Redesigned Course Uses Avatars

Not everyone who redesigns a college course to make it more accessible to students has the luxury of using avatars. But that’s exactly how Dr. Annette Greer, associate professor of interdisciplinary studies at ECU, was able to engage her students in Introduction to Interdisciplinary Rural Health Teams. 

The avatar version of this course came to life when Dr. Greer joined forces with Dr. Sharon Kibbe, director of the Early College Second Life Program (ECSLP) at ECU. ECSLP offers dual-credit enrollment for high school students in rural areas of North Carolina through the 3-D virtual world called Second Life. Students are able to simultaneously earn both high school and college credit while remaining in their home high school. 

In Second Life, students, as well as university faculty members like Greer, have a virtual presence (an avatar) in a real-time class. Greer’s class is designed to provide a foundation of basic knowledge about rural health care and to teach students effective communication with patients and health care professionals. It’s designed for students who anticipate pursuing a healthcare career. 

The course in Second Life contains the same content studied by those taking it in a more traditional college classroom setting. But consistent with principles of Universal Design for Learning, the Second Life course uses multiple ways of representing the material and gives students multiple means of engagement. 

Paul LaMere, a technology support technician at ECU, worked with Greer to set up an environment that resembles a barn that could easily be found in rural North Carolina. Students use virtual reality to enter “stalls” where they are divided into teams charged with researching the culture and demographics of specific North Carolina counties. 

Greer explained that students study the county and determine the top health problems and the factors that can influence individual health. “For example,” she said, “most counties have a cohesive community event like a shad festival or a collard festival. The students are asked to determine how that existing gathering could be use to further expand healthcare in the area.” 

Greer has been teaching this course for 10 years, and used the knowledge of UDL she had acquired as a member of a Pirate CREW in the revamp. 

From its inception, College STAR has been a two-track program with Component A focusing on student-support programs for those with learning differences and Component B supporting each university in designing an instructional support model for faculty members. Much of this support has focused on assisting faculty members who want to infuse UDL principles into their classroom instruction. Many of the faculty members work together in Pirate CREWs. Use of these principles has the potential to enable them to better serve the wide range of learners in college classrooms today, including students in Component A and in ECSLP. More information about both programs can be found at www.collegestar.org and http://www.ecu.edu/cs-acad/aa/ecslp/.