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Finding Inspiration for Universal Design for Learning

Lee Christopher, Director of eLearning
Lee Christopher, Director of eLearning

The first time I heard the words Universal Design for Learning, I was sitting in a Conference Presentation entitled, “What is UDL?” The presenter told us that UDL stood for Universal Design for Learning and that she would be talking more about what Universal Design was throughout her talk.

I didn’t know at the time that this presentation would be life-changing for me. The presenter, Donna Hall, an experienced distance education instructor and instructional designer had us close our eyes as she played part of a video on Quadratic Equations. When she stopped the video, she asked us to open our eyes and explain what the video was about. A math teacher quickly raised her hand. Ms. Hall asked the rest of us in the audience if we understood the video before hearing the math teacher’s explanation. There was immediate laughter and someone said, “Are you kidding?” Ms. Hall then told us that what we experienced was how it is for a blind student taking a math course and having only videos presenting math material to him or her.

Next, Ms. Hall handed out 3 X 5 index cards and pencils. She asked us to write our names on the cards using our non-dominant hand. If we were right-handed, we should write with our left hand. If we were left-handed, we should write with our right hand. This was almost impossible. Some cards fell to the floor and some people dropped pencils. Ms. Hall pointed out that this was what it is like for someone with mobility issues or arthritis.

The third activity we had to do was to watch a video without any sound of an art instructor demonstrating how to use a lathe for drawing plans for a house. Once again, no one could figure out what the lesson was about. Ms. Hall pointed out that we had experienced what it is like for a deaf person trying to learn in this situation. Ms. Hall pointed out that if the instructors had used the principles of Universal Design for Learning, there would have been multiple ways the instructor would have used to teach the lessons.

She told us that Universal Design for Learning (UDL) represents instructional design that strives to meet the learning needs of the greatest number of students. UDL’s basic principles are multiple means of representation, multiple means of expression, and multiple means of engagement. It was after this presentation that I began learning as much as I could about Universal Design for Learning. “Walking in someone else’s shoes is a good idea.” Thanks for letting me share this with you.