Inclusive Learning 365 - Roadtrip to ISTE

Jason Carroll, Chief Product Officer at Texthelp is joined (for the second time) by the authors of Inclusive Learning 365: Chris Bugaj, Karen Janowski, Mike Marotta and Beth Poss - who all come from a variety of backgrounds in education.

In this episode, we find out a bit more about the authors, delve into some of the topics they are passionate about and discover what drove them to write their book Inclusive Learning 365. They also share some of their plans for the 2022 ISTE Conference taking place in New Orleans and how they plan on getting there...

Show Notes

The book, Inclusive Learning 365 is available from ISTE and Amazon, if you want to grab yourself a copy after listening to our podcast.

Join the team on the road to ISTE 2022, add to their roadtrip playlist and more.

Follow Inclusive 365 on Twitter and Instagram


Jason Carroll: (00:14)

Welcome to Texthelp Talks podcast. We've got a host of experts covering a range of topics from education right through into the workplace. So make sure you subscribe through your preferred podcast player or streaming service so you never miss an episode.

Jason Carroll: (00:29)

Today you're hearing from me, Jason Carroll, Chief Product Officer at Texthelp. Today's guests are joining us on the podcast for a second time, and I'm happy that we have them back again today. In this episode, we are joined again by our friends from Inclusive Learning 365. We have with us, Chris Bugaj, Karen Janowski, Mike Marotta, and Beth Poss. All come from a variety of backgrounds in education. They've known each other for over 10 years, and I've been fortunate enough to know them all for around that same amount of time.

Jason Carroll: (01:00)

In this episode, we'll find out a bit more about them, delve into some of the topics they are passionate about, what drove them to write their book, Inclusive Learning 365, and they'll also share some of the plans they have for the 2022 ISTE conference taking place in New Orleans.

Jason Carroll: (01:17)

Chris, Karen, Mike, and Beth have all co-written a fantastic new book about inclusive learning. The book is called Inclusive Learning 365: Ed Tech Strategies for Every Day of the Year. If you work in education, this book will become your daily companion with 365 strategies that you can use to provide the best learning experiences. They are also going to be joining me and the rest of the text help team at ISTE later this month. And they won't be getting there the conventional way. We'll hear more about their fun trip in a little bit and how you can get involved.

Jason Carroll: (01:48)

So guys, it's great to have you on with us today. For anyone listening, who maybe hasn't had the pleasure of meeting you in person, can you tell us a little bit about yourselves so our audience can get to know you.

Chris Bugaj: (01:59)

I guess I'll go first, Jason. So this is Chris Bugaj. My name's Chris Bugaj, and I am the assistive technology specialist for Loudoun County Public Schools. But that's just a job title. The way I like to actually think of myself is as someone who's an inclusive design facilitator, which means I work with educators to help design educational experiences that work for everybody. That's the day job. And then on the side, I get to co-host a podcast called Talking with Tech, which is all about augmentative and alternative communication, write a couple books, and do some presentations and stuff.

Karen Janowski: (02:35)

And Jason, Hey, great to be here again today. I'm Karen Janowski. I'm coming from north of Boston. I'm the president and owner of Ed Tech Solutions in Redding, Massachusetts. And I'm an inclusive technology consultant. Although, my company offers ... We're full service. We offer assistive technology and AAC, coaching, consultations, evaluations, but our big thing is to always put the learner first. They are the whole reason why we do what we do.

Mike Marotta: (03:08)

Hey, Jason, good to talk to you again. It's Mike Marotta. I am also an inclusive technology practitioner. It's so funny. I think we all go through this moment where we say our job titles are, but we don't really like that job title. This is what we really like. And I think if I was to say what my traditional job title is, it is assistive technology specialist. But instead I've also changed that. Like Karen, I have my own consulting company and I am now successfully branding myself on business cards and all as an inclusive technology evangelist. Just making sure to spread the word about ways that inclusive technology can support all of our learners throughout the environments there. And so I'm excited to be here with everybody today.

Beth Poss: (03:57)

Hi everybody. This is Beth Poss, and my official title in my primary role is that of the director of educational programs for LessonPix, which is an online tool for creating, learning materials, visual supports, and much more. But I do wear a couple of hats, just like everybody else, my co-authors do. And I do a lot of consulting and teaching on the side and I like to consider myself an inclusive education advocate, meaning that I am advocating for inclusive educational practices in everything that I do.

Jason Carroll: (04:42)

That's awesome. Thanks guys. Yeah, you mentioned the titles versus what we do versus what our title is. And Mike, you mentioned business cards there. Just, I don't think I've given out or received a business card in like three years. I wonder if our titles, maybe they're just constrained in the past because of the size of the business card, but now there's an opportunity to change those titles around. So that's great stuff.

Jason Carroll: (05:03)

Hey, so let's talk first. Let's start with the book. Let's talk about the book first. How's it been received so far? What kind of feedback have you been getting?

Beth Poss: (05:12)

We've gotten awesome feedback so far. It's really exciting when whether it's showing up someplace in person like at ATIA or I was doing a presentation to a group in Pennsylvania, and people are actually coming up to me with books to have a copy signed. I'm like, "No, really?" Oh, that's just so cool. So I feel like it's been really, really well received. And I think the feedback that we've been getting is how much our readers appreciate the format of the book, that they can pick it up and put it down. Every chapter, so to speak, is literally like one page. It's every strategy is a page of the book. And so you don't have to sit and be like, "Oh, I've got to put aside 30 minutes and read this." It's really, pick it up, open it either to something in specific that you might be looking for, like using the indices or just crack open the book and find something.

