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Training Faculty Jedis with Danielle Wilken

Welcome to Episode 22 of the ThinkUDL podcast, Training Faculty Jedis with Danielle Wilken. Dr. Danielle Wilken is the Provost and Dean of Students at Goodwin College. Lillian gets the chance to talk to her about the training program she has implemented for 45 faculty members to be UDL Fellows (also known as Jedis) at Goodwin. In addition, she has also radically transformed the teaching and learning environment at Goodwin College, an open enrollment college in East Hartford, Connecticut.

We recorded this conversation at CAST’s annual symposium on the campus of Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. You might hear some background noise around us in the midst of the symposium as we sat down for a conversation together. So tune in to hear us talk about how to transform one’s campus into a teaching and learning powerhouse as well as one’s faculty into UDL Jedis!


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Goodwin Thought Leaders: Keith Carter Welding

Universal Design for Learning and Welding

Students “Write Their Truth” in Newly Published Book

Hey, 60 Minutes…It’s Our Turn

Experiential Learning Enhances Business Program and Encourages Student Reflection

Universal Design for Learning Series: Boring Classes? Not Here!

Universal Design for Learning Series: Thinking Differently to Gauge Student Comprehension

Universal Design for Learning Blog Series: Part 1

Universal Design for Learning Blog Series: Part 2

Universal Design for Learning Blog Series: Part 3 

Universal Design for Learning Blog Series: Part 4

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[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.


 Welcome to episode 22 of the Think UDL podcast: Training Faculty Jedis, with Danielle Wilken.  Dr. Danielle Wilken is the Provost and Dean of Students at Goodwin College.  I get the chance to talk to her about the training program she has implemented for 45 faculty members to be UDL fellows, also known as Jedis, at Goodwin College.  In addition, she has also radically transformed the teaching and learning environment at Goodwin, an open enrollment college in East Hartford, Connecticut.  We recorded this conversation at CAST’s annual symposium on the campus of Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  You might hear some background noise around us in the midst of the symposium as we sat down for a conversation together.  So, tune in to hear us talk about how to transform one’s campus into a teaching and learning powerhouse, as well as one’s faculty into UDL Jedis.  Danielle, thank you so much for joining us at the CAST fifth annual UDL symposium, and I was wondering if you could tell me what makes you a different kind of learner?



Well, thank you for having me.  I think I’m a different kind of learner because I need to be engaged and it needs to be meaningful to me.  I think that’s evolved over time.  I think I was actually a much more focused learner when I was in school because that was required of me.  But, as I’ve evolved, as my work has evolved, as life has evolved, as a mom, as a professional, and all of those different stressors, if something is not engaging to me, if something is not meaningful to me, I won’t pay attention to it.  And the advice I give to everybody, I went back for my doctoral degree as an adult learner and as a parent, and I was working full time, so I had a lot of stressors.


[Lillian]  And not very much time.

[Danielle]  And not very much time.  And so, when people tell me that they’re going back for a degree and they’re in that situation, I always remind them that its about their learning and its not about impressing a faculty member, and the way that I approached my doctoral degree was every night that I was there, every assignment that I did, it was about me and it was about my profession and it was about supporting my students and my colleagues at the college.  And so it really–I didn’t know Universal Design for Learning then, but engagement was critical to me.  And that’s what made graduate school meaningful to me, it wasn’t about, you know, trying to impress anyone else, it was about doing meaningful work.


[Lillian]  Oh, wow, that’s–its so important as adult learners, but, you know, if we had that all over as young students and throughout our education, man, we would really go into a deep, full understanding.


[Danielle]  Agreed.

[Lillian]  And that’s what UDL’s trying to do, you know.

[Danielle]  Absolutely, and I will say the grades follow.  It doesn’t have–you don’t have to start with the grade in mind, the grade can follow that engagement.


[Lillian]  Yes.  And you are doing amazing things at Goodwin College.

[Danielle]  Thank you.

[Lillian]  And I was really privileged to hear you talk.  Your talk was “Creating Student Rockstars through the Power of UDL Jedis” so I’m excited to hear about the program that you have at Goodwin College if you can tell us about that.


