by MU Instructional Designers
July 27, 2022
40-45 min read

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Why UDL?

Another excellent perspective on why UDL is so important for an inclusive learning environment is that of Kevin Kelly’s “Fostering Inclusion with Universal Design for Learning.” Kevin Kelly is an instructor at San Francisco State University, and the article was published in the Association for American Colleges & Universities’ Diversity and Democracy quarterly publication. It provides a faculty perspective on the need for UDL in inclusive teaching and offers a few practical suggestions in a narrative format.

What is UDL?

After that video introduction, we recommend you explore two helpful websites:

CAST’s UDL Guidelines

CAST’s UDL Guidelines website is homebase for learning about the UDL guidelines, including more specific suggestions for strategies and checkpoints. If you click on the graphic organizer, you can navigate to specific details within the framework to increase your understanding and your implementation.

CAST’s UDL on Campus

For a stronger focus on higher ed in the UDL context, CAST’s UDL on Campus provides some great advice and information. The site provides strategies for a UDL-infused syllabus, for more accessible media/course materials, for executive functioning in fully online learning environments, and for many more topics.

If you’d like to learn more about UDL, you can check out our UDL annotated bibliography for further resources.

Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT)

Why CRT?

Like UDL, Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT) works toward creating a more inclusive space for diverse learners. CRT focuses more specifically on cultural diversity: race, ethnicity, language, etc. Some educators and educational researchers refer to these practices as Culturally Relevant Pedagogy (CRP) rather than CRT, but they refer to the same principles and issues. To explore the importance of CRT, check out these two articles:

  1. How Culturally Responsive Lessons Teach Critical Thinking,” by Clint Smith (2020), discovers the importance of CRT not just for the broad social good but also for students’ critical thinking skills.
  2. In Defense of Caring About Difference,” by Cory Collins (2019), explores the importance of not erasing difference in an attempt to be in some way beyond racism and bias. The tagline of the article states, “Many educators profess, as a virtue, that they treat all students the same. But when a student’s specific needs and story are erased, it’s not equitable—it’s damaging.”

What is CRT?

Culturally Responsive Teaching: Four Misconceptions” by Jennifer Gonzalez and Zaretta Hammond, from Gonzalez’s blog, Cult of Pedagogy, in 2017. Knowing what CRT isn’t can help us better understand what it is — remember that using non-examples is a UDL strategy! (like Sarah Levine discusses in her article “Contrasting Cases: A Simple Strategy for Deep Understanding“)

How to Implement CRT

One framework for implementing CRT comes from Wlodkowski and Ginsberg (1995). Their four motivational conditions are

  1. Establishing inclusion—creating a learning atmosphere in which students and teachers feel respected by and connected to one another.
  2. Developing attitude—creating a favorable disposition toward the learning experience through personal relevance and choice.
  3. Enhancing meaning—creating challenging, thoughtful learning experiences that include student perspectives and values.
  4. Engendering competence—creating an understanding that students are effective in learning something they value.

Check out our brief video below to learn more.

If you’d like to learn more about CRT, you can check out our CRT annotated bibliography for further resources.

Digital Accessibility

Why Accessibility?

What do we mean by “accessible”? Making a course more accessible means that you use tools and strategies to make the course content available to a diverse set of learners with different needs. These accessibility strategies are part of the fabric of a Messiah University worldview because they reduce barriers so that everyone can participate. When we only design for one type of learner others are disadvantaged and not only does engagement suffer, but students overall miss out on the richness of hearing different perspectives.

What is Accessibility?

How to Ensure Accessibility

Top 5 Strategies (starting point)

The Dynamic Duo have highlighted the most important strategies for digital accessibility in the list below:

  • Descriptive Links – use text that indicates what the link is for instead of filenames (e.g. “ECON 110 Syllabus FA21” instead of “syllabus.docx” or “Tutorial for VoiceThread” instead of “click here”
  • Alt Text – describe the purpose of the image (e.g. image of people playing board game to demonstrate group activity)
  • Captions/Transcripts – make the audio and/or visual content in your videos and podcasts/infographics available to a wider audience
  • Text Formatting – use headers to organize content and lists for bulleted or numbered lists (in Canvas and Microsoft Office, look for the “paragraph” dropdown and the list icon)
    • screenshot showing selection of header level for text format
    • screenshot showing bulleted list button on text editor
    • Best practice for emphasizing text is to use bold and italics – do not underline text that is not a link.
  • Color Contrast – If you use colored text, use the Canvas Accessibility Checker to make sure contrast is sufficient.

Faculty Focus and the Technological University at Dublin have similar lists for getting started that you may want to check out also.

Next Level

Once you’ve mastered the basics above, we recommend expanding your toolbox with these resources:

If you’d like to learn more about digital accessibility, you can check out our annotated bibliography on accessibility for further resources.