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Teach to Reach with Mary Ann Tobin

Welcome to Episode 69 of the Think UDL podcast: Teach to Reach with Mary Ann Tobin. Mary Ann Tobin is an Assistant Research Professor and Instructional Consultant at the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence at the Pennsylvania State University. Mary Ann has been up to great good at Penn State introducing UDL to faculty, administrators, and her fantastic colleagues in non-academic areas with great results. Today’s conversation takes us into a discussion about how to “sell” UDL to faculty, administration, and others on campus, how to present UDL if you want to get university buy-in, who to befriend, and why and how this might be beneficial to your faculty and your school as a whole. Along the way, we talk about how important UDL is for today’s students and how UDL has become the solution to problems we didn’t even know we were going to have! Thank you for joining us as we discuss how UDL transforms learning for the better.


Follow Mary Ann on Twitter @Matobincat or email her at

And find out more about Mary Ann Tobin on her Penn State Website link

Check out the Teach to Reach website that Mary Ann mentions in our conversation and see the Schreyer Institute’s UDL website for Penn State, or watch the webinar Universal Design for Learning: It’s Just Good Design for more great UDL faculty Development ideas 

Here are some resources that Mary Ann has graciously shared with us, including UDL research she mentions in our conversation:

Student Disability Resources Survey Report: Spring 2021

ECAR Study of the Technology Needs of Students with Disabilities

ECAR 2019 Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology

Decoding the Disciplines
Don’t Forget we both highly recommend Thomas Tobin and Kirsten Behling’s Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone: Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education for a fantastic introduction to UDL for faculty and faculty developers alike. And she even knows the author!


Lillian Nave  00:00

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. Welcome to Episode 69 of the think UDL podcast teach to reach with Mary Ann Tobin. Mary Ann Tobin is an assistant research professor and instructional consultant at the Schrier Institute for teaching excellence at the Pennsylvania State University. Mary Ann has been up to great good at Penn State, introducing UDL to faculty administrators, and her fantastic colleagues in non academic areas with great results. today’s conversation takes us into a discussion about how to sell UDL, so to speak to faculty, administration and others on campus, how to present UDL if you want to get University buy in, who to be friend, and why and how this might be beneficial to your faculty and your school as a whole. Along the way, we talked about how important UDL is for today’s students, and how UDL has become the solution to problems we didn’t even know we were going to have. Thank you for joining us as we discuss how UDL transforms learning for the better. So thank you so much, Mary Ann, for joining me today on the think UDL podcast, I’ve had you on my list for a while I’ve known of your dealings with Universal Design for Learning for a long time. So thank you so much for joining me today. It is my pleasure. Great. So I wanted to ask you, what makes you a different kind of learner?

Mary Ann Tobin  02:15

So um, yeah, I don’t know, necessarily, if this is makes me a unique learner. But the difference what makes me different. And what tends to get a lot of eyebrows raised is because I asked the same questions of my clients as I asked myself, and that is, if I want to learn something new, why do I need to know this thing? And when I asked that question of my clients, oftentimes they they’re, they’re kind of taken aback. They’re like, Well, of course, you would want to learn this thing, because it’s important to learn it. But then when I dig deeper, and this is what I do in my own learning, what makes this thing important? What makes it a value to me? And then why do I need to learn it in this specific way that you’re telling me that I need to learn it. So first, I need to know that that thing is going to be useful, it’s going to be valuable, I’m going to get something out of learning that particular thing, it’s going to make my life easier. It’s going to make my work more efficient. But then, if you’re telling me I need to do it in a particular way, and I say to myself, is that really the best way to learn that thing? Um, is it? Yeah. Are you saying this? Because it’s the way that you were taught to do it? Or it was it or you were told that was the important thing? So what is it? Why is it so important that I learned that this way? Is this the best way to go about doing it? And that’s why, you know, Universal Design for Learning in particular speaks to me, because it gets that the why, right? Why are we not learning this thing, then it helps us to really look at the how it’s going to be learned, and recognizing that there are different ways to go about learning something. And then it also gives us a way to demonstrate different ways to demonstrate the learning. As a former English Composition instructor, you know, we have a lot of rules, you know that you have to use the right format, the right citation format, you have to have your five paragraph theme, and even as an adult learner or a returning learner or what we used to call a non traditional learner. When I came back into the classroom after having worked in retail industry for five or six years, my questions were about why do I need to do this? What is it going to do for me? And I had an answer for what I had already known and what I was doing out in the workplace. So that too is very important for me. So when I’m working with faculty members, when I’m looking at something that I want to learn myself, I want to make sure that there’s going to be a real world Use for that thing that I’m being asked to do. So Universal Design for Learning speaks to me on all of those different levels.

