CTL Q&A with Susan Engel

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September 10, 2021

An Interview with Susan Engel 

Please explain Universal Design for Learning for someone who is not familiar with it. 

Universal Design for Learning – or UDL, as it’s often called – is a framework (or a teaching approach) that helps minimize barriers and maximize student learning. 

 UDL applies brain-based research to education and learning. Three brain networks tied to learning align to the UDL principles of engagement, representation, and action and expression. These are essentially the why, the what, and the how of learning.   

 When UDL principles are applied, learners have multiple methods and options for success. 

Why are you interested in UDL?

UDL kept popping up in my Google searches – first when I wanted to make my online classes accessible and again when I worked further on engagement with my online classes. I also heard UDL mentioned at conference sessions, including one on the psychology of student motivation.  I wondered how UDL could span so many areas for learning, and it made me curious to find out more. 

I’ve since learned of UDL’s connections to inclusive design, grading (and un-grading), assessments, and anti-racist pedagogy, among other areas. Type “UDL and …” in a web search and see the variety of topics that follow!

Overall, UDL has given me answers and options, as well as resources, to many questions I’ve had about course design and student learning.

What are the benefits of using UDL for teachers/students?

UDL helps teachers think about and plan for the variety of learners in their classrooms. It also helps us create goals, methods, materials, and assessments that can work for everyone. Interestingly, with UDL as the framework for our courses, we will have anticipated questions and will likely have greater student success. 

When instructors are mindful of UDL, students benefit. UDL minimizes barriers for students to maximize their learning. When a UDL framework is followed, students experience an inclusive classroom with accessible course materials. 

Students are offered options to engage. They are given information in various ways. They are allowed to approach learning tasks and assessments in ways that are meaningful to them. All this helps to ensure success.

What did your sabbatical project entail? 

Learning about and applying UDL! 

 “UDL 1: A Framework for Addressing Learner Variability: Theory into Practice” was the name of the course I took early in my sabbatical. From there I absorbed as much as I could through books, webinars, social media, articles, and podcasts.  

I’ll share many of these at the September 15 event, although I’ll mention two of my favorites now: the book Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone: Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education by Thomas J. Tobin and Kirsten T. Behling, and the Think UDL podcast. 

What can attendees at the September 15th event plan to learn about UDL? 

A few of the highlights include understanding UDL more fully, identifying some of the ways to reduce barriers to student learning, and applying the UDL framework to class planning and design. 

 Join me in becoming a UDL practitioner! 

Kate Wallace
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