Helping us see differently – Jess Mitchell

BCcampus, launched an important webinar series on Inclusive Design in February…and I missed all of them (sigh). But because the folks at BCcampus are digitally-aware and focused on openness and accessibility, they provided recordings of each session so I’m digging in to discover what I missed. If you are curious, here’s a brief overview of my take-aways from the first in the series: Inclusive Design, Jess Mitchell, Snr.Mgr, IDRC webinar recordingSlideshare presentation slides

Inclusive design means changing how you see; you need to take the time to reflect, to look around, to see what doesn’t work and think about why? Inclusive design works best when it happens before something is designed but, even afterwards, you can strive to make your course, your teaching, your presentations, whatever you create – more inclusive. It seems that, from Jess Mitchell’s perspective, it’s about the “why and the try”.

Inclusive Design is design that considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gener, age and other forms of human difference.

Jess Mitchel, IDRC,

Why should you try? Some of the benefits that Ms Mitchell shared (of using an ID approach to solve complex problems):

  • solutions have better = longer shelf life
  • solutions work better for more people
  • solutions address the gaps

Often the changes we make to support inclusiveness benefit unexpected or broader groups than we first think about. Jess pointed out the ubiquitous curbcuts that were a simple and widespread change that made navigating city sidewalks easier for people with mobility impairments. People thought it was just for the wheelchair bound but it makes it possible for moms w/strollers, elders with canes or pulling wheeled grocery carts, young kids delivering newspapers w/little red wagon – lots of people benefited.

It’s not just about accessibility – it’s about providing equivalent experiences. So the folks at IDRC talk, think, research about how to help everyone have a good experience – whether learning or working or just doing. She talked about making presentations and information multi-modal – and acknowledged the challenges of doing so – but encouraged us to try. She reiterated the power of taking the first step, and committing to the try.

Disability is a mismatch, between an individual and their goals and the tools they have available to them in their particular environment or context.

Jess Mitchel, IDRC

Thinking about disability – Jess pointed out that it might be more useful to think about mismatches. Walk around your environment and look for what doesn’t work – try to identify why? Talk to the people you’re designing for – “I find it helpful and important to ask…” Often disability is created by a non-thinking choice in the design phase; always think about how you can make your product, process, teaching accessible/digestible/navigable by more people.

Table as a metaphor
  • who isn’t at the table?
  • who can or can’t use this table?
  • is the table welcoming to all?
  • have people been at the table before?
  • when you invite somone to the table, do they know the culture of the table?
  • do they know how decisions are made at the table?
  • do they know how to have their voice heard at the table?
  • is the environment at the table safe and welcoming and open for everyone?
  • how is listening going to be captured at the table?
  • do these tables give people real ways to have an impact?
  • are people empowered to act on what is discussed at the table

There’s lots more – watch the screen recording – browse the slide deck. A great launch to a series on inclusive design. Thanks to BCcampus and Jess Mitchell.

References mentioned during presentation

Pain of procrastination a dubious claim

brainA recent blog article by Christopher Lane casts a light on the varied claims about what is happening in our brains based on fMRI scans. A recently published critique of neuroscientific research by Stanford scientist John Ioannidis and Denese Szucs (see References) found serious flaws in many of the reported studies based on fMRI scans.

My immediate reaction was to go back and check my notes from my recent course, a MOOC called “Learning How to Learn” and the content that referred to fMRI data and how the heightened activity in the pain centres of the brain when people procrastinated demonstrated why we are so quick to switch our attention to more pleasurable or easier tasks or thoughts. Would this mean that the strategies to overcome procrastination weren’t valid either?  Well, I was unable to track down the specific fMRI data that the professor referred to (and can’t ask as the course is over) but I reviewed the tips I learned that I wanted to share with other instructors – and they still seem to make intuitive sense – see what you think.

Even if the fMRI data about the responses is inaccurate, there does seem to be real “pain” felt by those of us who procrastinate too often; avoiding important tasks too often can undermine success, create stress, frustration and unhappiness, and can become a habit that is difficult, but not impossible to break. But we also know, from the more recent neuroscientific research, that our brains can adapt and change (referred to as “neuroplasticity”). So how do we change bad habits?

pomodoro timerIn the recent past, researchers found that regular short breaks could help student stay focused. A technique developed by Francesco Cirillo, called the “Pomodoro Technique” involves working in 25 min cycles with short breaks. The cycles were called “pomodoros” which means “tomato” in Italian (named for the tomato-shaped timer that Cirillo used as a student). After four pomodoros, you take a longer break and then start on a new task.

If you’d like to try the process, here’s a straightforward explanation by Dr. Terrence Sejnowski, Francis Crick Professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, from his website Mind Tools “How to Use the Pomodoro Technique.”

Note:  The technique incorporates what Iowa State University researchers have found about the importance of spacing practice  (see Spacing and Interleaving of Study and Practice  in References). Evidence presented in the paper documents the changes in learning observed when the intervals between practice sessions varied. It appears as though different intervals, rather than “massed practice”, can help us build more constructive habits.

