ITL Masthead

Vol. 1, No. 4

Your Source for Teaching & Learning News and Information

Summer 2008

p h b    Campus News

Sonoma State Leads CSU in Universal Design for Learning


Dr. Emiliano C. Ayala
EnACT Project Director
Sonoma State University

Sophia, a chemistry major, has recently found her career path.  Having excelled in Introduction to Physical Science for Teachers, she dreams of becoming a high school science teacher.  However, currently enrolled in Physical Sciences in the School, a more advanced course, Sophia struggles to stay focused during lectures and has difficulty completing writing assignments.  Although she receives supplementary instruction from the University Writing Center and benefits from accommodations of both an in-class note-taking scribe and time-extensions on course exams, this course presents new hurdles for Sophia.  Neither she nor her supportive instructor can identify additional services to further aid Sophia’s learning.  Sophia is nervously aware that success in this course is crucial to reaching her career goals.

Sophia’s experience is not uncommon.  Failure to complete courses and earn a degree is reality for many students with disabilities.  While provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) have successfully removed many of the physical barriers, other educational barriers still remain.  Removal of these often hidden barriers requires our focus on both accessible instructional design and effective pedagogical practices.

Moreover, because we are called upon to provide effective instruction for all students, it can be challenging to provide much more than the basic accommodations for students like Sophia; however, the strength of UDL is that it offers a pedagogical framework to help all students succeed in our courses, both students with and those without identified learning disabilities.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

UDL is an emerging paradigm that holds great promise in addressing instructional access issues for all learners, including students with disabilities (CAST, 2007).  While the original premise of Universal Design stemmed from the belief that we must proactively consider human differences in the physical design of public spaces, educators have recently articulated parallels for instruction and assessment. UDL, in the context of higher education, acknowledges that retroactive curricular accommodations can be time-consuming to design and difficult to implement.  A more effective way to address the needs of diverse learners is to proactively design instructional materials and teaching activities for students who present a range in abilities and disabilities.

UDL’s Three Essential Principles

  1. The curriculum provides multiple means of representation.  Students access information in a variety of ways (listening, seeing, touching).  Hence, if we vary our manner of representing course content (lecture, diagrams, experiments), this increases the likelihood of information access, comprehension, and, ultimately, student learning.

  2. The curriculum provides multiple means of engagement. Current brain research describes the importance of active participation (motor activity) in promoting learning.  Consequently, if we design ways for students to actively participate in class, the likelihood of student learning increases.

  3. The curriculum provides multiple means of relevant student expression.  Many students have natural preferences and talents for expressing themselves (oral, visual, written expression).  Therefore, providing options for students to demonstrate their learning increases the likelihood of capturing student competency using valid measures.
For additional information see the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST).

Applying UDL Principles:  Disciplinary Examples

  • A geology professor incorporates computer animation modules to illustrate key concepts in her physical hydrology course. These are shown in-class and available outside-of-class.  [Representation principle]

  • An English literature teacher identifies note-takers from his class roster and, with their permission, posts their notes online for classmates to review and check their own notes for gaps.  [Representation principle]

  • A foreign language professor uses role-play, simulation, and Web sites to provide multi-modal instruction.  [Representation & engagement principles]

  • A chemistry professor incorporates group problem-solving followed by all-class discussion to encourage students’ active learning.  [Engagement & expression principles]

  • A psychology lecturer presents students the choice of (a) completing an in-class final exam or (b) writing an integrative course paper.  [Expression principle]

Chancellor's Office Hosts CLA in the Classroom

CLA in the Classroom Academy
May 1-2, 2008

Forty faculty, including many Teaching and Learning Center directors and associates, from throughout the CSU as well as other universities, participated in a Train the Trainers workshop on CLA in the Classroom, a new initiative of the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA). After an enthusiastic welcome from CSU Chancellor Reed, faculty formed working groups around subjects of interest in order to craft performance-based assessments, using retired CLA assessments as a template.

The original CLA was designed to assess a sample of freshmen and seniors in order to determine value-added benefits of the college experience. This open-ended exam measured student competence in critical thinking, analytic reasoning, and written communication. For example, in the Crime Reduction CLA assessment, students were presented with a scenario and asked to write in support of one of two sides of an issue. To aid their understanding, students were provided with newspaper articles, reports, and other documents of varying relevance to the argument.

In contrast, CLA in the Classroom focuses on faculty-created course-specific performance tasks that are embedded in a course. There are some clear advantages to this type of assessment over the original CLA campus-wide general assessment:

Course-embedded performance assessments

  • Can be designed using a course-specific scenario, which might increase students’ comprehension of the issues, as compared to a randomly selected scenario topic.

  • Can be created to tap specific skills desired in a course, program, or major.

  • Can be counted towards a course grade, which enhances students’ motivation to take the assessment seriously.

