Universal Design Education Online define Universal Design as “…an approach to the design of all products and environments to be as usable as possible by as many people as possible regardless of age, ability or situation”.
I believe that to create a course that’s true to the principles of universal design one would need to be prepared to continually evolve their course. For example, until a teacher is in the position of teaching someone with the unique difficulties faced by someone like Helen Keller they may not have thought of how to cater to the needs of a particular student. It would take great time (if you’re redesigning a course), imagination and resources to be able to design a course that is truly universal. Further, there will always be a student with a new, particularly interesting learning challenge waiting to enrol in your course (e.g., student with synesthesia).
How could the principles of UD be applied in my course?
The principles of UD include:
Flexibility in Use
Simple and Intuitive Use
Tolerance for Error
Low Physical Effort
Size and Space for Approach and Use
UD for Learning (UDL)
UDL looks at the use of technology as a means to maximise learning opportunities for every student. “When UDL is applied, curriculum designers create products to meet the needs of students with a wide range of abilities, learning styles, and preferences.” Below are some guidelines for UDL from the University of Washington:
Class Climate. Adopt practices that reflect high values with respect to both diversity and inclusiveness.
Interaction. Encourage regular and effective interactions between students and the instructor and ensure that communication methods are accessible to all participants.
Physical Environments and Products. Ensure that facilities, activities, materials, and equipment are physically accessible to and usable by all students and that all potential student characteristics are addressed in safety considerations.
Delivery Methods. Use multiple, accessible instructional methods that are accessible to all learners.
Information Resources and Technology. Ensure that course materials, notes, and other information resources are engaging, flexible, and accessible for all students.
Feedback. Provide specific feedback on a regular basis.
Assessment. Regularly assess student progress using multiple, accessible methods and tools and adjust instruction accordingly.
Accommodation. Plan for accommodations for students whose needs are not met by the instructional design. (Burgstahler, 2007a)
UDL appears to me to be about meeting individual differences while enabling quality learning. Following such guidelines as those above in order to create a UDL for my courses will require time and effort, but if it enables me to meet the varying needs of my students then this is something I must take very seriously.
However, it must be remembered that not everyone is “wired up” (to technology), nor does everyone want to be wired up. Therefore, I don’t believe that technology will allow my courses to meet everyone’s needs. For some students, a back to basics approach may be more appropriate (e.g., hard copy mail outs) Nor do I believe that I will be able to meet every students needs all of the time. To create a truly UDL course would be very challenging!