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UDL University with Nicole Brewer, Randy Laist, and Dana Sheehan

Welcome to Episode 82 of the Think UDL podcast: UDL University with Nicole Brewer, Randy Laist, and Dana Sheehan. Nicole Brewer is an Assistant Professor of Humanities and a Literacy Specialist at Ana Maria College in Massachusetts. Randy Laist is a Professor of English at Goodwin University and the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut. And, Dana Sheehan is an Assistant Professor of English and the Director of the Writing Center, also at Ana Maria College. This is my first podcast with three guests, and it is power packed with UDL ideas from their book UDL University: Designing for Variability Across the Curriculum. All three authors worked together at Goodwin University and through a great UDL initiative have incorporated UDL into their teaching. In this episode we talk about how UDL has transformed their teaching and hear several examples of how to leverage the diversity of learners for everyone’s gain. I also think it is a great encouragement to hear how UDL has been applied in a faculty learning community first, and then across the entire curriculum.Thank you for listening and a special thank you to the folks at the UDLHE Network for their financial support of the Think UDL podcast!


UDL University is available now through CAST and on Amazon where you can also download the Kindle version today!!


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 82 of the think UDL podcast you DL university with Nicole Brewer, Randy laced and Dana Sheehan. Nicole Brewer is an assistant professor of Humanities and a literacy specialist at Anna Maria College in Massachusetts. Randy laced is a professor of English at Goodwin University and the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut. And Dana Sheehan is an assistant professor of English and the director of the Writing Center also at Annamaria College. This is my first podcast with three guests and it is power packed with UDL ideas from their book UDL University designing for variability across the curriculum. All three authors work together at Goodwin University and through a great UDL initiative have incorporated UDL into their teaching. In this episode, we talk about how universal design for learning has transformed their teaching. And here are several examples of how to leverage the diversity of learners for everyone’s gain. I also think it is a great encouragement to hear how UDL has been applied in a faculty learning community first, and then across the entire curriculum. Thank you for listening, and a special thank you to the folks at the UDL H E Network. That’s universal design for learning in higher education for their financial support of the think UDL podcast. I’d like to welcome Dana and Randy and Nicole here for our think UDL Podcast. I’m very excited for your book, and very excited to talk about the many things that we can learn from it. But first, I’m going to ask each one of you the same question I asked all my guests, and that is what makes you a different kind of learner. And I will start here with Nicole.

Nicole Brewer  02:28

I think what makes me a different kind of learner, I need time to process things. So it takes me some time when like I need time to reflect when I’m learning. And I think sometimes that can be framed really positively. Someone can say oh, she’s really thoughtful. But other times I think it can be framed a little bit more negatively. Like she’s not contributing to this conversation, or she’s really shy or quiet. But it’s really just me taking time to process the information before I can respond. Oh, thank

Lillian Nave  03:01

you. That’s actually my favorite. I was just asked recently, my favorite UDL guideline, and mine is time for reflection and self assessment. So I’m totally in your camp Nicole. In next let me ask Dana, what makes you a different kind of learner?

Dana Sheehan  03:17

Well, I was thinking about how to answer this. And it’s really funny, because the first thing that came to my mind was just how much I hate lectures. I hate giving lectures, I hate listening to lectures, I fall asleep in lectures, and I like to sit in the front row, which always makes it a really good time when I’m dead asleep as my colleague is lecturing about something important. And I’m still holding the pen and writing and it’s, um, anyway. So that I believe makes me very different because I need the brakes and I need the activities and I need some visual stimulation.

Lillian Nave  03:53

Right. So you need to have some sort of active part of that.

Dana Sheehan  03:56

Yes, definitely. Shaking my head doesn’t really show.

Lillian Nave  04:02

That’s okay. You came up with the audio the the audio version, too. So that works. Nice. Okay. Yeah. Active learning huge part, I can see how UDL is already answering some of these questions. Okay. And let me ask you, Randy, what makes you a different kind of learner?

Randy Laist  04:19

Um, this is a great question. And I feel like I would answer it in different ways, depending on different moods that I might be in on different days. But to me today, the way that I answered this question is, it’s, I feel like I have a contrarian streak, where the best way to teach me something is to try to teach me the opposite of it. And then I’ll like, you know, reject what you’re trying to teach me and come up with my own response to it. I feel like my, the most impactful teachers in my life have been a teachers that I disagreed with passionately, and felt like, um, you know, I could, I wanted to say something in response to them. And I feel like that’s something that kind of motivates me as a learner.

Lillian Nave  04:58

Oh, great. That’s The emotional part of learning, right? He really he really want to have this conversation or an argument. And what what our listeners can’t see course because it’s a podcast is when each of you are speaking the other one is smiling all of your life. Oh my gosh, that’s so Randy, or Oh, my goodness. So Dana, I love it. This, this camaraderie to see all of you while we’re talking. And you’ve got so many wonderful things to say, and you’ve written it down. So that’s what I’m super excited about. And it’s all about universal design for learning. So I’ll start with Randy for my next question. And that is about UDL. How has UDL been helpful, or even essential in your teaching practice?

