankfulness. The rain represents growth: Flowers need rain to grow. Music makes me stand despite the war of emotions.

Leuvy Alvarez - self portait





Who Set The Fires? Interrogating the 1969 Student Protests at Brooklyn College (CUNY)—A Theater for Development Project

by Dale Byam, Ph.D., Department of Africana Studies, Brooklyn College

In 1968, 19 (later reduced to 17) Black and Latino Brooklyn College students were arrested in their homes on charges of arson and rioting at the college. The students were detained at Rikers Island for 4 days. Though the charges were later dismissed, the incident marked a turning point for the College

The decision to investigate this period sprung from a phone conversation with a community activist who, in the course of our discussion, reflected on her years at BC during the 1960s. She recalled the discrimination she had faced in some of her classes that led her to join student protests on campus. I began searching through newspaper archives confident that the event was something I wanted to look into further. Two articles stood out through words and imagery. The first, published on May 21, 1968, focused on BC’s then-acting President, George Peck. The article offered an interesting perspective of the acting President; his perception of the student protest as “a mindless approach to the problem,” his love of Milton and Donne, his academic background, his weight, his height, the color of his hair, his apartment in Brooklyn and his country home where he spent time sawing wood. The second article (NYT May 16, 1969) lead with the photo of a young student reading Plato while students of color marched by in a mock funeral procession. I learned nothing about the student protestors’ concerns through these articles. Why did the journalist choose to mention the President’s penchant for Milton or his second home in the country? How did the journalist know that the young woman was reading Plato? Did he ask her? If so, did he attempt to talk to the students who were in the procession? Who were those marchers? What did they love to read? Where did they spend their time?

Original caption: Mock Funeral: Students at Brooklyn Collee yesterday mourning “the death of justice,” referring to indictment and arrest of 17 students for arson and rioting. Girl in the foreground read Plato as the demonstrators passed by.

Fifty-three years later I had the opportunity to interview three BC Alumni members of the Brooklyn League of African American Collegiate(BLAC) organization and the Puerto Rican Alliance (PRA) who were arrested during the 1968 protests, namely Dr. Orlando Pile, Antonio Nieves, and Dr. Askia Davis. The interview ushered in the formal beginning of the Theater for Development project “Who Set The Fires?”

Theater for Development is inspired by the pedagogy of the late educator Paulo Freire. It is one aspect of a development strategy aimed at addressing specific community concerns through a collaboration between development agencies, artists, and other interested parties. At BC we set out to investigate student activism on the campus. As the work unfolded we gained insight into what seemed to have evaded the media of the sixties, the humanity of the protestors. We learned about the students who were active in the pursuit of fairer representation on the campus. Antonio Nieves eagerly shared over three hundred photos that documented the period of activism and sat for an interview with Temar France, a member of our team.“….Tony did such a brilliant job of documenting what happened at the time,” Temar observed. She continued, “The photos really do give you a window into what was happening and to just the simplicity of the fact that this was the work of artists and organizers and people who cared about each other people who are in community with each other. And that that was a threat to the government? That they were scary enough to be infiltrated? It just shows you the power that happens when you are a collective and when you work together and when it is something that’s centered around your education.” Along with interviews, students have added to the archives of the 60’s protests and devised an interactive video game focused on the anatomy of student activism.

The project will continue in Fall 2021.

A member of Black League of Academic achievement on Campus campaigning for representation on Student Government (1967) (photo courtesy Antonio Nieves)

Project Participants: Dale Byam, Amanda Enzo, Temar France, Assata Gonzalez, Anya Kopischke, Lanisha LeBlanc, Jean Michel Mutore, Naijah Whetstone

Dale Byam is a professor in the Department of Africana Studies at Brooklyn College. Her research focuses on the retentions of African performance in the African diaspora and Theater for Development initiatives in communities of the African Diaspora. Her research ranges from Culture and Development projects in southern Africa to the retention of African art forms in the West that includes Caribbean and Brazilian popular performances with special attention to the Maracatu of Northern/North Eastern Brazil.

