Book Review: Academic Ableism

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by James Fortney, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

As you settle into summer break, consider adding Jay Dolmage’s recent book on disability and higher education to your reading list. Academic Ableism (2017) offers a fresh and informed perspective on the historically complicated relationship between disability and higher education. Dolmage, an Associate Professor of English at the University of Waterloo, provides a concise overview of disability studies for anyone new to this growing interdisciplinary body of scholarship. In doing so, he develops disability as a critical framework for examining everything from curriculum design to the built environment in which teaching and learning happens. An important feature of this book is its attention to the shifting, often contradictory discourses of disability that work to push students with disabilities to the margins while also advocating for their full access and inclusion. As such, Dolmage does not shy away from critiquing institutions of higher education for failing to “pay attention to how ableism occurs, and when, and to whom, and to what effect” (p. 39). What makes his book distinct is the many strategies and resources it includes for responding to academic ableism in ways that can lead to systemic change.

Many of the resources identified in the book focus on teaching and learning at the course level, department or program level, and institution level. The entire book is open access and includes an appendix with several Universal Design teaching ideas. You can read the book online and access the appendix and supplemental materials by clicking here [LINK]. If you have limited reading time, I recommend prioritizing the introduction (pp. 1-39) and the chapter on Universal Design (pp. 115-151). Each will offer complementary views of how inclusive course design and teaching practices can help challenge structural ableism in higher education.

If you would like to discuss the ideas in the book or Universal Design for Learning, please contact the Reinert Center to schedule a consultation by clicking here [LINK]. You can also explore related resources on our website by clicking here [LINK].

What Story Are You Telling?

Reinert Center RIT_circle_2014_solid_082214by Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center

In a recent workshop on the importance of relationships in undergraduate education, Peter Felten and Charles Schroeder invited us to think briefly about how we perceive our work (and workplace) and to consider the ways in which our perceptions shape our behaviors. Citing the work of O’Meara et al. (2008) on faculty careers and growth, they introduced us to the idea of “narratives of constraint” and “narratives of growth.”

Narratives of constraint involve us telling the story of ourselves, our work, our working environments, with an emphasis on limitations and barriers. Narratives of growth, on the other hand, allow us to acknowledge constraints while privileging the agency and opportunities for growth that exist within any situation that may challenge us. Ultimately, the story we tell about ourselves and our work is shaped by this distinction: whether we focus on constraint or whether we allow constraint to fuel something new for ourselves. Choosing a narrative of growth doesn’t mean constraints aren’t real, or that we pretend they don’t exist. Choosing a narrative of growth means orienting ourselves to future possibilities, perhaps even ones we could not have seen without the constraint.

As another academic year winds down (and particularly one that has been challenging for our institution as it has been for so many college campuses), I invite you to reflect on what has challenged or constrained you this year, and what opportunities for growth may inhere in those experiences.

Many of you will be reflecting on how your courses went, on what did and did not work well for you and for your students. Even before you receive student ratings, you probably already know of some small tweaks you want to make in a course, or perhaps you’re looking ahead to a full course redesign. As you reflect, here are a few questions that might help you to uncover a new sense of possibility.

What kind of “story” are you telling yourself about this academic year? About yourself as a teacher? About your students? Is it a “narrative of constraint” or a “narrative of growth”?

What constraints did you face as a teacher this year? What constraints did your students face?

What opportunities for growth might you find in those constraints? How might you do more to help students make the shift from constraint narratives to growth narratives?



Felten, P. & Schroeder, C. (2018). Relationships Matter: Enhancing What Matters Most in Undergraduate Education. Workshop for faculty, staff, and graduate students at Saint Louis University. May 8, 2018. [LINK to event page.]

O’Meara, K., Terosky, A.L. & Neumann, A. (2008). Faculty careers and work lives: A professional growth perspective. ASHE Higher Education Report, 34 (3). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. [LINK to PDF]

Congratulations Spring 2018 Certificate Recipients

The Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning honored 13 Certificate in University Teaching Skills recipients and 10 Foundations Certificate in University Teaching Skills recipients at our spring ceremony on Friday, May 4 in Boileau Hall.

