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This post was written by Sharon Lynn Porcoro, a recipient of the CUNY School of Professional Studies ACE Scholarship.

Food, Fitness, and Fitting School into My Busy Life
I do some of my best thinking while sitting on the E train heading home from work. For many the commute home can be daunting, but for me, it is a time for reflection and preparation. It is here that I often plan out my evening and the following days ahead. I add tasks and events to my calendar, make lists of things that need to get done at home, at school, and at work, and I read and begin to write up some of my schoolwork assignments. My busy schedule has forced me to look at my life in a different manner. I no longer fly by the seat of my pants, not planning or preparing, but rather just living. With a full-time job, a fiancé and two daughters, and school to consider, I need to keep my priorities straight. I also have to consider my health, since without it none of this is even possible.

The reason why many people decide to attend classes online is for the freedom of working at your own pace. I know that this was one of the main reasons why I chose to attend CUNY School of Professional Studies. I have a full-time job and a family that demands my attention so the freedom allowed by working at my own pace is not only helpful, it is a necessity. I knew that I would be spread very thin once classes are in session. Some things like hobbies and spending time with friends would fall by the wayside but there are certain things that cannot be ignored like my job, my family, school work, and my health.

For me, the key to staying sane while juggling all of these responsibilities is to prioritize. The reality is that I can only really focus on three, maybe four, aspects of life without spreading myself so thin that things begin to suffer. So since this is the case, I have to think, what 3 or 4 things are the most important? For me, that is family, school, work, and my health. Also, in recognizing those important things, I have to find ways to make them run as smoothly as possible. This is helpful in keeping my sanity. So I stay organized, plan out my calendar, prepare meals ahead of time, make to-do lists and stick to them, focus on the task at hand, don’t procrastinate, and try to stay positive.

Besides the vital responsibilities that come along with family, work and school, my health is also very important to me. Whether this means setting aside time for me to mentally decompress, to go the CrossFit to work out, or prepping a week’s worth of healthy meals, I make sure that I make myself a priority. Normally on Sundays, after stocking the fridge with essentials, I take some time to cook and prepare meals for the week. I find it helpful that after a long day at work I have a healthy and delicious meal already prepared. I also use my slow cooker at least once a week so that I can come home to a hot, home-cooked meal. I have included one my favorite recipes for pulled pork below. Setting aside 5 minutes in the morning to throw things in the slow cooker helps to ease the stress of a hectic evening.

Crock Pot Pulled Pork

5 pound Pork Butt (bone-in or out)
3 Slices of Bacon
1 Tablespoons of coarse sea salt
6 peeled cloves of garlic

Trim any skin or excess fat from the pork butt (not really necessary). Place the bacon on the bottom of the slow cooker. Poke the pork butt with a knife and push the garlic cloves in the cuts. Sprinkle the pork with the salt. Put the pork on top of the bacon in the slow cooker. Cook on low for 10 – 14 hours. The meat should be able to shred with 2 forks. Don’t use the liquid, it will be way too salty. Serve on a salad or in corn tortillas with some lettuce, avocado, and lime juice.

Sharon Lynn Porcoro is a recipient of the CUNY SPS ACE Scholarship, a scholarship program designed to support high-achieving undergraduate students Achieve College Education (ACE). She will graduate from the Sociology degree program on May 31, 2017.

Part 4: Simple & Intuitive, the third principle of Universal Design
by Antonia Levy, Christopher Leydon & Julie Maybee

Simple & Intuitive, the third principle of Universal Design (UD), refers to the use of any product being “easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.” Guidelines for this principle include:

  • Eliminate unnecessary complexity;
  • Be consistent with user expectations and intuition;
  • Accommodate a wide range of literacy and language skills;
  • Arrange information consistent with its importance; and
  • Provide effective prompting and feedback during and after task completion. 

General design examples for this principle include the moving sidewalks found in airport terminals and other public spaces, or the kind of lavatory faucets that make their operation readily apparent and relatively easy.

Ikea manual

Remember instruction manuals that either use overtly technical terminology or visual instructions that are impossible to follow? Instructional materials would be readily accessible to more people if they take into account the principle of simple and intuitive design, for instance by combining plain language and drawings alongside the text. Avoiding unnecessary complexity and jargon applies to any instructions—including those created by university offices for use by staff, faculty, and students.

