326. UDL in Action

Universal design for learning, or UDL, is a framework to help us design more equitable learning experiences. In this episode, Lillian Nave joins us to discuss how she has implemented a UDL approach in her first-year seminar course. Lillian is the Coordinator of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning for Student Success at the Appalachian State University Hickory Campus and a senior lecturer in a first-year seminar course at Appalachian State University. She is also the host of the ThinkUDL podcast. She is the recipient of several teaching awards and often serves as an invited speaker on UDL issues.

Show Notes


John: Universal design for learning, or UDL, is a framework to help us design more equitable learning experiences. In this episode, we discuss how one faculty member has implemented a UDL approach in a first-year course.


John: Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.

Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

Rebecca: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.


John: Our guest today is Lilian Nave. Lillian is the Coordinator of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning for Student Success at the Appalachian State University Hickory Campus and a senior lecturer in a first-year seminar course at Appalachian State University. She is also the host of the ThinkUDL podcast. She is the recipient of several teaching awards and often serves as an invited speaker on UDL issues. Welcome, Lillian.

Lillian: Thank you very much. And I applaud you on all of the monikers that I currently have attached to my name that often don’t make sense. So, very good. And of course you said Appalachian in the way we say it down here in North Carolina and I don’t have to throw an apple at you. [LAUGHTER]

John: Well, I’ve heard it so many times on your podcast that I wanted to be sure we got that down.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are:… Lillian, are you drinking tea today?

Lillian: I am and I brewed it specially for our interview today, it is Bengal spice, which is a Celestial Seasoning herbal tea that is caffeine free. I went caffeine free a while ago, and it’s fantastic and I don’t have to put sugar or honey or anything in it. It has cinnamon sticks and it’s delicious and my best friend in the world got me hooked on it. And it always just makes me feel warm inside and makes me think of the lovely conversations I have with the people who I’ve drank tea with in the past. And I also have iced tea because I continuously drink iced tea and this one happens to be actually just a Crystal Light [LAUGHTER] iced tea as well.

Rebecca: And I did notice, of course, and must state that there was a Tea for Teaching mug involved.

Lillian: Yes, exactly, and I appreciate that. John saw me at a conference and I was so happy to get my Tea for teaching mug that I made sure I was drinking from it today.

John: And I am drinking a peppermint spearmint blend today… also caffeine free today.

Rebecca: I am drinking a highly caffeinated afternoon tea [LAUGHTER] to make up for everybody’s caffeine deficits.

Lillian: Well, I have plenty of chocolate throughout the day that is not caffeine free.

John: So we’ve invited you here today to discuss your work on Universal Design for Learning. We probably don’t have many listeners who aren’t familiar with UDL, but for those who are not as familiar, could you provide an overview of Universal Design for Learning.

Lillian: Of course, and I’d be glad to. Universal Design for Learning is a way of thinking, I would say, about teaching and learning that relies on three main concepts that include: engaging your students, providing accessible materials for your students, and varying the ways that your students can explain to you that they’ve learned something. And it is all based on neuroscience and also a lot of research that tells us that all of our students are different. Variability is the norm. And so we have students in higher ed that come from all different backgrounds, different cultures, different preparedness levels, different abilities and disabilities. And in order to reach all of our students, it’s important to think about that variability and universal design for learning gives us some really specific things to look out for. And three areas or categories: the engagement, the representation, and providing multiple means for those and multiple means of the student to express their knowledge. And so that’s like the general overview, but there are like so many weeds, that I can have a podcast [LAUGHTER] and talk to people about all of the different intricacies of UDL. But in general, that’s it in a nutshell.

Rebecca: I know we’ve talked about it a bit on our podcast before in terms of the difference between UDL and accessibility. But for those who haven’t heard those previous episodes, can you talk a little bit about the difference between those two ideas?

