Interview with Stephanie Gardner of Susquehanna University.
Assistant Professor Stephanie Gardner teaches courses in Education at Susquehanna University, including Cognition & Classroom Learning, Introduction to Special Education & Instruction for Exceptional Children. She was inspired by her mother to pursue a career in special education and has worked with children with disabilities in both the elementary and middle school settings.
On her experiences with Yellowdig:
I was excited when I heard from our IT Department that there was a new discussion app called Yellowdig that was available this semester. I enquired with our IT specialists and within 15 minutes I was able to see how easy it was to use and thought that it would be something that I would definitely want to try out for this semester. This is for a special education course that both elementary and secondary education majors have to take and it’s the second of two special education courses that they have to take within the program. So, I try to embed different opportunities for them to seek out current news events that are going on around the country regarding individuals with disabilities, students with special needs in schools-- whether these are things related to policy or laws or just classroom practices, I leave it pretty open ended.
In past semesters, I have students present these [current events] in class and then we would have a discussion afterward. I just wanted to try something different this semester and especially after I saw what Yellowdig looked like and how easy it was to use. I just wanted to see how it work doing them electronically throughout the week. By Monday at midnight, [the students] had to have their discussion post up on Yellowdig. So they had to locate a piece of current news from a reliable source and post a short description of it, post a link to the news source as well and post a few discussion questions. And throughout the week, the rest of the class had to post responses to that [original post].
On the shyer students in the course:
As I said, in past semesters, I actually did this activity in class. And even if the article that the person was sharing was very emotionally charged, you would still have only a handful of students who were confident enough to speak out, share their thoughts or get into a debate. But I would say 60% of the class said nothing. [Yellowdig] essentially forced them to reflect on the piece of news throughout that week and share their thoughts and let their voice be heard, and definitely more so than what they would have done in class.
[Yellowdig] just opens you up to a bigger picture of a student and what their beliefs are, because if they are not going to be willing to share in front of the class and they are not the type of student that is comfortable with coming up and talking to [me] before or after class--this is just kind of a platform where you can really see what they are thinking about or what their passions are or what they feel very strongly about, which is interesting.
On memorable Yellowdig moments:
My students seemed to get really fired up about any [instance] where students with special needs aren’t getting their needs met and I think there are maybe two or three articles that they chose, where students weren’t getting what was outlined in their education programs and what they were legally entitled to. And that really seems to fire up my students because they feel very passionately about the fact that students with special needs deserve the right to receive the educational services that they are entitled to and legally obligated to. It baffles them when school districts sort of scurry around the law, so it sparks some interesting comments from them.
I feel like they purposely try to pick pieces of news that kind of hit them emotionally and I always like when they make a connection to the future: “Going into the future, I’m not going to do this” or “Going into the future, this is what I’m going to do so my students are well supported and have the best education possible.” Which, ideally, that’s what you want to see. You want to see them be more reflective of their philosophies and teaching practices.