Jason Carroll, Chief Product Officer at Texthelp is joined again by some of the authors of Inclusive Learning 365: Chris Bugaj, Karen Janowski and Beth Poss.
In this episode, we’ll be finding out what our guests have been getting up to since our last catch-up, as well as getting all the details from their roadtrip to ISTE and the conference itself, where the team discuss soem of their favourite moments, including a sessions from @DeeLanier from solvedintime.com. If you missed our previous episode with inclusive 365 on their roadtrip to ISTE, you can catch up here.
The book, Inclusive Learning 365 is available from ISTE and Amazon, if you want to grab yourself a copy after listening to our podcast. You can also catch up with the team's road trip to ISTE 2022, listen or add to their road trip playlist or follow Inclusive 365 on Twitter and Instagram.
Jason Carroll: (00:13)
Welcome to the 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: (00:28)
Today, you're hearing from me, Jason Carroll, Chief Product Officer at Texthelp. We're thrilled to have today's guests back on the podcast again. They're becoming regulars. At this point, our friends from Inclusive Learning 365. Over the past 10 years, I've gotten to know Chris, Karen, Mike, and Beth, who all come from a variety of backgrounds in education very well. In this episode, we'll be finding out what our guests have been getting up to since our last catch up, as well as getting all the details from their Roadtrip to ISTE and the conference itself.
Jason Carroll: (00:59)
Chris, Karen, Mike, and Beth have all recently co-written a fantastic book about inclusive learning. The book is called Inclusive Learning 365: Edtech Strategies for Every Day of the Year. If you haven't gotten your hands on a copy yet, we will leave the details about where you can find it in the show notes for this episode. It's always amazing to have you all join us here. Welcome back, first of all.
Jason Carroll: (01:21)
And for anyone listening, who maybe hasn't had the chance to catch our previous episodes together or get to know you all yet, can you please tell us a little about yourself and just to give everybody a heads up, Mike is not able to join us today, but I did want to make sure that we included his name in the introduction because he is, of course, part of the ISTE road trip and part of the Inclusive Learning 365 crew. So assuming we're not starting with Mike, I'll hand it over to you to introduce yourself.
Chris Bugaj: (01:48)
I guess I'll go first. My name's Chris Bugaj, and I'm the assistive technology specialist for Loudoun County Public Schools. Karen?
Karen Janowski: (01:54)
And hi, I'm Karen Janowski, and I am an assistive and inclusive technology consultant working in the Greater Boston Area. We provide services to many school districts in Massachusetts.
Beth Poss: (02:05)
And my name is Beth Poss, and my day job is I am the director of educational programs with LessonPix. I'm a speech language pathologist and special educator by training, but I really like to consider myself an inclusive learning advocate.
Jason Carroll: (02:24)
Very good. Thank you. Thank you all. I think at this point, I could just do the introductions for you. Next time, we should give that a go.
Beth Poss: (02:31)
There you go.
Jason Carroll: (02:32)
You have all been introduced to me, and I'll introduce you, and we'll flip things around. It'll be good. Hey, okay. So let's start with the fun stuff. The famous Road Trip to ISTE, last time we all were getting ready to kick off. I was a little concerned about all of you getting in one vehicle for such a long amount of time, but I assume it worked out. You're all still here. Well, most of us. Mike's not here. But could you give us a brief recap of the plans and how it went?
Chris Bugaj: (02:55)
Not only are we all still here, I would say, we're all still friends. After spending that much time in the car together, we, I think, even gelled even closer as a group. But Karen, I think you should lead us off because you're the one who kicked off the road trip from Massachusetts.
Karen Janowski: (03:10)
Yeah. And what a great start it was. We actually were able to start right at Texthelp headquarters, United States headquarters here in Woburn, Massachusetts and got a great sendoff, great energy. There was so much excitement from the Texthelp staff themselves and we left... Actually, I left, picked up Mike in New Jersey after about six hours of traffic. And then, Mike and I continued on to get Chris and Beth down in Virginia, and we had some stops along the way. We just had so much fun with the Texthelpers and with just making an impact as we were driving along the way.
Karen Janowski: (03:54)
One of the songs that really captured what we did was called Fun, Fun, Fun by the Beach Boys. I'm sure fun, fun, fun, that Beach Boys song. And I think that really does capture how much fun and exciting things that we did along the way. And we did bring the Texthelpers with us. We had great photo ops, and I know Chris and Beth will probably talk about some of those photo opportunities that we shared with the Texthelpers along the way.
Beth Poss: (04:28)
Yeah, it really was just so much fun. We had a blast. Without a doubt, we came through it not only, still all getting along, but absolutely getting closer and getting to know each other more as people, which was really, really cool and not just as professional colleagues. So it was fantastic, and we really appreciate the support that Texthelp gave us in order to make that happen.
