Welcome to Episode 24 of the ThinkUDL podcast! Today Lillian talks with Bryan Berrett, the Director of the Center for Faculty Excellence at California State University at Fresno. Bryan and Lillian sat down in August 2019 at the 5th Annual CAST Symposium “Becoming Expert Learners” on the campus of Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to talk about how the whole campus is integrating UDL through not just Blackboard Ally for the LMS, but also online teaching, a new academic policy APM 237 for accessible course materials, Mobile DISCOVERe, and open access resources at Fresno State. These resources are available on this episode’s resource section at ThinkUDL.org if you want to dive deeper into anything discussed today.
Blackboard Ally for LMS– General information on Blackboard Ally
Shift to using CANVAS– An Article about the shift to CANVAS at Fresno State
Here is another article about DISCOVERe- http://fresnostate.edu/academics/cfe/faculty-support/discovere.html
CAST’s Twitterhandle: @CAST_UDL
[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 24 of the Think UDL podcast. Today, I talk with Bryan Berrett, the Director of the Center for Faculty Excellence at California State University at Fresno. Bryan and I got the chance to sit down in August of 2019 at the fifth annual CAST Symposium, Becoming Expert Learners, on the campus of Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to talk about how his whole campus is integrating UDL through not just Blackboard Ally for the LMS, but also in online teaching, a new academic policy called APM 237 for accessible course materials, a new program called mobile discover-e, and open access materials for all at Fresno State. These resources are available on this episode’s resource section at the ThinkUDL.org web page if you want to dive deeper into anything we discuss today. You might hear some background noise around us as we sat down for a conversation together in the midst of the symposium. So, tune in to hear about campus-wide UDL integration at Fresno State.
Today, I have Bryan Berrett, who is the Director of the Center for Faculty Excellence at California State University-Fresno, or Fresno State University, and we are at the CAST fifth annual symposium in the offices or campus of Harvard Law School, so at this live interview recording, we might hear some other things around us, but I appreciate your patience, Bryan, and thank you for being with us today.
[Bryan] Thank you for having me.
[Lillian] So, I’m going to start with a question I ask every one of my guests, and that is: what makes you a different kind of learner?
[Bryan] Oh, so, I am a social learner, I would say. I need to be around other people, then I also need an opportunity to reflect on what’s been learned, and have conversations about that, so that I can then internalize it and move forward.
[Lillian] Wow, what a very reflective answer. That’s great. Yes, that’s fantastic. I must say that I am super social, too. Maybe that’s why I have a podcast.
[Bryan] Could be.
[Lillian] It could be. So, you’re here talking about one thing, but I want to ask you about a whole bunch of things that you’re doing at Fresno State. But, I’d like to start out with one of the things that you’ve just done is a pilot program with Blackboard Ally?
[Lillian] Is that right? Can you tell us about that?
[Bryan] Sure. So, Fresno State initially was one of just a handful of CSU schools, and there are twenty-three in our CSU system. Twenty-three universities that initially opted in to this opportunity to partner with Blackboard Ally, and include it as part of our Learning Management System as a tool, a feature, to enable multiple formats of an artifact in the LMS to be accessed by any learner in the classes that they’re available. And so we have just completed about two years of implementation, so we had about a year pilot, and then we’ve been fully live in all of our courses this last academic year, and so we’re just really starting to learn the opportunities, the barriers that existed, and how we best move forward. Last fall, we were able to complete some student surveys, faculty surveys. We also created an opportunity for people to share their stories via focus groups. And so all of that information’s been extremely helpful in how we continue to communicate out to various stakeholders across campus, as to what Ally is in the overarching umbrella of Universal Design for Learning. Its one tool.
[Lillian] So, from those surveys, or that information you’ve collected, was there anything that was surprising or what you didn’t expect?
[Bryan] An opportunity for improvement? Yes, I think for the students, initially when we kind of kicked it off last fall, just that we hadn’t communicated out effectively in enough ways to students that this was available for them. And without knowing that it was available, many of them reported that they didn’t download multiple or various formats. Like for example, an MP3, a lot of our students communicate, so an audio file.
[Lillian] Yeah, that’s really helpful.
[Bryan] And then I think–I don’t know how surprising it was–but from faculty, the major takeaway that our team had that’s implementing Ally is that there are very proactive faculty, and very reactive faculty. And so what does that span look like. And from administrators, again, somewhat surprising, everyone is behind the idea of it, no one wants to pay for it.
[Lillian] Ah, yeah! Exactly. Well, that’s actually really good for others to hear if they’re thinking about implementing. These are some of the things they should be thinking about, right?
[Bryan] Absolutely, and so, what we’ve identified is various pockets of money that administrators are now collectively contributing, so it’s a campus-wide commitment, not out of one person’s pocketbook. So the administrators really have come together in that regard.