Randy Laist  05:45

Yeah. Well, this is a, as you said, that’s, we have this whole book, and it’s all about the that question. The It was wonderful to hear you talk about the camaraderie between Nicole and Dana and me because it’s true that that was sort of the the the, the the beginnings of the whole book was the conversations that we were having about UDL, and not only with each other, but with our other colleagues over at Goodwin University. And there’s this just really interesting story in the background of this book about how UDL came to Goodwin university through mostly the leadership of our Dean of Academic Affairs who had a child with special needs, who responded very positively in a elementary environment to UDL based interventions. And this Dean of Academic Affairs was so impressed by the value of UDL pedagogy, that she made a very intentional effort to introduce it, to Goodwin University. So over the course of several years, faculty members went through UDL based training, it was sort of like hosted and organized by a cast. And over the course of this process, we wound up having all of these conversations across the entire college from, you know, across different disciplines, and between adjuncts and full time faculty, and even staff members and administrators all talking together about how UDL could be implemented at this particular institution in a host of ways in ways that possibly even like sort of, like, you know, bend to the mold of what UDL you know, is typically thought of as producing so many different stories in so many different contexts with so many different instructors teaching so many different subjects, that we felt that if this is not just one story, it’s a whole like, you know, compendium of stories. So we It occurred to us that the best way to kind of talk about what UDL had meant to us was to tell our own stories and collect them in this volume that is now UDL University. And so what I would say I mean, more, you know, maybe we’ll talk later on about how we individually as instructors have interpreted UDL and implemented it and learned from it. But to me, one of the most amazing things about our story is the way that this teaching philosophy wound up transforming the entire culture of the institution where we all worked.

Lillian Nave  08:24

Wow. And I must say that I have gone to the UDL conferences up at Goodwin, it’s been a huge force for UDL in higher ed. And so when I heard that there was a book coming out of Cuba, and I thought, absolutely, that makes the most sense in the world, because it’s really one of the top colleges that has infused UDL, in everything that you guys have been doing and you know, starting really the first in person conferences, about UDL specifically for higher ed. So for that I’m really thankful that’s really given a lot to me for my podcast and for spreading the word. But but I know there’s more I want to hear everybody’s answer on this one. So Dana, will you pick it up here?

Dana Sheehan  09:09

But it’s it’s so interesting listening to Randy talk about kind of how I want to kind of talk about how UDL came to Goodwin because obviously that’s where and that’s where I’ve met all these wonderful people a time at you too at a conference and and so it’s it’s what I keep thinking about it, you know, that I’m at a different at a different school, about how much I do miss the amount of UDL that was surrounding me all the time when I was at Goodwin and just how everybody understood when I would talk about a goal I have for a classroom or an activity or whatever. But thinking about like how it’s essential for me aside from from Goodwin is I’m Nicola actually just told me we were in a meeting last week, and she told me just how obsessed I am with the word goal. And that is something that just came out of UDL totally came out of UDL, and I and I use it all the time I use it with my, with my all of my students with all my thoughts. And I use it with my husband and my dogs. And it just, it just goes everywhere but I am I’m fully obsessed with the goals and making goals and having goals and putting them in everything. And one of the things that I love is that it actually is helpful. It’s not just all about me this, the students truly appreciate these goals that I have all over the place. And I find that my classroom has has fully changed now that there is that that that word goal everywhere. And I’m hoping for a sweatshirt from Nicole for my birthday.

Lillian Nave  10:42

That’d be great. Yeah, it has stunning Universal Design for Learning to has made me understand how bad I was at setting goals for students before I came in contact with universal design for learning things like write this paper. And like that was the goal. Like there wasn’t, I barely had a goal as to what it was supposed to be about. And now I just want you to write this paper. And it’s really helped me to be a much better professor, for sure. So, Nicole, how about you?

Nicole Brewer  11:13

Well, I just want to echo you know, this whole idea of community and developing a community of practice. I think that’s essential, I think, you know, being at Goodwin, and you know, having that, that outlet and being together and talking about UDL was amazing. But for me and my practice. You know, I’m an educator, because I love social justice. I wanted to do social justice work. And so I think UDL is just a way for me to do that social justice work in higher ed, the the idea of applying UDL, and in higher ed atmosphere, I think is kind of a radical sort of social justice idea. To You know, before. I think historically, Higher Ed was this exclusive place, right? You know, only certain people are can excel in higher ed. And so when you put UDL in this higher ed atmosphere, you’re doing some radical social justice work by saying, not only are we opening the doors to more people, but we’re also saying, once you get here, we’re going to make this experience. And we’re going to change this environment so that you can be successful here. And so I am attracted to UDL. And I love UDL, because it just helps me it’s a wonderful tool to do that social justice work.

Lillian Nave  12:41

Yeah, absolutely. I’ve seen how when we apply universal design for learning principles, we are equipping those students to be successful. And we hadn’t been doing that before. It was kind of an exclusive club. And now we’re saying Wait, who are we even serving? We need to be serving all of the students that walk through the doors not just or, or sign on via zoom, right? No, we don’t have doors anymore for a lot of our classrooms. Yeah, and, and be able to support those students and make learning successful. And that just kind of wasn’t baked into the curriculum before. It was a lot of weed out classes, and you don’t belong here messages. And I really love that UDL is changing the way we think about what an education should be. So thank you so much, Nicole for that. Okay, so why then did you decide to create this book, you were having a lot of fun with UDL and had great camaraderie, a wonderful community of practice. And so you decided to write this book. Dana, let me start with you. Well, I you know,