Jason Carroll: (04:57)
That's awesome. I enjoy following along on social media. It did look like you all really enjoyed yourself along the way. It was fun to watch from afar, for sure. Hey, so Karen, you already alluded to this a bit. You talked about music and the Fun, Fun, Fun, and all that sort of stuff. I believe it's the case that all our listeners and others from social media, they contributed to your Spotify playlist for the trip. Was there a memorable song besides the Fun, Fun, Fun that really sticks out?
Karen Janowski: (05:30)
There actually were several that were appropriately themed. I actually went through the list again just to remind ourselves of what was on the list because every genre was represented, but some of the ones that were especially appropriate were On The Road Again, Willie Nelson, Life is a Highway by Rascal Flatts, and Drive by The Cars. Those were some of the memorable great themed ones. Born to Be Wild was also on there. Chris and Beth, can you think of others?
Beth Poss: (06:01)
Oh, yeah. And then, we had the Hard Rock Edge. And since Mike isn't here to defend himself, we can rag on that a little bit. So anytime we felt like a little head banging music, one of Mike's songs would come on and-
Karen Janowski: (06:16)
Shoot to Kill, Shoot to Kill. Yeah.
Chris Bugaj: (06:20)
I would also say-
Beth Poss: (06:21)
It definitely helped pass the time and seeing who had contributed what, and it was like all... And I can't remember how many different people ended up contributing. We had a bunch.
Karen Janowski: (06:30)
Chris Bugaj: (06:30)
Close to 20, I think.
Beth Poss: (06:32)
Chris Bugaj: (06:32)
Somewhere between 15 and 20 different people contributed to the Spotify playlist. And it was great to see, like you said, Beth, "Oh, did you put this on there? Did you put that? Who know... This is someone named Brian put it on there. Who's Brian?" It's great.
Beth Poss: (06:44)
And I've still been listening to it. We took a drive to the beach a couple weeks ago, and I put the playlist. I mean, it's a great playlist. So get on Spotify and find it. We'll have to make sure that you can put it in the notes for the post.
Jason Carroll: (07:02)
Beth Poss: (07:03)
But yeah, it's an awesome playlist, and it's really long. I don't know. We had almost 200 songs on it or something like that, so there's plenty on there to get you through a nice long road trip.
Jason Carroll: (07:15)
That's awesome. I was just thinking that, and you've read my mind, Beth, we need to figure out where that is and make sure we post it up on the show notes again. And I've got a long trip coming up myself, so I may have to subscribe and get started on it.
Jason Carroll: (07:26)
Cool. Hey, so moving on. So the road trip. It sounds like it was awesome. The music was great, but you were also sharing some lessons about inclusive learning along the way. Can you give some examples of that?
Chris Bugaj: (07:38)
Yeah, let me do it.
Beth Poss: (07:39)
Chris Bugaj: (07:39)
Let me go first, Beth. I got one to go first. One of the first things we noticed when we were driving, I mean the whole point was not just to do a road trip, but to share this message about inclusive learning and find different connections along the way.
Chris Bugaj: (07:55)
And one of the first ones we noticed was when we stopped for the night at a hotel, we took a picture of the way the furniture was sort of set up in the lobby. And there were these study carrels where you could go and sit individually like your own little office, but in a collective space. There were couches, there was soft lighting and then the lighting in the room, and it just sent this vibe of flexible learning spaces. It was like you wouldn't know if this was... In fact, I think some people were like, "Is this a picture of a hotel?" No. Or, "Is this a picture of a classroom?"
Chris Bugaj: (08:32)
In the way that a learning space in general in a school, the way the evolution of education is evolving is to look at taking the traditional classroom model of rows and columns of desks and realize that's not really a great learning environment. So how can we adapt to this learning environment? And that's just one of the first examples of taking a picture of how it was designed in this hotel lobby space as a fun working environment where people can choose where they want to sit, choose, where they want to work and have some flexibility in that choice.
Jason Carroll: (09:09)
That's awesome example. So you're saying the hotel lobby was already designed in that way, correct? Or did you all go in and move furniture?
Chris Bugaj: (09:17)
No, it was designed that way.
Beth Poss: (09:18)
We stopped. We were like, "This is a classroom we want to walk into." Right?
Jason Carroll: (09:22)
Beth Poss: (09:22)
It was really great. And throughout the trip, it was amazing how we did not have to dig deep at all to find ways to connect the fun and funny things that we were doing on this road trip to inclusive learning practices. So check out any of our Twitter feeds, our Instagram feeds. We have an Inclusive Learning 365 Twitter feed and Instagram feed. You'll see things there, but all of our individual accounts as well. We posted pictures and I guess advice, tips that we went through.
Beth Poss: (10:05)
One of the first stops that we made on the second day. So the first full day of our trip ended up being a place called Dinosaur Kingdom II that was in Virginia. I think outside of Stanton, Virginia or something like that outside of Winchester. And there was this guy there who had created it. His name was Mark Cline. This place was amazing with all these dinosaur-sized wild, funky sculptures. And he said to us, we just love this quote, he said to us, "I don't run amusement parks. I create experiences for people."
