Getting Started on Big Change Projects: 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.

Student Group Research Projects

It’s a favorite assignment in upper-division major courses—have students collaborate on a research project. The rationale is straightforward. Students learn how to do research by doing it. Of course it depends, but in most fields, students new to research find it a daunting process that includes multiple steps: generating a research question, reviewing the literature, designing the study, collecting the data, analyzing them, writing up the results, and then presenting them. Teachers have students tackle the project in groups to make it less overwhelming and to underscore the value of collaboration on big projects.

Revisiting Teacher Authenticity

It’s a favorite refrain: “The best teaching is teaching that is a genuine, authentic representation of who you are.” Yes, in the classroom we are obligated to be professional, but being professional should not prevent students from seeing their teacher as a real person.

Student Resistance: Fact or Fiction

When faculty consider adopting a new instructional approach, there’s always a question about how it will be received by students. Will they engage with it and learn from it, or will they resist, as in complain, participate reluctantly, and give the course and instructor low evaluations? The fear of student resistance can prevent faculty from trying out new approaches, including any number of active learning approaches with well-documented learning benefits.

Should Students Form Their Own Groups?

It’s one of the questions always asked by faculty using group work. Sometimes students tell the teacher they want to form their own groups. Teachers worry about those students who aren’t well connected with others in the class. Will they be invited to join a group? Or, what about that clique in the back row who already spend too much time having fun? Or, maybe it’s that very bright, motivated bunch in the front row. Yes, they will work hard together, but other students could learn so much from working with them.

Figuring Out if It’s a Good Idea—Constructively

A recent issue of the journal Issues in Accounting Education published teaching statements written by the 2016 winners of the Cook Prize, a national prize that recognizes superior teaching in accounting.  Part of the statement, written by Billie M. Cunningham, who teaches accounting at the University of Missouri, describes how she first approached making changes in her teaching compared with how she handles the change process now. …

When a Student Disagrees with the Grade

“This is not a C paper!”  “This answer deserves more points.”  “Half of my work on this problem is correct, but I got less than half credit.”  Grades are terribly important to most students, so when they object to a grade, they often do so with passion.  For most professors, discussing contested grades is not a favorite conversation.  Often, it doesn’t end well.  The grade can’t be changed, and the student can’t be persuaded.  However,…

Improving Peer Feedback

Students regularly talk to one another about homework and course assignments. They discuss what they think the teacher wants, offer advice about what to study, and sometimes look at one another’s work and provide feedback. That feedback runs the gambit from generic commendations like, “that looks good,” to advice on comma placement, to detailed feedback on the substance or solution. Usually, the latter is the exception rather than the rule, unless students have learned that they can give and receive feedback in exchanges with peers. Many teachers try to provide that experience with in-class peer-review activities. They may give students checklists, question sets, or rubrics to guide their assessments and the feedback they then provide. The feedback may be written, or it may be exchanged online or in face-to-face conversations. But do these teacher interventions improve the peer feedback? Can students learn to give one another feedback that enables them to improve their work?