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UDL: From first encounter to toolkit development

I first learned about Universal Design for Learning (UDL) five years ago at McGill, when I attended a workshop as a graduate student from the “Access Ambassadors” program in the then Office for Students with Disabilities (now Student Accessibility & Achievement). When I attended the workshop, I was immediately attracted to this concept of UDL because the examples given were ones that I recalled some of my favourite instructors using over the years.

If you’re not familiar with it, Universal Design for Learning is a framework that consists of guidelines and checkpoints “to ensure that all learners can access and participate in meaningful, challenging learning opportunities” (CAST, 2018).

As a white, able-bodied woman, spaces are often created so I have easier access to them, whereas folks disproportionately impacted by intersecting oppressions (e.g., discrimination based on race, ethnicity, class, disability, and more, which exist in relation to one another and the systems we live in) are often not considered and therefore may navigate spaces with varying difficulty. I am also queer and deal with mental illness – these facets of my identity, along with others, are part of what motivate and draw me to the work of creating inclusive spaces. I find it crucial that those of us with these privileges, insights, and the power to create spaces, especially educational spaces, do so in a way that is accessible and welcoming for everyone. UDL is just one way we can start to make our educational settings more accessible and inclusive.

One example of a go-to teaching strategy that already aligns with UDL is think-pair-share, which is where students think about a response to a question or prompt, pair up with another student to discuss it, and then share their thinking with the larger group. When I was a student, as an introvert with anxiety, I really appreciated the time to formulate thoughts in my mind, and share in a low-stakes setting with just one person to help me verbalize my thoughts, before having to share with more people. Little did I know then that this strategy aligns with the UDL guideline for providing ways for all students to participate and allowing them to feel safe and valued in the classroom.

In my work as part of Teaching and Learning Services’ (TLS) Student Learning and Development team, I manage a suite of workshops on academic skills. Some of these workshops were developed by other colleagues, some I created, and for some, I supported graduate student assistants who created them. While we worked to incorporate elements of UDL in the workshops, we had never done any intentional review to ensure the accessibility and use of inclusive practices in the workshops.

So, I created a rubric – a common teaching practice that aligns with UDL – to facilitate this review process, which was done by a group of graduate student assistants. They provided feedback on the rubric, and thanks also to the expert wisdom and support of McGill colleagues Charlene Lewis-Sutherland, Senior Advisor, Faculty Development and Inclusive Pedagogies, and Adi Sneg, Equity Education Program Administrator, the rubric evolved into the Inclusive Workshop Toolkit, which includes a rubric, checklist, two templates, and additional resources.

  • The rubric is divided into seven sections that help a workshop developer or facilitator consider and implement inclusive strategies in the preparation, facilitation, logistics, and format of a workshop’s design.
  • The checklist uses the same categories and prompts; however, it provides a more concise way to engage with the suggestions; ideally the checklist is used after using the rubric, to help keep track of what was implemented.
  • A facilitator guide template supports facilitation of the session, from instructions on activities to notes about describing images.
  • A participant guide template can help attendees know what to expect from a session – very similar to a course outline!
  • The additional resources provide citations, a glossary, and a list of resources related to, but not quite within scope of, the toolkit material.

One of my aims in creating the Inclusive Workshop Toolkit is to help translate the many guidelines and checkpoints of the Universal Design for Learning framework to the context of workshop development and facilitation. While the context of this toolkit is for workshops, there are several instances of overlap with instructional design and good pedagogical practices.

Stay tuned for an upcoming blogpost from my TLS colleague Carolyn Samuel for examples of inclusive teaching practices. If you just can’t wait, however, check out the toolkit for yourself and find tips and strategies that will work in your teaching and learning environment!


CAST. (2018). The UDL Guidelines (version 2.2). http://udlguidelines.cast.org

Photo credit: Jason Goodman

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