2021 Health Communication Symposium Recap

by David H. Lee, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Communication, Department of Humanities, New York City College of Technology

There are large disparities in health outcomes for New Yorkers according to race, gender, income, education, ability, etc. CUNY students from low-income families and racialized groups are among the hardest hit by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and among the most impacted by furloughs, unemployment, and crowded living conditions.

The 2021 Health Communication Symposium at City Tech was a public forum on health disparities. The event took place online and included guests and speakers from around the world. There were over eighty people on the call.

Ann Delilkan, Chair of the Humanities Department, made opening remarks about a new Bachelor of Science degree in Health Communication being offered at City Tech. Welcoming remarks were also made by School of Arts and Sciences Dean, Justin Vazquez-Poritz, Associate Provost Reginald Blake, and Provost Pamela Brown. Gary L. Kreps, University Distinguished Professor of Communication and Director of the Center for Health and Risk Communication at George Mason University, noted the necessity of vaccination to obtain herd immunity.

The plenary address, from Dr. Lisa Grace-Leitch, Associate Professor and Deputy Chair of the Health Education Department at Borough of Manhattan Community College, was entitled “Examining Health Disparities in the Diagnosis, Treatment, and Care of Black Women with Autoimmune Disease.” The presentation illustrated the disproportionate incidence of autoimmune disease (such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, psoriasis, and others) among black women. Stress from food insecurity, income disparities, systemic racism, incarceration, etc. is implicated in the onset of more than eighty different autoimmune disorders.

After the plenary session, there were three half-hour parallel sessions in breakout rooms. In room one, Amanda Almond, Associate Professor of Psychology from the City Tech Department of Social Sciences, presented “Methods for Studying Race and Health.” In room two, Linda Bradley from the City Tech Department of Nursing brought together a panel of speakers from other departments, including Thalia Pericles (from Hospitality Management), and Nandi Prince (from the City Tech Library). Their panel, entitled “Interdisciplinary Reflections on COVID-19,” looked at the impact of COVID on their respective fields. In the third room, Dr. Dionne Bennett, from City Tech’s African American Studies Department, presented “Intersectionality, Intersubjectivity, and Representations of Gendered Racial Trauma.” Each room was well attended with about twenty-five participants.

The keynote speaker was Mohan J Dutta, Dean’s Chair Professor of Communication at Massey University (New Zealand) and Director of the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE). Dutta’s Google Scholar page lists 364 publications and over eleven thousand citations. He is the author of books such as Communicating Health: A Culture-centered Approach (2008) and Neoliberal Health Organizing: Communication, Meaning, and Politics (2015), among others.

Dutta’s presentation was a critique of business as usual in public health communication. He identified what he terms “neoliberal strategies,” which view health as mostly a result of individual choices rather than structural determinants. Dutta noted that the idea of “targeting” at-risk groups perpetuates an ideology of whiteness, and proposed, instead, “learning to learn from below,” citing Gayatri Spivak. As examples of culturally centered communication-based health interventions, he noted women agriculturalists in India “taking back the communicative apparatus” and creating their own media, plus other examples.

After the Symposium ended, I hung around for another hour talking with students. One of my students, Melky Saint-Surin, expressed hope that events such as this might help raise consciousness and focus energy on the problem of health disparities.

Thank you to Transformative Learning in the Humanities for sponsoring this event, and for their generous support for Health Communication majors. Special thanks to Christina Katopodis.

Towards a Critical, Decolonized Pedagogy: An Interactive (Re)Visioning

The field of Library & Information Science is often downplayed within spaces of higher education. Librarians are frequently positioned as somehow different than “teaching faculty,” considered the real scholars and educators, with the Library at the margins. And in a way, it’s true that the cornerstone of information literacy instruction – commonly known as the ‘one-shot’ – is a challenge, different than a semester-long course immersion. Librarians are tasked with offering a single session within which students will do the following: Receive guidance on how to assess sources, identify a scholarly article, accord to the standards of academic writing, properly cite sources, and perhaps, hopefully, become energized by the zest of research. At least, this is what we aim for.