Beth Poss: (06:16)

I know personally, myself, I pick it up all the time and do that. And I'm like, "Oh, this is such an awesome strategy." I'm like, "Yeah, I really like that we wrote this." So even as an author of it, I go back and look at it and I'm like, "Yeah, yeah, this is really good. I need to remember this one."

Jason Carroll: (06:34)

That's great. And that's great too. I'm just thinking people coming up and asking for signatures and stuff. We may have to get you some security at ISTE so people don't try to get your autograph too often.

Beth Poss: (06:41)

Oh yeah.

Jason Carroll: (06:41)

So that's great stuff. Hey, so this book, I've had to peek through it there previously, even from last time we did this and it's just a fantastic resource, with educators, any educators with an interest in ed tech. Can you tell us, we got into this a bit last time, but it's been nearly a year. I know we were talking just a bit before this. I can't believe it's been that long. But can you remind us or tell us how the book came to be and what sparked the idea in the first place?

Chris Bugaj: (07:11)

Yeah. So what happened with the book, the history of how it got started is that the predecessor to this book was in the school district that I worked for, the assistive technology team that I was on, worked for years and years and years to create a calendar. So if you picture like, you'd get at a kiosk in a mall. Remember malls, Jason? So you would go and buy a strategy a day calendar or a puppy of the day calendar or a joke of the day calendar. Like I said, we made strategy a day calendars that were related to different ed tech strategies that you can use. Tools that were available, all just sorts of different stuff. And it was wildly popular in our school district. And we'd always make a few extra to give out when we do national presentations.

Chris Bugaj: (07:56)

And people would inevitably come up to us and say, "Where can I buy these? How can I get these?" And we weren't selling them. We were just giving them out saying, "Hey, you could make some in your own neck of the woods." And as years went on, administration in our school district decided, okay, let's move away from these calendars and move on to something else. And that freed up the opportunity to say, "Well, okay, what if we turn these calendars into a book? And what if it wasn't just people from one school district, but from different parts of the country that all have a similar view on inclusion and using technology to design inclusive experiences." And that is where Beth and Mike and Karen got involved. And I had some experience working with ISTE, who has been such a fabulous partner for us with publishing the book.

Chris Bugaj: (08:45)

So I had published some books with them in the past, and we pitched the idea to them, and they were all on board. They were like, "Yeah, let's do this. Let's make this book happen." So that's where the history comes from, is a proof of concept that people like little chunks of content at a time, one page at a time that they can read all year long.

Jason Carroll: (09:05)

That's awesome. Thanks, Chris. And I totally remember those. I remember you were kind enough to save me one. That may have even been pre Texthelp days. And I've been with Texthelp for, I think, about 10 years now. So I totally remember having one of the calendars on my desk. Very cool. So, hey, probably the most important question. How do folks get their hands on a copy?

Mike Marotta: (09:23)

So how did they get their hands on a copy? Well, they could certainly head over to our website, There's a link there to order the book from ISTE or Amazon or Barnes and Noble. So any of your big book outlets you can get to directly through our website.

Mike Marotta: (09:40)

One other piece I want to highlight about the website as we're talking about the book is the website being a bit of a digital companion to the book, in that, and I think everybody's done a great job of describing how the pages are set up on the book with one strategy per page, which includes how you might use a tool, some inclusive ways you can incorporate that into learning. But we also provide a bunch of digital resources on each page. Links to tools and links to resources that are out there on the web.

Mike Marotta: (10:12)

We've moved all of those digital resources over to our website. And our website actually has a page for each strategy. And what we'll do is we will constantly be updating that. So as we find new things, we put them on those pages. So that becomes a bit of a living document that supports the print version of the book. And that's very exciting to us.

Mike Marotta: (10:35)

Plus we're looking for ways that as readers start to implement the strategies in the book and we start to collect that information from them, we're going to be putting that information on the website on each strategy page, so that not only are you seeing digital resources that you can go and learn about further information, but you can also see how other educators are taking that information and implementing it right in their classroom to give some real world scenarios. So that's really exciting.

Jason Carroll: (11:07)

I love it. I think that's such a great idea. You always think when you buy a book, especially one that is going to reference educational technology, is that going to go out of date? But I love how you guys have... Which a strategy is a strategy of course, but I love how you guys have that digital companion that goes along with it on the website. That's awesome.

Jason Carroll: (11:23)

Hey, so looking at the book, the principles of Universal Design for Learning, they're visible throughout the book. Many educators already make accommodations for their students. There's going to be a lot of folks that are familiar with Universal Design for Learning, but there's always new teachers and things like that. And so maybe the concept isn't as clear for some as it is for others. Could one of you go through and explain to our listeners what the difference between an accommodation is from Universal Design for Learning.

Karen Janowski: (11:48)

I love this question, Jason. Thanks so much for asking it. When we think about accommodations, we're really coming at it from a special education lens. Accommodations are written into a learner's IEP. And so they're single learner focused and they're designed well, but they're limited to a particular learner who is on an IEP.

Karen Janowski: (12:14)

But when we think about UDL, UDL is universal. It encompasses everyone. It's intentional, it's proactive. It includes everyone. That's the whole point of Universal Design for Learning. So if we think about accommodations, we think in terms of one learner, but when we think and universally designed, we're thinking of how we can reach all of our learners.

