Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning



Explore the information and resources available at UDL in Higher Education.


Share your thoughts in the comments below in response to these spark prompts:

  • How might you incorporate the three areas of UDL to the open pedagogy assignment you are developing?
    • multiple means of engagement (the why of learning)
    • multiple means of representation (the what of learning)
    • multiple means of action and expression (the how of learning)
  • Where else might you incorporate UDL in your courses?


  1. Whenever I think of UDL, my first instinct is to couch it in p-12 work on rethinking the architecture and space of the classroom to address the needs for students with disabilities. By doing so, we actually make changes to the classroom that are beneficial to all students, whether or not they struggle with accessing our course content/materials. As far as colleges have come on this matter, most are still exceptionally poor when it comes to supporting the learning of diverse students, with many students feeling stigmatized or, worse, believing that a college education is not for them. OER and open pedagogy both have the potential to be game changers for accessibility but still require us to reimagine the architectures and spaces of our courses.

    One of the keys with OER has been to make sure that any texts I ask students to read come with has the potential read aloud to students, particularly students who are dyslexic. In designing my courses for online instruction, I’ve also been very mindful of how I write lessons, assignments, and materials so that they are can be accessed through digital readers used by students with visual concerns or dyslexia. Doing so, I’ve also rethought how I expect students to submit their assignments–in a digital learning environment, not every assignment needs to be rewritten. Knowing how long it takes a student with dyslexia to read and write, I am constantly thinking about ways to adjust my practice so that my focus is on ensuring the student is learning–which can be demonstrated in a number of ways. Thus with discussion board posts, for example, I allow students to post audio files of their thoughts as an alternative to writing out posts. Students who choose to post audio files often go into far more detail and elaboration than those who post written responses, and in all honesty it’s a bit easier for me to check students’ comprehension and learning given the differences in cognitive demand. Doing so has improved learning for all students.

    Another way I’ve adjusted my practice is something I’ve done for years, even before coming to BMCC. Some students get panic attacks when confronted with public speaking–I often also have incredible anxiety when speaking in front of audiences, including at conferences, and have had to learn to manage that. I do allow students who choose to record their presentations rather than to come to the front of the room. The quality of the presentations has actually improved as students often take more time to rehearse and better plan out their presentations. Again, doing so has improved learning for all students.

    Many of the assignments I incorporate into my curricula are already UDL aligned, backwards planned, and asset-driven. For instance, in CRT 100, my students’ final project is a video essay, posted to YouTube (often private because of music and other copyright that fair use covers), titled “Show Me You Care,” which allows students to create arguments about a topic in which they are passionate and, by focusing on argument over technological skill, allow my students to choose how the video will be created in terms of graphics, sounds/soundtracks, voiceovers, etc. My assignments for ACR 200, the course I’m focusing on for this workshop, are also already aligned to UDL, backwards planning, and open pedagogy, though they’re such an ingrained part of my teaching that I actually forgot that until speaking with Jean.

    One common assignment in many literacy course is to have students read aloud a children’s book and practice/reflect on concepts we discuss in the course, such as readers theater and fluency. When I began incorporating these assignments, long before teaching ACR 200, my focus was on helping teachers build audio libraries of books that would be in their classroom and to learn to design recorded read alouds as a means of promoting student engagement with reading. The recordings teachers and students would make could then go into a music software on the school computers for a listening center so that students could listen to recorded read alouds while simultaneously reading the books.

    I use this strategy in a similar manner in my ACR 200 course, helping students in my course learn how to help children and adolescents in their lives record read alouds to engage them in reading. Students can read with a child/adolescent or alone (I’ve had students do the assignment with siblings in high school). Using technologies like GarageBand or Audacity, they can use sound effects and soundtracks (similar to Reading Rainbow) to jazz up their records, but are not required to. They could attach audio files from phones or post to YouTube (private so as to not violate copyright) for sharing with me and their peers. They have a lot of freedom with the assignment (the only requirement is that the children’s or young adult book has to be recently published) and often do an incredible job. In their reflections, students think about their own fluency, the role of rehearsal, and the power of such learning tools to help children or adolescents in their lives and often touch on the way such a tool can help children or adolescents who struggle with reading to see themselves as readers.

  2. When I look at the assignments I’d like to create for my Small Group Communication course it seems most of these dynamics will come into play with the explanation of the assignment. My current thought is that I will either have students create sections of a textbook or have them create axillary videos so for the sake of this I’ll describe my plans with a textbook style assignment.

    I would start by explaining not only what I would like the students to accomplish with their writing but what the larger goal of the assignment is as well. I’d explain the hope of letting them be the voice of the material and to control how the information is relayed to future cohorts while also encouraging them to consider the assignment to be an opportunity to build a resume/CV as having contributed to a textbook.

    While describing the goals for the material I would encourage students to create a text using their own lived experiences and show how the material engages with their life. I would encourage them to include stories of their own and to find examples from the culture/media they consume to demonstrate their thoughts.