When we invited Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz and Veronica Arellano Douglas for a Transformative Learning in the Humanities event hosted by the Mina Rees Library, all of this larger context was in mind. Knowing their work, the depth of their commitment as educators – we looked keenly forward to the interactive workshop, and to the potential insight and power in their vision(s) of transformative pedagogy.

We titled the event – Towards a Critical, Decolonized Pedagogy: An Interactive (Re)Visioning – to bring together the theoretical underpinnings of what is often termed “critical pedagogy,” in conversation with the more practical side of classroom experience. The goal, as stated in the event description, was to encourage participants to “reflect on specific examples of transformative learning praxis – moments when they sensed a shift in students’ understanding, and the associated context or framework that lead to that moment.”

As the event organizer, the practical emphasis was perhaps also driven by my own curiosity – so often these conversations are purely theoretical, and not fully grounded in a recognizable terrain. As a group, we discussed possible topics before the workshop. Questions came up, that would later be intertwined with the presentation themes: How do we know that a moment of transformative learning has taken place? Is it determined by an instinct, an observation, or something else? And to facilitate this possibility, what is the most important element in the critical classroom?

“What kind of trust do you need and want…and why is it necessary to you?” – Veronica Arellano Douglas

Interestingly, the event coalesced to center around the concept and experience of the presence of something distinctly less palpable, and not quantifiable by any assessment, rubric, or educational metric: Trust. Veronica Arellano Douglas expanded upon her own question above, stating: “As we explore power we need to explore trust – and understand that vulnerability isn’t the right answer to everything all of the time. Trust is a complex relational act and the more we talk about it and examine it, the better we will be able to cultivate that trust with people who learn with us.”

Douglas spoke of the lack of trust at times; the need to develop a genuine rapport with students, and the problem (so common to the single-session Library instruction session) of inheriting a classroom that may have its own dynamics, a set hierarchy of professor/student. She asked everyone in the room to contribute – either in the Zoom via chat, or a Google Jamboard (see below) – a response to a series of questions about trust in the classroom.

“There’s no way to get students through this portal without their being entangled, engaged…” – Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz, on liminal spaces

In her presentation “A Critical Decolonized Pedagogy | A (re)visioning trifecta seeking Ancestral Connection,” Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz addressed the process of learning, linking it to the idea of “liminal space,” as well as individual (or collective) ancestry. Using the ACRL Frameworks for Information Literacy as a starting point, Smith-Cruz expanded upon what elements are necessary for learning, offering Laura Rendón’s “Sentipensante Pedagogy” as a parallel vision of the traditional classroom space. Identifying some of the unspoken assumptions of academic culture, such as “Agreement of Separation – that teaching and learning are linear,” and that the student studies the subject matter from a distance,” Rendón offers an alternative, involving “the balance between inner and outer knowing,” as well as “respect for diverse cultures” as a primary cornerstone for all educational ventures.

Alongside a series of compelling images, Smith-Cruz identified “liminal space” as a kind of rite of passage, even a portal: “It’s the feeling of discomfort, the moment of receiving of new knowledge, for which learning is possible…the experience of troublesomeness, of worrisomeness, unsettling, disturbing, stuck-ness – and whether we want to get students to that place.” This is a refreshing departure from not only the student as passive learner, but also the expectation -and often the unspoken goal – of a static, neutral, and conflict-free classroom environment.

I asked Smith-Cruz if the liminal space was also an ephemeral space – something temporary, that we enter into and then exit, thereafter changed. She responded: “The Oxford English Dictionary defines ephemeral as transitory, i.e. for a short time. With that I’d say, it requires a very present experience, embodied, and can be identified as a passageway, portal, so yes, it would be ephemeral, but it is lasting, and ever-impacting – as if a coloring with permanence, and so, forever imprinted.”

