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Category: Course Design

Activities to get students thinking
self-regulated learners
young professor at chalkboard
decoding expertise
railroad tracks not lined up.
diversity and inclusion
When creating course materials, it is important to be as inclusive as possible. A common way of working to ensure that materials respond to different approaches to learning is to use Universal Design for Learning (UDL), which proposes inclusive course design. It is a framework that helps to make content, activities and assignments, and instruction accessible to students at different levels, with different abilities, and who take different approaches to learning. While this sounds straightforward and relatively simple, when one dives into the UDL literature and works to implement its guidelines, the task quickly starts to feel overwhelming—at least that's how it made me feel. Last year, I attended a year-long faculty working group in which we focused on implementing UDL in our courses. Here's what made this a daunting task. A course that is truly adhering to UDL guidelines makes every aspect of the course as inclusive as possible, including the syllabus, lectures, and any online components such as videos, PowerPoints, etc. It can mean creating closed captioning for videos and ensuring that all documents are created and saved in a manner that is screen reader ready. My course already had a long list of items that needed modification, and then I learned that assignments needed to be created so that students could complete them using a variety of methods. For example, suppose I asked my students to introduce themselves for an online class. Rather than the more traditional written paragraph format, I might want to allow students to create a Prezi, or a video, or an audio recording and upload it. If it were a graded assignment that could be completed in different ways, then rubrics needed to be created to accommodate these different approaches while maintaining grading consistency. I was overwhelmed. The project felt enormous. How does one tackle something that feels impossible?   I wasn't sure, but I plunged in anyway and decided to focus on one thing at a time. I started with my syllabus. I created it with all the usual pieces––policies, course objectives, learning outcomes, and assignments. I saved it in a format that works with screen readers. I also created an abridged version that contained my contact information and the policies most students truly care about: attendance, late work, and extra credit. The goal of this version was to provide easy access to essential course information so that students who may have reading difficulties could discover those aspects of the course that would most affect their grades and learning. Next, I planned to create a closed-captioned video so students could choose to hear the syllabus rather than read it. After initial work on the syllabus, I opted to tackle online content labeling. Initially, I had color-coded assignments. For example, journal-entry labels were in blue, quizzes were in black, videos were labeled in red, and PowerPoints were in green. However, color coding doesn't work for anyone who may be color-blind. So I then decided, in addition to the color, I would use brackets, parentheses, underlining, and the like, to give students more than one way to visually find the assignment types. At times, my work group mates and I felt as if we were attending a self-help support group, and we probably were. But what I learned from this whole experience is that sometimes one just needs to start. I haven't created an entire class that follows UDL guidelines, but I have made a start and can build on what I've done. Often when an instructional improvement project looks too big, we avoid it. Implementing UDL in a course is a big project. I believe it's something we all need to do. And now I know it can be done one piece at a time.