Connecticut advanced universal design for learning institute

Goodwin University’s Advanced UDL Institute: How Five Senior Teaching Fellows Are Implementing UDL Principles

Robert LeGary Jr., Ed.D, Director, Master of Education program, and Diana LaRocco, Ed.D, Director of the Goodwin Institute for Learning Innovation, Dean, School of Applied Liberal Arts and Social Science

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an educational framework based on the idea that every learner is unique. Faculty members take a student-centered approach to the design and implementation of their curriculum that proactively addresses potential barriers to learning.

In 2016, Goodwin University adopted UDL as its institutional teaching framework. Since then, our faculty and leadership have been unwavering in their commitment to the implementation of UDL and the redesign of curriculum and instruction.

We have now provided professional learning to six cohorts of higher education faculty at three universities (Goodwin, University of Saint Joseph, and University of Bridgeport), as well as a cohort of high school teachers from Connecticut River Academy. Most impressive, however, is the completion of the inaugural cohort for our Advanced UDL (AdUDL) Institute, resulting in five Goodwin faculty achieving the status of Senior Teaching Fellow.

The goal of the AdUDL Institute is to expand the implementation and application of the UDL framework in support of student success.

AdUDL Institute participants commit to:

  • Actively engage in six two-hour synchronous sessions
  • Collaborate with other Institute participants and critically reflect on current UDL practices
  • Meet the Institute objectives listed below

The objectives of the Institute are as follows:

  • Examine existing instances of UDL framework within a single course
  • Assess their current UDL practices in terms of student success
  • Revise course curricular components to utilize UDL practices
  • Engage in the peer review process
  • Publish one blog post that chronicles the changes made to their teaching practices and the course
  • Present the changes made to their teaching practices and the course to Spring 2023 UDL Institute participants

Reflective Teaching from a UDL Perspective

While participating in the AdUDL Institute, Teaching Fellows select a single course and review the related course modules in the Canvas Learning Management System, the learning platform that students use to track assignments and submit work. The goal is for each Teaching Fellow to identify specific instances in which that course applies UDL guidelines and checkpoints. Participants then engage in critical self-reflection as they apply appreciative inquiry (Whitney & Trosten-Bloom, 2010) as the lens for analysis.

The five-dimensional cycle of appreciative inquiry encourages Teaching Fellows to:

  • Define. What is the topic of inquiry?
  • Discover. What is working well?
  • Dream. What could be?
  • Design. What should be?
  • Deliver. What will be?

Within this 5-D Cycle, they appreciate what is working well in two or three Canvas modules and determine what should be changed to incorporate UDL strategies. The Teaching Fellows then identify alternative ways of implementing UDL to remove potential learning barriers. Finally, the participants focus on a UDL strategy to implement immediately. They identify course curricular components (i.e. learning outcomes, teaching methods and materials, student assessments) in need of immediate improvements.

Here’s a look at how each of the AdUDL Teaching Fellows implemented UDL in their course curricula while participating in the AdUDL Institute inaugural cohort.

UDL Opportunities in a Digital Literacy Course

Annjanette Bennar, Associate Professor, Director of Mathematics and Computer Applications, Senior Teaching Fellow

Through my experience in the AdUDL Institute, I explored ways in which I could incorporate UDL more intentionally into Learning and Working Through Digital Technologies (CAP 115). I wanted to proactively look for barriers in the course design before students got stuck.

Heighten the Salience of Goals and Objectives

In the “Goals and Learning Outcomes” section of the course, I added the course outcomes in the Canvas shell at the beginning of every module. Every week, students were reminded of the course objectives and how they tie into the module.

Highlight Patterns, Critical Features, Big Ideas, and Relationships

To connect the course shell and outcomes, I created a curriculum map that linked every module topic to at least one of the student learning outcomes. The correlation between course topics and outcomes gives students a visual of how everything is connected.

Maximize Transfer and Generalization

One significant improvement I made was adding guiding questions for students to consider while reading or listening to course materials. The questions will allow students to connect new information to prior knowledge and offer opportunities to link related concepts.