Associate professor in the Department of Biology, Dr. Elena Bray Speth, began the ceremony by sharing a reflection on teaching with the recipients, friends, and family in attendance.

This semester’s Certificate in University Teaching Skills recipients are Alyah Alqahtani, Christine Ascencio, Ana Kent, Yunmei Kuang, Daphne Lew, Kelly Lovan-Gold, Abdalla Mohamed, Beth Petitjean, Nicole Ramer, Kristin Skubic, Dawn Wade, Kristin Wehmeyer, and Benjamin Winter. The recipients of the Foundations Certificate are Kaleigh Adrian, Anne Marie Anderson, Jocelyn Fowler, Victoria Fricke, Katherine Hu, Elizabeth Loesch, Kathleen Pham, Jakub Szpunar, Meghan Taylor, and Betelihem Tobo.








The requirements for the Certificate in University Teaching Skills are themselves learning experiences that help participants to make deliberate and intentional choices about teaching. This ceremony acknowledged the time and commitment these participants gave to earning one of the Certificates. We also celebrated the dedication to teaching and learning shown by those faculty members who served as teaching mentors to the certificate recipients.

For more information about our certificates visit

Using Story as a Tool for Teaching

Textbook imageby Lindsey Joyce MSN, RN, CNL, CNOR, Adjunct Instructor School of Nursing

With technology all around us, it can be difficult to grasp student’s attention during times of learning. So, what can we do to enhance learning and engage students? Story has been used as a pedagogy for many years in various subjects, for a variety of purposes. It is a fundamental way in which we share and interpret our experiences. Those experiences allow educators to connect concepts in class to students. Stories capture students’ attention and allow for more engaging conversations and learning to occur. Stories can make instructors seem less threating and more approachable, which makes connecting with students easier.

Students want to be able to link what they learn in the classroom to the real world we are preparing them for. Sharing stories can help link the classroom to actualities in the real world. Promoting problem solving skills and motivating and demonstrating vocational relevance are other ways educators might consider using stories.

So how can storytelling be successfully performed? There are several things to keep in mind when using stories. Good stories often include the following characteristics:

  • Have elements that can be taught effectively
  • Allow for facts and realities that students may face in practice
  • Possibly tap into emotional connection
  • Are complex, ambiguous and have relevance to the course and its objectives

Consider the timing for when using stories in a course might have the most impact. The following are a few ways to think about the timing of a story:

  • As an introduction or end to a program
  • To tie into future concepts
  • To tie into a learning objective
  • To draw a group’s interest back into a concept
  • To start a group’s discussion
  • To enhance a participant’s comments
  • As an energizer when groups look bored
  • When a participant asks for an example

Finally, if you have not used stories in your classroom before, there are a few additional effective practices to keep in mind:

  • DO be sincere and genuine.
  • DO keep the story brief and to the point
  • DO share the story with enthusiasm, varied tone and intensity
  • DO tie the story into the skill or concept by explaining how it relates or why you are telling it
  • DON’T use too many personal stories and remember to involve the group and ask for their experiences as well
  • DON’T tell stories about controversial topics such as politics, race, gender, age
  • DON’T tell unrelated stories as they may cause you to look unorganized or trying to kill time
  • DON’T tell a story that isn’t fresh to you and contains facts you may have forgotten


McNett, G. (2016). “Using stories to facilitate learning.” College Teaching, Vol. 64, 4, 184-193.


New Resource Guide Available

Icon squareA new resource guide on Capstone Projects has been posted to the Reinert Center website [LINK].

If you want to talk with someone about capstone projects, or other high-impact practices, in your own classes, you may request a teaching consultation by completing this form (LINK).

If you have ideas for resource guide topics you would like to see posted, share them here (LINK).