Lillian Nave  05:08

Fantastic. Oh, and I okay, there’s so much here to unpack because you’ve had real world experience, you said you had that retail experience. And, and you when you come back into the academic world, you’ve got a lot more experience and a lot more questions to be asking of your instructor, I think as adult learners and recently I’ve been learning the difference between pedagogy and andragogy, about adult learners being self directed. And if we think about children, pedagogy, there’s a lot less experienced that that younger learners are coming into the classroom with, and adult learners. And, you know, considering our college populations are now older than they used to be, we’ve got a lot more experience coming into the classroom. And so we have a lot more learners that you just described, what you’re saying, What’s the value here? And why are you teaching it this way? And how you know why? And how am I going to get anything out of this? And it’s made me think, oh, my goodness, you know, what more things? What things do I need to be thinking about and changing? For my first year students, some of whom would like to be completely directed and told what to do. But some of them are like you, why are we doing it like that? They have so many questions that are that push me forward. And again, because I have a lot of UDL strategies in my courses, I’m finding that I can can meet people in different areas. But I also see myself in several different areas, like when I’m learning something completely new that I have no background in. I am a much less self directed learner. I want you to tell me, yeah. You tell me how I’m supposed to learn it. Because I don’t even know how I’m supposed to learn. It’s great. Yeah.

Mary Ann Tobin  07:06

Yeah. So they’re, absolutely we have, of course, a number of either active or former military students who are joining, you know, coming for undergraduate degrees or certificates, we have a number of students who are already working, either Yeah, they may be working on like the so called lower skilled jobs, you know, they, they may be helping to run a store, they may be working at a fast food restaurant, but there are more and more students who are supporting themselves or supporting their families, while they are doing their undergraduate studies. So they to have, they come with more experience of, and more different ways of learning than they used to. And I would add that the fact that Universal Design for Learning has been implemented in K through 12. Now for what is it like 20 years, they’ve been working on implementing universal design for learning. So when now in, in student evaluations of teaching, when I’m again, working with faculty members, and going through the open ended responses, and the students are asking for things like organization and structure, consistency, not only in the policies, but the way that they’re applied, they’re asking for more interaction with each other. They’re asking for flexibility in how they do things, or even about the deadlines and when things are due. And they’re asking for the materials, the class materials, the PowerPoints, the study guides, and to be to be made available before class, all of those things are saying give us Universal Design for Learning, because those that they’re used to having in a K through 12 experience, they don’t know to say give us a universal design for learning. They instead say all of those things that, you know, that they’ve experienced before. And and you know, there are those who argue that this is hand holding, I would say it’s not hand holding it is the structure. It’s the support that the students need. And they’re demonstrated many research projects, as you know, that have shown that these things actually show a gain in learnings and that’s what I’m all about. If no matter what the pedagogical strategy, no matter what advice I’m hearing, even when clients come back and say, Hey, this really worked for me my evaluation scores have gone up. My next question is yes, but show me the gains in learning. Right? Did this thing actually enable your students to learn more better and learn it more? Deeply?

Lillian Nave  10:02

Yeah, absolutely. I am so impressed with, with my colleagues like you. So folks who are at several institutions in North America and around the world, we’re starting to see these lights out in the darkness that are bringing Universal Design for Learning to that higher ed setting. And we are a little bit behind I mean, k 12, has been doing it a while. So

Mary Ann Tobin  10:29

sistent across the US and Canada. Yes, we know that there are areas that are doing more with Universal Design for Learning than elsewhere. But it’s really it’s those key words and phrases that I hear coming from students, either through the evaluations, or through EDUCAUSE surveys, our own surveys of students at Penn State survey we recently worked on for student disabilities, resources clients, they were all consistently saying the same thing. And it all maps perfectly with the UDL framework. Excellent.

Lillian Nave  11:07

So all right, well, that gets me very excited about my next question, which is you’ve been doing the research you’ve been talking to professor’s out in the field at Penn State. And I wanted to ask you how has UDL training, what you’ve been doing at the Trier Institute improved the teaching and learning on your campus.