For Smith-Cruz, there are clearly intersections between the various forms of knowledge that we each bring to the traditional classroom environment, and the radical potential within. Just last year (2020), Smith-Cruz was awarded the ACRL Women Gender & Sexuality Studies Award for Significant Achievement, sponsored by Duke University Press, for her work archiving and exhibiting the Salsa Soul Sisters, the first lesbian of color organization in the United States. To facilitate an archival collection of this kind – exhibited at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, Brooklyn College, and The New-York Historical Society – requires a unique level of trust, and community-based commitment. Through both her archival work, and the invocation of liminal spaces, Smith-Cruz offers a powerful model for teaching and learning – based on a belief in people that is itself transformative, and deep.

“The possibilities that exist between two people, or between a group of people, are a kind of alchemy.” Adrienne Rich, On Lies, Secrets, and Silence

The experience of this workshop – both from the audience feedback and presentations by Smith-Cruz and Douglas – brought to mind a favorite quote by the poet Adrienne Rich (above). In her 1975 essay “Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying,” Rich speculated – “I fling unconscious tendrils of belief, like slender green threads, across statements such as these.” Emphasizing the importance of trust, and belief in the words of others, towards hope – she also writes that a revelation of truth “may bring acute pain, but it can also flood me with a cold, sea-sharp wash of relief.”

To focus on trust is itself a much-needed provocation, a radical axis on which to define the critical classroom. A question mark, in a sense, hovers around and within our interactions. Do we trust each other, by default? How can trust be built and then maintained? Whose words are considered trustworthy – whose conclusions, valid? Teaching information literacy is surprisingly close to this fertile edge of belief, of trust, of Rich’s “sea-sharp wash of relief.” We must, in a sense, welcome the stranger – be willing to ask the questions that challenge our primary sense of being, of what we know.How do we begin to open our minds and hearts, to layers of knowing that may make us uncomfortable?

Unpacking these questions can be a part of the invitation to learning, and we are honored to have been able to partake in this process alongside Veronica Arellano Douglas and Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz. To engage in a collective reflection process also points towards the potential of decoloniality: towards expansive (re)visions of the future, and what we can therefore know.

Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz is an archivist at the Lesbian Herstory Archives, an Assistant Curator and Associate Dean for Teaching, Learning, and Engagement at New York University Division of Libraries. She is a Co-Chair for the board of CLAGS: The Center for LGBTQ Studies at the Graduate Center. Shawn has a BS in Queer Women’s Studies from the CUNY Baccalaureate Program, an MFA in Creative Writing/Fiction, and an MLS with a focus on Archiving and Records Management from Queens College. She is the 2020 recipient of the ACRL Women Gender & Sexuality Studies Award for Significant Achievement, sponsored by Duke University Press for her work archiving and exhibiting the Salsa Soul Sisters, the first lesbian of color organization in the country.

Veronica Arellano Douglas is the Instruction Coordinator at the University of Houston Libraries. She received her MLS from the University of North Texas and BA in English from Rice University. Veronica writes about teaching, critical information literacy, and intersections of librarianship, gender, race, and ethnicity. She blogs at and and is the co-editor of the recently published Library Juice Press book, Deconstructing Service in Libraries: Intersections of Identities and Expectations.

Elvis Bakaitis is currently the Interim Head of Reference at The Graduate Center’s Mina Rees Library. Bakaitis is proud to serve on the University LGBTQ Council; the board of CLAGS: The Center for LGBTQ Studies; and LACUNY Diversity & Multicultural Roundtable, and holds an MLIS from Queens College and Certificate in Geriatric Care Management from the Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging at Hunter College.

Considering Accessibility & Equity in Assessment Design

As educators with the City University of New York, we know that our learners come to our classrooms as unique individuals. They bring with them diverse experiences and backgrounds. 

