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Transition Handbook

Universal Teaching Design

CAST Universal Design for Learning

Underlying Premises

As a new paradigm for teaching, learning, assessment and curriculum development, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) draws upon and extends principals of universal design as used in architecture and product design. Architects practicing universal design create structures which accommodate the widest spectrum of users possible, including those with disabilities. In universally designed environments adaptability is subtle and integrated into the design. Designing for the divergent needs of special populations increases usability for everyone. The curb cut is a classic example. Although they were originally designed to help those in wheel chairs negotiate curbs, curb cuts ease travel for those pushing carriages, riding skateboards, pedestrians with canes, as well as, the average walker.

UDL shifts old assumptions about teaching and learning in four fundamental ways:

  • Students with disabilities fall along a continuum of learner differences rather than constituting a separate category
  • Teacher adjustments for learner differences should occur for all students, not just those with disabilities
  • Curriculum materials should be varied and diverse including digital and online resources, rather than centering on a single textbook
  • Instead of remediating students so that they can learn from a set curriculum, curriculum should be made flexible to accommodate learner differences

The central practical premise of UDL is that a curriculum should include alternatives to make it accessible and appropriate for individuals with different backgrounds, learning styles, abilities, and disabilities in widely varied learning contexts. The "universal" in universal design does not imply one optimal solution for everyone. Rather, it reflects an awareness of the unique nature of each learner and the need to accommodate differences, creating learning experiences that suit the learner and maximize his or her ability to progress.

Universal Design for Access. . .

No two students learn the same way. Even within the normal range of performance and ability students vary greatly in their ability to see, hear, move, read, write, attend, organize, focus, engage and remember. Applying universal design to learning materials and activities can increase access for all learners, including those with disabilities. For example, history texts provided in standard print format present a barrier for students who are dyslexic or to students for whom English is a second language, and is completely inaccessible for blind students. The same material in a universally designed digital format can offer many options for these diverse learners. The material can be read aloud by a computer or screen reader, printed on a Braille printer, offered in spoken or written translation, and/or presented with highlighted main points and organizational supports.

. . .for Learning

Teachers practicing universal design for learning find themselves questioning the way in which they conceptualize and articulate assignments. Is the goal to write a story, or to create a narrative? Is the instruction to write your name at the top of the paper or to identify your work? As in other applications of universal design, well executed universal design for learning engenders constructive re-evaluation and reformulation that ultimately benefits all learners.

Envisioning Future Curriculum

The power of future curriculum will be in the alternative formats, contents, activities and links of the learning network, all afforded by universal design.

Three approaches to implementing this vision follow:

  1. Content will be provided through multiple representations with multiple strategies for acting upon it. New curriculum will:
    • Provide alternate routes for learners who may have difficulty working with certain media or may prefer certain media.
    • Provide alternate routes for making patterns more explicit and expertise more accessible to all learners.
    • Increase engagement of all learners by allowing them to work from their areas of strength and interest.
  2. Curriculum will be constructed as modules and accessed via networks. New curriculum will:
    • Allow customization so that learning goals, materials, and experiences can be matched with student, teacher, and parent needs.
    • Allow customization to support particular instructional approaches, points of view, standards, and types of assessment.
    • Make viable the creation of alternate versions adapted to different populations and different locations.
    • Make viable a continuous update and revision process allowing materials to be current and responsive to world events and discoveries, consumer expectations, and market demands.
    • Allow timely selection of learning resources.
  3. Materials, experiences, and supports will be drawn from a wide range of sources and integrated into the core structure of the curriculum. New curriculum will:
    • Take advantage of the wealth of resources available via the Internet while maintaining curricular focus and standards of excellence.
    • Provide current and relevant learning experiences.
    • Provide real-life examples to support classroom learning.
    • Increase engagement for all learners by allowing them to do "school work" within topics of interest.
    • Provide a forum for members the community to get involved with their schools, share their expertise, act as mentors, and provide other needed services.
    • Provide a forum for students and teachers from all over the world to connect with and learn from each other.

Seven Principles of Universal Instructional Design

Compiled from North Carolina State University's Principles of Universal Design & Chickering and Gamson's Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. Curriculum Transformation and disability. Funded by U.S. Dept of Ed. Project #P333A990015

Principle 1:

Determine the essential components of the course.
Identify the knowledge and skills students must attain to successfully complete the course.

Principle 2:

Provide clear expectations and feedback.
Be sure your expectations and feedback convey the essential components of the course.

Principle 3:

Explore ways to incorporate natural supports for learning.
Some disability-related accommodations benefit all students; explore ways to infuse these natural supports in your courses.

Principle 4:

Provide multi-modal instructional methods.
Students learn in a variety of ways; seek opportunities to use all seven of James' and Galbraith's learning styles.

Principle 5:

Provide a variety of ways for demonstrating knowledge.
Create alternative ways for students to demonstrate knowledge and skills (e.g. option of writing a research paper or completing a presentation).

Principle 6:

Use technology to enhance learning opportunities.
Put materials on-line, arrange for course listservs, select software that is compatible with assistive technology, put materials on disk for use with assistive technology (Braille printer, screen magnification, screen readers).

Principle 7:

Encourage faculty-student contact.
Invite students to use e-mail and your available office hours to ask questions and solicit feedback.