Karen Janowski: (12:35)

And I want to give you an example, just from yesterday, I was in a classroom. This was such an amazing opportunity. I had consulted with the general education English teacher. So this was middle school and the special education liaison. And we talked about one particular learner who was really struggling with using the technology that was available to him that was bypassing his learning challenges. He didn't want to be seen as the only one. So what I was able to do, what came out of the coaching session is we came up with the idea, let me just go into the whole class. They all had the premium version of Read&Write for Google. They didn't know all the features. So I had an opportunity to reach the entire sixth grade English class and show all of the learners all the amazing features. And they really were surprised to see. And they learned about the text to speech, and the speech to text, and the masking, and the talking dictionary.

Karen Janowski: (13:31)

And I mean, they just were really impressed with how they could customize the voices. They had the most fun adjusting the voice speed and choosing a particular voice. But we made it universal so that it was customized for each one. And I think that that's such a great example of how universally designed tools can be customized and made appropriate for each individual learner so every learner succeeds.

Chris Bugaj: (13:59)

Jason, just to add onto that. I think, well, something you and I have had conversations with, again, we've known each other for many, many years, is the relationship between accommodations and Universal Design for Learning. So again, if you're a general ed teacher listening to this, you've only ever heard the term Universal Design for Learning. You might be like, "Well, how do I get there? What's my roadmap?" Well, if you were to go and look at all of the accommodations written on IEPs right now, and look at the most frequently used accommodations, the question you could ask yourself is, "Well, how can I use those accommodations to design my experiences so every kid gets those that's not a special one off for one student. How can I make that something to be available to everybody?"

Chris Bugaj: (14:40)

And the reason I say we've had this conversation, Jason, is because I think something that you've pointed out to me over the years is if you look at the relationship between ed tech and special education, is that innovation often starts with trying to find different ways technology can help somebody with a disability. And then that often blossoms into technology that we all use. Two quick, quick examples would be people listening right now. How often have you constructed a text message using the little microphone in the bottom right hand corner of your phone on the keyboard? But for years it was people with disabilities started using technology using that speech to text technology before it blossomed to be something that everyone's using.

Chris Bugaj: (15:24)

Or another thing right now, you can't open up a technology tool without finding a setting for dark mode. Everything has dark mode now, which is really just high contrast features where people with disabilities, often with visual impairments might have needed that high contrast feature. So that's something that lived in accessibility features, and now it's something we all might decide to use as a tool for the masses.

Jason Carroll: (15:54)

Totally. I, uh. Sorry.

Chris Bugaj: (15:57)

If you're looking for a roadmap, look at those accommodations.

Jason Carroll: (15:59)

Yeah. I love it, Chris. We've had those conversations so many times, and shameless plug on that recent release of Read&Write now finally has dark mode. And I keep it on dark mode all the time. And I always think of touch screens. I remember I used to lug around those like touch screens, you attached to existing monitors. Now everything's a touch screen. So great examples.

Jason Carroll: (16:20)

Hey, so I know it's a weird time of the year because school's wrapping up, at least in North America but there's some listening who want to make their classroom a more inclusive place next school year. So summertime, it's a time to rest and relax and hopefully have a vacation or two, but it's also a time for planning. So what advice would you give an educator on how to get started for the next school year on making your classrooms a more inclusive place?

Beth Poss: (16:45)

Yeah, I mean, I think this has been such a difficult year more than anybody probably anticipated it would be. And so if I was giving advice to an educator about what they could do to make their classroom a more inclusive place for next year, I would probably tell them to start off initially, just looking at what does your classroom layout look like? That's the very first thing that teachers are doing, that educators are doing when they get in is they're setting up their classrooms. Well, look at the space. And how do you make your space conducive to learning so that it supports all learners? Are there options for places for learners to sit depending on the task that they're doing?

Beth Poss: (17:36)

Are there options for lighting? Are there options so that you can have a dimer lighting or a brighter lighting? And if you're keeping your classroom, a lot of classroom teachers will turn off overhead lighting, but maybe a particular student needs a brighter light for something. So are there options for that? What are the fonts that you've got as you start creating your bulletin boards. What are the fonts that you're using? I think there's been this huge trend in having these crazy wild fonts and having multiple different fonts to make it look really super cute and lots of colors. But in reality, take a look and see, "Gosh, is this going to be visually overwhelming? Is the font that I'm using going to support literacy instruction for the learners in my classroom?" So that would be the very first thing I would look at. How does the layout of my classroom and things that are there, the furniture, lighting, the floor, the physical environment, does that set the stage for inclusive learning?

Jason Carroll: (18:34)

I like it. Very good. So maybe no more comic sans, you're saying?

Beth Poss: (18:38)

I don't know if it's a matter of comic sans or not. I think it's just more a matter of sometimes there's these ... Somebody recently showed me a picture put on their Facebook page, a picture of their bulletin board. And it was a font that mixed up uppercase and lowercase letters to look cute. But if you are actually working with a student on literacy and they may or may not yet know the uppercase and lowercase letters and the rules around when you use uppercase versus lowercase letters, the cutesiness of that font is not in support of the instruction that's actually happening in the classroom.

