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UDL is the Heartbeat of Heartland Community College

In this episode, Lillian speaks with Zach Petrea, Associate Professor of English and a UDL Fellow at Heartland Community College in Normal, Illinois. This episode catalogues how faculty “led from the middle” to change the teaching at Heartland and was even able to include UDL in the strategic plan for the college. We talk about all of the ways that UDL is infused in the fabric of Heartland from online training courses, advanced certification courses, badges that are integrated in faculty promotion and tenure, and UDL fellows programs for faculty and staff! With about one quarter of the full-time teaching faculty and countless adjunct instructors now trained on the UDL guidelines, we see how Universal Design for Learning is especially helpful in teaching the community college population and truly is the heartbeat of Heartland Community College.


Heartland Community College Strategic Plan: Heartland’s strategic plan includes UDL! This may be helpful to other 4-year universities and community colleges to reference or use as a model.

UDL Faculty Initiatives at Heartland Community College: See how Heartland focuses on UDL and has a Fellows program (both faculty and staff participate) and initiatives woven into their faculty development.

The Center for Universal Design for Education: University of Washington provides many resources for Universal Design for Education with their “Do It” programs for post-secondary education.

CollegeSTAR: Zach mentions the wonderful resources available for post-secondary educators at CollegeSTAR in this episode. Look at the Instructional resources tab for modules and case studies of UDL put to use in the classroom!
CAST: The Center for Applied Specialized Technology explains the UDL guidelines and offer resources for all educators interested in applying the UDL framework.


Will be made available ASAP.

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

Thank you for joining me for episode 10 of the Think UDL podcast.  UDL is the heartbeat of Heartland Community College.  Today I talk with Zach Petrea, associate professor of English and a UDL fellow at Heartland Community College in Normal, Illinois.  This episode catalogues how faculty led from the middle to change the teaching at Heartland, and was even able to include UDL in the strategic plan for the college.  We talk about all of the ways that UDL is infused in the fabric of Heartland, from online training courses, advanced certification courses, badges that are integrated in faculty promotion and tenure, and UDL Fellows programs for faculty and staff.  With about one-quarter of the full time teaching faculty and countless adjunct instructors now trained on the UDL guidelines, we see how Universal Design for Learning is especially helpful in teaching the community college population, and truly is the heartbeat of Heartland Community College.  Zach Petrea thank you so much for talking with me, and welcome to the Think UDL podcast!


[Zach] Thank you very much for having me, this is exciting!

[Lillian] Well, I’m really interested to find out: how did you find out about UDL, how did it come to your campus?  Can you tell me a little bit about that history.


[Zach]  Sure.  In 2013, we had a dean of student support services that applied for and won a grant from the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities.  And, she did that on her own I think because she saw that most of what we were doing at the school was reactionary, trying to help students afterwards, and she wanted to do something that was more proactive on the design side, so she got the grant and created this Faculty Fellows Program.  I kind of came in on the ground floor of that, and have been stuck / enjoying the ride ever since then.


[Lillian] Oh, fantastic.  So, when the UDL came to your campus with this grant, how did it start with your faculty?

[Zach]  So, part of the grants required that she reach out to people in developmental education and work with them to help students with disabilities, and so when I came in at that level we quickly saw that the applications for UDL were much broader, more holistic and actually better for everyone.  And so we immediately started reaching out to faculty in other disciplines, and part of this program that was created was a cohort model where there were two different faculty each year, and we were able to get faculty from education, English, nursing, math, Earth science, and biology was the sixth one.


[Lillian]  Wow, so– and you were one of these original faculty members, and so you have continued to work with UDL on your campus, and can you tell me what that looks like for you at Heartland Community College?


[Zach]  Sure.  So, at this juncture we have spent time trying to reach faculty where they are in their departments.  So we have the six faculty, I started reach out to department to department level to work with people individually.  But we also worked with our director of online learning to create a module in the required training class that’s about introducing what UDL is, and then that proved so successful and interesting that we were able to create a standalone course about UDL.  So we’re trying to hit multiple different levels and multiple different areas being accessible wherever people need us to be.