Mary Ann Tobin  11:27

So at this point, we have faculty members who’ve been implementing UDL after taking our course on it, which is called teach to reach maximizing learning for all students. So they’ve been had a few iterations of it what the course is only about two and a half years old. So they have been implementing, they’ve been revising, they have been adding more and more elements of UDL. So I don’t have yet empirically based evidence, those faculty members are just now starting to put together their IRB forms so that they can start researching and hopefully in larger numbers that would make it statistically valid. But I can say that, don’t go back to that survey that we did. With student disabilities resources. It was a collaboration between that office Teaching and Learning with Technology. And then myself, and we, we developed the survey together, we embedded we didn’t call it Universal Design for Learning, but we embedded the strategies, the guidelines, we mapped out the question so that we knew which ones for us we’re getting at Universal Design for Learning. And I could say that when we did that mapping, and we compare the results to that map, more and more, we have confirmation that that UDL actually it can help us. It can help students to learn more, you know, they want unimpeded access to course policies. Again, it’s already consistency in the course structure, logical organization, collaboration with each other with the instruction, they want support for when things go wrong. They want clear communication strategies. So we have examples of the assignments that faculty develop, and we share them with others. And then we have their sharing with us the results of those assignments. So we have seen that we can indeed measure learning in various different ways. So these are faculty members who are teaching biology. They’re teaching visual arts, they are teaching, project management of all things, and in their different disciplines by offering the students the opportunity to demonstrate their learning either as a PowerPoint presentation as an oral presentation. In a video, we’ve had students who have written poems about biological topics. We’ve had students who have drawn things they have visualized their own concept maps, they have visualized different topics. And so the students are appreciating, they are saying that they not only enjoy, but they get more out of being able to deal with the materials in their individual ways. And the faculty members are still developing rubrics that cross all of those different methods, because they’re focusing those rubrics on what the learning is supposed to be, and less time counting points for the sake of counting points. Another way that we’ve really seen a lot of progress is we have much more comfortable, much more open conversations about our accessibility and accommodations on campus. So, in those conversations, we’re seeing more movement and more willingness, through the UDL framework to supply these different Whitman’s of the content if the content is presented to the students in these different meds that it is making not only the faculty lives easier because they write during the pandemic especially, are you dealers as we like to call them at Penn State? They were reporting they said, Hey, we’re having an easier time than our colleagues are. And our colleagues are now coming to us the UD Ehlers asking about how do you do this? How do you make a visual? How much visual is too much visual? How many recordings? When should we do the recording? Should we post them before? So there are more conversations happening among the faculty about various means of representing the information? And those conversations in the past? were often quite fraught, as I’m sure you know, it is like, yes, it comes with an accommodation. And the immediate response typically is Oh, my goodness, how am I going to do this? How am I going to redo? Well, the faculty members who had not been implementing Universal Design for Learning, saw how their colleagues had already, you know, they had already planned for this, they already had a means. And they saw how easier that transition was. So now the UD ours are having a large influence on their colleagues, more and more are seeing the value of in the course design process. implanting these UDL guidelines have multiple means of engagement, multiple means of representation, especially

Lillian Nave  16:54

Wow. So I wanted to say on two of those things, you’re you’re giving a banner endorsement for UDL. And, and how it makes your life easier, as a professor more fun, more interesting. And also, I think, more authentic, when you were telling me about the poems and you know, the varied ways that people are really learning and demonstrating their learning. And it gets away from the very small way, we used to think that would be the only way to assess learning. And that was on a path to, I thought a very small path, like every biology student was going to go to medical school, and they needed to do it this particular way, or every English student was going to get a PhD and then teach English. And so you had to know all of these different things. And, and honestly, that’s a very small percentage of what our students go on to do, which is after college get more degrees, yes, we’ve got students who are doing incredibly wonderful things. And they, their lives are made much better by their ability to learn whatever the subject matter, but we used to think, and I used to think, too, oh, this is, this is what you have to do, you have to do it in this very small sub sub set of waves, you had to write a formal analysis for art history. And that is the only thing you could be doing. You couldn’t, in essence, give a poem about the piece or, or a podcast interview or things like that. And it’s opened up really what the authentic world is. and academia had, I thought made a very fake, non authentic world with what the small sub structures were. And UDL helps us to understand it’s really about the learning, not necessarily about producing a whole bunch of people who are going to go on and get their doctorate and then re re Institute the same system.

Mary Ann Tobin  18:54

Yes. Yes, I’m certainly that, that that. That touches my heart quite deep. Again. Yeah. Having been, you know, returning to an undergraduate classroom at the age of 29, after having worked for so long. Then having been a teaching assistant, where, yes, we were we were taught to teach composition, according to the modes. And our in our professor, the leader of the writing program, referred to himself as Captain, comma. So there was a lot of emphasis on whether or not commas were in the right place. Still, lots of conversations about semi colons Go on, on how many different committees and we’re still arguing over semi colons. And for me that was always getting at. Well, I understand. Yes, indeed, in order to have clear expression. punctuation is a good thing. It helps a lot. But I always thought that we were spending too much time, again, finding ways, finding ways to deduct points in order to justify the grade that we wanted to give to a particular item. And I can order students and rank order students, correct? Yes. And the other thing that really bothered me is, as you just said, Lillian, you know, the assumption that I was at a, at a community college outside Chicago, where I was the director of teaching and learning. But before that, I was an adjunct faculty member in the English department, and I was teaching English composition. And I remember having a somewhat heated argument with the chair of the department there who insisted that we teach, of course, Modern Language Association, citation format, and manuscript format. And I had said to the chair, I said, Well, I’m going to teach APA as well, American Psychological Association format. And he said, No, no, we do MLA here. We do only MLA. And I said, but how many of our students are actually going to be English majors? Yeah, and where are they going to need to use this? Beyond English courses? Were at a community college, mostly first gen students, pretty even split racially, between white, Hispanic, and an African American. And, of course, you know, the various shades in between. And I said, but, you know, I’m asking my students there. They’re not telling me they want to be English majors. They’re telling me they want to be nurses. They want to be auto mechanics. They intend to enroll in nuclear medicine in Yeah, all of the different trade and vocational options, opportunities we had there. Not so much. They wanted to be history majors, or they wanted to be dead. They there were a few. I thought, so why am I forcing them to learn this thing? That they’re never going to use outside of two classes? They’re gonna take the entire time with us. It just didn’t make sense. Yeah. And it’s it when I would get to the why. And if the why was if it ever is any conversation, if I asked the question, why are you doing it this way? And the answer comes back, because this is the way that it’s always been done. Then I’m out. Yeah. Right. Because that we that just literally makes no sense to me. If the goal is as we as we claimed, the goal is in higher ed, if the goal is to prepare individuals, for the either their their vocations or even to be upstanding members of society who are going to contribute in some way. And you know, they’re they’re going to be lifelong learners and such. I have yet in my real life, outside of working with English departments, for anyone to say I needed to do something in MLA format.

Lillian Nave  23:13

Yep. So I’m right there with you. I know. I’m right there with you. So why are you asking what why do we need this? And if it’s Yes, we don’t want to plagiarize. We need to cite our sources. We need to know what’s good information. That’s really important. But does it have to be MLA, Chicago, Turabian, whatever, APA. And I have freshmen, I don’t know what they’re going to do with their, you know, their majors. And so I say, whichever one you want, if you’re in this slave use MLA, you know, so there’s choices. Yeah. Okay. I see. The point is, you need to know good sources, you need to tell people where they came from. But it’s that extra little stricture of we’ve always done it this way. And so this is the way you’re going to do it rather than the thing that’s going to work for you. In the long run. Yeah. Yes. Those are the real critical questions as instructors, I think we need to be asking so as not to throw up a barrier for our students like as you were mentioning, yeah. So okay. You’re You’re very much on brand here, especially with your, with your, with how you learn and asking these questions of the people that you are helping to to be better instructors. So you mentioned a class that you have at Penn State and so I wanted to know what sort of offerings that you have related to Universal Design for Learning on your campus.

Mary Ann Tobin  24:46

So currently, we have a project based course. It is teach to reach maximizing learning for all students. It is open to anyone who teaches Penn State students, or who supports those who do. So, members of our learning design community often take the course, as well as teaching assistants, postdocs. Certainly graduate students, we’ve even had some administrators taking it as well. With that particular course we it is, again, it’s project based, it’s fully online, it’s about a month long non credit. And we give the the participants the opportunity to work on a project that is for their particular teaching and learning context, which for us can mean it will be in a credit classroom, it will be used in a non credit course, it could be used in a faculty development training. The most recently we had a graduate student who was working on an a, an artificial intelligence enhanced software program that helped K through 12 teachers have a way a better way to assess American Sign Language.

Lillian Nave  26:11

Oh, wow.

Mary Ann Tobin  26:12

Yeah, so he was developing his his project he was developing a training for for those, those teachers who would use his particular software to with students who are deaf or hard of hearing to teach them ASL. So like, super cool things come our way. And it’s just like, we always get excited every semester, there’s something more exciting, that’s that’s coming through that particular course. So they can either do a project like that or not, if they want to come, they just want the information. They certainly they’re welcome to do that. They don’t have to earn the completion certificate. If you do want to earn the completion certificate, there are weekly discussion forums, there’s a peer edit. So we throughout that course, we embed as many of the Universal Design for Learning guidelines as we can. And we’re very transparent about that we say things like, in this particular exercise, you will do this thing, and it aligns with this particular guideline, here is an example. Take whatever you want from this course use it, you know, to build your own UDL inspired learning experiences. So we had, we invited Allison Posey from the Center for Applied special technology cast, she gave, she delivered three live webinars during the first iteration of teach to rage. And we recorded those, then we created the transcripts for them. And we use those same webinars in teach to rage. So everyone gets to hear Allison talk about the neuroscience, just for us is amazing, because she does such a wonderful job. And so that course they they watch the videos, they participate with each other their discussion forums, they create their projects, we provide feedback on that those projects, and then they can get the certificate for that. But we are seeing, we also do custom workshops for departments. And more increasingly, we’re seeing more and more non academic areas that are asking us to come and talk about universal design for learning. What’s been really exciting over the past year for me, is that more and more administrators are starting to say, hey, this actually is the thing that we should be doing. And we are not just in the classroom, but everywhere across campus. And I’m so grateful that that that message was heard and they’re now coming. So we have we’re working now with a peer coaching group that will help peer coaches, students prepare to be coaches for other students. So that will have UDL behind it. Even in any of the communications, that we’re sharing our websites, so now UDL really it’s it seems to be becoming a fiber of what we do. At Penn State and even the provost, his most recent letter to faculty members, we got a little shout out for UDL, not as big of a shout out as I was hoping for But still, it’s become now part of the conversations that we’re having across across campus. So those are the offerings, we’re working on a more introductory course for Universal Design for Learning now, that will be more self paced, very minimal interaction. So the the idea is to get as many individuals exposed to UDL as we can that they understand at least the basics, but maybe they don’t have the time or the energy to really put together a problem. So if anybody has any tips on how we make a self paced course, with low to no interaction between the instructor and the and the participants, if anybody has tips on how we can make that UDL playable, let me know because that’s what we’re struggling with right now we’re like, okay, we’re saying you need to do all these things, you need to have more interaction, and then we’re gonna build a course, that doesn’t have any interactions like, yeah, wait, so we’re so we’re thinking about that. We’re pondering it. If anybody has ideas, let me know.