Lillian: Yes. So, accessibility is a part of Universal Design for Learning. You cannot have universal design for learning without attention to accessibility. But accessibility alone is not universal design for learning, it’s a part of it. And I like to think of UDL as like a three-legged stool. If you take out one of those legs, the stool doesn’t function anymore, it will fall over. And one of those legs is multiple means of representation. It’s typically the center column that’s purple if you look at the UDL guidelines at UDLguidelines.org. CAST puts those out. And that middle column about representation is about providing multiple forms of representation, so different texts or audio files, or making sure your font is readable too, especially for dyslexic students. So accessibility is about making sure that all students can access materials, that they have the ability to make sure they can actually get at that information. And this is less common now, but there used to be like those PDFs that a professor copied out of their book when they were a student and it has all their like markings and stuff in it. And then they would just like make a read really bad copy of it, and hand it out when everybody still used paper all the time, or maybe it’s on a screen. And those oftentimes were not accessible. And that means if a student needed a screen reader to read it, or even if they just needed to make the font bigger, they couldn’t because it wasn’t an accessible document, a screen reader couldn’t read it, meaning if a student was dyslexic or even blind, they had really no way to get at that information. So when you make your documents accessible, and you make your class accessible, you are making sure that everybody really just is on an even playing field, and they can get at that information. But in addition to accessibility, you want to make sure you’re also giving lots of opportunities for students to express what they know in different ways. And you’re also engaging with the students. And those two other things are not included in accessibility. That’s what makes up UDL.

John: How did you become interested in UDL?

Lillian: Well, I started working with our Center for Teaching and Learning in 2016 as a faculty fellow and I started doing faculty development as a one-course release for quite a while. And in doing that, we became part of a grant that was in three North Carolina institutions that was called College STAR. And STAR stands for supporting transition, access, and retention. And it was a two-pronged approach where there was a lot of student development, so tutoring centers and things like that. And then there was this other side, and that’s the part I got interested in and got pulled along with and that was supporting faculty. And to do that we used Universal Design for Learning. And I was just part of that grant. And that ended up me being the Universal Design for Learning Coordinator at Appalachian State. And I started going to different departments and introducing that at workshops and that sort of thing. So I became kind of the UDL girl or UDL lady for App state, which I think is about 2016 when that started, and then I saw it, like I’d never heard of it before, and I’d been teaching since 1997. And then I thought, oh, boy, this is really good, this makes a lot of sense. And so I started implementing it as well in all my classes.

Rebecca: So we’ve talked a little bit about UDL principles broadly. So can we dig into maybe a specific example, like your first-year seminar course? That sounds pretty interesting.

