Our former Access Advisor, Carla Petker, authored a very interesting look at the concept of Universal Design and what it can mean to our students and faculty. Thanks to Carla for her efforts.
Introducing Universal Design into Instruction
Our goal at UFV is to provide the best possible education to our learners, and a diverse group of learners it is; single parents, ESL students, and students with disabilities. It also represents a variety of cultures, and ages. Everyone comes with their own unique talents, variety of skills as well as needs. We want to provide an atmosphere that encourages collaboration in which students feel safe sharing their vast knowledge and experience. Creating an environment in which the curriculum we deliver is accessible to all is foremost. This can be achieved by incorporating the principles of Universal Design (UD) when designing curriculum. According to Bowe (2000), UD is a design approach that maximizes usability of products, services and environment for everyone; young and old, short and tall, people with disabilities and without. The purpose of this article is to introduce the principles of UD, Universal Design in Instruction and how we at UFV can integrate these principles into our work.
Universal Design was developed through the passion and vision of Ronald Mace. Ronald contracted polio at a young age and eventually needed to use a wheelchair. Through his experiences he developed a desire to design environments for maximum accessibility. Ronald became an architect and his passion led to the development of the Centre for Universal Design.
In the years since, researchers and educators have taken the concept of UD one step further by integrating the principles of UD into instruction. Universal Design in Instruction applies the approaches of UD to developing widespread accessibility in curriculum by improving teaching and evaluation methods. In 1998, Silver, Bourke and Strehorn originally coined the term UDI as it applies to postsecondary educational environments. Silver et al. (1998; as cited by Scott, McGuire and Foley, 2003, p.43) explained that “the intent of UDI is not to recreate instruction but rather to provide a rubric for more broadly incorporating inclusive approaches into classroom practices”.
The Seven Principles of Universal Design and How They Relate to Instruction.
Below I have listed the principles of Universal Design and how Scott, et al.(2003) relate the principles to instruction.
Principle One: Equitable use
The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.
UD in Instruction: The curriculum/course is accessible to students with a wide range of abilities and there is equitable use by all students with no differential treatment or stigmatizing. A simple example is providing class notes on-line.
A great example of this principle occurred here at UCFV. A student came to Disability Services (DS) in considerable distress about lectures in her psychology class that seemed to be totally without structure. Due to ADHD the student had a very difficult time following the instructor’s lecture. The lecture seemed to have no particular ordering of ideas and frequent digressions were difficult to place appropriately. Often instructors come to class and begin lecturing without giving clear direction about what will be learned that particular day. When an instructor begins lecturing he knows where he wants to go with the lecture and has the full vocabulary and background knowledge to accompany it. The result is a lecture that continuously diverges from the main point. This can be very confusing for linear thinkers and those with attention and concentration challenges. These points were expressed to the instructor who took this information and began presenting his lectures in a more linear way. Not only did this simple change have a huge impact on the learning for the student, but the rest of the class also applauded the changes that were made.
Principle Two: Flexibility in Use
The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
UD in Instruction: There are a variety of methods for assessing student learning, for example, student presentations, oral exams or research projects. Flexible also means using a mixture of instructional modes such as lectures, story telling, group work or computer based discussions. Question students to see what style works best for them.
Principle Three: Simple and Intuitive Use
Use of the design is easy to understand regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills or current concentration level.
UD in Instruction: Eliminate unnecessary complexity! Students should not need an instructional manual to understand the goals and objectives of a course. Be straightforward about what students are expected to achieve and how they will be graded. Bruch (2003) asks students to rewrite an assignment in their own words to see if they really understand what it is that he is asking them to do.
Well organized textbooks that include summaries and key vocabulary, and course pack materials that are legible (i.e. clear photocopy and appropriate font size) are essential.
Principle Four: Perceptible Information
The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
UD in Instruction: All pertinent information is clearly explained regardless of student’s sensory abilities or classroom environment. This is also reflected in Principles One and Two.
Examples: Alternate formats such as captioned videos, textbooks and handouts in digital formats can assist not only people who are hard of hearing (the captioned videos) or who have visual impairments, but also ESL students and students who need to hear and see the words for comprehension in order to maintain concentration.
