Bringing the Ivory Tower into Homes

Access to higher education is made possible when educators and administrators incorporate strategies to support all students in inclusive learning environments. More than ever, students with disabilities are seeking alternative options to traditional classroom experiences. Students with diverse areas of abilities are seeking online learning for various reasons. In a study of university faculty, over half did not know if they had training or resources to ensure accommodations (Phillips et al., 2012). Many online educators are unaware of legal, practical, and/or ethical responsibilities for students with disabilities.

An article that offers information about how to create an accessible online learning environment is, “Bringing the Ivory Tower into Students’ Homes: Promoting Accessibility in Online Courses.” The article shares information about: professional development, modeling diversity, assignment choice, universal design for learning, and the use of authentic assessment to measure student learning and determine outcomes. Appropriate accommodations for individual learners with disabilities, as well as universal design concepts for the entire class can lead to an accessible online learning environment that meets legal requirements and recommended practice standards. Seven categories of accessible features fall into: images, tables, page content, multimedia, color, and auto-testing tools. When the ivory tower goes into students homes in the form of online courses, accessibility is the key to unlock learning and development.  

Drawing courtesy of Adriana Macy age 6

Drawing courtesy of Adriana Macy age 6



Macy, M., Macy, R., & Shaw, M., (2018). Bringing the ivory tower into students’ homes: Promoting accessibility in online courses. Ubiquitous Learning: An International Journal, 11(1), 13-21. doi:10.18848/1835-9795/CGP/v11i01/13-21.  This paper won the International Award for Excellence.

Phillips, A., Terras, K., Swinney, L., & Schneweis, C. (2012). Online disability accommodations: Faculty experiences at one public university. Journal of Postsecondary Education & Disability, 25(4), 331-344.

Communities of Play Innovation

Cities that promote play are at an economic advantage because people want to live, work, spend time and money in positive play environments. A sense of community can be established when families and children are able to play in public locations (Ehrenhalt, 2014). Play deserts occur in places where children have limited play opportunities. Crime, community facilities, and obesity are some of the factors leading to play deserts (Sharaievska, 2014). Location may also hinder opportunities for play. At least four things are needed to create communities of play.

#1) Safety. The basic ingredient for play is that it must be safe. Communities of play are environments where great care has been taken to ensure children are protected from harm. Safe play communities have low or no crime.

#2) Clean and welcoming facilities. Families seeking play communities for their children want clean spaces that are attractive and welcoming. The well-being of children is maximized when there are facilities conducive to play. Clean water, playgrounds, spaces, equipment, toys, and more are needed to attract children and families (Juster & Leichter-Saxby, 2014). 

#3) Access. Play environments must be accessible to people with diverse abilities. In my community, we recently renovated our community playground so that it could be more accessible to children with motor delays and people who use wheelchairs. The results have been more inclusive play for all our children. Such a valuable investment.

Access to play communities that are close to home and work are necessary to making play a priority for families. Schedules are busy and there are many things to do each day which may push opportunities for play to the bottom of the to-do list. Families do not need an extra errand to transport children far away to play.Community planning is necessary for the development and maintenance of play communities. 

#4) Supervision. Children require adult supervision. Parents, grandparents, family members, teachers, parks and rec staff, city employees paid to supervise community activities, and other adults designated to ensure the safety and well-being of children are necessary to play communities. Public spaces for play should be managed by qualified adults trained to properly supervise children.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states in Article 31 that children have the right to: “rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.” Children benefit when they are able to play in safe, clean, accessible, and supervised environments. Childhood is enhanced where there are nurturing and caring communities of play.

"I Spy with My Little Eye" playground.

"I Spy with My Little Eye" playground.



Ehrenhalt, A. a. (2014). Cities, families and places to play. Governing, 27(7), 14-16

Juster, A. H., & Leichter-Saxby, M. (2014). Citizens at play: Children's participation through community-based opportunities for child-directed play. Global Studies Of Childhood, 4(2), 77

Sharaievska, I. (2014). Family leisure and the play desert. Parks & Recreation, 49(8), 36-37.

Animals Strike Curious Poses

One day physicist Dr. Helen Czerski visited a pond in Winchester in the south of England. She noticed a little girl asking her mother a curious question. The child wanted to know why the duck she was observing didn’t get cold feet. Hmmm… Young children are naturally inquisitive about their surroundings and they ask awesome questions! Their sense of inquiry comes natural to them. I have visited many early childhood classrooms to observe my student teachers. I try not to be seen. I prefer to be like a fly on the wall, however young children usually want to know who I am and why I am there. They generally notice when something is out of place in the environment. Children are relentless seekers of information. Adults can support children by being responsive to their inquiry. We can even try being more like children by following some age-old advice from Jane Austen, “indulge your imagination in every possible flight” (Austen, 1813- Pride and Prejudice).

Man's Best Friend Receives Accommodation

Maybe it has always been here and I just now noticed it. Across from the gates in Concourse B at the El Paso, Texas airport exists a quiet and relaxing lounge for service animals. 