Lillian: Absolutely. So my course right now, I teach one called intercultural dialogues, and I get first-year students, and so I love it that they’re small, under 24 students. This past year, I was at our new campus in Hickory, and I only had 18 students there. And we get to work on intercultural competence, which is one of those major things that colleges want our students to know. It’s a 21st-century skill, and it is about understanding our own cultures, and then understanding that other people have different cultures. And then how can you mindfully act and interact with somebody from a different culture. And I have heard some students, at the end of the term, say “this is something everybody should know, like, this is really, really important.” They’ve seen how important it is. But at the beginning of the class, like nobody wants to be there. Nobody wants to take a first-year seminar course. They’re usually there because it’s Tuesday morning and they have an open slot. I’m in that unenviable position of teaching first-year seminar, and it’s that Gen Ed requirement that nobody wants to take. So I want to make it interesting, and I want to make it worthwhile for them, and so we learn about our own culture and then I also match students up with students abroad. We’ve worked with students in Doha, Qatar, in China, in Morocco, in Germany, Thailand, and Japan in the past year, and they work on intercultural competency skills and talk about things like power distance in the classroom, or some of the UN Sustainability Development Goals, like gender equality by 2030. And so they’ve done some things with students in China about that. So the class itself is about intercultural competence. And I have infused a bunch of UDL into this class over the years. And so it wasn’t all at once, but it took a while. And so that means I have multiple ways for the students to get at that information. So there is never just one way to do the reading. It’s either accessible or I’ve recorded a voice audio file for students. So we have a lot of commuter students at this campus, and so actually, we have zero students who live on campus in our new campus in Hickory. It is a new campus, it just started and so there are no dorms, there’s only one building and we’re all in that one building. And so students come in, they have jobs, and so UDL is very helpful for me to think about those students who have various commitments of their time. So they could listen to the audio file rather than read the book, because they’ve got a 40-minute commute to come into campus or something like that. So they’ll have an audio or video. I’ve used H5P, which is on our learning management system, which is like an interactive video, there’s VoiceThread, which is another way to be kind of interactive for students to participate. And so there’s always multiple ways for them to get at that information. And then there’s multiple ways that I ask them to tell me what they know. And they’ve done concept maps, so we have very little like, “write me a paper,” there’s very little of that my class. And that’s also a culturally competent type of teaching thing, because we often in an individuated, Western academic model, we prioritize reading and writing, reading and writing, reading and writing. That’s always what it is. And yes, we need to have very good readers and writers. But there are lots of other ways to learn and express your learning that might be more prevalent in other countries and in other cultures. And so they’ve had to draw some of their answers, they’ve had to give me a visual representation, they’ve written a poem, drawn a cartoon, and tell a story. One of their first assignments is to bring in something that expresses who they are, a cultural artifact. And then the last class that we just had recently, I asked everyone to name everybody else’s cultural artifact, so they learned about each other that way. And it was things like a keychain or one student brought in the T-top of his T-top convertible car. [LAUGHTER] Because the car was really important to get him around and all that stuff. And engagement is the last part. But it’s really the first part that gets students interested in the activities and in the learning and why they should learn. So I start off with a liquid syllabus, which is a syllabus that students can access outside of our learning management system, and they can see what we’re doing, and they get a video of me talking to them. And that’s supposed to be engaging. And then they have a lot of authentic assignments working with students overseas. And this year, because I was finally back in an actual classroom and not doing remote teaching, as I have been since 2020, I took students up to New York City. And Appalachian has this amazing loft that actually anybody can go stay at so all of your listeners could go and stay at Appalachian’s loft, and it’s very inexpensive. It’s like $70 a night per bed, and it’s these two rooms of 10 beds each. And we took students up there to actually learn a lot about culture. We went to the Tenement Museum, they looked around, and it was very cool. So experiential type of education as well. So that took like years before I got to that rendition of how I teach that course. But those are all UDL principles that guided me.

John: You mentioned collaboration with students in other countries, what types of collaborative work did those students do in your classes?

Lillian: They had specific zoom meetings that they had to do personally one on one. So one of them is that students got matched one on one with fellow students in Morocco. And they were supposed to talk about the difference in power distance in an educational setting. So power distance is the amount of power that people in a group expect and believe should be shared or held by the people in that group. So in an educational setting, if you’ve got a first-year student who comes into a large lecture hall on a college campus, there is a larger power distance for that instructor who will pretty much lecture to those students, students don’t raise their hand all that often, there’s not a lot of back and forth, there’s not a lot of flexibility, they probably don’t even know the students’ names. And so that would be an example of a larger power distance. A smaller power distance might be in a classroom, like in my classroom, I say, “You can call me by my first name, you can address me in this very informal way. We’re not going to have a lecture, we’re going to be in small groups, and then we’re going to share our ideas.” And that way, there’s a lot more voices, there’s a lot more talking. And that can happen in various times throughout the semester. I may do a lecture, I may not. And so my students were talking with students in Morocco to find out about their understanding of what power distance was. And do you call your professor Dr. Smith? Or what do you address them by? Are there rules about when you can address your professor and those sorts of things. So that was one of them. And then we worked with students in China, and this one was a series of three Zoom conversations. And all of our students had to set all these up. They were all in English because our partner students wanted to do this in English, and most of them had never spoken to a native English speaker. So this was a really good goal for them. And in China, they can’t have Zoom, not allowed. And so the students had to receive our invite from our students, and their first session was kind of an introduction: who they are, what they’re doing, for about an hour. The second was a second list of questions, which was about: Who takes care of children? Who goes to work? Who do you live with? Do you live with an extended family? Do you live with a nuclear family? And it was really about gender roles. And one of those things that’s a national cultural dimension is something called achievement versus nurturance. And that continuum has also been called in the past: masculinity versus femininity. And it’s how much a culture believes that men and women should adhere to somewhat stereotypical gender roles. So are there women CEOs, and stay-at-home dads? In some countries, that happens in some cities. That happens a lot more than in other countries. Do you put more emphasis on earning a higher wage? Or on having the flexibility to work from home? Like, where are you on that? And so the students talked about that. And then in the last session, they talked about: if you could change anything, what would you see that might improve your country from where it is now and that sort of thing. So they got to do some really authentic conversations with people around the world, and the students in China were 12 hours ahead. So my students were meeting sometimes at two in the morning, but they were up, [LAUGHTER] it didn’t matter.

