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«Applying Universal Design for Learning in Online Courses: Pedagogical and Practical Considerations Cindy Ann Dell, Montana State University, ...»

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The Journal of Educators Online-JEO July 2015 ISSN 1547-500X Vol 13 Number 2 166

Applying Universal Design for Learning in Online Courses:

Pedagogical and Practical Considerations

Cindy Ann Dell, Montana State University, Billings, Montana

Thomas F. Dell, Montana State University, Billings, Montana

Terry L. Blackwell, Montana State University, Billings, Montana

Abstract

Inclusion of the universal design for learning (UDL) model as a guiding set of principles for online curriculum development in higher education is discussed. Fundamentally, UDL provides

the student with multiple means of accessing the course based on three overarching principles:

presentation; action and expression; and engagement and interaction. Guidelines are also provided for incorporating UDL into an online curriculum for teaching both general and diverse populations including students with disabilities.

Keywords: Universal design for learning, online instruction, accessibility, disabilities

APPLYING UNIVERSAL DESIGN FOR LEARNING IN ONLINE COURSES 167

INTRODUCTION

The growth of online learning in higher education has opened up exciting possibilities for students by providing access to courses without the constraints of a traditional brick and mortar classroom. However, even with the increase of online access to higher education, barriers continue especially for students with disabilities. A recent approach to assisting students with disabilities to be more successful with online classes is Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

Ideally, UDL allows students with disabilities to access courses without adaptation, and also allows the coursework to be available in a variety of formats for the non-disabled, making it easier for everyone to access.

To that end, the purpose of this paper is to present guidelines and recommendations for designing online courses using UDL. In higher education UDL is based on the principle of inclusion of diverse populations which is consistent with society’s evolving attempts to provide equal access for all. The goal for using UDL in online course design is to reduce the barriers for students with disabilities, but to also maximize the learning for the non-disabled.

Therefore, the theoretical framework for this paper includes the work of Rose and Mayer (2008) and their three overarching principles of effective UDL course design: Principle 1, presentation, involves providing learners with various ways of acquiring information and knowledge. Principle 2, action and expression, provides students with various routes for demonstrating what they know. Principle 3, engagement and interaction, enables an instructor to tap into students’ interests, challenge them appropriately, and motivate them to learn (ACCESS Project,2010; Center for Applied Special Technology [CAST], 2008; He, 2014; Rose & Mayer,

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Educators have also integrated the UD philosophy of providing these three principles which increased access for all students. Hitchcock, Meyer, Rose and Jackson (2002) applied UDL to learning by devising an approach for curriculum reform that incorporates new media and technologies to achieve the three principles. For students with disabilities in higher education, UDL can also be applied in online courses, which has presented a unique set of opportunities and challenges for teaching and learning.

LITERATURE REVIEW

In 2008 there were 10.8% of students with disabilities in higher education (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2013). Despite attending higher education in increasing numbers, many students with disabilities are mainstreamed without being fully assimilated into college life, and are also not visible in the classroom or online (Higbee, Katz, & Schultz, 2010).

Furthermore, many instructors have students in their online classes who have disabilities but don’t realize it.

In most situations, a learning disability is not readily observable. Because there are no outward signs of a disability such as a white cane or wheelchair, students with learning disabilities are often overlooked or misunderstood. Some instructors and administrators suspect that students who claim to have learning disabilities are faking it, are playing the system, or lack the intelligence needed to succeed in college. Understanding the implications of learning disabilities, preparing to teach students with diverse characteristics, and learning to accommodate students with learning disabilities are essential for faculty and staff to provide academic and career opportunities for these students that are equivalent to those provided to their nondisabled peers (DO-IT, 2012,

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The increase of students with disabilities in college and universities is consistent with an overall increase among the general U.S. population, which has quadrupled in number in the last twenty-five years (Olney, Kennedy, Brokelman, & Newson, 2004). There is also a corresponding increase in the variety of types of disabilities among college students as federal definitions broaden, and now include hearing, speech, orthopedic, learning, health-related, visual impairments, and other disability-related conditions (NCES, 2010). Table 1 shows the percentages of students who self-identified as having a disability.





Table 1 Percentages of Students with Specific Disabilities

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(NCES, 2010) Even though enrollments of students with disabilities are increasing, there are growing numbers who fail to graduate, which makes support services and accommodations in higher education institutions necessary for retention (Barnard-Brak, 2010; Higbee, et. al, 2010; Paul,

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faculty be knowledgeable about the types of and specific characteristics of disabilities students may have so that support services can accurately match their needs to a variety of physical and academic accommodations (National Council on Disability [NCD], 2003).

Because of the increase in enrollment of students with disabilities, there is a corresponding need to identify types of disabilities and provide appropriate support services and accommodations in the classroom. Traditionally assistance has included note-taking, recording lectures, determining accessible classroom location, assistive computer technology, document conversion (Braille, large print, tape) and/or alternative testing taking. More recently, with the advent of online courses, students with disabilities will often rely on technology such as voice recognition, on-screen keyboards, screen magnification software, screen readers and audio transcriptions and video captioning (Coombs, 2010).

