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Why learn? with Eric Moore

On today’s episode, Eric and Lillian talk about why emotion is so important to learning and what a large difference a caring high school teacher made in Eric’s life. This brings a broader discussion of why Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is so important to understand in postsecondary contexts and why he and so many others in higher education are leading the charge to bring UDL to colleges and universities across the country in multiple ways. From Learning Management System (LMS) system trainings to faculty workshops and national conferences, Eric and a cadre of colleagues in the UDL-IRN (Implementation and Research Network) Higher Education Special Interest Group (SIG) are broadening the scope of UDL in higher education in the US and Canada on their individual campuses and through the #UDLHE (UDL in Higher Education) network.




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.


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 1 of the think UDL podcast where my guest today is Eric Moore the Universal Design for Learning and Accessibility specialist at University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Eric, along with some dedicated colleagues, is also involved in getting the word out nationwide about UDL in post-secondary contexts and I am excited to get a chance to discuss what he is doing not only at University of Tennessee, but also around the country. Let’s see what is on the horizon for UDL. Eric, welcome to the think UDL podcast!


Eric: It’s a pleasure to be here Lillian and I really appreciate the opportunity to share and to learn with you


Lillian: Great, and you are the UDL and accessibility specialist at University of Tennessee at Knoxville and I wanted to start asking you first about what makes you a little bit different as a learner. I usually try to find this out about each one of my guests but what might make you eccentric or different about the way you learn?


Eric: Well I have been thinking about that in a few different ways, that I am an eccentric learner and the longitudinal view is that it took me a long time to come into my own as a learner. I was a tremendous slacker in middle school and into high school I barely managed C’s. I just was not interested. I just didn’t care until I had an English teacher in in 10th grade who just would not accept the fact that I didn’t care and went out of her way to to to reach me and to help me see it that I had potential.


Eric: And as somebody that, you know, that experience, it changed me, you know, like I began to perform somewhat immature immaturely, I think as an expert learner. I began to want to do the work because I cared about her, because she cared about me, because I felt like I wanted her to be proud of me.


Eric: You know and that that started me, started the ball rolling that I started applying myself. And once I started applying myself, I started to find that, “Hey learning can be kind of interesting and it’s kind of nice to know things and be able to perform well.” And that’s snowballed into you know, earning my first 4.0 as a senior my first, you know, and then I’m going on into that allowed me to get into a college that otherwise, I could not have gotten into my GPA was overall too low. But I was able to demonstrate that progress that got me into a college where you know, I was able to learn and excel all the way through being a doctor and you know as somebody who’s deeply invested in learning and ongoing learning as a professional and it really all goes back to one teacher who made that difference in my life.


Lillian: Wow, what a testimony to how much that affective part of our brain matters and that somebody cares that there’s emotion as a part of learning.

Eric: Mm-hmm


Lillian: Oh my goodness! That completely changed your life. That changed the trajectory of what you were going to do.


Eric: Absolutely, absolutely did, yeah. It’s kind of like I don’t know if you have ever heard that old poem. It’s ascribed to many different sources, but it’s about the want of a horseshoe nail. Have you heard of that?


Lillian: No, what’s that one?


Eric: It goes for the want of a horseshoe nail, the shoe was lost. For want of the shoe, the horse was lost. For want of the horse, the rider was lost. For want of the rider, the message was lost. For want of the message, the battle was lost. For want of the battle, the war was lost. For want of the war, the kingdom was lost, all for the want of a horseshoe nail.


Eric: You know, sometimes it’s those little moments in our life where somebody comes in at the right time, you know, breaks through those barriers that allows us to begin a trajectory that that truly can be life changing, community changing.


Lillian: Absolutely, and here you are also changing the lives of everyone that you come in contact with by taking that further. I mean what what a ripple effect that that one caring teacher has that will have for just generations and what a poetic way for you to tell us that story! It makes me think of a very unpoetic way to say it, but “people don’t care how much you know, unless they know how much you care.” It’s not quite the poem you recited but it goes along the same way that I know my students don’t connect and and won’t care what I have to tell them or what I know if I’m just spouting off about facts and figures and history and art but they don’t care unless I can connect it to what might matter to them.


