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How UDL values Learners with Jen Pusateri

On today’s Think UDL podcast, Lillian talks with Jennifer Pusateri, the Universal Design Consultant at the University of Kentucky. They also talk about students’ sense of self-efficacy and how a well-designed learning environment, complete with UDL implementation, values learners. This leads to a discussion of UDL as culturally responsive teaching.  Finally, Jennifer explains how she is uses UDL principles to help codify data in mid-semester feedback sessions with faculty. This helps inform the faculty, but also the wider campus. She is using this valuable student voice data in new ways to plan workshops and faculty development for the wider campus.

Resources: Jen Pusateri mentions the new guidelines has recently updates with point by point explanations of each guideline as she codified data in mid-semester feedback

#UDLHE Twitter chat for UDL in Higher Ed which occurs every third Thursday of the month

@Jen_Pusateri Jen’s Twitter handle to connect and network about all thing UDL

@udl4uk The Twitter handle for all things UDL at the University of Kentucky

#udlchat for Twitter chats about UDL in general

#udlky for what the University of Kentucky is doing with UDL

UDL-coded mid-semester feedback at University of Kentucky

How UDL Feels



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.



Lillian: 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.



Lillian: Welcome to Episode 2 of the Think UDL podcast where my guest today is Jennifer Pusateri,  Universal Design Consultant at the University of Kentucky. She also leads the UDLHE (which is Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education) Twitter chat on the third Thursday of every month with the hashtag #UDLHE. Today Jen and I get to chat about how designing for all learners makes a real difference in feeling valued as a learner, and also about how UDL helps her to provide mid-semester feedback to instructors at the University of Kentucky. Jennifer, welcome.


Jennifer: Thank you.


Lillian: Yeah! We’re glad to have you on the Think UDL podcast and I wanted to ask you… my first question is, “What makes you a different learner?” What is something that makes you, something different, original, quirky about the way that you learn?


Jennifer: Well, I tell you I love this question because honestly this is really what drives me to get UDL out there in the world so I have this student persona that I created. Before I was at the University of Kentucky I was at the Kentucky Department of Education, so in the K-12 world and I went to a lot of, a lot of conferences, did a lot of trainings, a lot of workshops for people, and one of the things that I would utilize is a student persona. And I had several of them but one was based on me and I didn’t tell them that until the very end. But I actually brought it so I’m gonna just read this, a little bit of it, aloud so you can kind of have an idea of who I am and who I was as a learner coming up through school.


Jennifer: So this is broken up into six categories: behavior, cognitive ability, reading skills, social skills, writing skills, and then interests and strengths. And there’s a lot so I’m not going to read them all but I’m going to just give you the highlights. So this particular person (who I nicknamed Maya), Maya was compliant so always kind of acted right in class but was often zoned out, had a short attention span (but not hyperactive), had difficulty sitting for long periods of time and then happened to make a lot of careless mistakes on quizzes, worksheets, and exams. So it wasn’t that she didn’t know the content, it’s just that she might have gotten her bubbling off by one number for doing something on a like a scantron. (Right? And that screws up the whole deal!) Reading skills: Maya is a very fluent reader, can stand up and read really anything to you out loud but has very low comprehension skills. Therefore, she doesn’t like to read. Maya had her cognitive ability above average. She’s identified for gifted and talented services in her schools but she often got this whole “does not achieve to her full potential” comment on her progress reports.


Jennifer: Social skills: This person was well-liked by peers and adults, a natural leader. Her writing skills: she struggled a lot with handwriting but was very creative in her writing. And because she was not really always paying attention all the time she had a lot of sort of smaller mistakes: things like grammar, punctuation, spelling, just sort of, you know, breezed on by those things and was not paying attention. And then her interests and strengths: she excelled in music and theater. She was very creative, very good at problem-solving and patterns. And when she was motivated she could do exemplary work, especially when it came to things like projects because she could really hone her her ADHD-ness, if you will, to… to hyper-focus, which was really beneficial. So this is, this is me so, um, in my presentations I would use this as an example and I would sort of go through the process of taking a traditional lesson plan and modifying it for this particular student’s needs, right? And then, at the end of that, I would say, “So I just want to let you know that this particular student persona was based on me. This was me as a student.” And so I at that point kind of speak to why UDL is so important to me. Because if there… I wasn’t identified, really for anything, until until college when I got to a place where I could no longer just, sort of, I don’t know, halfway work my way through school. I had to really start working hard and I had no idea how to study had no study skills, my executive functioning was a crazy mess. And so when I got to college and really started to struggle I was like, I’m like, “What is going on? Like this is not how I usually act in school. This is not how I have been in school thus far so I’m not sure what’s up.”