[Lillian]  And do all of your faculty take that course?  Is that a required course or optional?  Tell me about that.

[Zach]  So, the original online training course is required for anyone that wants to teach online.  So, they could take that class, teach online, and end.  Or, we’ve started to develop a whole program of these advanced certification courses.  There’s one on assessment, one on UDL we’re going to have another one on other professional development initiatives.


[Lillian]  And do the professors that take those courses, is that something where they get a badge, is that linked in with some part of how they are promoted, or hired, or anything like that?


[Zach]  Yes, so the first level is not because that’s required to teach online, but the second level and the advanced certification courses do apply towards your yearly evaluation and tenure and promotion.  And so we are able to count that as curriculum development experience, professional development opportunities.


[Lillian]  That’s fantastic!  So, this really makes a difference not only in their teaching, but in their professional life there at the college right?


[Zach]  Correct, and that was a wonderful thing that our administration has been able to support, because they do see the value in it.  And so they will pay people for actually completing these courses the first time.  So, that basement level online course, you get paid one course release to do that class.  The advanced certification are much smaller, but they compensated for that by applying it towards tenure promotion.  Our administration is very good about reacting to faculty initiatives, and kind of fostering a culture where we can do what interests us.


[Lillian]  Well that’s great.  That administrative support is huge.

[Zach]  Yes.  There have been other things that have been top-down that hadn’t worked so well, and so I think they pivoted very quickly to realize to supporting the bottom up, and because this whole UDL initiative came in kind of from the side with the grants, and then started at the bottom, it’s been a wonderful percolating experience.


[Lillian]  Wow that’s very much the leading from the middle.

[Zach]  Yes.


[Lillian]  Yeah, and branching out.  That’s fantastic.  So, in those modules and in those courses that faculty are taking that can help them not just teach better, but also gain further employment, or move up in the ranks, what are some of those modules like?  Have you been part of the designing force behind that?


[Zach]  So, I worked with the director of online learning to create the advanced certification course, the second level.  And, so that one very much takes a science-based approach.  It’s walking through the neuroscience of underpinning UDL.  We relied on CAST, the Center for Applied Special Technology in Boston.  They’ve came out to Heartland to do two on-campus workshops.  So, we very much took their model and tried to apply it to here.  Heavy in the reading comprehension.  We’re trying to kind of emphasize the assessment focus of design, the backwards flips design model.  So it’s been a learning experience for me in developing it, and for faculty who get to engage with me, and we shape it as we go.  It’s a collaborative experience.


[Lillian]  So, do you know about how many of your faculty have participated in the kind of the extra courses, not the required ones?


[Zach]  So, this is our third semester running the advanced certification course, and at this point 20 faculty have done it.  We have about 90 full-time faculty at Heartland, so it’s a pretty good representation.  Our vice president of learning and student success actually enrolled in the class because he wanted to see what all the talk was about so that was very nerve-wracking on my side.


[Lillian]  Yes, yeah.  And that’s so 20 out of 90 of your faculty have taken it.  That is huge.


[Zach]  Yes, it’s been just, very exciting and I’ve been you know, very satisfied with the reception on campus.  I don’t remember how many of the part-time people have been doing that.  They tend to kind of come in and go, it’s not a start this day end this day, it’s whenever you can get to it and so trying to reach out to our education is our next big push because I mean you know at most schools adjuncts make up the majority of the workforce.  


[Lillian]  So, have you been able to see that any results are coming through with student success as a result of your faculty taking the UDL course?


[Zach]  I think my administration planted that question in this podcast.  That is exactly what they are asking us to do now, program assessment, looking at the impacts we have had.  At this point, just getting it up and running has been our kind of focus, and we are now shifting to how are we going to assess the effectiveness of what we’re doing.  Everything we have right now is very anecdotal, and all of the data that we have are through individual faculty forms that they complete for their yearly evaluations, and those are really targeted to specific assessments.  And so it might be we have stuff about these many assignments have been designed using UDL, here’s what the success rates are.  But again that’s just one assignment in a class, and it’s nothing institutional or programmatic at this point.


