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Wrap-up of the 2024 ADCET UDL Symposium

Thomas Tobin presenting at the UDL Symposium

On the 12th of June we excitedly engaged in the second ADCET Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Symposium, hosted at RMIT in Melbourne. With over 300 participants joining both online and in-person. 

Building on last year’s theme of "the what, why and how" of UDL, this year explored "cultivating creativity, connections and confidence" with UDL in the Australian Tertiary Education Sector. As Dr James Brann (University of Tasmania) said, “in a time when the Universities accord is actively setting an agenda to enhance access and participation for equity cohorts, the significance of this event cannot be overstated. It is gatherings like these that foster the exchange of innovative ideas and practices, ensuring we can break down barriers and create learning experiences that are accessible, engaging, and empowering for every student”. The Symposium provided an opportunity for connections and exchanges of ideas across both the university and VET sectors. It was fabulous to see the coming together of staff from across multiple disciplines and from throughout Australia and beyond, including Dr Thomas Tobin flying all the way from the United States.

The event was introduced and MC-ed by Dr Kate Anderson, Vice Chancellor's Senior Research Fellow at RMIT, followed by a Welcome to Country by Wurundjeri Man Colin Hunter, and a welcome to RMIT by Professor Sherman Young, RMIT Deputy Vice-Chancellor – Education. Sherman reminded us of the transformational power that education plays and that “it’s only truly successful if everybody regardless of their background, abilities or preferences, has the opportunity and the conditions required to achieve their ambitions”.

Various topics showcased practical UDL implementation strategies, offering actionable insights on integrating UDL principles into learning experiences. The importance of incorporating student voices was emphasised, showcasing how involving learners in the design process can lead to more effective and engaging educational experiences, and explored the new capabilities of UDL through AI.

Keynoting was Dr Thomas Tobin (University of Wisconsin-Madison), sharing strategies for “Scaling Up with Universal Design for Learning . . . and How to Get Colleagues to Join You”. Tom seamlessly brought together the discussion within the room and on the online chat, equally valuing both modes of participation and creating an inclusive space where all could engage and contribute. Participants described building confidence in practicing UDL simply through experiencing it in action in Tom’s presentation.

Concluding the day was a hybrid panel discussion with in-person and online panel members, with Darlene McLennan (chair; ADCET manager), Thomas Tobin, Sarah Humphreys (Educational Design Manager, UDL Lead, University of Sydney), Elizabeth Hitches (Sessional Academic, Inclusive Education, Griffith University), John Fardoulis (Lead Universal Design, TAFE NSW), Lara Rafferty (Associate Director, Equity and Inclusion, RMIT University), and an in-person and online audience. The panel explored “Advancing UDL: Navigating the Journey to Institutional-Wide Implementation” and expressed the importance of connecting and collaborating with colleagues, building individual and team confidence in applying UDL, and how to make UDL a strategic goal at the institution-wide level.

The UDL Symposium received overwhelmingly positive feedback from attendees, who found the event both enjoyable and inspiring. Participants appreciated the opportunity to meet individuals from various roles, all united by a common goal of advancing Universal Design for Learning (UDL). One attendee remarked, "Really enjoyable, great to meet loads of people who do very different roles to me, but we all link together in many ways!" Another highlighted the collective effort, stating, "It was very inspiring to see so many people around the country working towards a common goal of UDL" The workshops and keynote speaker were particularly praised for their practical and inspiring content, with one participant noting, "I learnt so much in the workshop sessions, and the keynote speaker was brilliant. Very inspiring, practical and doable."

Participants identified key takeaways from the Symposium including the effectiveness of embedding UDL as the default approach, the importance of starting with manageable improvements, and the recognition of diversity as a strength, especially in educational settings. Attendees described the event as "amazing, inspiring, energising," underscoring the positive impact and motivational atmosphere of the symposium.

One resounding message across multiple presenters and participants was the “plus one” approach to UDL implementation: that we can make positive impact by continually working to remove one more barrier or create one more inclusive option. This approach was in fact a driver for the way in which the UDL symposium itself was held this year. For the first time, the Symposium could be engaged with in both an in-person and online mode (previously being solely online), and the two were brought together with interactive keynote and panel discussions. Additionally, those in-person could attend any online session, and those online could attend the livestream of in-person sessions. While those in person engaged in a networking lunch, so did those online, bringing along their food, meeting new colleagues and chatting about the ‘hot topics’ in UDL. Feedback from participants illustrated that there are benefits of both online and in-person options, with participants able to select the mode which suited their needs, preferences, and circumstances. Applying UDL takes iterative “plus ones” and ADCET is already reflecting on how to further strengthen UDL within future events.

What will your “plus one” be?

Images captured at the Symposium by RMIT

Kate Anderson presenting at the UDL Symposium

 Thomas Tobin presenting at the UDL Symposium

Professor Sherman Young presenting at the UDL Symposium

Photos courtesy of RMIT

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