Universal Design: Environment

Think College Learn

Section 3: Key Component of Universal Design: Environment

The environment for a college course may be a traditional classroom, online, or a combination of both. When we talk about universal design and the learning environment, we consider the physical as well as the social (psychological/sociological) components. 

Key strategies to create an inclusive learning environment for all students

Social Elements of the Class Environment
  • Use examples that appeal to students with a variety of characteristics with respect to race, ethnicity, gender, age, and interest.
  • Create and model a safe learning environment where all opinions are respected and heard. (See video of Missy Jones regarding diversity in a course, link TBA)
Face-to-Face Course Environment
  • Make sure that the space is comfortable and accessible for students, and that noise is controlled. Allow for preferential seating.
  • Move the furniture around to create large, small, and individual groups.
  • Provide periodic breaks during long sessions.
  • Repeat questions so students in the back can hear, and students taking notes can capture the main idea.
  • Engage all students by structuring classes so that students take on multiple roles of a facilitator, recorder, presenter, etc.
  • Project all ideas—use an LCD or other device.
  • Encourage students to choose or look for internship opportunities in locations that are convenient for them. Another option is for students to pair up to share the travel responsibilities.
Online course environments
  • Use online tools for discussions and review sessions
  • Post all materials in accessible formats. Use the an online file validator to test your Word and PowerPoint documents for accessibility.
  • Create online portfolios for students to use to upload and share their work with you.
  • Provide online group folders for each group to share information amongst themselves.
  • Use video conferencing with your students in remote places. (Google Hangouts or Skype) 
  • Encourage discussions that use voice and images as well as text, sites such as VoiceThread or Padlet.

Considerations for students with ID

Students with intellectual disabilities may have a coach or a mentor attending the course with him/her. Instructors should work with the student and coach to determine the best way to support an inclusive environment for the student and coach.  For example, does the coach sit next to the student or across the room? During small group work, does the coach join the group with the student or support in a different role? Each student and each situation may be different, so it is always best to ask the student how they prefer to be supported in the course.

This infographic highlights the features of a 21st century classroom, and emphasizes the benefits of using technology for learning. Read more