Jennifer: So I ended up going to see, like a psychiatrist and getting sort of a late adult diagnosis of ADHD which is actually pretty typical for… for women who don’t present the hyperactivity. They kind of get to that point later in life, often in college. So at that point, it was kind of, I kind of liked the fact that I knew that about myself now because now I could sort of seek out some solutions. But I really didn’t find a whole lot of solutions for my own learning until worked at a school for students with specific learning disabilities. So this is where I was actually doing my teaching. And at this school, all of the students had some kind of a specific learning disability, often dyslexia. The school was kind of known for its work with dyslexic students, but about 80% of the students presented symptoms of ADHD, we’ll say. Some were diagnosed, some were not. Some were medicated, some were not. But because of that, the way that we taught had to be really thought-out. We had to sort of plan ahead knowing the type of students we had in our classroom. So (an example) I was an arts and humanities teacher. So, an example would be: I knew that if we had a lot of transitions throughout the class period, then that was gonna eat up a good chunk of my time. So I tried to think ahead and I would say, “Okay well instead of having them get up and go sharpen a pencil, and the electric pencil sharpener, which makes that awful sound while I’m trying to teach, maybe I should just have little tote baskets at each table with pre-sharpened pencils ready to go. So they don’t have to get up and do all that. That’s kind of minimizing that transition.” Later I decided to come up with a name for that which I call transition trimming.


Lillian: Mm-hmm.


Jennifer: We’re trying to get rid of the transitions. And so by thinking that stuff out, it was really setting the students up for more success in the classroom. And this is something that we did across the board at that particular school. And I didn’t really have a name for that. I just thought, well, man, that is just a really good teaching idea, like this is a great idea! Why doesn’t everybody do this– that sort of proactive planning ahead for the variety of learners in our class? After I left that school and ended up at the Department of Education, one of the first things that my supervisor asked me to do was to look into– and I’m using air quote fingers which you can’t see because this is a podcast– but, she asked me to look into this thing called “UDL” and so I was like– alright! So I started looking it up and reading a little bit about it and I was like wait a minute, this is what we did at this school! Oh my gosh! This has a name I was so excited that it had a name!


Lillian: And then all the pieces started falling into place for you!


Jennifer: It was! It was! I mean it was a major game changer for me. So, after having taught in that school and sort of seeing what the students’ needs were, I was able to respond to my own needs as a learner. So the things that we learned for our students in professional development that we did in the school, I would be like “that would totally work for me I should do that too,” so when they would suggest that perhaps you we should break up any reading assignments into like four or five page chunks, and make a little checklist and things like that, I was like taking that information that I got from the PD and putting it into my own at that point I was in a master’s program putting it into my own learning which was huge and that was really the first time I actually got a 4.0 grade point average through my whole master’s because I now had the skills and the strategies to be able to put into place in my own learning. And so that’s like a really long way to say the answer to the question that you asked me. But, yeah, I mean being a non-traditional (I guess that’s the way you say it) a non-traditional learner totally opens up the way that one thinks about teaching and learning, at least that’s been my particular experience.


Lillian: Well that’s a rousing endorsement for UDL, for strategies and for design thinking, and how it helped you and how you were helping students, and how you’ll be helping students there at the University of Kentucky,

Jennifer: right!

Lillian: From what you were just saying, things like minimizing threats and distractions, that’s part of the engagement UDL– a guideline that we have under recruiting interest from the CAST UDL guidelines.


