Universal Instructional Design in a Legal Studies Classroom
Karen L. Miksch
University of Minnesota
This chapter was generated after the author attended the Curriculum Transformation and Disability (CTAD) workshop and implemented Universal Instructional Design (UID) principles in her Law in Society course. The chapter begins by describing an accessible web page. The author then discusses the use of mock trials in which students can play a variety of roles that fit their individual learning styles. The chapter concludes with a discussion of how to broaden course and student service content to include disability rights.
Universal Instructional Design in a Legal Studies Classroom
I had the opportunity to attend the first Curriculum Transformation and Disability
(CTAD) workshop in January 2000. It helped me to reflect on how I could make my courses and services more accessible. I teach legal studies classes to first and second year undergraduate students in a developmental education program. I also act as a pre-law advisor. This chapter was generated from my experiences implementing Universal Instructional Design (UID) in my courses and advising.
Designing a course and pre-law web page was my first step in implementing a "learning support" and will be discussed in the initial section of this chapter. I will then discuss how I redesigned my participation assessment and how I utilize mock trials so that students can play a variety of roles that fit their individual learning styles. The chapter concludes with a discussion of how to broaden course and student service content to include disability rights.
Designing and Incorporating a Web Page to Provide a UID Learning Support
After attending the CTAD training, I decided that I wanted to create a universally designed course web page (Miksch, 2001). In order to create an accessible web page I first went to the Bobby web site. Bobby is a free service provided by the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST, 2001) to help Web page authors identify and repair significant barriers to access by individuals with disabilities. Bobby will run a diagnostic program on your web page and give you tips to make it more accessible. It will also "approve" your web site if you incorporate UID principles.
Next, I thought about the purpose of having a course web page. I realized that the disability accommodations that I have made for students in the past are also just good teaching practices. In the past, I have made copies of my power point lecture slides as a reasonable accommodation for a student with a disability. In universally designing my web page, I decided to include copies of my power point lecture slides on my web page so all students could access my notes. I post the notes weekly and many students have told me they use my lecture slides in order to check their notes for completeness, clarification, and spelling errors. Students no longer miss the big picture because they are madly trying to write down definitions and details.
I have started posting my assignments, a plagiarism and proper documentation guide, and other helpful handouts on public speaking and how to read cases on the web page, in addition to giving students a paper copy. This assists all students, including students with learning and psychological disabilities. If students need to start an assignment early, they can do so. Tutors in the Writing Center also have access to the assignment guides and find them useful in understanding what I expect of my students. Posting a course syllabus to a web page not only assists students currently enrolled, it also provides helpful information to advisors and prospective students about course content, goals, and the instructor's teaching style. After I realized that other staff and prospective students benefited from the increased information, I added a section for students interested in attending law school. The new section provides links to online information as a way to supplement the pre-law workshops that I conduct. As my web page has grown, I continue to go back to the Bobby web site for design suggestions to make sure the information is readily accessible by all prospective users.
Assessment of Participation That Respects Divergent Learning Styles
An important goal of Law in Society is for students to gain better oral communication skills and hone their ability to think critically. When I implemented UID I wanted to make sure that I was taking into account diverse learning styles when assessing participation. I have learned a lot from my students and colleagues about how to teach legal concepts in a first year developmental education course. As Higbee, Ginter, and Taylor (1991) advocate, I present the information utilizing methods that are congruent with my students' learning styles. Reading cases, hearing lectures, and reading and listening to Supreme Court oral arguments complements print and aural learning styles. Debates, mock hearings, and trials are excellent methods for interactive learners. Visual learners comprehension of material is enhanced by timelines, maps, videotapes, and power point slides. Finally, performative movement during the mock trial reaches kinesthetic learning styles.
