June 7th in the Hub Robert Montgomery and Jessica O’Reilly discussed ways to design learning in a way that meets the needs of learners with a variety of learning styles. The discussion was framed around three main areas for discussion: Multiple ways of

  • Representation
  • Action and Expression
  • Engagement

Inclusive design was also the topic of Day 9 in the Making Sense of Open Education MOOC that is currently going on. I ran a quick check of some of my materials as the activity for the day. Making our students comfortable in their learning is a goal I am striving to improve on.

Multiple Means of Representation.

It is likely that you are already doing some of this in your teaching. Providing material in a variety of formats helps learners understand the message being communicated. As I reflect on the approaches I use in the classroom I feel that I do try to target different representations of material naturally. Participants gave examples such as:

  1. Written information
  2. Visuals
  3. Action (acting out a scenario)
  4. Videos
  5. Electronic slides posted in advance
  6. Physical copies of slides
  7. Superhero cards for theorists
  8. Diagrams (shows logic)
  9. Group work
  10. Hands-on activities

I know there is some debate about learning styles theory, but humour me for a moment. The presenters talked about trying to meet the needs of various types of learners: Visual, Logical, Verbal, Physical, and Aural. We try to develop learning materials that address the needs of as many types of learners as possible. Whether you believe in learning styles or not, I think we can agree that people learn best in different ways. Everyone in any given class will not benefit the same from one strategy. It is better to try communicating one message in multiple ways. In addition, providing options for students to do social or solitary activities (and assignments) helps to address the needs of multiple learners.

 

Multiple Means of Action and Expression.

Some students have difficulty with a certain kind of assessment type. Allowing students to demonstrate their learning in the way that they chose allows students to be free to express their learning in the best way for them. There are times that a specific assessment method (like presentations) is relevant to the learning outcomes of the course. In these situations giving students the option to do an alternate assignment would not be appropriate.

However, in many cases, one or more course assignment could be accomplished in a variety of ways and still meet the objectives of the assignment. Students can be given learning outcomes and choose how they want to demonstrate their learning. This sounds exactly like what I am doing this fall in BSN 4416.

Designing strong rubrics can enable fairness in marking multiple types of assignments (videos, essays, presentations etc.). In BSN 4416 I will be co-creating rubrics with the class. It is critical that these rubrics are strong. I have a starting point for assessing my rubrics but am always on the lookout for suggestions to make them better.

Scaffolding is another important consideration. Being prescriptive at the beginning and handholding helps to teach the process. Then the focus can shift to a product-focused assessment. While not always a focus of assessment, Jess argues that building soft skills is the most essential outcome of the learning process.

geralt / Pixabay

 

Multiple means of engagement.

For years now I have been providing students the option of attending in person or virtually. Students will engage with what is best for them. Offering virtual or recorded options meets the needs of many students including those that are sick or have family commitments on a particular day. None of the educators in the room have found that recording sessions have decreased student engagement. It has sometimes impacted attendance for me. Many students did not attend my class when it was scheduled right before an exam for antoher class. However, knowing students can access the recording is a comfort as they can focus on learning when they are not distracted by the upcoming exam.

Who says the professor needs to do all the teaching? Enabling students to engage with other students, people online, and others to learn promotes interaction and enhances learning. Leveraging open resources can also help to create relevance and authenticity for assignments. Encouraging students to showcase their work publically can help change student attitudes about assignments. I am hopeful that students in my class will choose a legasy assignment instead of a throw-away assignment. Last year it was sad how many excellent research proposals I read that will likely only be read by me.

 

Closing Thoughts.

Opening options may not be appropriate for all learning situations. The more you can integrate options for students the better in my opinion. Now is the time to think about how we can put this mindset into practice when we design courses. It may take some creative wording in course outlines.

Rob and Jess say that if applied effectively universal design for learning is meant to reduce workload not increase it. If you are new to this idea, start with one thing. Test it out. See what happens. Upon reflection, I have been trying to do it in various ways for years. Up until now, I have worked in a very restrictive environment (everything had to be the same across a collaborative program) … but this year we have the ability as educators to choose how we assess our students. I can finally pass the choice on to students and empower them to learn their way. That is my core value and I am excited to embrace it fully.

YouTube screen shot showing: "Research and nursing education." "Empowering students to learn their way."

YouTube screenshot showing: “Research and nursing education.” “Empowering students to learn their way.”

Resources for Students.

They recommended:

  • The my homework app is a free tool that helps students schedules tasks for assignments.
  • Kahn Academy provides free education on a variety of topics (including NCLEX prep).
  • Texthelp read and write provides assistive technology. There is a free Chrome extension. Cambrian also has licenses for all students to use the subscription-based option.

Resources for Educators.

The presenters recommended some follow-up resources:

  • The CAST Website contains free resources
  • The Open Pedagogy blog
  • This book has been added to my summer reading list. Jess lent me a copy and says that it focuses on online learning experiences, which is relevant to me as I am teaching online in September.

 

 

geralt / Pixabay


NurseKillam

Laura Killam is an experienced nursing educator from Northern Ontario with a keen interest in improving student learning through innovation. For more information please visit http://nursekillam.com/.

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