Beth Poss: (10:50)
Well, that's the way we need to think about our education. Right? I don't teach a class. I create experiences for learners. We could sub in the educational words in there instead. And so, I really encourage the listeners to go in and check out our social media feeds from that week of June 23rd or so through the 30th, because there's some real gems in there.
Chris Bugaj: (11:19)
Yeah. The hashtag is InclusiveRoadToISTE.
Beth Poss: (11:24)
Jason Carroll: (11:25)
Awesome. Those are great stories. Great examples. Okay. So sorry. So we're still on the journey to ISTE, right? But you eventually arrived and then once you got there, the agenda didn't get any smaller, lots of things that you had to do. What were some of the goals for the conference? I'm sure you all discussed on the way down and what were you hoping to share and find when you were there? What did you want to learn more about? What were the goals leading up to it that you hoped to accomplish once you arrived?
Karen Janowski: (11:51)
We really decided that preaching the gospel of Inclusive Learning was something that we wanted to share and network with people around. ISTE is the biggest educational technology conference in this country, and it's an international conference as well. And so, this is our audience. This is who we really would like to reach and help them understand and reflect on their current practices. Do they have that inclusive mindset? And we were able to use our social media pose as a way to really share that message as well.
Karen Janowski: (12:29)
But each one of us individually had opportunities to talk with other participants, and we had a great time at your Texthelp booth on a number of different occasions. And the big thing was to really help people understand how important adopting an inclusive mindset is to reach every learner. And I think we were able to do that. It got kicked off. Chris kicked it off really on the very first day of the conference, and he may want to share about that. Right from the start, we had a really engaged audience with Chris's.
Chris Bugaj: (13:04)
Karen, are you talking about the cards against exclusivity events?
Karen Janowski: (13:08)
You nailed it. The best opportunity. That was awesome. Maybe you can share about that.
Chris Bugaj: (13:13)
Yeah. So I'm sure people have heard of the game Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity. I created a spinoff of that, a parody of that, called Cards Against Exclusivity. And what it is 300 cards that have different tools, resources, strategies. A lot of the textile products are on these cards for instance. And we took over a space and Mike and Karen and Beth were the judges.
Chris Bugaj: (13:40)
And the way it worked is that different people created little teams. And then, we passed out cards to them. They have maybe five cards. And then, on a screen behind the judges, we displayed some sort of scenario. And then, people would read the scenario or I'd read the scenario out loud to them. And they would choose from their set of cards, which tool resource strategy would best fit that scenario. So for instance, a way to help people have text read out loud, for instance, right? And then, people would look through their cards and they'd go, "Oh my goodness, Read and Write for Google Chrome."
Chris Bugaj: (14:16)
And then, they would hand that to me. I would collect them from the various teams, shuffle them up, and give them to our crack team of judges who would then choose which card they felt best matched with the scenario behind them. And then, people won little points, and it was a super fun event where... We've done it before. Beth has been a participant in that experience before, as a guest judge at a different conference. And it was great to bring that forward at the ISTE conference, again, for the same reasons that Karen is mentioning, is that it's a place where you can reach so many more educators, not just special educators.
Beth Poss: (14:55)
Yeah. And I have to say one of the most amazing things about ISTE is the vendor hall, right? It's massive. And there are... I don't know hundreds, thousands, whatever, of vendors there. And I carved out time to go through... I didn't get to everything, but to go through quite a few aisles in the vendor hall.
Beth Poss: (15:21)
One of the things that I would do is go up and if I could see the inclusive features of the tool that was being shown there, that was awesome. But when I couldn't necessarily, I would ask the vendors there, and there were a couple of folks that it was a new product for them, something they just designed or something they were just putting out there. And having that opportunity to talk to vendors in a really collegial manner and say, "Hey, did you consider a way to provide text-to-speech within your tool?" Or "I see you've got videos up as a part of your tool, did you consider having closed captioning?"
Beth Poss: (16:05)
So just some of those opportunities to talk to vendors who are touching students and learners through their products, and hopefully make them start thinking about the importance of having accessible inclusive features in their tools. I mean, obviously that's integral to Texthelp's tools, but not every vendor is thinking the same way. And so that was a really powerful experience too, where I felt like, "Okay, maybe I'm having an opportunity to make an impact here just by talking to this person here."
Jason Carroll: (16:43)
That's awesome. Those are great examples and great stories and good points about the vendor hall and things like that as well. It's really amazing how large it is. It's a bit of an experience if you've never been to ISTE, when you walk in, just how large it is. It's keeping on that same track. You joined as a Texthelp stand several times, I think throughout the SD conference, and you chatted with visitors to the booth. Can you recap any discussions that came up or people searching for anything in specific? And I always like the questions about what challenges were people trying to solve while they were there?
Beth Poss: (17:22)
Yeah. I mean, that was actually the first thing. People would be walking by, and I would put myself in front of them and say, "Hey, tell me something really amazing that you've gotten out of the conference so far." And so that was my go-to question to ask people who were coming up and whatever it is that they were saying, I would then try to direct them into the idea of like, "Oh, how are you thinking about that in terms of including all your learners and making supports for all learners in your classroom, in your district, in your school, whatever the role was that those individual people were playing?"