7th Annual Learning Studio Symposium

Reinert Center RIT_circle_2014_solid_082214On Friday April 20, Innovative Teaching Fellows presented at the Paul C. Reinert, S.J. Center for Transformative Teaching & Learning’s 7th annual Learning Studio Symposium.  Past and current Innovative Teaching Fellows shared their experiences with course redesign and with teaching in the Learning Studio – Saint Louis University’s award-winning, state-of-the-art teaching space designed by a team of faculty and students as part of the Herman Miller Learning Spaces Research Program.  Faculty who presented at the Symposium included:

Dr. Pascale Perraudin, Associate Professor of French in Languages, Literatures, Cultures presented on some of the challenges related to redesigning an existing course, FREN 4180 French and International Relations, and how she revisited her integration of a global simulation project in her class.

Katie Devany, Instructor and Director of the Hospitality Management program in the School for Professional Studies, presented on her course design process as well as the future implications of teaching an introductory entrepreneurship course in the learning studio.

After the faculty presentations, attendees met to talk more about the Innovative Teaching Fellowship to as well as teaching in the Learning Studio.  Upcoming videos from the symposium will be posted on the Reinert Center Vimeo page.

For more information about the Innovative Teaching Fellowship and the Learning Studio, visit the CTTL website.  The next call for applications will be announced in late August, 2018.

New Technology for Teaching ejournal now available

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214The latest edition of our ejournal, Technology for Teaching, is now available.  For this issue, we devoted our attention towards teaching that utilizes video-based multimedia.  Featured in this issue is our interview with Dr. Mary Gould, Associate Professor in Communication.  Dr. Gould talks about digital storytelling and how to create, assign, and assess video-based assignments.

Also featured is a review of a new video tool Flipgrid, and how it can help transform instruction.  Finally, this issue includes a series of resources available to help you in the creation of video-based teaching assignments.

Technology for Teaching is a semi-annual publication from the Instructional Developer team in Saint Louis University’s Reinert Center. Each issue will explore innovative ways technology might be used in teaching. It is available online at

First Person Video and Learning

Icon squareby Chris Grabau, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

Video tutorials have become an increasingly popular way to effectively learn new tasks.  In a recent study on Google customer trends, 7-10 of all YouTube viewers use the platform to seek help with everything from work, studies, or hobbies (O’Neil-Hart, 2017

However, when demonstrating certain tasks, the perspective of the video can have an impact on how well a person learns a new task.  In a 2017, Fiorella, Van Gog, Hoogerheide and Mayer found that first-person videos have a positive effect on viewers ability to model, complete, and remember modeling the assembly of a circuit board compared to presenting videos in the third-person.

While first-person video may not be a conventional teaching approach for all topics, Fiorella et al., suggest that it may be a better way to help viewers create a more “accurate mental representation” of the “internal representation of observed spatial relations and actions.”  As a result, they discovered students who watched the first-person demonstrations were generally “more accurate, faster, and made fewer errors on an assembly task.” (Fiorella et al., 2017, p. 10).

While third-person demonstrations can be a valuable (and easy) approach to instructional videos, their study illustrates the importance of considering cognitive load when designing video-based media.   Cognitive load is the internal process of receiving, recalling, and transferring visuomotor information from working memory to long-term memory (Mayer & Moreno, 2003).  Unlike third person videos that include additional visual information, a first-person video can help viewers translate observed actions into their own perspective.

The researchers from this study suggest the creation of a “perspective principle” where first-person design becomes a preferred method of video creation for assembly type tasks.  If you are exploring incorporating video into your teaching, consider the best perspective to support your learning outcomes.  If you would like to explore how the perspective of instructional videos can support your learning outcomes, please consider meeting someone from the Reinert Center for a teaching consultation.



Fiorella, L., van Gog, T., Hoogerheide, V., & Mayer, R. E. (2017). It’s all a matter of perspective: Viewing first-person video modeling examples promotes learning of an assembly task. Journal of Educational Psychology109(5), 653.

Mayer, R. E., & Moreno, R. (2003). Nine ways to reduce cognitive load in multimedia learning. Educational psychologist38(1), 43-52.