    Finally, I would try to create a collective timeline for how to achieve this goal. I would start the semester with the explanation of what we wanted to collectively achieve during the semester and discuss a reasonable timeline to accomplish the goal. I would lay out the various tasks which would reasonably contribute to the assignment and then discuss how long students felt would be reasonable for each step of the process, setting due dates along the way.

    Frankly, I feel like this process could be applied to about any assignments in my courses. I imagine there is a risk of assignments piling up at the end of a semester if applied to all the assignments (a speech class where students ask to put all speeches in the final month of the semester for example) but then that assumes students will act irrationally so it wouldn’t hurt to try and see what comes of it.

  3. I am excited to incorporate UDL for this assignment. I have watched family members and friends struggle with traditional assignment and instructional structures in k-12 and higher ed settings, simply because the assignments are not designed for all learners. I hope I can meet the goal of creating an open pedagogy assignment that is accessible to all.

    To expand learners’ means of engagement I plan to offer the option to take a ‘deep dive’ into the subject covered in the assignment. Students can opt to explore further what interests them, or if they don’t have the time they can focus on completing the assignment, but will have the option to return to the topic later if they wish.

    I will create connections within the assignment – pointing out the ways in which the assignment creates a bridge to concepts, as well as the association between various concepts and the learning objectives of the course (and of students). This will create multiple means of representation – learners read/hear/visualize concepts, create bridges between concepts with classwork, and link the concepts to wider learning objectives.

    Possibly the most challenging, but most stimulating, step is creating multiple means of action and expression. Learning reflections and assignment submissions offer the opportunity to invite learners to submit responses in visual, audio, written, or artistic forms. I am also intrigued by the idea of ‘think alouds’ from everyone in class. Creating a space and time within class to think through the concepts as a group could provide the engagement (and community building) that reading, writing, and solo work does not afford.

    UDL concepts and tools can be incorporated across the course I teach; Public Speaking is a course with flexibility and room for learners’ experiences to be spoken and shared. The link between equity and education, including concepts we are covering in the open pedagogy and oer courses – these are things we can explore in class. In designing the course for all learners, the voices of all learners have to be heard, and this course is one place where developing our voices and sharing our experiences is embedded in the curriculum.

  4. I think my coursework in general is reasonably strong when it comes to the engagement piece — lots of opportunity to shape projects to a student’s interests — and less strong when it comes to the expression piece. It IS a writing class, and while we do some other kinds of presentation of knowledge, there is a departmental requirement of number of written pages submitted and so on that makes other activities additions, not substitutions. I am hoping the assignment I am planning can operate in place of the “documented essay” assignment and can include other forms of expression, but I admit I am feeling a little dicey about it.

    I do try to give information in multiple formats. I was surprised to hear from my first asynch class this year how much many of them liked my videos! I personally hate receiving information from videos, as I find it hard to process and hard to focus on, and this was a good reminder that I am not everyone!

  5. In LIN 110 multiple means of engagement means allowing students to choose the topics and language samples that they want to explore throughout the semester. I want their motivation to come from within and for them to embrace topics that are interesting or important to them and to engage with the language structures that are a part of who they are as an individual and community member. Sometimes it is challenging to get consistent course content in multiple mediums. However, in terms of multiple means of representation, I do try to give students a choice in each unit: a reading, a listening, a video, and a graphic. I usually don’t get all of these in, but I do try for at least two of them at a time so that students have some flexibility in how they learn. I also spend time making closed captions accurate since the course is about language. In addition to the closed captioning, I try to have a clear transcript for any videos that I create. This is time-consuming, so it’s an ongoing effort. I need to work on multiple means of action and expression. Technically, each student is working on different topics for their papers and their final project (according to their interests), but the projects and assignments are all in the same basic form (ultimately a Word document). As I rethink their final project to make it a stronger open ped assignment, I’m beginning to think more intentionally about multiple means of action and expression and how students can achieve the outcomes of the final project but in ways that might include text, graphics, audio, and/or video and involve more personal expression.

  6. Nita Noveno

    An open pedagogy assignment for the research essay in my ENG101 courses might incorporate the three areas of UDL in this way (for each multiple means of):
    *engagement: provide more resources and materials to understand the research process/essay; focus on post-education goals (potential student-tailored research topic)
    *representation: provide various ways for students to engage with information (updated/supplemental text, video, audio, graphics on Blackboard)
    *action/expression: students will have bonus options for expression in this written assignment (through a video, audio, and/or visual component).

    My Blackboard courses this past academic year were designed with UDL as a framework. I need to revisit places that could be updated and supplemented with more materials and representation.