[Lillian] Oh, great! That’s fantastic. And you are also in the middle now of a shift to Canvas, can you tell us about that too?
[Bryan] Yes! Exciting shift to Canvas. So, several years ago, we had a group of faculty members and administrators who piloted three different Learning Management Systems. Ultimately, there was a decision to make a transition to Canvas, so we’ve just completed essentially a one year pilot, and the team and the Center for Faculty Excellence, academic technology, technology services, there’s been a lot of people committed to this transition. And nearly 40% of all of our faculty–we have about 1400 faculty–were early adopters so about 40%, and so we’ve been very fortunate. We’ll see how this
transition plays out. But it was an opportunity to really look at accessibility, not just as a thing but as part of a process, as we support faculty moving their course materials, their course content, thinking about their pedagogy, whether it’s a face-to-face course and the LMS is supplementary, or it’s a blended or hybrid course or its completely online. It was an opportunity to include in all of our trainings and support mechanisms, Universal Design for Learning as a way to provide various learning opportunities for our students. And at Fresno State, our President frequently talks about how our mission is to boldly educate and empower students for success. So, everything we do is focused on that.
[Lillian] Oh, great. So, you’re really incorporating Universal Design for Learning in all this kind of movement into Canvas as many ways as you can?
[Bryan] As many ways as we can because its–ideally this is a cultural shift, that its not something we have to do, its something we get to do, and it’s the right thing to do.
[Lillian] Yes, absolutely. And you’re–but you don’t stop there, I’ve got so many other questions, like, you’re–you have a mobile discover-E, program, right, not discovery, but discover-E, could you tell me about that?
[Bryan] Sure. So, our discover-E program is something that our president boldly announced to the entire community that he wanted a device, a tablet, in every student’s hands, in every classroom. And so, we’ve really grown the program thanks to his leadership. Most recently, I think the count is we’ve trained nearly 400 faculty in a very intensive, one week summer academy, and also we have faculty learning communities for them, and it really is a course re-design and thinking about how you might leverage mobile technology and digital literacy to reach out to our students in a way that’s empowering for them and allows them to really leverage the technology, but also for faculty that it becomes almost transparent in their teaching.
[Lillian] Yeah, I’ve noticed that with my students and the students that we have in North Carolina, they’re always on the phone, and that’s where they’re accessing the course materials. So, that–thinking about, if they’re reading a reading or something and I deal with a lot of images in my work as an art historian, and thinking about, how is it that they’re accessing the information that I’m giving to them; and, being able to manipulate it and being able to see it, and there are some things that I didn’t realize, really changes that experience.
[Lillian] Yeah. On a smaller device rather than–you know, it used to be that there were big projections on the wall, right, and I could really help them see the things I wanted them to see, and when we flip that experience, its, there are just untold differences that I hadn’t even thought about. So, what are some of the things that you are helping your instructors to do, or learn, or kind of manage when they’re thinking about their students using mobile devices?
[Bryan] So, a lot of the same things that you just shared, in addition to being willing to allow students to access their mobile technology in the classroom. So, how can we create opportunities for collaboration, for example, so that I might have a prompt that I share out with the students. But I’m really empowering them to move forward with that prompt with some small group dialogue, and then reporting back, or sharing back via something like a Google doc. And so just those opportunities to leverage technologies in ways that maybe faculty haven’t traditionally thought of technology, so, you know, historically, right, laptops down, laptops put away, no mobile devices, and so our president really is committed to digital literacies and moving forward. We’ve just partnered with Adobe, so all of our students and faculty now have access to Adobe at a very reasonable rate. And so this is just another mechanism of infusing technology in a teaching/learning environment.
[Lillian] Yeah, and that is a cultural shift.
[Lillian] I mean, that’s what you’re talking about. That cultural shift from maybe “I’m in complete control of the classroom, you don’t get to do any of that stuff” to “I am offering control of this learning and this pathway to my students, you guys take it.”
[Bryan] And, its about the students, right, its understanding that there are multiple ways to learn. And, as faculty, we need to provide those opportunities for success and support the students in doing so. And so, President Castro has really developed and created an infrastructure for this to happen. This mobile technology program has really grown. There are lots of individuals across the campus who are committed to its success, and someday, hopefully soon, we do have a mobile device in every student’s hands that allows them access to information in a variety of ways.
[Lillian] That’s great. And, speaking of access, you have a lot you’re doing with something called APM 237, can you explain that?
