Universal Design for Learning is an approach to learning that attempts to minimize barriers and create equal opportunities for all students to express what they know. UDL has an impact on the student experience in that it creates paths to learning that benefits all students without forcing them to self-identify as needing unique support. Delivering a curriculum that is culturally responsive and which supports universal design for learning (UDL) is one of Portland State’s strategic goals (Strategic Plan, 2015).   With the most diverse student population in the state of Oregon, pedagogical approaches which support every student are critical to the design of curricula and student success.

Universal Design for Learning includes three guidelines for curriculum design. The three principles of UDL are representation, expression, and engagement (CAST, 2020):

  • Multiple means of representation give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge. The goal is for students to be purposeful and meaningful in learning.
  • Multiple means of expression provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know. The goal is for students to be resourceful & knowledgeable in learning. 
  • Multiple means of engagement tap into learners’ interests, challenge them appropriately, and motivate them to learn. The goal is for students to be strategic & goal-directed in learning.

Incorporate UDL in Your Course Design

Portland State University is committed to an inclusive and welcoming experience for all students, staff, faculty and guests.  We believe that as we design University spaces and experiences, from classrooms, coursework, exams, events or programs, we have a responsibility to identify and remove barriers to access. This course has been designed with Universal Design for Learning in mind and I am committed to creating an accessible online class experience for students.

Consider a negotiated syllabus.

A negotiated syllabus is constructed collaboratively with students, providing them with a range of choices about what, how, when, and with whom they will meet the learning objectives of the course. There are many ways to build a negotiated syllabus with your students, but one method is to start with a basic foundation of what is required in order for students to pass the course. Outline those requirements for students, and then allow for some aspects of the class to be determined democratically such as readings, grade scheme, class activities, major assignments, etc. Students are often much more invested in classes where they are actively making decisions and building the class with the instructor and their peers. See examples of what can be negotiated in Get Better Student Buy-In Using a ‘Negotiated Syllabus’.

Offer flexibility of formats for assessments

Consider letting students choose how to demonstrate their knowledge by offering options for assessment, like portfolios, podcasts, videos, or allow for a creative interpretation of the assignment subject matter (such as dance, poetry, song). Often questions regarding grading come up when considering more flexible approaches to assessment. Depending on the course’s learning outcomes, a rubric can offer a structural format for assessing work in alternative formats.

Think about how content is presented

  • Use a range of media to present key information including graphs, images, diagrams, videos and animations (remember to ensure accessibility for all options)
  • Offer alternatives for visual information, like text descriptions of images and graphics
  • Clarify vocabulary and symbols
  • Supply background information (clarifying and explanatory)
  • Allow for the use of a variety of tools for communication and problem solving (e.g., spell checkers and grammar checkers, calculators, word prediction programs, speech recognition software)

Going Further with UDL

If you are ready to make larger changes to your course curricula to include universal design for learning and need help navigating the process, the team at OAI is always available for individual consultations. Here are some more ways to continue the process of transforming your curriculum.

  1. Make explicit cross-curricular connections (e.g., teaching literacy strategies in the social studies classroom).
  2. Develop strategies that affirm students’ cultural identities and encourage cross-cultural connections.
  3. Prioritize individual choice and autonomy: options in materials, tools, content, format, etc. have been shown to increase student motivation and engagement.
  4. Provide a range of challenges, and a range of possible supports, allowing all students to find objectives that are optimally motivating.
  5. Develop a help-seeking strategy: provide scaffolds and feedback for managing frustration, and build internal controls to allow for student interaction and moderation.
  6. Develop self-assessment and reflection: promote developing students’ self-questioning, self-monitoring, and self-determination skills.

Need More Help?

We'd love to hear from you. Full-service remote support is available to all PSU instructors through the Office of Academic Innovation. Contact the virtual Faculty Support Desk, Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm.

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