Thursday, January 5, 2017

Universal Design in the Classroom

I recently finished reading and writing a (future) blog post on the book “The Space: A Guide for Educators”. It’s a book about reimagining our learning spaces in schools. At the end of the book the authors Rebecca Louise Hare and Dr. Robert Dillon apply universal design to their advice on how to reinvent classroom space. In what ways can we apply Universal Design in reimagining our learning spaces? How do we ensure that our classrooms foster opportunities for equal participation, and discourage exclusion. *Universal design is also referred to as “universal design in education (UDE)”. I recommend giving this article from DO-IT: Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology a careful read - there are some great explanations and examples here. Admittedly, I don’t think I really put a lot of thought into this for a long time. I’ve taught in shared spaces for the last 9 years of my (nearly) 20 years in teaching, so with everyone moving around few rooms are “dedicated” spaces.

This is a framework for educational environments that are accessible to all people, including the tools and (software) programs that are used. Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D, says these include (but I would suggest not limited to): “computer and science labs, curriculum, educational software, instruction, libraries, professional organizations, registration options, student housing and residential life, websites, [and] other student services.”

According to Anne Meyer, the “three key components of universal design for learning are: multiple representations of information, alternative means of expression, and varied options for engagement.” (Edutopia 1998) Some areas that foster inclusion include using materials that have subtitles, apps that read text for students, and visuals that foster understanding of ideas and concepts. Do visuals have audio accompaniment? Are there translation tools available? (admittedly, these still have some development needed) Do we allow students varied approaches to express their ideas and research? (such as orally, visually, drama) Do we give students modified text so that the key ideas are clear, and their focus and understanding is maximized? I think a key component is the inclusion - these concepts are for all community stakeholders.

Let’s look at each of the 7 principles in isolation, and (mostly) in the form of questions, a format I have seen a number of times. Perhaps reflect on your own classroom or learning environment, how it stands up to the principles of universal design, and what may help or hinder making your learning spaces more "universal".

Principle 1: Equitable Use
Do all students have access to all materials? Can they navigate the space without difficulty? Ultimately, can all students learn?

Principle 2 : Flexibility in Use
Does the space offer choice to students? This isn’t only about what they can learn, how they can approach learning, and how they can demonstrate learning, but also where in the room they can learn.

Principle 3: Simple and Intuitive Use
Is the space designed intuitively? Does the space allow for all to use it intuitively? Can a new student join the class and adapt quickly, regardless of experience, language or knowledge? Materials and resources should be quickly accessible to all.

Principle 4: Perceptible Information
Is necessary information easily understood? (the use of visuals) This such as images, colour coding and text help all students understand the space around them.

Principle 5: Tolerance for Error
Are the materials safe? Is the furniture safe? Are the rules in the space clear so that mistakes may be limited?

Principle 6: Low Physical Effort
Can things be moved around with little difficulty? Are things easily accessible to all?

Principle 7: Size and Space for Approach and Use
Are wall posters or written instructions at the eye level of the students, or the teachers? Is it appropriate for the age group? (if you’re a high school teacher and have done PD in an elementary classroom, you’ll quickly understand this one)

Works Cited
Anne Meyer. "Universal Design in the Classroom: Do it Once, Do it Right." Edutopia. 1 May 1998.
Web. 31 Dec. 2016. <>

Hare, Rebecca L., and Robert Dillon. The space: a guide for educators. Irvine, California:
EdTechTeam Press, 2016. Print. 22 Jan. 2010. Web. 31 Dec. 2016.

"Universal Design in Education: Principles and Applications | DO-IT." n.d. Web. 6
Jan. 2017. <

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