Eric: Yeah, I think it’s also a testament for you know, when we’re working with those students that aren’t that are difficult–I mean there were years where I’m sure I was a terror to my teachers are just an annoyance, you know, the kind of kid you don’t want in your class, you know, and that the fact that somebody saw through then worked through it gave me hope when I was a teacher I felt like I wanted to, like you’re saying, to kind of carry forward her legacy and enter to be that teacher and students’ lives.

And it really helped sustain me and those days were just felt like there’s no hope for this kid to have to think about, you know, eighth grade me, you know, and I’m sure others were thinking the same thing and just powering through that, knowing that sometimes the work that we do is not going to show up immediately.

We might never have that student come back and tell us what an impact we made on their lives, but how valuable it still is to be the teacher who does care, who does work with students that are difficult to work with and tries to make sure that we understand that some of those, that that attitude towards learning is really because learning has never been designed for them because they’re not the average, because they need to learn in different ways than the system just has never provided for them.


Lillian: Wow, well, do you know if that teacher knows the impact that was made in your life?


Eric: Well, I made a point of connecting with her on Facebook as soon as I discovered her first name is spelled different than you would expect and so it took a long time, but I eventually figured it out. I have reconnected with her and she knew me immediately I mean, what has it been 15 years or so, you know, but she knew me immediately, you know


Lillian: Oh great. And does she know that you now have a PhD?


Eric: [Laughs] She said she was not surprised but I don’t believe her.



Oh, how fantastic, that’s wonderful.

Ok, so now what are you doing that is helping all of the different kinds of learning and different kinds of students at University of Tennessee at Knoxville as the UDL and accessibility specialists, that role that you have there at UT, Knoxville?


Well, I’m appreciative for this position. It was, it’s, you know, the first of its kind here and frankly it was designed for me as a limited duration appointment that has not become a full-time position and I’ve just really been thankful for that chance

That said, UT Knoxville is a large, land grant kind of institution, research oriented in which UDL is extremely countercultural and so it has been an uphill battle.



What do you mean? How can you explain that? What do you mean by it’s countercultural?



Well, you know David Rose once said that UDL is culture change, UDL is a disruption of the way that we do things and I find the institutes of higher education, oftentimes they have very good motives and intentions, but are grounded in tradition.

More or less I’m a social learning theorist, and so like I think the teachers teach as they’ve been taught not how they been taught to teach. And so we see this faculty who have made it. They are experts in their field, their brilliant scholars of chemistry, and literature, and history, and whatever, and they got there almost invariably by people who taught through lecture, textbook reading, PowerPoint presentations with way too much text on the slide, and they were successful anyway in spite of that. But nevertheless, I think that gives them the message that this is how you teach in higher education and it’s effective or I would not be here.



Right. It was good enough for them, so it should be good enough for the next generation.



Exactly. And so, I feel like to break through that we first, before we can come in and say this is a new way of designing things we have to deconstruct the old way of doing things. And that’s hard to do because going back to the idea that learning is emotional it’s hard to get people to not take affront that the way you’re teaching is not a great way to teach and just because it was good for you doesn’t mean it’s good for everybody. That’s a difficult message to convey without getting people’s backs up



Yeah, it’s hard to say you’re doing it wrong politely



Right. Definitely so. And you know especially I’m being a little bit stereotypical here right but like in the context of PhD holders, and faculty. We have a lot of pride and a sense of

strong independence, you know. We don’t necessarily want people coming in and telling us You’ve got to change you’ve got there’s got to be a better way

So, it’s been a lot of, a lot of finding how to how to package that message.

So there’s this Jewish teaching story about truth and about the starkness of truth and how difficult it often is to get this across to people. It goes something like this:

“Truth, naked and cold, had been turned away from every door in the village. Her nakedness frightened the people and when Parable found her she was huddled in a corner, shivering, hungry. Taking pity on her, Parable gathered her up and took her home. There she dressed Truth in story, warmed her, and sent her out again. Clothed in story, Truth knocked again at doors and was readily welcomed into the villager’s houses. They invited her to eat at their tables and warm herself by the fires.”

