Best Practices Through Universal Design for Learning

[Musical introduction] [Narrator, Dr. Patrick Burns]
Hello, my name is Pat Burns. I am the Associate Vice President
for Information and Instructional Technology at Colorado State University. I’m also a professor of mechanical engineering,
and like you I’m concerned with improving the academic achievement and
retention of our students. As we all know, students today arrive at the
university with very different sets of skills, life experiences, abilities,
and learning styles. Some are non-traditional students with
heavy extracurricular obligations. Others come from abroad and speak
English as a second language. A smaller but significant number
have some form of disability. How do we educate such a diverse
population of students? Fortunately, we can turn to a large
body of literature about best practices for teaching and learning. One such practice,
which I’d like to share with you today, is a concept known as “UDL”
or Universal Design for Learning. The first principle of Universal Design
for Learning is the long-acknowledged “best practice” of presenting concepts
and information in multiple ways. [Dr. Erica Suchman] I believe that
one of the goals of good teaching is to try and reach every student in the class,
not just the “A” best students. And I think a lot of traditional lecture courses
may be geared toward students who do well at listening to a lecture and then
repeating that information on examinations, or using that information on examinations. [Dr. Rich Feller] To me, teaching is
all about communication and maximizing the students’ experience, so that anything
new I can bring to the table might apply and stick to some of the things
they already know. So, for me, I’m trying to get real clear on
how students process information and learn, and I know they learn in different ways. [Dr. Suchman] The thing I like about
Universal Design for Learning is that it maximizes student learning
by increasing the numbers of ways that students get to see information,
and I think that more students can be reached when you use many
alternatives to traditional lecture. (Speaking to the students)
So, pull out our clickers… [Narrator] When we talk about student diversity,
we also need to consider students with disabilities. [Marla Roll] At CSU we have approximately
750 students who have identified themselves as having a disability. Of these, roughly
75 percent have a learning disability. The number of students with non-apparent
disabilities may, in actuality, be higher because the students either may not
understand their disability or may even be reluctant to come forward
and ask for assistance. Students with disabilities can be found
in every discipline and every major. [Narrator] Universal design principles
help us reach and engage more students, both in and outside the classroom.
It’s not surprising, therefore, that instructional technologies are another
important element of UDL. And one issue of particular importance is the development
of web materials that everyone can use. [Marla Roll] One thing we can all do,
that would make a huge difference at CSU, is to take more care in the way we
develop our web pages. By adhering to well-established guidelines
for web accessibility, our web content becomes easier for everyone to access.
Information can be easily translated into a variety of formats.
Students with disabilities benefit, but so do users of older technology
and those using the latest portable devices. [Narrator] With the ever-increasing role
of technology in education, it is imperative that our instructional
materials be accessible to all. As a public institution,
we’re obligated to do this by law, but it’s also just the right thing to do! Another hallmark of Universal Design for
Learning is its emphasis on engaging students through multiple learning modalities. [Dr. Feller] I try to plan before class and
say, how do I break this class into sections? I can give some information, I want to practice
some information, I want to draw something, I want to see a visual cue, I want somebody
to stand up and teach somebody else, I want them to draw a picture of
what we’ve just covered. It’s about me planning ahead enough
to accommodate the different ways people learn, because if I only teach the way I learn,
I’m going to miss too many people. [Narrator] UDL also promotes “active learning.” [Dr. Suchman] In my class I do a lot of
active learning… I really like more of an interaction
and less of just me talking, but with a group this large, if I ask them
questions and I ask them to raise their hands, no one wants to do it… because no one wants to be the person who’s
wrong with their hand up. So, the thing I like about the clickers is
that I get students to answer questions, which gives me immediate feedback about where their
level of understanding is, and then I know if I need to talk about a topic again. [Narrator] One of the most effective ways
to engage students is by sharing our enthusiasm for the topic we’re asking them to learn. [Angela Squires] I think that when professors
are excited about the material, it just kind of spreads to the students
and they get excited about it, especially when the professor shows how the
material applies to real-world situations. [Narrator] Closely tied to the principle of
providing multiple opportunities for student engagement is the idea that students
should be given, whenever possible, additional ways to express their
comprehension and mastery of a topic. [Dr. Feller] I’ve come to learn
that students learn best in 3 ways, and I call it the 3 P’s: through projects, performances,
