UDL Week 3: How to (realistically) implement UDL

Okay, let’s be real for a second. So far this week, our posts about UDL have been pretty idealistic. We’ve been describing a beautiful, inclusive classroom that values diversity and allows all students equal opportunities to learn. A place where students have ownership over their learning tasks and are not presented with barriers to learning.

There is no way to do this without investing significant time into re-developing your course, right?

You’re right. Completely embracing UDL in every aspect of all of your courses could require some re-development of resources, activities, and assessments. (PLEASE don’t stop reading, there is a twist!)

But there are lots of things you can do to make your classroom more inclusive. Things that won’t take hundreds of hours to accomplish. We are in the process of developing some resources about implementing UDL, but let’s start with a list of some simple things you could do to make your courses more accessible to your wonderful group of diverse learners.

Provide multiple means of representation

This is all about presenting information in different ways. Podcasts are awesome, but if you only present information using podcasts, students with hearing impairments or auditory processing disabilities might struggle to catch all of the content. You might also have students who have preferences for visual learning or who have difficulty taking notes without visual prompts. You don’t have to stop using podcasts, but think about how else you might present information so that you are reaching all of your learners

  1. Post your class notes and handouts electronically and in advance.
  2. Highlight big ideas, themes, critical features, and relationships.
  3. Clarify vocabulary, syntax, and symbols to promote understanding.
  4. Illustrate content through multiple forms of media. (And give students choice.)
  5. Offer customizable displays (e.g. re-sizeable font, saving in multiple formats)
  6. Offer alternatives to text (e.g. accessibility of text-to-speech, videos, sound recordings)
  7. Offer alternatives to auditory information (e.g. closed captioning, transcripts)

Provide multiple means of action and expression

This principle is all about how learners navigate the learning environment and express what they know. For example, a student with a movement impairment (such as cerebral palsy) and a student with a language barrier would approach their learning differently, and you would (probably) take that into consideration when you are assessing them. This example doesn’t even consider their learning style, their preferences, and other things we know impacts learning. Every single student in your class represents diversity in how individuals learn best. Therefore, there is not one strategy of action and expression that will be optimal for all learners.

  1. Provide options for physically navigating course resources and activities (e.g. turning pages in a book, using a keyboard, writing in a workbook or lab manual: choose resources that can be integrated with common assistive technologies).
  2. Provide alternatives for physical reactions (e.g. using manipulatives, clicking a box, filling in a circle with a pencil).
  3. Optimize access to assistive technologies (e.g. accessible file formats, keyboard commands for mouse actions).
  4. Consider assessing students in multiple modalities (e.g. text, speech, design, film, movement, visual art).
  5. Use interactive tools (e.g. discussion forums, web design, storyboards, social media, annotation tools).
  6. Provide options for learning activities (e.g. group work, quick writes, reflection, mind maps, animations).
  7. Avoid using just one type of assessment (e.g. multiple choice only exams).
  8. Provide differentiated models (i.e. meeting the same outcomes using different strategies, approaches, skills).
  9. Provide differentiated feedback.
  10. Provide learning goals and objectives.
  11. Embed prompts to help learners become more strategic (e.g. stop and explain your work, embedded reflection prompts, checklists and project planning templates).
  12. Scaffold information and resource management strategies (e.g. graphic organizers, note-taking strategies, study strategies).
  13. Help students self-monitor (e.g. self-assessment activities, reflection prompts, sharing progress).

Provide multiple means of engagement

Learners are incredibly diverse when we consider their motivation and engagement. This diversity can come from culture, background, personal relevance of the topic, and background knowledge, as well as many personal and genetic traits. Some learners love group work, while others prefer to work alone. Some learners enjoy spontaneity, while others are completely uncomfortable without a strict routine. Building in some options for how students can engage with the content and learning environment can get you one step closer to having a classroom full of totally motivated, engaged learners!

  1. Provide the opportunity for students to participate in the design of classroom activities.
  2. Involve students in setting personal academic and behavioural goals.
  3. Provide choices for students in their learning activities (e.g. reward and recognition, tools used for performing learning tasks, layout and design of learning resources or assessments, sequence and timing of learning activities or events).
  4. Design tasks that allow for active participation or experimentation.
  5. Invite personal response (e.g. self-evaluation, reflection).
  6. Design activities and tasks that are relevant to learners (e.g. personalized, socially and culturally relevant, inclusive of diverse groups).
  7. Minimize threats and distractions (e.g. vary levels of risk, build a supportive and safe classroom climate, vary levels of sensory stimulation, make an effort to include all participants).
  8. Vary demands to optimize challenge (e.g. emphasize process, effort, and improvement, engage students in discussions about assessment and excellence, differentiate and scaffold).
  9. Foster collaboration and mutual learning (e.g. peer to peer learning, opportunities for feedback, learning communities).
  10. Provide mastery-oriented feedback (e.g. timely, specific, focuses on achieving development toward goals and outcomes rather than relative performance).

That’s it! Totally simple! (Just kidding!)