Dana Sheehan  13:56

it’s so interesting to think about this. So it really kind of goes back to, I forget the year, but it goes back to UDL Cohort One, when Randy and I were eating lunch together at the table listening to the lectures, and it was the first obviously, the first cohort, we all had no idea what was happening. But we were like, We’re gonna eat lunch together, we’re gonna rewrite a course together, and it’s going to be grand. And so Randy, and I ended up collaborating on creating a course. And I just, I just had, it was just so much fun. I just, I just remember how much we laughed and how we would go off on tangents about cheese and unicorns and remember, Randy, and it was just so much fun. We just and but good things were coming out of it because we were using all of these tools that were like, I kind of knew this a little bit, but now I understand more of the science behind it. And we just it was just fun. It’s just the way I thought life should be every day all the time. And then it ended. And it all ended. And I never saw Randy except at English department meetings. And then I was like, this isn’t fun anymore. I mean, it’s fun alone. But and so then Randy, I’ll have you take over because then we kind of talked for a while back and forth, I think for like two years about like, we should do something about this. I’m missing out. And then ready to take over? Yeah, well, I

Randy Laist  15:28

mean, Dana, I feel the same way. You know, we had, you know, just I think, to me, I think one of the most valuable things about UDL has simply been that it’s given us all, you know, a reason to talk to one another about what we do in the classroom. And to go back to what Nicole was saying about sort of the exclusionary, you know, element in higher education. I don’t feel like this, you know, there’s this sense that a lot of times in higher ed institutions that everybody’s in their own, you know, sort of environment, everybody’s siloed, up in their departments or in their classrooms. And we wanted to, you know, one of the things that this UDL project and training and implementation allowed us to do was to talk across disciplines and across classrooms, and to have the kinds of conversations that Dana’s describing. And when it comes to writing the book, I think one of the things that we wanted to do was to open up that conversation beyond the walls of our own institution, and engage the higher education industry more broadly. You know, as Nicole was saying, you know, like, a lot of like, you know, higher educational traditions are rooted in sometimes centuries, or even millennia old practices that are really invented for the purpose of social gatekeeping. And, you know, social status maintaining, and perpetuation. And that’s not, you know, that’s, you know, that time has come and gone, like, it’s already, you know, because of the pandemic and just the, you know, the way that generation Z processes information, that old model is simply not viable anymore. It’s there has to be a new way. There has to be that has to be the future of higher education. And so, it occurred to us, I think, while we were having these conversations that these conversations are the future of what higher education looks like. And so by putting these stories together, we try to communicate, not just like, you know, what these individual instructors did, but an entire way of rethinking what the higher education classroom looks like.

Lillian Nave  17:33

That’s great. Oh, and you have so many things to share about it. And this great community, I felt it when I was there, and and learning about Goodwin, how, as a university, you accept all students, like, you’re going to take every student who wants an education, there’s no luck, you’ve got to make a certain GPA or a certain entrance exam. And I was absolutely floored by that. And you’re taking the students and believing in them, and equipping them through the curriculum

Randy Laist  18:09

there. Well, that’s one of the reasons why, like, you know why good way, like Goodwin was a particularly perfect laboratory for establishing UDL and trying to think about how it works in higher ed, because it is a place you know, it’s open enrollment, meaning anybody can can sign up. And once they’re there, our entire goal is to try to like, find out where they’re coming from, figure out who they are, and what motivates them and what they want, what their goals are, and try to figure out like how we can work with them. So he’s always the Goodwin model has always been, you know, very student centered and very based on like, the practical question of how to get the student to achieve the goals that we set out for them. And, you know, again, it’s just sort of like, took fire and Goodwin University sort of transformed the way we talk about teaching. And now, like I say, you know, for, you know, all three of us are working in sort of more traditional higher ed environments right now. Dana and Nicola Anna Maria college and me at the University of Bridgeport. And I think for all three of us, we have recognized that we, you know, we all want to do something to help like, sort of replicate that Goodwin phenomenon at these other more traditional institutions in ways that kind of like build, get take the best of both and have like the, you know, something that these traditional institutions have to offer, but also something like, you know, the innovation and, and problem solving spirit of the way that we’ve implemented UDL and Goodwin.

Lillian Nave  19:36

That’s fantastic. It’s, I can see it in all the things that you’re doing. You’ve been doing it for several years, and really like, proselytizing, like telling everybody the good news about Goodwin. It’s been so successful. So that’s why I’m very excited about the wealth of information from all of the chapters that are coming out in this book. And so I wanted to ask Nicole About this one, and that is what sorts of topics then are covered in this book, because you’ve got quite a lot.

Nicole Brewer  20:08

Yes, we really do. I think, you know, what, one of the things that I think makes the book kind of unique is that we’re talking about various perspectives and subjects, right, we’ve got faculty who are teaching all sorts of subjects and have different expertise. So you know, we’ve got the sciences and the humanities. You know, we have people talking about composition. We have folks who are talking about graduate education, early childhood, even welding. So you can see UDL being used in all of these different contexts, which I think is amazing, if I don’t say so for myself. And then I also think the book also demonstrates using technology as well, you know, so for those of you who want to use new tech, that’s great. Or if you’re more like a hands on person, and you’re not, you’re maybe you’re a little afraid of tech, you have other ways that you can use UDL. And I also think there’s like this relational piece, also, that, that the book gives us building relationships, as we talked about a community of practice as well. So, you know, the book also has a little bit of our stories as contributors, you know, how did we get into higher ed? And how did we start implementing UDL? Why it’s important to us, and so you can see that as well. And I, you know, have all of those aspects. For, folks.

