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Diverse Abilities and Flexibility from the BigXII Teaching and Learning Conference

Welcome to a special edition of the ThinkUDL podcast LIVE from the 6th Annual Big 12 Teaching and Learning Conference in the Texas Union Building here on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin.

This episode is comprised of two interviews with faculty at the University of Texas at Austin who employ UDL techniques systematically either in the classroom or in programming in order to provide access and flexibility for students. My first guest, Lisa Sigafoos, an Assis the Department of Special Education at UT Austin incorporates introductions and multiple explanations of disability and difference to make sure all students are able to bring their full selves to the classroom. And then I speak to Jeannette Herman, the Assistant Dean for Academic Initiatives and the Director of the Bridging Disciplines Program in the School of Undergraduate Studies who tells how a student-centered initiative allows for students to design part of their education in a cross-disciplinary manner helps them bridge the into their jobs and interests post-college. It is an excellent example of how UDL principles can be effectively applied to curriculum. Welcome to the conversation with Lisa and Jeannette on today’s podcast!


Identity Wheel – For use with students to understand difference and welcome students into the classroom community.

University of Texas at Austin Bridging Disciplines Program – Learn more about the Bridging Disciplines Program here.


[Lillian]  Welcome to Think UDL, the Universal Design for Learning podcast.  Where we hear from the people who are designing and implementing strategies with learner variability in mind.  [Music] I’m your host Lillian Nave, and I’m interested in not just what you’re teaching, learning, guiding, and facilitating; but how you design and implement it, and why it even matters. [Music]

This episode is comprised of two interviews with faculty at the University of Texas at Austin who employ UDL techniques systematically, either in the classroom or in programming in order to provide access and flexibility for students.  My first guest, Lisa Sigafoos, an assistant professor in the Department of Special Education at UT Austin, incorporates introductions and multiple explanations of disability and difference to make sure all students are able to bring their full selves to the classroom.  And then I speak to Jeannette Herman, the Assistant Dean for Academic Initiatives, and the Director of the Bridging Disciplines program in the School of Undergraduate Studies, who explains how a student-centered initiative allows for participants to  design part of their education in a cross-disciplinary manner that helps them bridge into their jobs and interests post college.  Its an excellent example of how UDL principles can be effectively  applied to curriculum.  Welcome to the conversation with Lisa and Jeannette on today’s podcast. 

So we’re at the Big 12 Teaching and Learning Conference at the University of Texas at Austin and I have before me another podcast interview, Lisa Sigafoos, and could you introduce yourself where you are in your role.


[Lisa]   Yes!  Hello, listeners, thanks for tuning into this podcast.  I am Lisa Sigafoos, I am an assistant professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Texas at Austin.  I also co-coordinate our undergraduate program in special education.


[Lillian]   Oh, great.  And I know that you incorporate Universal Design for Learning principles, and I was hoping you could tell me and our listeners of course about how you create a safe space where students can feel like they can be the learner they ought to be, or the learner that they are in the classrooms, so can you tell me more about that?


