Inaugural CUA Universal Design for Learning Conference: Tackling Diversity and Inclusion in Higher Education

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The inaugural CUA Universal Design for Learning (UDL) conference, which took place online on Wednesday, 26 May 2021, was a great success, with over 500 attendees across all higher education institutions in Ireland.

Together with our partners Letterkenny Institute of Technology (LYIT) and Galway Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT), we participated in investigating a myriad of approaches to UDL through an exploration of shared best inclusive practices and highlighting the need for conversations on allowing students to take ownership of their learning process.

Keynote speakers tackled the shift needed in the teaching dynamic, digital enhancements using UDL, alternative assessment practices and removing further potential barriers to enable every student to participate fully and succeed within higher education.

2021 has been a year of changes in learning for all students, particularly those with disabilities. An increase of 220% (10,843) in students with disabilities registering with the support services in higher education in the last ten years* further proves that the inclusion of students with disability can no longer be seen simply as the job of disability support services but as a job of all.

Dr Niamh Plunkett, Head of Teaching and Learning at IT Sligo, established the Centre for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching in 2018. Under this remit, a UDL Working Group was formed in 2019. The inclusion of UDL as an action in the IT Sligo Strategic Plan 2017-2022 demonstrates a commitment to adopting a more inclusive curriculum design to suit the diverse need of all learners.

“In only a few short years, IT Sligo has made significant strides with UDL development- or climbing the UDL Ladder – as we have named our conference!”, Plunkett says.

“Many HEIs are now looking towards UDL as a framework, and we believe this will be a significant inclusion in the forthcoming National Access Plan.  Our curriculum management software Module Manager has been adapted so that the principles of UDL are automatically embedded during programme construction in the following three areas:

(i) Learning Outcomes, (ii) Teaching & Learning Approaches, and (iii) Assessment Strategies.

Blackboard Ally (an accessibility tool) has also been integrated into Moodle (Virtual Learning Environment) to improve the overall student experience through improved accessibility formats of content.

The next stage is to implement Universal Design Learning across programmes within a full Teaching and Learning Framework. IT Sligo is working with their CUA partners GMIT and LyIT to start planning for the embedding of the principles of UDL in the upcoming TU. Our objective is to become the leader in driving UDL across the West/North West by establishing a Higher Education Centre of Excellence in Inclusive Practice. This will build a bridge between 2nd and 3rd level education by creating a system whereby UDL is embedded across curricula in both sectors. Adopting this wider social model will create a more inclusive approach to education across all sectors and not just HEIs”, she concludes.

 

Read more about Universal Design Learning Conference HERE.

*AHEAD: Students with Disabilities Engaged with Support Services in Higher Education in Ireland for the academic period 2018/19