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MERLOTJournalofOnlineLearningandTeaching Vol. 3, No.2, June2007

112

TestinganExperimentalUniversallyDesignedLearningUnitinaGraduateLevelOnlineTeacherEducationCourse

MelissaEnglemanProfessor

DepartmentofCurriculumandInstructionEastCarolinaUniversity

Greenville,[email protected]

MarySchmidtProfessor

CollegeofEducationEastCarolinaUniversity

Greenville,[email protected]

Abstract

Therecentrapidincreaseinonlinetrainingoffersapotentiallypowerfulsolutiontoteachershortages. Yet, while we quickly develop online courses for this purpose, we mustcontinuetoexamineourpedagogytoassurehighqualitylearningexperiences.Thisstudyexplored outcomes of designing an online graduate level unit for a teacher educationcourse using universal design for learning (UDL).UsingUDL, students receive, interactwithanddemonstrateproficiencyinwaysthatbesthighlighttheirstrengths.Themethodsincluded(1)surveyingonlinestudentpreferencesandexperiences,and(2)comparinganexperimental UDL course unit with other online units. Most participants reported apreference for the UDL design on all measured parameters. Conclusions point torecommendations for further examination of effective methods for designing andevaluatingonlinelearningexperiences.

Keywords: accessibility,highereducation, learningstyles,universaldesign for learning,specialeducation,graduateeducation

Introduction

Infallof2002,over1.6millionstudentstookonlinecoursesatdegreegrantinginstitutions.Asoffallof2005, that number had doubled (Allen& Seaman, 2006). The rapid growth of online education as adistance learning option has caused unprecedented growth in credit hours in teacher educationinstitutions(Allen&Seaman,2006).Whetherthepopularityofonlinedeliveryforteachereducationisdriven by effectiveness of the delivery method, the ability to train more teachers, or the increasedrevenueexperiencedbycollegesofeducationisnotyetclear.Perhapsthereareelementsofallthreeforces.What is clear is that facultymust transform their teaching styles in order to provide effectiveonlinepedagogy.

Retrainingfacultytoprovideeffectiveonlineinstructionhasbecomenolessthananationalpriority,butwithoutanestablishedbodyofresearchoneffectiveonlinepractices,therearenoguidingprinciplesforbest practices in course design (Maddox, 2004NEA, 2000Spellings&Stroup, 2005 Lee&Busch,2005).Outofnecessityand the increase inonlinecredithours, faculty continue tobecalledupon to

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teachonlinecourseswithlittleornotraininginonlinedeliverymethods.

Asof2003,17commercialcompaniesthatteachonlinetoteachonlinehadalreadybeenestablished(Carnevale,2003).Anumberofrecentpublicationshavebeguntoexplorethepossibilitiesforinservicefacultytraining,andafewuniversitieshaveevendevelopedgraduatecertificatesinonlineteaching.Themajorityofuniversitybasedtrainingforfacultyisperfunctory,basedonthebasicequipmentandcoursemanagementsystemsratherthanonpedagogicaleffectiveness(Wilson,2004).

Oneof thechallengesof teachinganonlinecourse is thedevelopmentand inclusionofmaterials thatteachtheconceptsinameaningfulmanner.Atthegraduatelevel,itisespeciallyimportantforfacultytobe able to teach students how to apply, synthesize and evaluate concepts.While rigor of content isessential, development of an environment that meets the learning needs and communicationpreferencesofstudentsmustbeconsidered.Thisstudyexaminedamethodformakingcoursesmoremeaningful for graduate level teacher education students, by offering choices about how to accessinformation,interactwithactivitiesandmaterials,andhowtoreportbackwhattheyhadlearned.Todoso, this study implemented an experimental application of universal design for learning (UDL) to anonlinegraduatecourse.

Applicationsofuniversaldesigninarchitecture,electronicsandcivilengineeringhavehadgreatsuccessinmakingtheworldmoreaccessibletoallusers.Mostrecently,ithasbeenusedextensivelytomaketheworldwidewebaccessibletoallusers(Roberts,2004Burgstahler,2002IBM,2005Pearson&Koppi,2003).While universal design has been successful inmaking online coursesmore accessible in therealms of physical and sensory needs, the designmethod doesnt fully address the need for variedlearningneeds.Thisisespeciallyinterestinggiventhatnationally,studentswithlearningdisabilitiesnotthosewithsensoryorphysicaldisabilitiesare themost rapidlygrowinggroupofuniversity studentswithdisabilities(NationalCenteronEducationalStatistics,2005).

Universaldesignforlearning(UDL)hasbeenpromotedoverthepastdecadeasawaytomakelearningaccessibletomoreusers,basedonanarrayofchoicesmadebythelearner(Hall,Strangman&Meyer,2005).WidelyrecommendedasatoolfordifferentiationofinstructioninK12classrooms,onlyrecentlyhaveafewstudiesbeguntodiscussitsuseinpostsecondarysettings(Field,Sarver,&Shaw,2003).

