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Universal Design for Learning

Community of Practice Ideas

Mandy McCurdy on UDL as a Reflective Practice2:34 min

Listen to Mandy speak about her own path through UDL and what it means to proactively design for learner variability and iteratively reflect on this practice.

In this course, we’ve located our learners at the centre of complex social systems that privilege a narrow range of intersectional identities and move many to the margins. By focusing the design of learning environments (conceptualized broadly across different roles we as educators occupy) on welcoming learners at the margins to co-create their education, we work towards a more inclusive educational space and more inclusive learning opportunities. We do this work by reflecting on ourselves as learners and building empathy in understanding the lived experiencesOpens in a new window of our learners in order to support them in the development of learning expertise. In turn, this process is scaffolded by the three UDL principles and their corresponding guidelines and checkpoints. As we try out new UDL-informed strategies in our learning spaces, it’s important to recall that UDL is an ongoing reflective practice.

This diagram is a cycle. Each label is connected to the next with a curved arrow, pointing in the clockwise direction. The top right label is “Experience.” The arrow moves from “Experience” to the next label, which is “Observation and Reflection.” The curved arrow moves from “Observation and Reflection” to “Development of new learning ideas.” The next arrow curves towards the next label, which is “Testing out new learning ideas.” The next arrow points back to the label “Experience,” completing the cycle.

Remember that UDL as a practice is iterative and incremental. One great way to start small and build proficiency is the Plus-One Approach mentioned in Module 1 through the work of Tobin and Behling (2018). Plus-One is a method for quickly retrofitting existing curriculumOpens in a new window to be more supportive. Tobin and Behling formulated this strategy to facilitate the application of UDL without starting from scratch and using what instructors can bring to the course in an efficient manner. As you’ll remember, you’re just changing one thing by making one change this term. Perhaps you’ll consider adding one more representation of an important learning material, or you may provide one more option for an assessment format. It’s a great way to begin focusing your UDL lens, making future planning faster, easier, and more impactful for subsequent semesters. As we have emphasized throughout the course, learning happens within a sociocultural context. This context can optimize learning or present barriers to learning. The same is true for our own learning, which is why you may wish to consider establishing a supportive social system within which to continue reflection on your UDL practice: a community of practiceOpens in a new window or other forms of collaborations with colleagues. You may even wish to use some of the reflections you’ve recorded in this course to begin discussions with your colleagues and students. You probably already have a rather robust archive of sources, reflections, and strategies from this course. These will be useful for discussions with peers, but also in your own pedagogical practice, scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) research, or teaching dossiers or portfolios.

Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do, and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.

Wenger-Trayner, 2015

There are some established communities of practice you may want to join, including the Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education: A Special Interest Group of the UDL International Research NetworkOpens in a new window.

If you’d like to begin your own – perhaps with support from your centre for teaching and learning – you can download this guide from EDUCAUSEOpens in a new window. It is beneficial to ensure this community of practiceOpens in a new window engages diverse participants, including professional roles, within the learning environment. According to Fovet (2021), advancing UDL at an institutional level requires that we work across silos to avoid overburdening any one area with forwarding UDL and to expand the pedagogical focus of UDL implementation. He writes that this ecological approach is “just as crucial and urgent to address the organizational and strategic challenges [higher education] institutions might be facing when seeking to implement change and a shift in mindset with regards to inclusion.”

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