Staff Development


Involves "affective learning networks:" how students respond to information emotionally, which impacts their motivation to learn and increases buy-in to engage in learning activities.
We all know that we can develop the best curriculum on the planet, but if a student just isn't interested in the subject matter or lacks the ability to engage during class and study later on, there is very little we can do. I find that current research on adult learning theory helps with the understanding of how to reach today's student.
In his theory of adult learning (andragogy) Malcolm Knowles put forth the following six precepts:

  • Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
  • Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
  • Adults are goal oriented
  • Adults are relevancy oriented
  • Adults are practical
  • Adult learners like to be respected

I have found that the millennial student exemplifies these principles by 1) being practical, which I translate as needing to see how what they are being taught can be used in the outside world. Theory alone is not as interesting as practical application. 2) Akin to this notion, they are relevancy oriented in that they need to see how what they are expected to learn applies to what is important and meaningful to them. 3) The fact that they like to be respected is a critical notion. This generation does not respect those that don't show concern and interest for them. 4) Tangent to the idea of being goal oriented, our students like to try out what they are being taught or at the very least be given plenty of examples of how a concept or theory works.
So how do UDL experts say we can bring about involvement and engagement with our students?
The student comments regarding the methods and style of the San Jose State instructor sited in the previous section say a lot. In addition, the National Center on Universal Design in Learning gives us several guidelines to consider. Ultimately, there is no one way to accomplish this. We need to provide multiple means of engagement. Check out the following link:

If you are looking for specific examples of how to engage students, I feel that by trying out a few new ways to "present" your subject and by allowing multiple modes of "assessing" students, we go a long way in showing respect for them as individuals. The basic skills committee identified several strategies currently being used by instructors that address the issue of how to engage students.

  • In the College Foundation Semester, Michelle Gonzales uses an exercise called "whip around" in her English class. After a class session students are called upon to quickly make an "I" statement about what they learned. I use a variation of this by randomly calling upon students to answer questions about the material (such as grammar questions) as we cover it. We do objective exercises as a class. Ground rules are set up about how to treat each other during the process. Everyone's attempt is praised in some manner. This helps keep students alert because they don't want to be called on and choke.
  • Classes that can include a "Service Learning" component are always more meaningful for students. This component meets most of the principles listed above.
  • Group presentations of a subject matter topic help students determine what and how they will present information to the class. The audience (class) usually provides support and interest to the presenters because they know that they are next. Afterwards, we can all discuss which presentation strategies worked best and why. [It is amazing how many different opinions we can garner.] For example, in my grammar class I don't attempt to cover the many things we need to know about the correct usage of verbs. (Boring!) So I assign groups and topics and each group presents at the beginning of 4 or 5 consecutive classes. One group may be assigned "the difference between linking verbs and helping verbs," another may cover "gerunds and infinitives" or "active versus passive voice." They are all expected to have a visual and auditory or tactile component (beyond power point is encouraged) and have a class activity they have to lead.
  • Instructor-student progress reports show that you care. Be prepared with resources for assistance with the material. I always say something about a student's strength before the area they need to improve.
  • I start at least one class per week by asking if anyone has a question, comment or concern about anything in class or anything at all. I am always amazed at how much they will share if they trust you and you ask. Others have students do a "quick write" when the class begins. This can be 5 minutes of writing down whatever is on their minds about anything. It helps to clear their minds to focus on what is to come in the class.
  • As you present your material, think of how the topic of the day may related to things that are important to them now in their general life, or how it may be related to a goal for the future.
  • Teach self-assessment and evaluation. Assist with learning from successes and misses.
  • Provide choices whenever possible.

This represents just a brief look at this very information intensive world of instructional practices. UDL is still emerging and appears to have interesting food for thought regarding our traditions in college teaching. Once you click on a few links, you may find yourself immersed in the enlightening world of Universal Design. Enjoy!

Next: Frequently Asked Questions

Professional Development

Howard Blumenfeld
Professional Development Coordinator


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Page last modified: February 26, 2014