Beth Poss: (18:05)
It was really cool to hear their answers and to hear their enthusiasm and their excitement. People were really jazzed about it. And then, I mean, for me, the most fun part of being at your booth is when you guys give away books. And so that was really very surreal to be signing autographs for all these books and having people coming up and excited and eager to get a book, one of our books, from you all. So thank you guys so much for that. It was great to talk to people who were coming through the vendor hall that way.
Karen Janowski: (18:44)
I think what impressed me when we were at your booth too, Jason, was how many people hadn't heard about the products? How many people were unaware of what was possible? And so, it was an opportunity to open up their eyes to these new ideas, these new inclusive concepts, because you've got a wealth of different products and the features within the products that are so inclusive.
Karen Janowski: (19:12)
You've got Read and Write for Google, which has amazing features. Besides the Read Aloud features, you've got the Summarized Features and the highlighting and the Voice Notes features. I mean, you've got some really wonderful inclusively designed features. Equatio, you won an award for that. How awesome is that? Because there's really no other math product that's even similar with all of the inclusively designed features that are included in that.
Karen Janowski: (19:39)
So it's really exciting to be that catalyst to help them see, consider these new opportunities. And so, to direct them so they could hear more from those of you who were at the booth itself, that was really fun and empowering to be able to open up educator's eyes to possibilities that they never considered before.
Chris Bugaj: (20:00)
This is exactly the point that Karen was making earlier. And then, I tried to reiterate and Beth is reiterating, is that this is the sort of conference that you need to be at, right? So we could be at a conference that is special ed focus. And most people at a special ed conference is going to heard of text-to-speech, where they've been working to provide some accommodation for inaccessible math, right?
Chris Bugaj: (20:24)
But here, as educators walk by and we're like, "What do you teach? What do you do?" And they're like, "Oh, I work in math." "Oh, have you heard of Equatio?" "No." "Okay. How did you work through the pandemic?" "What was your digital tool? And what did you do to make it accessible for people?" Those sorts of conversations happen at such a great frequency at the ISTE conference. It really felt like the needle moved for many educators who just hadn't considered it before and hadn't realized it.
Chris Bugaj: (20:55)
I remember one conversation I had with somebody there at the booth, it wasn't about math. It was about text-to-speech, and they were like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. We have a textbook, and there's a little play button next to the text." I'm like, "Tell me more." And they're like, "Yeah. So like a little listen button, you hit the listen button, and then there's this human narrator who reads it aloud." I go, "Does it highlight as it reads along?" "No." "Can you adjust the speed?" "No."
Chris Bugaj: (21:26)
"Is it the same listen button across all tools that you're using?" "No. Each different assessment has a different listen button or something. There's no consistency. Well, that's like using a different phone each time you want to use it. If I'm going to call somebody, I'm going to use phone number one. But if I'm going to text somebody, I'll use phone number two. And if actually I'm going to watch a YouTube video, I'm going to use phone number three. It's like you don't use multiple tools. You want to use sort of a consistent platform for people. So especially students. So they get used to it."
Chris Bugaj: (21:58)
And that's what the Texthelp tools we're able to show them. Right at the booth, "Come over and look at this. And how there's a consistent experience across the different tools you're using."
Jason Carroll: (22:10)
Those are great stories. I mean, to make sure that you all are at the booth in all the conferences. That's excellent. That's very good stuff. I had great conversations there as well. Many of them, if you will, I did notice something interesting on your right. The scale of ISTE is just so much larger than maybe some of the smaller conferences where certain products may be better known than others.
Jason Carroll: (22:31)
But even talking with technology directors, in the last few years, the pandemic changed so many things to where a lot of times you'd go to these conferences and look for computers and interactive whiteboards and network marketing supplies and all these things. In a lot of places, it's now one to one. Everybody finally has the technology, right?
Jason Carroll: (22:51)
A lot of folks are now focusing more on, "Okay, so what technology can I get that can help a really large group of diverse learners?" Learn to read, and write, and study, and listen, and speak, and create, and all these kinds of things. So I liked seeing that shift more to some of the tools rather than the actual equipment that you use, which is a requirement before you can use many of the tools, obviously, but I thought that was an interesting thing that I saw at ISTE.
Jason Carroll: (23:17)
Okay. So moving on then through a list of questions that I have here, you also hosted a session at ISTE. And it was titled designing instruction with an inclusive mindset. Maybe could you share any specific strategies you shared or some key takeaways that you left the attendees with?
Chris Bugaj: (23:34)
Well, I'm going to jump in on this one. I loved the way this session actually evolved. It was towards the end of the day, after a very long day and maybe four people, five people showed up at the start of the session. So immediately, we had a plan with a slide deck and how we were going to, four of us for an hour session, how we were going to divide it up. And we had this whole plan.