[Lisa]   Absolutely.  So, UDL is great, right?  I not only use UDL in my own instructing, but I teach about it, you know, I teach courses to undergraduates in our field of special education, and so I need to be a model of how to use UDL effectively to meet all students’ needs.  But, if you take a step back,  before you can have a classroom where UDL really works, you need to create a space where all types of learners feel valued, and feel like they can be the learner that they are, because the premise of UDL is to meet the needs of a wide variety of students.  So, students of all diversities and backgrounds.  And so you can have all these effective strategies, but if students are sitting in there, and they have these concerns in their mind of “I have a disability, what’s the instructor going to think of me,” or “I don’t speak English as my primary language, how’s that going to affect me,” or “my skin color’s not the same as the professor, are they going to judge me or think different of me.”  So, the first thing I do to start off all the courses that I teach is I do what I call just identity empowerment.  Really it’s a simple way to establish that classroom environment where we are all equal and everybody respects each other and each student can be the learner they are, and I have no expectation of a student learner, but that I am the instructor who will be there and will meet their needs, that they don’t need to try to meet my needs as an instructor.  And so I do this by first having students kind of take a self-look at their identity, right, they–I do the activity differently depending on what course I’m teaching, but the basic idea is that they identify different aspects of their identity, and they actually put in on paper for themselves, so, simple things is age, language, but also religious affiliation, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disability, or no disability, how do you identify.  They take a look at that, and then they evaluate, well what are my identities that are really prominent to me? What are the ones I think about who really, I feel, make me?  Like, for some students, its their disability.  Another student, its their country of origin, and then there’s other aspects of identity that we don’t even think about, until we put in on paper we’re like “oh, my age is a part of my identity?  Like, what?”  So making students reflect on that, and then having discussions with other students, and I always make it clear, you only have to share the parts of your identity that you’re comfortable with.  So, there’s nothing I’m forcing you to divulge, but have these conversations, talk with the people around you about their identities, figure out what are your similarities and differences.  Then, we come together as a class and talk about that.  We talk about how we are all different and all similar.  But in this space, you’re free to be you.  I actually make all my students put their pronouns on their name cards, which, usually, we’ll have to have a conversation because most students don’t know about pronouns, because they’ve never been asked.  But, the very first time I did that, I had a student that put they/them.  And after class, they came up to me and were just like “wow, thank you, I felt more accepted in the classroom–included, right, because you said you would call me by the pronouns that I want to be called.”  Setting that tone for the classroom, so students are like “cool, I don’t need to worry about these other things, I can be me, and I can go to the instructor with my needs, I can open up about things I might not in other classes.”  And then, as I use UDL strategies throughout my class, they’re more effective because every student knows that they’re valued and that they’re equal in that classroom.


[Lillian]  And about how many students do you have in your classroom to be doing this?

[Lisa]  I teach smaller courses, so my largest course is probably 30-35


[Lillian]  Ok, that’s a respectable size.

[Lisa]  Yeah, so I teach two–three courses, I teach a course called individual differences through the whole year, so I’m teaching fall, spring, and I teach both summer sessions.  This course is my baby and it lends great to this whole idea because I’m teaching students about differences.  I go through all the major disability categories, as well as I hit on students who identify with the LGBTQ community, students you might have in your class that come from low SES, different language backgrounds, minorities, and the class is focused on future teachers, although we get students from all over campus, so I really broaden the talk just to us as a community of individuals in this country and what we should really be valuing, and that is our differences and our uniquenesses, and so that also in itself makes students feel comfortable being the learner they are in class.


[Lillian]  Wow. 

[Lisa]  Then my other two courses are specifically for special education majors, and those, you know, that’s roughly around 30, and I teach just introduction to special education, all that fun stuff with laws and IEP’s and ARD meetings, which all needs to have UDL incorporated into all of it, and then I also teach about school organization and classroom management.


[Lillian]   So, when you’re talking about this and kind of sharing an identity, that brings to mind the idea of responsibility of community membership, like that’s one of our general education goals at many institutions, its one of mine, and I think that responsibility starts when you’re recognizing who the community members are, and that we have maybe responsibilities to each other to understand each other and then be able to interact with each other, but you can’t do that if you don’t know who you’re learning with.


[Lisa]  And that’s–I also think its very important for instructors to be very open and up front with who they are.  So, I spend a lot of time going over my students, not just oh, my background, I have a PhD, I’ve you know, done this, but who I am as a person.  And so I always start with actually going over my identity, and really talking with them about it and the parts of my identity that really have shaped who I am.  Mainly, I am an individual with multiple disabilities.  I was diagnosed in first grade with a learning disability, specifically dyslexia, as well as ADHD; as an adult, I’ve been diagnosed with anxiety disorder with accompanying panic attacks, and OCD.  And I talk about the challenges that they have brought, especially in earning a PhD with dyslexia, but also the strengths that come out of them, and the very positive aspects of my life because of my disabilities.  And so, those disabilities really are a strong part of my identity, and I don’t feel any shame in them, and I don’t want them to have any shame in any aspect of their identity.


[Lillian]  That’s fantastic.  Have you had students that are telling you that this has made a difference in your class?


