The Center for Innovation in Learning and Teaching (CILT) at the University of Cape Town (UCT) is leading a three-year project focused on promoting inclusive and digital education through redesign of blended courses , using the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles.
Intentional design will focus on creating a variety of learning materials and activities to meet students’ diverse backgrounds, different learning needs (including disability) and digital skills. Incorporating UDL principles can increase accessibility and help overcome barriers and contextual challenges (such as power outages, data costs, and poor connectivity) as well as support student choices.
The project aims to use existing resources to develop faculty support in redesigning courses by promoting the use of UDL principles in a variety of blended course designs.
“Incorporating UDL principles can increase accessibility and help overcome barriers and contextual challenges. “
UDL is an educational design approach that incorporates flexibility in the way information is presented (representation), how students are supported in the expression of their knowledge and development skills (action and expression) and how students are engaged in the learning environment (engagement).
These three principles are at the heart of UDL, and the aim is to enable students to become more independent expert learners by designing learning that recognizes and responds to their diverse learning needs.
This approach moves away from a deficit model of viewing certain groups of students as needing accommodations to a model that has inclusion in the design as the initial principle.
The CILT project draws on local and international expertise through a partnership with the Disability Inclusion in Education in Africa (IDEA) research unit to help it develop flexible and locally adapted course models.
The UCT Disability Service also sits on the project committee and offers advice and resources on accessibility considerations in technology for students with disabilities.
The Humanities Education Development Unit is a project partner that works on training teaching assistants in various inclusive teaching approaches, including the use of accessible technologies, creation of engaging learning activities, promoting student well-being and building resilience to navigate exclusion / inclusion and diversity.
Building the capacity of teaching and support staff is essential to create a more inclusive learning environment in blended lessons.
While focusing on the UCT teaching environment, the team also leverages existing networks for sharing resources and information – such as CAST, a non-profit international educational research and development organization, and the International Collaborative for Leadership in Universally Designed Education (INCLUDE), which recently hosted a webinar on the UCT project.
The project team is building on lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis, which forced South African universities to respond with emergency distance education (ERT). It revealed the painful and enduring social inequalities around unfavorable living conditions, access to devices and internet connectivity, which echo old racial and economic exclusions.
Teachers and commentators around the world have pointed out the differential impact on students’ ability to continue learning, which has exacerbated existing disadvantages.
“The COVID-19 crisis… has exposed painful and enduring social inequalities around living conditions, access to devices and internet connectivity, which echo old racial and economic exclusions. “
As UCT now moves beyond ERT to intentional design in a range of in-person, co-ed and online modes, the opportunity arises for an inclusive learning design that addresses educational inequalities and that support the development of new approaches to teaching and capacity building.
UCT’s Vision 2030 commits the institution to revising the curriculum, which includes the incorporation of blended learning and educational technology in a way that provides all students with more meaningful learning experiences and interactive.
The university has recognized this imperative by supporting a three-year project in promoting inclusive and digital education through the overhaul of blended courses, which is funded by the National Department of Higher Education and Training.
A group of postgraduate students have been recruited and trained to serve as Educational Technology Advisors (EdTech). A special virtual training program developed by the learning designers of CILT combined the development of knowledge, practical and practical skills with opportunities for criticism and reflection on inclusive learning through the UDL framework.
EdTech Advisors provide support to faculty to create inclusive, accessible and multimedia-rich learning materials and activities based on UDL principles that aim to improve student access and inclusion in blended courses for better student learning outcomes.
Open webinars and personalized staff training on implementing UDC in course design are offered to accompany a wide range of existing and new resources.
Starting with some existing courses, such as a Postgraduate Diploma in Disability Studies module, the team is piloting methods of redesigning courses to maximize student inclusion by improving the alignment of student outcomes. learning and assessments.
An overarching goal is to examine the relevance of learning approaches to the diversity of students in the classroom by introducing new tools and intentionally enabling different forms of engagement, student outcomes and assessments.
While the project is still in its early stages, the CDU approach resonates with UCT and is now frequently mentioned in program discussions. The challenge is to integrate the flexibility and responsiveness of a UDL approach into blended learning that requires new ways of thinking and doing.