Episode 12-Sensory Bias
0-0:12 Orthotonics Accessible as Gravity plays and fades out
0:14 Hello and welcome to Accessagogy a podcast about accessibility and pedagogy. I’m your host Ann Gagné and this podcast is recorded on land covered by the Upper Canada Treaties and within land protected by the Dish with One Spoon Wampum Agreement, which is the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe peoples.
0:35 Welcome to episode twelve. In this episode I want to explore sensory bias, or in other words how we need to think about the senses in our teaching and learning spaces, in particular when we are thinking about learning outcomes of a course or workshop, and how those learning outcomes align to our activities or assessments.
0:58 Senses are always something that have meant a lot to me. In my dissertation I studied tactility, or how touch is represented, how touch is depicted, the meaning of touch or the meaning of lack of touch. I take this sensory framing into the accessible pedagogy work that I do now. And I’m always thinking about the ways that the senses are used or more importantly the assumptions that are made about what happens with the senses in educational spaces, whether that be in on-campus courses or in online courses.
1:34 Today I want to give those who engage with this podcast a space to think about the sensory. I’m asking you this episode, what assumptions of sensory use are happening in your courses? I will guide you through a couple places where this can be the most obvious in your course design and pedagogy, and then suggest ways of you to think about the senses a bit differently.
1:59 So when we’re thinking about the senses the best place to start is the course learning outcomes. Look at the goals and the outcomes of your course and ask yourself, do some of these have a sensory bias? Now depending on the course that you’re teaching, some learning outcomes will have sensory use built in. So for example, say you’re teaching a course in a personal support worker program and the unit is about lifts and transfers, then there will be built this assumption that the learner will be able to use their arms, their hands, their legs to support and transfer their patient or client. Part of this can be supported with equipment, like boards, or mechanical lifts, but the learning outcome of this unit will more than likely focus on the physicality of the movement and doing it safely.
2:50 So let’s focus on a less obvious situation. So what if you’re teaching a class, say on archival manuscripts. Chances are your learning outcomes are going to focus on looking at a manuscript to determine specific characteristics that you’re discussing in your course, so maybe things like marginalia, or different font use. The way that the learning outcome is written can say things like for example, “Analyze Medieval manuscripts by looking for visual cues for author and printer characteristics.” That could be a learning outcome.
3:23 A learning outcome written in this way, assumes a visuality, that all learners will use their eyes to do this analysis. And education is already very visually biased. However, if the manuscript has been digitized in a way that allows for text to speech, for those who are blind or have low vision, some of this analysis may be done with an assistive technology. So the question becomes does the analysis have to be done using vision only, and if so why? And is the skill or goal here the analysis of the manuscripts, and if that is the case, how can this be done, and not necessarily just be done visually.
4:06 This one of many kinds of examples that occur in the way that learning outcomes are written and can be exclusionary or also assume a sensory use that not all learners may have. So let me try to make this point in a different way, I’m trying here. So say if I had a learning outcomes that was like “Write an essay using archival material by typing words into a keyboard interface” okay so the question is, is the skill the typing or is it outlining and writing an essay with the archival material? Clearly it’s the essay composition and outlining with the archival material that’s the important thing here and not the typing that matters.
4:49 So in fact I can use a voice to text to compose that essay or a different assistive technology tool to cite the archival material where appropriate. So step one is actually to review your learning outcomes and to see if there’s any that are overtly or overy sensory biased. Asking learners to use a sense to attend to a learning goal when that sense has nothing to do with the goal.
5:16 The next place to look for sensory bias is in formative activities. Often formative activities and instructions to formative activities in class again assume a kind of sensory use. An example of this is asking students to say, get up or stand up to do an activity, like to annotate something that’s posted on a classroom wall and maybe the thing that’s posted is posted too high for someone who may be a wheelchair user.
5:44 There are different ways to do this activity that means not standing for 15 minutes at a time. Another example is I see a lot of these asking the learners to line up or move into groups type things and this is any activity that also means some of the sensory aspects of a room are used without thinking about how those may affect some learners. So I’m thinking here about the bright lights in a classroom or maybe some loud sounds that can happen as a result of the activity. So look at your formative assessments and think about like are there some overtly sensory aspects to this that can be changed or choice models built in to that.
6:26 And then finally, another place to look for sensory bias is of course in your assessments and the assessment instructions. We’ve talked a lot about universal design and how UDL can help support choice models in assessment strategies that mean that there are different ways that the learners can show their learning and still meet the assignment learning outcomes.
6:48 And this can also help decrease sensory bias. So for example, asking all the students to create a podcast episode where they’re analyzing a social media platform, could be difficult for a learner who is Deaf or hard of hearing depending on the tools that you’re asking the learner to use.
7:06 So an analysis of a social media platform can also be done with an essay or even a presentation and they would still be able to meet the learning outcomes. So having a choice that learners can have to choose from in the assessment instructions can help avoid some sensory bias in your course design and pedagogy.
7:28 So I hope that these three places, you know, learning outcomes, activities, assessments will help guide a bit of a sensory review of your course design, your materials, your instructions. And sometimes the answer to changing these aspects of courses is not as obvious as others. This, you know shameless plug, is where you can have a conversation with an educational developer, an instructional designer, or any other kind of support that you may have at your teaching and learning centre on campus or online, if you’re lucky enough to have one at your institution.
8:06 So that’s it, that’s episode 12 of Accessagogy, with an overview of some things to think about in relation to the senses and what to think about to make sure that when we are designing and teaching a course that there’s not a lot of sensory bias.
8:22 Remember as well that I also want this to be a space where you can ask questions and share concepts that you would like me to discuss. So if there’s anything that I mentioned here, that you would like me to clarify, please ask.
8:33 As always if you have any ideas or aspects of your pedagogy that you would like me to address in this podcast, please feel free to send me an email at Accessagogy so that’s acc e ss a gogy at gmail dot com. I will try to include as many suggestions as possible in the podcast because ultimately, this podcast is for you. So that’s it, that’s episode 12 of Accessagogy, thanks so much for following along and asking how can I make my space more accessible today? Have a great week!