Techniques designed to make classroom instruction accessible to students with disabilities can be a rising tide that lifts all boats, according to speakers at the March 4 faculty retreat.
Sponsored by the Office of the Provost and the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning, more than 200 professors participated in this year's retreat, titled “Bringing Out the Best in Our Students.”
"We're asking them to be creative and to think about ways you can make learning accessible," said Cheelan Bo-Linn, a CITL senior specialist in education. "Our campus has a very diverse student population. We need to use best practices and consider all of the ways in which our students can be successful learners."
Speakers presented techniques they have used in their classrooms to further engage the general student population.
Keynote speaker Sheryl Burgstahler, the founder and director of the University of Washington's Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology Center, spoke about her research into Universal Design for Learning – a concept that leverages classroom technology to engage students at all levels.
"When designers apply UDL principles, their products and environments meet the needs of potential users with a variety of characteristics," Burgstahler said on the DO-IT Center's website. "Disability is just one of many characteristics that an individual might possess. "
She said considering such details helps to improve the learning environment for everyone by providing more engagement points from which students can choose.
Burgstahler said the creation of sidewalk curb cuts is a good example of the concept, wherein the cuts initially were envisioned to help people in wheelchairs.
"Today, (sidewalk curb cuts) are often used by kids on skateboards, parents with baby strollers and delivery staff with rolling carts," she said.
Other award-winning presenters at the retreat included:
- Mats Selen, a U. of I. professor of physics named Outstanding Doctoral and Research Universities Professor of the Year last year by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
- Shelly J. Schmidt, a professor of food chemistry and of agricultural engineering.
- Jose J. Vazquez, a clinical professor of economics.
- Marci S. Uihlein, a professor of architecture.
- Lawrence Angrave, a senior lecturer in computer science.
Bo-Linn said many U. of I. professors already are engaging students in broader ways, but it's an issue that continues to evolve.
"Our faculty members are doing some really creative things that help all students," she said. "It's a matter of learning not to segment each population, but focus on giving all of them all a broader presentation that can be accessed by anyone in a variety of ways."
She said CITL continues to share best practices with faculty members looking to get the most out of their classroom techniques.
"It's not any one teaching technique that we advocate; it's just a matter of broadening how faculty members think about course planning," she said.