O’Neil-Hart, C. (2017). Self-directed learning from YouTube – Think with Google. Retrieved 17 April 2018, from

Relationships Matter: Enhancing What Matters Most in Undergraduate Education

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Tuesday, May 8, 2018
BSC Saint Louis Room
8:30-9:00 Registration and Continental Breakfast
9:00-noon Workshop

Authors of the book, The Undergraduate Experience (Jossey-Bass, 2016), identified six core themes that matter most for student and institutional effectiveness: learning, relationships, expectations, alignment, improvement, and leadership. In this workshop, two of the authors, Peter Felten and Charles Schroeder, will explore how and why relationships matter for students, for faculty and staff, and for institutional culture. During the session, we will critically consider what each of us can do, no matter our context and role, to cultivate educationally purposeful relationships with students and colleagues to enhance engagement, collaboration, learning, and success.

The target audience for this workshop includes faculty (full-time and part-time), administrators, graduate students, and staff who work closely with undergraduates.

For additional details and registration links, go to

Sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the Division of Student Development, and the Reinert Center

The Power of “Constructive Controversies”

Icon squareby Debra Lohe, Director, Reinert Center

Transformative learning necessarily involves change — in knowledge, in perspective, and ultimately, in behavior. Key to this process is the idea of perspective transformation. There are many ways to link course learning to opportunities for students to shift their perspectives, about themselves and about others. Helping students transform their perspectives begins with their ability to recognize differences in viewpoint, as well as to recognize limitations in their own perspectives.

One concrete instructional strategy that can promote changes in perspective is that of using “constructive controversies” (Johnson et al., 2000). Constructive controversies “create opportunities for students to practice managing intellectual differences in a structured manner” (Dannels, 2015). Johnson et al. describe the ideal steps in structuring a constructive controversy for the classroom as follows:

Step 1: Choose an intellectual “conflict” appropriate to the course and the discipline, which has two distinctly different positions. (To the extent possible, choose conflicts or contested arguments authentic to the field/discipline.)

Step 2: Randomly assign students into groups of four, and assign each pair either the “pro” or the “con” side of the conflict.

Step 3: Provide clear instructions on the tasks, which typically include:

    • Students research their assigned position (by consulting materials provided by the instructor or discovered by students themselves)
    • Each pair prepares and presents a persuasive argument for their assigned position to the other members of their group
    • Group members engage in open discussion with the opposite position.
    • Then, the pairs reverse positions and present a persuasive argument on behalf of the opposite position.
    • Finally, the whole group prepares a final product or presentation that summarizes each side appropriately, synthesizes the points of agreement among all four group members, and/or arrives at a more holistic joint position.

Step 4: Evaluate students’ learning and their group processes/effectiveness.

This kind of structured process can take place over one or two class meetings or over a longer period of time, depending on the amount of research and discovery needed. It also “provides students a structured and controlled space in which they can practice disagreement and intellectual conflict” (Dannels, 2015). According to research conducted by Johnson et al., the use of constructive controversies can cause students to “reevaluate their attitudes about the issue and incorporate opponents’ arguments into their own attitudes” (i.e., perspective transformation), and studies suggest these changes in attitude are greater, and longer-lasting, than when students simply read about an issue.

Using a process like constructive controversy can help us to show students that the intellectual questions in our disciplines are alive and contested. So often, students see disciplinary content as settled, simply waiting to be memorized. Constructive controversies allow us a space in which to demonstrate how productive intellectual conflicts can be. Finally, this kind of practice also strengthens students’ ability to engage with the conflicts inherent in an unjust world and to encounter others with greater empathy.

What are the controversies in your field that have potential value as “constructive” controversies? What other approaches have you tried to help students inhabit two opposing sides of an issue? Share your thoughts in the comments section on this post.



Dannels, D.K. (2015). 8 Essential Questions Teachers Ask: A Guidebook for Communicating with Students. New York: Oxford U P.

Johnson, D.W., Johnson, R.T., & Tjosvold, D. (2000). “Constructive Controversy: The Value of Intellectual Opposition.” Eds. Morton Deutsch and Peter T. Coleman, The Handbook of Conflict Resolution. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 65-85.