Universal Design for Learning Implementation in Higher Education: Survey of Faculty and Instructional Designers

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DOI:10.59668/806.13414
Higher EducationInstructional DesignersUniversal Design For LearningUDL ImplementationFaculty Training
Universal design for learning (UDL) is an inclusive design framework. Faculty and instructional designers were surveyed to investigate UDL implementation in higher education. This survey was based on one used by Westine et al. (2019). Results about how faculty and instructional designers learn about UDL, how instructional designers train and support faculty in UDL, and why and how participants choose to employ UDL are shared. The results from this study have provided new findings in relation to faculty and instructional designer UDL implementation efforts in higher education that have implications for training and supporting faculty with UDL application efforts.

Colleges and universities have diverse student populations, including ethnicity, gender, age, and students with disabilities (Hromalik et al., 2020), among other unique attributes that lead to learner variability. Inclusive pedagogy can help meet the needs of diverse learners. One model of inclusive pedagogy is the universal design for learning (UDL) framework, which can be implemented to diminish barriers to learning for diverse student populations (Black et al., 2014). UDL can be used to proactively design instruction for learner variability, improve pedagogy, and diminish barriers for all students in higher education (Bradshaw, 2020; Fovet & Mole, 2013; Schelly et al., 2011; Yang et al., 2024). Postsecondary stakeholders need a better understanding of UDL implementation in higher education from both faculty and instructional designer perspectives to encourage a shared vocabulary and discourse to craft policies and procedures that further UDL adoption and student success. The conceptual framework for this study is the UDL framework. The UDL framework includes guidelines for providing multiple means of action and expression, engagement, and representation and aims to produce expert learners who are purposeful and motivated, resourceful and knowledgeable, and strategic and goal-directed (CAST, 2018) and is based on research from over 800 peer-reviewed journal articles (Houston, 2018). The nine guidelines in the UDL framework, each with checkpoints that can be applied, are listed in Table 1 (CAST, 2018). 

Table 1

Universal Design for Learning Principles, Guidelines, and Descriptions*

PrincipleGuidelineDescription
Multiple Means of RepresentationOptions for PerceptionOffering ways to customize displays and alternatives for auditory and visual information
Options for Language and SymbolsClarifying vocabulary and symbols, promote understanding across languages, and use multimedia
Options for ComprehensionActivate prior knowledge, highlight relationships and important concepts, and maximize transfer
Multiple Means of Action & ExpressionOptions for Physical ActionProvide access to assistive technologies and vary response methods
Options for Expression and CommunicationUse a variety of media and tools for communication and scaffold content to provide practice opportunities
Options for Executive FunctionsGuide goal setting and strategy development
Multiple Means of EngagementOptions for Recruiting InterestAllow for learner autonomy, optimize relevance and authenticity, and minimize distractions
Options for Sustaining Effort and PersistenceVary demands to increase challenge, provide mastery-oriented feedback, and foster collaboration
Options for Self-RegulationFacilitate personal coping strategies and develop learner self-reflection

* Adapted from the UDL Guidelines from CAST (2018).

Literature Review

UDL is a framework that has been successfully implemented in K-12 classrooms and has the potential to reduce learning barriers, improve academic achievement, and meet the needs of all students (Ok et al., 2016). The implementation of UDL in higher education can help address learner variability and improve student success, retention, and graduation rates (Bastedo, 2013; Bradshaw, 2020; Eitzen et al., 2016; Westine et al., 2019). UDL implementation can empower faculty to support students needing accommodations without the support of disabilities services, increase awareness among faculty of diverse learner needs, and improve equity and diversity of academic and non-academic services (Fovet & Mole, 2013; Toutain, 2019; van Kraayenoord et al., 2014). Although UDL research in higher education is still in its early stages, evidence suggests that UDL implementation has a positive impact on student perceptions of the course (Davies et al., 2013; Schelly et al., 2011). 

Several literature reviews discuss UDL implementation methods and interventions. UDL implementations tend to be evaluated by learner perceptions, learner performance, or lesson design alignment to UDL (Al-Azawei et al., 2016; Roberts et al., 2011). UDL interventions have positively affected student perceptions of their learning experience and academic achievement (Al-Azawei et al., 2016; Ok et al., 2016; Seok et al., 2018). UDL application is an ongoing, iterative process of continual improvement of courses based on the changing needs of students and should be considered as a framework rather than an intervention completed after one attempt (Fornauf & Erickson, 2020; Smith et al., 2019; van Kraayenoord et al., 2014). UDL implementation can be difficult due to a lack of clarity for what guidelines mean in practice in higher education (Westine et al., 2019). 

