Workshop Served as Jump Start For Course Redesign CREW

For Dr. Hamid Fonooni an interest in ergonomics meshed with the principles of Universal Design, and an interest in enhancing the student experience led to embracing the concept of Universal Design for Learning.

So when a group of ECU faculty members returned to campus after a course redesign workshop with their colleagues at Appalachian State, he was well poised to serve as a champion for UDL on the newly formed Course ReDesign CREW.

Joining him on the team are faculty members Rosa Alvarez-Bell, Tara Gallien, Jane Manner, Borim Song, Anne Spuches, Heidi Bonner, Dorothy Muller, Director of the Office for Faculty Excellence, and Joseph Conrad from the University IRB office. Graduate students Carrie Baumgarner and Heather Mills are assisting the faculty. 

“These are all individuals genuinely interested in a better method of education,” Fonooni said, “and UDL came into their professional lives at the right time.”

For Dr. Tara Gallien, assistant professor of health education and promotion, the UDL knowledge reinforced a course redesign effort she had already begun with colleague Essie Torres, also an assistant professor in the department. They had begun using a series of PBS videos on social determinants of health in their health disparities class. “We were flipping the classroom without even knowing we were flipping it,” Gallien said, describing the redesign she has adopted.

Gallien said her students watch the videos before coming to class, and she uses class time to engage them with thought-provoking discussion questions in small groups. “I saw a huge change in engagement and critical thinking,” she said.

The basic concept of a flipped classroom is to push activities that a student can complete on his or her own to prepare for class (e.g. listening to a recorded lecture or watching a video) outside classroom time. This reserves in-class time for activities that engage students in the material through a variety of active learning strategies.

Drs. Heidi Bonner and Rosa Alvarez-Bell are also using flipped classroom techniques. Bonner has welcomed the focus on UDL and the CREW support since she was trained as a criminal justice researcher rather than as an educator. Bonner has also authored a College STAR module, The Flipped Classroom, which provides an overview of the flipped classroom design, and provides detail on the many ways traditional classrooms can be flipped to provide greater student engagement.

Alvarez-Bell uses videos from a variety of different sources to explain basic concepts in chemistry. “My voice can be monotonous,” she said, “and I like the ability to walk around helping small work groups on problems, rather than lecturing.

“It is a new way for students to interact with course content and every time we meet I can know whether they understand something or not,” she continued.

Alvarez-Bell was pleased when her General Chemistry II class scored 4 points higher than the University average on a standardized, comprehensive final chemistry exam (a significantly different finding). This fall she was awarded a UNC System grant for over $30,000 to continue her work in a study entitled “Expanding the Reach and Impact of Technology-Enhanced Course Redesign.”

All the faculty members on the CREW indicated they have benefitted from the moral support and ideas they get from each other. Conrad joined the group when they took on the challenge of quantifying the impact of their efforts. Fonooni designed a pre and post survey using UDL indicators that was administered in classes taught by himself, Bell, Gallien and Bonner. They are currently in the process of analyzing the data.

Maintaining an active and motivated CREW, however, can be challenging given all the demands on faculty. The redesigns are well underway. Now they want to evaluate the success of their efforts. Although the Course ReDesign CREW got off to a good start in the spring and summer, momentum slowed somewhat in the fall semester. Team members, however, are full of ideas for re-energizing their group during spring semester. They would like to revamp and pilot their survey questions and continue their efforts to measure the impact of course redesign on student learning and engagement. 

OFE Director Muller reminds them that their redesigns with increased active learning and student engagement are accomplishments of which they can be proud. Documenting student learning with data collection and analysis will allow them to share their work with a larger audience, she said, but their students are already profiting from their hard work.