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Architecture meets Pedagogy in “Universal Design for Learning” Workshop

The structures that we live and work in are often constructed with the needs of the “average” user in mind: someone who can easily walk up the stairs, turn around in a narrow hall, see through the windows. The recent workshop “Universal Design for Learning: Reaching Learners with Diverse Needs by Creating Flexible Courses, Activities, and Assessments” challenged faculty and graduate student participants to think about whether they, too, are building syllabi and assignments with only the needs of the “average” student in mind.
This workshop and several related workshops organized by The Center for Educational Effectiveness (CEE) at UC Davis were part of Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). GAAD is a worldwide event consisting of in-person and virtual workshops that aim “to get everyone talking, thinking and learning about digital (web, software, mobile, etc.) access/inclusion and people with different disabilities.”
The workshop’s focus, “Universal Design for Learning” (UDL), actually grew out of ideas cultivated in the architectural field around the issues of access in older buildings. When the needs of a more diverse range of users were considered, these buildings were retrofitted in an effort to make them more accessible to more people. However, because they are afterthoughts, these accessibility measures are often inconveniently located, poorly constructed and not visually integrated with the rest of the building.
Hence, the need for Universal Design that takes the need of a wide range of users into account when planning a building rather than after it has already been constructed. This concept easily translates into the educational field as an idea that can help instructors design courses to meet the needs of students who may benefit from accessing information and demonstrating their mastery of it in alternative ways.
According to the National Center on Universal Design for Learning, “UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone–not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.”
UDL workshop leader Cara Harwood Theisen, Ph.D., an Education Specialist at CEE, made it clear that designing course materials in this way will help meet the needs of a range of students, not only students with specific disabilities. For instance, adding captions to a video will assist hearing-impaired students but will also benefit students who are visual learners, who are working in a loud environment, who are unfamiliar with the spelling of vocabulary in the video and who are developing their comprehension of English.
Though the workshop focused on electronic and online spaces alongside assistive technology and web accessibility, it also addressed the analog concerns of creating diversity in assignments and assessments so that students with different abilities have the opportunity to shine.
Bringing together viewpoints from educators across the disciplines, discussion centered around diversifying ways that learners receive, understand, engage with and express understanding of course content. In addition, the workshop included small, easily-implemented changes such as using the free open dyslexic font and making sure to read your slides aloud when giving a presentation.
Alongside its accessibility workshops, CEE provides workshops for faculty and graduate student instructors focusing on pedagogy issues ranging from Promoting Academic Integrity to Teaching Online and Hybrid Courses. Their calendar of events and more information can be found on their website: https://cee.ucdavis.edu/.
–Jennifer Tinonga-Valle, DHI Graduate Student Researcher and doctoral candidate in the Department of English

This page was last updated: May 30, 2017



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