Chris Bugaj: (23:57)
And as soon as we saw there was only four or five people, we immediately jumped off the booth off the stage, pulled together a circle. And then, throughout the course of the hour, another two people rolled in, another three people rolled in, another person peeked in, and saw that we were having this interactive discussion. It wasn't sitting in front of the room, talking to them for an hour. It was a back and forth engaging discussion that continued to grow, and I feel like that is one of the... We said it earlier, but we'll say it again. One of the principal components in designing inclusive educational experiences is being flexible.
Chris Bugaj: (24:35)
And we exhibited that right there from the jump in this session is like, "Well, okay. Well, it doesn't make sense to be like us talking to you." And that wasn't the real design of the experience in the first place. It was a lot more interaction. So let's just pull together a small group discussion and let's do it that way. It really resonated with me that we were able to have these conversations with people and make it a more flexible design.
Karen Janowski: (25:01)
Yeah. We actually definitely had mild flexibility because we completely pivoted, and I think it made it a much more engaging conversation. And what was nice to see too is people peeked in, and it was when they turned around, they actually joined us. They saw that we were all sitting together, we were collaborating, we were sharing ideas, and everyone participated, which is not the typical of the presentation.
Karen Janowski: (25:31)
You don't have that opportunity to participate in and ask your questions or share your own experiences, and it was a really dynamic, active session as it turned out. And so, we were facilitating but also sharing ideas and learning from the participants as well. I loved the way that that particular session evolved. It was really fantastic.
Beth Poss: (25:58)
And I think a lot more than just sharing strategies, and this was the plan from the start, was not just to simply share strategies but was for us to ask questions. And we actually have questions that we title as Questions Inclusive Educators Ask. And there are things like, how do we consider every learner's unique needs, strengths and abilities? And how does the technology provide options that empower every learner?
Beth Poss: (26:27)
And so from the get-go, that is how we would rather engage with folks that come to a session that we're doing so that it is a conversation. It's not about necessarily what we have to do. It's not about us as the sage is on the stage, and we jumped off that stage as quickly as we could, as it is that opportunity to help people reflect and consider and share their answers to those questions. Not just keep those answers in their head but to share out those answers with a larger group, which I think really was powerful.
Jason Carroll: (27:12)
That's great. And I can just think from the audience, I'm sure when they walked in and there weren't that many people there at first, they were like, "Hmm, I wonder about this." But it was just one of the most beneficial sessions that they ended up being to. I can think in my life as an attendee and as a presenter, many times when there weren't as many people in attendance and it became a much more informal close-knit group. Those were the most meaningful sessions, I think, that I've ever been to either as an attendee or a presenter again, so that's great. That works out because you often know how the opportunity to have that sort of experience at ISTE.
Jason Carroll: (27:46)
So on the same track of what we're talking about, anything that you learned that was new or you picked up maybe at ISTE that you thought was interesting related to inclusive learning that you're going to incorporate into future trainings or lessons or maybe even another book?
Beth Poss: (28:01)
I'll jump in with that. I went to a really awesome session led by an educator. His name was Dee Lanier, I believe. And he was leading a session on diversity, equity, and inclusion. We talked about Chris's game that he created while de-created a game also. I guess it's a game, but it's a card set. He talks about it as a problem-based learning and design-thinking activity. And it's called Solve in Time. He has no idea that I'm talking about this. I didn't come on... It's not like, "Oh, I've got to go plug this."
Beth Poss: (28:48)
But he has a website solveintime.com, and his social media handle is @solveintime, but it was really cool because it was interactive. So he played the game or passed out the cards. I don't know if he really considered it a game or not, but he passed out the cards. People were grouped up at tables, and we had these cards that talked us through different problem-solving scenarios. I'm holding them in my hands right now.
Beth Poss: (29:21)
One of the questions might... He posed a real life educational problem like, how might you solve it in a new way? Where have you seen the problem? These are some of the question cards. Use research skills and personal knowledge to answer the question, when does the problem happen? Where did the problem begin?
Beth Poss: (29:47)
And I really appreciated that approach to the topic and you could do it with really any educational topic. And so, I went and bought his cards, and I'm really hoping that I'm going to be able to apply those to an in-person training session in the future because I really was impressed by that. So that was one of my big takeaways that I got really super excited about.
Chris Bugaj: (30:12)
All right, go next. One of the sessions that I went to was all about eSports now for the last several years, I'm going to say three to five years, so maybe two years before the pandemic, eSports has continued to be a growing phenomenon in schools and beyond. And one of the things that draws me towards it is, again, the inclusive nature of it is that the vast majority of people like to play games. Although people might choose different types of games, gaming continues to be something that almost everyone enjoys doing it. And when we play video games, can we make that an inclusive experience right from the jump, right from the beginning?
Chris Bugaj: (30:57)
Again, so many are already designed with accessibility features. Are we taking advantage of those? But then, something else that I think aligns with that gaming is something that Texthelp has talked about for years, especially since their WriQ product, and that is learners who play games often get feedback at the end of the game. If you're playing, let's say, Madden football game at the end of the football game, you get statistics about your passing scores and catching scores and all that stuff.