You don’t have to do it all at once. Our challenge to you is to choose one thing you can do today to make your classroom more inclusive. Bit by bit, you can move toward a classroom that is inclusive and promotes learning for all learners.

This UDL Graphic Organizer (link) is a nice resource to remind you of some of these suggestions for your classroom. The website also contains lots of resources and research on UDL.

Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow at our UDL workshop! Don’t forget to check out the backchannel on Twitter at #UPEIUDL.

UDL Week 2: What’s happening at UPEI?

Yesterday we discussed a general overview of Universal Design for Learning’s goals and guidelines. Today we want to focus on what is currently happening at UPEI in regards to accessibility.

(Many thanks to Cathy Rose, Coordinator of Accessibility Services, for her help with this post. Accessibility Services provides crucial support to UPEI students and we couldn’t be doing any of this important work without Cathy and her team!)

UPEI Accessibility Services (link), located in Student Affairs, W.A. Murphy Student Centre, provides services for UPEI students including program planning for academic accommodation, assistance with identification of learning disabilities, exam accommodation, note taking, tutoring, transition planning, access to specialized learning technology, and much more. Accessibility Services takes pride in working with students to identify strategies to help students accomplish their academic goals.

Accessibility Services does amazing work helping students navigate their academic responsibilities and the demand for Accessibility Services increases each year. In 2009-2010, there were 126 UPEI students registered with Accessibility Services. In the current academic year, 2015-2016, there are 433 UPEI students registered for support from Accessibility Services. If the number of students requiring additional support continues to increase (and we hope it does!), the current model of support will not be sustainable.

Research shows that 9% of the student body will disclose a disability and take advantage of academic accommodations, but an equal amount will not disclose (Lombardi & Murray, 2010). The students registered with Accessibility Services represent a wide range of disabilities or impairments that include learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, physical disabilities (arthritis, spinal cord injury, hearing and vision loss), mental health disabilities, Aspergers/autism, neurological (cerebral palsy, epilepsy, MS, stroke), acquired brain injury, post concussion syndrome, PTSD, etc. The fastest growing segments are students on the spectrum with ASDs (autism/Aspergers) and students with mental health/psychological disorders.

So what is a sustainable model for supporting an increasingly diverse group of learners? We’re glad you asked!

shovel the ramp

We think this comic (click to enlarge) really captures what Universal Design for Learning is all about. By designing learning that is inclusive of all learners, we are required to spend less time accommodating students with disabilities. UDL provides multiple pathways to meeting learning outcomes, by providing multiple means of representation (presenting information or content in different ways), multiple means of action and expression (allowing diversity and choice in learning tasks and differentiating assessment), and multiple means of engagement (providing opportunities for students to become self-directed learners by engaging in different ways).

You are probably already using principles of UDL without even realizing it. When you post notes in advance, design assessments that allow students time to review their work, or use multiple formats of evaluation, you are being inclusive of different types of learners. Tomorrow, we will explore some simple, realistic strategies for using UDL in your teaching.

In the meantime, don’t forget to chime in on our Twitter backchannel using the #UPEIUDL hashtag! If you have any questions about using UDL in your courses, contact the E-Learning Office!


Lombardi, A.R.,  & Murray, C. (2010). Measuring university faculty attitudes toward disability: Willingness to accommodate and adopt Universal Design principles. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation 34, 43–56. 

UDL Week 1: What is UDL?

Welcome to UDL Week on our E-Learning blog! Later this week, Megan (one of our E-Learning Instructional Designers) is helping to deliver a workshop on campus on Universal Design for Learning. The response to this workshop has been huge, so we have decided to dedicate our blog this week to learning more about UDL.

You can find the backchannel for this discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #UPEIUDL and we would love to hear from you! If you have any questions about UDL, let us know! Maybe we’ll feature your questions in a blog post!

(PS – did you know the E-Learning Office is finally on Twitter? Check us out at @upeielo – we promise we are very informative and hilarious.)

But back to business. Simply put, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a set of principles for curriculum design with the goal of providing all learners with equal opportunities to learn. UDL has three primary goals:

  • to create learning environments that are accessible to all learners;
  • to remove barriers to learning;
  • to shift the locus of control to learners.

This week, we will unpack the guidelines for Universal Design for Learning and discuss real ways to implement these guidelines in your teaching. These three guidelines are:

  • provide multiple means of representation;
  • provide multiple means of action and expression;
  • provide multiple means of engagement.

Following these guidelines means that students have flexible pathways to meet outcomes. At first glance, this might seem like a lot more work! However, we like to think that if you design your course with diversity and inclusion in mind, you will spend less time accommodating students and can spend more time engaging with your students.

Throughout this week, we will be sharing resources, strategies, and examples of UDL. We hope you will join us in this exploration of Universal Design for Learning. A great resource to get you started is the National Centre on Universal Design for Learning (link) at CAST.

This video from CAST provides an overview of the UDL framework:

Stay tuned tomorrow for a look into Accessibility at UPEI!

