Universal Design for Learning in Service Statistics Courses – Part 1: Representation

by Megan Mocko

A few years ago, if you had asked me about Universal Design for Learning, I would have said Universal Design for Learning is just captioning videos. Although this is important, it did not make the light bulb in my head start flashing with excitement. However, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is much more than just captioning. UDL is a framework for embracing variability in how our students learn. As statisticians, I think we should feel our hearts swell just a little about acknowledging variability in how our students learn. Due to the pandemic, we may see even more diversity in our students. In an article about applying universal design to a course at Harvard, Rose et al. state, “There is no one means of engaging students that will be optimal across the diversity that exists” (2006, p. 137). This concept immediately made sense to me; there was no one perfect method to teach all students. Including alternate paths to engage, learn, and show how you have learned the same learning objectives was the crux of UDL. These elements of choice are an intentional part of the course design, not an afterthought.

In this three-part blog post, I will answer two questions:

  1. What is the framework of UDL?
  2. How did I apply this framework to my graduate-level service courses?

Universal Design for Learning can be broken down into three guidelines that relate to three areas of the brain. These brain areas are connected to representation, engagement, action, and expression (Meyer, A. et al., 2014). For more information on the guidelines, see www.cast.org.

Representation

In this blog post, I will concentrate on the guideline for representation, which is primarily processed in the back portion of our brains. UDL encourages instructors to provide multiple ways for students to receive the information. There are twelve checkpoints for this principle, but I am going to focus on two of them: “Illustrate through multiple media” and “Clarify vocabulary and symbols” (Meyer et al., 2014, p. 99).

Multiple Media

Rose et al. (2006) give students a choice between two textbooks that have heavily overlapping material. One of the textbooks was more graphic and image-heavy, whereas the other relied more on text. Students were able to pick which one met their needs. 

In my graduate-level service courses, I teach using a flipped format. Hence, the students need to actively engage with the material before class, as defined by Robert Talbert (2017, pg. 20). The students have a choice to determine how they will engage with the material. In this class, the students can either read a chapter from Introduction to Modern Statistics by Cetinkaya-Rundel and Hardin (2021) or watch a series of instructional videos I created. 

Some students are initially a little unsettled by this choice in how they start learning the material because most students have spent almost 16 years in the education system in which they had no choice. They are worried that there will not be a perfect overlap between the two media and that they will need to complete both. One way that I reassure them is by stressing that we are concentrating on the learning objectives. They should keep the learning objectives in mind while reading the material or watching the videos in class. Either method will help them learn these learning objectives. I tell students they can choose either way that works for them that day. Multiple options allow students to choose the learning method they believe works best for them. It will enable them to practice using both methods for different material sets and see what works best. This preparation helps them to become self-regulated learners. 

As just one example in my life where this flexibility has helped me out, I was taking an online professional development course this summer and one of my cats ate an ice cream wrapper (we think). I then spent the next 8 hours waiting at the emergency vet. However, I also needed to watch several sets of videos for the course. Thankfully, the instructor had posted video transcriptions in the course, so I read the transcriptions instead. At the end of the day, I finished the work for the professional development course (and our cat was okay). Instructors are not the only ones with these life events where flexibility in learning the material can prove very advantageous.

Another area in which students receive the material is during class time. Rose et al. (2006) describe several strategies for receiving information in a lecture-style class. First, they suggest recording the lecture so it can be reviewed at any time. Additionally, each class has six selected notetakers whose notes are shared with the class. The authors mention that the posted notes are more popular than the videos and highlight how differently students organize information. 

In the graduate-level courses that I teach, after an opportunity for question and answer and an example, the students spend the rest of the class working in pairs on multiple-choice and open-ended questions via a collaborative worksheet activity. The multiple-choice questions help the students discuss some concepts first before diving into the whole problem. The open-ended questions involve a problem for the students to solve using the investigative process (PPDAC – Problem, Plan, Data, Analysis, and Conclusion). I upload the activity as a Google document and curate final answers based on the student’s responses in the document. This method ensures the students have the answers and are not required to take notes. Some students do create their own notes as they feel that they learn better that way, but others have the opportunity to concentrate on the material without having to make notes. They have a choice!

Vocabulary and Symbols

Another method that I use to encourage multiple means of representation is to have a glossary of terms and symbols in the course. I have a glossary on a Google site (Google’s website developer program) for easy maintenance. I then encourage students to complete a form for additional words or symbols for addition to the glossary. The glossary is typically used the most during the first few weeks of the semester, and I only get a few requests for additions during this time. However, this is also the portion of the semester when a few students are apprehensive about the vocabulary. I hope that you might be intrigued about what you can do in your courses concerning representation. In their book, Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone, Tobin and Behling (2018) give recommendations on where to get started in the process of UDL. They recommend selecting a content area in which students typically struggle and then adding one additional choice, perhaps adding different modes for a review for an exam.


Contributing author Megan Mocko is a lecturer at the Warrington College of Business. She teaches statistics to undergraduate and graduate students. Before that, she rose through the ranks from lecturer to senior lecturer and master lecturer in the Department of Statistics in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences also at UF. Megan has taught statistics in multiple formats: face-to-face, hybrid, and completely online.

In addition to her teaching, Megan’s involvement in statistics education led to her work as co-chair on the 2016 GAISE (Guidelines for Assessment and Instruction in Statistics Education) report. The American Statistical Association endorsed the revised 2016 GAISE report. Megan was also program chair for the eCOTS (electronic Conference on Teaching Statistics) in 2022 and 2020. In the Fall of 2022, she began her doctoral journey in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Educational Technology at the UF College of Education. Her area of specialization is Virtual Exchange. She is interested in engaging everyone in the classroom using educational technology and using virtual exchange to promote communication about data across international boundaries.


References

CAST (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2. Retrieved from http://udlguidelines.cast.org

Cetinkaya-Rundel, M., & Hardin, J. (2021).  Chapter 1 in Introduction to Modern Statistics Retrieved from https://www.openintro.org/book/ims/. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.  

Meyer, A., Rose, D. H., & Gordon, D. (2014). Universal design for learning: Theory and practice. CAST. Boston, MA

Rose, D. H., Harbour, W. S., Johnston, C. S., Daley, S. G., & Abarbanell, L. (2006). Universal design for learning in postsecondary education: Reflections on principles and their application. Journal of postsecondary education and disability19(2), 135-151. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ844630.pdf 

Talbert, R. (2017). Flipped Learning A guide for Higher Education Faculty. Stylus.

Tobin, T., and Behling, K. (2018). Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education. West Virginia University Press. 

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