Implementing Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in the Histology Curriculum

By Kelli Goodkowsky, M.Ed., HT (ASCP), Program Director, Goodwin College

Histology Technicians play a fundamental role in the diagnosis of disease. Because of the “histotechnologist’s skillful application of sophisticated laboratory techniques, the seemingly invisible world of tissue structure becomes visible under a microscope” (National Society for Histotechnology, 2017).

The histology professional maintains the integrity of patient tissue specimens from the moment the specimen is delivered to the histology laboratory until the time of diagnosis, greatly impacting the patient’s care.

What I love about the field of histology is that it remains a “hands on” field of science; consequently, student engagement is high in the student laboratory setting, as they apply knowledge gained from the lectures. Our challenge is keeping students engaged in the classroom lectures, both on campus and online.

My motivation for participating in the first cohort for Universal Design for Learning (UDL) here at Goodwin College was directly related to required coursework of the Histology Program. The faculty and I saw a need for revising one of the histology courses that was dense with content. In this course, students struggle with the material that covers fixation of specimens, and often rely on memorization techniques. Instructors have been challenged to find ways for students to apply these concepts in the classroom and in the laboratory, mainly because the majority of these tissue fixatives are not used in routine histology; yet their applicability to staining and specimen integrity, is important for the student’s overall understanding of tissue specimens received in the histology lab.

The three core principles of UDL, Multiple Means of Representation, Multiple Means of Action and Expression, and Multiple Means of Engagement provide support for learning. Affective networks of the brain are responsible for the “why” of learning and are supported by Multiple Means of Engagement. For the histology lectures, how our students get engaged in the concepts, is critical to their understanding; how we as instructors present the material, can result in that Ah-ha moment for the student, greatly impacting their learning.

One of the things that struck me as technology became a staple of education, was how we all love to be entertained- and entertainment is ok, but engagement is really where learning takes place. Because students were spending a great deal of time memorizing, it was important that we help them to make connections with the material being presented, thus minimizing the need for memorization. For example, providing a narrated PowerPoint of images representative of the written concepts, can assist students with making connections to the material. Add a written script of the PowerPoint for students to print and follow, and accompanying lecture notes, you have now provided multiple means of representation (visual, audible, and tactile).

Of significance, and an idea worth exploring, is how the student presents their understanding of the concept back to the instructor. A visual discussion board with a synchronous, facilitated discussion, can be a valuable replacement for the typical asynchronous discussion board so often embedded in online courses. One of my favorites is the use of the Padlet, an online virtual bulletin board allowing collaboration between students and faculty. The Padlet board can be a valuable tool for assessing student understanding, while increasing student engagement in the online environment. Oral assessments versus written assessments may help students who struggle with writing, to stress less, increasing their ability to retain material.

This is a very exciting time for educators and students in the field of histology. We all must think “globally” and remain open. Our students are diverse, our faculty are diverse. Maintaining our flexibility within the realm of teaching through the implementation of universal design, will benefit student-learning processes, while greatly influencing how we as educators embrace our own pedagogy.
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