Universal Design: Instruction

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Section 5: Key Component of Universal Design: Instruction

Universal Design for Learning strategies for instruction are based on best practices in pedagogy.  The following strategies will help support all students to succeed in higher education.

Essential Questions or Guiding Questions are an instructional strategy used to engage students. An Essential Question can be posed for one class or for the entirety of the course. Essential Questions are helpful in teaching and learning because:

  • They invite higher order thinking.
  • They provide a focus for student learning.
  • They can be used as a point for discussion throughout a course.
  • They can be used as an aid for illustrating the evolution of students’ learning.
  • They can be used to understand abstract concepts with common examples.

An example of an Essential Question:
Sociology 368: The Sociology of Community: Has the definition of community become so broad that we have, in a sense, lost what used to be “Community”? This Essential Question will have students engaging in what their own definition of community is and how it is similar to or different from others in the class, what was intended by the original definition of the word, observations of community in society, etc.

Diversify instruction every 15-20 minutes
Once you recognize the wide diversity of your students, it helps to start to diversify your instructional approaches. Set a timer in your class if you need to—you can still get in depth with material, but if you present it in different ways, you will reach more students. Studies have shown that 90% of all students are no longer paying attention to a lecture after 20 minutes. Universal Design for Learning suggests that faculty can begin diversifying their instruction every 20 minutes by following these easy steps:

  • Provide multiple and flexible methods of instruction to address the learning needs of all students (group work, lecture, hands-on experiences).
  • Provide multiple opportunities for students to practice what they are learning in class before you assess them.
  • Provide culturally responsive choices of content and tools that students can use to engage with the curriculum. 

Active Learning
As you can see in the graph of key components of active learning, studies have shown that active learning not only engages more students, it also can produce higher order thinking skills. Some of the simplest strategies for active learning include the feedback lecture and the guided lecture. The feedback lecture consists of two mini-lectures separated by small group study sessions built around a study guide. During a guided lecture, students listen to a 20-minute presentation without taking notes. This is followed by writing for 5 minutes, and then the rest of the class period is spent with students working in small groups to clarify and elaborate on the material. 

Key Components of Active Learning

Scaffold the Instruction with Graphic Organizers or Flashcards
Sometimes faculty need to provide tools to help students study for a specific topic. Graphic organizers (also known as concept maps) are great tools to help visual learners chunk information. Graphic organizers can be provided to students as blank sheets that they need to complete during a lecture, or they can be offered as completed graphs that students will use to understand the organization of a specific topic. Graphic organizers are tools that can be simple drawings on paper or online digital versions. There are a number of free graphic organizer sites available for the computer or mobile devices.

Flashcards options include both no-tech pen and paper ones or online flashcards. Two examples of online flashcards are Quizlet www.quizlet.com and the Flashcard Machine: http://www.flashcardmachine.com/ Flashcard websites allow students or faculty to import key terms and then define them with a combination of text, recorded narration, and inserted images. For example, an anatomy course may create a group of online flashcards for the muscles in the human body with the flashcards featuring both the images and the audio pronunciation for the key terms. This simple tool can meet multiple learning styles. These tools allow students to then use online quizzes to learn the content. Also, most flashcard websites let you export the group of “cards” to a mobile device. Many of these sites have lists of free pre-made cards to share with students. See a list of mobile graphic organizer and flashcard tools in the LEARN MORE section.

Faculty who diversify their instruction are recognizing the variance in learning styles of students and setting high expectations for success. 

To Learn More: 

This video features several college professors talking about how to design lessons using multiple means of engagement. A portion of the video also features some students talking about UDL and how it helps them...Read more

Three case studies that describe a typical college classroom situation and the diverse students attending the class.  Used as a training activity, participants consider the typical aspects of the classroom instruction and how they could be adjusted using UCD strategies...Read more