Prior to attending the CTAD training, I assessed classroom participation mainly via debates, small group presentations to the entire class, and large group discussions. Although I want to maintain participation as a requirement for the course, I also want to recognize that there are a variety of ways for students to engage with the material and provide their unique perspective to all of us involved in the course. My syllabus now reads:
Your participation in class is highly valued. Our class will be a collective effort in which our efforts to understand law and society will depend on the exploration of a number of perspectives and viewpoints. I recognize that not all students feel comfortable speaking in front of large groups of people. Class participation therefore includes a variety of ways to contribute to the course development, including: meaningful contribution to class discussions, small group work, debates, presentations, email communication, office hour discussions, reviewing drafts of other student’s work and providing useful written and/or oral comments.
I assign a mock trial in my classes and participation is a major portion of the grade. For the assignment, I write a fact pattern and witness statements based on a current U.S. Supreme Court case. Students choose whether they want to play the role of an attorney or a witness. Working together in six to eight person teams, students spend three weeks preparing the trial and then conduct a jury trial in class. In rethinking the mock trial to make sure it is universally designed, I have developed the assignment so students can play a variety of roles that fit their individual learning styles. For example, visual learners can create charts and power point slides for use as visual aids during the trial. This also enables jury members who are print and visual learners to better follow the case. Visual aids also assist students playing the role of an attorney to organize opening statements and to remember important case names. Witnesses, especially those who must remember a key dollar figure, also may use visual aids. In the past I made accommodations for students with a learning disability and allowed the use of notes. Now, all witnesses can use visual aids if they want help remembering a key fact.
Mock trial is an effective way to learn about the U.S. legal system, work on oral communication, and enhance critical thinking. The majority of students rate the mock trial as the assignment that best helped them meet course goals on end of semester evaluations. Interactive and kinesthetic learners excel in the mock trials and often gain confidence that enhances their large group participation and written work. Print learners also provide a key skill by digesting the written information in the case packet. Aural learners follow the mini-lectures that I conduct on argumentative strategies and provide constructive feedback to team members on delivery of opening and closing statements and witness testimony. In their peer assessment forms of their own and each other's participation, many students remark that each team member played a different, yet key role in preparing the case.
I continue to work on designing the mock trials so that different forms of participation are assessed and valued. Students are assessed by me and by each other on how well they work with other team members and not just on the actual trial performance. I have noticed that students who are initially nervous about the public speaking component of the course are much more successful and report a more positive experience now that I have incorporated more UID principles into both the assignment and assessment of the mock trial.
Broadening Content to Include Disability Rights
I also assessed the content of my classes to ensure they are universally designed. As James Banks (1993) and Ronald Takaki (1993) have advocated, integrating multicultural education into course content is an effective way to make courses more inclusive. I want to integrate disability rights into my courses and agree with Geneva Gay (1995) that there are multiple appropriate ways to teach in a multicultural manner. Initially I incorporated a separate section on disability rights and am now rethinking the way in which I teach to incorporate UID principles.
When students see themselves reflected in the curriculum, they are more engaged with the underlying subject matter of the course (Takaki, 1993). To this end, I have incorporated more information on people with disabilities in all of the social science classes that I teach. The legislative history, major federal laws, and seminal cases surrounding disability rights are part of Civil Rights content of the Law in Society class. However, now rather than segregating disability rights to a separate section of the course, we discuss the emergence of equal protection and evolving definitions of legal equality. Within this discussion, disability is discussed and analyzed along with race and ethnicity, gender, class, age, and sexual orientation. Disability is not relegated to a separate "ism, " but seen within the context of a major Civil Rights issue.
I also decided to incorporate disability, race, class, sexual orientation, and gender issues as they relate to education law. I have found that education law and policy is an issue that all students relate to and offers a way for them to engage with course content. Students read a number of cases, including Brown v. Board of Education (1954), and learn about laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA, 1994/1997), that govern education. For example, when we discuss education law, we read the provisions in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (1994) and Title II and III of the ADA that apply to higher education and prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. There are a number of articles and publications that provide detailed information on Section 504 and the ADA that assisted in my curriculum development (Blanck, 1998; Council on Law in Higher Education [CLHE], 2000; Rothstein, 2000; Tucker, 1996).