Some other possible techniques (proposed by psychologists, researchers, time management experts):

  • “chunk” your tasks (makes tasks smaller and more manageable);
  • identify the value of your tasks, relative to other options;
  • recognize the “pain” of avoidance; (take time to look ahead to the true consequences of inaction);
  • limit distractions (put your digital devices away, turn off the TV or sound system, close a door, turn on an answering system, put a sign on the door);
  • plan for small rewards (set a target – “if I do this much, I can do _____ or I can have ____”)

Another theory, referenced in an August 2016 post in Open Culture, The Neuroscience & Psychology of Procrastination and How to Overcome It from Piers Steel, Distinguished Research Chair at the University of Calgary (explained in a Youtube video – The Procrastination Equation) explains procrastination as arising from the fact that the primitive part of our brains, the limbic system, responds much faster to stimuli than our more rational pre-frontal cortex. This can result in a haze of distractions that prevent us from accomplishing tasks we find difficult or distasteful or just don’t feel like doing. His main recommendation to overcome procrastination:  mindfulness meditation.

For further learning, check out the references below or review the excellent article in Open Culture (cited below). Of course you may have to set a timer, or meditate to make sure you don’t just put if off until a better time 😉


Carpenter, S. J.,  (2014)  Spacing and Interleaving of Study and Practice, In Benassi, V.A., Overson, C.E., & Hakala, C.M. (Eds.), Applying Science of Learning in Education:  Infusing Psychological Science in Curriculum. American Psychological Association, retrieved from

Cirillo, Francesco, The Pomodoro Technique (his website based on the book by the same name)

Ioannidis, JPA, D. Szucs, (2016) Empirical assessment of published effect sizes and power in the recent cognitive neuroscience and psychology literature. Stanfordretrieved from

Jones, Josh, (2016, August 18). The Neuroscience & Psychology of Procrastination, and How to Overcome It, retrieved from

Lane, C. (blog post Sep 09, 2016) Neuroscience Research Faulted for Widespread Inaccuracies, Psychology Today, retrieved from

Sejnowski, Dr. Terence, Francis Crick Professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, The Pomodoro Technique: Staying Focused Throughout the Day, retrieved from



Ss-S-SoTL…brightening up a gloomy Friday the 13th!

welcome to SoTL eventLooks like I was stumbling as I typed my title eh? Nope, I was thinking about the "scholars" I met at Simon Fraser University's downtown campus, who were part of a wide-ranging exploration of current inquiry and completed research at the Symposium for Scholarly Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

Despite taking place on the dubious date of Friday the 13th, and ignoring the torrential rains the night before and the gloomy grey clouds massing over Vancouver's downtown, this year's Symposium was the first I've attended. The public gathering places were open and bright, the welcome was sincere and brief, the events were varied, and the food was well-presented, generous and delicious – thanks to the event organizers!

Although I found the plenary sessions somewhat interesting I wasn't inspired or excited as much of the content seemed to be hopeful rather than concrete and not really that new or insightful (at least based on what I've read about these topics over the past few years). I enjoyed the ability to choose sessions organized by research that was in progress or research that had been completed and to listen to stories from educators about their experiences, challenges and successes (Strand B).

I chose to participate in a session led by Marcella LaFever, University of the Fraser Valley on "Replacing Bloom with the Medicine Wheel".  Marcella's work is interesting, particularly in terms of her trying to support the introduction of spirituality into our current approach to teaching/learning (e.g of four domains:  physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual).  She shared a handout with a diagram and brief reading list and list of verbs (similar to Blooms Taxonomy) as she tries to define different elements of the Spiritual Domain – mindful/ness, value/d, connect/ed, empowe/red, self-actualize/d

I would also have liked to attend: 

  • Games in Class: A Case STudy of Gamification in an Undergraduate Communications Course – Jaigris Hodson & Rob Bajko, Royal Roads University
  • Integrating Metacognitive Curricular Interventions into the Undergraduate Curriculum – Peter Arthur, UBC Okanagan
  • Life's a Lot Like Jazz – Better When You Improvise – Sherrill Rutherford, VIU

During the Session2 sharing of experiences, I chose Julia Hengstler's Tinkering with an Online Post-secondary Course. Her stories about her efforts to improve the delivery of her course and her students' learning experiences was detailed and thorough. While I've gone through similar efforts to improve my teaching, her "tinkering" efforts were better structured, broader and longer and hopefully will eventually achieve the outcomes she is looking for.

I would also have liked to attend: 

  • Direct Instructions vs Productive Failure Best Practices for Interactive Inclass Activities – Sunita Chowrira & Karen Smith, UBC
  • Preparing Students for Self-Directed Learning – Gail Hammon & Alice Cassidy, UBC
  • Moving from a Traditional to an Inquiry-based Teacher Education Program – Teresa Farrell, VIU


I think my favourite part of the day (besides meeting interesting people and having great hallway discussions) was the Research Bites presentations. Although many of the researchers were unable to tell their story in the 3 minute time allocated, it did mean that I got to hear an overview of what was going on, without having to spend the whole day listening to lengthy explanations.

While I enjoyed the opportunity to "pick and choose" and move around between tables and enter into discussions with the researchers about their projects, I was disappointed in the actual room, which had such a high ceiling that it was often difficult to hear what was said by someone sitting on the other side of the table. Too bad. However, I have contact details so I'll follow up on some of the research projects I found most interesting.

Overall, a great day for me. I had the chance to meet some of my former students and colleagues face-to-face (I'd only known them as online entities before). Despite my enthusiasm for online learning and teaching, there is still something about sitting next to the person you've had great discussions and debates with – like meeting an old friend. I enjoyed the chance to engage in "big picture" issues and to learn more about some of the exciting avenues of inquiry that instructors around the Lower Mainland are pursuing.