Lillian Nave  30:30

Yeah, that’s, that’s a major part. There’s a whole column about engagement. Yes.

Mary Ann Tobin  30:38

We’ve come up with a few ideas. We’re refining them now. So we’ll see.

Lillian Nave  30:42

That’s great. Oh, wonderful. I’m really interested that you you say you’re working with kind of non academic groups, we have pure academic coaches on our campus. And that’s been great because they work with my first year students and and as a great offering about actually both academic and non academic, you know, stuff like how do I sign up for housing as a sophomore? Exactly. I don’t know how to do, but a student on campus does. And so tell me a little bit more about, like, you’re working with academic departments. That’s something I did when I started out as a UDL coordinator is taking my little show on the road and showing up and finding out who has which department has the best snacks. By the way, it’s business to business. And, you know, which, which departments wanted me to come and which departments were like, hmm, we don’t want you to come on over. But I didn’t infiltrate yet into our non academic and an admin. That’s really impressive. Yeah. How did that work?

Mary Ann Tobin  31:48

Well, that worked. I believe it worked. Because I’m rather what I get persistent is that is that a good word? Um, I just take my opportunities where I can find them. So having been a director of teaching and learning, that was an administrative position was a low level administrative position. But I was in that there for maybe about seven years in that position. So I got to learn, administrator speak. So oftentimes, even when I’m sometimes working with a faculty member, and they asked a particular question, I say, Well, first, I’m going to give you the administrators response to this question, and then we’re going to say, then we’re gonna work, okay, how do we work within those parameters to, to do what needs to be done here. So any opportunity that we have I and the other members of our universal design for learning team, which I should mention, it’s not just me, the Universal Design for Learning team is made up of myself, a representative from student disabilities resources, add the accessibility coordinator for our World Campus, and several faculty members who are UDL practitioners. So that team, we have enough tentacles, I guess. We have enough connections between faculty members, administrators, staff members, all the people who have a voice and how things get done, we have that representation within the team. And those how those things get done, not only from the faculty or the administrators point of view, but from the students point of view. So we have a graduate assistant, sometimes to who will work with us on the Universal Design for Learning team. They know the ins and outs of how to do the varied ways of doing things. So and of course, with a focus on what we talk about more than anything, is making things accessible to begin with. So that conversation especially has has that has resounded in administrators ears, that Wait a minute, this is a way that we can actually move the needle on accessibility, which admittedly, we need to do at Penn State. So this is a way to get more buy in to make sure that it’s understood why again, why do we need to do this? How will it benefit our students, and then I extend the conversation to anyone who comes to our website. If it’s a parent, they everyone who needs to learn how to do something, whether it’s registering for a course, where to come to campus to get where they’re going to park on campus if they want to come to one of the community events. Or the or the performing arts events, all of that needs to be communicated in a way if people can’t get it right away, if they can’t find that information, if it’s not easy, they’re not going to come that phrasing it that way. Has has really, it, it has helped the administration see that this isn’t just a thing we do, because somebody is telling us to do it. Yeah, it’s the thing we do, because we want people to come to us. We want students we want the parents, right. So again, it’s that why I think that by giving a stronger, ethically, socially, Justice based why to do this, more and more administrators are saying, Yeah, this is something Yeah, this this should just be what we’re doing.

Lillian Nave  35:47

Yeah, it to me, I have seen it be a solution to a problem that hadn’t been identified yet, that we already had this in place. And, and it made many of the problems that were upcoming disappear. Like, as you said, during the pandemic, your Ud ellers did didn’t have to change too much, or anywhere near as much as the kind of traditional faculty doing the way things had always been done. Yes, that was a huge lift, a heavy lift for folks who were not already practicing Universal Design for Learning apps. And I found out like, this semester, I made an online course, and have been teaching it for one year. So this is the second year that I’m teaching it. And so I’m certainly all about accessibility, everything has captions, everything is flexible. If you miss a zoom, I’ve got it recorded, you have things to do that can make it up and making sure that we have all of the kind of flexibility and accessibility in place. And I have a student why I always have different students I have returning military students, I have English as a second language students. And this year I have a completely or profoundly deaf student. And I thought, okay, here’s here’s gonna be the test. Yeah, we’re gonna see if everything did I do this, you know, they can have a profoundly deaf student on a completely online never in person. Course. And so far, so good. And I haven’t gotten an accommodation letter or anything. That the the idea was, again, it was one of those white my forehead few. Yeah, so glad for UDL. Yes, I did not have that I was going to have to redo, you know, kind of revamp an entire course that took a long time to make in the first place.

