As I was designing my course last summer, I could not help but to wish that all of my students learned like me because it would make my life easier when prepping my course. I reflected on all of my scholarly success, how hard I worked to get where I am, and how these students do not work nearly as hard. I couldn’t even enjoy my summer because I was working hard to create a learning environment that caters to the needs of this narcissistic generation!
Hopefully you saw the humor in that. Though it is very hard to design a universal learning environment, it is also rewarding for you and the students as they master the content of your course. Whether you like it or not, we all learn differently. Your learning outcomes, however, remain the same and this is why creating differentiated assessments could be a fun challenge for you. Think about how you have been assessing learning for one of the outcomes in your course. How might you assess it differently? If you are struggling with generating ideas, then consider the Universal Design for Learning principles for assessment (CAST, 2018).
Multiple Means of Engagement
Your students will engage in your course if they are interested in your content.
Why should they learn your content? Everyone is passionate about something. If you can explain a variety of ways that your subject affects their lives, your students might see it in an exciting new way. For example, if you teach Accounting, students who care about humanitarian issues might become more interested in the topic if they could see how to apply this information to help hungry children in the inner city through an Academic Service Learning (ASL) project. If you teach English or Communication, students who care about fashion, gaming, or animal rights might become more passionate about writing if they were to post to a WordPress blog each week. You could engage students in your content and assess learning simply by assigning a project that aligns with their interests.
Multiple Means of Action and Expression
Your students will better be able demonstrate how they are learning if they have a choice in how they are being assessed. In other words, let them choose different ways to work with the information. For example, you can ask the students to do a presentation. They can choose to present from a variety of formats to present knowledge. Creative students might want to create a video documentary or infographic. Introvert students might prefer to make a podcast or to create a poster presentation. Analytical students might want to present the data using graphics or concept mapping. Given a choice, they will remember more information and have more fun gathering data for this presentation than they would have studying for an exam.
Multiple Means of Representation
Your students will understand what they are learning better if they are presented with the content in different ways. Consider a person who is hard of hearing or not a native English speaker. If I repeat myself by speaking louder and am still not understood, perhaps I should find another way to convey my message? It is the same with your students. You can use different words by having the students watch a video of someone else explaining the concept. To convey meaning, you could use images, graphs, movies, video tutorials, examples, graphics, vocabulary, metaphors, etc. Some instructors at Ferris record their lectures so students can re-watch them. You know which concepts your students struggle with most. Try to find different ways to explain the material so students will be able to demonstrate mastery of the material.
Sometimes we can get a little narcissistic, especially when it comes to making changes to our course. You do not have to change everything about your course. Start with one assessment of one learning objective. What could you do differently to make your student’s educational experience more engaging, and therefore, more memorable?
Written by Jackie Hughes, Coordinator of Instructional Technology
CAST (2018). Universal Design for Learning and Assessment. Wakefield, MA: Author. Retrieved October 8, 2018 at http://udloncampus.cast.org/page/assessment_udl#.W7v7BlJReu4