Expanding the Pedagogy of Kindness Discussion: Faculty Excellence through a UDL Approach

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Brief Abstract

As higher education transitions towards inperson, many instructors are moving away from the kinder and accommodating practices they adopted during Covid19. The presenters will discuss how they expanded on the previous PoK discussion series to launch a discussion about implementing kind practices across modalities and the university as a whole. 



I have been in the Instructional Technology field for 10 years, focusing online course design and faculty collaboration. I am currently an Instructional Technologist and Designer at the Queens College Center for Teaching and Learning, I received my MA from TC, Columbia University in their Instructional Technology, Media and Design program after focusing on the various macro and micro factors that are essential to successful online course design, as well as a mechanism for collaborative faculty development. This work is essential to my work with collaborators. It was remarkably timely in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, in which this framework was utilized in part as we moved hundreds of faculty online. I am a firm believer that online learning and education must be designed with the modality in mind- one cannot just copy and paste in-person materials into an online frame. We must take into account the limitations and affordances of a modality, and how that works in concert with the human element- prior knowledge, cognitive load and the like. I also believe that for design to be successful-one must be flexible with the mechanisms. For today’s learning to be successful, we must analyze and utilize the most effective learning framework, modality, and methodology. Each circumstance should take into account the goals, prior knowledge, motivation, affordances and limitations of the modality, and learning framework. We must adapt and change as we collaborate.

Extended Abstract

The pandemic shift to emergency remote instruction revealed there was not just a dearth of knowledge about best practices for teaching online, but a far more ingrained problem: a lack of necessary empathy in our courses by themselves. The Pedagogy of Kindness is a paradigm which restructures and reframes course design and teaching as a whole into a more collaborative, emphatic learning process- where accessibility and inclusiveness are woven into the design itself. This reframing towards the Pedagogy of Kindness seeks to build learning experiences that are of higher quality, with better engagement, and inclusive and accessible to all. 

We initially launched this series locally for our specific campus. We utilized faculty whom we worked with who had been embodying Pedagogy of Kindness ideals and practices in their own work, and how such practices could be applied beyond that. These local implementations had between 7-8 sessions and over 300 participants per series. Feedback from faculty who attended these sessions was very positive. Faculty reported changing policies and procedures in their classrooms to ones that were more inclusive of Pedagogy of Kindness principles. We later collaborated with departments that wanted to integrate these types of discussions and ideals into their courses as a whole. 

This expansion was very exciting, but we wanted to expand the scope even further. In collaboration with the CUNY Innovative Teaching Academy, and recipient of one of their grants, we developed and launched Pedagogy of Kindness: Faculty Excellence through a UDL Approach Across CUNY. This series expanded on the initial focus of Pedagogy of Kindness principles to also emphasize utilizing UDL (Universal Design for Learning), as well as utilize and serve faculty from across teh 25 colleges in the CUNY university system. All sessions both focused on concrete strategies that can be used in the classroom as well as the more abstract aspects of pedagogy. 

All sessions emphasized discussion over lecturing, with presenters being framed more as facilitators over lecturers. This allowed faculty attendees to explore how the strategies the facilitators presented could apply in their discipline, courses, and student advisement activities. With the expanded scope, we were able to reach a wider group of experts across the 25 campuses of our CUNY university system. 

Before launching our series, we were alarmed at the entrenched, unempathetic rhetoric coming from faculty who sought our support. It is important to note that much of this reasoning came from a place of misunderstanding, not malice. Faculty were often unaware of why such non-inclusive design is both harmful and ineffective at accomplishing goals. Some of these alarming requests and ideas faculty shared with us were: 

  • A test that gives 10 seconds to answer each multiple choice question to prevent “googling” an answer.
  • Requiring cameras on at all times, asking permission before going to the bathroom.
  • Requiring students maintain specific posture on cameras at all times. 

Hearing of extremely similar experiences from colleagues in other institutions, we realized this is an endemic and widespread problem. Our office pursued a two pronged approach at changing this paradigm. First, we integrated Pedagogy of Kindness and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) mentality and methodologies in all Online Teaching and Learning training and collaborations. Second, we facilitated a faculty run discussion series aimed at changing the mentality of the campus community as a whole. Since the success of the first two iterations of the discussion series, we were able to successfully launch a 10-part series for its third iteration across the City University of New York, bringing together faculty from our 25 campuses.

Faculty Collaborations:

As course design and review was an essential aspect of our existing training structure, it gave an easy window into making sure courses were in line with UDL and Pedagogy of Kindness best practices. An important, if not the most important component of these conversations, was backing up all best practices with extensive data and research. We found academics, if nothing else, are extremely receptive to data backed arguments. In this way, we made clear that we wholly respected the faculty’s breadth of knowledge in their field, while also making it clear that for that knowledge to come across effectively- it should be in line with pedagogy of kindness and UDL guidelines. 