Lillian: Yeah, if we don’t have to get up and go sharpen pencils or, you know, “Get up, take your laptop out, and go to this website.” If we can have that ready, or we can have these materials available for our students, or having it on our Moodle or Canvas, you know, having those things ready for our students so that we have an ease of transition in whatever classroom, or course design, that’s going to help our students in any way from having “pencils already sharpened” is the metaphor it seems.


Jennifer: Sure.


Lillian: And having that assignment ready to having the design already in place and breaking up those reading assignments into chunks is another part of one of our you know big UDL guidelines, and… having access to all of the tools that you’re going to be able to use. So this is, it’s a story! It is a story of UDL in practice, a success story!


Jennifer: Yes!


Lillian: Fantastic!


Jennifer: And one of the things I had always thought about as I was learning more about UDL is like, I wish that my elementary and middle and high school teachers would have known, (A) known what UDL is and (B) that they would have had another student in their class for whom they were making changes because even though I was not diagnosed for anything I didn’t have an IEP or any of that stuff like it still would have been so helpful for me even someone who was in gifted and talented classes, I still really needed those kinds of things that maybe I would not have been identified for, but if someone else in that class had and the teacher was utilizing UDL and putting these kinds of things into place in the classroom, I would have benefited from that as well and so to me that really solidifies why UDL is so important and not just in K-12, of course. But, I’m thinking from that perspective, because K-12, we don’t get to choose who’s in our class, right? I mean in K-12 its whoever you show up with on day one of school, that’s who’s in your class. And so you really have to modify things to be able to meet the needs of the variety of learners that you have whether or not you think they need it, it’s pretty important.


Lillian: And now in in post-secondary education we don’t have much of a choice either as to who comes in our class and we have such a wide variety of students that are coming into colleges who never had the chance to come in who come from such wide for such a wide variety of backgrounds and any type of codification if you do ethnicity socio-economic background cultural background we’ve got it all at this joint and we didn’t used to have that so you know having one teaching style that was pretty okay for such a long time because we had a homogeneity yeah students for such a long time well we thought we did and then we realized no we had a whole bunch of kinds of smart you know not just the one kind of smart all these other kinds of smart so how do we access all those different kinds of smart that we have in our class.


Jennifer: And I think that’s one of the things that higher ed is is still trying to grasp on to, you know, is that all of the students in my class are not going to learn the same way that I do. That’s a difficult concept I think for some faculty members, not for all, of course. But one of the things that we know from the connections we see between Universal Design for Learning and culturally responsive teaching is that when you are giving students multiple means of representation and especially action and expression (how they’re showing what they know and what they have learned) then it’s almost automatic that you’re now being a more culturally responsive educator because you’re giving students the options to show what they know in a way that is natural to them. And so then you know that’s something that we still continue to try to promote here at the department I work under at the University is the Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT). A lot of universities have something similar and that’s one of the things that I’m sort of taking on as my charge is to really find some different ways to do things than sort of the traditional way that we think of in higher education, and I really appreciate my K-12 experience because, bringing that into the higher ed realm, I’ve got some of the things with the training about things like rubrics, and how to grade projects that could be a variety of different types of projects but you can still grade them using the same rubric, you know. And I have those those skills and resources that I have sort of gotten from the K-12 world, that I’m now really able to bring that information and those resources to the University level and I’m really excited about doing that.


Lillian: Mm-hmm. Well I’m also interested in another question you sort of hinted on it and and talked about a few of these I was wondering if you had one you wanted to highlight which is a barrier or barriers that you’ve encountered in either teaching or learning that you’ve been able to address for yourself or for your learners and that have allowed you to learn better? I think many of the things you just said where were ways that you were able to get over those, so I didn’t know if there was another example, or one in your teaching or something that you found was a big change.