Assessment and Learner Variability 

In learning environments, individual variability is the norm, not the exception.” UDL and Assessment | An Introduction to UDL and Assessment

In our role as educators, we use assessments to measure student understanding and progress. The purpose of an assessment is to measure what our students can do, or know.  If an assessment doesn’t accommodate the wide variability of our learners then they fail to do what they must by design: evaluate our students and provide us with vital information about their learning and our practice. 

 It is an essential part of our courses. It is therefore essential that assessments accommodate learner differences if they are to be effective. We must design our assessments with the diversity of our learner needs at the forefront. 

Equality vs Equity

Equality implies giving everyone the same thing, whereas equity implies giving everyone what they need.  How can we consider these needs when designing assessments for our courses and how can doing so support equity and access?

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an educational framework that was developed by a US research group CAST that educators can use to design learning experiences to meet the diversity of needs for all of their learners.  

Some may perceive that the UDL approach applies to or only supports learners with special needs; however, as educators, we want to ensure that our teaching is accessible to all of our students. ‘So how can we support the needs of all learners and make learning equitable?’ 

The UDL framework suggests that educators provide learners with multiple means of engagement, representation, and action & expression in order to accommodate learner variability. In this way, they can meet the needs of all learners by giving each learner the things they need to be successful. 

Multiple Means of Engagement 

We support our learner’s persistence and motivation by making sure we are aware of and remove obstacles to our learner’s attention, and connection with content. 

We support our learner’s engagement by considering ways to provide learners with:

  • Autonomy 
  • Optimization of individual choice
  • Relatability/Relevance
  • Value
  • Authentic community

Students who find participation to be challenging often feel more secure contributing when they are able to share their thoughts and ideas anonymously. This example from AnswerGarden allows learners to build knowledge together about how they perceive history. Other tools used to support anonymous contribution to group discussion are Mentimeter or Nearpod

Allowing learners choice of topic supports engagement by optimizing choice and enhancing student’s sense of autonomy. John Spencer stated on his blog that, “research should feel like geeking out”. Invite your learners to feel excited about what they are learning.

Multiple Means of Representation

Attend to learners’ differing needs in how they perceive content by representing content in a variety of formats and emphasizing important features and relationships.

We support our learners by providing:

  • Multimedia representation
    • Audio
    • Video
    • Text
    • Illustrations
    • Modeling/Simulations  

Tools such as Padlet pictured on the right, allow us to share articles, infographics, podcasts, videos, and more for courses. Learners can comment and even contribute their own texts to the collection. Providing multiple representations for how learners access content that meets student needs.

Other ways to curate content with your learners and provide multi-media representations for course content are Wakelet, and Google Keep.

Content that clearly identifies and draws attention to important features and relationships using bolding, underlining, highlighting, bulleted, and/or numbered lists.

The presentation of this lesson provides learners with headings, bolded text, bulleted and numbered lists, and visual supports for each section. Formatting content in this way supports learners in understanding content and making connections

The presentation of this lesson provides learners with headings, bolded text, bulleted and numbered lists, and visual supports for each section. Formatting content in this way supports learners in understanding content and making connections. Mayer’s Multimedia Principles provides additional guidance on clearly representing content for learning.

Multiple Means of Action & Expression

How might we provide our learners with choice as to how they show what they know? 

We support our learners by providing:

  • Choice 
  • Support

For this assignment learners used a tool called Book Creator to represent their exploration of a topic of their choice within the theme of Language. Students were able to draw, write, add multilingual content, record their voices, and embed video and other multimedia to support their work.

 Assessments must be designed with the needs of all learners if they are to be effective.

Consider the principles of the Universal Design for Learning framework when creating assessments and design with the diversity of our learners in mind. 

Feel free to contribute your own ideas for how you design accessible and equitable assessments to this Padlet.

Thank you! And an opportunity

Dear Colleagues, 

Thank you for all your heroic work this year for CUNY students, for sharing your pedagogical innovations with one another, and for the long hours you put in to support 275,000 students online. We are filled with admiration and gratitude for all you do, and we hope that this winter break brings you some well-deserved rest.  