Including disability rights content also reinforces my syllabus statement regarding disability accommodations. Furthermore, students who may have misinformation about psychiatric or learning disabilities learn important information and together we shatter some of the stereotypes about accommodations (e.g., students are faking it, makes course too easy, etc.). Perhaps most importantly, we discuss the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1994 and how it differs from the ADA. Students who had IDEA accommodations when they were in high school need to know that, unlike in primary and secondary schools, when they enter higher education the onus is on them to register with the college or university disability services office and contact individual instructors to obtain reasonable accommodations. Without understanding this distinction, and that testing may no longer be free, many students may incorrectly believe they are automatically eligible for accommodations received in high school.
Discussions about disability culture and the movement for disability rights have led to a number of benefits. My perception is that students are more willing to self-disclose learning and psychiatric disabilities to me during office hours than they were when disability issues were not integrated into my courses. Hopefully this change is also due to less stigma being attached to being labeled "learning disabled" or having a psychiatric disability. In past course offerings where I focused primarily on issues of equality surrounding race, class, and gender, some students dismissed the issue as "discrimination that used to happen, but doesn't anymore." With the inclusion of disability and sexual orientation integrated into our discussion of equality, it is more difficult to dismiss inequality as just a historical problem. Students are also able to see more of a link between themselves as individuals and the legal system, a major goal of Law in Society.
Since incorporating UID principles in my classes, I have had several students bring me letters detailing the accommodations they require. The students notice that the most common accommodations (i.e., copies of lecture notes and additional time on assignments) have already been incorporated into the course design to benefit all students. I explain that I have attempted to incorporate more learning supports into the course with the goal of inclusive pedagogy. The mock trial, which is the best way I have found to teach students about the U.S. legal system, seems to increase course retention now that I have incorporated multiple ways to participate. Most importantly, integrating disability rights issues into the Civil Rights and education law sections of the course content has provided a valuable learning experience. In attempting to meet Sonia Nieto's (1994) challenge to move from tolerance to acceptance in multicultural education, hopefully more students are seeing themselves reflected, respected and affirmed in the curriculum.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 to 12132 (West 1994 & Supp. 1997).
Banks, J. (1993). Multicultural education as an academic discipline: Goals for the 21st century. Multicultural Education, 1(3), 8-11, 39.
Blanck, P. (1998). Civil rights, learning disability, and academic standards. Journal of Gender, Race & Justice, 2, 33-58.
Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) (2001). Bobby home page, [On-line], Available: http://www.cast.org/bobby/
Council on Law in Higher Education (CLHE) (2000). Disability law for campus administrators: Meeting the needs of students. [Online]Available: www.clhe.org
Gay, G. (1995). Bridging multicultural theory and practice. Multicultural Education, 3(1), 4-9.
Higbee, J.L., Ginter, E.J., & Taylor, W.D. (1991). Enhancing academic performance: Seven perceptual styles of learning. Research and Teaching in Developmental Education, 7(2), 5-9.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400-1485 (1994), as amended by 20 U.S.C.A. §§ 1400-1487 (West 1997).
Miksch, K. Home page for Karen Miksch. [Online]. Available: http://www.gen.umn.edu/faculty_staff/miksch/
Nieto, S. (1994). Moving beyond tolerance in multicultural education. Multicultural Education, 1(4), 9-12, 35-38.
Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 701 (1994).
Rothstein, L. (2000). Higher education and the future of disability policy. Alabama Law Review, 52, 241-270.
Takaki, R. (1993). A different mirror: A history of multicultural America. Boston: Little, Brown.
Tucker, B. (1996). Application of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 to colleges and universities: An overview and discussion of special issues relating to students. Journal of College & University Law, 23, 1-41.