Jennifer: Yeah, absolutely. so I went to a conference. This was a couple of years ago. And I’m not gonna say which conference it is, like throw them under the bus, but I went to a conference and I attended two different sessions, well several, but these two particular sessions stuck out. The first session I went to was obviously universally designed, right. It was a three-hour long workshop but there were it was it was they took the principles of UDL into account. There were multiple means of engagement, representation, and action and expression all built into this particular three hour-long workshop, so that’s one. The other session I went to was about a 45 minute long (which I didn’t realize this is what it was but it was a 45 minute long lecture, right). And so after sitting in both of these environments it struck me how completely different they were, obviously. But it also struck me how differently I felt as a learner in each of those settings. And so as soon as I got to a place where I could sit down and process that, I wrote down the way that I felt as a learner in the first session, the one that was clearly universally designed, and the second session that was not, we’ll say. The first session, you know, I felt like I was a part of everything. I felt like I fit in. I felt like the things I said were important and valid. And I felt like I had lots of different ways to express my thinking. So I’m really not necessarily a talker. I’m not that one person that raises their hand in class to answer questions or be part of a discussion. And so having the multiple options for sharing what I wanted to talk about or for giving up my viewpoints or whatever in that first universally designed session was so great because I felt like the things that I was able to pull out were really valuable to the group. In contrast, in the other session, the only option for expressing anything was to stand up and use a microphone in front of a whole humongous group of people. And in that setting, I’m clearly not going to participate, right? I’m just gonna zone out and be on Facebook or Twitter. So in that setting, I did not feel valued and I did not feel like the way that I expressed myself naturally is going to be there’s gonna be valued in that setting. So I just found this so interesting– the way that I felt in both of these particular sessions. And you know I noticed other things, like I was in the three hour session I was engaged the entire time. And for an ADHD adults to be engaged for three hours in one particular thing is pretty impressive and it was because of the way that it was designed, you know.


Jennifer: But after sitting in the like lecture-based session for about 10 minutes I was, I mean I was out, like I was totally zoned out. I was literally on Facebook and Twitter, like the rest of the time because, I don’t know, I just felt like this must not pertain to me, you know. They sort of started talking immediately using acronyms and things I was not really sure about. They sort of started in the middle instead of starting at the beginning of a topic and so I was just felt lost and like if I were to raise my hand and ask something like, “I’m not sure what this acronym means?” that I was afraid that people would look at me and be like, “Oh what is this person doing?” You know, like I get that crazy thought in my head that perhaps I am a kid sitting at the Thanksgiving table with the adults, you know. That’s sort of the feeling I got. Whereas in the other session, the universally designed session, I really felt like I was part of the group and like I was in a peer among my peers. And it was a really cool experience to be able to just sit down and think about how our students feel in our classes in the university setting.


Jennifer: Lecture is not the devil. I just want to put that out there. Okay, lecture is not the worst thing that’s ever been. There are really great ways to make your lectures universally designed. But when that’s not happening, when that’s not the case, when it’s the sage on the stage situation, then how are our students feeling about themselves and their self-efficacy as learners and how is that feeling compared to the way that they may feel about themselves in another class setting that was universally designed? So that’s really one of the things that that has always stuck out to me, the way that I feel about myself as a learner is so important. It just gets into that engagement, those affective networks, right. “Why am I doing this? Why am I here? How am I a part of this?” That’s so important. And I think that is a lot of times overlooked in higher ed.


Lillian: What an empowering story that UDL can make, it seems, every person who was in that one seminar is then a part of that learning!!–That empowerment that comes from participating, engaging in, and then offering the best of each person so if there’s choice then you don’t have to step up to the microphone, you can tweet, you can send in a slip of paper, you can talk to your neighbor, you can participate in any number of ways to have a choice to be a part of that, rather than, I always think of that Charlie Brown cartoon with the teacher going “wah wah wah wah wah wah” and all of them are just like, “this isn’t for me, you know, I’m not hearing a word that’s being said” from the teacher because it has nothing to do with me. And we still feel like that as adults, so I can imagine all our students feel the same way if we are not engaging them, if we’re not meeting them at the beginning, right? If we meet them and we’re in the middle and we have not started connecting the dots or invited them in in the first place, they’re totally zoned out from there from the beginning. So my third question is, I have to rephrase it because the third question is “how has UDL changed the way you teach or learn?” but at this point it’s like how can you not use UDL, right? From the stories you’ve just shared, it’s almost criminal!–That if I feel like being a horrendous person today I’m going to not use UDL in my teaching…


Jennifer: Right, right. Yeah, yeah.


Lillian: So how then does it infiltrate? How do you perceive that UDL moves in the way that you are helping your faculty in the way that you’re working at University of Kentucky?