[Lisa]   Oh yes, absolutely.  The identity activity I did with my special ed majors, I actually made them reflect on it, because it was the first time I’d done it, and so I was like “well, is this going to suck or is this like woo hoo you just scored on the teacher front.”  And, overwhelmingly what they wrote was how much they enjoyed it, and it really did set the atmosphere, and that they’d never been asked to do something like that before, and it really made them feel comfortable and valued for who they are.  So yes, and then in my other class, my individual differences, the students all the time–and it helps  them open up and have more conversations.  I mean, students end up overwhelmingly opening up and being like, well I have depression, I have anxiety, I have a learning disability, things oftentimes you never hear students just say out loud into a class, but they feel comfortable.  And then we talk about it, like Oh what was it like for you through special education, and they’re like oh yeah I remember that when I got pulled out of class, so they’re connecting deeper–also I think with the content that I’m teaching.


[Lillian]   Yes, I think that idea of really opening up that community is so important that relationship that you’re forming, not just the student and the teacher, but the students together with each other is so important in learning, and permit me a small story.  When I was in college, a long long time ago and taking a math class, I remember taking the exam and looking around and seeing everybody, I thought, acing the exam while I was like “I’m failing!” I panicked, and I saw my roommate there and she was doing just fine too, and later on, talking in the dorm, realized that she and another guy that was in our dorm were all in the same class and we had the same conversation, like man that was really hard, but I looked around and everybody was doing just fine and they’re like no no no, I looked around and everybody was doing just fine, your head was down like you knew what you were doing.  I was like no I was totally –I failed!  But, we were all having the same thoughts, but we thought everybody else had it totally under control, you know, at the same time.  So, just opening up and knowing that vulnerability about each other as we’re all trying to learn new things, and it’s a struggle, and that we have these different gifts that we can bring to the table, is so helpful and refreshing, and empowering, even in the learning environment.


[Lisa]   And that’s what I want–I want students to be empowered as learners.  I also want them to just love and enjoy being there, and love learning.  I believe that when you have fun with what you’re doing, you do better at it, so I want my students to have fun and be in a classroom space.  But also the conversations that we have is about the assumptions that we just immediately put on people.  So, we also do a big conversation on that first day with just kind of, what are some assumptions you make?  You see a ring on my finger, what assumption do you make?  And they’re like “you’re married,” and I’m like “married to who?” and they’re like “a man.”  Do you know that?  I could just as easily be married to a woman, but that’s assumption.  Or, you know, we have one African American male in class, and everyone’s like “well what sport do you play?”  Although he does play football, the point is, it was that immediate assumption that people put on, and so we just talk about that, the way we look at people and automatically assume things about them, and its as much as like, you assume intelligence level, right, based on someone’s look, what they’re wearing, or that they’re athletic, or they’re artsy or have musical talents, we make so many assumptions of people, and I really try to teach my class to break those assumptions that we make and get to know people, learn about people, ask!  The biggest thing is ask if you don’t know.  If you don’t know someone’s pronouns, ask them!  And so that comes into play when we talk about different disability categories, because of so many assumptions people make of people with disabilities.  You hear things and just automatically think things.  One is, you hear learning disability, and so many times, often people think that that relates to intelligence and that you can’t do things.  It really bothers me when I will tell people “oh, I have a learning disability and I’m getting a PhD” that’s shortened, but in that conversation they’ll say one of two things, either “well, you don’t really have a learning disability if you’re getting a PhD” or they will say “well then a PhD must not be very hard if you’re getting it.”  And I’m like, don’t judge my intelligence because I have a learning disability, because you’re ignorance is that you don’t know what it is, and so I also set out to help teach through my courses, so hopefully those students will go out and have more open minds and will help teach people what it really means to have disabilities.  Which is probably a tangent off of UDL, but I use a lot of UDL principles to establish those learning expectations in class, and bring in fun ways to talk about hard conversations.  Some of the content that we cover can get very deep, and can get very emotional, especially if individuals in class have personal connections to the topics that we talk about, especially when I get into those at-risk categories of children who have gone through traumatic trauma as children, being homeless, child abuse and neglect because then that’s going to affect their schooling.  So as teachers you need to understand how to then respond to that, and so as I’m teaching, I try to use –I use memes to help connect and relate to students, GIFs to help make points as well as my bitmoji of me to bring in fun things, and I actually have students–I do student check-ins with memes.  You can learn a lot about how a student is feeling in the moment by making them post a meme that kind of reflects how they are in the moment.  And then I look over those and I decide which students I probably need to go check-in with, and which are doing pretty well at the time. 


