As educators, we have a responsibility to ensure that our educational materials are accessible to all students. Although the University of Delaware encourages all students with disabilities who desire reasonable accommodations to seek services through the Office of Disability Support Services, faculty have an essential role to play in making courses accessible and creating a climate of equity and inclusion. While individual needs are difficult to anticipate, there are many things professors can do to create inclusive and accessible environments for a wide diversity of learners.
By designing our courses with Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in mind, we not only improve access for students with sensory or physical limitations, but these design principles will benefit many other students, too! Students’ prior knowledge, their beliefs about learning, and their cultural and linguistic backgrounds create a unique landscape of learning preferences within every learner and a rich mosaic of differences in every classroom. Set yourself and your students up for success by designing your lessons and materials to appeal to a broad spectrum of learners using the principles of UDL. UDL is a framework for teaching that offers flexibility in how students access learning materials, engage with content, and show what they know. Here are a few strategies that you can use to give all students equal opportunities to learn.
1. Provide students with multiple ways to engage with the course content. This can mean giving students the chance to actively participate, explore, and reflect on their learning experience alone or in groups. Having students set personal goals for learning, and allowing them to reflect on their progress is one way to establish high expectations while helping students to build their own metacognitive abilities in the classroom. Giving students multiples means of engagement and encouraging them to set goals for learning can also increase their motivation.
2. Ongoing assessment is important in any course, and providing students with options for how they will be assessed can help students feel that they will be successful, reduce barriers, and lessen anxiety. For example, consider giving students a choice between an open book exam or an oral presentation.
3. We all learn best when information is conveyed in multiple ways. If concepts can be presented with images as well as verbally, and are connected to prior knowledge, the learning experience will be more powerful than if it were presented through just one of these modes.
For more information about the UDL framework, and for many ideas and strategies on how to incorporate these methods into your classroom, visit:
- The National Center for Universal Design for Learning. This website has detailed explanations for each of the three primary principles, as well as a repository of research, presentations and curriculum suggestions.
The National Center on Accessible Materials. Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) are materials that allow the widest possible range of learners to engage with content, regardless of ability. This website provides an overview of AEM and resources for how to create materials that all learners can benefit from.
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