According to Jennifer Glaab, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to learning.
“Everybody comes with a different set of strengths and weaknesses,” said Glaab, interim director of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Walker Center for Teaching and Learning. “Students come with different family situations, different economic statuses, different cultures, different languages.
“If we give everybody the same learning experience, the same textbooks to read, the same exams to take and expect everybody to be successful, they’re not going to be.”
Glaab, an experienced practitioner in instructional design and the integration of technological innovation and best practices for effective learning experiences, is on a mission to increase the level of inclusive teaching on the UTC campus. Her initiative, titled “Equity-Oriented Pedagogy Utilizing the Universal Design for Learning Framework,” is designed to reduce barriers to learning.
“Pedagogy” is defined as the approach to teaching, including the various ways of doing it.
Glaab used plants as an analogy to compare the concepts of growing and prospering: Not every plant needs a lot of water, and not every plant requires a lot of sunlight. But some plants require a little—or a lot—of both.
“Learning is the same way,” she said. “Everybody learns differently.
“Think of it another way: If I gave everybody a Size 8 shoe, the people who wear Size 8 would say, ‘This is great. This is perfect for me.’ But for somebody who wears a Size 6 or a Size 12, that’s not going to work for them.”
Equity-oriented pedagogy, she explained, encompasses a strategy to teach to all students regardless of race, ethnicity, culture, disability, sexual orientation and gender. The “Universal Design for Learning” framework, initially designed in the 1990s, was developed to help people with disabilities. The system makes learning opportunities equitable for everybody.
“When environments are intentionally designed to reduce barriers, all learners can engage in rigorous, meaningful learning,” she said. “Because students come to us with a unique mix of strengths and weaknesses, the UDL framework calls for educators to transfer power to students so they have options and choices for how they learn and how to share what they have learned.”
Glaab said the concept teaches equity in the classroom since individual accommodations are not specifically made for any student.
“If we closed-caption a prerecorded lecture video, it’s not just suitable for people who are hard of hearing. Some people learn better just by reading. Some people learn better by listening. Some people learn better by a combination of the two. So we’re not just closed captioning for somebody with a hearing disability; we’re closed captioning it and making it good for everybody.”