[Lillian]  Yeah, that’s great.  We have on our College STAR website, too, one of the modules is about using things like memes and cake decorations, merging silly and serious on there, so yeah, maybe you need to write another module for us.


[Lisa]  Well, I actually, another fun thing that I do that I think helps set the tone for the course is, you know, most syllabi are just black and white, straight down information, mine is not.  Mine is done as like a comic book strip.


[Lillian]  Oh, great.

[Lisa]   So, its very bright, its very colorful, there’s you know the boom, pow things everywhere, yeah it looks like a comic book and its structured like that, however, you do have to think then about the accessibility of it, and is this going to work for all students.  So, one thing on my list to get done to make my syllabus even more inclusive is to go over a kind of video version of the syllabus and provide kind of the information that way, so students who might be overwhelmed by a syllabus that is different and colorful, although its supposed to attract them in and most feedback is that they loved it, you know they saw that and felt more comfortable coming into the class, but also knowing that there’s some that might be overwhelmed by it.  So to do a video version or an audio version, I think will be helpful to that.


[Lillian]   That’s great.  Well, it sounds like you have a lot of ways that make this space very inclusive, and thank you so much for sharing


[Lisa]   Yes!  Thank you for having me.

[Lillian]   Its been great.


[Lisa]   Yes.



[Lillian]   We are at the sixth annual Big 12 Teaching and Learning Conference here at the University of Texas at Austin, and today, joining me on the podcast is Jeannette Herman who, here at the University of Texas at Austin, can you tell us what your role is?


[Jeannette]   Sure, thanks for having me on the podcast.  I’m an assistant dean in the school of undergraduate studies, and so undergraduate studies is a school that cuts across all of the colleges.  We work on the core curriculum, we are a home for undecided students, and we also work on programs that enrich the education for all students at the university–all undergraduate students.  So, my role is assistant dean for academic initiatives and director of the bridging disciplines programs, so I work on the skills and experience flags, the office of undergraduate research, and the bridging disciplines programs.


[Lillian]   Oh, great.  And I’m so glad you’re joining us here, and its live so we might hear some applause in another room or some other noises, so bear with us, and yeah just keep talking, we’re really excited to hear what you have to say, and I did want to ask you specifically about some of these experiential programs in the bridging programs.  If you could tell me and our listeners some more about that, that would be really helpful.


[Jeannette]  Sure.  So, the bridging disciplines programs is a set of 16 different college bridging certificate programs for undergraduates across the university.  So, any degree-seeking undergraduate is eligible to apply for the program, and we have different thematic areas, so everything from children and society, to digital arts and media, design strategies is our most recent one, we’re developing some new programs, one on smart cities and one on patients, practitioners, and cultures of care which is a kind of medical humanities inter-professional health education kind of program.


[Lillian]   Wow, that’s really interesting. 

[Jeannette]   And so– yeah I’m excited about both of the new programs that we’re bringing on.  So, as part of these programs, students–its 19 credit hours and students do a combination of coursework that is bridging the different colleges and disciplines at UT in order to help them gain an interdisciplinary skill set and approach and set of perspectives on their topic, and at the same time, as part of the program, students have to do experiential learning, and so they’re doing what we call connecting experiences, which are either research experiences or internships, or in some cases creative projects that are designed to help them really sort of take what they’re learning in the classroom and translate that into something that so sort of in line with their own personal goals.  So they have a lot of leeway in crafting what that experience is going to be and how that might connect with their goals for the future.


[Lillian]   Wow, and that is–to me that sounds like its Universal Design for Learning in the curriculum, allowing for student choice, allowing for flexibility, and for student desire to really shape that experience.


[Jeannette]   Definitely.

[Lillian]   Yeah.  Do you think–could you tell us some examples of what some of those experiential learning opportunities are?