I plan on adding a notes template for students to make notes in their own words or images while reviewing course materials.

Enhance Capacity for Monitoring Progress

Currently, there aren’t any scoring guides or rubrics for the assignments. If students don’t know what they are being graded on, they cannot self-assess their work. I plan on creating rubrics for the major assignments, so the students know what to expect, and there will also be standard grading criteria across the instructors.

The AdUDL training allowed me to look deeper into my course to consider obstacles students may face when taking the class. Now, I can intentionally and proactively adjust the course to be more accessible.

Using UDL to Re-Design a CNC Machining Course

Stephen Campbell, Assistant Professor, CNC Manufacturing, Senior Teaching Fellow

Having recently finished school myself, I relate to some common barriers to learning. As an instructor in advanced manufacturing, I’ve learned that the way content is designed and delivered will shape how learners receive and retain the information. After examining my CNC Machining (BMM 175) course, I decided to focus on the content available in the course modules.

Highlighting the Salience of Goals and Objectives

The first thing I noticed was the need to clearly define goals or objectives inside the module for each week. Having a clear goal can prevent students from missing the importance of the weekly lesson. I identified a goal for each week that aligned with the overall learning outcomes for the course to help students focus on the concepts that need to be captured on a week-by-week basis.

Illustrate Through Multiple Media

The next barrier I noticed was that most students have never utilized a specific software to create geometry for a blueprint. To address this, I created a short video overview of the software, which allows students to pause and rewatch as many times as necessary to understand the software better. I also created a document identifying key symbols and vocabulary for the most-used functions.

Optimizing Access to Tools and Assistive Technologies

Next, I utilized dual coding for the “Read, Watch, and Listen” section of each module. Dual coding is an educational theory that encourages educators to combine words and visuals, such as infographics and diagrams. Under the “Read” section, I inserted PDF links for the pages used inside the module. Under the Lecture icon, I added the document for the definitions of the most used symbols. Lastly, I created a YouTube video with guiding questions for the student to think about. This allows students to prepare and look for pertinent information inside the video.

I’ve taken what I’ve learned from the AdUDL Institute to provide my students with more pathways to become purposeful, motivated, resourceful, and knowledgeable learners.

Implementing UDL to Increase Engagement in an Interpersonal Communications Course

Karrie Morin, Director, Center for Teaching Excellence, Senior Teaching Fellow

While looking at my Interpersonal Communications (COM 105) course for ways to remove barriers and make learning more accessible for all my students, I focused on my discussion boards. For several years, my students were required to do a video for their initial discussion board post and then had the option to create a video or provide a written response for subsequent discussion board posts. My students appreciated the flexibility in expressing their perspectives in the discussion board, but I wanted to look into what else I could do to increase engagement.

Providing Alternative Methods of Expression

Concentrating on this checkpoint meant expanding the options I gave students for participating in online discussions by adding the option for graphic expression. To clarify these options, I created an infographic that contained a visual and textual representation of the three options available for students. To ensure the instructions were accessible, I added text-based instructions that mirrored the content in the infographic and provided a detailed description for the ALT Text.

Heighten Salience of Goals and Objectives

As I evaluated my course, I focused on the design and delivery of the course chapter readings in the “Read, Watch, Listen” section of my Canvas course. I wanted to give my students a greater understanding of why they were reading that chapter, watching that video, or completing that assignment.

I added guiding questions to the readings that connect with the previously learned course material. These guiding questions help build in periodic reminders and make it easier for students to focus on the course goals.

While participating in the AdUDL Institute, I was able to better design lessons that are intentional, inclusive, integrated, and impactful for my students to succeed.

An Analysis of Introduction to Psychology through the AdUDL Institute

Tammy Webb, Director of Psychology & Sociology, Senior Teaching Fellow

My journey in the AdUDL Institute helped me develop a deeper understanding of appreciative inquiry and UDL principles, which I have now implemented in Goodwin University’s Introduction to Psychology course. I selected three key UDL checkpoints and incorporated them into the design of this course.