There’s this idea that through a story, through parable, and the Jewish tradition particularly we have a way of conveying truth without this darkness that it often comes across in story. And in this way I’ve been finding that working with faculty often time not starting with here’s what UDL is here’s what’s wrong with their class here’s what you need to be doing instead starting with stories that inspire and stories that then allow them to discover maybe I’m not doing things the best way they could be done instead of being so blunt about it. It’s a way to get in the door and to have a meal with them, have them have the opportunity to reflect and to want to learn more.



And once you do have the chance to open that door are you finding that the faculty is receptive to this, to Universal Design for Learning strategies?



Um, it depends. So, I’ve so far my strategy at this point I’m very early in my work here at UT, Knoxville and my strategy thus far has been to aim for low-hanging fruit when it comes to the faculty. Essentially, I’m looking for the people who want to change, who recognize that their students are variable and they don’t necessarily know how to address that, and so by my recruiting those people and working with them, there’s last immediate resistance, there’s more intrinsic motivation, there’s more willingness to go through the work that it does take to revamp courses and redesign learning experiences and then they become the stories and they become the advocates to their department chairs to the people around them

I’m trying to get I’m trying hard to get those people who are now doing wonderful things to invite their colleagues to come and observe their classes which I think is that is another powerful way to see that in action.

It’s one thing to be told about what’s happening and another thing to witness students who are significantly variable in terms of in you know their, how they like to express themselves in class where they’re introverts or extroverts, you know people who are first generation college students etc. to see an environment in which they are thriving together. I think you can’t see that without feeling like I want this in my class, you know.

If you’re an instructor that that’s something that I think that so many of us instructors have kind of gone into it thinking that that’s just never going to be possible. There’s wheat and there’s chaff and college is really about separating those and when we see it with our own eyes that a whole group of incredibly variable students are thriving together is not quite so binary as it once was. Maybe it’s not limitations and in certain students or certain demographics like first generation, but rather the way that we’ve been doing things is holding them back and I think that again is sort of the emotive first step of what was seen change as possible believing in that and wanting to see that in my own classroom.



Wow and it sounds like this finding the bright spots is what snowballs into big change in a university too.

I read a book a while ago about how to change when change is hard and that was one of the big takeaways was to pinpoint exactly it was doing exactly what you’re doing. That strategy is to pinpoint those things that are going well and shine a light on them and have other people come and take a look at them and recreate those things and then have other have other people see them and then slowly that snowballs into something bigger and then eventually there’ll be a culture change



Mm-hmm. Absolutely.

Yeah, so that’s been a lot of my work right now. The other aspect of it has been developing materials. As I know, you know Lillian, there’s just less available right now in terms of resources that are catered for higher education in terms of UDL than there is k12 and we need those types of resources that are explicitly related to the realities of higher education and to higher education systems

So, for example, the first thing that I did when I came on the staff here was to develop a course on how to implement Universal Design for Learning in the context of the Canvas learning management system. Canvas has been grown substantially in terms of market share of higher education ala masses and our university UT, Knoxville was transferring from Blackboard to Canvas at the time that I came on and the big question was, as canvas does have, and that this is not a sales pitch I promise, but just my experience. I feel like canvas has a lot of features and a lot of potential that Blackboard did not here at UT Knoxville and yet I also felt that faculty were very likely to use this new space exactly the same way that they use the old space unless they had cause to do otherwise and so I developed a course on canvas that modeled how UDL design, thinking and actual design could be used to create learning environments that addressed common barriers that we anticipate in the context of higher education.