The UDL framework is complex and can be overwhelming for faculty to translate from guidelines to practice (e.g., Hromalik et al., 2020; Westine et al., 2019). The main barrier to UDL implementation in higher education, other than a lack of time, is a lack of knowledge, implying the need for professional development in UDL (Cunningham et al., 2017; Smith Canter et al., 2017). Faculty have described initial exposure to UDL and training as what persuaded them to implement UDL (Oyarzun et al., 2021). Kilpatrick et al. (2021) recommend training and instructional design support should be offered to faculty during UDL implementation to make efforts more effective. 

Several studies recommended small UDL changes over time (Evmenova, 2018; Fovet & Mole, 2013; Westine et al., 2019), rather than completely redesigning entire courses or programs during professional development workshops. Follow-up recommendations after UDL training include class observations of UDL implementation (Basham et al., 2020; Rodesiler & McGuire, 2015) and having participants give UDL presentations to colleagues (Hromalik et al., 2020). It is important to implement a recurring UDL training program for new faculty to sustain momentum of a UDL campus wide initiative (Rodesiler & McGuire, 2015). Instructional designers (IDs) can provide UDL training needed in higher education and support in faculty implementation of UDL in courses. Singleton et al. (2019) investigated perspectives of IDs for online courses about defining and implementing UDL strategies and factors impacting adoption of UDL by faculty. Barriers to UDL adoption included external demands on faculty’s time, lack of administrator mandates, and lack of incentives. IDs discussed the difference in faculty perspectives related to the need to provide accommodations versus UDL and proactively developing accessible content. Singleton et al. (2019) concluded with ways to improve faculty buy-in and implementation of UDL by integrating UDL in online courses consistently. 

Gagné and Grimaldi (2021) described their experiences as IDs leading a reading group and training for a large-scale UDL implementation through a faculty summer camp for several campuses and disciplines. Rogers and Gronseth (2021) found that IDs viewed accessibility efforts as being at the center of UDL and fostering learning opportunities for all learners with varying abilities. Some of the themes that emerged for effective implementation of UDL and active learning included innovative instructors, funding incentives, technology and accessibility support, time, training, and administrative priority. 

Purpose of Study

UDL research is in its infancy (Al-Azawei et al., 2016; Seok et al., 2018) and there is a shortage of studies on how the UDL framework is applied (Kilpatrick et al., 2021), UDL training in higher education (Hromalik et al., 2020), faculty and ID perspectives of UDL (Rogers & Gronseth, 2021), and the reasons for choosing to implement UDL in higher education (Oyarzun et al., 2021). This study is needed to provide postsecondary stakeholders with a better understanding of UDL implementation in higher education from faculty and instructional designer perspectives. This can lead to a common vocabulary and dialogue to create policies and procedures to expand UDL adoption in postsecondary education and lead to improved student success. The purpose of this study is to address this gap in the literature by surveying faculty and IDs to investigate UDL implementation in higher education. The following research questions will answer different aspects of this study:

Methods

Two target groups working in institutions of higher education made up the research participants: faculty from a variety of academic disciplines and IDs or educational technologists. Participants who do not work in higher education as faculty or IDs/educational technologists, or who did not complete and submit the survey were excluded from the study. Participants were recruited via emails to individuals with LinkedIn profiles that mention UDL and work in higher education, social media channels including Twitter and Facebook and the Association for Educational Communications and Technology Facebook channels, and professional listservs. A raffle for five $25 Amazon gift cards was used as an incentive to recruit participants. 

The demographic profile of the participant sample can be examined in Table 2. Demographic information is listed as both frequencies and percentages for the two groups of IDs and faculty separately, as well as both groups totaled together. A total of 58 IDs and 93 faculty completed the survey for 151 total participants. Female respondents made up just over 75% of participants and male respondents made up just under 24% of participants. Ethnicity of participants was 86% Caucasian, 5.3% Latino or Hispanic, 3.3% African-American or Black, and 1.3% Asian. The other respondents chose not to disclose ethnicity or listed other. Age was split among the following ranges: 4.6% were between 18-29, 27.2% were between 30-39, 26.5% were between 40-49, 31.1% were between 50-59, 9.93% were between 60-69, and 1 respondent was 70+. 94.7% of respondents were located in the United States, 4.6% were located in Canada, and 1 respondent was located in Ireland. 

