Discussion: Universal Design for Learning

Carolyn presented an article that experimented with using the Universal Design for Learning as a framework for course design. As she explains thoroughly in her blog post, Universal Design for Learning is a set of principles used to ensure sure that information and learning is accessible for all learning styles.  Universal Design sprouted from Americans with Disabilities Act. Instead of retrofitting buildings to make them accessible, Universal Design is a framework for building in principles of accessibility in at the very beginning of any design process.  Educators then took a page from Universal Design and applied the same approach to learning, hence Universal Design for Learning. These principal can be applied to K-12 as well as institutions of education. See cast.org/udl for more information.

Carolyn began the discussion by asking the group what we have done in terms of accommodating different learning styles.

Michele explained that she has taught to different learning styles as a way to accommodate different students. Even though she couldn’t accommodate for each learning style in every class (because there are many more learning styles than visual, kinesthetic or auditory), it is a best practice to try to accommodate them when you can.

As a group, we also discussed that sometimes it’s hard to try something new because the students do not know you as well as their classroom faculty and may not be as receptive.

Carolyn brought up the idea that perhaps there should be someone in the libraries who can assist other librarians in making learning materials more accessible to students of all learning styles.

Krystal described her experience with having a blind student in one of her classes. The student had brought his own laptop and had his screen reader. This experience helped her reflect on how to integrate a more accessible design into the classroom teaching experience. Someone asked about the course instructor’s experience. Krystal explained that the instructor had also learned how difficult it was for students with disabilities to attend UT because not all texts were available in Braille, so had to find alternative materials.

PG noted that Services to Students with Disabilities will provide audio text, but need to have access to materials ahead of time. He explained that within the libraries there is currently a posting for a  TIS position just for captioning.  He also explained some history on the topic of making texts accessible for studentes with disabilities.  For instance, in California, students sued in order to have access to materials in whatever format they wanted, whether they be audio or Braille.

Brittany explained that at her old institution, she taught a class with a deaf student. Her institution did have a librarian who worked part time to help accommodate students with disabilities within the libraries.  In this case, Brittany worked with her to create transcripts ahead of time for the student; she also created videos with captions, etc. She explained that it was a lot of work, but really seemed like it helped the student.

There was a question about using PowerPoint in the classroom. Most of us said we don’t normally use PPT in class because our teaching style is more discussion based, than lecture based. Additionally, students are often doing active learning or group work, — things that rely less on PowerPoint or other presentation software.

Meghan noted that while she doesn’t normally use PowerPoint, she found it useful to use in a class with many ESL students in the class with low English comprehension. Meghan used the PPT to as visual prompts in order to facilitate discussion.

Carolyn noted that LecShare could be used to check PPTs to make sure they are accessible.

Someone noted that they also had a hearing impaired student in a class once and the librarian was given a small microphone to wear in order to capture what was said. They noted that it makes you a lot more aware of what you are presenting!

We discussed how the idea of using UDL for International students especially since this population is less likely than other populations to admit that they don’t understand something said in class. This is likely a cultural difference rather than an indifference toward the course content. Michele noted that in one of her classes she did a lot of active learning so she could give one-on-one instruction when it seemed that certain students needed help, but they had to be prompted to share. We all agreed that joking around in class or using slang in order to connect with student is likely alienating for for non-native English speakers.

Marta shared that in order to demonstrate Boolean logic, she has students to stand up (If you have brown hair AND are wearing UGG boots) and that it worked.

Carolyn described that she read an article that forces students to “meditate” and would talk through what they are going to do that day.  She said it was a little weird. Michele added that these are college students and we should probably try to make them feel like they are adults with free-will.

Cindy explained a design thinking exercise she used in order to set the tone of the session that instead of a lecture, students would need to use problem-solving skills and creativity to find what they are looking for.

Carolyn asked an intentionally provoking question: Is there a time and a place for institutionalizing these concepts? Michele responded by saying that the best teachers are the ones that are comfortable with the way they are teaching. Instead of enforcing a certain kind of teaching, it’s better to provide colleagues with best practices and support.

Someone brought up a recently published article from the the Atlantic entitled, “Why lectures are good“. [ed note: however, there are also articles about Why the Lecture is Dead and What Comes After the Lecture“, so, I don’t think anything’s been decided.]

Carolyn, noted that in the 10 propositions for Universal Design Principals, assessment is mentioned a lot and and it also describes that “technology is essential for UDL”. We discussed how it really depends on how “technology” is defined. It could be anything from a pen and piece of paper to an iPad app. Krystal noted that it’s hard to get everyone on the same page, because there is so much room for interpretation. ANd PG added that flexibility needs to be the main thing.

Then we watched a video about UDL and noted that this video is obviously for a younger audience, though we could see how UDL is incorporated into college level work.

Marta noted that there are so many different kinds of media being used to demonstrate learning concepts; video, animation, infographics, texts. It’s hard to know when and where and how to select one to demonstrate an idea.


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