Rebecca: So it sounds like there was a lot of coordination with counterparts around the world to make sure that you designed experiences for both sets of students that met, maybe not the same learning objectives, but learning objectives that were relevant for each population.

Lillian: That is exactly it. And it was my colleague in China, who said she wanted to do something about the sustainable development goals from the UN. I said, “Okay, well, let’s try and look at that.” And it worked for each one. And it is a lot of coordination for the faculty. And so I would meet with my fellow faculty member several times throughout the semester. And so we got the dates right for when we’d have Thanksgiving, nobody else had Thanksgiving break, and we have holidays, and they started a month early or a month late, and so there was a lot of coordination. And then they had to give me the list of all the students and I needed gender, too, because some students wanted to stay within their own gender, women, especially, in Morocco where some were less likely to speak to male students, who wanted to stay with female students. So we wanted to be culturally sensitive to those types of things. So there was a lot of beginning coordination to set those things up.

Rebecca: I wanted to circle back to one other thing you said too, in that you mentioned your classes developed with all these UDL principles over a significant period of time.


Rebecca: I want to know how you got started, what was the first thing you implemented? And how did that set a trajectory for the others?

Lillian: The first thing, way back when, probably 2016, 2017, like the big aha moment for me, was not doing the same thing all the time, and not having to grade everything, meaning maybe we were just going to do some honestly experimental assessments in class that were kind of fun and authentic. And I didn’t have to grade everything. And when I kind of let go of that, it opened me up to some more ideas. And then I thought, well, I don’t need them to write a paper, because I really have a specific goal in mind. And the goal doesn’t necessarily need to be a paper that then I’d have to read, [LAUGHTER] it made my life easier too. Maybe they just needed to demonstrate their understanding of these concepts. And so like one of the first things we do is draw an iceberg, and talk about how the culture that we see here, taste, feel, smell, all those five senses, that’s about 10% of what makes a culture. And when we think about culture, it’s usually just those things, it’s like, “Oh, you eat this special meal on Lunar New Year, and you have these special foods, and the kitchen always smells this way, or we dress up in cultural clothing, or whatever.” But that’s really only 10%, the tip of the iceberg. And then we have to get really deep into what our values and beliefs and assumptions we make. And that’s typically the hard part of the class. And so I just had students either draw an onion or an iceberg. And then they had to kind of point to where this was, what are your deeply held beliefs and assumptions, and that culture is so much more. And it’s a lot easier, I think, to conceptualize it as a drawing than it is to write me a paper about what your deeply held beliefs are, [LAUGHTER] and where they align with the things that I can see on the outside.

John: You mentioned that the first thing you had done was reducing grading and doing more formative assessments, which is beneficial for students too because it takes some of the pressure off and gives them the opportunity to try something, make mistakes, and learn from that without any penalty. Is that something that you’d recommend for someone who’s interested in exploring UDL, as a first step, if they’re not already doing that?