Most participants worked in public (43.7%) and private (34.4%) universities. Another 10.6% work in 4-year colleges and 9.9% work in community colleges. Finally, 2 respondents work in vocational, trade schools, or institutes of technology. 43% of respondents work in the applied sciences, including instructional design. 15.9% work in the social sciences; 12.6% work in the humanities; 12.6% work in the natural sciences; 9.27% work in library science; 5.3% work in health sciences; and 2 respondents work in other areas. In terms of position, participants work as staff or IDs (29.8%), adjuncts (5.3%), instructors/lecturers (4.6%), non-tenure track faculty (15.9%), tenure-track faculty (9.9%), tenured faculty (24.5%), had multiple roles (1.3%), or served as IDs and adjuncts or instructors (8.6%). In terms of familiarity with the UDL framework, 66.7% of faculty and 94.8% of IDs were familiar, 11.8% of faculty and 5.2% of IDs were possibly familiar with the framework, and 21.5% of faculty were not familiar with UDL.

Table 2

Demographic Profile

GenderIDsIDs %FacultyFaculty %TotalTotal %
Male1424.142223.663623.84
Female4374.147176.3411475.50
Prefer Not to Say11.7200.0010.66
Total58100.0093100.00151100.00
EthnicityIDsIDs %FacultyFaculty %TotalTotal %
African American or Black11.7244.3053.31
Asian00.0022.1521.32
Caucasian4781.038389.2513086.09
Latino/Hispanic58.6233.2385.30
Other/Unknown23.4500.0021.32
Prefer not to say35.1711.0842.65
Total58100.0093100.00151100.00
AgeIDsIDs %FacultyFaculty %TotalTotal %
18-2946.9033.2374.64
30-391932.762223.664127.15
40-491627.592425.814026.49
50-591525.863234.414731.13
60-6946.901111.83159.93
70+00.0011.0810.66
Total58100.0093100.00151100.00
LocationIDsIDs %FacultyFaculty %TotalTotal %
United States5696.558793.5514394.70
Canada11.7266.4574.64
Ireland11.7200.0010.66
Total58100.0093100.00151100.00
InstitutionIDsIDs %FacultyFaculty %TotalTotal %
Vocational/Trade School/Institute of Technology00.0022.1521.32
Community College46.901111.83159.93
Public 4-year College11.7233.2342.65
Private 4-year College58.6277.53127.95
Public University3356.903335.486643.71
Private University1525.863739.785234.44
Total58100.0093100.00151100.00
DisciplineIDsIDs %FacultyFaculty %TotalTotal %
Applied Sciences (includes instructional design)3967.242627.966543.05
Humanities58.621415.051912.58
Library Science00.001415.05149.27
Natural Sciences or STEM610.341313.981912.58
Social Sciences58.621920.432415.89
Health Sciences23.4566.4585.30
Other11.7211.0821.32
Total58100.0093100.00151100.00
PositionIDsIDs %FacultyFaculty %TotalTotal %
Staff, instructional designer4577.5900.004529.80
Adjunct11.7277.5385.30
Instructor or Lecturer35.1744.3074.64
Multiple Roles00.0022.1521.32
ID and Adjunct or Instructor915.5244.30138.61
Faculty, non-tenure track00.002425.812415.89
Faculty, tenure-track00.001516.13159.93
Faculty, tenured00.003739.783724.50
Total58100.0093100.00151100.00


Participants were asked to complete the survey instrument within the LibWizard survey tool (https://briarcliff.libwizard.com/f/surveyresearch), adapted with permission from a study by Westine et al. (2019). The survey instrument was piloted by three faculty members from different disciplines (English, education, and history) and three IDs who provided feedback on improving the survey. The pilot participants had varying levels of UDL knowledge. By piloting the survey with individuals representing both study groups, several weaknesses were found and modified, which helped improve the likelihood of validity. The survey instrument can be reviewed in the Appendix. This study has been approved by the institutional review board at the research institution. A consent form and the online survey were shared through social media sites (Facebook and Twitter), listservs for faculty and IDs, and via email based on LinkedIn profiles that mentioned UDL through the end of September 2022.

