Devontae C. Baxter, Department of Physics and Astronomy
Debunking “School isn’t for me”
I think that it would be fair to say that our modern educational system is designed to primarily serve students that are capable of passively absorbing and retaining information shared by the instructor. This method never proved to effective for me, and as such I would actively search out additional resources outside of the classroom to compensate. The most effective resources that I would use were almost always in the form of videos, interactive games, or simulations. I now realize that the reason why these resources were instrumental in my academic success is because they often provided me a novel and nuanced explanation of the concepts that differed from the single explanation provided by the instructor. Moreover, I now realize that I am fortunate that these materials provided me with the requisite supplemental knowledge to demonstrate my understanding on the traditional written exams and essays. However, throughout my academic career I have witnessed many classmates abandon their studies because the traditional lecture approach made them believe that “school wasn’t for them”.
Personally, I’ve always been skeptical of this assertion, but after learning about the results from implementing the Universal Design Learning (UDL) framework, I can confidently say that this statement is pure nonsense. UDL is essentially a flexible teaching framework that goes beyond the stale and passive traditional method by providing students with multiple means of expressing their knowledge, multiple means of engaging in learning, and multiple means of content representation. Altogether, this can include beginning lectures with relevant anecdotes to promote engagement, introducing students to valuable supplemental content during class, and allowing students to demonstrate their understanding using a variety of outlets (e.g. videos, skits, audio recordings, poems, etc.) that are relevant to their personal interests.
All too often instructors plan their lessons with a single explanation, form of evaluation, and engagement in mind, and these narrowly designed courses often never allow students to reach their full potential learning. However, research has shown that implementing more flexible frameworks such as UDL has a positive impact on addressing learning variability in students in K-12 and beyond. Furthermore, this framework has been shown to have a positive impact on non-traditional students as well. Research by Logan et al. has shown that non-traditional veteran students show increased engagement, interest, and graduation persistence under the UDL framework while classrooms operating under the traditional lecture framework had the opposite effect. In general, if we are serious about engaging a diverse array of students then we must implement changes to our teaching framework.
A Better Educated Global Community
Research in improving education is still an ongoing process. However, many developed countries with long-standing educational systems have encountered pushback regarding replacing the antiquated lecture framework with more modern evidence-based practices. There is no doubt that progress is occurring, but overcoming ingrained traditions is never swift. With that in mind, it has been proposed that this information can best serve developing countries that will not have to overcome some of the implementation hurdles that more developed countries currently experience. Instead of attempting to retrofit classrooms to accommodate for a flexible teaching framework, these countries can build their education system based on the latest advancements in educational and pedagogy research. At the end of the day, by utilizing a teaching framework that accommodates a diverse group of students we will ultimately create a more educated global community and propel humanity to greater heights.
Al-Azawei, A., Serenelli, F., & Lundqvist, K. (2016). Universal Design for Learning (UDL): A Content Analysis of Peer Reviewed Journals from 2012 to 2015. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 16(3), 39-56.
Matthew Mahavongtrakul edited this post on March 5th, 2020.