Jennifer: Yes, so when I’m designing things for university faculty, in my mind I’m like, “Wow, going from designing things for third graders to designing things for teachers who are actually out in the field teaching to now designing things for professors with PhDs and stuff, that’s crazy! And in my mind, those things are completely different, designing for third-graders is completely different from designing for a professor in a university setting. But really, honestly, when I get down to it, the same things still apply. And that’s part of the reason I love UDL so much. I feel like it applies to every teaching and learning situation that there is regardless of who your learners are. And you know so when I design trainings and workshops today, I am still using the principles of UDL and so I’m assuming that even though yes I have a highly educated group of people that I’m talking to, who could probably out trivia me any day of the week, they know so much, the way that I’m teaching them I still have to bring in the things that we use for UDL. I still have to recruit their interest because you can immediately tell with a group of adults, and I learned this actually at the Department of Education, that they will immediately tune out and they’ll be on their phones which, I guess is not all that dissimilar from middle and high school students


Lillian: Or like any college students or college professors… they don’t mind letting you know that they are totally disengaged from you.


Jennifer: It’s pretty obvious! And the same thing for when I’m when I’m working with adults it’s you know they and they don’t think they’re being rude and they’re probably doing something super important like answering really important emails or whatever, but I can tell immediately they are no longer engaged and I’ve got to do something a little bit different in order to keep them engaged. So even though I am sort of adjusting what I’m doing to the audience I’m teaching, the principles are still the same and they’re still important, and they still are gonna apply even to these college professors. So UDL has changed the way that I present and design trainings for educators of all levels you could say.


Lillian: So can you tell me more about what you do there at the University of Kentucky in terms of what’s going on now with your consultations or your mid semester feedbacks?


Jennifer: Yeah so we provide mid-semester feedback to faculty and this is at their request so if they decide that they would just like a little bit more information in the middle of the semester, as opposed to waiting til the semester is over to get feedback from the students. When they get that in the middle of the semester, they can make choices and make changes to what they’re doing with that particular group of students. So we provide that service and we come into the classroom and do that for them and it’s very simple. The way that this is done is very simple in fact we use these index cards for this process and at first I was like you guys it’s 2018, how are we using index cards? Come on. But actually, I think that the students respond a little bit better to index cards because it’s not threatening, it doesn’t seem super serious and it seems like that they’re more apt to share using index cards. So we’ll go ahead and do that so we go into a classroom, the professor leaves, we take about 15 minutes to do this at the end of class one day and we asked two different questions. So the first question we asked is what is this professor doing that is helpful to you?  What are they doing that’s really working and enhancing your learning. And so we get some answers for that usually anywhere from five to seven comments. And they just sort of shout those out they they let us know what what they think. And then we ask a second question. The second question is “What suggestions do you have for your professor that could really enhance your learning, that could make this the learning environment easier or more conducive to learning for you?” And then we get some suggestions for that again. They just shout those out and we write them on the board and then we number the whole deal–all the suggestions. So we’ve got one column for the what you’re doing really well the second column is for what suggestions that you have and we’d number them 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, let’s say, and then 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14– or whatever. Then we hand out the index cards and we have students number from one to whatever the number is– usually 10 to 15. And they can vote at that point for whether they agree, disagree, or they’re just sort of neutral they don’t really have an opinion on that either way and so each student, just all they would do on their note card is they just put a checkmark if they agree, an X if they disagree, and maybe a slash mark or nothing if they don’t have an opinion on that. And we collect all that information. We also let them know that on the back if they weren’t comfortable sharing something out loud or they just thought of something else that they wanted to share they can put that on the back, so they just gives them an often open option to share other ideas and other thoughts then we collect all that.