[Jeannette]   Sure.  Well, we had a –as one example, one of our students this morning who was on the panel here at the conference with us, her name’s Mackenzie, and she was a museum studies BDP student, so she has–I think she is majoring in anthropology and minoring in architecture, but she added on this BDP certificate in museum studies where she was taking courses from art history, we have a team talk course that students take as part of that certificate  that’s taught by a faculty member from art history and someone from geosciences, so looking at very different sort of approaches to thinking about museums.  And then for her connecting experience, she did one internship and one research experience.  And her research experience was looking at natural history museums and sort of thinking about accessibility and how to market the collection that’s on campus, so that more students are aware and sort of thinking about and engaging with those collections.  And so she’s actually taken that research and is publishing a book this winter based on her research.


[Lillian]   Whoa!  She is an undergrad?

[Jeannette]   She is–she just graduated.  She’s a recent alum.  And so yeah its really impressive.  So that’s just one example.  We have students who do all kinds of things, both here in Austin on campus, but also abroad.  So, yeah there are all kinds of ideas and we really try to work with students on brainstorming so that they’re able to really think about what their goals are and their passions and their–what they want to get out of their education, and then helping them work toward achieving that.


[Lillian]   So, this is not a major, and its not a –is it a designation, or how does this bridging program fit into kind of the larger curriculum at UT?


[Jeannette]   Sure, yeah so its something that students elect to do that is over and above their major requirements.  They don’t have to do this to earn a degree at UT.  We talk about it as a little bit more of a minor, but less than a major.  So it’s a way for students to sort of integrate requirements that they already have for their degree plan, whether it’s a limited number of courses that count for their major, courses that count for their core curriculum, and courses that count as elective requirements, but to sort of choose those courses in a more integrated way that allows them to develop the second sort of area of expertise without adding time to degree.  So it helps them sort of chart a way through the university in a different way.  We give them the ability to sort of think about how to take courses that they might not have even considered because they’re outside of their major in a way that intersects their interests. 


[Lillian]   Wow, that’s great flexibility, but also seems to be focusing their attention at the same time.


[Jeannette]  Yeah, its flexibility within a structure, so that’s part of what we–we have– every BDP certificate consists of certain elements, and so there is some consistency with what those elements are, so every certificate is going to have foundation courses that students are required to complete.  We have for each program a one hour course that is an interdisciplinary learning experience where students are also exposed to what kinds of faculty are doing research and teaching in this area, it kind of models what interdisciplinary inquiry looks like.  And then they do possibly other foundation courses that give them a grounding in this topic, courses that help them develop more expertise or more knowledge related to their specific interests in the program, so we call those courses in a strand, and then the connecting experiences.  So all that comes together for 19 credit hours, and then at the end of their experience, they write an integration essay, where they’re sort of making meaning of those different pieces of the certificate and writing about how the different disciplinary approaches have informed their understanding now that they’re sort of at the end of this program.  How, maybe, their goals for the future have changed or been refined as a result of their connecting experiences, and how what they’ve learned in the classroom has translated or either has sort of prepared them for connecting experiences, or how maybe what they’ve learned in their connecting experiences has caused them to re-evaluate what they’ve learned in the classroom.  So really asking them to sort of take responsibility for making those connections and thinking across the various pieces of their overall certificate experience.


[Lillian]  That’s reflective piece is really integral in things like service learning, civic engagement I know, and also at the engagement section of our UDL principles that UDL says we need to have reflection upon how we are as learners, where we’re going as learners, and kind of self-regulate.  So, that, as an integral part of this bridging program is very much a part of that UDL canon. 


[Jeannette]   Yeah, that’s a big part of everything we do, actually from the beginning, so students apply to be part of the programs and they write an essay about their goals for the program, during their first semester they have an orientation session that they have to come to where we talk about their BDP journey and ask them to –in a very brief way to sort of set out some goals for themselves for what they want to gain from this experience.  And then for each connecting experience that they do, each research or internship experience, they write a reflection essay at the completion of that experience and that all kind of leads to the integration essay at the end.  So, reflection is a really critical part of allowing this to be not just a collection of experiences that are distinct, but something that students can really sort of take that and turn it into something that they learn from and they reflect on and sort of think about how this affects their goals and ideas about what they want to do. 


