Wednesday, November 2, 2016


Contributed by: Rachel Anderson & Chelsi Florence

So far this quarter, we’ve discussed various means of inclusion in terms of diversity in the classroom (last week) and learning styles. This week, we looked at another form of inclusion in terms of classroom curriculum and activity through an approach known as “Universal Design for Learning.”

Universal Design for Learning
Video for your viewing pleasure to briefly introduce UDL:

Diversity is finally (or at least on paper) becoming more of an institutionalized part of the agenda in parts of higher education. And we as educators must be recognize and act on the fact that a classroom should not be a space where certain students are excluded because the curriculum (institution and instructor) favors a certain kind of student over others. This is where (we hope) UDL can come in.

What is UDL?
“Universal Design for Learning (UDL) applies to the design and creation of learning experiences, processes, and spaces that are accessible to all students and not just a select few, thereby making learning Equitable” (source: “Dig Deeper: Universal Design for Learning (UDL)”).

Learning made equitable both in terms of student access and success. And all of this is done ideally while still maintaining the integrity of the course and achieving its objectives.

Learning happens in three parts. We as educators aim to facilitate learning by helping as many students as possible gain knowledge, skill, and enthusiasm.
    • Knowledge is the WHAT (content)
    • Skills  are the HOW (to think and do)
    • Enthusiasm is the WHY (the “so what?” we often ask)

So, the question we ask is how does this actually happen?
Part of this requires flexibility. There are three aspects of flexibility we can engage with:
  • Multiple methods of (re)presentation
  • Multiple options for participation
  • Multiple means of engagement

The first refers to presentation of the content (the knowledge) to students. The second is various ways to participate or engage with knowledge. The last is means to engage or express what they have learned. This isn’t necessarily new or groundbreaking--we often deal with these using different terminology. For example:
  • (Re)presentation  = Lecture
  • Participation = Section or other in-class group activities, etc.
  • Engagement = Exams, papers, and other assessments

What does matter is this approach is calling for intentional and critical reflection and response on the part of the instructor to craft curriculum and activities that would allow access to all students. It is asking for flexibility on the part of the instructor first and foremost to facilitate access to learning for students.

Why should we consider UDL in approaching our curriculum?
Well, there are a few reasons for this.
  • This built-in flexibility provides into a wider range of options for students to choose from meaning the curriculum adapts to the student, rather than the other way around.
    • Did you get that? It properly places responsibility on the us to attempt to first make the curriculum accessible to student
  • When people believe choice is given, people are more likely to engage in the activity (Lewin, 1952)
  • Choice increases intrinsic motivation, effort, task performance, perceived competence, and preference for challenge (Patall, Cooper, & Civey Rovinson, 2008)

Questions to reflect on:
  • Is there anything problematic with this? Are there assumptions being made or not covered by this approach?
  • Can we truly make things “equitable” (fair/impartial)? Does this actually make the classroom a fair, equal opportunity space?
  • What are potential barriers to implementing this?
    • Research - (Katz)

Additional Resources

Katz, J. (2015). Implementing the Three Block Model of Universal Design for Learning: effects on teachers' self-efficacy, stress, and job satisfaction in inclusive classrooms K-12.International Journal Of Inclusive Education 19(1).

Lewin, K. (1952). Group decision and social change. In G. E. Swanson, T. M. Newcomb, & E. L. Hartley (Eds.),Readings in social psychology(459-473). New York: Holt.

Patall, E. A., Cooper, H., & Civey Robinson, J. (2008). The effects of choice on intrinsic motivation and related outcomes: A meta-analysis of research findings. Psychological Bulletin, 134 (2), 270-300. Doi : 10.1037/0033-2909.134.2.270.

Some classroom challenge scenarios we discussed in pairs and then as a group, and how we might address them with the principles of UDL:

You're teaching a large introductory lecture class in your department, and you're concerned that students are not paying attention during lecture.  You see them using their phones or sleeping.
We agreed that the problems here were a lack of engagement and participation.  We suggested using a diversity of styles, including moving the room or participants around, using clickers or otherwise involving the class, and potentially developing a new phone policy.

You are the TA for a discussion section of 20 students.  The class requires students to read and discuss the technical literature.  There are international students in the classroom who seem to struggle with the vocabulary and are hesitant to speak up in class.
We came up with a few solutions to encourage participation including providing a list of terms to everyone, creating group work that may encourage student confidence, and giving students a class to turn in written assignments if they prefer those to oral communication.

You're the instructor for a lab class which requires hands on work.  You have a blind student in the class, and you're not sure how to incorporate her into your lesson planning.
One of us had previously taught a blind student in a statistics lab, and said that the most effective strategy to benefit all learners was to clearly present and read all information aloud (not to rely on written communication), and to be flexible in grading assignments.

You have some students who require extra time on tests.
We discussed how this might be an opportunity to think about how to allow all learners to better demonstrate their skills and knowledge, rather than creating an exception for students with a letter from the SDA.  Perhaps giving everyone a take-home test that could be completed in any length of time would benefit both those “on the margins” as well as others who would like more comfort while test-taking.

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