Lillian: Absolutely, I think it frees up both the student and the faculty member to kind of see what works. And so much of Universal Design for Learning is about feedback, feedback from the students. And that is a major portion of UDL. And I should have said that at the very beginning, that you really want to be figuring out what works for the students and what works for you. So I do think that’s a great way to think about it. And also, the flip side of that coin, to me as well, was whoever is doing the work is doing the learning. So if you are always lecturing to your students, it’s hard, like, you got to put together this great lecture, I always felt like I had a top hat and a cane, you know, walking into my lecture, and yadda-dat-dah, I’m gonna, like dazzle you with my art historical knowledge, and make it interesting. And I was doing a lot of work to do that. And I have slowly moved into kind of the other end of this continuum, from lecturer into facilitator. And if I can facilitate the students working together, or a lot of feedback back and forth with me or with each other, then they’re actually risking some things like “talk to your neighbor about this,” and they don’t have to raise their hand in front of the large class, they’re actually trying and risking and doing these smaller things. And that’s where I see the learning happening. If they’re just listening, that’s fine, that’s great too, but the more they can participate in their own learning, the better it is, that I’ve seen, certainly in my classes, the more they can do, the more they’re learning. But it doesn’t mean I have to evaluate every single thing that they hand in, or that they produce. And I can certainly, on the spot, kind of tweak things and say, “Okay, let’s turn it into this direction,” or something like that. But it was the: “I don’t have to grade everything they do” and “The person who’s doing the work is doing the learning.” And it was like freedom for me to try all of these things that were totally not what I had done as a student, or had valued as a student or an instructor because I was very much in that: “Alright, you’ve got a 15-page research paper, a midterm, and a final, and that’s the art history course.” And I don’t do that anymore.

Rebecca: Well, it sounds like not only is there a benefit to the faculty, in terms of workload, joy, [LAUGHTER] etc, but also an emphasis on self efficacy for students and building confidence.

Lillian: Oh, yeah. Exactly. And they’re trying things out, and they’re seeing what works. And that feedback is really important, a big part of UDL.

John: And you mentioned that it took you time to build to where your courses currently are. Is that an approach you’d also recommend to faculty who are beginning to introduce UDL principles, because it can be a lot of work completely redesigning or transforming your teaching?

Lillian: Absolutely. I don’t know if I could have done this stuff early on in my career, because I was worried about how I looked and was perceived. I was very young, and so I think I needed to feel like I was in charge. And that power sharing was too difficult for me as a young instructor. So I understand that. And now I feel much more comfortable in the classroom. And I feel that being a facilitator is really helpful for the students. And sometimes they just want to sit and listen, but that happens too. But it took a long time to get there. And the course has evolved over a long time. And you try new things. Tom Tobin and Kristen Behling talk about the plus one mentality, just trying one new thing. And that’s what happened, is when I started this course, we weren’t speaking with students in other countries. That just sort of happened when I went to a conference and made some friends in other countries and said, “Oh, I bet this would make a lot of sense to add this in.” It’d be really authentic, which is one of the engagement principles is having really authentic learning experiences. And I used to be like, “Oh, you’ve got to plan everything out, and it has to be perfect.” And now I see that I fumble through a lot of things. And every once in a while something sticks, and it’s good. It’s a practice. They say being a doctor is more of a practice. I think being a teacher is very much a practice to see what works and what worked in my class five years ago, doesn’t necessarily work now. Things that were really fun and hot at some point, you know, like making memes is pretty fun right now, but we didn’t do that 10 years ago, and we probably won’t do it in another five years, like, what did you learn? Let’s make a meme out of it. It’s evolving.

Rebecca: It’s interesting that we’re talking about a course about culture. And you’re describing how the culture of higher ed or institutions or our classrooms also evolve. And that evolution requires risk both on the part of the instructor as well as on the part of the students, and that the UDL principles are really allowing that risk to happen on both ends.

Lillian: Yes, and sometimes there are forces outside of our control that make that more difficult, and it’s not an enviable position. So things like I wish I didn’t have to grade, but we still have to have grades in the end. And so how does that fit into your course. And so I know a lot of folks are using ungrading. I know you’ve talked with Susan Blum and Josh Eyler about various different kinds of grading, which I think is like a later on kind of thing for UDL. Start with accessibility, make sure your stuff is readable and devourable by all of your students, and then start kind of playing around with it. And then maybe I think that ungrading or different kinds of grading structures might be the last step on that process. But to each their own.

John: One of the issues involving student variability is that some students might be resistant to some of the approaches that you’re using, because there have been a number of studies that show that students often prefer to be lectured at. And it seems like they’re learning more that way, despite the evidence that that’s less effective. How do you persuade students to be open to trying new approaches to learning?