Service Animal Relief Area.jpg

Years ago I had an internship with Dr. Debra Hamilton. We traveled throughout the county providing home visits to young children with disabilities and their families.  Dr. Hamilton had a black lab named Hagar who was her service dog. 

One family we worked with that summer had a toddler who was losing her vision just like Dr. Hamilton. When we would pull up to her driveway, "Sonya" and her siblings would be lined up at the window waiting for Hagar to arrive.  Dr. Hamilton promised the children they could play with Hagar if they allowed "Sonya" and us time to work during the visit. 

Hagar was always laser focused during the session. Once we were done working, Hagar turned into a playful puppy with his tail wagging enthusiastically when his service vest came off. 

Thank you El Paso airport! What a thoughtful way to serve those who provide so much service to others. 

waste bags.jpg
Art in Lounge.JPG

Bird Feeder: Spring Craft

Are you looking for a spring activity to do with the little ones in your life? Look no further than your kitchen pantry and bathroom. To make a feeder you can set out on nearby trees for your feathered friends, gather the following things: peanut butter, sunflower seeds, and toilet paper rolls. Start by smearing the peanut butter onto the cardboard. Next, coat the peanut butter rolls with seeds. You’re done! Simple!

Bird feeder

Bird feeder

Have fun doing this craft with kids, and get ready to see the birds nibble their way through spring. Attracting birds to a child’s environment creates endless opportunities to learn and be entertained by nature.

Mise En Place

My husband and I are friends with another couple who are foodies. We are not. My husband is a telephone-chef, and I am an experimental cook who cannot follow a recipe to save her life. We enjoy hanging out with our friends and have learned a lot about their hobby.

One weekend, in the cold of winter, we took a drive up to Hyde Park to take a cooking class at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Vassar College and President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s home and presidential library are in this area too, as well as the Morse Code Museum. It is worth a trip to see the Hudson and this gorgeous part of New York.

The CIA weekend classes are offered to non-chefs, or the home cook. There is a separate more intense educational program for serious students. The weekend classes have different topics than the regular CIA curriculum. For example, my husband and I took the Soups for All Seasons class where everyone in the course made soup.

The soup class started in a traditional classroom with desks and chairs. Chef Paul DelleRose gave us a packet of written materials, along with a CIA cookbook. He explained cooking concepts. We took notes! He wrote on the chalkboard. We took notes! He provided us with direct instruction on how to use the equipment, materials, ingredients, and read a recipe. We took notes! Chef took a sip of tea and we all took notes!

Chef gave all students a CIA apron, we washed our hands, and then we were ready to cook. Chef and the opening pages of the cookbook say that what happens prior to cooking is the most important stage of the process. This is not unlike teaching where environmental planning is an essential stage.

Chef Paul and his assistant helped each student in the class with their soups. When we were done cooking, we poured the soups into little sample cups. Everyone in the class got to taste 16 different soups. When the class was done, we met up with all the other CIA weekend classes in a big banquet hall for a delectable feast prepared by the CIA staff. We also got to sample cured meats the Charcuterie class made. We sat with our friends and compared notes on our two classes.

They went to an advanced gourmet class and made a savory meal plus a dessert. The cooking environment between our classes were standard. They had ovens, sinks, knives, pots, and pans just like we did.

The one thing that was different between the basic soup class and advanced gourmet class was how the environment was used. Members in the advanced class were sophisticated in how they cooked in their kitchen space. When they cut meat with a knife they cleaned and returned it to where it belongs. When they used a colander to drain liquid, it was returned to its home on a shelf. When they were done using their food prep space, they cleaned it and got it ready for the next steps of the recipe they were making.

In my entry-level soup class, everyone’s kitchen space looked like a tornado hit. Messy! The French expression mise en place translates into “everything in its place.” Chef Paul went over this concept in the classroom before we entered our kitchens to make soup. But, apparently none of us got it. I wonder if Chef felt like saying, "Unless you clean up this pig sty... NO SOUP FOR YOU!"

Mise en place is harder than it would seem to actually apply in a kitchen when you are learning a new way of cooking. An efficient kitchen and classroom has everything in its place. When an environment is organized it runs smoother and safer.

Intentional environmental planning can be observed in preschools where teachers implement a protocol of visually organizing the classroom. The use of pictures, icons, and visual summaries help students become independent in their setting. For instance, bins have pictures on them so children know where to return classroom materials when they are done. This helps children who are not reading words yet or have a disability, because they can understand the visual information. 

Teachers use intentional arrangement of the environment to set students up for success. Parents organize space in ways that are conducive to the needs of their family. Take note, to have a "Chicken Soup for the Soul" experience with kids implement mise en place.


Fink, B., & Culinary Institute of America (2009). The Culinary Institute of America's new book of soups (2nd ed).  New York: Lebhar-Friedman Books.


