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Do you sometimes feel like you are trying your best to teach to all the students in your classroom, but something isn’t working because, on the midterm exam, half the class gets below a 70?  How could this be?  In fact, traditional post-secondary teaching methods such as lectures and multiple-choice tests are good learning tools for only a small percentage of today’s college students. A research-based framework for course design called, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) can help.  

What is UDL?

UDL is an extension of a movement in architecture called Universal Design, conceived of by Ron Mace at North Carolina State University. The theories specific to UDL are based on research in the neuroscience of learning.  David Rose and Anne Meyer (2002),  first coined the term “Universal Design for Learning” in the book “Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age.”   (Available to read online at the CAST website, http://www.cast.org/teachingeverystudent/ideas/tes/.)

Rose and Meyer (2002), developed guidelines based on three neural networks: the recognition network, the strategic network, and the affective network. Each of these networks work together to help the whole brain learn. A person’s brain is as unique as a fingerprint in the way it learns and builds its own learning schema, according to David Rose. However, certain regions of the brain are activated when doing similar kinds of learning tasks. This means a faculty member can use the knowledge of how the brain learns, and the framework of the UDL principles and checkpoints, to create learning opportunities in the classroom that work for all learners.

The UDL principles on each brain network are:

  1. Recognition Network: Principle One – Provide Multiple Means of Representation
    A couple of examples:

    • Create a concept map of the class that spans the semester
    • Use images, maps, graphs, videos and other visuals to help present a difficult concept to students
  2. Strategic Network: Principle Two – Provide Multiple Means of Expression
    A couple of examples:

    • Give students options for the kinds of homework assignments or projects they can submit
    • Provide multiple ways of engaging with each other in the class
  3. Affective Network: Principle Three – Provide Multiple Means of Engagement
    A few examples:

    • Use iClickers
    • Do in-class activities such as small-group work or “think, pair, share”
    • Assign larger, semester-long group projects
    • Create a safe environment for learning
    • Be approachable and available for students during office hours

Overall, the idea of UDL in post-secondary education is to support learning at various levels of acquisition and provide opportunities for students to show you what they are learning in a variety of methods, so you may offer appropriate “scaffolds.”  We offer suggestions for each of the above principles as just a place to start. We encourage you to use the linked resources as well as make an appointment with a CTL faculty professional development specialist to assist you in incorporating UDL in your courses.

Additional Resources:

San Francisco State University – Best Practices in Teaching:
http://ctfd.sfsu.edu/best-practices-in-teaching

National Center on Universal Design for Learning
http://www.udlcenter.org/implementation/postsecondary

Information on creating a video transcript:
From Colorado State University:
http://accessproject.colostate.edu/udl/modules/multimedia/tut_video_transcript.php?display=pg_2