Lillian Nave  21:35

That’s great. Dana, you had something to add.

Dana Sheehan  21:37

I just wanted to add that it was interesting when we were when the three of us were first putting this together. And we were sending it out to like on mass to see who would want to contribute to the book. And I remember when we were like, We’re gonna send this out, and we don’t know what we’ll get. And we’re like, well, we’re hoping we get at least four. Because there’s us, and then maybe that would be okay. But the response that we got was so magical, because it worked out in a way that we actually had so many different types of people respond to us and all the different departments. That it was, it was really, we felt like, Oh, this is a really good idea, because people are so interested in sharing their stories. And in even, and it wasn’t just coming because we’re three English professors here. And so we weren’t sure what was going to happen because we you know, give us an idea, and we’ll write for days. But we actually, it was just it was, I would honestly, it was a really fun experience I had, I had no idea that we would get such a good reaction. And then even now, the fact that you wanted us to be a part of this is like just another further reinforcement that like, this was a good idea. We had a good idea, guys.

Lillian Nave  22:57

Absolutely. You have a great idea. Yeah, Randy.

Randy Laist  23:01

So I just want to kind of point out that one of the interesting things about this book is that it’s all you know, not only are there all these different disciplines represented, and all these different sort of stages of the of the college career of one’s college career is kind of represented in the book. But also the voices of the individual contributors are very diverse. And the book itself is not like a wonky, UDL, research analysis kind of thing. It’s these very human stories, and every chapter is prefaced by a first person disk description by the contributor of how they got to higher ed, you hear their stories before their personal stories before you actually hear their UDL stories. And the point of that is that all of these different diverse voices, all these different diverse, like, you know, contributors coming up with their produce particular stories about what they were doing. They’re all rooted in these basic like, you know, the human variety of not only the students, but also the instructors. And we that’s something we wanted to capture in the book, not just to kind of like go through the, the, you know, the chapter and verse about UDL principles and guidelines and everything, but really just show how human beings, the students, and the instructors felt that their entire experience in the classroom was transformed when they started to think about UDL based pedagogy.

Lillian Nave  24:29

Absolutely, you know, and as you know, every time I talk to somebody, I asked them about their own personal learning journey, like, what makes you different, because that’s like, the essential thing about UDL is recognizing learner variability, recognizing that everybody learns differently, that we’ve got our own strengths, our own differences, and that is, that has been the most powerful in all of the people who I’ve talked to. I’ve talked to over 80 people on the podcast It’s been that recognition of that really emotional and personal connection that drives so much of this research so much of this fervor this, you know, real interest in connecting with our students. And I really appreciate that part that you’ve added that or or kind of baked that in to the the book itself is you’re learning about the the differences, the diversity of your faculty. So I get a lot of questions too about okay, well, that sounds great in the humanities, but what about biology? Right? What about nursing? What about these hard sciences? What about I love Nicole’s at welding? You know, what about these things? That, that you would seem have to have very little different ways of teaching, we think, and it turns out, they all can be improved by Universal Design for Learning. And so I’d love the structure that you have in the book. So I feel like there’s something for anybody in any department at any university, whether you’re a community college, a four year degree, you’re working in the graduate school, you’re going to find that there are colleagues who have paved a way before you to kind of help you understand how UDL can, first of all, make your teaching life easier and better and better for your students. So I’m super excited. So okay, so we’ve kind of got the the grand idea about the different topics that you’re covering. And there are so many great chapters in the book, I won’t ask you to pick your favorite, but I will ask you to tell me about your own. Whether or not that’s your favorite. We don’t want to alienate anybody. I wanted to find out what your chapter was about what give our listeners a sense of what these chapters are. And I’ll start this one with Dana, if you can tell us a little bit about your chapter.

Dana Sheehan  26:53

So well, my chapter is all about me. No kidding. the about me section of my, my chapter is all about the introductory paragraph. So it’s about research essays and, and writing the introductory paragraph and I just talked about how people hate writing it. Students hate writing it I feel sometimes that professors even hate any academic people hate writing, Lillian nave hates writing the introductory paragraph. True. So I, so I kind of, you know, break down on different ways, like I have a, I have this just this way that I have liked to to have the students do it has, I have like 1 million activities that I fit into 90 minutes. And just kidding, but there’s just 100,000. And I don’t want to break down too much, because I want people to read my chapter for the first time and be excited about it. But I do break it down in like a very visual, an audit a visual way and auditory way. Like I bring in television to help the students who love television, and I bring in podcasts because I love podcasts. And so and then I also do bring it back to the writing because there is still the the students that love to read the to love to do things that the way that that we were taught in the caveman ages to read and write on chalkboards and rocks. So I tried to use as many different ways as possible, so that all of the students who wouldn’t necessarily like that basic lecture, writing down all of the different terminology that you need to include in an introductory paragraph, I find that that obviously, I would have fallen asleep five minutes in. So they, they need that, to see it in a different way. So I break it down in all these different ways, and, and then give them a bunch of different activities. So one of my favorite ones, which is how I got started with this because I was watching television one night, and I am like I love true crime, but I also love National Geographic shows. And so I was kind of flipping through all of them. And then I realized, as I keep rewinding the first five minutes of the beginning of the true crime show and my husband’s like, yeah, we’ve watched this person die like three times they know where you’re going with this. And I’m like, wait, and then stop it. And I turn to like National Geographic. And, and I start watching it and he’s like, yes, Dana, we’ve watched this draft walking for like, a few minutes. Now. What are you doing? And I’m like, No, this is really important. Do you see the difference? And he’s like, oh, there we go. To class so I so I started breaking down like the beginnings of a couple of different kinds of television shows to show the difference like watch the beginning of the of the news, and you see how they give you a summary. Watch the beginning of a crime show and you actually see someone being murdered or you watch the beginning of National Geographic And you get to see like colors and just visual stimulation and, and so then I kind of break it down that way and say, here’s three different ways that you can start a show. But if you use these the terminology of a visual, or description, or a summary, those things you use in an essay. So isn’t that interesting? Yeah. Thank you for your mandatory. Yes,

