UDL takes design principles and applies them to education. While you can create an entire course with UDL in mind, you can also focus on just your syllabus, a specific assignment, or other components of your course. And if you've been thinking about different ways to engage your students, you might already be practicing it.
User Experience Office Leader
Last month, Tracey Birdwell wrote about active learning in the classroom; this month, Madeline Grdina would like to draw attention to another educational approach based on the learning sciences: Universal Design for Learning (UDL).
So what is it?
UDL is about designing or creating an environment or resource "so that it may be accessed, understood, and used to the greatest extent possible" (What is universal design?). It has three principles:
- Provide multiple means of engagement, like discussion and journaling.
- Provide multiple means of representation, like videos and transcripts.
- Provide multiple means of action & expression, like in-class activities and group projects.
People often conflate UDL with accessibility, and it's true that UDL principles benefit those who require an accommodation to help with their learning. But more importantly, UDL benefits everyone. For example, a student with a hearing impairment may rely on transcripts to follow a video. But a student who's forgotten their headphones may need those transcripts as well.
UDL isn't about making accommodations, simplifying course content, or even finding a one-size-fits-all solution. It's about creating an inclusive environment for a variety of people. Simply put, universal design is good design.
The good news is that you can take simple, concrete steps to practice UDL. Check out the following resources for tips.
Madeline's go-to sources
- UDL on campus and American Institutes for Research are fantastic resources for instructors who'd like to get started. Both give more examples of what UDL is and how to incorporate it into your classrooms.
- You can also check out the 7 principles of universal design. (These are relevant to both digital and physical resources.)
- Also, be sure to use plain language and follow web standards, so your students benefit from clear expectations and instructions in your syllabi and assignments. (Check out these before-and-after examples of content written in plain language.)
For listening & watching
- If you'd prefer to get started with UDL by listening to a podcast, check out Teaching in Higher Ed's episode with Mark Hofer. Mark touches on why UDL matters and how he incorporates it into his classroom.
- In Teaching in Higher Ed's episode with Thomas Tobin, Thomas describes how UDL helps instructors to be fast and flexible in providing accommodations so students don't lose time when making reasonable requests.
- Also be sure to check out Thomas Tobin's webinar "The Bare Bones Basics of UDL – Universal Design for Learning" to learn more about what UDL is and how it can save you time and effort.
- Through their "Design is [...]" Speaker Series, Google records presentations and panel discussions from design industry experts. Each segment touches on the future of design and explores the "intersection of creativity, technology, and ethics."
For deeper dives
Finally, if you'd like to learn more about user experience beyond the classroom, check out these more general resources:
- Nielsen Norman Group is the go-to resource for UX (and design) standards. They regularly publish their research on writing for the web, behavior patterns, and more.
- Similarly, The Design of Everyday Things (by Don Norman, a founder of NN Group and Apple's first cognitive psychologist) set the foundation for usability as a part of cognitive science.
- InVision is a leading name within the design community, and they have an excellent, robust library of free articles and books. (Their book on design thinking draws from Stanford's d.school.)
- Brian Richwine, IU's senior accessibility strategist, also recommends two eTexts: Universal Design for Learning: Theory and practice (click "Create an account" to get it for free) and Thomas Tobin's Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone (in IUCAT)
- Shameless plug: Every two weeks, IU's UX Office publishes articles and case studies related to design, research, and development at IU. Feedback welcome!