All the lesson planning, preparation, research, grading and feedback. Why do we do it? What’s it all for?
Our students—the minds, voices and professionals of the future—are the reason for all of that time and effort. However, it can all mean very little if there are barriers separating the valuable information you have to offer from reaching our audience and impacting them the way we intended.
Temple’s student population comes from a wide variety of backgrounds and requires support of all types, so planning ahead is crucial. As educators, we need to be proactive, versus reactive, in our approach to inclusive course development. We should elevate the experience not only for students with accommodations but for all students in our classes.
That’s where Universal Design for Learning (UDL) comes in.
What is UDL?
UDL is a proactive approach to creating learning environments that are inclusive to all learners regardless of ability, disability, age, gender, cultural, linguistic background or any other factors that result in different learning needs. UDL consists of a set of principles for designing a curriculum that provides all individuals with equal opportunities to learn.
We utilize the concepts of UDL to allow students to personalize their assessments and to research areas they find relevant. By doing so, we see not only decreased rates of issues related to academic integrity but also deep engagement with content. When students are deeply engaged in learning, they are more likely to feel comfortable applying course concepts and less likely to falsely represent their work.
These principles focus on ways to present or access information, concepts and ideas (the “what” of learning), plan and execute tasks (the “how” of learning), and get and stay engaged (the “why” of learning).
The three main principles:
- Representation. Offer information in multiple formats like text, audio or video. This gives all students chances to access the material in ways that support their learning style.
- Action and expression. Provide assessment options aside from a multiple choice exam. This might include giving an oral presentation, writing a paper or designing an infographic. This gives students opportunities to showcase their knowledge in ways that capitalize on their learning strengths.
- Engagement. Encourage and motivate students by allowing them to choose between assessment options, selecting topics that are current and relevant, and creating opportunities for students to interact with each other and the educator.
These principles also provide a framework for and promote a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment.
How to apply UDL in the classroom
- Create universally accessible materials before an accommodation request is made. Ensure all of the materials (documents, presentations, videos, Canvas sites, etc.) are compliant and accessible for all. Microsoft Word, Microsoft PowerPoint and Canvas all have built in accessibility checkers to make the process easy!
- Be intentional when selecting materials to ensure a variety of topics, perspectives and viewpoints are represented.
- Develop course materials that include inclusive language and policies.
- Share our gender pronouns to model inclusion and set the stage for a welcome environment. For example, learn and use student’s preferred names and pronouns.
- Encourage continuous feedback from students to stimulate ongoing improvements to the course.
Everyone has unique needs and strengths when it comes to learning. As educators, we have the opportunity to remove any potential barriers in order to provide fair, equitable and high-quality education to anyone who walks through our classroom doors. With these tips in mind, we can construct a learning environment that is mindful, welcoming, productive and truly inclusive for our ever-evolving student body.