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UDL Symposium: 3A. Why Disrupt? Using UDL to foster belonging and break-down barriers

Live presentation including Q&A

Throughout most of history, universities have been largely known for their exclusivity. Terms such as the 'ivory tower’ and ‘sandstone’ have come to reflect the privileged seclusion and remoteness from the world beneath them. Broadly, universities are becoming more inclusive and diverse than ever before, as we have more voices and perspectives present at all levels in the institution. (Hills et al. 2022, p. 1) However, this does not mean that universities are utopias of inclusion and belonging. Leif et al. in their work identify several of the ‘challenges of fostering a culture of inclusive learning in higher education’ (Leif et al. 2013, p. 56).

At the University of Sydney barriers exist in many forms and places such as physical, practical and social spaces. In this presentation we sought to explore why disrupting these learning environments is crucial to fostering belonging in our context and why the adoption of Universal Design for Learning principles optimally facilitates this. Their goal as educators who craft their learning environments is to foster a cultural change that values and supports the principles of UDL, resulting in transformational, student-focused education that is inclusive of all. With a ‘sandstone’ reputation and a strong culture of heritage and prestige there are many known barriers to inclusivity and diversity at the University of Sydney. This presentation explored why we must focus on the barriers in our learning environment to make our university a space for all students.


Dr Samantha Poulos is an educational designer at the University of Sydney working on the designing for diversity project. Samantha is a feminist literary theorist with a background in first year teaching and working to develop inclusive teaching practices and student engagement. Building on their PhD "'Who cares about pretty?': Examining the construction and performance of femininity in Young Adult literature" Samantha draws on this expertise in queer and gender theory to inform their teaching pedagogy which works to develop creative, inclusive and safe spaces.

Dr Ella Collins-White is an educational designer at the University of Sydney, working on the designing for diversity project and specialising in universal design for learning. As an academic, Ella has taught across a range of subjects, receiving commendations for cultivating a practice of inclusive teaching and collaborative learning. She enjoys weird and innovative novels, exploring this in her PhD, Keeping the Novel “Novel”: Reading Embodied, Borderless and Untranslatable Experimental Fiction, which unpacked the powerful rhetorical capacity of literature to communicate and persuade when audiences are invited by authors to co-participate in the creation of the textual world.

Sarah Humphreys is an Educational Design Manager with the University of Sydney’s Educational Innovation Team. She leads the implementation of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) at the University in response to the University’s strategic plan that outlines a commitment to transformational, student-focused education that embraces equity, diversity and inclusion. Sarah’s background is in teaching, inclusive education and curriculum development. 

(September 2023)