The design of our campus facilities should facilitate immediate understanding about the purpose and utilization of each design feature. Moreover, its means of use should be intuitively obvious so that it operates as anticipated by the user who can, therefore, use it spontaneously.

For a faculty perspective this month, we invited Julie E. Maybee, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Lehman College and Adjunct Associate Professor of Disability Studies here at CUNY SPS, who suggests a number of ways to apply this principle to the design of online and hybrid courses in Blackboard (Bb).

To make course navigation more simple, I aim to minimize the number of clicks required for students to figure out what work they need to do each week. I create a folder for each week in a content area on Bb called “Weekly Modules” or “Weekly Folders.” The folder description includes the date range for each week, as well as special due dates (such as for essays, or drafts of the final paper)—hence, the “Weekly Folders” section almost serves as a course calendar as well.

Each of the folders contains all the work the students have to do for that week. Moreover, in the interest of simplicity, each folder has the same structure:

  • An item introduces the week’s topic and study questions or learning outcomes;
  • A list of assignments students have to complete during that week—i.e., what to read, what work to submit, etc.;
  • A list of the week’s readings; and
  • Links, with assignment instructions, to the specific Bb tools students will use to submit their work, e.g. a link to the relevant discussion board (or blog) or to submit an assignment.

Each folder is thus a completely self-contained place where students can go to complete all their work for the week.

screenshot julies course1

There are also a few ways to make the course design more simple and intuitive. For one, providing multiple access points to the same items can help your students to navigate the course site more easily. For example, aside from the links in the Weekly Folders, I provide shortcuts to the discussion board or blog on the course menu for faster access. In addition, I create a link to the “Help with Writing the Final Paper” folder both within the “Assignment Information” section (for students looking for information about the assignment) as well as the “HELP!” section of the course (for students who think in terms of needing help with the paper). In other words, whichever way they might think, students will find a link to the information they are looking for in either place.

Also, limiting the variety of tools you assign is an easy way to simplify the design of your course—for both the instructor and the students. Each feature in Blackboard works a little differently; e.g., replying to a discussion forum is different than commenting on a blog or editing a wiki, and using the assignment tool is different from taking a test. So, instead of trying to use them all, I give similar assignments from week to week, or at least in multiple weeks. For instance, in some of my courses, students do the exact same discussion assignment for weekly readings: students must post four posts to the discussion board, some of which must answer study questions I provide on each of the readings, and some of which must respond to my or other student’s posts.

Making your assignments repetitive also helps to convey your course expectations to students. When an assignment is the same every week, students will find it easier to learn what they are expected to do, and they also have multiple opportunities to learn (and respond to) your expectations for that kind of assignment. If you then grade the discussion every week—preferably by using rubrics, which Blackboard makes fairly easy to do—you will also be providing consistent feedback to students that helps them to understand what these expectations are.

Last but not least, assigning different levels of writing assignments helps to accommodate students with a wider range of literacy and language skills. Since I do not typically grade discussion posts for grammar and style, I use the discussion board as a place where students can write more informally. Short blog/paper assignments can be helpful as a scaffold for the final paper by giving students lower-stakes opportunities to practice skills they will need when completing the more significant assignment later. In my own discussion posts and in grading feedback, I encourage students to provide citations to back their claims, to interpret quotations in their own words, to offer scholarly evidence from the readings for their views, and so on.

These are just a few ideas about some of the ways our courses can be more simple and intuitive—and hence more accessible—for students.

This article is part of an ongoing series introducing the concept of Universal Design (UD) as it applies to the context of higher education and to our work at CUNY SPS. Each month we cover one of the seven principles of UD with practical examples for both faculty and staff, including things you might not immediately associate with accessibility—or inaccessibility. Catch you next month! Questions or feedback? Email Antonia Levy or Christopher Leydon.