Jason Carroll: (19:18)

That totally makes sense. And I really like that, Beth, because that's a real tangible example. And I think anybody listening could think, "Okay, that's straightforward enough. I can have a look and make sure my font isn't overly confusing, especially if my goal is to help with literacy skills," and things like that.

Beth Poss: (19:32)

Exactly. Exactly.

Jason Carroll: (19:34)

Very good. I like it. So keeping on that same topic of inclusion, why is inclusion, it's obvious to some of us, but not so much to others. Why is inclusion so critical in education? And do you feel like it's more critical now than ever before?

Karen Janowski: (19:51)

Again, Jason, yes. Another great question. I think it's always been critical. I think it's been overlooked and we hope that our book Inclusive Learning 365 is helping raise awareness of the importance of reaching every learner, of thinking inclusively, of making sure that all means all. And when we think about inclusion, we talk a lot about inclusion is the absence of exclusion. And so we want to make sure that everyone is included, everyone is involved, every voice matters. And putting the learners first, keeping it learner centered really helps focus it on designing an inclusive experience. So it's not an afterthought, it's a mindset.

Karen Janowski: (20:36)

And if we go back to the previous question, about what advice would you give educators in getting started? We have to do a shameless plug. Our book really does help set the stage for designing inclusively, thinking inclusively, and adopting an inclusive mindset. So it's always been critical. I just hope that our book helps raise that awareness, especially with the general educators.

Jason Carroll: (21:02)

Right. I love it. And it most definitely does. And I really appreciate the work you've all done with it. And I just look forward to continued success with it. So important.

Jason Carroll: (21:11)

Hey, so are there reasons for educators to be excited or optimistic about the future of education? It all seems on the headlines, everything's doom and gloom, which I prefer not to say. But what do you guys think about being excited, optimistic about the future for education?

Chris Bugaj: (21:26)

Well, I know I'm excited for the future of education, but I think it's a matter of perspective. You're so right. You heard Beth say earlier, this year's been particularly tough. And then you just said the doom and gloom that you see in the headlines. And right now, I mean, it's continuing on this pervasive feeling of ‘the great resignation’ and people are even putting the teacher as an adjective before ‘the great teacher resignation’. You don't see a lot of people coming into education. So things are often the darkest before the dawn and adversity breeds opportunities. There's a great opportunity here for the future of education where we take it in a direction that we want to see. Maybe it's not education the way we've seen it in the past 15, 20 years, this sage on the stage, teacher being the leader of the environment.

Chris Bugaj: (22:21)

But what if it's a shift where the learners are the ones that are in charge of their own learning and the educators are designing the educational experiences to support the learner and make it more of a personalized experience? We heard talking about customizations. Karen mentioned that earlier. Same idea here. What if it's not a ‘one size fits all’, everyone has to learn the exact same thing at the exact same time. And the educators that have already sort of adopted that model, the ones that we've been talking to tell us stories about how when I've embraced this idea of flexibility and not everyone has to do it at the same time. And I've looked at different models, but Universal Design for Learning, wow, has it freed up my creativity, my innovation, my learners have come to the environment wanting to be there rather than forced to be there, and do it because that's what I have to do. They want to be in those environments.

Chris Bugaj: (23:19)

So there's a new excitement for a new way of thinking about education. So if you're thinking about the old broken way of education, then yeah, things look pretty bleak. But if you look at the excitement around a new way of looking at education with inclusion at the heart of it, then things look pretty bright. Now is the best time ever to design education in the way you want it to be.

Jason Carroll: (23:40)

I love it. And I can hear your excitement, passion behind that, and totally agree with you. Do you think there are new skills that are going to be needed for educators to work in this new environment? That you’re seeing, Chris or anyone?

Beth Poss: (23:54)

Yeah. This is Beth. I was just going to chime in. Without a doubt. I was teaching a graduate course last night to educators who have been in the field. And the idea that we are all learners, which is one of the reasons that we actually use the term learners instead of students. You might hear that in our vocabulary. We use the term learners instead of students but because of the idea that we're all lifelong learners. And so as educators, we are all learning. I've been in education for over 30 years. I'm still learning new strategies to apply to the work that I do, both with adult learners and with children that I work with. So I think if we approach it that way, it does also help lend some excitement and optimism.

Chris Bugaj: (24:52)

Jason, I want to chime in, too and say that one of the reasons we were so excited to partner with ISTE for the publication of the book is the ISTE standards speak to this new generation and new vision for what education should look like. What skills people would need to have. They talk about being creative thinkers, problem solvers, amazing communicators, designing new experiences for people who we haven't even met yet. Being global collaborators. That sort of vision for the future is exactly the skills we'd need. And some of the things we can let go of. Being a big fan of Equatio, just ding, I got my level one certification on the new Texthelp Academy. I'm an Equatio level one certified.

Jason Carroll: (25:36)

You may be at a higher level than me, Chris. Good work.

Chris Bugaj: (25:41)

But think about a traditional IEP goal might be to you use, what's it called, the math strategy of the dollar more strategy. So I'm going to give you a dollar more so you can get the change. Who's using dollars in cash anymore? We've got to be looking to the future of digital currency. And looking at how could we design educational experiences where kids would participate in something like that, using the technology like Equatio ratio to help them figure out the math in a very practical sense.

Jason Carroll: (26:16)

Such a good example from both you and Beth on that. That's a really good point, too. When do you actually pull out a dollar and use it these days? I think my daughter, she never uses cash. She even has a credit card. So that's interesting.