Mary Ann Tobin  37:48

And it’s it’s that what you just said about the student you didn’t, you don’t have an official request for accommodation from that student. That is something that I really didn’t quite understand how that happens, or how it could happens until I started working with the staff members in student disabilities resources. And when they said something as simple as you know, there aren’t that many of us, it takes a while to get that paperwork through. And by the way, many of us there are many who come who don’t know that they could request an accommodation because they’ve never been diagnosed for whatever reason. They try to get an appointment, and it’s so backed up, you know, that they can’t get in until the second week of classes. It may be as I have had a student in the past, who was dyslexic, waited until the middle of the semester, and said, you know, Dr. Tobin, I think I’m gonna have to withdraw. And I said, Well, why why, you know, you’re, you’re still, there’s no reason why you can’t complete complete this course. You know, your grade might not be as good as you want it to be. But there you can still complete this course. I think we can we can work with you, you know, so that you can pass it. And she says, Well, I never asked for an accommodation, and I’m having trouble in one of my classes. I said, Okay, well, that’s fine. It’s not too late. Yeah. And, and her. Her view was that through high school, and again, it’s this switch from K through 12. to college. It is much more challenging than I think many of us believed, since it wasn’t our experience. Oftentimes, you know that we had such a challenging time. That That doesn’t mean that that’s not the experience for everyone. So this particular student, author, she didn’t this was this is her sharing the information all through K through 12. There was someone to take care of all of that paperwork. There was someone to do to ensure that she got The accommodations that she needs, she didn’t have to ask for anything. She gets to college and she decided she wants to try to do this on her own. So she doesn’t request the accommodation even though she needs it. There are so many students like that, I’m sure who don’t want to ask for it don’t know how to ask or don’t know that they can or or even that they they should. And how many of them are dropping out early on in the semester? Simply because we are treating them as if they’re already perfect students? Yeah, that coming into my freshman composition course. Those students who got all A’s are expecting the you know, they really shouldn’t have to take it in the first place. Yeah,

Lillian Nave  40:51

right. I don’t need to be here. I don’t need to get that to you.

Mary Ann Tobin  40:54

Right. Right. And, and again, expecting that they’re just gonna sail through is like, no, this, this is different. If you were perfect students, you wouldn’t be here. Right? If everything about your writing was absolutely perfect. Yeah, I agree. Go ahead and clip out if you want to. Certainly, if you can meet the objectives? Yes, it’s no harm no foul on me. Good. Anya, if you can do that. But if so, that’s not the bulk of the students who are coming. Right. And then the bulk of it everyone, you know, no matter where they are, in that in their learning curve on whatever particular topic or content that we’re teaching, they, they will benefit from having multiple ways of getting at that information, multiple ways to demonstrate their learning. And, of course, we have multiple ways of, of interacting with each other and engaging with the content. So, you know, I really think yes, as you said, you know, it’s, it’s an, it solves a lot of problems that maybe we know about, but we just haven’t had the time, the strength, the opportunity, the willingness, the whatever, because many faculty members, administrators were all pressed, you know, from various sides. And, and there, there aren’t enough opportunities to sit down, really, and look at the curriculum and say, Okay, what are you doing in your course? Am I doing this to my course? Is there overlap? does there need to be overlap? One of my big secrets is that there’s nothing that excites me more than a curricular review. Because it gets me having those conversations and giving the faculty time, they learn so much from each other. And they also see the gaps. So they they understand, okay, now I know why students are coming to me in my particular teaching context, the way that I teach it, that they don’t know x. Gotcha. Yeah, with each other about how you’re gonna get, you know, to where x is. And then the next next question, probably, as you might guess, my next question is, why do they need to know x? Yeah. Really? Okay. So I’m going to far field as I usually do, but yes, that those sorts of conversations really do. Get me excited.

