In this post, learning designer Lara Hardy shares tips to make online classes accessible for students with different needs (taken from a recent presentation to Macquarie staff by Trudy Smith, NextSense Institute) and provides a round up of teaching development that will help you incorporate UDL principles into your unit design and delivery.

What is Universal Design for Learning (UDL)?

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a learning design approach that recognises there is no ‘typical’ learner.

Learners come with a wide variety of prior experiences, abilities, preferences and needs. A UDL approach requires course and unit design to consider the broadest possible range of needs and preferences of all learners. UDL reduces the need for reasonable adjustments and enhances the experience of all learners, including those with disability.

3 things you can do to enhance your unit design and delivery with UDL

  1. Reflect on your teaching practice and introduce small changes that make a big difference to learning for all students.
  2. Checkout the tips below from Trudy Smith to enhance teaching via Zoom for students with different accessibility needs.
  3. Engage in some professional development opportunities to learn more about Universal Design for Learning (outlined below).

Inclusive teaching tips for an online class

Trudy Smith is the Manager of Continuing Professional Education at NextSense Institute. In the final DiversiTEA presentation for 2023 (DVC-A portfolio) marking International Day of People with a Disability, Trudy shared useful tips for making learning inclusive for all students in an online class (using Zoom and break-out rooms). 

Know who is in the room: Sometimes accessibility advice may appear contradictory. Knowing who is in the room will help to inform which approach or option is best.

Student cohort with accessibility requirementsTips for enhancing the design and delivery of your unit in tutorials using Zoom (breakout rooms)
Blind and low vision students * Turn on the bell for arriving and departing participants – the Zoom screen reader reads out the new arrival or departure. 
* Turn off the chat function or use it deliberately – Zoom obligingly reads everything typed in the chat, often over what is being said by the presenter at the time which can create a confusing and difficult listening and learning experience for people using screen readers.
*Do share your PPT – Zoom reads out everything shared on the screen. 
* Do use polls – Zoom reads out the question and enables navigation between and selection of answers.
* Ask students to say their name prior to speaking to support identification.  
* If you are asking students to refer to a document or reference material in the breakout room, share accessible versions before the meeting so everyone has a copy to refer to during the breakout room discussion. 
Deaf and hard of hearing students* If there are multiple speakers, ask them to introduce themselves each time they speak so that the captioning picks up the change of speaker.
* If using interpreters, give them multipin access and give those rights to any students accessing the content through the interpreters.
* Ask all students to raise hands and invite them to speak rather than allowing an open discussion to help students track the conversation.
* Captions don’t work in the break out rooms, so if a student needs them, they and their group will need to stay in the main room.
* Let interpreters know if they will be working in the main and/or break out rooms beforehand so they know how to react to the pop up invitation.
* Try not to cover your mouth when you are talking as it could make it difficult for people who are trying to lip read what you are saying.
Neurodivergent Students * Share an agenda before the meeting and include activities, discussion topics and anticipated outcomes. 
* Refer to the agenda at the beginning of the meeting, and highlight when you are moving through each section including activities, discussion etc.
* List the meeting outcomes and outstanding areas at the end of the meeting.  
* Encourage the use of non-verbal responses and use the chat at set times only to provide responses. 
* Mute all participants and invite them to respond before unmuting them.  
* Use Zoom captions and make transcripts available.  
* Keep your content simple and to the point – the more minimalist and uncluttered your slides are, the more accessible they will be! 
* Provide video on and off time where possible- we all suffer Zoom fatigue! 
* Provide clear explanations for ongoing tasks or work after the meeting. 
* Follow Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Principles. 

Go from UDL novice to expert with these professional development opportunities

Whether you’ve got 2 minutes or 2 hours, you’ll find a range of professional development options below to get you started, or to further enhance your current practice, with incorporating a Universal Design for Learn approach in your teaching.

Time to completeActionResource
2 minutesViewA short animated video from the Contemporary Approaches to University Teaching MOOC demonstrating how universal design for learning can make a difference.
15 minutesReadThe MQ UDL Quick Guide is packed with practical ideas for incorporating UDL into your iLearn site, learning materials and assessment design.
15 minutesUnderstandThis Glossary defines key UDL in tertiary education terms.
30 minutesExploreA Teche post with good examples of inclusive iLearn design.
Under 1 hourReflectUse this template to reflect on your teaching practice and identify small changes you could make with UDL in mind.
1.5 hoursEnrolLearn more about inclusive teaching practices by enrolling in the Foundations for Inclusive Teaching module on Workday. The module is packed with resources and practical ideas you can implement now to make learning more inclusive
1.5-2 hoursDeep diveThe comprehensive Universal Design for Learning in Tertiary Education course focuses on designing, developing and implementing UDL within your teaching practice. It’s available free for MQ staff by Disability Awareness. Access via MQ Workday.
2 hours +Sign upThe free Contemporary Approaches to University Teaching MOOC includes a module on UDL (which is content from the Disability Awareness UDL in Tertiary Education course mentioned above) as well as 23 other modules including Teaching Today’s Diverse Learners. (see this overview). Sign up here.


CAST Guidelines for UDL:  

Dwyer, Patrick & Mineo, Erica & Mifsud, Kristin & Lindholm, Chris & Gurba, Ava & Waisman, Tc. (2022). Building Neurodiversity-Inclusive Postsecondary Campuses: Recommendations for Leaders in Higher Education. Autism in Adulthood. 5. 10.1089/aut.2021.0042.  

Lara Hardy is a Learning Designer and Research Assistant at Macquarie University with a background of 7 years in student administration, advising, marketing, educational research and web design in higher education. She is a qualified careers counsellor with 7 years’ experience teaching in secondary schools and is currently working on a research project for the School of Education in the Faculty of Arts. In 2023 Lara worked with the Learning and Teaching Staff Development Team on the development of a module on Teaching Neurodivergent Students.

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Posted by L&T Development

The Learning and Teaching Staff Development team works with staff across the University to ensure they are supported to facilitate quality learning for students. This includes offering professional development, contributing to curriculum and assessment design, recognising and rewarding good practice, supporting peer review of teaching, and leading scholarly reflection. Email with questions or requests.

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