[Lillian]  Yeah, that sounds very integrative.  So that–when do they have to start thinking about this, is it as a freshman or first year student that this is introduced to them, or do they have to declare whatever they want to do by a particular time, or how’s that timeline work for those students


[Jeannette]   It would–we try to be very flexible, so they can apply as early as the second semester of their freshman year, or as late as three semesters before they graduate.  So if students have already taken courses that are relevant to their certificate, that are part of that curriculum, they can count it even before–even if they’ve done it before they apply to the program, but they do have to do that application process, and once they do that, they gain access to things like being able to work with us on connecting experiences and get credit for those experiences.  We help them get seats in courses across campus which can also be a challenge for students, and so we try to sort of build in that flexibility.  We also don’t have curricula that tend to be very sequential, so we try to have that flexibility as well so that students are able to–there’s not a lot of sort of built in prerequisites within the program, even though they do have to satisfy prerequisites for the courses they take across campus.


[Lillian]   Wow, and how long has this program been at UT Austin?


[Jeannette]   Yeah, so it was founded in 2002, as out of the provost office out of a program that used to be on campus called Connexus which used to be an umbrella for a lot of programs that were emerging from the Boyer report, on undergraduate education at research universities, so really trying to integrate more undergraduate research and interdisciplinary learning into the curriculum, and then it moved to the school of undergraduate studies when it was formed in 2006. 


[Lillian]   And you’ve been leading this or at least involved in this for how long here at University of Texas at Austin?


[Jeannette]   I started in my role in 2006, so right around the time that the programs were moving into the school of undergraduate studies, I’ve been directing the program since then. 


[Lillian]   So, can you tell us then maybe some success stories or maybe some unexpected endings or findings that you’ve seen?  You’ve been here for–or been a part of this process for over a decade, so there must be quite a few success stories.  I loved hearing about your undergraduate who’s now writing a book, but can you tell us some more that’s kind of stuck out to you over the years?


[Jeannette]   There are so many.  So we have an alumni advisory committee, and one of our active members of that committee likes to talk about his story, which is that he was a theater and dance major and expected to go into theater, and then sort of somewhere in the middle of his university experience, he realized that he didn’t actually want to do that and was interested more in technology, and he was a digital arts and media student, which is the program that’s really about creating digital art and digital media out of kind of game development and other kinds of uses of technology in very creative ways, and he was able to use–rather than changing his major, which would have been difficult to do at sort of the point when he was figuring this out, he was able to use his digital arts and media certificate and connecting experiences to really get himself into the technology industry, and is thrilled with his career today.  He’s been incredibly successful, so I think that’s one really great success story and it just kind of demonstrates the value of that cross-disciplinary engagement as a way of broadening students and providing them with skills that they might not get from their majors. 


[Lillian]   Yeah.

[Jeannette]   Another one, let’s see, its hard to even sort of think about a particular experience because they are just so many of them.  We have a student who developed–this is another digital arts media student that’s coming to mind–she created an animation based on the story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” that ended up–we found out about later from a future BDP student was used in her high school before she was even at UT to help teach “The Yellow Wallpaper.”  So, we have a lot of those stories where we now have for example, internship supervisors who used to be BDP students.  They are alumni now and are supervising current BDP students in internships for the program, so its been really wonderful to kind of see that longevity of the program, and we actually have turned it into an alumni and mentor program where we have about 100 alumni who are mentoring current students.  For the past two years, we’ve had about that number, so I think it was actually more than 100 mentorship relationships this year that we’ve set up.


[Lillian]  Wow, so this really looks like you’re incorporating so many of the Universal Design for Learning principles with choice.  The choice students have–a big choice to move outside of what may be a lot of structure in their major, into something that exciting to them, something that engages them, and then they’ve got these options to show how they understand or how they can perform, right?  So, action and expression, and then a bunch of flexibility–that must be tough, too as an administrator to kind of have all those moving pieces or get that together, has that been hard to do, 16 different programs with that amount of flexibility?