Lillian: Great question, I know exactly what you’re talking about, like students, they’re like, “this is how we learn best,” and then you actually poll their knowledge. And students in an active learning situation who kind of hated it are much more knowledgeable than the students that were just in a lecture where they really liked it, because that was kind of safe. And in the last year or so I’ve heard myself saying this a lot when I do speaking, and when I’m talking to folks, is I think everybody needs to be uncomfortable in the classroom, some of the time. We don’t want the same students to be uncomfortable all of the time. So that means varying those different ways that we assess students, so it’s not the “alright, every week, you’re writing a paper,” oh, that also gets boring. But for your great writers, it’s fantastic. But are we really finding out what that student knows? Are we finding out that they’re a good writer. And so maybe that’s a poem, or maybe it’s a concept map, or there are other ways to assess that info. And so I tell my students, like, I’m really conscious about that, like, you probably aren’t going to like some of these things, but your neighbor isn’t going to like the next thing. And so having those opportunities that you have to step out of your comfort zone, to get into the learning zone, but not all the way out to that outer edge of the target, which is the panic zone. And that’s actually an intercultural competence idea that I learned in that field. When you study abroad, the only way you’re really learning is if you’re in that learning mode, like if you go to Germany, but you’re living with a bunch of Americans, and you never speak German, and you go to McDonald’s, and you’re at an English speaking school, then have you really learned much about German culture? So you should go outside of that comfort zone. Maybe you’re living with a local family, and you have to speak German, but you don’t want to go and you are in like a chaotic household and they don’t speak English, and they haven’t made sure that you have any food, and you don’t feel safe, and all the classes you are way ahead of you in your German speaking. And so you’re not learning much either, you’re kind of panicking. So it’s that learning zone we have to be in and so I think in our classrooms, we need to do that too, have multiple different ways for students to express what they know, which is one of our UDL guidelines. And I am very overt when I tell students that. And I found that with student evaluations, like I would get student evaluations where they asked like, “Did you practice critical thinking skills?” And they’d be like, “No, like, I totally didn’t at all.” [LAUGHTER] And then the next year… and I think I learned this at like an academic conference… the next year, throughout the course, I’d be like, Okay, we’re gonna do this critical thinking exercise, this thing that we’re doing right now, this is about critical thinking, you’re going to use your critical thinking skills because this thing that we’ve done, that’s a critical thinking skill. Guess what? The evaluations… way up. [LAUGHTER] Exactly like you’re pulling back the curtain and you’re saying, like, here’s actually why we’re doing it, and this is what you’re doing. And so I think explaining that is really helpful. And then the students know why they need to do something like what I’ve asked them to do, why am I writing a poem or why am I drawing an iceberg? And I think we do need to tell students that and not just have them guessing, because then they’re going to be in the panic zone and not learn so much.

Rebecca: That’s a really good point to remind students that being uncomfortable and taking risks is actually part of the learning process. Can’t remind them too much.

Lillian: Yeah, exactly. It’s necessary. And they do want to just sit and doodle. And not that doodling is bad. But they just want to sit and listen and have us do all of the work. But it’s like, I know this stuff, so why do I need to explain it? You could just watch a video of me talking. We need to get you into grappling with this and doing the stuff that I know you don’t want to do and you don’t want to be here because it’s a first-year seminar and you’re a first-year student. So my heart is with all of those folks that teach Gen Ed [LAUGHTER] to the students who don’t really want to be there.

Rebecca: Switching gears a bit now, can you talk a little bit about how you started the ThinkUDL podcast?