I love shopping at Nordstrom. It is not because of the piano player perched next to the escalators. It is not because of the free samples of perfume. It is not even the cheap but delicious coffee, or the lime and chicken cilantro salad from the café. The reason I love shopping at Nordy’s is because of the way I get treated when I shop there.

The customer service practices keep me coming back again and again. Being able to return something that just didn’t quite work out is a fabulous feeling. I no longer have to suffer buyer’s remorse. Once I bought a pair of “Not Your Daughter’s Jeans” (NYDJ). I’m not kidding when I say NYDJ has some kind of miracle ingredient in the fabric. They stretch in a slimming way. I thought I won the trouser lottery when I bought my first pair. A few days later I got a card delivered to me. The envelope in the mail was addressed to me from Nordstrom. I was curious to see what was inside. A bill? No. A coupon? No. An advertisement? WRONG!

The salesperson who changed my life by introducing my bumper to these amazing pants wrote ME a thank you note. Her handwriting was beautiful (she must have had some great teachers who taught her cursive)! I should have been the one sending HER a thank you note.

The Nordstrom associate understood lagniappe in serving customers. Merriam Webster defines lagniappe as, “a small gift given a customer by a merchant at the time of a purchase; something given or obtained gratuitously or by way of good measure.”

I have been on the receiving end of lagniappe many times. My uncle Lorenzo took me with him to shop at an outdoor market near Naples. He did most of his shopping at outdoor markets and specialty shops. No super stores.  Unlike in America, you don’t just “run” an errand. People there just didn’t seem to be in a hurry. I watched my relatives savor their meals, savor conversations, and savor the good life—vita bella! A shopper will no doubt see people they know at the market, and shopping for groceries is an event.

I wanted to buy some blood oranges. I’d never seen a blood orange before, and I was captivated by the vendor singing and trying to attract customers. It was fun being there and just observing his shenanigans. I handed the Tenor Vendor singing “O Sole Mio” a handful of lira (Italian currency before the Euro) and he gave me my purchase. In addition to what I bought, he gave me about two cups worth of hazelnuts. He also gave me and the other customers quite a show that even Luciano Pavarotti would envy. Now I have a word for it.... That’s LAGNIAPPE!

In the U.S. we have "gift with purchase" that is similar to what the Italian produce man did where he gave his customer a little something extra. Another company known for lagniappe is Disney. Every year, my husband and I take my daughter to Disney World for her birthday week. In 2015, we stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. We checked in around 4pm. The person at the desk asked if we were celebrating anything special. "Our child's birthday," we said. We went up to the room to drop off our suitcases. Then we went to one of the parks.

When we got back to the room, we noticed a tray on our table. There were confetti sprinkles, a cloth napkin, and a note. “Check your fridge for your gift,” was written on the note. There sitting in the refrigerator was a round eight inch vanilla cake with two layers of strawberry filling. It said, “Happy Birthday” and even included our child’s name. Not just the generic Happy Birthday, but her name was written in frosting on the cake. Correct spelling and all.

I thought my husband was the cake fairy, and he thought it was me. We put our heads together to solve the cake mystery. A good working theory is needed anytime one tries to solve a mystery. After watching hundreds of Law & Order reruns, I have come up with my own theory about who the guilty party is. My theory is that it is usually the person least expected. The one character in the show you would never imagine is the suspect.

So, who could our cake fairy be? Who is the person least expected to send a cake for my daughter’s birthday week. I thought it was my in-laws. “Could it be Grandma and Grandpa?” I asked my husband. “No, I don’t think they know we’re here,” he replied.

“Could it be Nonno and Nonna?” I speculated. Then I realized, they too didn’t have the details of where we were staying. “Maybe it is Mickey Mouse… he’d be the one least expected to surprise you with a cake,” I said to my three year old. I called down to the main desk and they confirmed my theory. Eureka! It was Mickey Mouse! That is going the extra mile. That’s LAGNIAPPE!

Mickey Mouse knows lagniappe...

Mickey Mouse knows lagniappe...

My theory works (almost) every time. Try it the next time you are perplexed. Another American company known for lagniappe is the Marriott. I took my daughter to Seattle to visit family when she was fifteen months old. We drove four hours from our house in central Pennsylvania to Philadelphia. Instead of getting on the flight the same day, I decided to break up the trip and stay over in Philly for the night. The trip to Washington would be about 6 hours and I didn’t think the 10+ hours of travel would be good for my baby.

We checked in and asked for a crib for my daughter. They sent someone up with a crib and crib sheet. The Marriott employee set up the crib for us. Then he gave us a teddy bear wearing a Marriott shirt. That’s LAGNIAPPE!

When I take my car in for an oil change, the dealership throws in a car wash. That’s LAGNIAPPE!

In all these scenarios, someone went above and beyond what was expected of them to make their customer happy. It was unnecessary, but greatly appreciated. I think it would be an amazing paradigm shift if we started treating families like they are cherished customers. Customer satisfaction should be an important goal in the delivery of services we provide our students and their families in educational settings. LAGNIAPPE!