Camosun College: Advocating for students using Universal Design for Learning

Following up on the great work of the BC Open Textbook Accessibility Toolkit, created by Amanda Coolidge, Senior Manager, Open Education, BCcampus, Sue Doner, Faculty, Instructional Designer, eLearning, Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, Camosun College and Tara Robertson, Accessibility Librarian and Coordinator, Centre for Accessible Post-secondary Education Resources BC (CAPER_BC); Camosun College has continued their efforts in advocating for and working with faculty and staff to implement universal design standards in the learning experience.

To find out more about their role in Universal Design for Learning (UDL), I, Erin Beattie, Digital Media Strategist, BCcampus sat down to ask Sue Doner about the UDL Slam, accessibility standards for students and how other institutions can get started. Here’s what she had to say:

Erin Beattie: How was this a result of the work you did on the accessibility toolkit?

Sue Doner: “I’m not sure that this was a direct result of the work on the Accessibility Toolkit per se, but in and around the same time we developed that resource, a couple of my colleagues in Camosun’s Disability Resource Centre (DRC) were focusing some of their energy on getting out to regular department and Chairs’ meetings at the college. DRC’s priorities were outreach-oriented: they used this time to inform each program about the accommodation services that DRC provides to their students, and what students have to do to qualify for accommodations. My DRC colleagues invited me to join them on these outreach sessions, with the goal of having me speak from a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) perspective – which includes attention to accessibility – and how some accommodations might not be necessary if different decisions were made at the course-design stage.

Coming out of one of these outreach sessions last spring, John Lee (faculty member in the School of Chemistry) contacted me to discuss and brainstorm some assessment strategies that would support the different types of learners and learning styles in his courses. It was during this discussion that John directly inspired our first “UDL Slam” event. John and I were both keen to collect ideas and inspiration for practical applications of UDL and we thought we could begin by inviting other colleagues to share what they were already doing on this front. As John suggested, a rapid-fire Slam-format would allow for lots to be shared in a short amount of time.”

Beattie: What are the slam stories?
Doner: “Slam Stories” in this case are examples of practical applications of UDL that faculty have implemented in courses or programs at Camosun College to address a learning barrier. The “Slam” part is that the stories have to be told in 5 minutes or less, and include specific details about the learning barrier in question, the solution applied to address the barrier and some preliminary assessment of the solution to date. Faculty did not have to know what UDL principles or guidelines they were following; the goal was to find creative solutions to learning barriers and then use the educational framework of UDL to assess the different types of learning challenges these solutions could support.”

Beattie: Did you conduct a workshop?
Doner: “We organized the UDL Slam as a 1-hour lunchtime session last fall (October 2016) and to keep energy and momentum going, we deliberately planned to hold all questions until the last 15 minutes of the event.

I also committed to blogging about the examples that were shared, for both the benefit of faculty who couldn’t attend the live event and also to provide more fleshed-out details than could be provided within the 5-minute timeframe of a Slam Story. In my blog posts,  I included my own “mini-analysis” of the UDL Principles & Guidelines I believed the story represented and why. I did this as much for my own professional development and deeper understanding of UDL as for that of my colleagues. (If any other UDL folk have different takes on these analyses, I would love to hear from you.)”

Beattie: Who works the faculty to ensure they are following accessibility standards?
Doner: “I don’t think our college is unique in this, but there isn’t really any centralized or formal “oversight” of faculty members’ adherence to accessibility standards. That is not to say that faculty ignore accessibility standards, and every faculty member at this college is committed to their students. During the outreach sessions that my colleagues in the DRC have organized, there are always faculty who want to learn more about what they can do to support students with a disability and similarly, I’ve had follow-up discussions with faculty who reached out to me after those sessions, looking for recommendations about things they need to think about when developing a course and selecting materials.

I think that many faculty are probably accustomed to the role the DRC plays in helping to support their students, and so long as their students receive the accommodations they need, that is probably the default position as far as accessibility standards go. I also think that there is still lots of “I don’t know what I don’t know” at play when it comes to adhering to accessibility standards in course materials and course design, and if you don’t know that there are things you can and should do, you’re not likely to do them!”

Beattie: What’s next?
Doner: “We’re hoping to run another UDL Slam later this spring. Our inaugural Slam had a small but mighty group of participants, but between feedback we’ve received on the blog posts and inquiries from faculty who were not able to attend, we think there’s an appetite for sharing and collecting more stories. Whether or not it becomes an annual thing or we morph it into something else remains to be seen.”

Beattie: If other institutions want to get started with something similar, what would you suggest?
Doner: “I’ve attached a copy of the original invite that went out to faculty last spring (and have added a CC-BY license to it!) If anyone wants to use it as a basis for running something similar, they are welcome to adopt and adapt as they see fit.

I would LOVE to get to a place where we (B.C. post-secondary faculty and instructional designers) could create an “inspiration repository” of sorts, full of creative and practical applications of UDL that have been implemented in our respective institutions.  UDL is not a checklist – it’s a framework; we can learn so much from each other’s interpretations and applications of UDL principles and inclusive practices, and this whole area is perfectly suited to Open Education.”

Notable quote

“Universal Design and Accessibility best practices are integral to achieving a cohesive learning experience for all students. Designing courses and activities using the principles of universal design benefits people of all ages and abilities.” – Amanda Coolidge, Senior Manager, Open Education, BCcampus

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