Universal Design: Implications for Computing Education

Author: 

Sheryl Burgstahler, AccessComputing Co-PI

What might be the first response of a professor when a student who is deaf enrolls in her computing class? Would she look forward to the unique perspective this student brings to the class, or only be concerned about what accommodations might be necessary? An important step to creating a classroom environment that is welcoming to all students is to value diversity in all of its many forms—to see, in this case, differences in hearing abilities as a normal, interesting part of the human experience.

Originally applied to the development of physical spaces, technology, and consumer products, universal design (UD) has more recently emerged as a paradigm for the development of instruction, curriculum, and assessment that are welcoming and accessible to students with a wide range of characteristics, including those related to gender, age, race, ethnicity, native language, and disability. The UD philosophy encourages instructors to apply a mix of teaching and assessment strategies. This proactive approach potentially reduces the need for disability-related accommodations and benefits many students, including those with undisclosed disabilities and those for whom English is a second language.

UD can contribute to research and practice in many ways, that include the following:

    1. Broadening the View of Diversity - From considering only issues facing women and minorities to include those that impact students with disabilities as well.
    2. Identifying and Enhancing Existing UD Practices - In teaching strategies that hold promise for making computing instruction more inclusive.
    3. Considering UD Issues in Learning Theories - Such as "how might the presence of Asperger's syndrome impact the way a student constructs knowledge?"
    4. Including UD as a Computing Curriculum Topic - For example, instructors could teach web accessibility.
    5. Measuring the Impact of UD on the Computing Learning Environment - By looking at how the communication choices of instructors can increase the participation of underrepresented groups.

For more information on this topic, consult my recent article in ACM Transactions on Computing Education, Vol. 11, No. 3, Article 19, October 2011. In it, I share specific strategies that apply UD to course syllabi, web resources, teaching methods, presentation materials, labs, and assessment instruments.