Universal Design: A Mindset
The Three Primary Principles of Universal Design may seem a little simple and you may have conquered the basics of checking your course materials for accessibility, but UDL doesn’t stop there. More than a checklist you can mark off and walk away, UDL is a student-centered approach to design a course for the diverse learner. UDL does not just benefit students with documented (or undocumented) disabilities, it is a mindset for faculty to engage with their course design and create a more welcoming and inclusive environment for all students.
Designing a course with UDL on the mind means considering components of a course that help students remain focused on the essential learning outcomes and encourages student engagement. Here we list some key components to think about.
A Welcoming Classroom
Have you taken the time to get to know the students in your class? Depending on the level of your course you may want student information forms to gauge any reservations or special needs students want to share with you. In an online setting, creating a welcome video telling about yourself or having the first assignment be a self-introduction can send the message that you want to learn about your students, beyond their course grade.
Students need to know what is expected of them to do well in your class. Course expectations should be clear and easily accessible. All assignments and required activities should be listed up front in the syllabus and should be reinforced at least early in the semester to ensure students understand what is expected. In this case, repetition eliminates confusion and unnecessary stress. In addition to a syllabus, you may want to include a separate calendar indicating reading assignments, deadlines and possibly course objectives for each week. Rubrics are also a great way to reduce student stress about grades.
Constructive and Timely Feedback
Give students feedback throughout the semester on their progress. If you have a discussion board this may include emailing students to let them know how you are rating the quality of their posts or peer interactions. When returning final exams or written assignments, include correct answers or references to where correct answers can be found in the online or text book materials. If you are teaching a lower level course, or there is a chance you have students who have been out of school for an extended period of time this may include more detailed feedback via a midsemester report on performance.
Opportunity to Demonstrate Knowledge in Multiple Ways
Not all students would rather be assessed with a multiple choice exam over a 10-page final paper. Students have different experience and comfort levels with methods of presenting their learning to instructions. If you have an end of the year project consider giving students multiple options (write a paper, design a website, make a video). When giving an exam assessment, provide opportunities for students to answer different types of questions (free recall, multiple choice, short answer, etc.)
Universal Design Framework
These are examples of ways you can create a more inclusive environment for your students, but this is far from a comprehensive list. The focus should be on eliminating barriers to learning and promoting diverse approaches within the learning environment. UD gives students the opportunity to investigate new ways of learning material and new ways of presenting material. By promoting an inclusive environment, students are more likely to work with others who have different strengths and can learn their strengths and the strengths in their peers that best complement their own. These are skills that will be invaluable beyond the classroom.
Remember It’s a Process
If you are only able to incorporate one new aspect of UD into your upcoming course this is a start in the right direction. If you remodel your entire course, you will likely have to make changes the next semester. Seek feedback from your students, and develop materials that align with the students that will be entering your class.