UDL Representation Takes Center Field in Advanced Manufacturing Pandemic Sprint
by Leonard M. Walsh
Assistant Professor of CNC, Welding & Composites, Goodwin University
with Diana J. LaRocco
Dean, School of Applied Liberal Arts and Social Sciences
Director, Goodwin Institute for Learning Innovation
It was early spring 2020 and the Goodwin University manufacturing faculty were sprinting headlong through another semester of instructing, advising, grading, touring prospective students, participating in meetings, and skipping meals to meet their deadlines. Suddenly, an unexpected hurdle out of nowhere brought our sprint to a screeching halt. Students and faculty alike were consumed by the challenge of leaping over this unfathomable obstacle and landing on both feet. Somehow, all our previous education, training, and experience didn’t matter. There were no books on how to sustain high quality teaching amid a worldwide pandemic. There had certainly been unexpected hurdles before. Were we ready to face this newest one?
The answer was all in our perspective.
Enter Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
With many of our faculty having completed long-term professional learning on applying Universal Design for Learning (UDL) guidelines to our practice, it made sense to approach the COVID-19 hurdle within this framework. During our training, we had “UDL-ized” aspects of the welding and Computer Numerical Control (CNC) courses to better support students in mastering the competencies needed for success. For example, we recognized that the strategies and materials (e.g., charts in a book) we had been using to teach the different weld symbols were simply not getting the job done. Students struggled to transfer and apply new knowledge as they tried to operate various machines. To better support students, we created large wall posters so that students could check the symbols and confirm what they had learned as they worked to hone their skills. The posters made important content more accessible so students could transform it into usable information (UDL Representation guideline 3 Provide Options for Comprehension).
Starting out on this unknowable COVID-19 track, the manufacturing team confronted all manner of having the wrong tools for teaching online. The large format posters that worked well in the pre-COVID on-ground classes were useless in the pandemic online classrooms. These two-by-three-foot posters would not show well even on large viewing screens, much less the limited technology being used by some students. Beautifully appointed classrooms with SMART boards were no more effective than a hand-held slate board and a piece of chalk. Labs with state-of-the-art machinery seemed virtually useless — or so we thought.
To facilitate remote instruction, each faculty member focused on core courses in their area of expertise and collaborated on other courses, enabling the team to begin the learning shift. As we progressed, we often revisited the UDL Representation guidelines to help us over each new hurdle. Providing “multiple representations” so students could “make connections within, as well as between, concepts” became a tool of choice. Nothing was off limits and creativity ruled. It was all about bringing a “you are here” experience to the students as often as possible. It was critical that students understood what was happening, what we planned, and what they needed to do in this unfamiliar and unprecedented fully remote setting. We hoped that with patience, understanding, and student feedback, we would be able to make learning accessible for all of our students.
Faculty made videos of machine setups to play before remote class sessions. The CNC teaching assistant became a gaffer and video expert. Smartphones were adapted to mount on camera tripods. Videography developed from basic recordings to real-time live events. Videos were stored for future use and sharing between class sections. There was even intense competition among the advanced manufacturing faculty to produce the most effective videos. A welding professor created videos through an automatic darkening lens from a welding helmet!
The examples of our success in transitioning were many. An on-ground lesson was modified during one day in time to use for remote learning that evening. After six hours of intense editing, a mathematics lesson morphed from an on-ground course to an easy-to-email document that was useful during the online session and later when posted for students. The poster mentioned earlier was cut up and divided into one experimental presentation lesson. Students so liked the first presentation that an additional 20 lessons followed. These other lessons went through additional modification, including embedding additional illustrations, pictures, figures, and formulas.
At Goodwin, we have a laser focus on building “expert” machinists and welders. The pandemic presented hurdles that stopped us in our tacks. With UDL, we were able to “find another way” to manage hurdles we initially thought too high.
Goodwin University is a nonprofit institution of higher education and is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), formerly known as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Goodwin University was founded in 1999, with the goal of serving a diverse student population with career-focused degree programs that lead to strong employment outcomes.