Jason Carroll: (26:29)

I think about this often. I was just having this conversation internally. I think about the type of tools we make, what do we want them to do in education? And we want them to help kids learn to read, or we want to help them read, we want to help them write, speak, listen, create, study, learn. And then I think, "Well, what do I do at work?" And I think, "Well, I have to read a lot and write a lot. I have to create, I have to study, I have to learn so many skills." And that's why a lot of our stuff will bleed into the workplace as well. So I just think it's really interesting how we're having to look at things differently these days. So I appreciate you all chiming in on that.

Jason Carroll: (27:08)

So what do you see as the greatest challenges? This is continuing that conversation. But what do you see as the greatest challenges for educators right now? You are all as familiar with our software as I am at this point. And so how can technology like ours, and including the tools we have from Don Johnston now help in relation to inclusion and some of the key strategies that you lay out in the book?

Beth Poss: (27:30)

I think every year at the end of the year, teachers are feeling burnt out. But I think right now it's more than ever. I mean, what I hear from educators who are in classrooms, what I hear from my friends that are school administrators, are that the challenge right now is just getting through and hoping for things to feel a little better in the next school year. But I think what ends up being one of the biggest issues is just why teachers are so burnt out, why educators are feeling burnt out, is there's just not enough time for everything that educators are being asked to do.

Beth Poss: (28:13)

And so I think that a lot of the tools that you guys are making, that Texthelp is making, that Don Johnston is making, not only are supports for the learners, but they end up being supports for the educators too, by being time savers for them.

Beth Poss: (28:34)

We talk about the importance of how digital resources can be inherently more flexible than a print resource. But there's still a lot of print resources that are out there. There's still a lot of inaccessible PDFs that are out there, like documents that's a PDF but it's not selectable text. And so when you have a tool like Snap&Read, or a tool like Read&Write for Google, that allows you to make a PDF accessible, that allows you to move a print material into being a digital material in an easier manner. That saves time for educators, because it allows them to have those customizations that are needed for the individual learners without having to do a different thing for every learner, so to speak.

Beth Poss: (29:32)

So if I'm in my Snap&Read, and I've got the PDF reader up and I've got my document up that's a PDF, I can annotate on top of it. I can translate it into different languages. So I've got my learners who want to be able to take notes in that document. I've got my learners who need to have a word translated because they're multilingual learners. I can have the font size increased for somebody that needs that for them. I can have the text to speech available for them. And I didn't have to do five separate things to meet the needs of five separate learners. So as that educator, by providing a tool like that, I can reduce my workload, but still increase the support that I'm giving the learners that I have.

Beth Poss: (30:28)

And so that's just a couple of ... I just mentioned a couple of the different things like being able to annotate text, and having text to speech, being able to have translation. Those are all components of tools that lend themselves to strategies that are going to support those learners to individualize that learning for them. And that are ultimately going to save time for the teachers and make them feel like they are able to meet the needs of their learners.

Jason Carroll: (30:59)

That's great. Yeah, that totally makes sense. I was just thinking like, I know this is not really the purpose to get real deep in the products, but we saw, during the pandemic, we had a PDF tool that was part of Read&Write and Snap&Read has a PDF tool as well. And then we saw during the pandemic, usage of the PDF tools shot up immediately, like 300%-

Beth Poss: (31:22)

Oh yeah. I'm going to interrupt you because I forgot to mention. OrbitNote, Exactly. Yeah.

Jason Carroll: (31:27)

And that is the reason for it. The usage got so crazy that we created our own separate development team specifically to create a PDF tool, we're calling it OrbitNote, just to handle that because it became so popular. And while I know probably not many on this call are fans of worksheets. And I know to some degree, a PDF is like a digital worksheet. But at least it's digital and it has those tools that you're talking about and we can do things like make sure our products like Snap&Read and Read&Write, and Equatio work within that to provide those tools and the annotation bits and classroom work, workflows to save time and all that sort of stuff.

Beth Poss: (32:05)

Yeah. And it's way beyond worksheet. Exactly. I mean, we would all, one hundred percent agree with you on that worksheet. And if we give Karen the mic right now, she would explain.

Jason Carroll: (32:18)

She's holding herself back.

Beth Poss: (32:24)

Yeah. Don't yourself back, Karen. Exactly. Looking at those strategies of making tests accessible for learners, making the resources that we have accessible for them, but doing it in such a way that an educator doesn't feel like, "I just can't do one more thing." And so it's just having ability to have multiple components to a tool wrapped up in the same tool, and if you can get it in there, I can support learner A, learner B, learner C, learner D.

Jason Carroll: (33:04)

Perfect. Karen, did you want to hop in real quick? And then I'll then… I'll get us out of this topic.

Karen Janowski: (33:09)

Well, I'm always thinking of the meme that says, "Give me more worksheets, said no learner ever." And I think we really need to think about that. What do we learn when we use a paper based, static, inflexible worksheet? What is the point? And I'm so glad that we're talking about the flexibility that technology tools offer and the way that we can, again, talk about customization. It's all about giving learners agency and options and opportunities. So I just always have to put in that plug. Think about what's the point of what you're doing and is the worksheet the best possible way to help a learner be independent and successful? If we really are honest, a worksheet is something that we'll stop using.

