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Obstacles to Implementation of UDL in Post Secondary Environments

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Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 dictate that qualified students with disabilities are entitled to equal access to postsecondary education. Postsecondary students who disclose disabilities are granted individual accommodations based on individual documented needs to ensure this access. In the 1970s and 1980s, students with disabilities constituted a small portion of the college population. Today growing numbers of college students have apparent and / or hidden disabilities; and, providing individual accommodations catered to students’ unique and diverse learning needs is no longer practical or effectively feasible. New approaches are required “to provide accessible and effective instruction for this diverse cohort of college learners." Colleges and universities place too much emphasis on the disability of the student and not enough on the disability of today’s post secondary learning environments. “Students come to us now with a wider range of abilities and disabilities, and as educators, we must develop sound pedagogy and curriculum that is universally designed and not retrofitted after the fact.” This can be accomplished and is being successfully accomplished by applying Universal Design Principles to college instruction. The guiding principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) are: Multiple Means of Representation: provide a variety of ways for learners to perceive and comprehend information being presented to them. Multiple Means of Expression: provide a variety of options for learners to work in a learning environment and express what they know. Multiple Means of Engagement: employ a variety of methods to engage and motivate learners. Postsecondary instructors, especially at research colleges and universities generally rely heavily on lectures and printed text to represent information to students. Students are typically given one format to express what they have learned: written assignments and exams. And, often little effort goes into engaging college students in learning content material outside of graded feedback at the completion of the course. This format does not provide equal access to education for diverse learners; it favors the subset of students who learn best within a lecture/text/written assessment model. Through multiple options for representation, expression and engagement, Universal Design for Learning presents means to provide access for all students, with and without disabilities. Inclusion of UDL in the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 evidences its rising importance in the education field. However the majority of post secondary faculty is not integrating UDL principles into their teaching strategies. Why is this? What are challenges that face postsecondary schools in implementing the principles of Universal Design for Learning? At research-intensive colleges and universities, there is much pressure on non-tenured faculty to devote considerable time to research, publication, and grant procurement in efforts to secure tenure and promotion. Although some may be interested in improving teaching competencies, most place greater investment of time and resources into their research agendas. While there is clear reward to instructors for investing time in research, there is no apparent reward to instructors for time invested in developing effective teaching strategies. Pedagogy is not a priority. Unlike K-12 institutions, most postsecondary institutions face no requirements for teacher training in effective instruction strategies, let alone strategies to use in working with students with disabilities. Faculty members are well educated in content, not pedagogy. Most elementary and secondary teachers must be licensed and participate in continual professional development in order to retain licensure. Postsecondary faculty are required to have expertise in their respective fields of study, not in teaching. As a result, many faculty are unaware of teaching strategies to enhance learning for students with disabilities; and few are even marginally familiar with the principles of Universal Design for Learning. Many faculty choose to implement UDL principles into their teaching, but there is little institutional policy to support UDL implementation. College and university policies, mission statements, and course designs lack clear terminology for UDL and inclusion of UDL. The result is that many faculty do not recognize an explicit institutional goal of supporting a population of diverse learners. Without a clearly communicated commitment to diversity and inclusive approaches, widespread UDL implementation is unlikely. The term “universal” in universal design reflects an intent or goal to recognize and accommodate the unique nature of each individual learner. It does not imply a “one size fits all” solution, but many at the university level interpret it as such. And many faculty interpret “universal” as a “generic approach to instruction that will lower standards”. UDL is also often confused with other terminology such as Response to Intervention, inclusion and Positive Behavioral Supports; this confusion leaves faculty less interested in learning more about the potential of adopting a UDL framework. There has been little widely disseminated, systematic research on the effectiveness of UDL in postsecondary teaching and learning. In deciding whether to invest resources in implementing a UDL framework, administrators will require data and findings on outcomes for college students as a result of UDL implementation and on the affect implementation has on the need for accommodations for those with disabilities. What are some solutions to these challenges? Support and reward effective instruction, especially for untenured junior faculty, through grants, subscriptions to professional journals, money to purchase software and recognition awards. Continued development of legislation and initiatives such the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 and the 2010 National Education Technology Plan that define UDL and integrate it into post secondary program planning. Create a consortium or national network to set standards and supply knowledge for postsecondary implementation of UDL principles. Offer simple, easily accessible information for faculty on validated UDL practices that exist to enhance learning for all students; University of Connecticut offers a great resource at: The passage of the Higher Education Opportunity Act has helped with this with its definition of UDL and provisions for implementation. Develop a national communication plan including DOE broadcasts on UDL, UDL leadership academies, a UDL Community of Practice. Promote systematic research to measure outcomes of implementing UDL in postsecondary environments using student perceptions and student learning outcomes such as grades and retention rates. Raise public awareness on the benefits of UDL to today’s population of diverse learners through public awareness media campaigns and through successful implementation of UDL in elementary and secondary education. When it comes down to it, postsecondary students are consumers to whom colleges must market their product: instruction. Educated consumers will demand quality products and seek them out.

Video Details

Duration: 8 minutes and 3 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Producer: Mary Ann Gorman
Director: Mary Ann Gorman
Views: 103
Posted by: ma_gorm on Oct 2, 2011

Audio PPX with embedded video presents obstacles to implementation of UDL principles in post secondary environments and offers recommendations to address them

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