UDL in Practice

The practical suggestions below are inspired by the UDL Guidelines. Those guidelines strive to promote flexible, accessible, and transparent learning environments by providing multiple pathways for students to connect with the work of the course (engagement), encounter course content (representation), and practice and demonstrate their learning (action & expression). An approach guided by UDL also invites reflections on how course policies and norms can contribute to a learning environment in which students believe they can succeed in the course. 

Multiple Pathways to Connect with Coursework (Engagement)

Given students’ particular histories, identities, interests, and goals, UDL argues that sparking student interest, motivating students through challenges, and enabling students to grow their capacity for self-regulated learning involves providing students with opportunities to make the course relevant to them, exercise autonomy in their experience of the course, and reflect in a structured way on their growth. 

In practice, providing multiple pathways to connect with coursework can look like:

Multiple Pathways to Encounter Course Content (Representation) 

Given students’ particular contexts, embodiment, and learning preferences, UDL argues that providing multiple mediums for students to encounter course materials is necessary for students to have equitable access to course content. For example, providing multiple pathways to encounter course content makes it more likely that students with visual or hearing impairments will be able to access course content without retrofitting.

In practice, providing multiple pathways to encounter course content can look like: 

  • Disseminating course content through more than one medium (e.g. verbally describing content-rich images). 
  • Designing accessible course materials.
  • Sharing course materials in a flexible format, like Word or Google Docs, so that students can customize things like font size, color contrast, volume, etc. and make use of additional tools like translation extensions that make materials more accessible.
  • Sharing materials ahead of the class session so that students can review content and make sure it is in an easy-to-access format for them. 
  • Embedding support for new or potentially obscure information in the learning materials (hyperlinks to explainers, definitions of new terms, etc.). 
  • Highlighting tools that are available to students in their course materials, like the Immersive Reader tool available in Canvas Pages

Multiple Pathways to Practice and Demonstrate Learning (Action & Expression) 

Given students’ particular strengths, growing edges, and experiences, UDL argues that students require multiple ways to practice and demonstrate their learning. This allows students and instructors to focus on course essentials rather than get stuck struggling with work that does not contribute to central course learning goals. Allowing students to demonstrate their learning through a variety of mediums reduces inequities that can arise when students, no matter their (dis)abilities, past educational experiences, or interests all have to showcase their proficiency through a singular medium.

In practice, providing multiple pathways to practice and demonstrate learning can look like: 

  • Providing resources and tutorials on the main technologies used in the course so that all students are familiar with the platforms they will use to demonstrate their learning. 
  • Designing transparent assignments. 
  • Sharing rubrics, exemplars, and checklists that support self-assessment.
  • Highlighting different ways of going about disciplinary problem solving (different methods for organizing notes, conducting research, etc.). 
  • Providing scaffolding, coaching, and models for going about planning and completing major projects.
  • Identifying and rewarding various ways for students to participate in class (speaking in small or large groups, actively listening, contributing through in-class polls, chat features, etc.). 
  • Offering students choices over what medium they use to demonstrate their learning.

Course Policies & Norms

The policies and norms that structure students’ experiences in the course can also make an environment more or less accessible to students who come into classrooms with a wide variety of experiences and resources. 

In practice, course policies and norms that can contribute to a more accessible learning environment for students can look like:

  • Including statements on your syllabus that explicitly invite students to reach out about accessibility concerns and express your commitment to creating an accessible learning environment.
  • Providing short breaks during class where students can stretch, move, and refocus.
  • Making use of no- and low-cost course materials whenever possible (see the BC Libraries’ Affordable Course Materials Initiative).
  • Offering flexible deadlines.
  • Making a practice of lingering before or after class for students to easily raise a question or concern. 
  • Soliciting mid-semester feedback to provide students an opportunity to anonymously and confidentiality let you know about their experience in the class.   
  • Avoiding including sensitive content or images (e.g. identity-based violence, suicide, substance use, etc.) that is not core to student learning.