Jason Carroll: (33:56)

100%, 100%. And I think that's at least one thing, hopefully, that'll be a trend that continues when everyone was virtual for a bit. We did hopefully see it decline in some of the worksheets. And which brings me to this next question. Maybe we can just go around the horn on this. But educators have learned a lot over the last two years. What do you think the pandemic taught us specifically about the use of technology in education? And then Chris, maybe we'll start with you.

Chris Bugaj: (34:18)

Yeah, well, okay. So I think a major thing that was learned is that technology supports the design of the instruction. So to Karen's point there about worksheets, if I designed this boring experience where you have to comply with me as the teacher and just do what I say, then no matter how cool the technology is, how interesting it is, the design of the experience is still fundamentally flawed.

Chris Bugaj: (34:46)

So you want to start with something that challenges a student to maybe solve an authentic problem, help another person follow their own interests. And then the technology follows along with whatever that design is. So, "Man, I'm really interested in learning about Dungeons and Dragons, but I'm having trouble decoding the books." Okay. What's the technology that can help? "Oh, man, I really am interested in figuring out why bees are dying and I need to help save the bees." Okay, well, let's do some math and let's do some research about what's the population of bees and where do we do that research? And then the technology helps you do that research.

Chris Bugaj: (35:26)

So it's designing the educational experience with technology as a support. I think that's one of the fundamental things that was learned that just giving tech doesn't make it more interesting. It's using the tech to do something interesting with the design. That's where the sweet spot is in education.

Mike Marotta: (35:45)

And I'll jump right on that, Chris, and say, not only about the technology and design, but more technology doesn't make things better. And I love that this is the point I'm going to talk about because I'm a lover of technology. I'm all for it. But I think we've seen this over and over again, sometimes this desire to cram as many tools into a learning scenario as possible, where sometimes that is completely unnecessary.

Mike Marotta: (36:15)

I go back to Karen's comment about the worksheets and if I hop up on my soapbox in this moment and say to an educator out there, what are you hoping this technology will do to support the learning experience? Having more won't do that. Constantly using new technologies won't do that, necessarily. We saw at the beginning of the pandemic how individuals jumped into any technology that was out there, sometimes out of just the sheer necessity of getting instruction to a learner.

Mike Marotta: (36:54)

But from the learner perspective, they might move from one period to another throughout a day and might be using Google classroom and then Canvas and then something else as they go through their day, and it added this unnecessary complexity. And in fact, these technologies, you could argue, added barriers to their learning. And so thinking about the tools that you're using and are they going to meet your needs, looking at those features, figuring out is this a good path for my learners to take with technology, and also digging a little deeper into the tools you might have already. There's nothing that gives me more joy than pointing out a feature of a tool that someone already has that they had no idea they had. And that's awesome, because we don't have to put something new in the environment. We're simply using. What's already there. And the tools we have are incredibly powerful. And I think at times we all, and I'm just as guilty as everybody else, we only use a fraction of some of those features sometimes.

Jason Carroll: (38:01)

Yeah, totally agree. And that shiny object syndrome as well. Always chasing what's new when maybe you don't need to.

Mike Marotta: (38:07)

Right. Exactly.

Jason Carroll: (38:08)

Great. Thanks, Mike. Karen, anything to add?

Karen Janowski: (38:11)

Well, yeah, I do think the pandemic threw teachers feet into the fire because all of a sudden now they had to go virtual and they had to discover features and tools and strategies that they never really had considered before and think in new ways. And it was really a great time to explore new opportunities. And because of that, it helped to empower our learners because then they could start using some of those read aloud features that are built into the tools, and they could start to use some of those audio supports that are built into the tools. And the whole point now was they were becoming more independent. They were empowered. They saw that there were choices and they started to develop that learner agency, where they could use and choose the tool that would best support them and best help them to demonstrate what they know.

Karen Janowski: (39:02)

So that was one of the benefits that came out of the virtual environment. And I do hope that many educators are continuing to encourage the use of some of those tools, because again, it empowers learners. They get to choose the tool that works best for them and helps them to better demonstrate what they know. And that's the point. We really want to equip our learners for success beyond just this one school year, but into the next stage of their life. And that's what the technology does. It's all about building student engagement and independence.

Beth Poss: (39:39)

And I'm going to add on to what Karen was just saying about empowering learners. In talking about the way that we can introduce and implement tools in classrooms, because sometimes teachers are like, "no," educators are like, "No, not one more thing." But sometimes when we start with the learner. So I'll give a story. In the school where I was an assistant principal for three years in my previous job, we decided that we were going to roll out a Universal Design for Learning support, a text to speech program. So we happened to roll out, Read&Write for Google. And while we were training the teachers, and that was important, we actually went into the classrooms and explicitly taught the learners. We did this in grades three through five, where we explicitly taught the learners how to use the software.

Beth Poss: (40:44)

We showed them how they could use it to have the text to speech, how they could do annotations in it, how they could change, how they could have it translated. We had a lot of multilingual learners in our school, how they could translate it, how they could change voices, all of that. And then we actually took stickers that had the logo of the tool on it and put them on the inside of the Chromebook where the track pad is so that when they opened it up, they had a visual reminder of, "Oh, this is a really good tool. Let me remember to use it."

Beth Poss: (41:20)

Well by the end, and this was the year before the pandemic. By the end of that year, we had learners coming up to us saying it really made a difference. "This made writing so much easier for me. This made reading so much easier for me." And we saw students doing it and using it. And it wasn't incumbent then upon the educator to remember to prompt the student to do it, or to completely understand every aspect of the tool themselves, because the kids knew how to do it. And then rolling into that pandemic year where there was virtual instruction, they had this resource under their belt that they could use.

