Redesigned Course Works for All

As a sociology professor with many years of experience, Dr. Martha McCaughey had traveled down the same road many times.   So when she was given the opportunity to take a course redesign workshop through the College Star program and the Office of Faculty and Academic Development at Appalachian she was ready for a new road map.

From its inception, College STAR has been a two-track program with Component A focusing on student-support programs 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 Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles into their classroom instruction.   Use of these principles has the potential to enable them to better serve the wide range of learners in college classrooms today, including, but not limited to, some of the students with learning differences.

The challenge for McCaughey was coming up with new approaches to the fourth year capstone seminar research class required for all sociology majors.   She said it is a course that most students do not look forward to and find intimidating.   Her goal was to make it a better experience for both the students and the instructor.

Thanks to the workshop, she made a number of major changes to the course.   “I realized that most students don’t want to do a research project because they don’t really know what they are going to do with their sociology degree,”  McCaughey said, “so I added more career exploration activities.”   She said when students saw more of a career development trajectory they could see how research skills could be useful.  There was more buy-in, and students began to appreciate that their research project might be a good resume builder.

Another change was the use of a huge bulletin board in the classroom where the seminar class meets.   Throughout the semester, the students work in groups and each week add to the bulletin board to demonstrate their understanding of a learning objective. But it’s not your traditional bulletin board, thanks to advance planning and creativity from McCaughey.

For example, the board contains research “recipes,” cakes decorated with key messages, T-shirts with pithy sayings, tweets and memes.    All of these unique feedback mechanisms require the students to identify the key lesson of the week and give McCaughey a way to ensure that the seminar participants are on the right track.

“I really felt like I was teaching using really creative and engaging techniques,” McCaughey said.   “It was so much more fun for us.

“I also was better able to track their emotional states and add some lightness so they wouldn’t be as anxious,” she said.   “It allowed people with different learning styles to express what they learned in different ways and communicate more than you could see in their 30-page written paper.”

McCaughey will be using the new approach for the third time in the fall of 2016 and finds she is looking forward to turning a once dreaded class into one that is relevant and rewarding.