[Danielle]  Sure.  So, I guess I should start by explaining what is a UDL Jedi.  So, we do have a professional development program on campus.  We are a career-focused institution.  We award collegiate certificates, Associate’s degrees, Bachelor’s degrees, and Master’s degrees at Goodwin.  And many of our faculty who come in have been professionals in their own right, industry professionals, so they’ve been nurses, they’ve been welders, they’ve been histologists, they’ve been early childhood educators and reflect the various career-focused degrees that we have; but, they’re not necessarily trained teachers.  And it was important to me that our faculty have some training to help them support our students, and when we started this program, I used to refer to our fellows as the SWAT team, they were the team that I would call in when I had a problem in a classroom, and I was like, no no no that’s not quite right.  And then I started referring to them as Navy SEALS because, you know, those teams work independently and they do all this deep-dive work and I was like no no no that’s not quite right either.  And where I landed was when somebody graduates, they’re a Jedi, and when they’re in training, they’re getting their Padawan, and yes exactly–and the reason why I refer to them as Jedi is they have an amazing set of skills, but its also a mindset and it’s the approach to which they bring to a classroom, and a Jedi is really that more holistic–not only do I have this amazing set of skills, but there’s a real goal behind what it is that I’m doing, and there’s a real approach and thoughtfulness to what I do.


[Lillian]  Yeah, a real change in the state of being–

[Danielle]  Correct.

[Lillian]  Of how you are as a teacher, isn’t it?


[Danielle]  Correct.  So we do have a professional development program that supports our faculty, which ultimately, then, supports our students.  So, those are our Jedi.


[Lillian]  Oh, fantastic.  So, how is it that you are able to create Jedi at Goodwin College?


[Danielle]  So, we were fortunate enough a few years ago–actually, its only been two years–but we were fortunate enough to get a Davis Foundation grant.  Davis Foundation was willing to take a risk on us.  We were the first institution that they funded that was an open enrollment school, and they had never heard of Universal Design for Learning, so it was really important that we explain to them what UDL is and address some of their concerns around that, and we were fortunate enough to get the grant.  The grant specifically supports three cohorts of faculty members, fifteen faculty members in each cohort, it’s a job embedded professional development program that faculty meet with two facilitators over seven or eight sessions, and we use Universal Design for Learning as the pedagogical approach to support our faculty, and as an institution we have adopted Universal Design for Learning as the institutional pedagogical approach.  Yes, so during those eight sessions, faculty learn all about Universal Design for learning, different technologies, different–and all the different pieces that would support that.  Its job-embedded, so they are not just randomly doing work, it is specific to the course that they are teaching, and we ask that after each session, they make one small change.  Typically, they make seven or eight changes because they get really enthusiastic and they can see the impact of the work that they’re doing, but we wanted to make this, you know, how do you eat an elephant?  One small bite at a time.  Many times, institutions try to take on a big change, and its overwhelming.  And I will tell you that when we kicked this off, I stood in front of every one of my full time faculty and said my expectation is in three to five years, we can look back and can see a change.  I was very explicit about where it was that I was trying to go, what my goal was.  But I didn’t–I made it very clear that it was supposed to be a slow roll, and piece by piece by piece.  Ironically, I’ve lost control of the initiative, and things are happening much faster and on a much broader scope than I would’ve expected, but that’s really faculty driven and its at their comfort level and its because of the impact that they can see on their students and their level of enthusiasm.  So I’m good with the faster roll, but the idea was to get one small bite at a time.


[Lillian]  Yeah, so you’re real happy that you’ve lost control, they’ve just taken it and run with it, right?

[Danielle]  Best thing that could’ve happened, you know, you hope as the leadership, you know, as the administration of a college that you–when you start an initiative, that it’ll take roots, but in order for it to really take roots, it needs to be not just top-down but down-up and the faculty have really taken on this initiative and owned it in ways that I would not have predicted, and for that I am incredibly grateful.


[Lillian]  Wow, you know, I’ve spoken with many individual teachers and–who’ve been employing UDL–and in various areas where they say how critical it is that they have administrative support, and sometimes they don’t have it, so what is so amazing that I’ve seen about Goodwin College in knowing about it for the last–a little bit over a year, is how infused it is in every bit of what Goodwin College does, and what an incredible change that makes for the students, and just as an outsider, I’ve seen it, and its because–I think its because of the fact that you as the Provost, as an administrator are saying this is important, you’re getting funding for it, you’re leading this initiative that everybody can participate, so, I, yeah, definitely see it.