Lillian Nave  43:25

Yeah, well, these are the important UDL questions, which is why are we learning this? Why do we need to learn it this way? And how are we going to engage our students to you know, do do the things that are going to help them? So asking these critical questions are really important. So I appreciate that you’re emphasized as good. So you’ve done a lot of explaining UDL of sharing UDL on on Penn State’s campus. And so I’m going to ask you my question about what Well, what do you do? What if you’re going to introduce UDL to faculty? And let’s say you only have 30 minutes, and you were trying to get the word out? What would you say? What’s your long elevator ride? Yeah, I just

Mary Ann Tobin  44:20

thought maybe I misheard because I’m thinking okay. 30 seconds would be like an elevator right here. 30 minutes to me is a long time. Oh, my God. Yes. Yeah. No, it’s not 90. It’s not. It’s not an hour, but it’s a tiny

Lillian Nave  44:33


Mary Ann Tobin  44:34

Yeah, a tiny workshop within there. Of course, I’d, I would certainly share the three principles, share some information of it. It’s certainly about how they’re connected to the brain science. cognitive neuroscience and cognitive psychologists have really given us a lot of valid and valuable information about why these strategies work the way they do. Yeah, I usually start with, you know, just acclimating the faculties and you know, you’re already doing a lot of these things. I know you’re doing a lot of these things. But how well, are they working for you? are you choosing them? Because you think think pair share? Yeah, okay, I can do that. That’s something I can do. That’s wonderful. How is it, you know, tied to learning objective. There are other ways that you can go about doing it. But I really do try to within 30 minutes, I’m trying to get the faculty to think about what maybe they have a particular learning bottleneck. So I’m relying on deciphering the disciplines. And, again, trying to, I guess, help them to identify a particular topic or a particular concept that their students always have, you know, that they either need to reteach, by focusing their energy in smaller chunks. And it’s gonna sound familiar, right, it’s a chunking chunking technique. I’m modeling my own expectations. So I am providing materials ahead of time, they usually have access to a Google Drive that has my slides that has the notes, that has the questions I’m going to ask so that they can interact with the materials either, if you know, if I have a PowerPoint showing, they have it on their smaller device, if they need it, I’m always transparent and why I’m doing it. Why I’m so called reading the PowerPoint slide it’s it’s for those people are those who may have have trouble, you know, if they’re sitting in a darker side of the room, for instance, I try to the in, in taking the the pedagogy out of its theoretical context, and placing it into the real world, even the physical environment that we’re going to inhabit for this half an hour, I want them to pay attention to the limitations that are within the room, I want them to pay attention to we’re going to focus on that one thing, we’re going to focus on something smaller, we’re going to focus on something that is authentically a challenge for them or for their students. So in modeling, Universal Design for Learning and every aspect of a presentation or every aspect of a particular course, within that 30 minutes, they’re going to have real examples of implementation, they’re going to see how it’s already connected, in a lot of ways with what they’re already doing, or maybe what they’ve dreamed of doing with a particular course. It’s going, they’re going to have real examples from other Penn State faculty of how they have implemented universal design for learning. And they’re going to get the basics of what it is, and how it could be a value to their students, and how it could be a value to them. So it’s going great. Yeah.

Lillian Nave  48:08

That sounds like a great 30 minute workshop that was like, and it changes your perception of, you know, if you can see how it benefits you you’re going to do it, you know, rather than Oh, here’s another thing I have to learn, right? Here’s what’s new, the topic does your butt. No, it’s it’s making it work for us. And our whole conversation today has been about how it has made life easier and better for us and our students. Totally. So what advice do you have for other faculty developers who want to introduce UDL to their campuses?  Mary Ann?

Mary Ann Tobin  48:42

my advice would be to find allies make friends, with individuals in informational technologies. And also, with students support areas, particularly those students support areas that deal with removing the barriers, the systemic barriers that students face when they enter our campuses when they come onto campus. So in particular, I’m talking about those areas that serve as you’ve already mentioned, to active and former military students, disabled students, first generation students, students of color, rural students, English language learners, all of those students, regardless of what campus they they’re, they’re entering, they all have a particular barrier, or several different barriers perhaps that that keep them or that May May, you know, it’s it’s an inhibitor for them that either again, they’re afraid to ask for help. They don’t know where to go to help go for help. So make friends with those people who support those particular students. They’re already passionate about helping steer To overcome those barriers, and they have the data that you need to share with faculty, to show that there is a real need here, it’s not just one student, asking for a one time accommodation, that, you know, you’re making it up on the fly, they will have the data to show you. And one of the most important things that has come out of my collaboration with our student disabilities resources office was that, you know, the data showing that 50%, half of the students at Penn State undergraduate students, there, their request for accommodations are not the things that we typically think of some of the data that has come from shared for my collaboration with student disabilities resources, is that 50% of the students, undergraduate students who are requesting accommodations are not requesting them for the types of disabilities we usually associate when we get those letters. They are 50% of the students requesting accommodations for psychological disorders, and ADHD. Those are the hidden disorders, so to speak, yeah, we’re not going to immediately recognize them, we’re not going to say, oh, okay, this person, so we can’t even reach out to them and say, perhaps, you might want to work with student disabilities resources. So if we’re not already planning, for the disruptions, the variability that those those students bring to us. We’re really making the barriers even higher for them. So if I can share that kind of data with faculty members, and they see that Universal Design for Learning is going to help them it’s going to help the students before that request for accommodation is even made, then they see the sense of this. Right? Now we’re talking, many more individuals are going to need additional support than what we used to think so we’ve now moved the thinking away from it’s just these few individuals, I’ll deal with it later, to, oh, there’s a significant number of students who need this kind of support, I need to deal with it now. So I would make friends with those people who help those students.