Lillian Nave  30:25

yes, it is. You’re making it so interesting for your students, and you’re making it come alive in ways that they didn’t realize, oh, somebody actually had to kind of come up with an introductory paragraph for this true crime show, somebody had to write that somebody had to direct that. And we’re very, you know, our students are, and we’re used to being consumers, but it’s a big leap to become the creator. And that’s what you’re helping them to be. And we thank you for that.

Dana Sheehan  30:52

Yes, I love it. And it changes every time because I try to update the, just the ideas for it. So when podcasts started becoming huge, such as thinking do, I, I started incorporating that too. So that that took away from the auditory, like the visual aspect and made it more just auditory. So it made it anyway, it just keeps evolving into other things, but I just try to, you know, bring more students along for the ride with me.

Lillian Nave  31:23

Yeah, that’s fantastic. Because I must say that when we do these things, even as professors over and over again, it gets boring, and, and trying to liven up our teaching. And of course, if we’re bored, our students are going to be bored. And there goes that engagement piece. So anyways, that we can, you know, make it relevant to their lives, right, have authentic connections, these are all Universal Design for Learning principles that you’re baking into your course. That’s what I love about whenever I talk to you, you’re so excited about these things. And to hear how you have translated that for your students, I think it’s really helpful for others to listen to you to find out about and it inspires. I think it inspires me to think, wow, I really could redo the same kind of mini lecture I’ve given or think of different examples or update them. Because I’ve got new students, and they come from a different generation. And I used to always use the Brady Bunch theme song for one of my ideas. And guess what, they don’t know what that is. So

Dana Sheehan  32:34

I just had that similar thing happened yesterday in my class, because I made a Jeopardy game for like a live action Jeopardy game for MLA format. Because everybody loves formatting that’s exciting. It’s like, you know, going skiing. So but they all had never seen Jeopardy before. So they didn’t get it. And they didn’t understand that like the musical interlude for the time, like these things that we know in our sleep. They had no idea. So I had to like stop, find a clip. This is Alex like me. But yes, it’s so funny to see how it changes. But they still had a good time. But it was. But I had that moment. Like that jarring moment of being like, it’s over game shows change.

Lillian Nave  33:21

Yeah, totally. It’s all reality right now. Yeah, yeah. But that is one of the things that I’ve noticed a lot about universal design is it gives me this lens where I have to think, Alright, this is my context. But what about my students context? And I hadn’t thought about that before. I think that’s what a lot of that gatekeeping that Nicole and Randy have talked about, too, is like, this is the way it’s always been done. And then we’ve got this new group of students, and it’s not the way they’ve done it. And so at least we need to scaffold these things and give them an introduction. Well, what is jeopardy if we’re going to play this Jeopardy game, we need to explain it. But there’s so much about Universal Design for Learning where we have to say, here’s like, here are terms here are, you know, and the definitions and here’s what I mean, when I say this, that we need to identify, you know, our language and our symbols, and all these things that help our students to understand what they’re supposed to do, rather than providing barriers to their learning, because we haven’t explained our terms or what our goal is, and what they’re supposed to get out of it. And that’s why I think these chapters are so very helpful is that we’re kind of breaking down teaching and while you’re doing it, and it just makes for a much better experience, Dana, that’s what I love about your just your enthusiasm as you’re always sharing it with your students. And I’ve known that for years about you, so I appreciate that.

Dana Sheehan  34:47

And here’s to come.

Lillian Nave  34:49

Yes, exactly. So, alright, well, Randy, tell me about your chapter that you’ve included in UDL University.