 

 

With critics awards almost completed and the Academy Awards a little over a month away, I felt inclined to share some of my favorite movies from the past year. Mine is just another list for people to roll their eyes at. I mean, who’s reading this? I’m just some guy who really likes movies. A guy who would rather stay at home on a Friday night to watch one, and then wake up Saturday morning to hit the matinee for another; a matinee that sometimes sparks an entire day in the theater. I wrote in an earlier post about this not being a banner year for film. At the time, summer had come and gone. The bombardment of overwrought blockbusters, sequels, reboots, and end of seasons dumps were coming to an end. As 2015 grew older, however, the output seemed stronger than in recent years past.

The sequel/reboot fad didn’t end with the summer season; however, this fall gave us two reboots that reinvigorated franchises beloved by millions. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, though not as iconic or as unique as Episode IV or V, was an enjoyable movie-going experience. The first 30 minutes is as fun and exhilarating as anything released this year, even if the film is essentially A New Hope remix. Another reboot, what I would call my surprise of the year, Creed, knocked it out of the park (or ring?) for what amounts to the best of the Rocky franchise since the original.

The end of 2015 also re-introduced the world to the 70mm format. The Hateful Eight, Quentin Tarantino’s mystery-western set in the 1800’s, is the first film projected entirely using the Panavision equipment since Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (2012). 70mm allows for a higher film resolution than the most frequently used 35mm, as well as capturing colors more vividly. It’s a glorious and exciting way to see a film. Questions arose about why a story such as The Hateful Eight needed to be shot in 70mm. It probably didn’t, but kudos to directors like Anderson, and Tarantino (as well as Christopher Nolan who has championed the idea of film use to the studios for several years) for attempting to bring this beautiful format (KILL DIGITAL) back to the forefront. These are filmmakers that truly care about the art. Whether or not every movie is a hit is irrelevant. They’re making them the way they want to make them about what they’re interested in. It’s something for anyone to admire.

The digital vs. film debate is a heated and contentious one as described by this Vox article.

***PRO TIP: Do not see The Hateful Eight and The Revenant back to back on the same day as I did. It was an endurance test I nearly didn’t survive. I wouldn’t say I was a huge fan of either, though Hateful had some big laughs.***

There needs to be a willingness to find great movies. This is not to say that a movie not seen by mass audiences are always better, but in watching there’s a feel they’re made with more care. I’m coming off as a snob, but I point this out because much of the following list will not be seen during the Oscars telecast. Go and find them.

1. Phoenix

2. Queen of Earth

3. Carol

4. It Follows

5. The Clouds of Sils Maria

6. Spotlight

7. Sicario

8. Mad Max: Fury Road

9. 45 Years

10. Creed

11. The Diary of a Teenage Girl

12. Ex Machina

13. Tangerine

14. Heaven Knows What

15. The Duke of Burgundy

Twitter: @BobbyJDaniels

Robert is a current student here at CUNY SPS, pursuing a degree in Communication and Media. He is interested in platforms of media, especially those related to digital media; and a fan of serious film as well as this current golden age of television.

What is Universal Design?
by Antonia Levy & Christopher Leydon

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word accessibility?

Ramps, designated bathroom stalls, closed captioned video, or maybe screenreading software? While these things allow people with physical disabilities or sensory impairments to use the school’s facilities, creating a truly inclusive institution involves more than making architectural adjustments or offering technological aids. It means building accessibility into all services we offer — including our website and the videos posted on it, online course sites and the documents posted on them, and even the forms used by admissions, financial aid, or human resources.

“What if there was a paradigm for higher education that would simultaneously address issues of equality, accessibility, social integration, and community? … What if it provided guidance for physical spaces, student services, and technology? Universal Design (UD) in higher education can do all this and more.” (Burgstahler 2008: 3)

Universal Design is a set of design principles originally developed for commercial products and architectural design with the intention to “design for all” beyond mere accommodations. Universal Design in Learning (UDL), which takes its inspiration from these principles, is now a widely used paradigm in education for more inclusive teaching and learning. The following table illustrates these principles with a few examples of how each applies to instructional and non-instructional contexts at institutions of higher education. (Click on table below to view full size file, or view Accessible PDF.)

CUNY SPS Blog - Table for UD Principles

(Table adapted from Burgstahler 2008: 14-16; UDL Online Project 2009.)

Implementing Universal Design means considering accessibility in every decision we make, and all of the tasks we perform. With UD, accessibility isn’t the icing on the cake, instead it’s baked right in.