Lillian Nave  52:29

Yeah, and use that that’s going to be helpful for the whole campus. And we’re really serving our students better when we’re, you know, incorporating universal design for learning. And I’ve found that that’s also what administrators want to hear that, you know, show me the data. Exactly. That’s what we need to have on hand. And I appreciate the research that that you’ve already brought up, and that you guys are will continue to do at Penn State. In that part. Mary Ann when you were talking about what bottleneck that your professors are facing, and you know, what they can do to kind of add something it sounds like the plus one thinking that? I don’t know, I’ve heard from Tom Tobin and Kirsten dealing in their reach everyone teach everyone with this author? I

Mary Ann Tobin  53:24

am very familiar with that author. Yes, I have a listener I married him. Yes. Tim and I are Yes, we are. We are married. We are both of us. Of course, in faculty development. You know, we’ve been together. And I would say that within our 25 years of being together, we have oftentimes run in parallel tracks professionally. And certainly, by both of us, leaning in toward working with with faculty members, as opposed to being faculty members, ourselves, I think we, we kind of came upon the concept of universal design for learning about the same time. So within my context, as an administrator at a community college, it was just one of many of the things that that I was considering or that we were considering at the community college, and I didn’t really have time to really dive deeply into it. My responsibilities were mostly around the curriculum and assessment office. So you know, more concerned with accreditation processes, more concerned with ensuring that curricula and assessment processes were aligned. So I really didn’t have time to dig too deeply into universal design for learning. Although it intrigued me right away. Time. On the other hand, he took a deep dive, he shared a right he started researching, he started talking to people and eventually ended up writing the book. So yeah, Indeed we have in this household been talking about universal design UDL and its benefits. And we’ve also been talking about, well, how do we get people to do this? So it’s really, you know, it’s one of those rare partnerships. Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s a lifelong partnership is all as well as a professional partnership. And yes, we do indeed talk about these things at the dinner table. You know, how did you get this to happen? I talked to this person. So it has been wonderful to bounce ideas off of each other. And as we, you know, independently have more and more examples of UDL in real life, to share with each other. You know, that we really have the two of us expanded the depth and the breadth of our of our experience with UDL.

Lillian Nave  55:48

Yeah, well, I must say, I’ve recommended Tom’s Ben Carson’s book of 1000s of time, I recommend it highly as well. Yeah. Especially, you

Mary Ann Tobin  55:58

know, we were talking about who do you make friends with? How do you make? How do you, you know, make UDL beyond yourself? Who do you talk to that section on? administrators? I think, you know, don’t just read the section that’s about how to teach it. re the other sections so that, you know, they really get will give you insight on who and how to approach those allies. You know, who will who can help you broaden your reach beyond yourself in your in your immediate colleagues? Highly recommend?

Lillian Nave  56:33

Absolutely. Yes. And he was, will have a link to the book and a link to the interview I did with Tom, which was about three years ago. Yeah. For this podcast. Episode Three, actually. And we’re getting close to Episode 70. I think this is Yeah. So three years later. And we’re still talking UDL. So excellent. Yeah, I really appreciate it and talking to the UDL Dynamic Duo, you know? Yeah. For a faculty developer.

Mary Ann Tobin  57:04

Alright. I guess we have a new title. We had been the Drs. Tobin for so long, but I do like UDL dynamic duo. That sounds great. For sure.

Lillian Nave  57:13

Awesome. shirts are neck costumes. Yeah, I’m imagining the purple. Like the Wonder Twins. Yeah, no capes. No capes. That’s right. Thank you so much, Mary Ann, for all of this great information and encouragement for all of us who are working on Universal Design for Learning in the higher ed campus. It’s been actually a lot of useful stuff for for us to carry forward. So thanks for your time and your energy. And your thoughts. You are

Mary Ann Tobin  57:46

very welcome. And if anyone would like to talk more about this, certainly can send me an email message. more than happy to share our experiences here at Penn State.

Lillian Nave  57:58

Oh, great. Yeah. And I’ll have links for all of the things that you mentioned today and some resources on the website for this episode, so stay tuned. Thanks so much. Thank you. 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 think 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 aides based on UDL principles. If you’d like to know more, go to the college website. Additional support for the podcast is made possible by Appalachian State University where if you call it Appalachian, 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 coach as our sound engineer is Tanner Jones and I am your host, Lillian Nave. Thank you for joining us on the think UDL podcast.

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