Jennifer: They don’t put their names on it or anything and we collect all the index cards and then we come back to our office and sort of compile the information later. We take that info and we sit down with the professor and just sort of talk through it and talk through the percentage of students that agreed with this statement, the percentage of students who disagreed, etc., because sometimes you’ll have a comment or a question that one student threw out there and it’s just out of left field, and so later, whenever you put the votes on the thing, it’s like that one person agreed with it and nobody else did, so you know it sort of shows the professor that they may have made that comment, but it was just that one person. It wasn’t the whole class. So we get that info, we compile it, we talked to the professor about it and then, apparently, we just stick that data somewhere? I don’t know. We just put it in a folder somewhere and then nobody doesn’t think with that! And so when I heard that, it just really seems like a huge waste of student voice data. This is all student voice data right there, literally telling us what they think about instruction. And yes it’s for one specific professor, but if you sit down and put all of them together, I was really interested to see what are their commonalities– what things are students asking for the most across the university. And so I started putting that info all together, and after I got it sort of all laid out on a giant excel file, then I decided I didn’t want to take every single answer because if there was a comment that student agreed with and nobody else agreed with, that, I mean to me, that’s not really the collective voice of the class, so I took any answers that half the class agreed with or more and I began to code those and I really needed a way to code these and I’m like, “Well, duh! Let’s just use the UDL framework!”


Jennifer: So I started to code them by initially just does this deal with engagement, does this deal with representation, does this deal with action expression. And I love color coding because I was an art teacher and I’m all about some ROYGBIV color coding of things. And so I color coded them green, purple, and blue, of course for the three different areas. And then I went back and started with all the green– all the things that pertain to engagement. I started to break those down even further to see what commonalities those have. And so I came up with things like–there were a ton of comments about expectations. There were a ton of comments about feedback, a ton of comments about options for acceleration. So anyway, I started to sort of put those all together and then I really put those up next to the UDL guidelines. And the new guidelines website was so helpful for this because I think I know what these things generally mean, right, but when I’m getting down into specific student comments, there were things I needed some clarification on– you know and I love some UDL– I’m all up in UDL and I still needed some clarification on these things, so I love the new website and that you can click on it and it gives you all that great info. So I was clicking on each individual checkpoint to find the one where the student comment fits the best and organizing the information that way so now what I thought what this was going to show–and this is because this is me projecting I guess– but what I thought this was going to show was that students were like this: “Lectures– I’m tired of lectures, it’s super boring, we just sit there all day and listen to people, and I can’t even with that anymore”, and that’s kind of what I thought people would say. That’s what I thought it would be like– this giant pie chart and almost all of it would be purple in my mind. And so as I started really putting the data together, I realized that was not the case at all.


Jennifer: What students are asking for more than anything else is help with executive functioning–and that falls under action and expression. And the executive functioning specifically is what they’re looking for–they’re looking for help with time management, they’re looking for help with organization, and they’re looking for help with grading. And that’s, I mean gosh, that was not that was not even close to what I thought it was gonna be, and so then I’m like well, hold on a second, what are we giving trainings and workshops on right now? Are we doing anything about executive functioning? No, we’re not. No, not at all. And so what we’re going to do with this data eventually, we’re going to use that to inform our workshop and training offerings for the spring and look at some of the things that have to do with executive functioning because from talking to different faculty, the general consensus that I’m getting is that– and this is– you know we heard this all in K-12 as well, like “well they should have learned that last year,” right? I mean, they get to my class and well they should already know how to write an essay.


Lillian: Your just– aren’t we coddling our students? When we do that– that’s what we hear. [32:52]

Jennifer: Yes, exactly! And so and I think that’s gonna really need to be the focus of a lot of our training is that, like, “no we’re not babying them, we’re teaching them how to be your future co-professionals. They’re gonna be in your your area.


00:33:07,979 –> 00:33:10,830

Lillian: A new colleague, another colleague!