This process was repeated with great success with hundreds of faculty collaborations across disciplines. While we are very proud of our work on helping faculty achieve inclusive design, we realized that a more encompassing conversation on the “why” of the pedagogy of kindness as a whole was needed.

Faculty Discussion Series: 

The Pedagogy of Kindness: Faculty Excellence through a UDL Approach Across CUNY discussion series expanded upon the two previous Pedagogy of Kindness discussion series iterations. This garnered a reset for faculty members to evaluate the practices they are putting forth in their courses.The topics were tailored to the common issues in this vein that we noted in the faculty population at our university. The events in the third iteration of the discussion series were: 

  • Session 1 Keynote: Origins of Pedagogy of Kindness (with Cate Denial)
  • Session 2: Building an International Environment of Collaborative Learning
  • Session 3: A Universal Design Learning (UDL) Approach to Inclusive Teaching
  • Session 4: Trauma-informed Pedagogy
  • Session 5: Navigating the Classroom Environment through Mindset GPS
  • Session 6: Promoting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Higher Education
  • Session 7: Alternative Assessments: Ungrading and Assignment Scaffolding
  • Session 8: Setting boundaries in the classroom
  • Session 9: Flipped Classroom Approach to Teaching 
  • Session 10: Humanizing the Classroom

The main objectives of the sessions were to build community in the classroom through creation of learning collectives, establishing classroom boundaries during the transition to hybrid/HyFlex learning, effective alternative assessment styles for mixed learning,, generation of mindfulness in the classroom such as syllabus transparency, being able to use trauma-informed pedagogy practices during a time of social reform, collaborative projects with international students and faculty, and creating a caring environment within the classroom

With the grant funding, we were able to have Cate Denial serve as the Keynote speaker, setting the tone for the series as a whole. The remainder of the sessions were curated from two primary sources. First, by invitation or recommendation based on their implementations of relevant practices from across the 25 campuses of CUNY. Second,  we invited select faculty back from our prior two iterations that our assessment and feedback showed a significant impact as a result of their sessions. 

The panel discussions were excellent ways to demonstrate how faculty within and across different disciplines and modalities implemented the relevant Pedagogy of Kindness topic. By expanding the scope to the university at large, we were able to draw on the much larger as well as more diverse expertise that exist at the different schools.

We found a discussion series was a very effective mechanism of delivery, as it provided experienced faculty with a platform and resources to share their experiences, while engaging directly with their peers. Our aim was to encourage organic and fluid discourse with the panelist(s) and the attendees. This allowed faculty members to be comfortable sharing their experiences while getting guidance and context for the related pedagogy of kindness topics.

Efficacy of faculty collaborations and the series as a whole was gauged on the following metrics. First, the collaborations were measured against overall course design and how well they aligned with UDL and Pedagogy of Kindness guidelines. That was measured against faculty survey feedback and experience with the collaborative process and workshop as a whole. This information was used to adapt and improve on collaboration measures.

Efficacy of the discussion series was gauged on immediate feedback after each session as well as ultimate outcomes assessments of future project implementation as a result of the series.


We plan on expanding on topics that garnered the most interest during the series as well as offering related hands-on workshops on how these concepts are applied through other facets of teaching. One requested topic so far has been how to implement these essential pedagogies with a specific lens towards technology and hybrid learning.

Building upon our new found connections with various departments around the University, we plan to build upon the momentum and implement faculty interest groups (FIGs) to hone in on specific topics for further faculty discourse.

Level of Participation:

This is a highly participatory session. At key intervals (defining the challenges that faculty bring and what strategies were used in other institutions), the presenters will poll the audience for how they handled similar scenarios and challenges. A large chunk of the session will also be spent in scaffolded engagement breakout rooms. Essentially, after presenting the problem at large audience members will have the option of moving into a breakout room guided by a presenter focused on one following topics: 

  • Challenges and strategies at implementing large scale projects like these
  • Changing faculty perspectives on the Pedagogy of Kindness

During the breakout rooms participants can choose to engage: 

  • Directly over Zoom
  • By sharing resources and ideas in a shared collaborative resource page.
  • On Twitter with the designated hashtag: # (removed here for document anonymity, if accepted it would be replaced with the full hashtag).

Session Goals: 
Audience members who attend this session will emerge with a clear understanding of what the pedagogy of kindness is, how it applies to higher education, and why it is so important. They will have solid strategies on how to work with colleagues and faculty at their institutions on integrating the pedagogy of kindness strategies and methodologies into their courses. They will also have a full framework of launching a similar series at their institutions.