Beth Poss: (42:02)

And I'm no longer in that school, but I'm hopeful that the same pattern of giving that explicit technology instruction to those learners on how to use a tool, that every single one of them had access to and could use for different reasons, really empowered those learners in a way that if we had just trained the educators to do it, might not have been the same.

Jason Carroll: (42:29)

I think those are great points. Thanks, Beth. I think about that often. There's just so many benefits to that. I mean, the best way to learn something is to have to teach it to someone else. So student-led sessions or informational sessions and things like that are great. And then it also goes back to free up a little bit of teacher time. Because as you mentioned, they don't have much of it and they're busier than ever. So that's great.

Jason Carroll: (42:48)

Hey, so we're going to wrap up here soon, but the favorite part of the whole podcast is around ISTE. And so we're all heading to ISTE at the end of the month. I am really looking forward to it. I'm actually, I'm going to go down a couple days early even, and hang out. I'm just, I'm ready to get there. It's going to be great. It's been a long time. This will be my first in person event, actually, I think since a couple of years, as far as a conference goes. So you're going to be there with us, with everyone else at ISTE, can you tell us what your plans are?

Karen Janowski: (43:20)

How exciting is this that I get to be the one to share and reveal what we have planned. We've got huge, exciting plans, Jason. Because the four of us are planning an inclusive road trip leaving from Texthelp headquarters, north of Boston, and driving all the way down the east coast to New Orleans. So I'm starting from the headquarters. I'm picking up Mike in New Jersey, then we're picking up Beth in Maryland. And then finally we pick up Chris in Virginia, and then we head on together all the way into New Orleans. And we have a lot of really fun stops planned along the way where we'll be able to share some inclusive Texthelp products and how they can be used in different environments. And someone else will talk about that.

Karen Janowski: (44:07)

It's a participatory event and we are putting the pedal to the metal and we really want to accelerate the idea of inclusive learning to all educators. We really want to stress that importance. And we're hoping that this road trip that allows anyone to participate, because it is an inclusive road trip. We're hoping that will really get people excited about learning more about inclusion, learning more about inclusive design, and learning more about inclusive learning. There's a lot more that other people will share with you about our exciting road trip.

Jason Carroll: (44:40)

That's awesome. How long is the trip?

Beth Poss: (44:43)

Oh, we're going to do it in what, three days? Thursday, Friday, Saturday, yeah.

Jason Carroll: (44:48)

That's a good thing. You all are friends. I hope you're still friends at the end of the three days. That's great.

Beth Poss: (44:54)

Yeah. And so yes, we're going as friends, but what's going to help keep us friendly to each other. No, I'm sure we won't have any problem with that. But Karen said, this is participatory and we want other folks virtually joining along with us, following along what we're doing and contributing. And so to that end, we have created a hashtag. It's the "inclusive road to ISTE" hashtag. And I'm sitting there making my little hashtag sign with my fingers. So "inclusive road to ISTE" hashtag, where if you follow along on that on all of your social channels, you are going to see what we're doing, be able to comment, contribute, add to our Spotify playlist, give us some ideas for some of the different stops that we're making and all of that. We want folks to feel like they are on this journey to some extent with us.

Beth Poss: (45:49)

And this is whether you're going to ISTE or not at ISTE. That's a hashtag as well, I believe, is not at ISTE. And then you guys at Texthelp have been so amazing, because you've set up a webpage for our road trip to ISTE. I'm sure you're going to have the link for that in the show notes. So we want you guys to join us. So everybody out there, join us on our road trip.

Chris Bugaj: (46:18)

But Jason, that's not all. But then there's an extra layer on top of the road trip. And that is, we have partnered with ISTE where they have what's called the Inclusive Learning Playground. And we know some of the people that were putting the Inclusive Learning Playground [together], which is an event that happens at ISTE. We were figuring out times that we would work at the playground and introduce some concepts that people… that might come to the playground. And out of those conversation was born the wonderfully inclusive scavenger hunt. What we're calling WISH.

Chris Bugaj: (46:49)

What that is, is exactly what it is. It's a scavenger hunt that we're putting together with lots of different items where people can explore the tech, some of what, like Mike said, for instance like, "Oh my gosh, I didn't know this was in here." Well, that might be one of the items in this scavenger hunt is go through your technology and find some accessibility features that you didn't know exist. Share those back out to a larger audience, to continue to promote inclusive learning.

Chris Bugaj: (47:17)

As we were designing it, we thought, "Geez, why do that just at ISTE? Why don't we do that as part of the road trip? Why don't we make it available, like Beth said, to people who are not at ISTE." And so we are kicking that off. Karen and Mike host AT chat, which happens on Wednesday nights at eight o'clock Eastern time on Twitter. And Mike and Karen, tell me if I'm speaking out of turn here, but the last one of the year is happening on June 22nd at 8:00 PM. And that's where we're going to release the whole list of items for the scavenger hunt. It's like cutting the ribbon and letting people run across the start line for the scavenger hunt to go find these different items and have fun with this experience.

Mike Marotta: (48:06)

Yeah. That's exactly it, Chris. That's when we'll kick everything off. That'll be fun. We'll do that a bit of a hybrid event that night. So we won't just do it on Twitter, we'll actually do it through a video, like a Zoom or something like that as well.