This article kicks off a monthly series introducing Universal Design (UD) as it applies to the context of higher education and to our work at CUNY SPS. Over the coming months we will cover each of the seven principles of UD with practical examples for both faculty and staff, including things you might not immediately associate with accessibility — or inaccessibility. Catch you next month!

Questions or feedback? Email antonia.levy@cuny.edu or christopher.leydon@cuny.edu.


References:
Burgstahler, S. E. (2008). Universal Design in Higher Education. In S. Burgstahler & R. Cory (Eds.), Universal Design in Higher Education: From Principles to Practice, 3-20. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

UDL Online Project. (2009). Examples of UDI in Online and Blended Courses. Center on Postsecondary Education and Disability, University of Connecticut, Storrs.

As I helped my 4 year old son with his homework on a recent evening, I kept on insisting that he “stay within the lines” as he colored in his assignment.  This scene repeated itself for several minutes, as we both grew increasingly frustrated with each other.  My son could not understand why I did not acknowledge how beautiful he thought his coloring was, all I seemed to see were the “mistakes.”  I finally caught myself and realized what I was doing.

Sometimes we do the same thing when we think of our lives.  I’m sure there are moments when “staying within the lines” is important; take for instance respecting the limits that laws place on our behavior or even just staying in our lanes when we drive.  Moving beyond these sometimes literal ways of “staying within the lines,” what happens when we live our entire life that way?  Always focusing on what is wrong?  Or never reaching out for more because we can’t see beyond the limits we place on ourselves?  We miss out on how beautiful life can be when we don’t take chances and when we can’t see a lesson in what may seem like a mistake or failure.  I learned from that short moment with my son that our lives don’t have to be perfect to be good.  What we perceive as an imperfection may be what makes our lives that much more beautiful.

So, this is a reminder to focus on the good, savor your life, and don’t be afraid to try something new.  You’ll hold up your picture one day and be surprised at how beautiful it is.

Stephanie Perez is in her final year at CUNY SPS, majoring in Sociology. When she is not busy joining her four year old son on his daily adventures, she likes to spend her time reading, cooking, and dancing to her favorite music. After graduation she hopes to pursue a career in human rights law and advocacy.

What does it mean to be successful? What does success mean to you? As I prepared over the summer, for what will be my final semester towards my BA, I reflected a lot on what success meant to me. After all the effort it took to get this far, how will I use what I have been given? What is my next step?

Earlier in the summer, as I listened to the radio on my way home from work, I heard a playback of an interview of a well known American jazz musician, Charlie Haden. Haden described in his interview what a remarkable life and career he enjoyed. Although his accomplishments were many, what really stood out to me wasn’t so much what he did, it was why he did what he did, the motives behind his work.

Like any young professional, Haden struggled to make ends meet in the beginning of his career. Feeling guilty because he was not able to provide for his family, he decided to start recording commercial music. Although he was still working at creating music, creating commercial music was not something he believed in. In his own words, he said: “It isn’t what I want to do. I have a very clear picture of what I want to do and what I feel is important as far as my contribution or my appreciation and respect for this life that we’re living, and to try and make it better. I can’t feel that I’m making it better playing commercial music, and I never could and never will.” Listen to the full interview here.

What does this comment have to do with success? Well, Haden focused on producing work that he believed in and could feel proud of. It had real substance.  The feeling behind his work was what really resounded with me. It made me ask, why do I do what I do? What is really important to me? As I begin to take my first steps in my chosen career, how will I use my gifts and abilities? What will my contribution to society be? How will I be remembered one day?

Ultimately, I think I will have achieved success if I am able to produce work that I can stand behind of proudly. My journey up until this point has been a long and winding road. I feel like I scaled a huge mountain and am now at the top, gazing at the horizon. Looking ahead, beyond graduation, I want to strive to work hard at things that I believe in. I’m not sure where this journey will end, but I can’t wait to get started!

Stephanie Perez is in her final year at CUNY SPS, majoring in Sociology. When she is not busy joining her four year old son on his daily adventures, she likes to spend her time reading, cooking, and dancing to her favorite music. After graduation she hopes to pursue a career in human rights law and advocacy.

