How do we Create an Inclusive Environment for our Diverse Learners?

Practical Strategies for Implementing Universal Design for Learning from Langara Instructors 

How do sidewalk curb ramps connect with offering students the choice between an in-class exam and a take home assignment?  

The physical ramps on our sidewalks, first intended for wheelchair users, are a design feature that benefits all users—from skateboarders to people with strollers or luggage, basically anyone who can benefit from a gentle incline rather than a six-inch drop. This urban innovation first came out of a development in the field of architecture – universal design.  

What’s UDL? 

Similarly, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in higher education aims to remove barriers to learning and make course design flexible, accessible and inclusive for all learners. The UDL framework consists of strategies and principles to help instructors create learning environments (including assessments, activities and materials) for students with diverse needs. These more inclusive learning environments benefit the whole class. For example, adding captions to a video might be intended to help someone with hearing loss, but research shows that all students benefit; those who are in a noisy environment, English as an Additional Language learners and others turn on captioning to learn more effectively.  

The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), a non-profit institute working to expand learning opportunities for all individuals, lays out the UDL guidelines in a graphic on its website. The primary focus of its principles is to provide learners with multiple means of engagement, multiple means of representation, and multiple means of action & expression. The guidelines offer an extensive list of strategies, so authors Dr. Thomas Tobin and Kristen Behling, recommend starting with a “plus one” approach that adds one “flexible learning pathway” into your course. This could mean providing students with multimedia options for assignments (e.g. creating a narrated slide presentation instead of a paper). For another instructor, it could mean offering a choice in the types of course materials (watching a video or listening to an audio recording instead of reading a text).  

Upcoming Lunch and Learn Event

We’ve invited our colleagues from departments across the college to share their experiences implementing UDL principles and inclusive teaching strategies in their courses for this first lunch and learn session. 

Bring your lunch, ideas and questions for this lunchtime sharing session! Register for Lunch and Learn: Faculty Perspectives on Implementing Universal Design for Learning on Jan. 24, 2023, from 12:30-1:30 pm. 

Further resources 

Interested in UDL? Here are some resources to get started: 

UDL: A Powerful Framework (Article) – Faculty Focus article gives an overview of the UDL framework.   

Reach Everyone & Teaching Everyone with Universal Design for Learning (Webinar) Thomas J. Tobin for Langara College recorded on Feb. 21, 2021.  

How Can I Implement UDL in the Next 20 Minutes?  (Manga Mentor Video) – Tom Tobin offers UDL strategies to implement right away. 

PD Playlist: Universal Design for Learning (Blog) – Resources for professional learning and development.