So for example, variability in terms of what students already know when they come into a course is something that’s so common that it seems ludicrous that we would not prepare for that when we’re developing online courses, especially asynchronous online courses and so but people I think feel “How do I do that?” right so I, it was a way to explicitly say here’s a barrier that we’re already familiar with and then jump into this lesson to learn some very pragmatic ways to address that and UDL in that design of that that course was somewhat implicit though I do talk about and kind of clarify some of the language and some of the theory the course is very much designed to be practical because that’s what a lot of our faculty care about and I want to know a solution to this problem and it drew from the UDL guidelines and checkpoints to model that sort of thought process of how the UDL guidelines can affected through design to address barriers proactively. And so that’s just one example

That’s actually available as a massive open online course now, we open it up to the public and you can find it at bit dot ly backslash UDL on canvas with the capital UDL and C on canvas everything else lowercase.

But that was just one example that I’ve been developing lots of materials that then when faculty or departments are asking about it you know, I’ll work with them as much as I can but oftentimes they just need something to start exploring independently, and so I can now point them to these resources that I’ve custom-designed for the needs here at UT and as much as possible and making those public for those who can adapt them to other contexts universities, etc



That’s fantastic. So you’re really making a streamlined kind of way for them to ease into adapting UDL guidelines so the best way the LMS is a learning management system for those folks who aren’t familiar with our higher ed. lingo sometimes and yeah, and you’re talking about the UDL guidelines on the cast website the were that opens us up into those three main categories about engagement, representation, and action and expression which is all about how we learn and how we see if our students have learned so most of the time I know when I’m talking with our instructors or I’m thinking about teaching we usually just talk about content but it sounds like you are really helping your instructors think about the how and the why like why they should learn it and how they’re going to learn it as well. Are you making specific kind of inroads into the how’s and the why’s as well like workshops or other helpful information as well?



I hope so I always start with the why and I think that that’s part of how I interpret UDL how I apply UDL I feel that until somebody cares like you were saying before learning can’t occur. Like I feel like somebody can store and regurgitate information without caring about it you know when they’re motivated by something else compliance grades whatever but if we’re really going to learn there has to be a degree of a value interest or care in it and so though people when they come to workshops are expecting to see what is this and how do I use it? I always intentionally start with why should you care about this before I even go into the weeds of what it is and so I have I think I’ve found that to be effective. I don’t have any hard data. So I’m kind of you know hoping it is effective as far as the how that’s been a lot of my work because

I pursued UDL as a doctoral candidate that meant that I get really got into the theory and I love theory I’m a you know, I taught philosophy for eight years and it’s difficult for me to sometimes to move out of that theoretical idea realm down into what are you gonna do on Monday? And that’s been an important critique that I’ve gotten sometimes for my early workshop off race. And so I’ve really tried to shift into you know being brief about the theory but then connecting into things that are meaningful practice so again that goes into some of the material I’ve been developing not only material specifically for training but material to use through the course design process. I’m fortunate to be part of an instructional design team here and to have gotten to see how UDL overlaps with instructional design traditions and an instructional design processes and so being part of that team has meant that well as we’ve been codifying what is our process for designing or redesigning a course or faculty come to us getting to infuse UDL and accessibility at different points in that process and think about what are we doing here exactly to apply UDL, what questions are we asking, what resources are we drawing from etc. and really making that a documented process has been very effective for me

One thing that I found to be interesting when I was early in this in this position was that my boss had asked me to make a checklist for applying UDL and my knee-jerk reaction was no you cannot boil UDL down into a checklist but everything else that we were doing accessibility instruction design it was all we do this then we do this then we do this, and it was a process so that we would have a sort of consistent reliable way of doing things and I could see the value in that and she was very emphatic and so I wanted to try and so we did go ahead and we made a checklist for UDL but I tried to re-envision what a checklist could be instead of do this and then do this and then do this it was when you’re developing the syllabus, these are things to consider did you consider each of these things as you were developing your syllabus as you’re developing your Canvass homepage? Did you consider each of these sins? And I’m really drawing strongly from the UDL guidelines and principles and thinking about what does this look like in the context of syllabus design?