[Jeannette]  Its tricky.  Yeah, so we have–so, first, I think you’re right.  So, choice is a really big part of what we try to build in for students in the programs.  We–and I think the choice comes not just at the student level but at the faculty level and sort of designing these programs and trying to sort of create a balance between what do students need to know to sort of emerge with something on their transcript that says that they know something about this topic, versus how can we let students explore and sort of give them a supportive structure in which to do that.  But ultimately, you know sometimes we’re asked if we have lists or if we set students up in connecting experiences, and we don’t do that.  We provide resources, we have a blog where we have opportunities that come to us that we put on there, but students find so many opportunities that we never would even have considered that end up being fantastic.  And so we’re really trying to say, this is directed to student goals, we want them to take the responsibility and the ownership of thinking about what moves them in the direction that they want in terms of their learning and their career paths.  As far as the administration, it is challenging and you know we are on a campus–as most campuses are–that is divided by departments and very centered in colleges and any time you’re doing something or kind of trying to make something available to students that falls outside of those sort of ways of doing things as an institution, is challenging.  And each–we have a faculty committee that oversees each individual program and a steering committee that guides the whole umbrella, and so we definitely have some things that we try to keep consistent across the programs, and that has to be the case in order to really do what we do.  But at the same time, we try to make it so that within that basic structure, the faculty have a lot of leeway in terms of how they structure the programs and the curriculum.  And so that creates challenges.  We have really great– we have developed really good processes and systems over the years, to manage all of this in a way that allows us to kind of focus on the student experience and focus on what we need to do for the curriculum. 


[Lillian]  Wow, and it seems like you have made this as student-driven as it can possibly be.  Really, they’re the ones that are choosing–they’ve got some help and some structure, but its really student driven at every intersection that they can put this together, and that’s huge.  That choice that allows for much richer engagement and also the fact that we as instructors, as administrators, we can’t think of everything, right?  I love that you said that the students are going to bring in more possibilities than we even could think about, so this–is this something that is done at many other institutions that you know of?  This is the first time that I am hearing of it but that doesn’t mean I should know everything, but is that something that you see in other forms as well?


[Jeannette]  I think there are components of the BDP’s that are at other institutions, so there are certificate programs, including interdisciplinary certificate programs that I’m aware of.  There are certainly programs in experiential learning and undergraduate research, and so I think that the individual components are fairly common, but putting–I’m not aware of programs that put them together in the way that we do, and I think that’s part of what makes it special, is that it is combining the kind of interdisciplinary look at a topic, with the experiential learning component, and really kind of doing so in a way that privileges that sort of student journey through the program and that exploration.


[Lillian]  Yeah, this is a pretty new idea to me.  I’ve heard of all those different components, and seen them in many institutions but this is really a fabulous way for students to design part of their education.  And, as you’ve said, with the stories that you told, really helping them to move forward after college to kind of get into whatever they were interested in doing, yeah its fantastic.


[Jeannette]  Thank you.  And I should say too that you know, one of the components that makes this work is we have really fantastic academic advisors who help students figure out how to integrate–how to accomplish what they want to accomplish, so how to integrate this into their degree plans and how to brainstorm about connecting experiences.  So that advising piece I think is a really critical support for students to be able to do that work.


[Lillian]  That’s fantastic, wow.  Well, thank you very much for telling us about this, our listeners will be really excited and maybe this could spread to other places.


[Jeannette]  Well, that would be wonderful.  Thank you so much for inviting me.


[00:39:56] [Lillian]  [Music]  You can follow the Think UDL podcast on facebook, twitter, and instagram to find out when new episodes will be released, and also see transcripts and additional materials at the website. The Think UDL podcast is made possible by College STAR, the STAR stands for supporting transition, access and retention in post-secondary settings, and the website provides free resources and instructional aids based on UDL principles. If you’d like to know more, go to the website.  Additional support for the podcast is made possible by Appalachian State University, where, if you call it Appalachian, I’ll throw an apple at you!  The music on the podcast was performed by the Odyssey Quartet, comprised of Rex Shepherd, David Pate, Bill Folwell, and Jose Cochez.  Our sound engineer is Tanner Jones, and our social media coordinator is Ruben Watson.  And I’m your host, Lillian Nave, thank you for joining us on the Think UDL podcast.

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