Principle Five: Tolerance for Error
The design minimizes hazards and adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
UD of Instruction: Anticipate variation in individual learning pace and pre-requisite skills. Under this principle, Scott et al. (2003) consider mistakes an opportunity for more practice and learning. Scott et al. (2003) also suggest that supplements to class work could be provided through on-line exercises or students could have the option of turning in project components as they are finished in order to get feedback before moving on. Mastery is the focus instead of speed (unless rate is an objective of the course). Building knowledge by “scaffolding” will contribute to skill development and attend to differences in ability. (Scott et al, 2003)
Principle Six: Low Physical Effort
The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.
UD of Instruction: Scott et al (2003) state that it is imperative that instructors “minimize non-essential physical effort and maximize attention to learning”. In essence remove or reduce any distractions to learning. An effective technique is to set classroom seating in a horseshoe formation so that students do not have to strain to see who is speaking. This is very helpful and will aid in concentration and help students with hearing impairments.
Principal Seven: Size and Space for Approach and Use
Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation and use regardless of user’s body size, posture or mobility.
UD of Instruction: This principal relates most closely to the original principles of Universal Design.
Within lab classrooms ensure that equipment is within easy reach and that there is adequate space for assistive devices. If you identify a potential problem, contact Facilities or Disability Services to assist in creating a more accessible space for the student(s).
Scott et al., (2003) furthers the seven principles of Universal Design by adding two principles to the Universal Design of Instruction.
Principle Eight: Community of Learners
Encourage interaction and communication among students and students and faculty.
Learning students’ names helps to provide a sense of community and belonging. During the first year of my undergrad, I was in an introductory Sociology class of about 60 students. I was very quiet and rarely spoke out. After about a week or so I found myself in the professor’s office asking questions. To my surprise, he knew my name. I felt special and I respected an instructor that would bother to learn his student’s names. It’s been fifteen years and I still remember Dr. Warburton.
Principle Nine: Instructional Climate.
Instruction is designed to be welcoming and inclusive.
Modeling awareness of diversity and respect for all students will create a positive learning environment. Be attentive to dynamics of class discussions and consider doing a formative evaluation on comfort level during class discussions.
Communicate high expectations for all students. Offer assistance to students who have done poorly on assignments or exams. Communicate that improvement is needed to those who are missing classes and do not assume that a student of a particular minority will need extra supports.
Putting UDI into Practice
I know that there is a collective “yes, but…” out there. Many of you are nodding and saying “I already do many of these things”. Take a minute or two to reflect on these principles; there may be one or two that you haven’t thought of previously. Consider how you could incorporate them into your practice and your instructional development. Most importantly, share your experiences with your colleagues.
In their article, Fox, Hatfield and Collins (2003) state a number of changes that faculty have made at the University of Minnesota.
- Let students know you are open to making their education accessible. Encourage comments and feedback from your class on what teaching styles work well for them.
- Give weekly short answer written quizzes in addition to intensive writing assignments and multiple choice tests so the student’s grade isn’t contingent on one or two assignments
- Writing six exams instead of four so that each test represents a smaller chunk of the course material and reduce the items on the exam from ten to six or eight. This gives more time to write the exam and reduces anxiety
- Periodically asking for feedback from the class on how the classroom strategies are working
- Offering assignments in multiple formats print, web-based and verbal
- Mandating student/instructor meetings at least once during the semester
- Give an oral statement about where to go for help in addition to information on the syllabus
Some other ideas…
- Get involved with the Teaching and Learning Committee
- Share ideas with each other and plan and design curriculum together
- Take advantage of the student portal
Teaching excellence is highly regarded at UCFV and we are committed to increasing the skills of our faculty as seen through the resurgence of the Teaching and Learning Committee. Students comment on the quality of instruction and the dedication of their instructors. It is a strong recruitment tool. Incorporating the principles of Universal Design into your instruction will add to the quality of education our students receive.
Bowe, Frank G. (2000) Universal Design in Education: Teaching Nontraditional Students. Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey.
Bruch, P.L. (2003) Interpreting and implementing universal instructional design in basic writing. In J. L. Higbee (Ed.), Curriculum transformation and disability: implementing universal design in higher education (pp. 93 -104). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota.
Christophersen, J. (ed.) (2002) Universal design: 17 ways of thinking and teaching. Husbanken.
Fox, J.A., Hatfield, J.P., Collins, T.C. (2003) Developing the curriculum transformation and disability workshop model. In J. L. Higbee (Ed.), Curriculum transformation and disability: implementing universal design in higher education (pp. 23-39). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota.
Scott, S.S., McGuire, J.M., Foley, T.E., (2003) Universal design for instruction: a framework for anticipating and responding to disability and other diverse