Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
The Sonoma State University EnACT initiative notes that UDL "encourages faculty to consider three main principles including how they Represent their course content, how they Engage students in the learning process and how they offer students varied ways to Express what they have learned."
In our diverse educational world teachers need to provide a variety of opportunities to meet the needs of all students. Learning styles influence how all students learn; and students with disabilities need equal access to programs by state law (Section 504 Rehabilitation Act, 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990). Therefore, teachers may need to redesign coursework for face-to-face and online classes.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) ideas help teachers create an inclusive learning environment to serve all students with and without disabilities equally. Initially teachers may have to spend extra time planning online or classroom coursework to meet the basic UDL guidelines. However, it will become easier and teachers may even discover new or creative teaching strategies.
Universal Design for Learning Guidelines
The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) is recognized internationally for developing innovative UDL teaching strategies and resources and has developed UDL guidelines for educators to offer alternative and multiple means of:
- Representation of subject matter
- Expression of knowledge
- Engagement and motivation to learn
UDL encourages inclusive objectives, materials, and teaching methods, and regular assessments that inform learning and teaching.
Teachers can offer flexible yet challenging ways for students to understand and meet learning objectives, by providing more than one way to present the course content and alternatives for learning, such as with visual, linguistic, auditory and cognitive representations of content.
Teachers can provide clear and challenging goals or skills for students to achieve, and opportunities to express their knowledge in a choice of ways such as visual, activity or media-based.
Teachers can provide challenging yet alternative methods to engage and support student interest and motivation, to stimulate curiosity in various ways, including individualized options and collaborative peer group learning.
All Students Benefit from UDL
Students with and without disabilities benefit from UDL teaching and learning strategies because the flexibility and multiple options meet the needs of different learning styles. Also, students may have a disability that is not visible or apparent when meeting them in person or working with them online. Therefore, it is better to offer a variety of learning activities based on UDL from the start of the course so that some students do not feel marginalized.
Examples of UDL in my Theatre Arts Courses
Example 1 (traditional face-to-face classroom setting)
I teach acting, voice and movement to undergraduates. Although these are mainly physical courses that typically do not include reading or written assignments. However, I have found improved student engagement, motivation and achievement by adding:
- a required textbook
- quizzes on reading assignments
- written reflective reports on performances and personal progress
- collaborative peer group projects
- individual or pair presentations based on student research of movement and acting styles: students describe, demonstrate and show selected media or created visuals to express their new knowledge.
Example 2 (fully online course)
I also regularly teach two fully online courses: Theatre in Education; and The Business of Acting. UDL techniques from these online courses include:
Part 1 Mask and Puppet Assignment
I provided resources (Internet links + online articles) with background history and basic craft instructions of different mask and puppet styles as a starting point. Students chose whether to create a mask or puppet and were encouraged to use their imagination. Next, students posted the following in the online discussion:
- a report listing each step in their design and building process
- a final reflective paragraph about what they learned from the process
- and uploaded a photo of their mask or puppet.
Part 2 Mask and Puppet Assignment
Students logged in several times during the week to read the reports and view photos of several peers, then wrote meaningful and constructive replies to three students.
Example 3 WebQuests (fully online or partially online course)
WebQuests are collaborative projects based on information students discover on Web sites. A WebQuest can be designed about any topic such as Shakespeare's life, times and plays. Teachers provide a list of preselected Internet resources that can only be used for the WebQuest or allow students to research any Web sites.
WebQuests are not only fun but are also an effective way to learn about a topic. Teachers create a one or two page set of WebQuest goals, instructions, and guidelines about how the result will be assessed and graded. A small group of students work together organizing and creating the final report or presentation which often includes images and media examples and is posted online. The results can also be presentated in a regular face-to-face class.
Students in online courses work together on WebQuests and discuss progress and organize their report and presentation by email, live Chat, phone, or in a group page in the course site. Wikis are another collaborative learning process that may be available in Moodle, iLearn or Blackboard.
Please click on the following links for more information about WebQuests:
WebQuest definitions + short videos of teachers describing how they work:
Excellent resource with WebQuest examples and how to create a WebQuest: