About: Universal Design for Learning and your Syllabus
While Universal Design for Learning often focuses on in-process course delivery, assignments, and assessments, it is important to recognize that syllabi can provide a larger content for how and where UDL can strengthen our teaching effectiveness. A well-designed syllabus establishes clear communication between instructor and students and provides the necessary information and resources to promote active, purposeful, and effective learning. Thus, syllabi serve as road maps that define the content and context of learning in our classrooms.
In order to support faculty on how to frame a course with UDL principles in mind, EnACT~PTD constructed and evaluated a UDL Syllabus Rubric. This rubric and its elements are based on multiple years of research on UDL and course design and delivery. In our development and evaluation efforts, we included extensive input from both instructors and students. As a result, the UDL Syllabus Rubric reflects elements that are considered important to all stakeholders. Faculty are encouraged to use the UDL Syllabus Rubric as a way to reflect upon their current syllabus design and move toward adopting strategies that result in a syllabus that better communicates to and supports all learners.
Using the UDL Syllabus Rubric
The UDL Syllabus Rubric is a tool that can be implemented as part of a self-discovery related to course design and effectiveness.
One can simply select a course syllabus and analyze it according to the rubric elements and respective rating categories. For each element, there is also a Notes field that serves as a place to record why a particular rating was given on a UDL syllabus element. By doing so, the in-the-moment information is documented. In addition to better retaining the information, prompts can be embedded, which serve as low-stakes self-contracts or reference points for future areas of syllabus refinement.
The preferred method for using the UDL Syllabus Rubric is via in-depth, Faculty Learning Community process. This allows for simultaneous self-reflection and peer-input. In addition, the FLC process is often interdisciplinary, which helps reconsider from a different lens how to represent course material, engage students, or assess their expression of learning.
The UDL Syllabus Rubric is often used by one faculty member to evaluate and give input to another. However, it is important to first establish an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust. Once this is done, faculty members are often more open to input by their peers. Once a faculty member receives input via peer-dialog and rubric documentation, that faculty member explores which changes are reasonable and what steps it may take. Often, the changes might be adding additional syllabus information to a specific section or simply reformatting a particular element. Importantly, FLC dialog often leads to further UDL-based course changes and reflections that benefit all participants.
Graphic Representation of Student Learning Outcomes
Articulating student learning outcomes (SLO) is a standard course and syllabus development process. SLO serve as checks for our course development, as we examine the end result of the course, how it contributes to student learning and development, and how the course contributes to the overall program (e.g., major, GE). Typical fashion is to list the SLO, sometimes called Course Objectives, in verti-linear bullet fashion. These are often glanced over and seldom revisited. In addition, there may be no representation as to how the SLO and student course experiences or requirements relate. Often, this leads to a disconnect, whether perceived or actual, between what the instructor expects and what students understand is expected.
However, a UDL Syllabus strategy for making SLO a more prominent focus, while adding to understanding of how the individual parts of a class constitute the whole (i.e,. the purpose), is to graphically represent them.
Below is an example for an Advanced Composition course. The three main objectives are represented in the orange boxes, while the modes for demonstrating competency in them fall below.
This next view goes beyond the broad objectives to discrete and measureable student learning outcomes, which are represented in the purple rectangles, followed by their respective modes of student expression.
Faculty Developer Tips
One successful faculty development strategy is the utilization of the UDL Syllabus Rubric as a pre-post measure of faculty course change. When introducing UDL course changes, consider having faculty individually rate themselves on the UDL Syllabus Rubric. In addition to serving as an active engagement strategy during your workshop, this also provides an opportunity for faculty to begin connecting UDL strategies to their individual courses. As a culminating assessment activity, have faculty reassess themselves using the UDL Syllabus Rubric. This not only provides a measure of individual faculty growth, but is also a way to assess your faculty development program effectiveness.
UDL Syllabus Statement
Institutions of higher education typically recommend that instructors include a statement regarding support for students with disabilities. You should confirm whether your university has a policy, as well as whether it is required or recommended. However, these statements (see examples) are often written in such a way that simply puts the responsibility on the student and only offers reactive, accommodations-based solutions. Instead, instructors can model UDL by adding the following statement:
As your instructor, I feel I have a responsibility to do everything within reason to actively support a wide range of learning styles and abilities. As such, I have taken training and applied the principles of Universal Design for Learning to this course. Feel free to discuss your progress in this course with me at any time. In addition, if you require any accommodations, submit your verified accommodations form to me during the first two weeks of the course.
Additional ideas can be found at the Suggested Practices for Syllabus Accessibility Statements wiki. In addition, the Chronicle of Higher Education ran a related article and discussion on September 9, 2013.
Visually Enhanced Syllabi
Following is a list of interesting syllabus examples, particularly in terms of creating a visually engaging syllabus. Note, these examples are from outside of EnACT~PTD and some of them still need to address accessibility issues. Some do this by retaining accessible Word version.
- English Composition, Vanessa Alander, Plymouth State University
- Fundamentals of Biological Anthropology, Susan Sheridan, University of Notre Dame
- US History, Tona Hangen, Worcester State University
- MKT 490: Senior Marketing Internship syllabus, before redesign
- MKT 490: Senior Marketing Internship, Elaine Young, Champlain College
- 21st Century Syllabus
- Designing Engaging Online Activities
- ENGL 350: Alaska Literature