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Do you sometimes feel like you are trying your best to teach to all the students in your classroom, but something isn’t working because, on the midterm exam, half the class gets below a 70? How could this be? In fact, traditional post-secondary teaching methods such as lectures and multiple-choice tests are good learning tools for only a small percentage of today’s college students. A research-based framework for course design called, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) can help.
What is UDL?
UDL is an extension of a movement in architecture called Universal Design, conceived of by Ron Mace at North Carolina State University. The theories specific to UDL are based on research in the neuroscience of learning. David Rose and Anne Meyer (2002), first coined the term “Universal Design for Learning” in the book “Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age.” (Available to read online at the CAST website, http://www.cast.org/teachingeverystudent/ideas/tes/.)
Rose and Meyer (2002), developed guidelines based on three neural networks: the recognition network, the strategic network, and the affective network. Each of these networks work together to help the whole brain learn. A person’s brain is as unique as a fingerprint in the way it learns and builds its own learning schema, according to David Rose. However, certain regions of the brain are activated when doing similar kinds of learning tasks. This means a faculty member can use the knowledge of how the brain learns, and the framework of the UDL principles and checkpoints, to create learning opportunities in the classroom that work for all learners.
The UDL principles on each brain network are:
- Recognition Network: Principle One – Provide Multiple Means of Representation
A couple of examples:
- Create a concept map of the class that spans the semester
- Use images, maps, graphs, videos and other visuals to help present a difficult concept to students
- Strategic Network: Principle Two – Provide Multiple Means of Expression
A couple of examples:
- Give students options for the kinds of homework assignments or projects they can submit
- Provide multiple ways of engaging with each other in the class
- Affective Network: Principle Three – Provide Multiple Means of Engagement
A few examples:
- Use iClickers
- Do in-class activities such as small-group work or “think, pair, share”
- Assign larger, semester-long group projects
- Create a safe environment for learning
- Be approachable and available for students during office hours
Overall, the idea of UDL in post-secondary education is to support learning at various levels of acquisition and provide opportunities for students to show you what they are learning in a variety of methods, so you may offer appropriate “scaffolds.” We offer suggestions for each of the above principles as just a place to start. We encourage you to use the linked resources as well as make an appointment with a CTL faculty professional development specialist to assist you in incorporating UDL in your courses.
San Francisco State University – Best Practices in Teaching:
National Center on Universal Design for Learning
Information on creating a video transcript:
From Colorado State University:
Did you ever hear a student say, “I wish I understood what the professor wanted with this assignment?” Have your students ever asked how you came to a specific grade? Have you felt the need to create more clarity around an assignment, both for your students and/or your TAs who handle grading?
The solution may be to create a rubric for your students—or even with your students—for the assessment of the paper or project.
What is a rubric? A rubric is a tool for assessment that is created by the instructor to articulate clear expectations for an assignment and how it is to be graded. In some cases, it can even be helpful to elicit help from students in creating the rubric because, when students are involved in planning how they will be graded, they take ownership of the assignment and their understanding of what is expected is improved.
The Cornell University Center for Teaching Excellence states about rubrics:
Rubrics help instructors:
- Assess assignments consistently from student-to-student.
- Save time in grading, both short-term and long-term.
- Give timely, effective feedback and promote student learning in a sustainable way.
- Clarify expectations and components of an assignment for both students and course TAs.
- Refine teaching skills by evaluating rubric results.
Rubrics help students:
- Understand expectations and components of an assignment.
- Become more aware of their learning process and progress.
- Improve work through timely and detailed feedback.
So how do you go about making a rubric?
- You can attend the upcoming workshop, “Designing Rubrics” (February 21, 2013) offered at the CTL by the UVM Writing in the Disciplines Program.
- You can go through this helpful tutorial by University of Colorado – Denver.
- You could also email firstname.lastname@example.org to ask for an appointment with one of the Center for Teaching & Learning instructional design specialists who can meet with you individually to assist you in creating a rubric for your class.
The iClicker is one of many types of student response systems and, at the University of Vermont, we have adopted the iClicker as our preferred version of a student response system. We are in the process of installing iClicker base stations in many classrooms on campus that have 50+ seat capacity.
What does this mean for learning on campus?
And what does it have to do with Universal Design for Learning (UDL)?
Universal Design for Learning is an instructional framework based on the neuroscience of learning and universal design in architecture. Many times when designing with the three UDL principles: 1. Provide Multiple Means of Representation, 2. Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression 3. Provide Multiple Means of Engagement, faculty ask me to give some examples of what they can do for each of these principles. I thought I would focus on the iClicker technology to help with each of these UDL design principles.
When using the iClicker and thinking about the first UDL Principle of Representation, you could think about how you can ask questions of the students during lecture that would help engage their prior knowledge of the relevant material that you are presenting to them. Also, you can highlight critical parts of the lecture and key ideas with iClicker polls in lecture.
For the second UDL Principle of Action and Expression, the iClicker can be used as an alternate way for students to express what they know so far during the class, and what they still have questions about. As the faculty member it is up to you to create some polling questions that will give students a chance to test their knowledge level of a topic, and also a feeling to interaction with the content and other people in the class. Polling in large courses allows students to see where they are in their own understanding of a topic in relation to their peers. This can be important for helping the students monitor their own learning progress. (Of course the instructor has to let the students see the polling results in order for this to be helpful.)
Lastly, the third UDL Principle of Engagement is what the iClicker is supposed to provide between students and the course content, and, when possible, with each other. The iClicker can be used to poll students on questions that provoke discussion in larger course environments, among pairs and small groups of students. The engagement with students to their peers can be done by doing a poll, then asking students to talk to their peer/s next to them to convince them of their answers. Then the poll is run again to see if the class results change to favor the correct answer. Many faculty tell me this is a great learning tool and that students like having the chance to talk to each other in larger classes. This is also a form of peer instruction.
If you’d like to learn more about iClickers, join us at the CTL for these events
(click the link to read more and register):
October 18th,”Webinar: Research on Teaching and Learning with Clickers“
October 30th, “Sound (Teaching) Bite: iClickers in the Classroom“