Jennifer: That’s the word. They’re gonna make future colleagues. You’d want to train them correctly, right? Let’s do it! Let’s do it right. So going forward, that’s how we’re gonna use the data. But I just was floored. And so the here’s the percentage totals. Let’s see– and I’ve got this in a document I can send later if you wanted to upload it into show notes or whatever so out of all comments– there were a total of 164 comments that we put together, and out of all of those 25% of those comments were about executive functioning. And then when I added in the other two areas having to do with action expression, which is physical action and expression and communication, total, that was– geez, hold on I gotta do math– 45 percent of all comments were about action and expression, 40% of all comments were about engagement, and only 15 were about representation. I was way off! And so it turns out that what I assumed–this is based on my own learning experience is what I assume that students need is not necessarily what they’re asking for– and you know I think we forget them. We forget about that in higher ed, well, we forget about that in all education to be honest, but we forget about the student voice. I mean, we have these meetings with administrators and faculty and what are the students’ needs. How can we get them what it is that they need and we have never actually asked the students what do you guys need help with. So I love that we have this data. I love that we’ve got it for each semester. I want to be able to track trends to see what students are asking for from year to year and I know we’ve got some data that goes back like 10 years. We have one gentleman that works in our department who’s been here at the University for, well I mean more than 10 years– so we’ve got a lot of great data that I’m really excited about looking into and seeing what that looks like when it comes to the UDL framework.


Jennifer: And for us the people who are really in charge of providing faculty training and workshops for the whole faculty of the entire ginormous University, we need to know what students need. Otherwise, what are we doing here? What is– what’s the point, right? So I’m so glad that I’ve got the framework as a way to be able to lay that out and then, of course. I don’t know how other people use the UDL framework. The way I choose to use the UDL framework is as a problem-solving tool. So if we know that the problem is with executive functions then we look at our little guidelines and it says what we need to do to fix that. Well, we need to guide appropriate goal-setting, okay. Alright, I can do that. We need to support planning and strategy development. We need to facilitate managing information. That’s the solution to the problems that we’re seeing and so when we create our next set of trainings and workshops for the spring we will be really hitting those areas hard. And we’ll try to hit them in a way that we make it very clear to faculty that we’re not coddling them. We’re giving them the skills that they have not yet learned–that’s what we’re trying to do here.


Lillian: What I find very interesting about that idea about executive functioning and many of our faculty don’t know what it is, so we should definitely talk to our listeners, too, about what is executive functioning. It’s our students ability to start a task– to begin the project, to chunk it out into its various parts, to know how to organize it, to do all the soft skills that go along with the hard thinking of whatever that problem is– and so those are the things that often we might get some resistance from faculty that say, well again “they should have known that– they should have done that.” Well, we might have some students that went to some really good high schools and they were taught better. And we might have some students who went to some average high schools that weren’t taught that. What do we do with those students? Do we just say sink or swim? You’ve got to figure it out on your own! Or do we teach them how to do that, right? It’s a real question about what are we here for as instructors, as professors? Are we here to profess our topic? Or we here how to profess how to learn our topic, and how to research our topic, and how to present our topic? And along with that comes how to come up with a thesis and how to do your research– and you’ve got to start your research early because it takes a long time to get your sources. And then you have to make sure you get rid of some of the sources that are bad because you’re gonna come in to bad sources, and you don’t have any time for that. You’ve got three weeks! Don’t wait until the last night because you’ll never get the right sources because in this particular area, whatever it is, it takes time. But, we often forget as the experts– or whoever the expert in whichever field– how hard it is for that novice learner to get from the beginning to the end. We look back and we forget how many stepping stones it took us to get to the end of that path and we look back and we think, “Man, that was a long path but I made it!” But we don’t remember the first step to the second step to the third step and how we need to help guide those students who don’t know, in essence, which rock to jump to next– is it the one on the left or the one on the right. And is that one slippery? And then they’re gonna fall in the river! That’s what I think about when I go hiking. And when we have an expert learner–that looks to them like a spider web– it all connects. When you have a novice learner, it looks like a bunch of dots, almost like a Jackson Pollock painting that makes no sense, right. So when we’re helping those students in that executive functioning arena it’s not holding hands in and as much as we’re saying here’s step one, step two, step three, because you don’t see the whole picture. I can see the whole picture because I know a lab report needs all this, I know a journal article needs all this, but you’ve never done this before so I’m here to tell you here are the steps and here’s how you do them.


Jennifer: Yeah.


Lillian: And we make those assumptions about our students — yeah some assumptions will be correct but a lot of our assumptions are sadly going to be incorrect. And we’re doing a disservice to those students and, in effect, throwing a big barrier out there and saying well get up on your own, right? I know somebody didn’t teach you I’m not gonna be the one.


