Applying Universal Design for Learning
Recently my colleague Mary Labrada and I presented a session on Universal Design for Learning (UDL) at the RU Online Learning Conference. The goal of our presentation was to give attendees guidance on how they could immediately incorporate UDL strategies in their courses. The easiest way to incorporate UDL best practices is at the start of the course development process. However, many of us have well-established courses but just need to improve the accessibility of the existing content.
The goal of UDL is to make education accessible to all learners at any time. It is a shift from the common practice of only making changes when contacted by our Office of Disability Services due to a student who needs an accommodation. It’s estimated that at any given time, 1 of every 5 learners has a diagnosed or undiagnosed disability! Students may be completely unaware that the difficulty they are experiencing with their coursework is due to a disability. Therefore, it’s important to include UDL principles into every single course we deliver to ensure that we are making our content accessible to all learners. Yet, knowing where and how to start may the biggest obstacle we face. Currently, there is a RU staff member from the Office of Disability Services who is conducting a survey with the objective of designing training on this topic. If you’d like to help inform what types of training would be useful, please fill out the survey!
The changes that Mary and I presented are classified into 4 categories based on how easy and quick they are to make. What follows is a summarized version of the information we presented that day.
These are quick fixes that can make a world of difference to your students because they affect how the content in a Learning Management System is displayed.
- Using Headers and styles in general in your Word documents, PDFs and slideshows
- Using Alt Text for your images
- Using sans serif fonts and appropriate font sizes for the type of file (slideshows require larger fonts than printed text) and avoiding the use of color to convey meaning
- Creating meaningful hyperlinks. Instead of saying “Click Here”, your link could point you to “How to Make Accessible Hyperlinks“
- Avoiding low-contrast backgrounds on slideshows as well as using images as backgrounds
- Keeping animations and transition simple in slideshows
- Not cluttering your slides with too much text (use the 6 by 6 rule)
- Use the accessibility checker built into Microsoft Word for Windows and Macs
Changes That Can Be Delayed
These changes may require a little more work on your end and may need to be put off until you have the time to work on them.
- Creating accessible PDF files
- Replacing your photocopied documents – photocopies that have been scanned and uploaded are not considered accessible since they are basically images that cannot be read by a screen reader. Talk to your local Library to ask about how they can help you make those accessible.
Changes That Would Be Nice
We recognize that not all changes that would make your course universally designed for learning are easy to achieve. Some require specific resources or funding that you simply do not have at your disposal. If you can make them, please do so. If you cannot make the changes that would make the content the most accessible, there are sometimes workarounds that are simpler and will be a step in the right direction.
- Educational videos: when delivering content online, presenting only text-based information can be monotonous and true torture for someone with a visual processing issue. Using media to “mix things up” is a great idea for all your learners.
- Closed captioning for video: research has shown that not only hearing impaired individuals use closed captions. Many users like English Language Learners and learners in restrictive acoustic environments (e.g. libraries or online learners with sleeping babies in the room) benefit from having closed captioning available. If you cannot afford closed captioning you can produce a written transcript of the audio in the video and upload that to make the media more accessible.
If you’re just beginning on your course development journey or you feel like your course needs a complete overhaul then course design or redesign is what you should focus on. Here at Rutgers you can work with an Instructional Designer who can help you spot the areas of your courses that could benefit from UDL strategies. Here are 8 tips that we gave conference attendees that you could incorporate into your development process:
- Be clear about learning objectives: make sure they are measurable and aligned to the activities and assessments of the course
- Scaffold your content: allow for review of past content so learners can build on that (or acquire it if there are knowledge gaps) and then move on to higher order thinking activities and skills
- Chunk your content: this practice creates meaningful, visually distinct content units that make sense in the context of the larger whole
- Organize your content with a logical structure and be consistent with that structure. This is mostly applicable to how you display your content on a learning management system
- Vary how you present your materials/content – don’t just rely on text but incorporate images, video, audio, blogs, websites, etc.
- Vary your assessment types: don’t just rely on summative assessment but incorporate formative assessment (summative vs formative assessment).
- One way to do this allows students to become self-aware about how they are doing in your course (student self-checks) as well as for you to gain feedback about how your course is serving your students (instructor course checks).
- With summative assessments, vary the question types (don’t just rely on multiple choice and essay questions) as well as the acceptable submission type. Can your students write an essay, create a video, slideshow, animation or comic book to demonstrate mastery of the concept your assessing? If so, allow their creativity to run free.
- Use rubrics: they make grading efficient, consistent, objective, and faster. They also serve as a working guide for your students and provide clear expectations for them.
- Give timely feedback: don’t make your learners wait a week to get the answer to their question. Feedback is considered timely if it is given within a 24-48 hour time period. In this way, the concept the learner was working on is still fresh in their mind and your feedback will have context.
Want more information?
We want to hear from you!
Have you implemented any of these strategies into your course delivery? What obstacles have you faced trying to make your content more accessible? Do you have any Before and After stories? We’d love to hear from you – post your comments below.