Universal Design for Learning Instructional Practice Observation Protocol

Jacquelyn J. Chini, Ph.D., (she/her)
Associate Professor, Physics Department
University of Central Florida

Need: While students vary in their needs, abilities, and interests, postsecondary instructors often do not know how to provide support for some types of learner variation, and STEM instructors have demonstrated more negative views towards disabled students than instructors in other disciplines. Research indicates instructors self-report beliefs about teaching that are more inclusive than their teaching practices. While postsecondary instructors typically do not know in advance the learner variation represented in a class, tools exist to support instructors in considering the dimensions of ability along which individuals vary. Additionally, the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework can be used to guide proactive instructional design (e.g., curricular materials, room layouts, instructional activities, course policies) that plans for the needs of all learners.Guiding Question: How can the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework be adapted to to support postsecondary STEM instructors to shift from belief to action by implementing more accessible and inclusive practices?Outcomes: We developed a dual planning tool/interval-based observation protocol, called the Universal Design for Learning Instructional Practice Observation Protocol (UDL-IPOP), with one-to-one correlation with the UDL checkpoints. The UDL checkpoints were phrased as observables housed within the broader UDL principles and guidelines. We recruited participants for interviews, including STEM instructors (representing chemistry (3), physics (4), biology (1) and mathematics (2), four of whom also identified with discipline-based education research (DBER)) and four researchers in exceptional education and UDL. The majority of the non-DBER postsecondary STEM instructors (5/6) expressed interest in the UDL-IPOP as a tool for their instructional design. We identified commonly enacted practices that align with the UDL checkpoints (e.g., providing verbal descriptions of images, considering students’ needs when forming groups, and making connections between disciplinary content and students’ lives and interests) as well as practices with which few faculty had experience (e.g., providing alternative text for information presented visually, using assistive technology with students, and providing students with options and autonomy). Additionally, we identified multiple ways participants operationalized “accessible” and “inclusive”. These terms have a specialized meaning in the context of UDL. Across disciplines, participants discussed “availability” as an aspect of accessibility. We interpret this as a lay definition of accessible as “able to access” without specific attention to variation in learners’ needs, abilities, and interests. Not surprisingly, each of the disability experts spoke explicitly about the need to provide access across such variations. While this difference is not surprising, it is likely related to who these two populations have in mind when they consider if students are “able to access” the instructional environment and may explain why STEM instructors had little experience with some of the practices. This finding indicates STEM instructors may need to broaden their ideas about the dimensions along which learners vary.Broader Impacts: So far, participants have been recruited from one research-active Hispanic-serving institution. We intend to recruit additional participants from a historically black college. The UDL-IPOP can be used to increase the support for variation in learners’ needs, abilities, and interests in postsecondary STEM.


Erin K. H. Saitta, University of Central Florida; Abdelkader Kara, University of Central Florida; Erin Scanlon, University of Connecticut-Avery Point