How Do You Intentionally Design to Maximize Success in the Academically Diverse Classroom? A Review

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How Do You Intentionally Design to Maximize Success in the Academically Diverse Classroom? A Review

By Klodiana Kolomitro

If you are looking for an introduction to the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework and some examples on how to enact UDL principles, then you should read this article. The authors start by challenging the notion of the “traditional university student” and the “traditional university experience” by making the case for an academically diverse student body. They argue that Universal Design for Learning is a useful framework to maximize the learning outcomes for all students without compromising rigour and integrity. In this article, the authors provide an outline of the UDL framework while unpacking each of its’ principles and offering examples from the literature and their own courses. As educators we often focus on our teaching approaches and strategies being evidence-based. Chandler et al., note that even though essential that is not sufficient in supporting the success of all students.

Although we have a legal requirement to accommodate students with documented physical and learning disabilities, we contend that legal obligations are the minimum standards in making courses accessible and that we have an ethical obligation to meet the needs of all students—regardless of documented disability—while maintaining high academic standards.”

Multiple means of representation, which is the first UDL principle, calls for providing students with various options for recognizing content in the areas of perception, language, expression, symbols and comprehension. The authors acknowledge that this is not to say that students will never be asked to process information or engage differently, but to highlight the benefits in “offering students multiple means of accessing content by representing it in ways that include multiple senses, language approaches, diverse expressions, and symbols.” In addition to purposefully thinking how learners recognize content, the authors encourage us to also think about at what level of sophistication can they engage with content and thus offer multiple entry points for both novice and expert learners. Multiple Means of Action and Expression, the second principle of UDL, highlights the different strategies learners use to organize and express information.  The authors emphasize the importance of providing options in the following areas: physical action, action and expression, and executive functions.  Several examples are given here in each of these three areas. Multiple Means of Engagement, the third UDL principle, focuses on creating an environment that maximizes student motivation and engagement (while differentiating between engaging students and entertaining students), and provides students with opportunities to self-assess, reflect, and monitor their own progress. I would have appreciated it if the authors discussed how the UDL principles could be adopted or applied in large classes or in courses with no support from teaching assistants. Nevertheless they acknowledge that this cannot be a solidary endeavour, and urge all of us committed to inclusivity to collaborate with instructors, students, educational professionals, learning technologists, instructional designers, textbook publishers, and administrators in order to maximize learning for all students. 

Chandler, R., Zaloudek, J. A., & Carlson, K. (2017). How Do You Intentionally Design to Maximize Success in the Academically Diverse Classroom?. New Directions for Teaching and Learning2017(151), 151-169.


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