Facultyware: An Online Resource on Universal Design for Instruction

With increasing numbers of students with "hidden disabilities" (e.g., learning disabilities) and other diverse learning needs accessing higher education, institutions are challenged to assure access to programs and courses while maintaining academic and technical standards. Universal Design for Instruction (UDI) offers an innovative means to promote academic access for a broad range of diverse learners. UDI represents a paradigm shift from a retroactive accommodation model of access to a proactive inclusive approach that anticipates and values human diversity.

What is UDI?

UDI is based on the concept of Universal Design (UD), an approach proposed in the late 1970s in the field of architecture (The Center for Universal Design, 1997). UD constitutes an approach to creating environments and products usable by all people to the greatest extent possible without the need for adaptation. Ramps and electronic door openers are examples of features that assure physical access for those with disabilities but also are useful to many people (e.g., a parent pushing a stroller). Applied to the field of education, UDI promotes the planning and delivery of instruction as well as assessment of student learning based upon recognition that classrooms are comprised of a diverse audience of learners. Through UDI, academic and technical standards are maintained, while the need for retrofitted accommodations are reduced or eliminated (Scott, McGuire, & Shaw, 2003).

Faculty at the University of Connecticut Center on Postsecondary Education and Disability (CPED) have identified and operationalized the nine principles of UDI that offer a framework for the design and delivery of instruction as well as the evaluation of student learning (Scott, McGuire, & Foley, 2003). The principles are designed to assist faculty as they reflect upon their teaching and incorporate inclusive approaches that are responsive to diverse learning needs.

Faculty from a range of subject disciplines and postsecondary settings are currently incorporating one or several examples of the principles in their instructional techniques. In order to share these inclusive practices, instructional techniques, or "products," are displayed on the project Web site, www.facultyware.uconn.edu. Each product has undergone a two-step juried review process to ensure that it is reflective of one or more of the nine principles of UDI, and that it is of high quality and usefulness to a broad range of academic disciplines.

Overview of the Product Review Process

To ensure that posted products are both exemplars of UDI and usable by faculty from a range of disciplines, a product review process was designed. This process was modeled in part after a peer-review process for postsecondary instructional materials used by the Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching (MERLOT; www.merlot.org).

When a product is submitted by a faculty member for inclusion on the Facultyware Web site, it is posted to password-secure areas of Facultyware. These secure areas were established for two panels of expert reviewers, a group of experts in UDI, and faculty from more than 30 disciplines who are involved in project activities. Both groups of reviewers complete orientation materials prior to participating in the review process. Within password-secure areas of the Web site, reviewers view the instructional product and complete the appropriate rating form.

The UDI panel rates a product on the extent to which it reflects each of the nine principles of UDI. Because many products may be reflective of some, but not all of the principles, a product may be considered suitable if the mean rating for any of the principles is 3.0 or higher on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = Low Reflection of UDI; 3 = Moderate Reflection of UDI; 5 = Very High Reflection of UDI). Simultaneously, the product is reviewed by members of the faculty panel. Products that meet a mean criterion of 3.0 or higher on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = Poor; 3 = Good; 5 = Excellent) for quality and usability meet the standards for posting on the Facultyware Web site.

Products meeting established criteria in both areas are posted to an open area of Facultyware called "Instructional Freeware" (http://www.facultyware.uconn.edu/freeware). Ratings and qualitative comments from both review panels are included, as are more detailed comments, additional reference information, and samples of the product rating forms. The product submitter receives a letter of acceptance from the project similar to acknowledgement of manuscript publication in an academic journal for use in Promotion, Tenure, and Reappointment files.

Given the increasing diversity of students in higher education classrooms, resources for developing inclusive instructional strategies are important. Facultyware offers sample products that have undergone a rigorous two-stage electronic review by national experts in UDI and by postsecondary faculty nationwide to ensure that products are reflective of the principles of UDI, are of high quality, and are generalizable to a range of disciplines. Because the entire process is conducted electronically, it is convenient and time saving for product reviewers and UDI project staff. The true beneficiaries of the review process, however, will be visitors to the Facultyware site, who can access high-quality instructional products that exemplify the principles of UDI.

References

Hanley, G.L., & Thomas, C. (2000, October). MERLOT: Peer review of instructional technology. Syllabus Magazine, 14, 3.
Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching. (2002). Retrieved July 22, 2002, from http://www.merlot.org/Home.po
Scott, S., McGuire, J., & Foley, T. (2003). Universal Design for Instruction: A framework for anticipating and responding to disability and other diverse learning needs in the college classroom. Equity and Excellence in Education, 36(1), 40-49).
Scott, S.S., McGuire, J.M., Shaw, S. (2003). Universal Design for Instruction: A new paradigm for teaching adults in postsecondary education. Remedial and Special Education, 24(6), 369-379.
Scott, S. & McGuire, J. (2001). Universal Design for Instruction Product Submission Packet. Retrieved January 21, 2003 from Center Postsecondary Education and Disability, University of Connecticut.
The Center for Universal Design (1997). Principles of Universal Design. Retrieved July 22, 2002 from North Carolina State University, Center for Universal Design web site: http://www.ncsu.edu/ncsu/design/cud/univ_design/ud.htm

This Viewpoint was developed under a grant from the US Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education (#PR333A990036). The opinions, however, do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints or policies of the USD'E.

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