[Lillian]  Right, so you’ll be looking for ways that you can mark student success.  And I’ve wondered that as well, and there are a few different ways that I know people have done that before, but I found that the way some administrators would love to see this happen, is that you’ve got students who are taking a class that has not been UDL, you know changed by UDL, and then another group of students in the same class and hopefully even the same professor, has implemented the UDL, but once you have incorporated UDL in your classes it’s one of those threshold concepts, like, you can’t go back you go back and do it the old way


[Zach]  Yep, and then that’s actually the one of the complicating factors, because we’re pushing a plus one kind of idea.  So change one thing in one assignment, because faculty kind of have that conference curse, they have so many good ideas and where to start and they get overwhelmed, and so we’ve been intentional about just change one thing, one thing.  And so then it’s hard to kind of assess that one little tweak, and especially because they’re probably going to tweak the one thing in all of their classes.   So yeah I mean we would love ideas on how to assess this in a meaningful way, so please do pass those along.


[Lillian]  I will.  Well, I’m sure we can have a talk after this episode goes out, there’ll be plenty of folks who’ve been implementing some of these strategies as well.  So, you have continued on with this, this has been three, four years that UDL has been kind of implemented on the campus is that right?


[Zach]  Correct and every original faculty fellow who’s still on campus– we’ve had one person who left the campus– is still involved, and so they are still helping even though they’re not being compensated in any way because they just believe in what it is.  I just happen to be the one that was able to devote time to lead the push, and it’s because I see the value that it has and the impact it has on my students.


[Lillian]   So that’s part of your title now, you’re the “UDL Faculty Coordinator,” and so part of your time is now specifically geared towards these modules, or creating those modules; are you doing other things like workshops or other sorts of things on campus?  Can you tell me about those?


[Zach]  So, the most recent one I just briefly referenced was: we have reached out to a couple different departments on campus.  Health and Human Services is the one that I was responsible fo,r and so we took an organic assessment model.  I met with every instructor in that area individually just to ask them about strengths, and about moments of frustration, and then I collated all of their responses to see the areas that they were focused on already addressing, and the areas where they weren’t really addressing yet.  And so then I presented the UDL framework as a guide for how they could meet those areas that they were struggling with, and that’s been really well received because it’s not punitive, it’s not top-down it’s just your stuff as an outside person, you know no expert bias, just what I see, you’re spending all your time on multiple means of engagement, that you’re kind of ignoring the representation piece, or whatever it may be.   And so that’s right now our initiative, to try to make this more real and tangible for faculty across campus.


[Lillian]  Do you have a Center for teaching and learning?  Are you working out of some sort of centralized center like that, or is it you are it, you’re like a center of one.


[Zach]  No, I am working with and kind of for our director of online learning, and then we have an IDC, Instructional Development Center that I’m working with, and so there’s the three of us that are really kind of coordinating all of this.  I do most of the faculty side doing UDL specifically, where the IDC coordinator is doing all professional development on campus, and so I, generally speaking am the one they come to about UDL, but I work with the other two to make sure that we have a unified front.


[Lillian]  So, you have about 90 you said full time faculty, and how many adjuncts do you think you have?  A ballpark figure.

[Zach]  I’d probably say 180-200.  We are very lucky because our full-time to adjunct ratio is very different than most other schools.  We have more full-time proportionately than a lot of the local community colleges do, but we’re still in you know 2 to 1 ratio adjuncts to full time.


[Lillian]  Yeah so this keeps you very busy, you’ve got a lot of people you can introduce UDL to, don’t you?

[Zach]  Yes, that’s the job security, that’s what we always go for.


[Lillian]  That’s right, that’s right.  The more people I ask and say have you heard of UDL and they say no I say great, I still have a job!  That’s fantastic!

[Zach]  It helps with the elevator pitch because you only have that minute and a half to kind of convince them to come back and talk to you, or to let you go to their class or whatever, it keeps you on your toes.