[Danielle]  Thank you, you know, I definitely–I refer to myself as the college champion or the wizard of Oz in this, so I see my role as the Provost as being the man behind the curtain that you really shouldn’t see.  My job is to remove the barriers for the faculty and to listen to the fellows and hear what’s working and what’s not working for them.  For example, when cohort one graduated, they talked about how beautiful our classrooms are, but the furniture was pretty static, and that they were trying to do active learning and that the furniture was no cooperative of that.  And they were losing, you know, ten or fifteen minutes at the beginning and the end of class to move furniture around, and as a result, we pursued an active learning classroom with Steelcase and Red Thread and they were great partners with us on helping us fund those classrooms.  So–but its, I can’t take ownership for the institution, you know, my job is sort of to be the center cog, but its really the faculty who’ve taken it and given it roots and allowed it to grow and really done the work in the classroom.  And my fellow cabinet members have been equally as supportive, you know, the president, Mark Scheinberg, and the CFO have been very supportive of putting funding behind–as well as the Board of Trustees–as putting funding behind what we’re doing.  The grant was supposed to fun, you know, the forty-five faculty members, the facilitators, and the external evaluator, that’s what I had funding for, and you know, I’ve now gone back and we have two classrooms, we’re getting a third classroom, we have provided additional professional development money for our fellows who are doing scholarly activity around this work.  We’ve put a lot of carrots in place for our faculty who are fellows, and the entire administration has really been very, very supportive around that initiative, that this is not something that, you know, one person can do alone, it really needs to be that partnership at all levels in an institution in order for it to be successful.


[Lillian]  So, you’re–what is so incredible about Goodwin College–there are quite a few–but when you say you’re open enrollment, I think a lot of folks around the US may not know, and don’t participate in a college that’s open enrollment, and maybe you can explain what that means, and also, you have so many professors, instructors, who are presenting scholarly research around the country and around the world, I hear, and yet they don’t have as part of their job and usual in universities and, you know, the tier one research universities you get funding for that, that’s part of your job.  At Goodwin, not only are you open enrollment, but you also don’t have a budget necessarily or incentive for faculty to be doing research.  However, you’ve got both of those things, so can you tell me a little bit more about what that means to be open enrollment and then how incredible your faculty are that they’re presenting.


[Danielle]  Absolutely, so open enrollment means any student who has a high school diploma or GED can get into Goodwin College.  That does not–


[Lillian]  So, you have to teach everybody there, yeah.

[Danielle]  We have to teach everybody, and we have a very, very diverse student population.  We are, as I said earlier, career-focused, so we have students who are pursuing nursing, students pursuing welding, we have students pursuing CNC or criminal justice, early childhood, public health, so as you can see it’s a very eclectic group of degrees and students.  So from just that perspective its diverse.  We have students who may have a Master’s degree or Doctoral degree and have decided that they want to pursue a second career, and they’re coming back to us and they come to us with a wealth of expertise in their particular profession, but they obviously–if they have those advanced degrees, they come to us academically prepared both in the soft skills and the hard skills.  And then we have students who come from inner cities or other settings where they were not given the opportunity to practice the typical academic skills, as well as the skills of persistence and resilience and self-advocacy.  And our age range, we have an early college program, so when you walk into say an introductory psych class, you can have a student who is sixteen who is in early college, you can have an adult who is fifty, who has been a stay-at-home mom, you can have a forty year old professional who decided to make a career change.  We are almost fifty percent minority, and many of our students, on the other hand, are first gen, so it is a very, very diverse–yes a very diverse classroom.


[Lillian]  Wow, you can’t get more diverse that that, really.

[Danielle]  No, you really can’t, and all we’re asking to come through the door is to have a high school diploma or a GED.  I mean, I should note that we do have selective enrollment programs such as nursing and histology and occupational therapy assistant that you need to score and get into, but coming through the door, and especially in our introductory–the 100 and 200 level courses, it’s a very, very diverse group of students.  So, that–


[Lillian]  This is the front line for UDL.