and some kind of presentations. And I try to get away from lecturing and dumping
information to them, and give short lectures, asking them to come together and co-teach
each other, to practice something, to draw me a picture
of what I just taught, to find another way that taps into
the many ways we process information. [Dr. Suchman] They like the fact that there
are opportunities to show what they know outside of traditional examinations, that they can do group examinations,
that they can do problem solving, and that they can show their knowledge in
alternative methods to traditional examinations. [Dr. Feller] So much of our learning is recall–
I give it to you, you give it back to me– but it’s not very deep, and that’s why
I’ve got to find ways for you to present it or somehow build a project around it
or perform it in some way, because then it’s a much deeper learning. I know you’ve worn it and it’s going to
stay with you much longer. When that happens,
I mean, students light up, and that’s the reward I get in teaching. [Narrator] How we interact with our students,
both in and outside the classroom, can profoundly affect
student performance and retention. [Manjukumar Harthikote Matha] As a foreign
student I really needed… I really required some time before I could
get interactive with the professor. Sometimes I was reluctant because
I thought I would sound stupid by asking a very basic question… So, it really took some time for me
to interact with the professor during the class hours, asking him the question
about the material which I’m not following. [Dr. Suchman] It’s more of a personal
experience for the students if they feel like the faculty knows who they are
and cares how they do. I get a lot of evaluation comments
about the fact that they feel like I care what their performance is.
It’s not that I’m going to make them do well if they’re not doing well, but I do care
how they’re doing and about helping them to do their best in the class. [Narrator] Another way we make
students feel welcome and valued is by being empathetic and accommodating. Our commitment to providing students
what they need to succeed can be expressed both in writing on the syllabus
and verbally in class. [Lindsay Pergande] It’s really helpful when
professors are understanding of a situation– a disability situation–
and allow the students to take the exams in an alternative setting, and to have
sufficient time to take their exams. [Narrator] The “inclusive pedagogy” advocated
by Universal Design for Learning can help obviate the need for special
accommodations, but it is not a panacea. Fortunately, Colorado State University
has several offices that provide specialized assistance to
students and faculty, such as the Office of Resources for Disabled Students, the Assistive Technology Resource Center, the Academic Advancement Center, the Learning Assistance Center,
and others. These offices assist students with
sign language interpretation, assistive computer technology, conversion of textbooks to alternative formats, coaching and study skills, screening and diagnostic services,
and more. [Lindsay Pergande] The assistive technology
is just wonderful here at CSU because I’m able to get through so much of my texts–
so much of the material that I need to understand. It’s just so helpful! [Colin Heffern] You know, I go to class
the same as everyone else. Last semester I had a girl from
Resources for Disabled Students who helped take notes for me. She’d just meet me in class
every day and take notes. This semester I’m doing it
a little different. I’m actually having kids in each class
take notes for me. Basically, during the day
I use my computer quite a bit. I speak to the programs
instead of type it in, but for typing I just say what
I want to type and it types that. “Wake up. Start Internet Explorer…” [Marla Roll] By anticipating diversity in
the classroom and designing instructional materials to be usable by everyone,
instructors can actually help reduce the need for many individual accommodations. Universal Design for Learning helps us
create more inclusive learning environments in which all students benefit. [Narrator] What all of these practices
have in common is they reach and engage the maximum number of learners. They assume that students possess different
skills, experiences, and learning styles. They emphasize flexible
and customizable curricula. And they use multiple modes of
presenting content, engaging students, and assessing their comprehension. So, what is
Universal Design for Learning? In many respects,
it’s just good teaching! [Dr. Feller, voiceover] If I teach the way
I best learn, I’m going to miss a lot of students, so I’ve got to accommodate those
who learn differently than I do. So, I try to plan before class and say,
how do I break this class into sections? I can give some information,
I want to practice some information, I want to draw something,
I want to see a visual cue… [Dr. Suchman, voiceover] I try to present
things in more than one way in most lectures. So, I do things like demonstrations,
or active learning, where they will work on a problem about it, or a clicker
question where they work on it, so that students get to see a problem
from more than one perspective. [Marla Roll, voiceover] Our students benefit
greatly from assistive technology. This technology allows them to do things
such as have the computer read the text to them, perhaps convert text into
Braille, or even using voice commands to control access of the computer.

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