Let me start this first blog post with a little background about how I will be approaching the readings and the course: Currently, I am professional working at Syracuse University in the Office of Residence Life. I work in one of the halls, supervising a main desk staff and co-supervising the resident advisor staff. In the future, I am looking to maybe continue in Residence Life or Housing (or possible facilities). With this in mind, I am looking to try to see how Universal Design applies to the residence hall setting in terms of housing accommodations, programming, teaching (the staffs we supervise) and administrative practices. I am also trying to synthesize the information I learn through this class into a professional presentation about how to do Universal Design in these areas to better address the needs of our students and staff, both with and without disabilities, that I can present at a conference and to our staff.

 

With this in mind, I looked at the reading we did in Teaching every student in the digital age: Universal design for learning considering how Universal Design could be applied to teaching our student staff, such as the main desk assistants and resident advisors. The three principles described in Chapter 4 (What is Universal Design for Learning?) seem simple enough in the classroom. However, they feel more complicated when applied to teaching in a work setting. The first principle can easily be applied to how I teach the RAs and MDAs, since it has to do with how they access information. For instance, currently, I send out weekly updates to the MDAs and RAs about changes or additions to the main desk procedures. They receive this in an email version from me, and then are required to sign a form at the desk saying they have read and understood what was in the email; attached to this form they have to sign is the email I sent to them. This way, I have provided them with the information in two different ways. Also, usually, we talk about the memos in monthly staff meetings, providing a third option for synthesis. However, when it comes to multiple methods for expression and apprenticeship, things begin to get a little hairy. Most of the time, the MDAs and RAs need to follow procedures in a very specific way, so that various records are kept appropriately and security of the main desk is protected. So, I am not sure how I would apply more flexibility in this area. The last principle, regarding providing multiple, flexible options for engagement also could be a little complicated. While I may be able to provide them the option to do kinesthetic learning in addition to just reviewing the procedures verbally, particularly when training at the beginning of the year. However, I am not sure exactly how this would be possible later in the semester, when they need to learn some processes on their own, since they need to adapt to these changes on the fly, usually without a meeting to discuss it. So, it seems this could require some more creativity to make this work for learning in a work environment as opposed to a classroom.

 

Another reading which I believe applies to my research in a different way is Instructional accommodations: Impact of conventional vs. social constructivist view of disability. Just as professors in the classroom haven’t been taught how to teach students with disabilities effectively, neither have most ResLife staff or resident advisors. While we do meet with some disability offices on-campus, it usually has to do with what they do in their office, rather than how we can better serve our students with disabilities. And what can be even more challenging for hall staff is that while teachers may get a letter from disability services on the educational accommodations that a student needs, hall staff don’t get this information, which would be helpful in the educational programming we provide in hall. And just as teachers may be on the lookout for students with disabilities, so are hall staff. As a for instance, I have heard from colleagues that they are always looking for students with disabilities and trying to figure out what their disability is (or as it is sometimes phrased, “what is wrong with them”) so that they can figure out how to help them. However, hall staff rarely consider that they could be doing their work differently to be inherently more inclusive to people with disabilities. As a for instance, hall staff will refrain from having a speed dating program as it tends to be heteronormative in how it plays out and can be exclusive towards gay, lesbian, and questioning students. In this case, they don’t wait until they find out a student who is attending is gay before altering the program. However, they feel it is important for them to know who students with disabilities are and what the disability is before attempting to accommodate them. This can lead to “outing” a student about their disability and, as many professors also view it, places the issue in the student as opposed to environment that they are existing in. As discussed in the article, hall staff may have a conventional view of disability, believing that a lack of specific training results in difficulty accommodating them, especially without specific direction. With this, I think that teaching the value of universal instructional design to hall staff would help them to be more inherently inclusive of people with disabilities. Hopefully, through my presentation, I can transform more of our hall staff from having conventional views of teaching to students with disabilities to having a more social constructivist view.

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