Establishing Considerations for Universal Design for Learning and Accessibility in Online Courses

Establishing Considerations for Universal Design for Learning and Accessibility in Online Courses

Aisha S. Haynes
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6255-9.ch005
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Students with and without disabilities are enrolling in online courses. Universal design for learning (UDL) and accessibility strategies should be implemented proactively when designing and developing online courses. Quality assurance and accessibility standards, university support, professional development, and instructional designers are important for instructors to successfully design online courses and teach online. The purpose of this chapter is to provide educators with strategies for implementing UDL and accessibility in online courses.
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Online courses are becoming increasingly popular in educational institutions. Enrollments in online college courses are growing at a rapid pace (Allen & Seaman, 2014) and diversity is increasing (Ingram, Lyons, Bowron, & Oliver, 2012). Online courses have the potential to attract students who may not be able to attend traditional face-to-face courses (Allen & Seaman, 2014). Distance courses require students to be disciplined, proficient with technology and work independently (Rao, Edelen-Smith, & Walehau, 2015). As colleges and universities move toward offering more online courses, students with special needs may get left behind (Catalano, 2014). Online course accessibility and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) are important as institutions of higher education extend their reach and course offerings to a variety of students near and far. Many students, including those students with disabilities, are opting for online versions of courses.

According to Tobin (2013), UDL is an educational framework for designing multiple ways for learners to interact, engage and experience content. UDL was initially developed to provide equal learning opportunities for students in face-to-face courses, but the framework has been adapted for online courses (Tobin, 2013). UDL goes beyond being beneficial for students with disabilities. The principles often benefit all learners (Tobin, 2013). Universal design strategies are being researched as ways to create curriculum that is more global and diverse (Ingram, Lyons, Bowron, & Oliver, 2012). When launching a technology-driven international university, considerations for UDL and accessibility should be established.

A study was conducted on an Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies course at the University of South Carolina (UofSC) – Columbia. The following research question guided the study: What impact does universal design for learning (UDL) and accessible course design have on student learning experiences in an online course? The Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies course is an academic foundation course at the university. Academic foundation Carolina Core courses support study in program majors and beyond the classroom experiences. Carolina Core courses develop competency in values, ethics, global citizenship, multicultural understanding and social responsibility. The courses are a shared experience for UofSC students regardless of their majors or fields of study. The objective of this chapter is to determine the impact of UDL and accessibility on online courses and to provide educators with strategies for implementing UDL and accessibility in online courses.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Online Learning: Education made available through the internet.

Distributed Learning: Using technology to facilitate learning.

Assistive Technology: Technologies that help perform tasks.

Disability: Impairment that can makes routine tasks more difficult.

Usability: Ease of use of course components.

Accessibility: Ensuring access course materials to all learners.

Universal Design for Learning: Providing equal access to curriculum for all students.

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