Workshop Focuses on Making Course Material Accessible and Engaging for Students

Faculty members at ASU and ECU are learning together and modifying their course designs to promote academic success for all learners, including those with learning differences. Some 50 faculty members from more than 20 different departments recently participated in a four-day workshop to learn about and implement the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and effective course design.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an educational framework based on neuroscience research that guides the development of flexible learning environments that can accommodate individual learning differences. It encourages a curriculum that presents information in multiple ways to give learners various ways of acquiring knowledge, providing learners multiple ways to demonstrate what they know and using multiple ways of engaging learners to keep them interested and motivated.

The retreat began with a two-day workshop on UDL facilitated by Dr. Larry Kortering and Dr. Terry McClannon, both ASU faculty members. Dr. Kortering shared his research expertise in student engagement while Dr. McClannon discussed technology and online collaborative environments. Workshop participants had the opportunity to work hands-on with various devices and techniques.

Next, Dr. Dee Fink, founding director of the Instructional Development Program at the University of Oklahoma, presented on course design focusing on measurable course goals and forward-looking assessment. His workshop was based on his book Creating Significant Learning Experiences. As part of the program, faculty participants had the opportunity to design or redesign a course, incorporating principles of UDL. Fourteen ECU faculty joined the workshop for this part of the workshop. They are continuing to apply UDL principles in redesign their classes this fall.

ASU course participants submitted their redesigned courses for evaluation at the end of the four-day workshop and during the summer. A number of these redesigns have been recognized by Dee Fink’s review board and the faculty who created them will put them into practice in upcoming semesters. ECU’s workshop attendees are participating in a “Pirate CREWS” learning community to (Re)Design their courses. Faculty from art, math, chemistry, nursing, criminal justice, special education, and other disciplines have reviewed their courses for UDL principles and measureable course goals and effective learning strategies. They are incorporating team-based learning, clickers (audience response devices for questions at different levels), Tegrity lecture capture, and podcasting. Redesigns developed fall semester will be implemented spring semester.

Dr. L. Dee Fink with faculty from Appalachian State University
and East Carolina University who attended his session.

“This was a great opportunity for participants to learn how they can represent material differently to engage their students and provide opportunities for active learning,” said Kate Brinko, director of faculty and academic development at ASU. “Faculty members enjoyed working with their colleagues from other UNC schools and also benefitted from the opportunity to have their course design evaluated by those outside the system.”

Dorothy Muller, Director of the ECU Office for Faculty Excellence, agreed. “The ECU faculty were excited about working with colleagues from ASU. They continue to be excited about what they and their students are doing now. Their learning community meets every other week and each session begins with sharing about what they are trying and how it’s going. Some of them have received additional support from their chairs for supplies and equipment and they discuss enthusiastically how their redesigns are engaging their students.”

The curriculum workshop was offered as part of UNC College STAR (Supporting Transition, Access and Retention), a project of the UNC system designed to support students with learning differences and to disseminate best-practice teaching methods to faculty members for promoting the success of students of varied learning styles and backgrounds.

College STAR is currently funded by the Oak Foundation of Geneva, Switzerland and the N.C. GlaxoSmithKline Foundation.