Chris Bugaj: (31:28)
And many games have this sort of feedback that you get at the end. And WriQ is an example of that, but related to writing, right? So what if we could give students some input about their writing, and they could then make adjustments based on that? And that aligns with what Mike and Beth and Karen and I have been saying, and that is an underlying theme of the book, is that what can we do to put the learning in the learner's hands? And that includes the data and the feedback that they get.
Chris Bugaj: (32:00)
So let's give them the data, give the students, give the learners the data, give them those metrics, and then they can make adjustments themselves just like they do in an eSports video gaming atmosphere. Can they do that with writing? Can they do it with their math? Can they do it with their other academics involved in the learning process?
Jason Carroll: (32:21)
Karen Janowski: (32:26)
For me, the biggest takeaway that I always get out of conferences, and it's not necessarily just limited to inclusive learning but just those opportunities for conversations and catching up with people and just hearing what has excited them during the previous year or in their current learning environment, what they are doing and what kind of results that they're seeing with their learners and just those opportunities to maybe challenge thinking or take them to a new level.
Karen Janowski: (32:54)
And again, I go to every conference always knowing that I'll learn something new because we don't know what we don't know, and there's always something new to learn. So I think it was more generic, nothing particularly specific, but just being able to be around so many committed, engaged, empowered learners. You just run with that energy, and it was really an awesome experience as it always is.
Jason Carroll: (33:24)
Chris Bugaj: (33:24)
Karen, speaking of awesome experiences and related to what Beth and I were saying with gaming and competitions, Jason, did you have anything that happened at the ISTE conference as far as, I don't know, winning anything?
Jason Carroll: (33:38)
Oh, look at that. That's a perfect transition. Nice work, Chris. We did actually. So most notably, both the Equatio and OrbitNote won the Tech & Learning's Best of Show award, which we were super excited about. It was a complete surprise when we saw it announced, so everybody was really happy about that. You're all three familiar with Equatio and OrbitNote. On that, how do you feel those tools support inclusive learning?
Karen Janowski: (34:07)
Well, first of all, with Equatio, there is nothing else that does anything similar to what it offers. I mean, the ability to speak the math problems, the ability to hand write them, and then convert it into text and it goes immediately into the Google Doc, those experiences are just unheard of in other types of products. So the flexibility, the options, the features, and the tools really are geared to those who learn differently, who have variability in terms of their math skills. And it's just an incredible product for many people, many educators to know about.
Karen Janowski: (34:49)
With OrbitNote, you're mentioning some of the new releases that make it even more inclusive that we're really excited to hear more about. I mean, Texthelp, your company, you are committed to inclusive learning. You are such a great model for other ed tech companies. And so, continuing to add these new features is a win-win for everyone, especially our learners.
Beth Poss: (35:15)
In terms of OrbitNote, Karen actually usually has a meme in a lot of representations that something along the lines of you can fill it in better than me, Karen. Go jump in, but something along the lines of, "Yay, another worksheet," said no learner ever. Right?
Karen Janowski: (35:31)
Beth Poss: (35:32)
And I think the fact that OrbitNote gives... It's one of those things that just seems so hard for educators to let go of are these worksheet-based things. And given that OrbitNote can take something that exists as an inaccessible, non-interactive flat PDF and can make it interactive where learners and educators can give feedback to each other, where it becomes accessible because of the features of text-to-speech and typing text on top of it, and adding notes or adding instructions.
Beth Poss: (36:11)
But beyond that, the freehand drawing, and highlighting, and again, I think the text and voice comments is huge where we can take something that maybe there's some familiarity for educators with an assignment that they don't want to give up that they've been doing, but to infuse new life into it, by making a truly interactive resource that students can contribute to learn from each other and get feedback on.
Beth Poss: (36:39)
So yeah, I think that's makes OrbitNote as one of those things that can be a really great jumping off place for folks that are just not quite ready to let go of what they've always been doing.
Chris Bugaj: (36:52)
Something that scares me and a trap that I find some educators fall into, especially administrators that might be providing these tools or funding these tools, or when I say funding they're allocating the funds for the tools, is that they might say, "Well, this is special ed only," which is then not really inclusion, right? It's like, "Only this population will make it a tier-three support that only some kids get or individual kids get."
Chris Bugaj: (37:18)
But there's a whole swath of kids that might not be eligible for special education but need these tools as well so that they can again make math accessible, annotate on top of the PDF, everything that Beth and Karen just said, right. But if you provide it to just a handful of students... I mean, I guess that's a start, but let's not leave anyone out. We really want to just make it a tier one tool. What I mean by that is something that's available to everyone.
Chris Bugaj: (37:46)
And then also then, it becomes a training mechanism because the peers just help each other. "What are you doing over there? How are you using that? Oh, let me show you how I use that." And everyone gets to learn from each other as opposed to, "Well, that's just a special thing that someone gets, and now I feel weird about using it. Why would I use that? My friend doesn't use it." No, it's just there for anybody. It's an option for everybody.
