À mon avis
In my opinion
A primer in universal design
If you want to reach all your
students, read this
by Jody Gorham and Barbara Roberts
Jody Gorham is director of
the Student Accessibility
Centre, and Barbara Roberts
is the human rights officer, at
the Fredericton campus of the
University of New Brunswick.
eaching diverse student populations
presents many classroom challenges.
Requests for accommodation of disabil
ity and consideration of international,
The Massachusettsbased Center for Applied
Special Technology, or CAST, introduced Uni
versal Design for Learning (UDL) in the mid
1990s, based on the neuroscience of learning.
Universal design principles support flexible course
materials, activities and assessment methods that
prevent barriers, result in fewer requests for
exceptions and accommodation and enhance
students’ participation in meaningful learning.
Universal design is proactive, not reactive.
Instead of offering individual exceptions to tra
ditional methods, faculty plan for multiple methods
in advance. For example, a professor using UDL
would post slides ahead of the scheduled class.
That allows students to preview key concepts
and helps their comprehension. Assistive tech
nology users can convert the material into a
usable text before class. A student with low
vision may need to enlarge the size of the font.
Others may need to view the slides in class on
their laptops and add notes on the side. Posting
the slides ahead of class also helps students who
have difficulty taking penandpaper notes and
secondlanguage learners who are developing
their English writing skills.
Some professors may worry that students
will stop attending class if they have the slides
in advance. It’s true that some may, but research
has shown repeatedly that if they do skip class,
they’ll be disadvantaged in course assessments.
Universal design learning is no longer new.
K 12 schools in Canada and the U.S. have imple
mented UDL principles for several years, and a
dizzying array of training resources is available
online. Take a look at the websites of CAST or
the National Center on Universal Design for
Learning to get a sense of the impact this theory
is having on public education.
Or, drill into any provincial department of
education website to find endorsement of uni
versal design principles. In New Bruns wick, K 12
schools are mandated to give any student uni
versal accommodations, defined as “strategies,
technologies, or adjustments that enable a student
to reach prescribed outcomes and can be used
at the teacher’s or student’s discretion.”
For example, at the university level some fac
ulty build in extra time for all their tests. In a
60minute class, if a test will take most students
30 minutes to complete, some students will need
more time. So they allow students to take a full
hour to write the test. Students who complete
early are given a supplementary reading task to
help prepare for the next lesson’s topic. That
extra task might or might not be assigned to the
others to do on their own time, depending on
how valuable the teacher thinks it is.
Now, universal design is growing in postsec
ondary education, most often through centres
for teaching excellence and offices for disability
services. A few Canadian institutions – including
the University of Guelph, Trent University and
University of Toronto Scarborough – have made
it a priority to educate instructors on how to apply
universal design. Faculty who do use it report
that while there is some upfront learning and
adapting, the method saves time in the long run.
Promoting universal design at universities
is challenging and complex. Instructors are
experts in their discipline, not necessarily in
teaching methodology. There is a host of com
peting demands on faculty members’ time and
attention. So why spend your precious, finite time
and energy learning about universal design?
To put it bluntly, you need to. The wave is
about to hit. The homogenous class made up of
students of similar abilities, backgrounds, ethni
cities, interests, learning styles, languages and
expectations is long gone – if it ever existed. The
growth in numbers of international students,
the inclusion movement and the adoption of
UDL strategies in the K 12 system are boosting
demand for universal access by a much more
diverse student population. The professor equipped
with a universal design toolkit will be able to ride
the wave with confidence and success, reaching
more students with less time and energy.
Your institution’s centre for teaching excellence
or disability services office can inform you of
learning opportunities on UDL. And, the Univer
sity of New Brunswick, Fredericton is hosting a
symposium for educators (Universal Design in
PostSecondary Teaching: Reality or Utopia?)
this coming November. Join us!
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“ You need to pay attention
to universal design.
The wave is about to hit.”