Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?
While many of us who work and teach in the STEM fields think of our disciplines as “neutral” and empirical, there are lots of ways our teaching strategies can either increase or decrease access to the content. Traditional “weed-out” methods of STEM teaching are designed to push struggling students out of class, and their lack of success is blamed on poor academic preparation, lack of motivation, and/or deciding they are mismatched for the field.
MSU Denver recognizes that many of our students have gaps in their educational foundations, and it our responsibility to help our students bridge those gaps. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is one way to more mindfully design our instruction to be more inclusive, resulting in stronger learning outcomes, higher course completion rates, and students who can continue on STEM career trajectories.
Take a SIP of This: Universal Design for Learning in STEM
The three basic principles of UDL are multiple means of representation and presentation, multiple means of strategic engagement, and multiple means of expression.
1. Multiple means of representation is moving your teaching beyond just delivering a lecture, such as video, and small and whole group discussions. The idea of “captioning” terms is also helpful…how can you connect meaning to the terms and concepts you are teaching? Have the keywords for the lesson posted on the board. Both seeing and hearing the word helps build meaning. This is also especially effective with English language learners. Make sure to clarify symbols and notations, especially if they vary between content areas. Students may see one symbol used in physics, for example, that is used in a different way in biology, so it’s helpful to illuminate that. You can also offer a varied selection of readings and resources about the same topic.
2. Multiple means of engagement means increasing student motivation for learning by making the topic more relevant—why does it matter? How does it connect with who they are and what they know? How do you let students know you are interested enough in who they are to go to the trouble of engaging them? Giving students choices also facilitates engagement, especially in collaborative projects. They have a greater sense of autonomy and can learn from each other. If you are asking students to work in lab teams, for example, make sure assessing the way they work together is part of their grade.
3. Multiple means of action and expression provides students with choices to demonstrate their learning through multimedia projects instead of written papers, for example, or by quizzes and a project instead of one final exam, or at least to balance out the weight of the scale. Are assessment plans meant to weed students out? Once students are in a grading black hole they tend to give up and drop out. Expression based in real world challenges is also more like the kind of projects they will encounter in the workplace; this is known as problem-based learning. Students may tackle an issue like urban water pollution, for example. Interactive technologies like clickers can help facilitate students feeling more engaged.
We know from the Equity Scorecard Report that there is work to be done if we want to improve the academic outcomes of underrepresented and first generation students here at MSU Denver. This challenge is even more pronounced in the STEM areas. Persistence in STEM does not rely solely on improving the academic preparation of students; the responsibility is ours to rethink our teaching practices and consider what WE can do differently to better serve our students. Applying the concepts of UDL to STEM instruction can help us do just that.
Still Thirsty? Take another SIP of Universal Design for Learning in STEM
- MSU Denver faculty resources on UDL https://msudenver.edu/access/facultyresources/universaldesignforlearningudl/
- 2012 ASQ session on Applied Universal Design for Learning in STEM Education http://rube.asq.org/edu/2012/06/best-practices/applied-universal-design-for-learning-in-stem-education.pdf
- Project Based Learning modules that utilize UDL http://www.leadingpbl.org/w/page/46480999/UDL%20Modules
- Promising Practices for Universal Design in Higher Education http://www.washington.edu/doit/sites/default/files/atoms/files/Universal%20Design%20in%20Higher%20Education_Promising%20Practices_0.pdf