About the Research:
"Using Brain Research to Drive Teaching Innovations: Faculty Development in Universal Course Design"


Mary B. Schreiner, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Education

Cynthia D. Rothenberger, MSN, RN
Assistant Professor of Nursing

Janae Sholtz, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Philosophy

Published in the Journal of Excellence in College teaching, “Using Brain Research to Drive Teaching Innovations: Faculty Development in Universal Course Design” introduces how brain-related research is yielding universal course design strategies, for syllabi, instruction and assessment of a learning-diverse population.

Alvernia Magazine (AM) Question: What got you interested in this particular topic?

Schreiner: As colleagues, we discovered that we had a common interest in being the most effective teachers we could be, a criteria around which faculty are judged but not necessarily always sure how to influence. Universal Design offered us a theoretical and practical way to understand and improve our own effectiveness with students in our college classrooms.

Sholtz: As a junior faculty member, I was interested in exploring new teaching techniques and philosophies. Our research together began as an inquiry into the benefits of Universal Design in the classroom. As we progressed, we realized that there was an enormous amount of information that could be applicable to all different disciplines. I was interested particularly in the way that acknowledging different kinds of learning styles could be proactively applied to the design and planning of the course in order to ensure that the material would be more immediately accessible to students.

AM Question: Since this was a group presentation, which part did you present?

Schreiner: I was primarily responsible for writing the theoretical framework and initial literature review, and I also wrote the section related to building student engagement and class participation, two areas in which I have great interest. Janae wrote the section on syllabus development, and Cindy wrote the section on assessment. These are the same divisions of labor that we also followed when the three of us did a faculty development workshop in January 2011, and which sparked our commitment to put our ideas into a potential publication to reach other college faculty.

AM Question: What is one thing you hope your audience took away from this paper?

Schreiner: We hope that the message is strongly about the potential for reaching each and every student, regardless of their diverse learning characteristics, in a pro-active approach to teaching. 

Sholtz: I hope they took away a new perspective on just how important being attentive to the variety of learning types there are among students and how important it is to vary the delivery methods, both visually and conceptually.

AM Question: Any other interesting tidbit you'd like to share?

Schreiner: Working together on this publication represented a collaborative effort among members of both Colleges (Professional Programs and Arts and Sciences), to address a shared goal, and yielded not only a synergistic and continuing relationship with one another, but one that can only be described as ‘truly Franciscan.’  

Sholtz: Working with faculty from diverse disciplines was really interesting and helped to widen my perspective on what is important for other professors. It was interesting that our process mirrored some of the insights that our paper was trying to prove.

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