[Lillian]  Yes and it’s um, it’s relatively new it seems, coming into higher ed.  It’s been around, but in higher ed we either haven’t called it by its name and we’ve been doing things like this for a while, and now we get the chance to say oh I can link that to one of the actual guidelines that has research behind it; or, we just haven’t been able to bring up the chatter enough for people to be able to label, right?  Or, to say yeah I’m fully comfortable with UDL, so there isn’t this, hopefully there isn’t this bias or this idea like “oh, I should know this.”  Well, no, you shouldn’t,  we’d love to tell you about it!


[Zach]  Exactly, and one of the hardest things about it is explaining in a shortened time frame what it is. because it can sound, if you describe it badly, like learning styles, but it’s less.  And it can sound like, you know, flipped classroom, but it’s not.  So it’s trying to see that it’s not a pedagogical approach to the design approach, it’s been a wonderful like mental trick and strategies to have to get myself through.


[Lillian]  Yes and I have also heard a lot of folks will think, oh wait am I just coddling the students, right we get that a lot too.  And, no we’re just teaching them, we’re really just helping and teach them and taking away barriers that we didn’t know were there, hadn’t recognized.


[Zach]  That doesn’t effect rigor, I don’t think.  It’s about supporting them to get them to the same spot.  I mean, obviously preaching to the choir here, but it is– it’s a difficult concept to overcome when someone has the more gatekeeping style of teaching now shouts “do this.”


[Lillian]  Yes.  So, it sounds like you are in the business there of changing some perspectives, melding some minds into what teaching and learning– what their perceptions should be.

[Zach]   Yes and in our environment, most of us in higher education in our content experts, we’re not teaching experts.  And so it’s a really interesting thing to try to teach an expert in one area about something else, and to learn it myself as I go because I didn’t have any education in this either.  So, it’s fun.  Higher education is leading in some areas, but we’re kind of dragging behind in others.


[Lillian]  Agreed, totally agreed.  When we look at UDL, we see the implementation has started a lot more in k-12.

[Zach]  Which has been really frustrating for me to convince faculty, because they always want to know what’s the research, and I’m like, I’ve got this k12 article, and then they tune me out.


[Lillian]  Right, right and but that’s what we’re hoping to provide too, with the podcasts and all these other ways to bring that chatter up, so that we can see how UDL really is moving and being used in so many places, including Heartland Community College.

[Zach]  I do value the College STAR website because you guys do have really good things there that are specific to the higher education setting.  And so, between CAST and College STAR and Washington’s do it we have really good resources to provide, it’s just convincing people to go there and look, or showing them how to navigate these different spaces.


[Lillian]  Right, and one of those things too is these are all kind of new ways to teach and new ways to learn, and one of those shifting perspective things is “well, that’s not the way I learned it,” right?  We’ve a lot of– you’ve spent a lot of time in a classroom if you are going to be teaching, you’ve had to be there for 25 years right so you have– sometimes it’s hard to be stuck in our ways just a little bit, because that’s the way it’s always been done


[Zach]  And I agree.  And I kind of lament, but I’m also excited by the whole mobile-first bend of things, because that’s allowed me that in to talk to people, it’s like “okay you would learn this way, but now so many students are learning online and mobile platforms,” and that’s a backdoor in to get them to change and design in a UDL fashion, if they’re aware that it’s about mobility and mobile access.  So then they’re doing it even though they don’t know they’re doing it, it’s like haha I tricked you!


[Lillian]  Exactly, and also understanding all those different kinds of students that we have, you know, I’m sure you have at the Community College you are serving a large swath of people of all different backgrounds, and all different time you know times that they have available, too.  A lot of times it’s not the experience of going away to college where you can devote all of your time to being in a dorm or in a classroom, and at the Community College, you’ve got commuters, you are trying to deal with jobs, a lot of other things competing for the time and attention of students, that UDL is a necessity, it seems, to reach that student body.


[Zach]  Agreed so much.  I just had a student in one of my development of classes who told me that it took her three bus transfers and an hour and a half to get to school. 

[Lillian]  Wow.

[Zach]  That’s just a city transportation issue that she struggles with, and just using things like intentional design of lessons, and putting it online, and allowing different methods of getting it to where it can help alleviate a lot of those concerns, especially again at the community college population that becomes much more front and center than it is at many four years, I think.