Jason Carroll: (38:09)
That's a good point, Chris. I mean, I use OrbitNote every day. That's just my PDF tool of choice because I can do all the things I would need to be collaborative, interactive, all that sort of stuff. But it also has all the supports built in with Read&Write and Equatio works with those anyways. So I really appreciate the kind words on the products. It's very kind of you to say, we owe a lot of that back to practitioners like you and many teachers and even students that are telling us like, "Hey, this is great, but we need to solve this challenge or solve that challenge."
Jason Carroll: (38:36)
And then it's back to the drawing board for us to figure out how to do that. So without your role's input, it wouldn't be nearly the product it is now. And we'll continue to be, so appreciate that from you all. I guess moving on, just a couple of more questions on here as students and educators are heading back to school, what's some advice that you'd like to share with them. How can they kick off the year with an inclusive mindset?
Karen Janowski: (38:58)
Well, I'll start with this one. We could go on for a couple hours just on this particular question. But one of the things is even to think, reflect on the vocabulary that we use in our learning spaces and how we talk about one of the things that I hear a lot about, and Chris alluded to that too when he talked about this isn't just for special education. This is when we use these strategies and tools, then we are reaching every learner. We're not deciding whether they're general ed or special ed.
Karen Janowski: (39:33)
And so, just even reflecting on the vocabulary that's used, these aren't my kids and the special ed kids are your kids. They're all of our kids. And just adopting that particular change in the terminology can make such a difference. I think as part of that, we're also recognizing that there's learner variability. And a learner variability can change even from day to day, depending on what our learners are coming in with and what they've experienced or maybe they've had something happen at home or whatever.
Karen Janowski: (40:03)
I know that educators, they are intentional in terms of they do want to make sure that they're reaching every learner, but they may not be aware of all of the strategies and tools that are available. And so, one of the things I would like to suggest to them is that... I mean, this is a shameless plug, but our book Inclusive Learning 365 really does challenge thinking and does, I believe, help educators reflect on their current instructional practices and really get them thinking in a new way, thinking outside the box, let's just throw away the box.
Jason Carroll: (40:41)
I like it.
Beth Poss: (40:41)
I'll add, I'll add. So my challenge, my advice, my challenge to educators is they start off the new year. And whether you do that by picking up a copy of our book and finding something in there, or by listing something that you're getting from this podcast, but my challenge to educators this year is to replace exclusive practice. Something that leaves learners out with an inclusive practice.
Beth Poss: (41:09)
It can be as simple as, instead of only offering one novel to read as the choice, maybe there's a theme or something that you're needing to explore in AP English, language arts, whatever it is. Instead of offering just one choice of a book, offer multiple choices of a book, offer doodle versions of that book. Make sure that the audio version of that book is also available.
Beth Poss: (41:39)
It might be something as simple as that. It might be taking that paper worksheet that you have and using a tool like OrbitNote with it and making it an interactive accessible resource that facilitates collaboration and exchange of ideas. So take one thing that you're doing that isn't working for all learners and replace it with a practice that can help all of the learners in your setting.
Chris Bugaj: (42:07)
My advice to make it very tangible for people is to, especially here at the beginning of the school year, is look at the learning space itself by starting talking about those flexible learning spaces. Well, how is your space designed? Is it something that everybody has to sit in the same place or stand in the same place? Or is there flexibility in where you can decide to work?
Chris Bugaj: (42:31)
As soon as an educator adopts a flexible learning space, the next question I ask is, "Well, what else can I let go of? What else can I make more flexible in the design?" So that's such a hands-on tangible thing, make it a clutter-free zone. You don't feel like you need to get out the Cricut machine and throw up a bunch of crap on the walls that'll make it distracting for people. Be very purposeful about what you put up in the environment. Invite students and make the learners to decorate that environment with the work that is meaningful to them, for the strategies that are meaningful for them. So be really purposeful about designing that learning space.
Chris Bugaj: (43:06)
And if you need a shortcut about how to design that learning space like, "Oh, Chris, that sounds great. Make it flexible. What does that mean exactly?" There's a roadmap for how to do that. Just go to any special ed program, like an autism classroom, an IDMD classroom, if you have those classrooms. They're likely designed that way already with soft lighting and soft seating and furniture that can immediately switch from something that you can sit onto, something that you can write on. They're usually designed with that flexibility in mind. So again, those spaces can help you design spaces for everybody. It just gives you a little bit of a roadmap.
Karen Janowski: (43:46)
And Jason, can I add something more? I mean, again, we could go on for a long time with this, but Beth brought up the idea of replacing the practices that are exclusive. And I think that we educators are very concerned about the time restraints that they have and thinking and designing in a new way may seem to be overwhelming and may take a great deal of time, but a whole idea of replacing strategies, methods, instructional methods that you're using that are less effective.
