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Teaching and Assessment

Classrooms are microcosms of the diverse society in which we live, with students encompassing a range of abilities, cultural backgrounds, learning styles and educational needs. By teaching to maximise learning for the widest possible array of characteristics present within the student cohort, an inclusive environment is created.  

Universal design refers to ‘design of products and environments to be usable by all people to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or of specialised design1.  In education, this means the development of course content, teaching materials and delivery methods to be accessible for and usable by students across the broadest diversity ranges.  Inclusive education facilitates the access, participation and success of students.  This approach acknowledges that students with disability or other needs may learn differently, but are not less academically capable.

Curricula and course material is considered to be universally designed if:

  • Students can interact with and respond to curricula and materials in multiple ways
  • Students can find meaning in material (and thus motivate themselves) in different ways
  • Web-based course material is accessible to all
  • Information is presented in multiple ways.

The Principles of Universal Design in Education

There are seven generic principles of universal design, which can be adapted to reflect the educational setting. Whilst the examples provided below are not exhaustive, they provide an understanding of the aim of each principle.  

1.  Equitable educational experience

  • Instruction is understandable and relevant to all students, and accessible to students with a diverse range of abilities
  • Information is available in various formats at the same time and same cost (i.e. workbooks are available on disk, in print form and on the internet)
  • Assessment is carried out in a flexible manner

2.  Flexible material and instruction

  • Students can choose how they access material (i.e. formal lectures are supported by on-line material, labs and tutorials are available at different times of the day and week)
  • Material is designed to accommodate the widest range of users
  • Material is adapted to suit all learning paces (i.e. lecturers pause after key points)

3.  Predictable structure and instruction

  • Material is easy to understand and logically sequenced, according to importance
  • Instruction occurs in a predictable manner and format
  • Material such as notes and websites are offered in a clear, easy-to-read format
  • Feedback is adequate and timely

4.  Perceptible information

  • Information is communicated in multiple ways (i.e. visual and auditory)
  • Websites follow the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) guidelines
  • Information is compatible with assistive technology 

5.  Mistakes are tolerated

  • Learning hazards are minimised (i.e. a home page link on all web pages allows the user to return to home if they make a mistake)
  • Instruction anticipates variation of skill and ability
  • Advanced notice about important tutorials and lectures is provided
  • Students are encouraged to get help for proof-reading documents

6.  Eliminate unnecessary physical effort

  • Non-essential physical effort is minimised 
  • Students have the opportunity during class to change their posture or position (i.e. rest breaks are provided for longer sessions)

7.  Physical accessibility

  • Instruction is equally available to people with different physical characteristics and communication needs
  • Learning environments cater for assistive technology

References

1 Mace, R. (2008) About UD. The Centre for Universal Design. Sourced on 1 October 2014 from http://www.ncsu.edu/ncsu/design/cud/about_ud/about_ud.htm