Jennifer: And the great thing about really you know in reinforcing some strategies and support for executive functions– the great thing about this that’s transferable. So I can be a chemistry teacher and I can be teaching you how to write a paper effectively in chemistry but the fact that I’m teaching you the steps needed to do that–how to organize your time, how to figure out the organization of your actual materials, that’s gonna transfer over to a biology course that you take, or a psychology course that you take. The executive functioning skills that you gained from one professor in one class every Tuesday and Thursday for a semester, you get to carry that throughout the rest of your university experience which is awesome. So yeah we’re really excited about that. The other thing too that we have just recently started doing is we’re partnering with our Honors College, we have a brand new Honors College here on campus and we did mid-semester feedback sessions with all of their freshman Honors 101 courses. So I remember how many they have like 10 or something. So we’ve done the mid-semester feedback with them as well, and I’m just getting that data back right now and I’m very excited about compiling that data because I really want to see if is there a difference between the Honors College ,students what they’re asking for help with, then like sort of the general population of students. Are they the same? Are we all asking for the same thing? Like what exactly? Is there a difference really? And I think it’s gonna be interesting when I go because I’m going to speak with the Honors College faculty later in November and then again in December. They’re looking for some help with UDL and I’m gonna be bringing that information with me. In addition, I just I work very closely with the Disability Resource Center on our campus and I just got some statistics from them that I think it was I want to say 115 honors college students are also receiving services from the Disability Resource Center and now we know from all kinds of research that a lot of students don’t necessarily self-identify when they come to college as having some kind of a special need. They want to start fresh. They want to do it themselves, you know. They figure I’ve gotten this far I should be fine so I mean if you think about that 115 honor students are officially receiving services how many others could really use some services right so when we’re building these executive functions and need all of the parts of UDL into just your general teaching in the college classroom, you are helping so many students. And even in an honors college setting where you think, well, you know these kids are fine, like, they can totally write an essay, they’re great with their time management, they come to class and act right, and they participate in class okay, but how much better could they be doing? How much more organized could they be? How much more could they show you that they know when they’ve got all of the pieces of UDL put in place even in the Honors College?


Lillian: Yes!


Jennifer: Even there, how awesome could their experience at the university level be and just because they’re honors students doesn’t mean that they don’t need those things, you know. So I’m excited to go and speak with them also about their data and see what that looks like in correlation with the the UDL guidelines and see where their areas of most need are according to their students.


Lillian: That’s fantastic! I love hearing about how you’ve used that data and mapped it with UDL guidelines. I think that’s really helpful and when other faculty developers and other instructors and professors hear about this, I think there might be some more that could be using this in their own institutions, Jen!


Jennifer:  Yeah.


Lillian: It could be pretty cool.


Jennifer: Very excited.

Lillian: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me on the Think UDL podcast, and I am excited to hear more! So maybe we can talk to you again when you have more data and hear about what else is going on at University of Kentucky in the future.


Jennifer: That would be great! And feel free to follow me on the Twitters. We have started a new podcast–not a new podcast, that’s what you’re doing– what I’m doing is a Twitter chat. We’ve started a new Twitter chat for UDL specifically in higher ed and that meets on the third Thursday of every month. We are going to be sort of switching up times, not to confuse you of course, but we want to make sure that we are accommodating our colleagues who are in other parts of the world, other parts of the United States, for whom 12 o’clock noon Eastern Time is not really helpful, so start looking for that on Twitter if you are already on Twitter you can go to #UDLHE for higher ed, #UDLHE and that’s where we have those particular Twitter chats. Or you can hit me up at @Jen_Pusateri and I would love to chat with you on Twitter and continue to build our professional Learning Network.


Lillian: Great, thanks so much and thanks for being on the Think UDL podcast and we’ll talk again soon.


Jennifer: My pleasure.



Lillian: You can follow the ThinkUDL 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 ThinkUDL podcast is made possible by CollegeSTAR. The STAR stands for Supporting Transition Access and Retention in post-secondary settings and the website provides free resources and instructional aides 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 appalayshun, I’ll throw an Apple atcha.

The music on the podcast was performed by “The Oddyssey 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 am your host, Lillian Nave!

Thank you for joining us on the Think UDL podcast.



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