[Lillian]  Right, if it takes that much time and energy and effort to get to a classroom, I would hope that whatever happens in that classroom is really, really good.  Right, you know it’s not just a lecture that could have been recorded.

[Zach]   Exactly, and I told her to her face that’s like you’re–I’m so impressed with you, I would not make that trek.  So, the dedication that these students have towards their schooling and education it’s just– it’s inspiring in some cases, and then I kind of feel like I’m slacking in others because I didn’t have that when I went to school, so yeah makes me feel grateful.


[Lillian]  Right, right it was it was in some ways easier, yeah when you’re– if you’re there for those, either the last two years of that four-year education, or all four, when you can just concentrate on that.  But that’s not the typical student, that’s just not the typical student anymore. 


[Zach]  Especially with the nationwide push towards STEM or STEAM, wherever you are in technical schools, I think it is pushing people to get more education, which is good, but we just have to keep in mind how that education is provided, and that they have adequate supports.  So, it’s a good problem to I think wrestle with.


[Lillian]  So you, at Heartland Community College, and your colleagues, have somehow convinced the administration as well, and they’re on board that this is such an important thing that you’ve done something I haven’t heard of before, but is really exciting.  You’ve got UDL in now your strategic plan.  Can you tell me about that?


[Zach]   That came by surprise to me when they were even discussing it, that the dean that got the grant had been working in the backgrounds, and I think she was really smart by doing that, because she just let us go, doing our faculty thing, making the program work, at the same time just kind of spotlighting this to the administration.  So they were watching us and just we’re very impressed with what we did apparently, because then they came back to us and asked how we wanted this to sound.  And in the academic portion of the college’s strategic plan, it is now in there that UDL is what we do to help students.  And our administration, to their credit, has consistently been very supportive of our faculty initiatives when it has this kind of cross-campus buy-in.  So now having it in there helps us kind of push a little bit harder without making this seem like it’s an administrative top-down, because it started with us, we are the ones that wanted it.  It was very gratifying to see her get that in there.


[Lillian]  So how is that going to take shape?  How is it taking shape so far, and what does that mean for it to be in the strategic plan? 


[Zach]  Well, right now, we’re just basking in the glory that it is.  We are moving to try to assess the faculty Fellows program, and part of that is actually expanding it out to include staff now.  And so it is now just a UDL fellowship, we’ve dropped the faculty portion.  We have a new program starting in January, so we’re going to have two staff and two faculty each year, so four at a time, and then part of that is using their expertise to start designing their own assessments for how we can gauge the effectiveness of UDL.  And so originally, we were just kind of building something, seeing it work anecdotally, now we’re expanding it but simultaneously trying to figure out how to assess it.  And they have been very supportive of our lack of hard data at this juncture, but I think we have a couple more years to get that to them.


[Lillian]   Well that’s great, that’s great.  I’m sure your students and your faculty can give those anecdotal data points right?  That could sustain for a little bit.

[Zach]  Yeah, we are lucky that they have allowed us to include our work in UDL in our tenure and promotion process,  so we can pull stuff from our yearly evaluations to show them, and so I think all of the chairs are– recognize the value of this.  The deans have been very supportive about providing release time when necessary.  So I think we’re in a little golden age at the moment, and I’m hoping that we don’t break it anytime soon.


[Lillian]    Wow, so you serve– can you tell me a little bit more about how many students you serve, and what sort of focus that they might have?

[Zach]  Sure.  We are a kind of liberal arts transfer college.  We have 5000 students on the credit side, about 15,000 total on the community ed side.  We are very non-traditional population.  We have a lot of four-year university students pop over in the summer to take a class before they move on.  The vast majority of our students do transfer.  ISU, Illinois State University is one of our biggest transfer schools.  We have a burgeoning tech program, but again our bread and butter is the liberal arts.


[Lillian]   And when they head on to their four-year university, is there anything in particular– are they, you had mentioned this used to be maybe a teacher’s college or something like that?

[Zach]   So, Illinois State University, which was where the name Normal came from, is a teacher school historically.  And so we do have a pretty sizable education population here, but I think proportionally that is smaller than some of our other transfer areas.  We have many, many just general AA degrees.  A lot of students even, when they get their associates degree, don’t really know what they’re doing, or what they’re going into.  It’s still that learning process.  I had three majors, you know, in my time as an undergrad, so I don’t begrudge them their experimentation.


