UWEC student-faculty research honored at NCUR

Two UWEC students recognized for their undergraduate research

Charlotte Becker

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Photo by UW-Eau Claire

Student researcher Maura Laesser.

Emily Nickolai and Maura Laesser, both UW-Eau Claire students double-majoring in special education and inclusive practices and elementary education, were recognized at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research (NCUR) in 2022 for their work.

Karsten Powell, assistant professor in special education and inclusive practices, was the faculty leader for the research. According to Powell, he teaches a course for future educators that will aid the students in creating more inclusive practices in their future classrooms. 

“After teaching the class for a while, I was dissatisfied with the outcomes,” Powell said. “I felt like there was never enough time to cover the things we wanted to, and there was always something that we could have done better.”

Laesser, a student of Powell’s at the time, inquired about collaborative research and then included Nickolai in coming up with a few ideas alongside being teaching assistants in his class, according to Powell. 

“The three of us then worked together to come up with some ideas,” Powell said. “What came out of those conversations is we decided to work on restructuring the course around what is called universal design for learning framework.”

The use of the Universal Design for Learning was what piqued Nickolai’s interest in the research, according to Nickolai. 

“UDL is the Universal Design for Learning,” Nickolai said, “It is a framework that we use for engagement, representation and action expression of lesson plans. Basically, to have a more adaptive approach for all students.”

The research itself consisted of classroom surveys and other in-class data, according to Powell. 

“We did a pre- and post-survey with the class,” Powell said, “We also collected data throughout the semester looking at how they were making their lesson plans more inclusive as we talked about different disability categories.”

The research initially found that general education students were unprepared for inclusion practices, according to Nickolai. 

“The initial start of the research was seeing how prepared or unprepared general education teachers were going into the field,” Nickolai said. “In the end, it was shown through the study that the general education teachers do need more special education classes at the university.”

According to Powell, the goals of the research were to not only improve immediate course outcomes, but also to provide the tools needed for long-term classroom inclusion practices. 

“The immediate goal was to improve that course and improve outcomes down the road for students with disabilities,” Powell said. “The longer-term goal is the hope that it is going to help students with disabilities in class by using what we have learned from the study.” 

The research was recognized at NCUR alongside other presentation opportunities, according to Laesser. 

“We presented at a few conferences,” Laesser said, “We did NCUR, at which we got top honor for the education sector of the conference, which is really exciting.”

According to Nickolai, the research was a great opportunity for bettering education and inclusion. 

“In the end, education is all a team effort and we are all here for all of the students,” Nickolai said. 

Becker can be reached at [email protected]