[Danielle]  This is the front line, yes, it is the front line.  And honestly a lot of our training has gone–fortunately a lot of our faculty who are participating are teaching those critical courses.  As you mentioned, our faculty–we are a teaching focused career based school.  We are not asking our faculty as part of their teaching–of their assignments–to do research, that’s just never been who we are, what we’re doing, but our faculty, particularly our fellows, the level of scholarly research that has come out of our institution since we started UDL is really exceptional, and the vast majority of the research that’s coming out is our fellows who are engaged in the scholarship of teaching and learning and want to share what it is that they’re doing in their classrooms, how it is impacting our students, how it is impacting their level of engagement as faculty members.  They’re just so excited about everything that’s going on that they can’t help themselves and they want to participate in conferences such as CAST, and Canada, and England and all over the country as things are going at this point because they’re just so excited about what’s happening and the impact, the positive impact that they’re having on their students.  And I think one of the most amazing pieces that’s come out of all of these conversations–both from the student perspective and from the faculty perspective–is the relationships that have come out of the conversations, of the change in the classrooms.  Faculty talk about facilitating rather than being the sage on the stage, and as a result of the fact that they’re giving up some of their control of the classroom–I don’t mean the classroom’s a free-for-all, but they’re really, they’re engaging students in the conversation around what it is that they want to learn.  Obviously they need to meet the course objectives, but what they want to learn, how they want to learn, and students are participating in leading the classroom.  It really changed the classroom dynamics.  It really has changed the relationship between the faculty and the students, and they’re just so excited about that–that they want to share that with other people.  Its incredible.


[Lillian]  Its very empowering, then, empowering for those students.

[Danielle]  It is super empowering for those students.


[Lillian]  Taking control of their own learning and isn’t that interesting that this conference is “Becoming Expert Learners” that’s the title of this conference, but I also notice in your presentation, you were talking about not only are your faculty presenting at UDL conferences and your college, Goodwin, hosts a wonderful conference, coming up in November,


[Danielle]  They do, correct.

[Lillian]  That’s about UDL in higher ed specifically, but that these faculty of yours, your Jedis, your UDL Jedis, are also changing the way each of their particular area or the way that their area or their subject is taught by writing blogs or participating in that, can you tell us more about that?


[Danielle]  Sure, so they’re also engaged in their professional communities.  So, for example, we have a histology faculty member who wrote in a histology journal about how the work that she’s doing with UDL in her classroom is impacting her students.  We have an optician program and they’ve written a blog in the optician journal about how a) they, you know, they used it in a classroom and one of the faculty members presented at a conference, and the material was all around opticianry work, but the strategies that she used when presenting at the conference was around UDL, and then she wrote a blog about that as well to show how that she was, so–and actually we have a faculty member leads a church, and she used what she learned in UDL to lead a conversation with her congregation.  So, I often joke that this UDL initiative, that, you know, that I started out as the champion for, I’ve completely lost control of it in all the best ways, and its impacting not only our campus, but our communities, our larger communities in ways I would’ve never predicted when we started this project.


[Lillian]  Really, its going just nationwide and global in many ways, you know, you had folks presenting in Oxford, England recently and I know John Kania, one of your Jedis, and I presented with Allison Posey whose here CAST at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, so this is–the world is looking at Goodwin College and what you guys are doing in UDL and its really changing the lives, not just of your students but it sounds like a lot of professional communities are learning a lot from this.


[Danielle]  We hope so, you know, I can tell you on a very, very personal note that I truly believe that this is where education in the US needs to be, or internationally and everywhere, you know, besides being a professional at work, I am a mother and you know we’ve had the opportunity to apply this at home and I’ve seen the impacts that its had on my own children.  I really believe that just feeding off the conversation this morning, we–education in the United States is based on the Industrial Revolution, its based on widgets, and we know that learners are not widgets, and we really deprive ourselves as a country, as a community when we try to get everybody to fit in that rigid mold.  And we really do get the best out of individuals when we give them an opportunity to play to their strengths.  Not that we ignore what their deficiencies or weaknesses might be, but give them an opportunity to experiment in those spaces in a safe way that doesn’t judge them and doesn’t, you know, say you don’t fit and therefore you cannot be.  I think its really–if we’re going to grow as a nation, we need to figure out how to get the best out of everybody and I think this is really a good way to go.  I started with UDL many years ago because I was working on my dissertation and I knew that I was leading up to a leadership role at the college, and as I mentioned earlier, we have so many diverse students on campus, and, you know, the literature says you need to support your veteran students in this way, you need to support your ELL students in this way, you need to support your minority students this way, and oh by the way, you need to support gen ed in a whole different way, and don’t forget about your adult learners, good luck.  And knowing that I had all of that happening in one classroom, I thought to myself, this is insanity, I cannot expect faculty to switch gears for every single student, nor is that going to be a good experience for anybody.  And, you know, ten years ago, there was nothing in higher ed on UDL and I happened to stumble across one article on a Saturday morning at five in the morning and said, oh my God I think this might actually be it.


[Lillian]  Wow, and it was, and it is.

[Danielle]  It was!  I was right, yeah. 


[Lillian]  Oh my goodness, at five on a Saturday, my goodness.

