Universal Design for Learning: You Are on Your Way Already!

The main portion of this tip is brought to you by Dr. Jamie Gunderson from the School of Education and a READI Equity Fellow through Faculty Development.

Here’s an interesting insight – chances are you’re already incorporating Universal Design for Learning (UDL) into your teaching methods, even if you’re not consciously aware of it. What is UDL? UDL is an educational framework that aims to create inclusive and flexible learning environments by providing learners with options to engage, represent, and express learning. How am I already implementing UDL? Well, consider if you incorporate peer discussions or collaborative group activities in your lessons. These practices promote collaboration and a sense of community, in line with UDL Checkpoint 8.3. Are you using tools like Canvas or other technologies to share information, interact with your learners, or enhance their engagement? This is a form of using multimedia for communication, as outlined in UDL Checkpoint 5.1. The UDL framework encourages us to reflect on how our existing teaching methods align with UDL’s principles, guidelines, and checkpoints to support all learners.

Another aspect of UDL that I find particularly appealing is its commitment to evidence-based continuous improvement. Did you know that the UDL principles, guidelines, and checkpoints are regularly reviewed, revised, and updated based on ongoing research and feedback from practitioners? Currently, there is a strong emphasis on enhancing equity, diversity, and inclusion, which you can explore further by looking into the UDL Rising to Equity initiative. As soon as the updated framework becomes available, I’ll make sure to share it with our campus community. In the meantime, I encourage you to kickstart or continue your journey towards UDL and equity, diversity, and inclusion by exploring the abundant resources on the Instruction page of the READI Hub, a repository sponsored by the Office of Faculty Development. You’re likely to discover numerous strategies and ideas that will benefit your teaching practices and some that you may already be implementing – kudos! 

For more tips, and resources, or to geek out on all things UDL, please contact Jamie Linn Gunderson at jlgunderson@csuchico.edu.

Additionally, we in FDEV want to highlight another great resource from the NCFDD library. We spend a lot of time as tenure-track faculty working towards tenure and promotion, but not enough time thinking about what happens when you get there. Last Spring NCFDD hosted two panel discussions on what happens after earning tenure and one on promotion to full professor. You have to sign up for NCFDD (which you have free access to for this year), but once you do you will have access to an incredible catalog of useful resources for your classroom and professional development. 

Last thing, remember we have a host of opportunities for faculty this Winter and into Spring. Check them out and find something that will help you.

Zach Justus
Interim Director of Faculty Development
Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences
Google Voice/Text: 530-487-4150

Share your ideas!

My favorite part about Faculty Development has been learning about the innovations and great work going on across campus. I get to hear about new developments all the time, but I want you to share with the whole campus and region at the 2016 CELT conference. Don’t keep your idea a secret. Today’s tip is an encouragement to share your innovations.  The submission deadline is on Friday, but submitting is easy. To get you started, I have a list of things I have heard about the past few years I would love to see at the conference.

  • Team teaching including interdisciplinary education is something we talk about at meetings, but very few of us know how to do it well. Teach us!
  • Are you utilizing a new technology? Faculty across campus are experimenting with Zoom video and finding their own open source software. Tell us about it!
  • Who has had a great idea go bad? I once participated in a redesign that went almost nowhere and many of us have good ideas that don’t work. Share your failure with the group (I promise it is therapeutic)!
  • Who is already working with the new University priorities on Civic Engagement and Diversity in their classroom? Enlighten us with your vision!
  • Are you struggling with how to manage political conversations in your classroom? Put together a panel on teaching in a divisive election season!
  • Got something to say on national controversies? Put together a few people with opposing ideas on affirmative action, campus speech codes, or reconciling institutional history with contemporary goals!
  • Textbooks are getting more expensive every year. Tell us about how you found open source material or pieced together course readings out of available research!
  • Do you work with graduate students or mentors? Share best practices with us!
  • Is your classroom a dimly lit dungeon with chairs bolted to the floor? Put together a group on teaching in difficult spaces and places!
  • Are you collaborating with Advising or Student Life and Leadership to improve learning? Tell us about how you are building bridges!

CELT Conference

The CELT conference is a free opportunity to share your innovations and thoughts on critical campus and national issues. In 2015 we averaged 15 attendees per session and we are looking for even broader exposure this year. Last year I learned things about personal productivity from Dustin Bakkie and what it takes for students to turn around their education after struggling from Josh Whittinghill and students in EOP that have changed my behavior this year. Don’t miss your opportunity to make your voice heard. Submission takes a few minutes, but the lessons learned can last a lifetime.

Got feedback on this tip? Leave a comment or email it to us. Got an idea for a tip? Send it along.

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This might be awkward. Let’s consider that painful moment (or two or infinity) between when we ask the class a discussion-launching or comprehension-checking question and when (a) we give up in despair of ever hearing a human voice again or (b) that nice kid in the front row finally offers something up out of plain desperation.  We all know that good teaching involves getting our students to actively connect with the material, and the discussion prompt is a tried and true means of engagement. But we’ve all also experienced the blank stares, the down-turned heads, the aimless shuffling through notes that all say “I would rather die than form an out-loud sentence right now.”

For your consideration, I recommend some version of the Think-Pair-Share


technique for getting past the awkward silences to real discussion and improved learning. This is when you ask a question and give students a few minutes to think about their responses, then they discuss their ideas with a partner, and then each pair shares a response with the whole class.  There are countless varieties of this popular method: Write-Pair-Share (students do a solo quick-write before discussing—gives you something to collect if desired); Think-Pair-Square-Share (students discuss in pairs, then in groups of four before sharing—shortens the reporting-out period in a large class); and of course there are a variety of tools for pairing and sharing, both synchronously and asynchronously, in online classes.

The benefits of this technique are many: Cautious students have a smaller, safer space to try out their ideas, confident students get practice in the skill of explanation, novice learners gain critical processing time, faculty get a window into students’ understanding, and we all are relieved of that soul-killing awkward silence.

But it turns out the key to the success of the Think-Pair-Share is in the details.  For instance, the question has to be big and hard enough to generate real thought, but focused enough that students can get a handle on it.  Projecting the question (and/or an image/graph/chart) is helpful. It’s also critical that students are given enough time to actually process the question and assemble their thoughts. Even if not every pair gets the opportunity to share, it’s probably more important to give adequate time to the thinking and pairing. Of course, it’s also vital to signal that what’s been shared actually matters—by revisiting a concept that has been shown to be tricky, by praising an insightful contribution, by connecting ideas across the groups.

Here’s a great 10-minute video explaining and demonstrating the Think-Pair-Share technique in an introductory Biology class at San Francisco State—relevant to any discipline.

*  Authored by Dr. Katherine McCarthy.