How the University of Guelph is Making Learning More Accessible

  • 3 Min Read

Are you accommodating the diversity of your students with how you design learning materials and in the way you teach? Here’s how one school is doing it.

Many years ago, when the University of Guelph was first putting its course evaluations online, Richard Gorrie, Associate Director of Open Learning and Educational Support, remembers receiving a very moving email from a student – and it still stands out in his mind to this day. The student contacted the University’s support desk, but she wasn’t looking for help; instead, she wanted to express her gratitude for having the course evaluations put online. This student was blind, and for the first time in her academic career she was able to use a screen-reader to fill out a course evaluation on her own.

“I have to say it was a life shifting moment,” Gorrie recalled during a recent webinar. “It gave me considerable insight into the needs of students. [It made me remember] that we have a very diverse group of students out there, and that we really need to think of all of them when we’re [teaching].” The University of Guelph (U of G) believes in providing its students with a supportive learning environment, and according to Richard, “It’s not just about recognizing [diversity], but embracing, and indeed, celebrating that diversity [in all students].”

In 2002, the University received funding to undertake a study of Universal Instructional Design (UID) principles. UID is based on seven principles that consider the potential needs of all learners when designing and delivering instruction. These UID values have come to play a major role in the design behind U of G’s learning materials, from face-to-face workshops to the development of distance and continuing education courses.

Real-world examples of universal design are all around us, from moving escalators and automatically opening doors, to the design behind sloped curbs or right and left-handed scissors. These designs were built with flexibility, consistency, accessibility, explicitness, and supportiveness in mind – and these exact principles should be applied to teaching and learning today.

Do you know if your instructional materials and teaching methods are accessible to everyone? Is everyone learning in your class? UID not only supports good teaching, but it can help you align learning outcomes with your assessments and content throughout your course.

Here are seven principles to keep in mind when creating your instructional materials and activities. Click on each link for a handy checklist to make sure you’re on track, as well as instructor-driven examples from the University of Guelph.

  1. Be accessible and fair
  2. Provide flexibility in use, participation and presentation
  3. Be straightforward and consistent
  4. Be explicitly presented and readily perceived
  5. Provide a supportive learning environment
  6. Minimize unnecessary physical effort or requirements
  7. Create learning spaces that accommodate both students & instructional methods

 

Another great resource, in case you missed it, is this webinar with the University of Guelph on increasing accessibility. It will show you some accessibility anti-patterns, and what you can do to improve them in your course materials. You will also hear from Richard Gorrie himself on the great things they’re doing with UID, as well as from a former student on how accessibility of content has impacted her learning experiences.


Watch the Webinar >

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