… and don’t forget to follow our Twitter backchannel at #UPEIUDL

Taking Your Classroom Assessment Techniques Online

Last week was quiz week, where we talked a lot about how to set up exams in your course. While some of your summative assessments may have to change when you move your courses online, your quizzes and assignments are pretty easy to move into your course in Moodle with only minor changes and considerations.

What most instructors struggle with is formative assessment. When you don’t see your students for those three hours each week, it can be challenging to understand where they are at and how they are doing. Well, it’s your lucky day! We are going to give you the low down on some of our favourite classroom assessment techniques and how you might use them in your online course!

Ticket out the door

The ticket out the door is a quick activity to ensure that the students have grasped the key concepts of the lesson. In a face to face class, you might hand out a slip of paper and ask each student to identify the key concept from the class and collect them as they leave. In an online class, you can do the same thing!

Moodle has a wonderful feature that allows you to keep content hidden until a student meets certain completion criteria. For example, you can set the criteria up so that a student cannot view the Week 3 material until they have written a quiz on the Week 2 material. This can be set up in the Restrict Access section of any Moodle activity, resource, or content block.

Below is an example of a question you might ask (click the photo to enlarge).

Ticket out the door

One minute essay

A one minute essay, sometimes called a quick write, is exactly what is sounds like. A few sentences where the students summarize their key learnings, questions, or comments on their learning in the course. This is a quick way to check that students are keeping up with the material and understanding the content. You can collect these in different ways in an online course: a discussion forum, an assignment, a quick Google Forum (so all of the responses end up in one spreadsheet!), etc.

Learning logs

Learning logs are used for students’ reflections on what they are learning. You can ask your students to reflect on any number of things, such as their learning process or unanswered questions. By reading and responding to their learning logs, you are building rapport, maintaining presence and contact (which many people find difficult in online courses), and getting feedback that can help you teach more effectively and efficiently.

You could use a learning log in Moodle through the assignment activity, you could set up a wiki or forum for each student, or you could use a Google Doc that the student contributes to over the entire semester. The E-Learning Office can help you weigh the pros and cons and set up your learning logs.

Graphic organizers

Graphic organizers are visual models that help students organize information in order to communicate more effectively. Students can use graphic organizers for brainstorming, organizing writing or research, or decision-making. There is a whole internet full of resources for creating graphic organizers such as venn diagrams, KWL charts, mind maps, double-entry journals, chain of events, concept maps, and decision making charts (to name a few!). The E-Learning Office can help you find the resource or template that will meet your needs!

Four corners

Four corners can be used to identify students’ understanding of a topic, or to determine where they stand on a particular topic. In a face-to-face classroom, you would label the four corners of the room words that represent what you are trying to get from the students. For example, some version of “Strongly agree” to “Strongly disagree” or “Completely understand” to “Completely lost”, depending on what you are trying to accomplish.

In an online course, you could use this classroom assessment technique in a few different ways. One possibility is to do a survey in Google Forms. Include a couple of questions about a controversial topic you are discussing and have students respond. Once all of the responses are in, you can present the breakdown of responses to the class and discuss it, or use the responses to adapt your teaching.

If you were teaching in Blackboard Collaborate, you could also use this technique by setting up a slide with your options in the four corners of the slide, and have your students use their pointers to choose where they are. This way is completely anonymous – so you could also use this strategy to ask some higher risk questions without running the risk of making your students feel uncomfortable if they answer honestly.

With a little bit of creativity, we can help you incorporate formative assessment to engage your online students in new ways. Contact the E-Learning Office today to talk about your favourite strategies for in-class assessment!

Winter Woes

Well, it seems like winter is here. And while we are all hoping for a better winter than last year, it’s safe to assume there are some storm days in our future.

snow day

We love a day at home in our pyjamas as much as the next person, but it really can cramp your (teaching) style. So how, exactly, can you use the resources on campus to minimize the impact of a winter storm closure? Here are our top three ways to avoid snow day stress!

Design a floating class.
Probably the most popular approach on campus, choose a course topic that can be delivered at any point in the semester. If you find your class cancelled, drop your floating class in that week and move the rest of the content back. If you don’t have to use your floating class (lucky you!), deliver it at the end of the semester.

Move your assessments online.
Have you had a midterm cancelled due to weather? Create an online midterm instead. This way you can open your online midterm up and continue with your next face to face class as scheduled.

Try an online synchronous class.
Assuming your students have electricity and the internet, you may be able to hold a virtual synchronous (real time) class. UPEI has a license to Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, a virtual classroom that allows you to meet up, online, from the comfort of your home. In this virtual classroom, you and your students can share your webcams and microphones for real-time voice and text conversation.

Regardless of how you deal with snow days, the most important thing is that you are prepared for them and have set clear expectations with your students. We would love to help you figure out what you would like to do!

If you are interested in meeting with one of our instructional designers to work on your snow day plan, please get in touch with our office at elearning@upei.ca!

Happy shovelling!