Universal Design The concept of Universal Design (UD) originated with state and federal legislation which mandated that architectural designs for public buildings include access for individuals with disabilities. As a result, architects incorporated UD principles into public building plans and it is now commonplace to see wheelchair ramp access into public buildings. The UD approach to engineering in curb cuts is an example of a design that works for everyone including elderly and parents with strollers (Mace, 1997). UD also makes the building more functional for all who enter, saves costs, and is much more efficient with a greater numbers of users over time Rose and Mayer (2008) applied UD principles in education and subsequently published A practical reader in universal design for learning. They set forth a summary of the key points of UDL and applied them to students. The goal was to make a curriculum more readily available to

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engagement (Lancaster, 2011). The approach to utilizing UDL is consistent with increasing the positive learning outcomes for all students, and also corresponds with student development theories that recognize the value of supporting each individual, including those with disabilities (Evans, 2008). Rose and Mayer (2008) provide a theoretical framework to explain how learning occurs through UDL principles. They refer to the overarching principles as “recognition networks, which are specialized to receive and analyze information (the ‘what’ of learning);

strategic networks…specialized to plan and execute actions (the ‘how’ of learning) [and] affective networks…specialized to evaluate and set priorities (the ‘why’ of learning, (p. viii).

According to Rose and Mayer (2008) these three networks are important to the learning process, and coupled with the “corresponding principles UDL aim to minimize barriers and maximize learning by flexibly accommodating individual differences in recognition, strategy or affect” (p.

viii). They maintain that course designers seek to support learner differences by providing multiple and flexible modes of presentation; expression and engagement.

UDL principles include an educational framework allowing for learning differences but also be based on cognitive learning science. Ohio State University completed a study on UDL

and concluded that:

Universal design is an approach to designing course instruction, materials, and content to benefit people of all learning styles without adaptation or retrofitting.

Universal design provides equal access to learning, not simply equal access to information. Universal Design allows the student to control the method of accessing information while the teacher monitors the learning process and initiates any beneficial methods (The Ohio State University Partnership Grant, 2012, para. 1 and

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Universal Design for Teaching Online Courses Currently, many students with disabilities utilize technology such as screen readers, close-captioned videos, seating arrangements and a test environment that minimizes distractions that contribute to their success in higher education (Higbee, et. al, 2010). Additionally Totty and Kalivoda, (2008) identify additional ways the Web, computer hardware and software and other technologies can help students and promote equal access. However, Coombs (2010) notes that for online courses there should also be an accessibility to the learning infrastructure, and accessibility to the actual course content and the student needs to be well-versed in the assistive technology that is provided by the institution.

UDL is not limited to assistive technology; it also enhances pedagogy and instructional practices used for students with and without disabilities (King-Sears, 2009). Instructors using UDL principles plan course instruction, materials, and content to benefit people of all learning modalities without adaptation or retrofitting, including students with disabilities and nontraditional groups such as international students who may speak English as a second language.

However, UDL is not meant to diminish the challenges associated with scholarship in higher education, rather it focuses on equal access to information, as well as learning. “Simply stated, Universal Design is just good teaching” (The Ohio State University Partnership Grant, 2013, p.

1). With this as a primary focus, courses using UDL should insure that the learning goals of the course provide an appropriate academic challenge for the college student and that the assessment is flexible enough to provide accurate, continuous information that helps instructors revise instruction to maximize learning for diverse learners (Fox, Hatfield, & Collins. 2003). In

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disabilities may simply result from good instruction. Additionally, UDL mirrors best practices for pedagogy that follow many of Chickering and Gamson’s (1987) principles such as multiple teaching methods that allow for student’s preferred learning styles (Higbee, et. al, 2010; Rao & Tanners, 2011). In other words, the course learning goals should be challenging to the students while the instructor incorporates ways to limit or remove barriers to access and participation (Hitchcock, et al. 2002). At their best, UDL practices include ongoing evaluation of student learning through assessing specific outcomes set forth in rubrics that include study guides (Bernacchio & Mullen, 2007; He, 2014).

ADA and the Process of Obtaining Accommodations The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 requires that reasonable classroom accommodations be provided for an individual with a disability. This condition can be physical (e.g. hearing impairment) or psychological (e.g. depression), but also include learning impairments that limits one or more life activities. In order for a student to qualify for accommodations, a determination of eligibility for services must be made. The student is responsible for obtaining the documentation from a medical or psychological specialist that verifies that this individual in fact has a disability that meets the ADA criteria (ADA, 1990).

However, the instructor should also include a policy on accommodations for disabilities in their syllabus to encourage self-identification by students requesting this assistance. This next section will discuss what this policy might include, as well as discuss options for simple online support accommodations the instructor can make for the student, such as visual impairments. However, it is the responsibility of the campus Disability Support Services Office (DSS), not the instructor,

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To that end, the student is responsible for providing any relevant documentation to the DSS office on campus which then provides a Letter of Accommodation (LOA). The LOA typically outlines the limitations of the disability and often provides specific requests to the instructor in order to assist them in providing accommodation to help the student meet the educational goals of the class as outlined in the syllabus (Union College, 2011).



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