By Bruce Adams, Contributing Writer
The Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning is launching a new team that will help University of Illinois instructors incorporate Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles in courses and programs on the Urbana-Champaign campus.
By supporting instructors in applying UDL principles, CITL’s UDL Team hopes to make inclusivity and accessibility more integral to the course design and delivery process, and thereby, improve student-learning outcomes and quality of instruction.
Marc Thompson, Assistant Director for Teaching & Learning Experiences at CITL, has been assembling the UDL Team over the past six months and will lead the team. He will be assisted by Melanie Grove, CITL’s E-Learning Quality Assurance Coordinator; a UDL specialist; and a team of quality assurance course reviewers.
“Our campus has reached an important tipping point with UDL,” Thompson said. “A number of instructors are familiar with the basic conceptual framework of UDL and are now eager to explore different ways of applying it in their course design and teaching. In fact, instructors might even be surprised by how they may already be implementing some UDL best practices in their courses.”
As a conceptual framework, UDL is based on three guiding principles that involve providing multiple means of representation, expression, and action. These three principles derive partly from what we know about specific neural networks in the brain that govern what, how, and why we learn. UDL is also guided by diversity and inclusion in its acknowledgment that students differ in what best engages their learning interests, how they process different types of learning material, and how they express their learning.
"In practice, UDL seeks to remove potential learning obstacles with the goal of helping all students become expert learners," explained Thompson, who is also program director and an instructor for the Information Accessibility Design & Policy (IADP) certificate program.
Removing obstacles and increasing accessibility in a course includes making sure images have alternative text descriptions for blind and low-vision learners, ensuring that learners who cannot use a mouse can navigate easily through course content, and that the content and related resources are readable by assistive technology our students use, such as screen readers like JAWS or VoiceOver, or literacy support tools like Read&Write Gold. There are a host of other accessibility considerations as well that include color contrast and captioning, to name a few. UDL intersects with accessibility in many areas and aims to provide multiple ways students can engage in learning (e.g., interactive activities, discussion groups, and interviewing); access learning materials (e.g., audio, visual, graphical, textual, etc.); and demonstrate what they have learned (e.g., a video, slideshow presentation, or essay).
CITL course quality criteria like the Core Elements of Online Course Quality incorporate UDL principles and aim to engage all students in their respective optimal learning experiences. According to Melanie Grove, “CITL’s Quality Assurance Team will operate under the broader umbrella of the UDL Team by aligning course quality standards with UDL principles and helping promote and support UDL as an integral part of overall course quality.”
The UDL team will also coordinate with key stakeholders on campus, including U of I’s ADA Coordinators, to ensure alignment with the university’s strategic vision for guiding educational efforts around accessibility; Disability Resources, and Educational Services (DRES) to better understand students’ needs; and Tech Services as subject matter experts who can assist as needed in expediting the evaluation of learning tools and platforms and preparing alternative access plans, should such plans be needed.
The UDL Team also will work to raise awareness among instructors about the benefits of incorporating UDL and accessibility in the design phase of new teaching and learning projects. Toward this end, the team will collaborate with Siebel Center for Design to explore the intersections between UDL and Human-Centered Design (HCD) as part of the overall ideation, design, and authoring processes.
By helping improve overall course design and delivery on campus, the UDL team will be supporting and promoting all four pillars of our university’s newly adopted teaching excellence guidelines: well-designed, well-delivered, inclusive, ethical, reflective, and evolving.
To learn more about Universal Design for Learning and how you can work with CITL’s UDL Team to incorporate the principles into your teaching, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.