Therewereseveralresearchquestionsaddressedinthisstudy.First,wouldstudentsinanonlinecourseinteachereducationfindasetoflearningactivitiesdesignedwithUDLtobe(a)moreflexible,withbetteropportunitiestoshowtheirstrengths(b)amoreenjoyableexperience,allowingeachstudenttoaccessinformation and interact with it in the way they most preferred, and (c) more of an opportunity tochallengethemselvesaslearners?AsecondresearchquestionwaswhetherparticipantswouldreportleavingthecoursewithadeepunderstandingofthepowerofUDL,andplanstotakethisunderstandingbacktotheirownclassrooms.Finally,thisstudyposedseveralsmallerquestionstosupportthefindingsfrom the first 2 questions: (a) How varied are the learning styles of students participating in onlinecoursesinteachertraining?(b)Howmuchdocoursemembersingraduatelevelteachertrainingvaryintheirpersonalpreferences,asmeasuredbyaMyersBriggslikeassessment?(c)Dostudentspersonalpreferencesaffect theiractivitypreferences inonlinecourses?and(d)Whatwouldbe theoutcomeofproviding universal design for learning (UDL) choices in one of the online instructional units for agraduatecourseindifferentiatinginstruction?

Method

Participants

Thesampleofparticipantswasdrawn froma requiredonlinegraduatecourse in teacherpreparation,AddressingDifferences inHumanLearning.Studentparticipantsfromallsectionsofthecourseweresolicitedeachsemester,betweenSummerSessionof2005(thepilotstudy)andFallof2006.Althoughthesamplewasnotrandomlyselected,itdidrepresentawidecrosssectionofparticipantsintermsofexperiencewithonline instruction,teachingexperience,distancefromcampusand teachingdiscipline.Thiscoursewasagoodsourceofparticipantsforthestudyforseveralreasons:First,allstudentsintheCollege of Education took this core course as a requirement, so students came from all discipline

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areas.Second,oneofthegoalsofthecourseistoteachgraduatestudentstouseuniversaldesignforlearningwiththeirstudents,andparticipationinthisresearchgavethemfirsthandexperienceinandadeeperunderstandingofUDL.Third,aconsistencywasestablishedbyusingthestudyonlyinsectionsofthisonecourse.Finally,thissamplewasconvenient,andeasilyaccessibletotheresearchers.

The sample included 216 participants. They varied widely in their degree of experience with onlinelearning.Whenaskedhowmanyonlinecoursestheyhadtaken,therangeofresponseswentfrom0to20.Theaveragenumberofonlinecoursestakenbythe216studentswhorespondedtothisitemwas7courses.Themostoftenreportedresponse(30students)was2courses.

Therangeofexperiencewithonlinecourses thatwasreported is shown inFigure1.Asshown,moststudents had taken between 0 and 9 online courses. This variation may have had an effect onresponses.Whenparticipantsreportedtheirfavoriteonlineactivities,thosewithlessexperiencemaynothavebeenawareofmanyofthechoices,nothavingexperiencedthem.

9

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15to20 10to14 5to9 0to5

NumberofCoursesTaken

Figure1.ExperienceinNumberofOnlineCoursesTakenAcrosstheSample(n=216).

A wide range of classroom teaching experience was represented, ranging from 0 to 39 years. Thelargestnumberofparticipantshadnoclassroom teachingexperience,but theaveragenumber in thesamplewas7years.

Studyparticipantsmostlylivednearoroncampus,butmanylivedatquiteadistance,witharangeofdistance from campus of 0 to 3500miles (participants living inGreatBritain andGhana). Themeannumberofmilesfromcampuswas104,whilethemedianwas57andthemodewas0miles.

TherepresentationofagegroupstaughtbyparticipantsisshowninFigure2.Thegroupsroughlyreflecttheproportionofthedepartmentsizesoncampus.

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3927

2321

1010999

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0 20 40 60 80

ElementaryEducationSpecialEducation

HealthorPEUnreported

BusinessorVocationalReading

English,MusicorArtEarlyChildhoodMiddleGrades

ScienceSocialStudies

Math

SecondaryorPost

Secondary26%

MiddleSchool16%

EarlyChildhood

orElementary

58%

Figure2.AgeGroupsTaughtbyParticipants

Respondentswereall fullycertified teachers,workingonadvanced licensure,orsomeareaofaddonlicensure.Contentareasvariedwidely, includingalmosteverycontentareaandspecialeducation,asshowninFigure3.Theoverrepresentationofsomeareasisduetothecohortmodelusedinsomeofthe Colleges departments (e.g. Health Education and Business Education). This meant that somesemesters, whole sections of one discipline area would take the course fromwhich the sample wasdrawn.

Figure3.TeachingDisciplinesRepresentedinSample(n=216)

Acrossthelifeofthestudy,about15%ofstudentsreportedthattheyuseddialupinternetservices,butbythelastadministra

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