My name is Yolanda Ransom, and for the past two semesters I have had the pleasure and opportunity of being in the Ernesto Malave Leadership Academy CUNY Corps group. During our group retreat last December, we brainstormed to come up with our idea of how to honor and celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. day. We decided to create an event that we called “A Piece of Peace.” Since a huge part of Dr. King’s goal was to bring about peace among people, rather than racial and ethnic division, our aim was to bring a ‘piece’ of Dr. King’s message of peace to a group of young students.

Some of our members are current students at City College or former students of the A. Philip Randolph High School. So we decided to launch our 1st annual “Piece of Peace” event there. We focused on selecting students that had shown leadership skills and worked with their administrators to invite these specific students. Although we originally planned to do the event in January when Dr. King’s birthday is legally celebrated, that was not possible due to scheduling issues. So when we were offered the opportunity to hold it in March instead, we jumped at the chance.

So, on March 11, 2014 we held the first “Piece of Peace” with about 100 or so eager students. We started off with lunch and provided a delicious spread beforehand (no one wants to learn, or do anything on an empty stomach, right?). Afterwards, we introduced our group and its purpose for being there.

Malave Leadership Academy’s “Piece of Peace” Martin Luther King Jr. Event
Next, we did an exercise designed to help the students become aware of and recognize how automatically we stereotype one another based on physical differences and/or labels. All of the students formed 2 long lines facing each other. While one student held a label (which they couldn’t see) up to their forehead, the partner facing them would ask them questions associated with the label assigned to them. For example, one student had the label “CEO.” Based on the perceptions, stereotypes and assumptions that automatically come to mind, the student facing the ‘labeled’ one would say things that either did/did not result in the ‘labelee’ figuring out what their label was, and whether it is generally viewed positively or negatively in society. The students really enjoyed doing the exercise.

We wanted the students to gain a greater understanding of Dr. King and what he was all about. So we gathered many of his lesser known quotes to share with the students. Most of the students admitted that they know Dr. King for his “I Have a Dream” speech, but not much else. Here, I and my fellow Malave members are introducing this part of the event:

Malave Leadership Academy’s “Piece of Peace” Martin Luther King Jr. Event

The quotes were shared in small groups where the students read and discussed them. They described how the quotes applied to them, society, and their futures as leaders. Both the students and Malave members were deeply engaged in the discussions.

Malave Leadership Academy’s “Piece of Peace” Martin Luther King Jr. Event

Then, each group selected a spokesperson or two to present their collaborative ideas to everyone.

Malave Leadership Academy’s “Piece of Peace” Martin Luther King Jr. Event
For the final part of the event, we explained to the students that they were the first group ever to participate in the “Piece of Peace.” To commemorate the event, each student would place their thumb in paint and ‘sign’ a dove image that we had brought. The artwork would then be framed and displayed at the A. Philip Randolph High School as a collective symbol celebrating Dr. King and our shared experience that day. This is when all the students got super excited and began cheering, whooping and clapping! They all gleefully lined up to ‘sign’ the dove onstage.

Malave Leadership Academy’s “Piece of Peace” Martin Luther King Jr. Event
Each student and everyone in attendance also received a colorful wristband that read “I Have a Dream” and “A Piece of Peace” on it to take as a gift and reminder of the day we all spent together.

Malave Leadership Academy’s “Piece of Peace” Martin Luther King Jr. Event

Here is the ‘Piece’ of Peace Dove that the students will proudly display at their school:

CUNY Corps group and the A. Philip Randolph High Scho
It was a wonderful day for both the CUNY Corps group and the A. Philip Randolph High School students. We gave and took from one another in a positive spirit of learning and up-building and everyone left very happy. The students shook hands, hugged and thanked us for coming. And we returned the love and thanked them for letting us spend a few hours with them. This first event got off to a great start, and it can only get better from here!

Group Shot!

CUNY Corps group and the A. Philip Randolph High School students

My name is Yolanda Ransom and I am a junior majoring in Sociology at CUNY’s School of Professional Studies. Last year I was nominated to become a member of the Ernesto Malave Leadership Academy. The Leadership Academy consists of two groups that develop leadership in different areas. One group called Student Investment Advocates focuses on political networking and relationship development, and the other is called CUNY Corps which focuses on community volunteering and service. I am part of the CUNY Corps Program which meets twice a month on Fridays. Sometimes we meet more often depending on the projects we are working on or if there are leadership conferences (which occur frequently). As soon as I became a member I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the CUNY Women’s Leadership Conference in October 2013. It was an empowering and hopeful event.