Randy Laist  34:57

We’re like Dana, I’m also writing teacher So, my chapter is about the composition classroom. And my story starts with a student that actually Dana and Nicole and I have had all had at a at a good one. I call him Zeke in the chapter, he self identifies as neurotypical. And he’s brilliant and wonderful and sort of a polymath in so many different ways. And I was, you know, very excited about the opportunity to try to work with this student and try to like, build his voice and develop a portfolio of writing. And the, you know, that we had a lot of different interesting learning opportunities along the way. But the chapter that, that I wrote up for the book involves one particular aspect of this composition classroom, the annotated bibliography. And when I was an undergraduate, I often would write these annotated bibliographies, that I found very helpful to me, and as a way of like, sort of pulling together large bodies of information and trying to get some mastery over, like, you know, the research that I was doing. And I have been assigning it to my undergrads for, you know, many years. And some, some undergrads, really, you know, love the annotated bibliography, and some undergrads don’t really love it, but I knew right away going into this class Zeek would like, you know, struggle with this, because it was very structured and involved a lot of like, you know, the kind of thinking that he doesn’t really feel like he wants to do so. But, you know, so Zeke was one student out of, you know, several in this class. But then I realized, as I was kind of thinking about, well, how can I get Zeke to do research and, and, and present research and synthesize research sources in a way that will be more like, you know, true to his own way of thinking. And as I was, as Zeke and I kind of talked through that question, with each other, we actually wound up involving the rest of the class in the conversation too. And it turns out that the other students who maybe are newer, a typical or whatever, and also, you know, had interesting ideas about how the Annotated Bibliography Assignment could be modified and diversified and sort of finessed in a way that would allow students to have a little more freedom, not only with how they presented their response to their research, but also in terms of the kinds of research sources that they were wound up consulting. So the typical traditional annotated bibliography is a pretty rigorous and codified way of talking about like, you know, typical research sources usually like our journal articles. But as we started to think about different ways of doing this research phase of our writing project, we wound up, you know, basically turning it into kind of a show Intel sort of assignment where students would go out and find interesting sources of information about the topics that they were writing about, and bring them into the classroom, summarize them, evaluate them, and do all the kinds of work that an annotated bibliography does only instead of doing it in this kind of rigid, codified text based way, they were doing it in this kind of oral multimedia way that allowed them not only to kind of get more engaged in what they were doing, but also to get a lot more feedback and make it much more interactive. So the different students could, could respond to one another about the sources and about how they were responding to sources. And it turns out, Zeke really did wind up thriving in this environment, he was able to, like, you know, work with his colleagues to use his own research expertise to suggest, you know, other sources that they might consult or different ways of thinking about the research sources that they were talking about. And he himself also wound up, you know, doing a really interesting presentation about, you know, his own his own way of gathering information about the topic that he was writing about. And it was a wonderful illustration of the UDL principle that what is good for some is good for all in the sense that I was thinking specifically about this one student with kind of these, you know, a sort of portfolio of special needs. But when the entire class got involved in the conversation, we wound up really sort of reinventing an assignment that like I say, I’ve been doing for, you know, decades. And now I will never do it the same way again.

Lillian Nave  39:27

Wow. Okay, so now I’m rethinking my Annotated Bibliography Assignment, which I realize now is done in isolation, that they, you’ve got to go and do this, you got to go find the stuff at the library or through the library database, which is very intimidating, especially to first year students. And then they’ve got to kind of write it down without much feedback before they turn it in. And now you’ve made it into a real social opportunity. It’s community based. Wow, that’s a lot more interaction than I’ve ever seen in an annotated bibliography. Okay, so and that’s amazing. Wow, how and so have you continued to use this assignment all the time now or every semester?

Randy Laist  40:08

Well, you know, again, I sort of like mix it up, I feel like different students, different classrooms, different groups of students, you know, have like their own dynamics. And I’m always trying to be sensitive to that context online, and you know, unground classes, hybrid classes, different kinds of things. But it’s definitely I mean, I have, you know, whenever I am doing a research unit with students, I’m always thinking about, not just like, following the rules of the annotated bibliography is it’s been passed down through generations, or whatever, but trying to think about how what we can do to really make, you know, this research meaningful and to give students a chance to talk through the kinds of things that they’re reading about in their research, rather than just like you say, like, you know, writing it up in isolation, to actually have opportunities to bounce ideas off of one another, and to get feedback and support from community of learners.

Lillian Nave  40:59

Oh, my goodness, that sounds so much more fun than assign my students. This is what’s great about my podcast is now I get lots of great ideas from everybody I interview. So thank you, Randy. Nicole, you also have a chapter in here. Can you tell us about your chapter as well?

Nicole Brewer  41:17

Sure. Well, you know, I already talked about how much I love social justice work. So my chapter is a little bit about about that, and, you know, UDL and social justice. But what I explored, my chapter is the research assignment, like it i, it’s a capstone course, and a professional studies program. And the students have to complete this final project, in which they, you know, research a problem in their field or in their community, and then they come up with a solution for that. And that really comes out of my whole love of social justice. Because, you know, when I was studying, you know, social justice in my master’s program, I loved everything that we discussed, and it was so excited about learning about all of these different things. And then I would say, Okay, now that we know all of this, what can I do with that I was so excited to go out into the, you know, the world and do something. And that was just not what the program was about. Everyone wanted to sit around the table and just talk about these things. But no one talked about what what are we going to do with that information. And so this, you know, this capstone project was really about, let’s find a solution and to make it more relevant for the students, like we’re actually doing something and we have in, we’re empowered, but, you know, I’m also thinking about, you know, but they’re doing this traditional research paper, and they’re presenting it in this traditional way. So it’s also the question, you know, I’ve always asked myself, because I have a writing background and, you know, teaching composition as well, does it always have to be an essay? And for this, it’s like, does it always have to be a PowerPoint presentation? Right, you know, they have to present the research after they do it. So can we present it in some other meaningful way. And so my chapter is really about allowing students to present that information in a way that is relevant to the topic that they’re, that they choose, and to the audience for that topic. So in my chapter, I talk about a student who did this brilliant work, volunteer firefighter, and she wanted in her research would have been best presented, actually, to fellow firefighters. And she didn’t get that opportunity because of the way that the course was set up. So my experience working with her really had me think, gosh, we can do this much differently. And students can be creative in this way. I think the last time I gave this assignment and students were presenting it, I actually had a student who created a cartoon, a political cartoon, as a way to present his research. So it just gives students a many more options. And it really makes it more meaningful for them and more relevant to what they’re doing.

