Maria Peña is an accomplished scholar. She holds two master’s degrees – one in rehabilitation counseling and the other in higher education – and she is pursuing a doctoral degree in psychology.
But her credentials belie a lifelong struggle with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), a learning disability she has spent years confronting and helping others overcome.
Peña, associate director of the Disability Resources Center on campus, now works with students with disabilities, physical and neurological, who need academic accommodations to help them “achieve grades that are indicative of their abilities, not their disabilities.”
And she is one of a growing number of UNLV faculty members making strides to introduce or improve best teaching practices for diversity and inclusion in the classroom.
“This is a new area of research in the country,” said Barbee Oakes, UNLV’s chief diversity officer. “As one of the most diverse campuses in the country, this is one of the greatest gifts we can give the whole field of higher education – getting faculty together to study and develop best practices to help our students overcome any barriers to their academic success.”
Peña recently completed a scholarly review of available research on creating courses that are universally accessible to students with different learning styles.
“What the research shows is that in higher education, we need to focus on helping students develop critical thinking skills,” Peña said. “And when it comes to students with different learning abilities, we have to offer more than one way to approach the subject or skill, and give students more than one way to demonstrate or apply the concept.”
Results of her review will be among the 35 presentations in this year’s Best Teaching Practices Expo. The two-day event started yesterday. Today it will feature a series of workshops in the new Faculty Center on the second floor of Beam Hall.
“This event really highlights great ideas across disciplines from really fantastic faculty,” said Melissa Bowles-Terry, associate director of the Faculty Center. “It is a great place for faculty to get new ideas for their own practice. There is a lot of information this year on diversity and inclusion, but there are also great presentations on confidence-building, interactive learning, and problem-solving.”
Poster presentation submissions were reviewed by a committee to ensure that the teaching practice described is:
- Important in addressing a particular need to improve teaching
- Demonstrably beneficial for UNLV student in particular
- Applicable in a variety of teaching contexts.
University Libraries each year publishes expo posters electronically to an institutional repository, Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), which also serves as an incubator for peer-reviewed publications by faculty, staff, and students.
2020 Best Teaching Practices - Distinguished Poster Award Winners
- Tiffany Barrett, Physical Therapy: Framework for improving inter-professional
communication through shared learning experiences
- Chia-Liang Dai and Ching-Chen Chen, College of Education: Cultivating contemplative mind in the classroom
- Ashley Doughty, Art: Overheard: Connecting verbal language to visual meaning
- Jennifer Nash, Physical Therapy: Framework for integrating service-learning projects into healthcare curricula
- Erica Tietjen, Teaching & Learning: Seeing the "Big Picture": Building cooperative visual literacy in the undergraduate biology classroom
Alison Sloat, who teaches the first-year seminar for science, is presenting a practice called the “Identity Prism,” which she and an interdisciplinary group of faculty developed to help first-year students adapt to college life.
The practice was designed especially to help students from underrepresented groups or who are the first in their families to attend college, but it is helpful for all first-year students, Sloat said. The concept for the practice sprung from what the group learned during a two-day Educational Equity Institute put on in August by UNLV’s Faculty Center in partnership with undergraduate education, online education, and the office of diversity initiatives.
“A lot of the research shows that first-generation college students and minorities often feel alone or feel like they’re not a part of campus culture when they first get to college,” Sloat said. “The identity prism provides a classroom exercise where students can learn from each other in a way that builds community.”
On the first day of class, Sloat asked the students to independently fill out the prism of information, such as their major, something about their life outside the class, their academic goals, strengths, something about their identity, and finally, a fear or anxiety they have about college. Then, they paired up with a partner and shared one aspect of their prism to see what they might have in common. She also shared her identity prism with the class.
In gauging the success of this practice, Sloat conducted the exercise in four sections, which included 88 students. She found that 66 percent of students reported they felt anxious about failing, not belonging, and being first in their family to attend college. In doing the exercise, the students had an opportunity to “think, pair, share,” and realize they are not alone – either they found others who belonged to similar affinity groups or shared the same fears or academic goals.
While more research can be done on the efficacy of this practice, Sloat said it appears to have had a positive effect. At the end of the semester, she found 4 percent fewer students failed her first-year seminar compared with the year before. And, she received positive feedback from students.
Meanwhile, Karyn Holt is presenting on how the practice of using closed captions to help deaf students is beneficial to all students. Holt, who is retired from the U.S. Air Force, teaches evidence-based practice in the School of Nursing and is a nurse-midwife.
Holt’s presentation shows students in her online courses use the tool to their advantage, regardless of any disability.
“What it showed me is that in creating classes that are universally designed for learning, all students will benefit,” she said, noting that several of her students shared how the tool has helped them stay on track and overcome challenges related to access rather than their learning abilities.
“One student said she uses the closed captions to keep up with lectures while she commutes in the quiet car on the Amtrak train,” Holt said. “Another said her husband had been annoyed by her listening to lectures while he watched TV, so using the closed captions gave her more time to do homework while he watched TV.
Other students for whom English is not their native language reported the closed captions helped them understand what was said by reinforcing the material because they could hear it and read it, she said.
In addition to her poster, Holt will be showcasing one other tool that could be the wave of the future. Rather than presenting in person, she will be presenting as a robot controlled remotely from her home office in Alaska.
“I’ll probably be the only robot there,” she said.