Introduction to Universal Design for Instruction
- Learning Objectives
- Universal Design
- Applying Universal Design to Instruction
- Applying UDI to Online Courses
- Applying UDI: Assumptions and Myths
Applying UDI to Online Courses
The UDI Online project team conducted surveys and interviews with university and college students about the process of learning in online and blended courses. These students provided observations on the most important and helpful components of course planning, content delivery, and learning assessment.
With regard to course planning, students highlighted the following components as important for their learning: clear grading standards; specific due dates for assignments, quizzes, tests, and labs; guidelines for online discussions; and a clear and logical sequence in the way topics and instruction are presented. These activities reflect the UDI Principles of Simple and Intuitive and Perceptible Information. Instruction is straightforward, and students know what is expected of them in the course at all times. Unnecessary complexity about expectations is eliminated, making the course more predictable for students and allowing them to focus on learning the course content. Having clearly established grading standards and expectations reflects the principle of Instructional Climate in which high expectations are espoused for all students.
Students also identified these actions as important for the delivery of course materials: receiving timely feedback on work and course progress; having frequent interaction with their faculty; and receiving reminders about upcoming deadlines. While some of these activities reflect the UDI Principles of Simple and Intuitive and Perceptible Information, they also reflect the principle of A Community of Learners, that is, creating an instructional environment that promotes interaction between faculty and students.
Regarding course assessment, students identified the following components as the most important: relating assignments directly to learning objectives; receiving study guides; being able to pass in drafts of papers with the opportunity to revise; and having large projects broken into smaller steps. These activities reflect the UDI Principles of Simple and Intuitive, Perceptible Information, and Tolerance for Error, that is, anticipation and planning for variation in student learning pace and prerequisite skills.
Clearly, there are many ways in which UDI can be applied to the planning of course materials, delivery of course content, and assessment of student learning in online and blended courses. Although these elements of effective instruction include specific activities, they overlap such that one informs and affects activities in another. For example, while planning may be a starting point in course development, consideration of ways of assessing student learning is an integral element in the planning process. UDI Principles may inform more than one phase of the instructional cycle. Examples of the application of the Principles of UDI© are listed below.
Additionally, the UDI online project team has developed three Access Domains: Cognitive Access, Communication Access, and Physical Access, in which the Principles of UDI apply specifically to the digital learning environment. The identification of the UDI Principles to the applicable Domain are based on results from faculty and student interviews conducted by the UDI Online Project team, and from an extensive review of the literature regarding online courses, which indicate several factors that can enhance access to course content for diverse learners.
Cognitive Access within UDI Online refers to approaches and elements that assist diverse learners to acquire, comprehend, recall, apply, evaluate, integrate, and express information in within a digital learning environment. The UDI Online project team has identified five Principles of UDI which are most applicable to the Cognitive Access Domain: Equitable Use, Flexibility in Use, Simple and Intuitive, Perceptible Information, and Tolerance for Error. Examples from the surveys, interviews, and the literature review suggest that Cognitive Access is enhanced when course expectations are made explicit, topics are included in a logical sequence, directions regarding assignments are straightforward and easy-to-follow, and assessment is clear and directly linked to course objectives. The applied Principles support diverse learners in acquiring, comprehending, recalling, applying, evaluating, integrating, and expressing course content in online and technology-blended courses.
Communication Access within UDI Online refers to approaches and elements that provide multiple opportunities for interaction and dialogue to engage diverse learners within a digital learning environment. The UDI Online project team has identified two Principles of UDI which are most applicable to the Communication Access Domain: A Community of Learners, and Instructional Climate. Examples from the surveys, interviews, and the literature review suggest that Communication Access is enhanced when opportunities for communication and networking are straightforward and provide increased involvement in course activities and in the course community. This may include faculty-to-student and student-to-student interactions. The applied Principles support diverse learners with interacting and engaging peers and faculty in online and technology blended courses.
Physical Access within UDI Online refers to approaches and elements that support the ease of navigation of course web sites, clarity in the display of course content, and the creation and presentation of course information in multiple formats to provide opportunities for diverse learners to acquire and manipulate course content within a digital learning environment. The UDI Online project team has identified two Principles of UDI which are most applicable to the Physical Access Domain: Low Physical Effort, and Size and Space for Approach and Use. Examples from the surveys, interviews, and the literature review suggest that Physical Access is enhanced when information is delivered in multiple formats, displayed clearly, and easily navigated to facilitate student engagement with course materials and content. The applied Principles support diverse learners in acquiring and manipulating course content in online and technology-blended courses.
Finally, the UDI Online project at the University of Connecticut offers a set of e-Tools that can be applied to online and technology blended courses to address identified learning needs. The e-Tools can found in the e-Toolbox here.
Application of the Principles of UDI©: Examples from Practice
Providing students with multiple options to demonstrate mastery of the subject. For example, instead of assessing student learning only through multiple choice tests, options could include building a wiki or a web page, doing oral presentations, or completing research papers. Faculty could identify alternate materials and sources relating to the course content to provide supplemental instruction that is either basic or more advanced. Some students might need fundamental information related to a topic, while other students in the same class might benefit from more complex or in-depth materials on selected topics. The needs of both groups could be met by providing optional, alternative sources on the course site.
Flexibility in Use:
Using varied instructional methods to provide different ways of learning and experiencing knowledge. For example, faculty could present mind/concept maps and outlines or allow students to collaborate in group activities.
Simple and Intuitive:
Providing grading rubrics that clearly lay out expectations for exam performance, papers, or projects. Another example is providing a syllabus and/or course modules with links to relevant reading materials or key websites. The syllabus should be written as clearly as possible, and key dates or requirements could be highlighted. Icons or widgets that remind students of upcoming course deadlines or that present important announcements could be added to the course website.
Pointing out to students where they can access key support services (e.g., computer help, tutoring, services for students with disabilities) and find academic policies such as Add/Drop (e.g., the college's course catalog, the registrar's page) across campus. Other examples include selecting reading material and other instructional supports, including websites, that are accessible via screen readers, text formatting, or zoom text; providing highlighted information related to course requirements in a syllabus or a grading rubric; and highlighting or using the comment feature in Microsoft Word or Adobe 9.0 to point out and expand on key portions of a selected article or course reading.
Tolerance for Error:
Providing the option of turning in multiple drafts of an assignment so that students can demonstrate their learning progress. Additional examples include providing students with written or oral comments/feedback on assignments and providing practice exercises and tests that are not graded to allow students to self-quiz.
Low Physical Effort:
Fostering maximum attention to learning by being aware of screen structure and layout of website features. Examples include breaking down a concept into multiple pages with headings to reduce scrolling, creating a navigation page, or minimizing the number of links.
Size and Space for Approach and Use:
Being aware of diverse communication needs in deciding to incorporate examples and graphics, including font size and style as well as screen colors; providing visuals to accompany heavy text use, or allowing students to provide discussion postings in audio format.
A Community of Learners:
Fostering communication among students in and out of class by structuring study groups, discussion groups, project groups, or chat rooms; adding voice-over to text instruction; making a personal connection with students through video or phone.
Providing direct, frequent, and timely feedback to students or sharing common questions about course requirements and procedures with the whole class in an anonymous fashion; highlighting diverse thinkers who have made significant contributions to the field; sharing with the class innovative approaches to course assignments that have been developed by students who have taken the course.
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