Lillian Nave  44:18

Right? You’re aligning that process with what the goal is, it seems like Where would that most, be most effective. And I’ve found that with my students to I have been opened up by Universal Design for Learning. Whereas I used to think, as an art historian, it had to be a lot of writing and a lot of analysis and also a lot of memorization. And when I kind of was let go to explore a lot more creative paths because of Universal Design for Learning. I’m finding that I’m asking students to draw things to create Cartoons. To make a concept map to answer with video clips and or drawings of icebergs or onions, all these different things that honestly, I would have probably looked down upon, if I were, you know, given that assignment in college, or grad graduate school, but I’m seeing how fruitful it is, how interesting it is, how engaging it is, and how different that is helping my students to think differently, which is like the whole point of the class is to try to think differently. And I don’t think I would have done it without UDL guidelines, saying, Hey, this is actually really helpful for your students, this is really going to help them to get the information rather than sticking with these kind of old ways of doing things that’s always been in the system or why we’ve had to do them. So I’m, that’s sounds like a fantastic chapter in way to include all of your students and their strengths and really highlight that learner variability. So thank you.

Dana Sheehan  46:07

One thing too, alongside with what Nicole her chapter her asked her wonderful chapters, I know that student that she was talking about with the I think I know who that student is, and, but he is a cartoonist in his life and like, so knowing that the project that she did for him, or that he created for his education, is something that he also has now brought into his real life. So isn’t that the point of college is to be able to bring all of this into your life? And I just, I just think it’s so amazing. You don’t think about when we were like, well, they’re gonna write an essay? And what’s the what there’s, we don’t worry about the goals. They’re just they have to write an essay, right? Like, how do they bring that with them to like, the grocery store, or you know, the mall, or their children. So it’s just so wonderful, UDL is just wonderful.

Nicole Brewer  47:00

I’m just thinking, you know, especially with what Dana is saying is that students are communicating in such different ways. Now, you know, it’s not just an essay, we are writing, we are tweeting, we’re using Instagram, right, we’re podcasting. And so students, the world is different. And we’re going to have to adjust with the way that the world is working. And I think UDL opens that up for us. And if we can, if we as instructors, and professors can start to move and adjust with the world, and we can change higher education to move and adjust with that we’re serving our students better, especially when they go out into the world, and, you know, start doing what they want to do.

Lillian Nave  47:44

Yeah, and there are so many jobs now that did not exist when I was in college, you know, social media marketer, that didn’t, that wasn’t a thing. You know, there are so many different professions now that we, that that we are still teaching skills for. But we need to broaden what that communication means. And it’s not just the old ways of communicating in an academic setting. And that used to be it, you’re pretty much just writing academic papers for other academics. And not everybody is going to leave academia to come back and be a professor, right, there’s, in fact, a huge majority of our students never will go back. And that’s great, because they’re going out and creating their own livelihoods. And what I love about each one of your chapters, as you’ve described them, is that not only are you recognizing that your learners are different, and providing options and opportunities for your learners to succeed in the class. But you’re harnessing or leveraging that diversity, to make the class experience better. So it’s not just saying, all right, everybody’s different, isn’t that great? You’re saying, we need all of these differences to help us learn more to understand how a cartoon can can fulfill this assignment, or, or a PowerPoint or a, you know, small group presentation or whatever, you know, different ways you’ve come about? To answer this question. learning from each other from the other students has made it a better, more successful class, because you’ve let your students kind of take the lead in some of those ways because they’re showing off what they’re good at, or what their passion is, or what their experience is. And that’s, that’s so much what I love about Universal Design for Learning is it creates these pathways for students to show their, their own excellent selves. And, and it teaches me teaches the other students and it makes this really great, kind of a great experience that is more than the sum of its parts. Like all it’s not just these, okay, I’ll take a, b and c. These people here But when you put all of them together, it makes this incredible experience. And you’re like, wow, I didn’t even I didn’t even think about that. How cool is that that happens to me a lot is when my students are like, well, could I do this? Yeah, that sounds better than what I could come up with. So much better, then because you’ve designed for that variability. And you’re leveraging that. And I think that again, that’s what I love about universal design for learning and what we can learn from this book. Okay, so sounds like we have lots of things that we can read lots of different in class activities, technical writing, all different kinds of ways to infuse universal design for learning in our classes, and Randian. This next question is for you. So we’ve got this book. Now, who should read this book? Who’s the intended audience? Why? What? What would you say?

Randy Laist  50:54

Well, obviously, the the primary audience for the book is people teaching or working in higher ed, specifically, you know, faculty members, who are looking for new ideas and inspiration to enliven their teaching and their whole classroom experience. You know, some Sometimes faculty talk about they feel burned out, you know, you burn out among faculty, like, to me, this is like, so weird when a faculty member tells me that they feel burned out, because this is like, you know, how could you feel burned out, when you always have new students and new things to learn and new experiments to try a new adventures and pedagogy to discover? You know, I feel like, you know, any instructor who’s looking who’s feeling like, you know, they’re scraping the bottom of the barrel, or they’re just like, going from day to day, read this book, and discover all the new possibilities that are in front of you and available to you every day in the classroom. So that’s the primary audience. But of course, also, you know, anyone who works in higher ed, administrators, you know, and people like that, you know, staff people, I don’t want people to think about higher ed stuff. But also, I just say, like, anybody, if you’re a student, or if you’re like, any human being on planet Earth, this book is just written in a way that makes it accessible. It’s not technical, it’s not like, you know, theoretical, it’s human, it’s about stories, people’s, you know, experiences, the way that they’ve solved problems, that the way that they’ve thought about, you know, what’s important in education and in life. And so really, you know, it makes a great Christmas stocking stuffer, you can, pretty much anyone can enjoy this book and get a lot of a lot out

Dana Sheehan  52:39

of it, that you have to remember to there’s also the about the author section, I forget what it’s actually called, but they, but they it’s there’s this whole little memoir piece to it, where we all talk about how we got to where we were. And so, I mean, that’s the sections that my mom really likes to read. So don’t forget, everybody’s moms should be getting to.