[Lillian]  And then you ended up with English, is that right?

[Zach]  I actually had a double major in psychology and English, which I think this UDL thing just always came right back and hit me in my sweet spot with a neuro background.


[Lillian]   Absolutely.  So, when you are teaching in your classes and you’re teaching English there at Heartland?

[Zach]   Yeah, English Composition, the class everyone loves to hate.


[Lillian]    Yes, so how is it that you incorporate UDL strategies in your classes there?

[Zach]   So, luckily composition at this point in time is moving from kind of traditional academic research papers into kind of a multi-modal approach.  And so our curriculum is very geared towards student choice already.  And so they do write academic research papers, but they get to choose the topics, they get to design stuff.  So, we have little digital media units in our classes now, so they’re experimenting with many different things to show that they understand rhetorical process design work and such.  But the concrete stuff that we do from more multiple means of representation is– instead of requiring like a numerical Roman numeral outline, we do graphic organizers, if they want.  When they have textbook readings, they have questions that they can answer, or they can do a summary and response, or they can do an outline.  And, so, it’s just taking those little assignments that are kind of traditional in the process work of composition, and turning them into options that allow different students to engage with different pieces of it.


[Lillian]   So, you had mentioned that you are encouraging this kind of small tweaks and changes like a plus one idea, so you don’t have to change everything at once.  So, what is your most recent plus one that you have added in your courses?


[Zach]   So, with the reading comprehension bit, I was always very irritated with the ability of students today to use the control F to find key terms and readings, so they could just not read it, control F and find the answer and put it there.  And so, in looking around to how reading comprehension works, some of the stuff I found was different types of questions.  And so, asking those text-based questions, but then also asking as a follow-up a personal question like “how would this relate to you in your life?” and then asking a global question “how does this relate to something outside of you?” and then asking an analytical question.  So, for every key point that I want them to identify, there’s actually four different questions that they have to answer.  And that does a couple things which I think is valuable, is it really limits me on the number of ideas I’m asking them to focus on.  So, in any reading I can’t ask everything I want, I have to pick the main ones.  But then they get really in depth with those main ones.  So that, to me, has been my most recent change, which has been surprisingly well received. 


[Lillian]  So, that makes me think about your psychology background, as well.   Wouldn’t that be also triggering those affective networks of the brain, and bringing that part in?  Is that what you’re doing?

[Zach]  Exactly.  And so, I think that the research that that came from was working with English as a second language students, and it’s the high cognitive load task oriented, as opposed to the high cognitive load processing.  And so, I’m asking him to do a lot, but it’s focused and discrete, as opposed to doing a lot where they can get overwhelmed.  And so, high cognitive load isn’t always a bad thing, it’s whether it’s task oriented or processing oriented.


[Lillian]  I see.  And, do you apply that in multiple waves in your classes?

[Zach]   Trying to.  Again, it’s always plus-one.  We’re never done, we’re always improving.  And so, asking students to take a big thing and break it down into multiple steps, that’s what I like about UDL is it’s always about goal first.  And I think many times we have big beautiful assignments, but they’re asking for like five things.  And so, now this is allowing me to break it down and do one at a time, but trying to do one in depth before we move on to another


[Lillian]   Right, so that’s chunking– chunking it out into these smaller parts and helping them to set achievable goals and short term.  That’s helping all that executive function issues and that’s really really helpful for these students

[Zach]  That’s the scaffolding and getting them–especially at this age where they’re, I mean, our average age is 26– but you know that executive functioning part isn’t all done when you’re young, it’s still developing, so trying to teach them the patterns to use to promote that lifelong learning is important.  So, hopefully, they’re going to use it after my class, even though they’re never going to write my paper again in their life


[Lillian]  Wait– are you teaching them transferable skills, Zach?!

[Zach]  Knowledge transfer is terrible!

