Using Universal Design for Learning (UDL) for Optimal Student Engagement in the Online College Classroom

Using Universal Design for Learning (UDL) for Optimal Student Engagement in the Online College Classroom

Kathleen A. Boothe (Southeastern Oklahoma State University, USA) and Marla J. Lohmann (Colorado Christian University, USA)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 23
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2132-8.ch017


To support the increased diversity in the college classroom, it is vital that research-based practices are used to ensure student engagement and success. Faculty must approach online instruction with a willingness to implement teaching practices that have proven to be effective in the virtual environment. One framework for supporting the needs of all learners and enhancing student motivation is Universal Design for Learning (UDL). UDL is a proactive instructional framework that is designed to make the curriculum accessible for all students through multiple means of engagement, multiple means of representation, and multiple means of action and expression. College faculty can use the UDL framework as they plan for interactions with students, design instructional modules, and create student assignments and assessments. This chapter will provide an overview of UDL in the online college classroom, a synopsis of the relevant research literature, and practical examples from the chapter authors' online courses.
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Today’s college students are embracing the high-tech opportunities available for learning and almost thirty percent of students take at least one fully online course (US Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics, 2018). Online courses provide increased accessibility for diverse students (Boston, Ice, & Burgess, 2012), including English language learners, students with disabilities, students with full-time jobs, and student-parents.

Over a million university students in the United States can be considered English language learners (Institute of International Education, 2017). The term English Language Learner (ELL) indicates a student for whom English is not their primary language and their English-language skills are not comparable to other college students (Kanno & Varghese, 2010). Due to the fact that they are attempting to learn the English language while learning the academic content (Bergey, Movit, Baird, & Faria, n.d.), ELL students may struggle to access both written and oral course materials (Lei, Berger, Allen, Plummer, & Rosenberg, 2010).

Approximately 11% of college students report having a disability (Scott, 2019). However, today’s college classrooms include students with “invisible” disabilities, including learning disabilities, attention issues, medical conditions, and psychiatric disorders (Kranke, Jackson, Taylor, Anderson-Fye, & Floersch, 2013) and these students may opt not to disclose their disability to university faculty. In fact, only about one-fourth of college students with disabilities disclose their disability to the university (U.S. Department of Education, 2000). Research suggests that more than four million students with undisclosed disabilities have left college before graduating due to the impact of their disability (Kessler, Foster, Saunders, & Stang, 1995). Traditional classroom instruction may not be sufficient for supporting the learning needs of students with disclosed and non-disclosed disabilities (Kutscher & Tuckwiller, 2019).

A third category of college students includes those who are taking classes while working a full-time job. According to the National Center on Education Statistics (2019), 43% of full-time undergraduate students and 81% of part-time undergraduates work a paid job in addition to taking classes. As working students balance the demands of school and a job, they may be unable to attend the office hours set by their professors and may struggle to balance the requirements of both school and work.

Similar to the competing demands faced by working students, student-parents also face unique challenges in accessing higher education. Over 20% of undergraduate students are also parents (Cruse, Holtzman, Gault, Croom, & Polk, 2019). Student-parents are more likely to be older, working full-time, and spending less time on school-related activities than student non-parents (Crispin & Nikolaou, 2019). In addition, many student-parents are motivated to attend school in order to provide a better life for their children (Roy, Bradecich, Dayne, & Luna, 2018), making their motivation different from that of many other college students.

Students may be more successful when instruction is designed to address classroom diversity (Kutscher & Tuckwiller, 2019). One way to support the learning needs of all students is through the use of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework. The purpose of this chapter is to guide online faculty in thinking about implementing UDL into their courses. Novak (2016) notes the importance of starting slow when implementing the UDL framework and recommends beginning with one assignment or lesson at a time. The chapter authors agree with this recommendation and the strategies chosen for incorporation into this chapter were chosen because they (a) can be implemented with minimal preparation, (b) do not require costly materials or training, and (c) have proven to be effective in the authors’ online classrooms.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Multiple Means of Action and Expression: The third UDL principle which focuses on a product that demonstrates content understanding or how a person learns.

Accessibility: The designing of course content in a manner that ensures that all students can learn the material and meet the course learning objectives.

Multiple Means of Engagement: The first UDL principle which focuses on what motivates students to learn.

Multiple Means of Representation: The third UDL principle which focused on how content is delivered to students.

Synchronous Instruction: A form of online learning in which students and faculty are online at the same time and access the learning materials and communication with one another in real-time.

Universal Design for Learning: A framework for creating meaningful course instruction that ensures that all students can access the learning.

Asynchronous Instruction: A form of online learning in which students and faculty are not online at the same time, but instead access the learning materials and communication with one another over the course of several days.

Cooperative Learning: A form of learning in which students collaborate with classmates to complete a learning project and master a course objective.

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