[Danielle]  Oh, my husband was on call, so there’s that.


[Lillian]  There you go.  Wow.  And what would you say is your best advice, let’s say you’re talking to other provosts, other administration, which is definitely where we need to put some emphasis and catch on in other institutions.  What is your advice or your encouragement, or what would you say to another provost at five in the morning or when they’re at home, when they’re thinking about what can I do to my university, and maybe it is in an open enrollment university, maybe it’s a tier one, maybe its any number of different kinds of institutions, what would you say as an administrator?



First of all, I’d say call me, and I’d be happy to chat and share some of my stories.  I will tell you that I approach this as an administrator.  When I was having these conversations with the president and the cabinet, I approached it as an administrator, I didn’t ask for any funding at the time, I went out and found a grant, but this can be done with very little money.  I mean, the money that–even since the grant has, you know, has tapped out, there’s–we’ve invested, but it has not been, you know, astronomical numbers.  It really can be done with small bites, even from the economy side.  Look for your champions on campus, look for your partners.  I looked for–you know, when I started with the cohort one, I looked for the people in cohort one who I knew were going to be the early adopters, and I will tell you, when I started, you know, I knew the grant funded three cohorts, I knew I would have cohort one, I was secretly worried about cohort two and cohort three, but my early adopters, my cohort one, the work that they did, the passion that they brought, the conversations that they led on campus, I’ve had to do no work for cohort two or three, and in fact, you know, when cohort three was out, there was a lot of discomfort on campus because we had thirty-two applications for fifteen slots, and people were concerned.  They knew that the grant was running out, and they were like what happens, am I going to be left behind.  We’ve decided as an institution to support cohort four with our own money.  But, you know, so look for your champions at all levels.  Look for your early adopter faculty, look for your support at the senior leadership level.  Have transparent conversations.  I have been explicit with my faculty as I said earlier, since day one I’ve made no secret that I was trying to drive an institutional change, I was trying to drive a cultural change, I didn’t try to do it behind the scenes in a secret sort of way, and I would really encourage them to look at the model that we’ve used around carrots and not sticks, I’ve never mandated this, I’ve never said thou shalt do it, you know, without this you can’t apply for promotion, without this you won’t get a raise, its really been around carrots.  If you are a fellow, you will get special recognition and you will get special privileges.  You will get recognized at community day, which is when we come together as an entire institution, you know, at every aspect of the college, every employee of the college is there, and you will be recognized in front of all of your faculty peers as well as your friends in other departments, and be recognized as a fellow and be given a certificate that you can hang in your office.  You’ll be recognized in our college catalog as a fellow, you’ll be able to put in on your signature as an email, you will have access to our active learning classrooms when other faculty do not, and if you’re a program director, you might want to run your orientations in there.  If you’re running a conference, you’ll get to use it and other people won’t.  You will get special professional development money.  I’m not spending a lot of money, I’m making sure that I really acknowledge and invest in my fellows.  And I do a lot around just acknowledging the work that they’re doing.  That making sure that when they share things with me, that I’m sharing that with the larger community and just acknowledging who they are and the very, very important work that they’re doing.  So, I don’t think administrators need a lot of money, but I think they do need friends.


[Lillian]  Yeah, and it takes a village.

[Danielle]  It does take a village, but I will tell you, once it takes off, you sort of lose control in the best way, and you really just become the facilitator.  Just like UDL, you really do just become a facilitator as opposed to a person who is driving it.  So it is, it’s a wonderful experience.  But, definitely call me and I will be happy to chat.


[Lillian]  Oh, thank you so much for your openness, for your willingness, for sharing your story at Goodwin College, and for kind of igniting this wonderful change at Goodwin, and I know that many will be happy to hear of it.  And you might be getting a few people calling you, I hope.

[Danielle]  I hope I do, I hope I do.


[Lillian]  Thank you so much.

[Danielle]  Thank you for having me, its been great.



[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 College STAR, the STAR stands for supporting transition, access and retention in post-secondary settings, and the website provides free resources and instructional aids based on UDL principles.  If you’d like to know more, go to the website.  Additional support for the podcast is made possible by Appalachian State University, where, if you call it Appalachian, I’ll throw an apple at you!  The music on the podcast was performed by the Odyssey Quartet, comprised of Rex Shepherd, David Pate, Bill Folwell, and Jose Cochez.  Our sound engineer is Tanner Jones, and I am your host, Lillian Nave, thank you for joining us on the Think UDL podcast.


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