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Universal Design for Learning
The Engagement Principle

Community Building Through Group Work

The second checkpoint for sustaining effort and persistence is to “foster collaboration and community” in our learning spaces. You may be wondering, what role might group work play in this?

Federic Fovet, an academic and researcher of UDL implementation in higher education, discusses the need to rethink the use of group work in the colonized classroom. His research speaks of many students, including Indigenous students, being ill at ease in group formats as these are constructed on dominant cultural norms. Students who are already comfortable with this format often “took the limelight, excelled and took much of the floor, leaving others stuck in fairly passive roles” (Fovet, 2021). Fovet points out that much literature highlights our inability thus far to demonstrate sensitivity to the “traditions of etiquette, respect, reciprocity, and humbleness of the Indigenous circle” (Canel-Çınarbaş & Yohani, 2019; Chomat et al., 2019; McMahon, Griese, & Kenyon, 2019, in Fovet, 2020). There is much to learn from this critique. Group work presenting barriers for any group of students indicates the need for change so we can all benefit from creating and sustaining an inclusive learning environment. UDL offers a place to start, especially online, by offering choices in methods of contribution (audio, text, imagery) and options to add time flexibility, for both individual work and group work situations. Many educators include self-reflection for learners to consider their own engagement as well as ways they could have better supported the participation of others. This meta-cognitive framing allows for both an individual and group model of learning, and provides avenues for building an equitable community. Framing Feedback

Within this context of community, making mistakes – what Andratesha Fritzgerald (2020) terms "failure as feedback for excellence” – and reflecting on mistakes allow for continued learning opportunity and growth. Thinking of mistakes in the context of growth can be helpful. Flock and Garcia (2019) recommend four ways to construct feedback that focuses on growth: 

  1. Start with what students are doing well to set the foundation.
  2. Share corrections so students know where they went wrong, and direction so they know how they can get back on track.
  3. Emphasize the learning goal over the performance goal.
  4. Coach students to critique their own work and each other’s. This allows them to develop skills that they can apply to future learning.

Providing feedback that focuses on (and models) growth can help create more inviting and engaging spaces. Learners are more likely to take risks, try things out, fail, and try again. They can see themselves as part of a learning community where mistakes are normalized, and feel confident that there is no reason to learn from the margins, where success and failure are typically seen as opposing or binary forces. Learners’ motivation to learn can be expanded and supported by feedback that allows for growth rather than a reinforcement of their deficits.


Myth: Some learners are just not motivated.

Much has been written about learner motivation, and the topic has been explored from a wide range of perspectives. Recently, in the context of online learning, explorations of learner motivation and engagement take into account the learner, the technology, and the ability to feel part of a community.   A lot of motivation is intrinsic and individual, but motivation is not easily separated from a learner’s ongoing experience of the learning environment that we create. An adult committing to school at all is a strong indication of motivation (that is to say, an end goal exists and a reward for completion is anticipated). Since the human brain is already set up for learning, from a UDL perspective, our focus is first to identify barriers that can interfere with that learner’s already present motivation. Then, using the overarching principles of UDL, anti-oppressionOpens in a new window, and intersectional awareness, dismantle these barriers and create options to empower and support learners. As we do this, the longstanding ideologies and structures we need to challenge come more clearly into focus.


Am I supporting learners in understanding the learning goals? Am I supporting learners to meet and persist through challenges? Am I facilitating an open environment where learners are working and communicating with each other? Is my feedback focused on increasing learners’ efforts?

Take a moment and write down what you like or do not like about the feedback you provide your students at the moment. You may also want to think about how you provide feedback and if there is a way you would want to modify that going forward. This will be important for adding to your pedagogical practice as we will discuss at the end of the module.

Next sectionOptions for Self-Regulation