UDL framework for learning

Applying Universal Design for Learning Principles

When creating course materials, it is important to be as inclusive as possible. A common way of working to ensure that materials respond to different approaches to learning is to use Universal Design for Learning (UDL), which proposes inclusive course design. It is a framework that helps to make content, activities and assignments, and instruction accessible to students at different levels, with different abilities, and who take different approaches to learning. While this sounds straightforward and relatively simple, when one dives into the UDL literature and works to implement its guidelines, the task quickly starts to feel overwhelming—at least that’s how it made me feel.

Last year, I attended a year-long faculty working group in which we focused on implementing UDL in our courses. Here’s what made this a daunting task. A course that is truly adhering to UDL guidelines makes every aspect of the course as inclusive as possible, including the syllabus, lectures, and any online components such as videos, PowerPoints, etc. It can mean creating closed captioning for videos and ensuring that all documents are created and saved in a manner that is screen reader ready.

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Online learning

Empowering Learners through Online Discussion Self-Grading

Have you ever thought, “There has to be a better way!” while grading your online learners’ discussions? It is no secret that grading student discussions is time consuming, laborious, and tedious, considering the disproportionate amount of time required to give solid, quality feedback on a large volume of discussion. On the learner side, students often do not use the rubric to craft their discussions or read and use feedback to improve. This adds to the frustration and can make grading learners’ discussions feel like a waste of time. Fortunately, a better way exists: engage and empower your students by having them grade their own discussions!

Benefits
Discussion self-grading is an innovative, unconventional, and creative learning method. It empowers learners to improve by employing adult learning principles outlined in the theory of andragogy and reflective learning. These principles encourage learners to be self-directed and responsible for their own learning (Knowles, Holston, & Swanson, 2015), and that serves to motivate the learner. Learners engage in their own learning process with internal motivation and are allowed to maintain control.

Discussion self-grading also requires reflection on experiences, beliefs, knowledge, one’s self, and practices with the goal of improving (Kember, McKay, Sinclair, & Wong, 2008). Reflection is an important lifelong skill for life, career, learning, and problem solving. It helps people improve both performance and practice in all facets of life. In the case of discussion self-grading, as learners engage in grading their own discussions, they reflect upon their discussion performance. Learners discover their mistakes and accomplishments, learn what they can improve and how, and are motivated to do better in the future.

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online learning

What Do Students Really Want from Online Instructors?

Over the past nine years, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing approximately 200 instructors at my institution develop and teach their first online course. I’ve witnessed instructors excited by the opportunity, but I’ve also observed many who were hesitant or even fearful of teaching online.

The instructors who were hesitant or fearful often would ask: “So, what’s the secret to being a great online instructor?” I had the sense they were expecting an extensive or complex answer. Many times they were surprised by my response.

Much has been written about student satisfaction in online courses, and there certainly are a number of factors that can influence a student’s experience as an online learner—institution, discipline, level of course, peers, home life, instructor, and so on. The ideas in this article have come from three sources: my 11 years of online teaching experience, hundreds of discussions with instructors about what has and hasn’t worked in their online courses, and the research literature.

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librarians can help with online course design

Librarians are the Forgotten Course Design Resource

Most institutions provide instructional design teams to support faculty in creating online courses. At my institution, each department has an assigned instructional designer, and most faculty members consider designers to be an indispensable part of the course development process. The same cannot be said for librarians, however, as my experience has been that most instructors view librarians as valuable sources of resources but not as actual resources themselves. While not intentional, of course, this means that instructors are missing an opportunity to enhance their courses. Similarly, instructional designers, who often work independently of librarians, may not be aware of all the resources available to them when supporting instructors during the process of course design.

All institutions have librarians dedicated to instruction and assigned to departments. In many cases, especially at larger institutions, these librarians hold graduate degrees in the fields to which they are assigned. They also usually possess many years of experience working with faculty from those fields. Combined with their training in developing collections, these librarians bring considerable expertise when selecting resources to be used in class and should always be consulted when choosing textbooks, articles, and other materials being used in class. They often know of material that faculty members are not aware of. They are also up-to-date on what databases and other electronic resources are currently offered through the library. This is no small detail because licensing agreements and available titles shift regularly as libraries and vendors renegotiate their existing contracts. Consequently, it is best to always include a course’s assigned librarian in all stages of course design, as the librarian may have more current knowledge regarding available resources than an instructor or instructional designer.

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online learning communities of practice

Facilitating Communities of Practice in Online Courses

What are communities of practice?
A community of practice is a network of people who exchange knowledge about a common profession. Members of the community exchange best practices and share evidence and results while supporting each other on a personal level. Good examples of these communities are the LinkedIn groups that can be found for nearly any profession.