Karen Janowski: (44:20)
If you're replacing those with strategies that are inclusive and reach all learners that are not exclusive, what you're doing is you're gaining time and you're adopting that inclusive mindset that benefits all. So it's that whole idea. When you're designing flexibly, you're replacing that strategy that was putting learners into their rose of death that doesn't make learning possible. So it's reflecting and replacing, and there's so much possibility there.
Jason Carroll: (44:53)
I like it. I really appreciate all of the real specific, tangible examples. I think that's what brings these to life and good points from everyone there. And Karen, you mentioned something I thought was interesting too, about the language that we use, thinking about all the students that come into the classroom or into the school as they're all our students. They're not just these students versus those students versus your students versus my students. They're all our students.
Jason Carroll: (45:19)
And I think getting everyone using the same language can have a big impact. I myself have been trying to, instead of saying, "I have to do things," I've been trying to say, "I get to do things." So instead of having to attend a meeting, I get to attend a meeting. Now, it has limits on how well it works, but I have found just rephrasing that sometimes totally changes my attitude towards something. So I think that's great.
Karen Janowski: (45:42)
Oh, very interesting. That's a good one, Jason. Thanks.
Jason Carroll: (45:44)
Yeah, it doesn't work like during tax time and all that sort of stuff. It works for the basics anyways. Hey, so one last question. We'll wrap up here. I really appreciate everyone's time. We know there's always lots of change and challenge coming into any new school year. Is there anything that you're super excited about or what's making you optimistic about the future of education?
Beth Poss: (46:07)
One of the things I'm really excited about is we're actually going to be starting our very first book study with a group of educators on Inclusive Learning 365. So it's a statewide book study through Nebraska State Department of Education and their ISTE state level group. And we are super excited to be able to really engage in a deep, meaningful conversation across the year with that group of educators, so I think that's what's got me charged up for this coming school year.
Jason Carroll: (46:43)
Karen Janowski: (46:43)
And I think any new school year, it's a beginning. You're starting fresh. You're hopefully integrating and implementing all those great ideas that you learned at places like ISTE or the Texthelp booth or you're just getting that opportunity to really implement things that you are excited about. And hopefully, this has been an opportunity for many educators to start thinking more inclusively so they can evaluate the effectiveness and see the difference.
Karen Janowski: (47:13)
That's the other thing too. When we talk about adopting an inclusive mindset, take some baseline, try your traditional way, and then implement some of the inclusive strategies and see what difference it makes in terms of quality of work, empowerment, because it's not just about engagement. We really want to empower our learners as well. So it's just that whole idea of starting from scratch and building off of a strong foundation with new ideas and new strategies.
Chris Bugaj: (47:43)
Yeah. I will reiterate what Beth and Karen said, and I'll add to it by saying that at the time of this recording, we are in the midst of the great resignation. It's the beginning of the school year. There are teachers I know, just like last week, who said, "I quit. I'm not coming back. I'm not doing it."
Chris Bugaj: (48:00)
But there's also, what comes with that, an opportunity of new teachers with new blood, new fresh ideas that can learn from veterans who are staying, who have stayed, and the ones that are staying are often the ones that have adopted this new way of thinking about education, where it's not, like Beth said, it's not sage on the stage anymore. It's guide on the side.
Chris Bugaj: (48:23)
There are teachers that have already adopted personalized learning, understand growth mindset that are working on project-based learning. They're putting the learner first and these are the teachers that seem to be happier with their jobs. They're not the ones running to get out of the profession. I find the ones that are leaving are the ones that are the old ones that like to lecture for 90 minutes and wonder why kids don't like doing that, "This generation is horrible because they don't listen to us for 90 minutes." Like, "What?"
Chris Bugaj: (48:50)
No, it's the new teacher, the new... I shouldn't say a new teacher, a new thought process about how to redesign the educational experience. And as new educators come into the profession, they can learn from these people that are really enjoying it because they've adopted these sorts of philosophies about how to design educational experiences for everyone.
Beth Poss: (49:13)
And I'm just going to add one thing on top of that. My own daughter is a first year teacher. She's teaching agricultural science in a high school down in Alabama. And I am so hoping that the mentors that she has are these people who have adapted and changed and have developed as inclusive educators, whether they think they are or not, regardless of the students that they are teaching. I take what Chris said really, really personally right now because I'm watching my daughter, and I want this to be a really positive, empowering career for her.
Jason Carroll: (49:53)
Wow. Yeah. Those are really, really great points and great examples, for sure. It really brings it to life. Well, hey, thank you all for taking the time to join us again on the podcast. It is always a great time to hear what you've been up to, your thoughts and insights around inclusive learning.
Jason Carroll: (50:09)
For our listeners, if you want to get more, where that came from, there are 365 strategies in the book, so you should all go check it out if you haven't already. We will leave those details on where to get it in the show notes of this episode. Thank you all again. And to our listeners, thank you for listening. Don't forget to subscribe to Texthelp Talks on your preferred podcast player or streaming service to catch the next episode. Thanks again. Bye.