  7. One aspect of UDL that I would like to focus on in my Critical Thinking classes (CRT 100) has to do with the third aspect of UDL: “action and expression.” In my classes, a large part of the action and expression piece naturally involves what was referred to in the video as “critical thinking.” You might say that I invite students to “think about thinking,” that is, to reflect on patterns of reasoning that we use on an everyday basis. When students given their own unique examples of specific patterns of reasoning, I ask them to look carefully at whether their examples abide by the logical rules we are covering and/or resemble the other examples given by myself and other students about the logical rule in question. The value of this reflexive process cannot be underestimated; it has value insofar as it brings student understanding and students’ experiences to the lesson. I would like to continue to devise strategies for bridging student understanding with class material, by thinking about different ways to explain logical reasoning and by putting student examples in dialogue with each other in such a way that they serve to engage student interest.

  8. I think that I’m fairly good at providing multiple opportunities for engaging. Students receive credit for working alone and in groups, for doing in-class assignments and homework and they have opportunities to revise for extra credit. I do see that allowing students to engage in more ways would create more opportunities for success. I think that making one of the papers more interactive could help. Perhaps, they’ll be asked to interview someone for their Documented Essay in the next iteration of my 101, for example

    When it comes to representation, I think that I can definitely provide a number of resources to teach students. I remember students retaining information particularly well when they were given a video to explain “The Beauty Myth.”

    I feel a little stumped when it comes to action and expression, however. I can understand the value in making the course more accessible to students by having flexible deadlines or flexible assignments but I think that one of the most important things we can teach students is to push themselves to meet deadlines, to speak up for themselves, to problem-solve and figure out how to do what needs to be done, despite/because of their personal challenges. I want students to be able to have accessible information and I want to cater to their individual learning styles so that they can retain what they need, but I also want them to become more capable because, I think that will serve them best in the long run.

  9. I love the idea of encouraging students to “dive deep” into course materials, into a piece of what we are discussing that students can relate to and find useful in life. This idea is echoed in my open pedagogy assignment. Students select a topic that sounds interesting to them. Next, they dive deep into it. They make sense of what they discover. The why element is here–they research a topic they are already invested in, to learn more. Their research is not limited to text only, though I need to figure out how to give them more options for multimedia research. Then they present their findings in a format of their choice. Traditionally, the final product was an argumentative essay. I want to move away from the “essay box” and open up to other platforms and formats for expression. I can definitely do this in my CRT 100 course, though not sure about my CRT 100 WI course since there is a set minimum number of pages that students have to submit and revise. The plan is to start with one course and then hopefully expand!

  10. For my open pedagogy assignment in my GWS class — a collective Keywords assemblage (still working on the language) , I would incorporate the three areas of UDL in the following ways-

    multiple means of engagement (the why of learning): weekly journal entries in response to prompts about the learning process, re: engagement with feelings, questions, observations, self-assessments; time in class in pairs or small groups to share some aspects of the writing. Here, the aim is to support students in identifying and reflecting on their purpose, process, growth, and where they need additional support.

    multiple means of representation (the what of learning): The assignment asks students to research different GWS concepts by accessing different materials – scholarly and non-academic, different media- and I am thinking about group annotated bibliographies. My class is already OER so I’ve been using different types of materials in my classes, but I would like to use more video, infographics, and audio/podcasts.

    multiple means of action and expression (the how of learning): The assignment asks students to produce a Keyword entry/post on Open Lab that will include text and other media (e.g. visual images, audio, video, graphics). I will offer guidelines for structure but we will collectively discuss/this will be open to student participation/feedback re: what the entries need to include.

  11. Applying universal design for learning to the open pedagogy assignment allows my students to have multiple ways to address the tasks that use their prior knowledge and prior accommodations they may have learned.
    Multiple engagement methods allow them to use their learning difference to strengthen the strategies they use for solving the problem and also support the learning of their peers who may not know this method for solving the task.
    Multiple means of representation allows the students to view the other ways that student use metacognition that shows their learning or understanding from a different perspective
    Multiple means of action and expressions allows my student to be a resource for the multiple ways they manage their educational journey. This allows them to share their method for success.
    I look forward to using universal design for learning to develop alternative methods of assessment that assess the same learning outcome. I would also. Like to compare the learning of students who have used universal design for learning as opposed to those who did not have the benefit of UDL. I would need more time to develop this idea.

  12. I think I do this a little bit with the assignment already but it always is beneficial to do this in an intentional way which usually reminds me to be more transparent about what we are doing as a class

    – multiple means of engagement (the why of learning): As a class we look through a number of archives. Some are oral history collections, other more object based. I also talk about how the pile of papers or books or whatever on a table can be its own archive if we approach it as a collection of things that give us insight into a person’s life.

    – multiple means of representation (the what of learning): I do this to some extent but have been wanting to incorporate more snippets of personal essays, long form writing that are on-line. This may help make the links between the theories and frames we cover and how they impact individuals.

    – multiple means of action and expression (the how of learning): Am intrigued by graphic organizers. I ask students to think about the multiple points of significance of an artifact, maybe a graphic organizer could be used as a guide of sorts.

    – Where else might you incorporate UDL in your courses?: I think these are good overall for lectures and discussion in general.

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