  • Allow faculty to use them either as a diagnostic tool (to inform their teaching throughout the term) or as a summative tool (to measure outcomes’ attainment at end-of-term).

  • Permit discussion of students’ test-taking strategies, discussion of critical thinking, analytic reasoning, and written communication skills, and review with practice on assessment-identified weaker skills.

ITL Hosts Strategic Planning Retreat for FDC Leadership & Regional Representatives

Drs. Eileen Barrett (CSU East Bay) and Carmen Nava
(CSU San Marcos)
June 23-24, 2008, CSU Chancellor's Office
Dr. Kathleen Rice, Facilitator

Review past issues at

Dr. Cynthia Desrochers
Director, Institute for Teaching & Learning
CSU, Office of the Chancellor, 6th Floor
Tarita Varner
Web Content, Institute for Teaching & Learning
CSU, Office of the Chancellor, 6th Floor

p h b    Teaching & Learning Tips

ITL's Discipline Research
Project, Round II:  RFP due
Monday, November 3, 2008

Request for Proposals

The Discipline Research Project is a two-year, discipline-based, and multi-campus program that seeks to bring together a like-minded faculty team to engage in applied research on teaching and learning, whereby they:

  • Identify and study common course-related challenges, issues, and problems.

  • Design a study to experiment with using new teaching methods, student assignments, and assessment practices in order to address these course-related challenges.

  • Disseminate their classroom research results to other disciplinary colleagues.
Register on Colleague Connector II,, check often, contact colleagues, and write a proposal to participate.

Making the First Class Meeting
Truly First Class

photo:Jodi and Students

Experts in pedagogy stress the importance of the first class meeting for setting the stage. The primacy effect (Slavin, 2003) offers explanations:

  • Students pay more attention and mentally rehearse items placed at the beginning; hence, this information is more likely to become part of long-term memory.

  • First-day information is first; hence, nothing precedes it that should interfere with learning.

Applying the Primacy Effect in Our Courses

In order to take advantage of the primacy effect, design your memorable first class meeting to include some of the following six (6) goals:

Goal #1 Establish motivation for the course

  • Conduct a vivid demonstration or activity.

  • Discuss course benefits, both personal and career.
Goal #2 Frame the entire course
  • Pose essential questions the course helps answer.

  • Show a course flow-chart or outline (one-page holistic visual).

  • Address course objectives/outcomes in the syllabus.

  • Illustrate course purposes for GE, program, or major.
Goal #3 Establish expectations
  • Start/finish class on time (promoted by your punctuality).

  • Discuss class rules/norms.

  • Teach an engaging new concept.

  • Begin group work today (if this is part of the course).

  • Define community-engagement assignment (if this is part of the course).

  • Introduce tools students will use:

    • Learning Management System (syllabus, online quizzes, discussion forum)

    • Library and Web resources
Goal #4 Complete essential administrative requirements
  • Take roll or collect student surveys to determine attendance.

  • Explain the add-course policy (meet after class to complete the paper work).
Goal #5 Assess students informally
  • Determine students’ prior knowledge of course concepts, both their understandings and misconceptions.

  • Determine students’ attitudes towards this subject or course.
Goal #6 Create a comfortable classroom climate
  • Communicate your teaching philosophy and your methods of supporting student success.

  • Help students get acquainted with classmates:

    • Have a course-related get-acquainted activity
      (share interest in the subject).

    • Share a few names and e-mails (students write on course syllabus).

  • Teach a difficult concept by relating it to students’ prior knowledge, showing students that they already have a leg-up on course subject matter. [See Departmental Pedagogy Session below.]

Slavin, R. E. (2003). Educational psychology: Theory and practice, 7th Ed. (pp. 190-191). San Francisco: Allyn and Bacon.

For Your Departmental Pedagogy Session

1st   Brainstorm key course concepts.

2nd  Discuss students’ prior experience with these concepts.

3rd   In class, relate the concepts to students’ experience in order for them to benefit from positive transfer of past learning to present learning.

Example:  When students learn about chemical bond in a molecule, relate this to the bonding between infant and parent or the close bonds between friends.

p h b    Events

October 22-25, 2008

POD Network Conference
The Professional and Organizational Development (POD) Network in Higher Education annual conference will be held in Reno, Nevada. POD supports a network of nearly 1800 members who have an interest in educational and organizational development.

p h b    Links

Universal Design for Learning-Additional Resources

Center for Applied Special Technology

San Francisco State University: UDL Training Modules

San José State University: UDL Resources

University of Washington: UDL Faculty Resources

See The First Day of Class with five faculty from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo: Drs. Lorraine Donegan, Fred DePiero, Bill Kellogg, Kenneth Habib, and Jodi Christiansen. Firefox and Safari are recommended browsers. For use without Internet access, a DVD can be obtained by contacting Season Eckardt at

The California State University Fact Book, May 2008 (.pdf)

CSU Institute for Teaching and Learning