Lillian: Yes, it’s going back to that College STAR grant. We were getting into doing like workshops, and so I was working with other universities in North Carolina. And we had a PI, the head of it was at our East Carolina school. And I said, “Do we have any multiple ways to do this. They were doing research and then some workshops. And it just made sense to me like, we need a podcast, like this would be so off brand for UDL not to have multiple means for us to get this information out. And a podcast has the added bonus of being asynchronous, so people can listen to it whenever they want. I’ve always had transcripts, too. So if you don’t want to listen to my voice, which is totally fine, you could read the transcript and you can get that information, you can see the resources. So there are multiple ways to get it. But there was money from that original grant that sent me and my shout out to Tanner, who was my first sound engineer, and we went to a podcast convention in 2018 in the summer in Philadelphia. And seriously, I didn’t know a thing at all. I didn’t even listen to podcasts then. The only one I’d heard of was the Teaching in Higher Ed with Bonni Stachowiak, and then like, “Okay, we’re gonna try it.” And the very early episodes are, I think, awful. But luckily, Tanner kind of cleaned them up. But there was a Chris Farley on Saturday, live long, long time ago, so I’m showing my age here. But he would interview, in these sketches. He’d interview people that were amazing, like Paul McCartney from The Beatles, right? And he would just fumble the whole time. Like, “Wow, so you were in the Beatles? Wow. Yeah. That’s great. So can you tell me like, what’s it like being a Beatle?” And that’s what I felt like the whole time, [LAUGHTER] like “Wow. Okay. All right.” So it took a while. But the grant helped it and for about three or four years it was grant funded. And now I’ve turned it into its own nonprofit. And Texthelp is now a sponsor. And so they do the editing for me because the grant ended. And Tanner, he was part of that grant. So i had to kind of move on. That’s how it started.

John: So you’ve been doing this for a while now with the podcast, and we’ve been listeners since the very beginning. What do you enjoy most about podcasting?

Lillian: Well, ours came out around the same time. So the nice Tea for Teaching, right? It’s like 2018. And so I enjoy talking to people. If you’re still doing it, you have to enjoy talking to people. But that’s the best thing. I talk to people just all around the world because I do want it to have a worldwide focus. And so I have listeners, the top five are in the US, Canada, Australia, Ireland, and the UK, and so English speaking countries, yay. But you can see like, all over the world on six continents that people are listening, and I had a listener in Australia say, you know, I was walking on the beach, near my home, on the coast of Australia. And that just blows my mind that people are actually listening. But mostly it’s like, I get to just learn about new ideas all the time. And you would think UDL like it’s so focused on UDL, like, there would not be enough, like I should be done with this, but there’s so much.There are 31 of these checkpoints in Universal Design for Learning, and as you mentioned, it’s really overwhelming. Like if you were to go and just look at the guidelines, it’s like a whole bunch. And it’s like, how am I going to do that? You can’t, you can’t do it all. You can’t just redesign your course right away. And so there’s just all these little conversations I can have to help people understand what you can do. And then I get to talk to really interesting, witty, awesome, brilliant people all over the world. And that’s the best part. If I could just do that, like that was just my job, I would love that.

Rebecca: Definitely something that John and I enjoy too. It’s kind of an introvert’s dream to talk to [LAUGHTER] a lot of individuals one on one rather than having to network through a conference or something like that. It’s a good opportunity to have really in-depth conversations with folks that might not have the opportunity to have otherwise.

Lillian: Yeah, my brain is always seeking out the new. And so I love like, “Oh, that’s a neat idea.” And then I’ll send them an email, and sometimes they write back, and “oh, I really love to talk about this, it’s cool.” And so I’ll read their article or their book or whatever. And then there’s something else shiny that I get to go talk to other people about. And it’s just been helpful for folks. And honestly, I just didn’t expect there’d be listeners, and there are listeners. And so that’s just really fantastic.

John: We started out as primarily to meet our campus audience needs for commuting faculty, and so forth. And then we were amazed at how it caught on and spread. And it’s given us that opportunity that you both mentioned, to talk to some really interesting people doing some really interesting work. Before that in the teaching center, we talked to people at a workshop, and we might hear from one faculty member for three or four minutes, maybe 10 or maybe they’d come in for a consultation. But usually that was about a problem or an issue they were facing, but it just provides a wonderful chance to connect to people that we normally wouldn’t be able to talk to. And we see an interesting article, and then reading through it and getting to talk to the people doing the research in depth, it’s really a valuable experience.