While communities of practice are common and valuable in the working world, too often the interactions within a course are designed to apply only to that course, rather than prepare the student for the broader discussion within the profession that they will encounter after leaving school. That’s why I focus on forming communities of practice within my online courses.

A gradual approach to communities of practice
While there are various ways to promote communities of practices in online courses, I find discussion forums are the easiest place to start. When I design my discussion forums for my classes, I use a gradual design approach that spans the entire semester. The idea is to use the forum to facilitate a pathway toward communities of practice for the students.

communities of practice

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Balancing quality and quantity

Three Strategies to Improve Online Course Quality on Your Campus

When talking about online education, quality can be hard to define. This should come as no surprise, though. Institutions have been struggling for years to define quality in face-to-face courses.

Consider this dictionary definition of quality: The standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind; the degree of excellence of something.

Institutions may attempt to measure the quality of online courses and programs in a variety of ways, including student and faculty satisfaction data, retention rates, student evaluations of teaching, student learning outcomes for a course, peer (instructor) evaluations of teaching, course design, student graduation or exit surveys, employer surveys, etc.

There is no question that institutions have been placing more emphasis on the quality of their online programs in the last five to ten years. Here are some thoughts in response to that new interest—principles that I’ve found to be important in maintaining quality in online courses.

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taking an online course

Brainstorming Questionnaire for Designing or Improving a Course with Increased Faculty Presence

Faculty presence is a component of the online classroom that’s sometimes overlooked or underestimated by new online instructors, but it is often the most important determining factor for a student’s success and overall satisfaction in a course.

Instructor presence influences the ways that your students interact with the course content and how they interact with you. So, if you're not there, why should they be?

One of the things I like to think about with my classes is how do I form a better learning community? That's something that a lot of instructors do in a face-to-face classroom. But when it comes to online instruction it's a little more challenging.

I’ve outlined below some opportunities for increasing faculty presence. These are moments during the class when you can reach out to students and demonstrate that you're a real person who's there for them. You’ll find opportunities before the course begins, at various checkpoints, during follow up and interventions, beyond the classroom, and as part of the course wrap-up.

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Ideas about online teaching learning

What Students Can Teach Us about Online Learning

My students participate in an activity called “Building a Learning Community” during the first week of classes. In this activity, completed via a discussion board, I ask them to share about three topics: what their best and “not best” teachers did that helped or hindered their learning, what peers have done that has had a positive or negative impact, and feedback on certain policies (e.g., late work, deadlines). The answers have taught me a lot about online teaching, and my responses on these boards provide the students with insight on what they can expect from me.

Students report that their “best” teachers had multiple ways to present ideas and were relatable and involved. They also enjoy lessons that include more than just reading the textbook and watching a lecture, lessons that, when appropriate, incorporate outside videos, other materials, or instructor-made videos to demonstrate concepts covered in the lecture and/or text. They typically define “relatable” faculty as those who make their enthusiasm for their topics and their students’ successes visible even through cyberspace, who talk “to them” about topics in lectures rather than “at them,” and who invite questions in person or virtually. Those identified as better teachers were those who make it clear they read discussion boards, either through being “on the boards” with the students or via the feedback given. Those instructors also tended to send a weekly message to wrap up lessons, preview the upcoming week, or comment on a common issue that might have come up in the class. These instructors were visible and obviously “in the class” with the students, being more of a “guide on the side” than a “sage on the stage.” The less effective teachers read straight from slides with no elaboration during video lectures, rarely encouraged students or gave much feedback, weren’t attentive to class concerns, and failed assignments for reasons such as formatting not being 100 percent correct. Students most commonly express frustration with past instructors who did not return emails or phone calls.

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Set Students up for Success in Online Courses

Student success comes from strong leadership, including establishing rapport, providing resources, and putting the onus of responsibility on the students, rather than the instructor. Perhaps the most important area for success in any online course is what I call the “start here” area. Let’s explore this idea further.

“Start here” area
Some instructors call this an introductory area or a “welcome to the course” area. I like calling it “start here,” because, quite frankly, it’s incredibly descriptive and leaves no room for misinterpretation.

Let’s take a look at the six key elements of a start-here area: the instructor introduction video, course expectations, main assignment tutorials, technology tutorials, student engagement areas, and a syllabus quiz.

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online learning

Dos and Don’ts for Providing Effective and Efficient Feedback in the Online Classroom

Best practices consider feedback holistically and address three key elements: timing, target, and nature. It is important for instructors to be deliberate about all three factors and use care when determining when to deliver feedback, what the feedback should say, and what the feedback is meant to accomplish.

This post breaks down the dos and don’ts of effective feedback across four key areas: nature of feedback, time management, emergent technologies, and alternative approaches.

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