[Lillian]  Oh my goodness, that’s exactly what we’re hoping for!  That’s in the strategic plan I’m sure


[Zach]  That’s one of those things like we were talking about where I think all faculty want that, and all faculty do that to an extent, but I don’t think they always know that’s what they’re doing.  So now we’re able to give it a name, and say “hey, you’re doing this.”   So now, here’s a different way of maybe doing it or something else to add on top of it.


[Lillian] Yeah, and look at how important it is for your students.  How important it is for them to take forward, how great that is for the Student Success

[Zach]  Agreed.  And from the purely selfish side, when I started giving them options for their reading assignments they can do those questions, or the graphic organizer, or summary response; it makes grading so much better!  Because I’m not reading 22 of the same thing.  Now I’m getting multiple types of things, all in a different way showing different strengths, and it just makes just the assessment so much better.  So, it’s selfishly something that I’m glad I did, not just for the students


[Lillian]  So, let me get this straight: you’re saying that Universal Design for Learning is better for your students, and better for you if you employ it?

[Zach]  Yes, it can be both, right?  These aren’t mutually exclusive, it’s the best of both worlds literally


[Lillian]  That’s fantastic, absolutely, I agree completely.  So, another question that I have, something I like to ask all my guests, is about you and your past or your kind of self-assessment as a learner.  And is there anything that makes you different, eccentric, what makes you a different kind of learner?


[Zach]  I don’t know if I could be different than anybody else, but I do–and you can tell from my answers–I like the narrative, and I liked connecting things together.  Which is something that I don’t always get in my educational career.  Sometimes teachers are more fact-based, and I wanted to know how does this connect anything else?  And so I bring that naturally to my classes, because that’s how I learn best.  And, with UDL, it also forces me to realize that some students need the facts, they want to focus on the discrete thing.  And so it’s making me a better teacher to try to supply both to them, so they have different ways of engaging with material


[Lillian]  So, that also brings in those other parts of the brain,  making those connections that affective part and bringing context.  One of the things that I noticed when working with faculty–especially if they’re teaching those upper-level courses, who are experts, right, we’re dealing with content experts– is that we often forget that our students are novices, or are novice learners and they might want the facts, but they have no idea how those facts really fit together in that kind of spider web of knowledge, or something.  So, that seems like that narrative might help contextualize that


[Zach]  yes is that avoiding that expert bias, exactly what you’re talking about.  And, I teach the same class and I have for 12 years at this point, and you know how many times I’m doing same kind of activities.  So, of course, in my head it’s so engrained because I’ve done it so much, and these are students who this is their first experience and they’re just blown away by something.  I have to remember that, and I have to support on this careful development.  So it’s a wonderful thing, I think, when those experts have to slow down and track back and it’s one of the best things about teaching I think


[Lillian]  Yeah, to get to remember what it’s like to learn this for the first time, which is frustrating at times, but also really fulfilling to think those “aha moments,” those are really great moments with our students, too.


[Zach]   And they get us through finals, and the stack of papers we have to grade, and the annoying student, it’s those “aha moments” that really carry over.


[Lillian]  That makes it really worthwhile.  Is there anything else that you are doing with UDL that you think our listeners should know about?

[Zach]   Well, I think, when I talk to people outside at conference presentations about our school, they’re always just kind of blown away by how much support we get from the administration, through release time, and the grant money, and I think a lot of people kind of write us off as an example because they don’t have the release time or they don’t have the grant yet.  And so, I think it’s really important to build partnerships across colleges, and make those connections to start with one person, whether it’s a faculty person or a program coordinator, and convince them that this is good and useful.  And then you can build out from there to get the administration support.  And I think that that is just a message we need to get across to our colleagues who haven’t been as lucky as I am here that this is doable, there are resources like CAST and College STAR in Washington to reach out, because any college can follow the model here, it just might take a little bit longer and a little bit more pushing, but it is doable.


[Lillian]  Well, thank you very much.  And thank you so much for telling us what is going on there at Heartland Community College in Illinois, and I appreciate all that you’re doing for Universal Design for Learning there and helping us to understand what’s going on, so thank you very much for joining us on the Think UDL podcast, Zach.

[Zach]  Thank you so much for having me, it’s been a blast.

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

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