Making Classrooms Accessible through Universal Design for Learning – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Making Classrooms Accessible through Universal Design for Learning

Susan Pliner, Dean for Teaching, Learning and Assessment and Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, is at the forefront of bringing Universal Design for Learning practices to HWS classrooms. In addition to instituting UDL practices at HWS, Pliner recently conducted a workshop for faculty from Skidmore, Union College and the College of St. Rose, and met with a group of science faculty interested in developing inclusive practices to increase diversity within STEM.

The key to UDL, Pliner explains, is determining how classrooms, course materials and assessment methods can be made accessible and usable by all by realizing and removing the barriers that keep some students from learning.

“Right now, we adapt the student to the course, as opposed to thinking about the potential diversity of students in the classrooms and the barriers they may have to learning,” says Pliner. “We want faculty to think about what their learning goals really are and how to remove some of those barriers.”

While 14 percent of college students nationally and 28 percent of HWS students identify as having a disability, UDL creates inclusive and accessible learning experiences for all students through the development of flexible curricular materials and activities. UDL considers how learners gather and categorize facts, how they organize and express ideas and how they get engaged and stay motivated. In the classroom, UDL results in multiple means of representation, expression and engagement.

Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science Chris Fietkiewicz utilizes UDL practices in his classes by recording lectures and making them available online, where they are accessible to all students. Rather than adapting the student to the course, Fietkiewicz is “intentionally designing his courses to reduce barriers,” explains Pliner.

“Lectures can be like sports, with rapid play-by-play calls from the teacher and several things all happening at once, such as questions from the class and students concentrating on writing notes,” says Fietkiewicz. “The videos are the instant replay for anyone who missed a play or simply didn’t understand what happened the first time.”

Pliner is also in the early stages of creating a week-long intensive institute at HWS where participating members from the New York Six Liberal Arts Consortium will bring a particular course syllabus and work to embed UDL principles in the course.

“The goal is to build a collaborative community where faculty can engage around UDL principles within their disciplinary conventions,” Pliner says. “It will be an opportunity for our small liberal arts colleges to develop faculty expertise on their own campuses.”

To become involved with UDL, contact the Center for Teaching and Learning.