Customize the Display of Information

In the “Overview, Outcomes, and Summary of Activities” section of the module, the content was written in black ink. There was nothing visually separating each section or cueing students as to what to pay attention to. To correct this, I used subheadings and color to differentiate between content.

Highlight Patterns, Features, Big Ideas, and Relationships

In redesigning the course, I noted that some content within the modules was mislabeled. For example, PowerPoint slides were labeled as lecture notes. The slides were placed in the course shell as an additional resource, but I never provided the “why” for students — they were never given practical explanations of why this was included in their curriculum. I want students to make the connection between the resources in each module while providing multiple means of receiving the content.

Optimize Access to Tools and Technologies

The digital learning platform used in this course is called MindTap. Previously, students were given written instructions on how to register for their MindTap materials, which sometimes led to frustration. To make this process more accessible, I added a direct link into the shell that read, “To register for MindTap Click here.”

Although this does not reflect all the changes made in my course, I hope it provides others with a template of how to truly evaluate the content presented in their courses.

Using UDL Guidelines to Design an Accelerated Nursing Course

Robin Young-Cournoyer, MSN, RN, Associate Professor of Nursing, Senior Teaching Fellow

Accelerated Nursing courses allow our students to achieve their academic and professional goals sooner — something that’s important to students seeking a career change or earning their degree while working full-time and taking care of their personal responsibilities. Before becoming a member of the AdUDL cohort, I was challenged to convert one of my courses from a 15-week course to a 7-week one.

In condensing my course, The Foundations of Professional Nursing (Nur 300), I used the principles of UDL to guide my instructional design process. At first, I was overwhelmed by the process, given that there are over 30 UDL Guidelines and Checkpoints. In maintaining this as a three-credit course, I wanted to provide support, scaffolding, and clarity for students given the structural changes and shortened schedule.

Participating in the AdUDL sessions and collaborating with my peers were helpful reminders that my goal wasn’t to include all UDL checkpoints. Instead, I should make the changes that would be most beneficial to my students. I chose three key checkpoints to guide my course redesign.

Guide Information Processing and Visualization

This first checkpoint is a simple change that can have a profound impact on students. This checkpoint requires you to review all your assignments, especially those regularly misunderstood by students, and revise how you present the information in the assignment. By removing dense paragraphs, replacing blocks of text with numbered lists of key points, and adjusting the language for clarity, I could better support students within my course assignments.

Heighten Salience of Goals and Objectives

There is a final assignment in Nursing 300 where students need to have the information earlier in the course, allowing them to seek clarification from the professor while giving themselves enough time to complete the assignment. As a way of alerting students to this assignment, I put a “Look Ahead” notice in each Canvas module that related to the final assignment. This reminded students about the assignment and opened the door for them to reach out to me with questions.

Activate or Provide Background Knowledge

At Goodwin University, students enrolled in our Associate Degree program can take three courses toward their BSN degree. In the last two semesters, I noticed that a few students provided feedback that since they were not yet RNs, it was challenging for them to complete some of the assignments in the BSN courses. Knowing this was an obstacle, I revised the guidelines for all reflective journal assignments to clarify that specific client encounters may be documented from clinical experiences, family, friend or personal encounters, as well as from nurse-patient encounters.

After redesigning this course, the overall mid-semester feedback was very positive. Students felt the course was learning-rich and appropriate for the three-credit workload. While many students thought it was an intense seven weeks, they appreciated the accelerated schedule, which allowed them to achieve their goals faster.

Making an Education Possible for All Types of Learners

UDL as a teaching and learning framework aims to create a safe and supportive environment for all learners. By removing common barriers to learning, students can better engage with their peers and the course material. The Goodwin University AdUDL Institute creates opportunities for faculty to become more intentional and reflective in their teaching while encouraging students to become more engaged and proactive in their learning.

Learn more at:

Goodwin University Universal Design for Learning Institute

Goodwin Institute for Learning Innovation