UDL Benefits More Than Those with Learning Differences

When College Star Faculty Learning Communities (FLCs) began at Appalachian State, Dr. Lindsay Masland was so interested she actually audited the Universal Design FLC because her pregnancy limited her full participation.    Once she returned to full-time teaching duties she continued as an active, contributing member and has increased her involvement with other aspects on the faculty portion of the program.

As an assistant professor of psychology, Masland has long been interested in factors that impact motivation and academic engagement.   She had been unimpressed with UDL when exposed to it in graduate school, seeing it primarily as a disability check-list.

After participating in Appalachian's Course (Re)Design Institute in 2014, however, she began seeing its potential in a broader context and in her own classroom.   She redesigned a graduate level school psychology course she had been teaching for several years.    “But I got so many ideas for all my classes, the effects just trickled through,” she said. 

Masland said a focus on UDL has caused her to infuse all her courses with more choices, and she has found they are appealing to all students, not just those with learning differences.   For example, rather than just assigning a textbook chapter as a pre-class activity, she gives her students three questions they should be prepared to address in class.   The questions are accompanied by a variety of sources where they can find the material including websites, TED talks, You Tube videos and the traditional textbook option.  “All I care about is whether the information made it into my students’ heads.  It doesn’t matter to me how it got there, “she said.   “In these particular classes, I am helping to educate teachers and school psychologists.   I am not teaching reading.”

This emphasis on the end goal carries through to the assessment portion of her classes.   Masland offers a real life scenario and gives students three days to write how they would handle the situation.   “I have found that I usually don’t need to make accommodations for students with learning differences,” she said.   “Everybody gets extra time.”

With traditional, timed tests, Masland said, she discovered she was measuring something she didn’t care about.   “I don’t care if they think fast and are good test takers—I want to determine if they know the material.”

Student feedback has been positive, Masland said, and her courses have a reputation for being hard but manageable.   By offering multiple ways to learn, Masland has found that students feel she respects them, and say they appreciate being treated like adults. 

In addition to participation in the UDL FLC and both years of the Course Re-Design workshop, Masland is working with her colleagues on a journal article as well as a module for other teachers on the College Star website.

“This has really been a natural fit for me,” she said.  “There is so much potential for UDL in helping students be successful.”