If one has a flexible job/school situation Malave membership is very workable. In December 2013, I had the amazing opportunity of going on a retreat with CUNY Corps. The beautiful resort was Honor’s Haven Spa & Resort with features like body massages, hot tub, pool, movie room and exercise classes. The purpose of the trip was for the group to bond to help us work better together going forward. Six female students and six male students, along with the Ernesto Malave coordinators Kisha Fuentes and Denis Nolasco all rode up to Catskills, NY to spend an activity packed and enjoyable weekend right before finals week. We shared three delicious meals each day from the buffet, had group meetings where we got to know more about each individual’s personality type and communication style, and organized our Martin Luther King Jr. Service Day event. We used communication building tools to help us understand how to find the best way possible to relate and interact with one another as well as others outside of our group.

Malave Leadership Academy Retreat

It wasn’t all ‘work’ however. We had a few free hours each night for personal time, so we could hang out in each other’s rooms, watch TV/movies, have coffee at the café, swim, soak in the Jacuzzi, get a massage or just catch a nap. Kisha organized a treasure hunt and we searched all over the hotel to find the items. Team spirit was very strong as some members shared the location of what they found with others even though only one person could actually win. We also had pizza night and watched a comedy on Netflix that we all voted for in the movie room on our last night there. It was fun. I LOVE watching movies and we had our own little movie theatre.

Malave Leadership Academy Retreat

I was hesitant at first about attending the retreat because I didn’t know how well I would connect with others in the group. It takes me a bit of time to feel comfortable around those I have just met. But by the end of the retreat I felt like I had grown to know everyone much better and felt at ease. Everyone had a positive and willing attitude which helped foster trust and mutual respect. This pic is of our group on our last day before leaving—minus the CUNY Corps directors Kisha and Denis (I’m all the way to the left standing up).

Malave Leadership Academy Retreat

Through the Ernesto Malave Leadership Academy CUNY Corps Program I have been inspired to be more actively involved in helping society. We are doing an eyeglass drive on behalf of New Eyes for the Needy. At various campuses we are collecting all types of glasses until May 2nd, 2014. Please drop off your old prescription, reading and sunglasses and frames so that they can be used for those who need glasses. I will be collecting them at the CUNY School of Professional Studies. Contact Anthony Sweeney in Student Services if you want to donate your old eyeglasses. Best wishes to you for a successful semester and 2014!

In October of this year, Paul Russo, Ph.D., SPS’s Director of Online Programs and an instructor in the Sociology program, led a team of current CUNY students and graduates to develop a free student-to-student text book exchange as part of the ApplicationsforGood codathon sponsored by the Motorola Mobility Foundation, Center for Social Innovation, Blue Ridge Foundation, and New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service.

While textbooks represent 17% of tuition costs in various majors, the team believes that there are simple ways in which technology can make books more affordable. Their application—much like other online communities such as Match.com or Craigslist—combines the broad reach of the Internet with the benefits of local face-to-face interactions. Focusing on urban areas such as New York City offers the project access to a critical mass of potential users, which is necessary to make participation valuable to all textbook swappers.

The team is committed to making the bookswap student owned and student operated, following the OpenSource model, to ensure future use will have only student friendly policies. Their model is also distinct from other services such as Amazon.com because the primary mode of exchange is student-to-student swapping or monitored low cost reselling, to prevent high markups or shipping costs. The group says that over time, they are interested in adding more functionality to the site such as links to affordable housing, health services, and various types of student discounts.

The judges awarded the project the Most Promising Prize, which included a cash award and an invitation to a December 12th luncheon with angel investors. The group currently has a working prototype, and as the next version of the platform comes online, Russo hopes there will be interesting research opportunities for students to study the system as part of a capstone project or in his own course titled “The Digital Revolution and Information Society” (SOC 419). To learn more about their plans for the textbook exchange, see ApplicationsforGood.org. You can also contact Paul at paul.russo@mail.cuny.edu or 646.344.7247.