[Bryan] Sure, so again part of this larger cultural shift. So, at most universities there’s an academic senate that creates policy in terms of the academic affairs area or kind of the teaching and learning side of the house. APM-237 is an academic policy that was passed by the senate that essentially holds faculty accountable for accessible course materials. It holds faculty accountable for submitting their requests for course materials, whether it be books, other resources, to our campus partners so that students have them on or before the first day of instruction. And–so that policy really has allowed us again to change the culture, and provide the opportunity for the faculty who are very responsive to this to get training on how to get accessible course content. And if they are not as inclined, we also have the infrastructure in place to support them and make the changes for them so their course content is accessible and inclusive.
[Lillian] Oh, great. And you have a very diverse population there, don’t you?
[Bryan] We do. Fresno State, we are in the Central Valley, there are–we are a Hispanic-serving institution. We also have a high number of first generation college students, so–I believe its nearly 65-68/70% of those. Many of our students are Pell Grant recipients, and that’s just over 60%, and a large number of our students have food insecurities, so they’re making choices about educational materials based on what their needs are and what some of the challenges that they’re facing present.
[Lillian] Yeah, wow, that’s a lot more that is happening in an institution of higher ed that we sometimes think about. All those barriers and choices, right, that have to happen on our students’ part, so it sounds like you are helping to lead this charge to take down those barriers and allow for students to get the learning done–let learning happen.
[Bryan] Yeah, and–so–again these academic leaders are really modeling this type of success and inclusion and being very thought-provoking in how we support our students for success, and that includes our president, our provost, AVP’s, just–everyone involved, technology services.
[Lillian] Yeah, that’s great. And, you’ve got a lot of online courses that also you have–your students have access to, which helps with commutes, and helps with all of those other time constraints, and what do you do to train faculty for your online training?
[Bryan] So, any faculty member who either teaches online or a hybrid environment, they are required to themselves be students. So, they take a fifteen to twenty hour course, and that course is only offered online. As part of that, kind of baked into that if you will, is a–several modules, and scaffolded throughout the course is Universal Design for Learning. And the tool that our campus uses is called Quality Learning and Teaching, which is an instrument out of the CSU, and that is also very similar to Quality Matters. So, many people are probably more familiar with the Quality Matters tool. This is just another instrument, one that’s been developed and modified as part of our system. But it is available to anyone.
[Lillian] Oh, great. And I also hear that you’ve got a really great partnership coming up that is also going to make accessible materials free and available for your students, can you tell us about that?
[Bryan] Certainly. So, this past academic year, efforts of the faculty members and other stakeholders, our bookstore, we saved students over 1.4 million dollars in course materials. And so, our campus continues to be committed to this notion of open access, and we are currently an educational partner with Open Stacks. So, we’re an institutional partner with Open Stacks, and we’re leveraging their knowledge and expertise to even do better as we continue to support our students who, again, have a variety of challenges and we want to make learning as easy and accessible for all of them.
[Lillian] So, that’s going to provide even more open educational resources for more classes, more students, on your campus.
[Bryan] Yeah, so the way that–we’re being pretty intentional on what we’re doing, and so there’s a variety of professional development opportunities, and RFP’s for faculty to explore with a librarian and our faculty fellow for open educational resources to really look at what is available currently, what is it that maybe faculty have already developed over the years in their own disciplines, and how we create that and package that in such a way that its available to students, its part of the learning management system, and that there’s no cost for them, and part of those trainings this summer we had nearly twenty faculty specifically looking at general education. We’re looking at a zero-cost pathway through general education for our entire campus. And baked into that, again, part of that is the requirement that there are Universal Design for Learning concepts in there, but also–and also, that the course materials are at no cost.
[Lillian] Wow, so you are really creating a free and accessible general education there at Fresno State.
[Bryan] That is the objective. We are working towards that diligently.
[Lillian] Yeah, oh that’s really amazing, you’re doing fantastic work there, and your idea of Universal Design for Learning is all-encompassing. I mean, its not just–I mean, it starts with accessibility, right? It starts with thinking about accommodation, but you’re really incorporating the diversity of your student body and how you, your administrators seem to be really on board and pushing this charge.
[Bryan] We are extremely fortunate. We have fantastic support from the administrators, certainly not only financially, but also in terms of our communications out, they’re consistent, we know we can do better, which is what our center is for, is really to look at what have we accomplished and how can we do better and go from good to even the best that we can be so that our students are empowered for success.
[Lillian] That’s fantastic. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to tell us about it and this is really inspiring for other people who are in the center for teaching and learning or for administrators or others who are hoping to do this for their students, so I appreciate it.
[Bryan] Yeah, and I will just do a shout-out quickly to the entire team at the Center for Faculty Excellence, you’ve got to have the right people who are committed to the right things to get the right things done and they are a great team.
[Lillian] Oh, that’s great, thank you so much for talking with us!
[Bryan] Thank you!
[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 ThinkUDL.org 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 CollegeSTAR.org 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.