To honor your hard work and expertise, we are offering support for event co-sponsorship in Spring 2021. We’d like to support your efforts to share your best teaching strategies and tips with CUNY colleagues and the general public. Please consider applying here.  

Co-sponsorship includes $500 awards for event organizers (both full- and part-time CUNY faculty), up to $500 in honoraria for non-CUNY speakers, and other forms of support. Priority will be given to applications received on or before January 15, 2021. If funds remain, additional applications will be considered through March 1, 2021. 

From all of us on the TLH team, we wish you good health in the new year, 

Cathy, Shelly, Christina, Khanh, and Annemarie 

Resources on the Efficacy of Active Learning

A recent study reminds us of the importance of active learning. This study reveals that student learning suffered during the switch to remote teaching earlier this year, but that small group activities helped to reduce this loss. See “The Power of Peer Interaction” by Colleen Flaherty, published by Inside Higher Ed on November 3, 2020.

The research on the value of active learning (or the term we prefer: participatory learning) is irrefutable. In May 2014, several scholars from a variety of STEM disciplines published a meta-analysis of 225 separate studies of different ways of teaching and learning. In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), they argued that active learning improved student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics, from test scores to retention and applicability, or the ability to apply classroom learning to new situations. They write, “students in classes with traditional lecturing were 1.5 times more likely to fail than were students in classes with active learning.” A follow-up meta-study conducted in 2020, showed the same kind of results were even more evident if difference, equality, diversity, and inclusion were taken into account. Another showed equally significant improvements in learning and understanding for international students. One popular account of the PNAS study quipped that if comparative results had been this clear cut in a pharmaceutical study, traditional pedagogy would be taken off the market.

Yet, for most of us, even those most eager to change how we teach, transformation is not easy. We have been rewarded for our success in the traditional system of formal education—as have our students. In fact, another 2019 PNAS study of large-enrollment introductory college physics courses showed that even though students in an active classroom learn more, unless instructors show students how active learning works, the increased cognitive effort required during active learning makes students feel as though they learned less. The authors write, “As the success of active learning crucially depends on student motivation and engagement, it is of paramount importance that students appreciate, early in the semester, the benefits of struggling with the material during active learning.” Metacognition, or taking time to reflect on what we are learning and why, is a crucial part of the participatory learning process. If we are going to ask our students to do more—to be responsible co-learners and not simply do what is required to ace the final—then we also have to give them something meaningful, with more tangible and lasting results. 

Metacognition is where deep and meaningful learning happens. “Scientists believe that self-awareness, associated with the paralimbic network of the brain, serves as a ‘tool for monitoring and controlling our behavior and adjusting our beliefs of the world, not only within ourselves, but, importantly, between individuals.’ This higher-order thinking strategy actually changes the structure of the brain, making it more flexible and open to even greater learning” (Price-Mitchell). Rarely do we describe for students what and why they are learning. Yet “reflection” or “metacognition” (the structured, intentional consideration of what one has mastered and how one has mastered it) is one of the most important cognitive tools we can pass on to our students.


Louis Deslauriers, Logan S. McCarty, Kelly Miller, Kristina Callaghan, and Greg Kestin, “Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 116, no. 39, 2019, pp. 19251-19257,

Scott Freeman, Sarah L. Eddy, Miles McDonough, Michelle K. Smith, Nnadozie Okoroafor, Hannah Jordt, and Mary Pat Wenderoth, “Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 111, no. 23, 2014, pp. 8410-8415,

Mauricio Marrone, Murray Taylor, Mara Hammerle, “Do International Students Appreciate Active Learning in Lectures?” Australasian Journal of Information Systems, vol. 22, 2018,

Marilyn Price-Mitchell, “Metacognition: Nuturing Self-Awareness in the Classroom,” Edutopia, April 7, 2015,

Theobald, E. J., et al., “Active learning narrows achievement gaps for underrepresented students in undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and math,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 117, no. 12, 2014, pp. 6476-6483,