Lillian: Yeah, everybody should be a podcaster just to have these conversations. You don’t even have to record them. It’s just really neat. And so it’s given me that like, “Hey, I have a podcast,” like a reason for me to be intrusive in somebody’s email. Like, I really want to talk to you about this. This is really cool. Would you talk to little old me? If so I have a podcast. [LAUGHTER]

John: And I’m amazed at the number of people who say yes.

Lillian: Absolutely, me too, like, “Wow, you’re actually going to talk to me. That’s so fantastic. I appreciate that.”

Rebecca: We’re definitely a part of a really wonderful community of practitioners.

Lillian: Yeah, it makes a very thankful and it’s so cool, because I have listened to Tea for Teaching for a long time. That’s actually my most listened to podcast for teaching and learning. I enjoy the fact that there’s two of you, and you kind of go back and forth and just interesting topics. So I’ve enjoyed yours, ever since the birth of our podcasts in 2018. They’re siblings. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: They are.

John: So we always end with the question. What’s next?

Lillian: I am so excited about what Appalachian State is doing. About two years ago, they bought a building in a town called Hickory, North Carolina. And our main campus is in Boone. And it’s a beautiful campus up in the mountains. And I happen to live halfway between these two cities. And so I was going up to Boone to teach and it is about 42 minutes to get up. And you have to go over the eastern Continental Divide, over the Appalachian Trail, over the Blue Ridge Parkway in order to get from my house into Boone to teach. And that’s great. And it’s the most beautiful commute I think in the world. But it also gets foggy and icy and weather and I was enjoying it, and it was where I would listen to podcasts. But Appalachian State is now the first university in the North Carolina system that now has two campuses. And so we’ve opened this campus in Hickory, it is a commuter campus, and some brave students, we have about 250 to 300 that have started this past fall of 2023. It has birthed this campus. And so I get to teach there, and I get to do some faculty development. And it’s really exciting to be on the ground floor of a new campus. And it’s the only one in the North Carolina system. We’ll have other campuses, but there’s no multi-campus university for us. It’s like being in a startup, except I don’t think I get stock options. That’s the only bad thing. [LAUGHTER] And so meeting new faculty, some faculty are teaching for the very first time. And so there’s no like institutional culture that they’re jumping into at this new campus, although we are very much a part of the Boone campus. It’s new. And there’s only a very small number of faculty there. So it’s like being at a small liberal arts college in a state system. And it’s just really cool. And I’m loving meeting the faculty there and helping with teaching and learning and UDL and all that stuff. So that’s like the next big thing is Appstate Hickory, and it’s really exciting.

Rebecca: Well, I hope you have a wonderful adventure. [LAUGHTER] It sounds like a really fun opportunity.

Lillian: Yeah, in fact, I’m in a group of faculty, we have like a community of practice, a peer mentoring circle we call it, and we’re calling ourselves the Hickory Adventurers, because like, we don’t know what’s going on, [LAUGHTER] and we’re trying to figure it out together.

John: You get to help shape what’s going on, which is a really nice place to be.

Lillian: Yeah, it’s fantastic. I’m excited. And I think I’m just that kind of person. It’s new and shiny. And I’m there.

John: I think we’re both that way a bit. And that is one of the risks of having a podcast, you get to hear about all these great things that people are doing, and there’s always a tendency to try to do many of them. And that can be a bit overwhelming, not just for us, but also for our students.

Lillian: Yes I know I have to peel it back [LAUGHTER] just a bit, don’t go overboard.

Rebecca: Well, thanks so much for joining us, Lillian. I know we’ve wanted to talk to you for a while.

Lillian: Absolutely. I’m so glad and when you contacted me, I was super excited. So thank you so much for having me on Tea for Teaching. I’m gonna show my mug that nobody can see ‘cause it’s a podcast, but I love my Tea for Teaching mug, and thank you for having me.

John: Well, thank you for joining us. It was great talking to you and we’ll look forward to more conversations in the future.

Lillian: Great.


John: If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast service. To continue the conversation, join us on our Tea for Teaching Facebook page.

Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.