For this exercise I selected a course that I teach each year, Designs for Technology-Enhanced Learning. The course is part of our teacher preparation program and challenges students to identify, assess, and select technologies to support their teaching practice. It’s a two-credit course that meets once a week for 15 weeks. You’ll see the basic outline of the course below.
In order to analyze my course, I dissected the process of the course in terms of the three UDL principles:
- Principle 1 – how do students access content and concepts in the course (e.g., readings, materials, presentations, etc.)?
- Principle 2 – how do students interact with each other and express their understanding?
- Principle 3 – how are students engaged in their learning (e.g., real world audience, authenticity)?
Rather than try to make sure that each week of the schedule addresses all of the principles, I focused on taking the semester-long view to create a balanced experience for the students. Below I discuss a summary of what I learned about my course and how I plan to modify it for the fall semester.
The (old) course
In terms of principle 1, my analysis revealed that I relied almost exclusively on Web-based readings and class discussion to introduce students to the course content. In some cases, I gave students some choice in their reading – but all text-based readings. I also noted that during class I only used one brief slide-based presentation the entire semester. Instead, I relied on class discussions and demonstrations. While this would be considered a more student-centered approach, many students enjoy and benefit from brief lectures and the ability to access the slides afterwards.
For principle 2, I think the projects I employed provided at least some options for presenting their understanding. For the first assignment, students had the option of writing a paper or creating a Web resource. They also had choice in terms of the focus of their research and curriculum development project. I also set up some course experiences where they worked together in class and through asynchronous online work.
For engagement, I relied mostly on student choice to motivate students in their learning. Many of the projects they completed and materials they developed could be used in their teaching placement. This contributed to authenticity for the assignments. In reviewing the syllabus I also realized that there were opportunities to frame the work in more interesting ways as well as to provide students with an authentic audience for their work.
The (revised) course
After I realized that I relied so heavily on Web-based texts and class discussion, I made a concerted effort to provide more variety for my students to access the course content. The first change I plan to make is to incorporate five brief slide-based lectures to introduce topics. I will then post these slides on the class Web site so that students have access to them for future reference. I also have identified several video clips, podcasts, and infographics that connect with course topics. I plan to allow students to select from among these different options for each outside reading. I like the idea of one core reading (or video) with additional options in different formats.
I don’t have any major changes in mind for principle 2. I may offer multiple options of “deliverables” for the major topics, but there is already a good variety of ways for students to express their understanding during the semester. I think I may also formalize an opportunity for students to propose an alternate product that would meet the learning goals.
In terms of engagement, the one real missed opportunity I identified relates to audience. One way to encourage students to really grapple with the content and maximize their effort is to provide an audience beyond the class. Because the products they create are digital (slides, Web-based content, etc.), it’s easy for them to share their work. In the course, we explore social networks (particularly blogs and Twitter) as important elements of their personal learning networks (PLN). It would only be natural to ask students to consider how they can share what they learn and create to “pay it forward” to others in their PLN. It could be different for each student, but if they know they will share what they create, I suspect they will have more ownership and invest themselves more in the process.
While I’m not sure I identified any mind boggling new opportunities in this process, I found it helpful to see the course through my students’ eyes in these three areas. I teach about UDL (including in this course) and have significant experience in UDL course design, but I still found multiple ways I could strengthen my approach. I hope that this simple process may inspire you to consider your own course with a UDL lens.
What might you change about your course to better incorporate UDL principles?
Please post your comments below.