Accommodating diverse learning styles in an online environment

Weekly synchronous "virtual class" meetings using a web-conference environment (e.g., Elluminate or Blackboard Collaborate) provided a connection with instructors that the students found sustaining and supportive.

Students appreciated the fact that during the synchronous sessions, the instructors presented slides and a lecture about the course content and also included engaging activities that fostered active discussion and interaction.

The principles of these three UD educational models have similarities, each stemming from the core universal design philosophy of creating access to learning environments and curricular content.

The eight principles of UID, based on Chickering and Gamson's (1987) principles for effective practices in undergraduate education and modified by Goff and Higbee to further include universal design elements, are: Silver, Bourke and Strehorn (1998) state, "with UID, students may find that many of the instructional accommodations they would request are already part of the faculty members' overall instructional design.

Furthermore, these approaches may benefit all students in the class" (p. Berger and Van Thanh (2004) note that the UID principles can foster equity and inclusion of students with disabilities and create campus environments that respect and value diversity.

The Co E's non-traditional student population includes individuals who are culturally and linguistically diverse, many from traditional and indigenous backgrounds.

These non-traditional students have a range of characteristics and needs, based on their backgrounds, experiences, and life situations.

Universal design (UD) educational models provide useful frameworks to consider when creating courses for the diverse and non-traditional students served by the Co E's online programs.

With a deliberate application of UD principles during the instructional design process, instructors can proactively develop courses that address the needs of diverse learners.

Non-traditional students from rural and remote communities particularly appreciated the supports that were put in place to address issues of isolation and the excessive reliance on text (Rao, Eady, Edelen, Smith, 2010), such as regular virtual meetings online and course content presented in multimodal formats.

Students reported that having audio and video files (prepared by the instructor) about key course concepts in addition to the textbook for the course helped them comprehend content and made the course feel manageable.

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