The Prevalence of Universal Design for Learning Techniques in Distant Higher Education

Streamed Session Equity and Inclusion

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Brief Abstract

Do we esure equity through Universal Design for Learning in distance Higher Education learning modalities? How can we use data from higher education students on the prevalence of UDL strategies in various learning formats (virtual study group, online course, independent study)? 

Extended Abstract

College students are more diverse in race, ethnicity, and ability than ever before (Espinosa, Turk, Taylor, & Chessman, 2019).  It is imperative that higher education is aware of the needs of its students and has a plan and a guiding framework to ensure that all students are provided the supports they need to achieve the high standards of the learning institution.   This fact increases the urgency for implementation and scaling up of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in higher education.  Students with disabilities who have seen success in their K-12 education may rely on the consistency, reliability, and effectiveness to achieve academically.  However, the use of scientifically validated frameworks of support may not be widespread in higher education institutions. 
Without the framework and support for diverse students, many will not succeed.  Research is lacking in the completion of a four-year degree program; however, in 2011, research shows that only 34 percent of college students with disabilities complete a four-year program as opposed to 54 percent of students without disabilities. What can higher education do to mimic the continued positive graduation results for students with disabilities from high school? Perhaps it is not to reinvent the wheel but learn from what K-12 schools are implementing in terms of supports and mimic them.
One increasingly supported framework by researchers as well as federal legislation is the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (U.S. Department of Education, n.d.) to support students is the Universal Design for Learning (UDL).  UDL is a scientifically validated framework aimed at increasing the learning experience for individuals, by offering flexibility in the way information is presented, in the way students and educators are engaged, and in the forms, students and educators are able to respond or demonstrate learning (CAST, 2018). 
The goal of this framework is to reduce barriers of instruction, provide appropriate accommodations, supports and challenges, and maintain high achievement expectations for all students, especially within a heterogenous and inclusive student population (Novak, 2019). 
Implementation of the UDL principles framework has demonstrated improved learning experiences for students in K-12 classrooms (Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014).  Research also finds that furthering the impact of UDL to higher education institutions would continue the positive effect on students (Gradel & Edson, 2009).  Further, due to the flexibility and adaptability of the framework, higher education institutions can adapt with the institution’s mission, culture, and availability in mind. 
Not only will student outcomes improve, but Tobin and Behling (2015) suggest UDL increases access for everyone, and institutions could measure that impact in terms of improved retention rates, financial savings, increased website traffic, and better student-ratings data.
Additionally, in the time of movement from traditional face to face classrooms and an increase of online learning, how can we ensure justice is served to students with disabilities who enroll in these classes?  Linder, Fountaine-Rainen, and Behling’s (2015) research found, out of over 190 colleges and universities across the United States, few campuses are taking actions to adopt UDL thinking for their online courses or course components.  The most significant reason that the issue is not receiving more attention falls to the lack of time, expertise, and resources that higher education institutions have at their disposal.
           This study looks to see the prevalence of UDL strategies in various learning formats (virtual study group, online course, independent study). Students will be provided a Likert-type survey which is created based on Nine Common Elements of Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education (http://oet.fullerton.edu/accessibility/Nine_Common_UDL_Elements_2-10-12.pdf) to complete in which they will answer "Always Often Sometimes or Never".  Further two open ended questions will be asked at the end of the survey.