Mike Marotta: (48:20)

And I like that Jason pointed out right away, the potential for these four individuals to have an experience in a car together that might end up being, I'm just going to call it fun, because I like this idea of it. And I like that I get to talk about the playlist one more time that Beth mentioned quickly, the idea of our Spotify playlist. We have been compiling songs that we will listen to on the road. And I got to tell you, I'm not taking it easy on anybody here. I feel like I'm adding some songs that I would like to drive fast and loud with the windows down. So that's my plan. But not only are we adding songs, we are inviting anyone else to add a song. Maybe you have an idea of a road trip song that you'd like to hear us listen to throughout the trip.

Mike Marotta: (49:17)

So you can visit the webpage. I know Karen mentioned that Texthelp has been gracious enough to throw a page up on your website. There is a link there that takes you to the Spotify playlist so you can add your own songs as well. And we'll just have those pop up while we're driving, which is exciting.

Karen Janowski: (49:32)

Has anyone listened to the Spotify playlist yet? Because I have to say I started and it is such a fun, eclectic combination of music. It's really, really, really great.

Beth Poss: (49:44)

This is Beth. I've been listening to it, too, as I've been doing different things. I'm like, "Yeah, this is awesome."

Mike Marotta: (49:51)

Oh, you guys have started?

Jason Carroll: (49:51)

I cannot wait to check this out. That's funny.

Mike Marotta: (49:54)

I have not listened to it at all. I'm going to go in fresh. I want this to be a new experience, so I haven't listened to it at all yet.

Jason Carroll: (49:59)

That's great.

Beth Poss: (50:00)

I wanted to be able to sing along to your songs, Mike. So I had to pre-listen.

Karen Janowski: (50:06)

Mike’s selections are-

Mike Marotta: (50:07)

Most people scream along as they just-

Karen Janowski: (50:09)

Mike's selections are a little tough to sing along to.

Jason Carroll: (50:11)

Right, well this is on my to do list following this recording, because I'm going to go and check that out immediately. And then while you all are there, I assume you're going to have sessions there and there's a coffee thing. You're going to be at the booth. There's going to be book signing, all that sort of stuff.

Beth Poss: (50:30)

Yeah. Who wants to take this one? Yeah, definitely.

Karen Janowski: (50:34)

Yeah. Just like what you said, Jason. We've got some sessions. We are going to be at the Texthelp booth. We're going to be at the book creator booth. We're going to be at a few other booths. And then you have the coffee EDU at your booth that we're excited about. Like Chris mentioned, we're part of the Inclusive Learning Playground, and there'll be book signings. And then we're also doing an event called Cards Against Exclusivity, which is actually Chris' brainchild, so we can let Chris talk a little bit more about what that event is.

Chris Bugaj: (51:06)

Yeah. I'm sure people have heard of Cards Against Humanity, or if not, you've played Apples to Apples, but it's essentially the same idea that there's a large chunk of cards, maybe 300 cards that I've made that feature different strategies, different products. Of course the Texthelp products are all on different cards. And at the bookstore, I think it's happening on the Sunday of ISTE. Is that right? I think it might be.

Beth Poss: (51:34)

Yeah, I think it's Sunday.

Chris Bugaj: (51:37)

Yeah, Sunday at 1:00 PM at ISTE. If you're going to be there, stop by the bookstore area, we're going to be playing this Cards Against Exclusivity. So you get a handful of cards, a scenario gets thrown up on the board, and you have to pick the card that you think your team selectively ... Or you collectively pick a card from your set of cards as a team to match the scenario that's on the board behind you. And then are celebrity judges, which of course will be Mike and Beth and Karen, will choose from those cards that were selected, the winning card, the one they think matches the scenario the best. And the whole time you're having fun, you're collaborating, and you're learning some new tech along the way.

Jason Carroll: (52:16)

That is awesome. I'm so looking forward to this, there's so much planned. I'm sure somewhere on our show notes, we'll have a link out that you can see the full schedule, where you all will be and all the different things going on. So, that's great. And then when this all wraps up, are you all riding back together?

Beth Poss: (52:31)

We're flying back.

Mike Marotta: (52:36)

Good question, Jason.

Karen Janowski: (52:37)

I'm driving from Chris's back up to Boston. So I do have a leg that is still a little bit more driving.

Jason Carroll: (52:46)

Gotcha. I was just thinking it through, I think family vacations and you're all excited. You're heading on vacation and then kind of how it's just a quieter ride on the way back.

Beth Poss: (52:52)

That was exactly our thoughts, too.

Mike Marotta: (52:58)

Jason, it's kind of a perfect road trip scenario. We're going to take a car and then just physically leave it there in New Orleans and then just all go home our own way, which is the way you should do any road trip.

Jason Carroll: (53:09)

I like it. That's perfect. All right. Well guys, thanks so much for your time. It's been a blast, as always. And just so knowledgeable. I love the stuff that you guys are talking about. I love the stuff that you're doing. Can't wait for ISTE. Look forward to seeing you all there in person. It's been a while for some of us, for sure. So thanks again, guys. And I look forward to getting this out to everyone so they can listen to it.

Karen Janowski: (53:30)

Thanks so much, Jason. Great talking with you.

Beth Poss: (53:33)

Yeah. Thanks, Jason.

Chris Bugaj: (53:35)

Thank you.