Lillian Nave  53:03

Yes. And you know, that’s, those are the books that I like to read now. And I remember it being it being beat out of me never to use AI, or you never use first person when you’re writing, that’s just not acceptable. And I tell you what, these are the books that I’m reading. And I, when I started looking at all this faculty development, and we hear the voice of the the faculty, and we understand, Okay, why they have a connection to this. That’s what made it really interesting to me, rather than some sort of P value, or, you know, here’s here are the stats mean, yes, that’s super useful. Oh, my goodness, I’m gonna get in trouble for saying that. Super useful. But I must say what I find most relatable. And what I can then put into practice, is when I see that somebody had a problem, like people aren’t engaged in this, or they’re not really successful in the goals of this assignment. And so I want to figure out how I can help fix this problem and apply universal design for learning to it, oh, maybe we need to look at it with several different strategies, or maybe I need to really concentrate on what are my goals, really, because we’re getting a whole bunch of goals that we’re not, we’re not part of what I thought this was, this was an assignment. And then working through that has really been what’s helpful to me saying, Oh, I, I think I know what I can do about this module in my class that hasn’t been going well, I can try to, to kind of do what she did in her class or now I’m going to redo my annotated bibliography thanks to Randy. That is a lot more social than than what it was before because that is the problem in my class people have a lot of they actually it’s a lot of executive functioning about. They don’t want to do it and then it gets pushed off and even though I have some several deadlines for that I think if they had someone to talk to, that would be a much better solution. So that’s I love that you have that the part about what brings each of you into it, and then some really helpful of stories that tell us how you were able to accomplish it. So okay, so let’s say, I’m one of those humans on the planet Earth that Randy mentioned, that should get this book. Where am I going to find it? What should I do if I want to get this book?

Dana Sheehan  55:32

Well, one of the great things that you can always call my mom, she has a large she took Randy’s advice a while back and said Christmas present. It’s a it’s a really nice blue color.

Lillian Nave  55:47

isn’t going to all of your relatives? Yeah, yes.

Dana Sheehan  55:50

They’re like, we don’t know what this means. But I really liked that Dana mentioned her grandma, and her age, right here. But you can also truly if you don’t know how to get in touch with my mother, you can really find it on Amazon, which I thought was amazing. When I saw our names on Amazon, I was like

Lillian Nave  56:12

we’ve made it. Yeah, absolutely.

Dana Sheehan  56:15

You can also buy it through cast publishing, they have a link on their website as well, to purchase it there. They also said that you can buy in bulk. So if you are listening, or you know someone who owns a college or runs a couple of fun. They can, they can buy it for for classes. So they have a bulk discount, which is you know, I’m pretty sure my mom took the bulk discount. But it’s really great. Like we’ve put ours in our library, I feel like colleges will like libraries should probably get them. So I know two libraries that have them currently, maybe three. So Anna Maria Goodwin, you. Yeah, University of Bridgeport. Like going for a drive you people. That will work.

Lillian Nave  57:11

Yeah. And it’s quite affordable. When I had a chapter in a book. I only bought one copy. And it was for my mother for Christmas. And it was 100 and some dollars, and that’s with the discount, and no, no, no, this is affordable. Yeah, like

Dana Sheehan  57:26

33 or something, I think I’m not sure. I don’t know what the discount will bring it down to.

Lillian Nave  57:31

But it’s what is great is to read it in community too. So this would be a great thing for faculty learning communities to get and to discuss a chapter or something like that, or, or everybody could kind of choose the the chapter that would relate most to them and, and have some discussions to create the kind of community that you have a good one. And that has really changed or transformed the way Goodwin has worked. And I know you’ve taken it on into your next colleges where you’ve moved moved on. And so it’s I have really enjoyed working every time I’ve had a chance to work with my Goodwin College faculty. It has been quite inspirational. You guys are totally on fire for universal design for learning because it’s really transformed so many students and what a great culture as Randy mentioned, to have it at Goodwin, I think it’s fantastic, especially for community colleges. Because those are the frontlines where we see a wide diversity of students that are coming back non traditional, that are working full time. That’s where UDL makes a huge difference. I think our when we have that wide diversity of students. And so anywhere along that in, in dual enrollment programs and community colleges and Master’s universities in our ones, all of those anyone who teaches I think can can learn a lot from this book. So thank you. Wow, we have done it. We have hopefully gone through this whole book, and given folks a good idea about what they can learn from UDL University designing for variability across the curriculum. So I just want to say thank you. Thank you, Dana. Thank you, Randy. Thank you, Nicole, for talking to me on the think UDL podcast.

Dana Sheehan  59:24

Thank you so

Lillian Nave  59:25

much for having us.

Nicole Brewer  59:26

Thank you.

Randy Laist  59:27

And thank you Lillian for having us on the show.

Lillian Nave  59:41

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 in Appalachia. 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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