What does this look like in context of how students are engaging in the in the physical classroom or in the online environment? What resources can people consider to support students in that and just creating a sort of bank of ideas and questions and resources and what I’ve found is that that dramatically reduces the cognitive load that I need to bring to the table each time that I’m doing these consultations because I’m not having a brainstorm through all of that every time. It becomes a great at least starting point things to think about that often time leads into additional conversation and different avenues going forward.



Well, that’s fantastic. Then you can always add on to it so I know it always helps me to have a checklist and I know I function much better when I’ve got my list of things and you’re right. It reduces the cognitive load if I’ve got my list I’m much better able to do to go even further and move on even beyond that so.

And speaking of going on beyond you also are amazing because even outside of UT, Knoxville. You are doing amazing things with UDL like all over the place so, can you tell us more about the SIG, in fact there’s a whole bunch of letters that have to like orbit around Eric Moore. Things like a SIG, a UDLHE, UDL IRN. What are all of these things that you’re involved in that you can tell us about?



Well let me start by giving a shout out to the many many people that are involved in all of that, it might be that the sometimes I end up as the most recognized that’s not necessarily I design I tend to be a pretty vocal type of person but there’s I can’t stress enough how valuable people out like Jody Black and Kate Snyder were to establishing that SIG and getting it off the ground that was it was absolutely a collaborative effort and remained so



And the SIG, what’s the SIG stand for?



So that’s a special interest group, and so in this case a UDL hire a special interest group is something that started out as an idea at the 2016-2017 UDL IRN Summit in which Kate Jody and I were met for the first time, you know and we’re just all working with the fact that we were each independently doing this sort of UDL navigation work in the context of our institutes of higher education and felt so alone in that work, you know for like we knew that there were other people out there but this was the first time that we had the opportunity to connect with them once per year you know at this conference and in this this question of what would happen if we created a community in which people doing this work could get together on a regular basis and share ideas and share frustrations and share resources and just kind of build on each other’s work instead of feeling so isolated.

So that that group Kate has had, she got an administrative position at her college which were very proud of her for but that meant that she did not have the kind of time to commit to this group and so she has had to step away and Allyson Posey of CAST has come in testing.






It is, it really is. So we find that having that the three co-leaders is great because often time one of us has something going on you know, we just know you gotta take a break from it and then there’s two people that can still carry it on it’s kind of like a three-legged stool.



And that’s a group that meets maybe quarterly and discusses what’s going on around the UDL world on campuses and in the world and such.



Yeah. Yep. We usually have some sort of a theme or topic that we’re discussing our last one dealt with UDL higher ed. conferences past and future, we’ve had how do we introduce UDL to faculty and administrators, we’ve had what do you see as most significant barriers to implementing UDL on higher education, and it’s really just a time to come together and share ideas to know that we’re not alone in doing this work to know that that there are people who can support us above and beyond our immediate community

So that doesn’t mean quarterly the Twitter chat was actually Jen Pusateri’s brainchild. She’s a part of our SIG group, but I really can accept no credit for that one at all. That was that was her work and though I co-facilitated the first couple with her just because I was the sig leader she has taken over that completely and she there’s so much better for that because I’m not a Twitter person and she is absolutely fantastic with that. I think Danny Smith of, I want to say Brown College in Canada, like I think I’m wrong about his college but Danny Smith is co-facilitating that with her now and they’re just doing fantastic work That occurs at third Thursday of every month using the hashtag #UDLHE



Great! And then you mentioned, you made mention of the UDL IRN. What are those letters stand for?



The Implementation Research Network So the UDL IRN began as sort of a grassroots organization that was like we were just saying about the SIG was a way to get people together who were doing the work of UDL around the world and that grassroots organization has evolved I think to a very a substantially larger organization that’s very successful with an annual summit that is now drawing over a thousand people per year and it the topics for that do range from k12 to higher add to teacher education it’s as really a in all aspects of UDL sort of group. But they are the ones that house the SIG and just continue to do great work so it’s a good organization to connect with.



