Universal Design of Instruction


Students come from a wide variety of cultural, ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds. For some, English is not their first language. Represented in most classes are many types of learning styles, including both visual and auditory learners. In addition, increasing numbers of students with disabilities are participating in regular precollege and postsecondary education courses. Their disabilities include blindness, low vision, hearing impairments, mobility impairments, learning disabilities, and health impairments.

Students want to learn, and instructors share this goal. How can you design instruction to maximize the learning of all students? The field of universal design (UD) can provide a starting point for developing an inclusive model for instruction. You can apply this body of knowledge to create courses for which lectures, discussions, visual aids, videos, printed materials, labs, and fieldwork are accessible to all students. Consider the examples in Table 1.2, which provides examples of universal design of instruction (UDI) for eight areas of instructional practices and products that faculty may apply to curricula (Burgstahler, 2008b, p. 34).

Universal Design

Universal design is defined by the Center for Universal Design (CUD) at North Carolina State University as "the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design" (Center for Universal Design, 1997). The field of UD can provide a framework for developing instruction to maximize the learning of all students, including students with a variety of abilities and disabilities, cultures, learning styles, and ages (Bowe, 2000).

The UD principles developed by the CUD provide guidance in the design of products and environments (Connell, Jones, Mace, Mueller, Mullick, Ostroff, et. al., 1997). In Table 1.1 each UD principle listed is followed by an example of its application to instruction (Burgstahler, 2008b, p. 27).

When UD principles are applied to teaching, an inclusive and equitable learning environment is created. UD design concepts can be used to aid in selecting and developing curricula, choosing and implementing teaching methods, and developing assessments. UDI can increase content accessibility for most students and minimize the need for specific accommodations (Burgstahler, 2008b; Durre, Richardson, Smith, Shulman, & Steele, 2008; Higbee, 2008; Scott & McGuire, 2008; Thurlow, Johnstone, & Ketterlin-Geller, 2008).

Of particular application to technology-based learning environments, the term universal design for learning (UDL) has been used to describe a research-based instructional framework using technology to maximize the learning of all students (Rose & Meyer, 2002; Rose, Harbour, Johnston, Daley, & Abarbanell, 2008). The three principles of UDL are multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement.

View the video and read the publication Equal Access: Universal Design of Instruction for more information on UDI applied to onsite instruction and to tutoring and learning centers. For information on applying UD principles to make postsecondary student services accessible, view the video and read the publication Equal Access: Universal Design of Student Services.

For an example of UD principles applied to online learning, view the video and read the publication Real Connections: Making Distance Learning Accessible to Everyone.

Table 1.1 Applications of the Seven Principles of Universal Design of Instruction
UD Principle Example of How UD Might Be Applied to Instruction
Equitable use The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities. A professor's website is designed so that is is accessible to everyone, including students who are blind and use text-to speech software.
Flexibility in use. The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities. A museum, visited as a field trip for a course, allows each student to choose to read or listen to a description of the contents of display cases.
Simple and intuitive. Use of the design is easy to understand regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level. Control buttons on science equipment are labeled with text and symbols that are simple and intuitive to understand.
Perceptible information. The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities. A video presentation projected in a course includes captions.
Tolerance for error. The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions. Educational software provides guidance and/or background information when the student makes an inappropriate response.
Low physical effort. The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue. Doors to a lecture hall open automatically for people with a wide variety of physical characteristics.
Size and space for approach and use. Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of the user's body size, posture, or mobility (The Center for Universal Design, 1997). A flexible science lab work area has adequate workspace for students who are left- and right-handed and for those who need to work from a standing or seated position (Burgstahler, 2008b, p. 27).

Tip: UD of Instruction

In the Presentations section of this notebook, you will find guidelines and materials for delivering a presentation on universal design of instruction (UDI).

Table 1.2 DO-IT Universal Design of Instruction Guidelines and Examples
UDI Guideline Examples of UDI Practice
Class climate. Adopt practices that reflect high values with respect to both diversity and inclusiveness. Avoid stereotyping. Offer instruction and support based on student performance and requests, not simply on assumptions that members of certain groups (e.g., students with certain types of disabilities or from a specific racial/ethnic group) will automatically do well or poorly or require certain types of assistance.
Interaction. Encourage regular and effective interactions between students and the instructor and ensure that communication methods are accessible to all participants. Promote effective communication. Employ interactive teaching techniques. Face the class, speak clearly, use a microphone if your voice does not project adequately for all students, and make eye contact with students. Consider requiring a meeting with each student. Supplement in-person contact with online communication. Use straightforward language; avoid unnecessary jargon and complexity; and use student names in electronic, written, and in-person communications.
Physical environments/products. Ensure that facilities, activities, materials, and equipment are physically accessible and usable by all students, and that all potential student characteristics are addressed in safety considerations. Arrange instructional spaces to maximize inclusion and comfort. Arrange seating and encourage participation, giving each student a clear line of sight to the instructor and visual aids and allowing room for wheelchairs, personal assistants, sign language interpreters, captionists, and assistive technology. Minimize distractions for students with a range of attention abilities (e.g., put small groups in quiet work areas). Work within constraints to make the environment as inclusive as possible. Encourage administrators to apply UD principles in facility design and renovation.
Delivery methods. Use multiple, accessible instructional methods that are accessible to all learners. Provide cognitive supports. Summarize major points, give background/contextual information, deliver effective prompting, provide scaffolding tools (e.g., outlines, class notes, summaries, study guides, and copies of projected materials with room for notes), and other cognitive supports. Deliver these materials in printed form and in a text-based electronic format. Provide opportunities for gaining further background information, vocabulary, and different levels of practice with variable levels of support. Encourage and support students to develop their own scaffolding materials.
Information resources/technology. Ensure that course materials, notes, and other information resources are engaging, flexible, and accessible for all students. Select materials early. Choose printed materials and prepare a syllabus early to allow students the option of beginning to read materials and work on assignments before the course begins. Allow adequate time to arrange for alternate formats, such as books in audio format or in Braille (which, for textbooks, can take longer than a month).
Feedback. Provide specific feedback on a regular basis. Provide regular feedback and corrective opportunities. Allow students to turn in parts of large projects for feedback before the final project is due. Give students resubmission options to correct errors in assignments and exams. Arrange for peer feedback when appropriate.
Assessment. Regularly assess student progress using multiple, accessible methods and tools, and adjust instruction accordingly. Set clear expectations. Keep academic standards consistent for all students, including those who require accommodations. Provide a syllabus with clear statements of course expectations, assignment descriptions, deadlines, and expectations, as well as assessment methods and dates. Include a straightforward grading rubric.
Accommodation. Plan for accommodations for students whose needs are not met by the instructional design. Know how to arrange for accommodations. Know campus protocols for getting materials in alternate formats, rescheduling classroom locations, and arranging for other accommodations for students with disabilities. Make sure that assistive technology can be made available in a computer or science lab in a timely manner. Ensure that the course experience is equivalent for students with accommodations and those without (Burgstahler, 2008b, p. 34).