Published September 16, 2020
For Cindi Tysick, helping UB students shape their digital identity and elevating their information literacy skills is all about giving them hope.
“The longer the pandemic, the harder it is on everyone’s mind,” says Tysick, associate librarian and head of the Education Services Team, who has built a track record for state-of-the-art student digital projects.
“Staying positive, seeing an end, envisioning a future are drivers of hope. Without hope, how do we expect this generation to develop resiliency?
“We need to help them move forward, even through small virtual steps.”
Think of Tysick as one of the new age of UB teachers reaching this new generation of students. COVID-19 changed the educational playing field. Remote learning is the new standard, at least for now. That means students must learn to thrive in this remote environment, or fall behind.
Sinply put, Tysick is a UB frontrunner embracing that learning reality, and she sets out to use it in the best way possible.
Take her involvement with SUNY’s summer Collaborative Online International Learning, the COIL virtual exchange program that she created and delivered. Tysick, whose daughter is legally blind, co-founded the National Resource Center for Children with Disabilities in Ghana (NRCCD) with Paul Kordieh, the first blind TV reporter in Ghana.
So when SUNY sent out a call to create online content around the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, Tysick “jumped at the chance” and created a virtual study abroad program.
Her six students scattered throughout the state took online classes she developed to understand the global disabled community. They met virtually with the NRCCD in Ghana. A 2½-hour Zoom meeting with Kordieh ended with students suggesting ideas for a Virtual Summit on Disabilities and Technology that Kordieh was organizing.
They broke into groups of three using Google Docs and Google Meet. One group made a video on breaking down stereotypes. The other wrote a play local Ghanaians could act out, in person or virtually.
“We were lucky enough to have very diverse students, most of whom had either worked or lived with someone with a disability or had a disability,” says Tysick. “At this point, the word disability came out of the vernacular. We were all just diverse.”
The two groups presented to the NRCCD via Zoom. The first presented a video about how communication is key to overcoming obstacles. The second did a table reading of their play about two disabled people who overcame stereotypes and prejudice to contribute in ways “fully unique to their skill set,” as Tysick explains it. The students suggested the play use actors who had disabilities depicted in the play.
“Paul and his colleagues were so emotional when they watched the table reading. We all were,” Tysick says. “The students had created something of such high quality. They surprised themselves, but I wasn’t surprised. They were given an opportunity, through experiential learning, to find that ‘sweet spot’ where their interests, abilities and community need all met.”
For Tysick’s cheerleaders, it’s a vintage example of her contributions.
“So many experiences have been cancelled or put on hold with the pandemic,” says Mara Huber, associate dean for undergraduate research and experiential learning, who called Tysick a “superstar” of experiential learning. “And yet our students still yearn to do something big, to make a difference and stretch in exciting ways.
“This is the draw of our global projects — students can engage with people and places around the world,” says Huber, known for her mantra of embracing technology to expand creativity and personal connections. “They can challenge their assumptions and expectations, and contribute through their projects. While they have these experiences, they are supporting their academic and professional goals, and earning digital badges along the way.”
This semester, Tysick teaches “Framing Your Digital Identity in the Age of Google” for freshmen. Upbeat music starts each class. Breakout rooms encourage early group discussions, She calls on students directly after a few weeks. Students work on digital group projects using Google tools similar to her summer COIL course.
Small groups choose a current event, such as sports fantasy leagues or politics, and follow the discussion on Twitter or another platform. Then, using social media, they investigate backgrounds of the people in this community talking about this subject.
“They don’t tell me about the story,” Tysick says. “They tell me about people interacting with the story. By looking at people commenting on these current stories, they get an idea of a profile of people likely to interact within these communities.”
Tysick calls it “following the breadcrumbs.”
The students learn how people in these communities drive marketers to push content. They also realize how what’s shared on social media becomes a privacy issue.
“Their digital identity is being formed in a participatory culture,” Tysick says.
“Our students begin to reshape their digital identity and see themselves as global citizens, capable of leveraging what’s learned in the classroom and through experiential opportunities,” says Tysick, who is currently mentoring four experiential projects, all done virtually.
The four students Tysick worked with during the spring all returned this fall.
“Leveraging their education has really resonated with them,” she says. “I am so proud of our students for embracing this bump in the road and staying on their academic path.”