Wow I didn’t realize it’s over a thousand people now, that’s huge and that’s usually in March, end of March



It is yeah, I think that first I wasn’t there for the first summit, but I think I had about 50 people I joined I think must have been the third annual summit. I helped co-facilitate and that time we had I want to say 250 people and it’s now, yeah it’s just growing exponentially



Wow. So that’s one of the UDL centered conferences, and I know we, I saw you and several of our other buddies at the Goodwin College UDL in higher ed. Conference and so that along with the CAST symposium on UDL those are those are kind of like our hot tub kind of our weight room where we go for all of us UDL folks, you know, and and get buffed for the games, you know and for our total UDL focus conferences, but it sounds like there’s also a real impetus to bring UDL out into other venues other conferences academic conferences. What’s going on there?



Absolutely. Yeah, I feel like UDL higher education that was been around for some time it’s really been coming into his own well in the last four or five years we’ve seen substantial growth in terms of the number of institutions the degree of implementation of UDL the context of higher education and that has and in terms of publications and research and books coming out has really been just in the last few years that UDL higher education has come into focus and so I think it’s been necessary for us to start by developing that community at those source of UDL centric conferences the IRN CAST symposiums places like Goodwin College and I would note that there are several regional conferences happening around UDL higher education now including amazingly to me that Tennessee Board of Regents had a UDL higher education conference a couple years ago which I just would not have anticipated at all, but…



I didn’t know that, wow!



Yeah, so we’re seeing a lot of these sorts of regional conference as well, and it’s a great place for people to come together who are doing the practice and to to allow ourselves to be vulnerable to challenge each other to ask those tough questions without exposing those doubts UDL people who are just learning about it for the first time and also to refine our message and to develop those materials but at some point, and I genuinely feel like we’re getting to this point we get to a certain critical mass where it’s critical that we get out of that bubble, you know of everybody already agrees with us.



Right. We don’t need an echo chamber.



Right and try to find ways not only to connect UDL to other people but to connect UDL to other existing ideas and systems. For example, what does UDL have to do with the field of instructional design which has been established for a long time? But UDL is not a talking point in a lot of those conferences. But what does UDL I have to do with virtual reality and augmented reality that were seeing so much of an education technology conferences or how do we effectively prepare pre-service teachers to practice UDL by going to those, you know education conferences these types of things I think we need to get to a point where those of us who are invested in UDL are willing to start bringing that message to other context to other people to have those conversations what does UDL have to do with these other aspects of university and education realities and I find that in my discussions with other people who are doing this work there is a strong sense of we’re all waiting for somebody to go do this like we all kind of feel like I’m too new at this. I’m too much of a novice you know.

Why would I be the one who’s making a proposal to educause or we know that shouldn’t that be David Rose, shouldn’t that be you know, Jennifer Williams, you know, these top names in the field and you know, there’s just too few of those people to go around first of all and second of all I think that those of us who are seen as leaders would tell you honestly we’re new at this too. We’re figuring this out every day the same way that everybody else is and the fact that you are already invest in UDL higher education means that you are an early implementer means, that you are the leader. Even if you’re not necessarily in an official leadership position in our community, you are nevertheless leading the charge of UDL higher education. Period. And it’s important that you’re bringing your voice, your story, your experience to contexts in which you have something to contribute.


Lillian: We are the change! We’re it! This is it. Yeah! We can’t wait for anybody else to be doing it. We’ve got to be doing it ourselves and gather as many other voices as we can and bring the charge.


Eric: Mm-hmm. Absolutely.


Lillian: And thank you. Thank you for helping to bring the charge today Eric. I really have enjoyed talking to you and hearing about all the things that you have been doing not just at University of Tennessee at Knoxville, but all over the country in helping to bring up the chatter about UDL and letting people know about learner variability and how to reach out to all of our students and I can’t thank you enough for your time today. So thank you for joining me on the Think UDL podcast.


Eric: Thank you, and I’m really enjoying seeing these podcasts roll out and looking forward to the great work that you and the College Star team are doing.


Lillian: 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, 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 Appal-LAY-shun, “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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