The closed-ended questions were analyzed using frequencies and percentages of responses. The question about how valuable each of the UDL guidelines were for participants was analyzed using the rank function in Excel to determine how faculty, IDs, and the total group of participants ranked the different UDL guidelines. In vivo and pattern coding methods recommended by Saldaña (2021) were utilized to code the open-ended survey questions. Two raters coded the open-ended questions; they coded ten (five IDs and five faculty) surveys independently and reached a consensus on how to apply the same coding methods for the rest of the survey responses. There was an interrater agreement rate of 95% and differences were discussed until a consensus was reached. Results included an initial list of 92 codes for the first question, 242 codes for the second question, 353 codes for the third question, and 314 codes for the final question. This initial list of codes was organized through pattern coding into categories or themes, which are shared in Tables 3 and 4.

Results

RQ1. How Participants Learned About the UDL Framework

Participants learned about UDL in a variety of ways, and some learned about UDL in multiple ways (see Figure 1). The most prevalent ways of learning about UDL for both faculty and IDs was through conference session or workshop (36 IDs; 41 faculty), followed by journal articles and internet searches for faculty (33 for both methods) and journal articles (35) and word of mouth (31) for IDs.

Figure 1

How Participants Learned About the UDL Framework



RQ2. How IDs train and support faculty in UDL

The majority of IDs (82.2%) have helped faculty learn about or apply the UDL framework. Training methods utilized by IDs varied with most leading discussions (39) or providing a webinar (20) (see Figure 2). 

Figure 2

Instructional Designer Training Methods for Faculty


IDs supported faculty in applying the UDL framework through a variety of ways, displayed in Table 3. Training, discussions, accessibility support, coaching, and guidance for specific UDL techniques were the most prevalent support methods. Some IDs did not support UDL application since they did not discuss UDL explicitly, lacked UDL training or knowledge, time, or were dealing with faculty resistance.

Table 3

Methods of IDs Supporting Faculty in Applying the UDL Framework

Themes and examplesNumber of mentions
Training20
Discussions14
Specific UDL techniques11
Accessibility support10
Coaching10
Course design9
Modelling5
Other5
Not supporting UDL application:8

RQ3. Why faculty and IDs choose to implement UDL

The reasons for applying UDL were shared within nine themes in Table 4. Most frequent reasons involved equity and inclusion (i.e., supporting values of inclusion or creating equitable access) and specific UDL techniques or benefits (i.e., encouraging a growth mindset or creating relevance for each learner). Reasons given for not applying UDL included librarian faculty only taught one-shot instructions, lacking time or knowledge, and applying another pedagogy. 

Table 4

Reasons Contributing to the UDL Implementation

ThemesNumber of mentions
Equity and inclusionIDs: 18; Faculty: 46
Specific UDL techniques/benefitsIDs: 11; Faculty: 33
Best practiceIDs: 20; Faculty: 18
AccessibilityIDs: 19; Faculty: 18
Student variability or barriersIDs: 8; Faculty: 17
Course designIDs: 6; Faculty: 7
Course or overall environmentIDs: 2; Faculty: 8
OtherIDs: 2; Faculty: 4
Top-down or university-wideIDs: 3; Faculty: 3
Not applying UDLIDs: 5; Faculty: 14

RQ4. Benefits and challenges of implementing UDL

Challenges and benefits of implementing UDL help describe reasons faculty and IDs choose whether or not to implement UDL and can be viewed in Table 5. For example, the most predominant benefits of implementing UDL were diversity, equity, and inclusion, accessibility, and student success or achievement. This suggests that faculty and IDs chose to implement UDL based on these benefits. On the other hand, the top challenges of lack of time, complexity of the framework, and faculty attitudes could prevent some faculty and IDs from choosing to implement UDL.

Table 5

Benefits and Challenges of UDL Implementation

BenefitsNumber of mentions
Diversity, equity, and inclusionIDs: 21; Faculty: 33
AccessibilityIDs: 17; Faculty: 33
Student success/achievementIDs: 15; Faculty: 27
Other specific student benefitsIDs: 8; Faculty: 30
Student engagementIDs: 10; Faculty: 25
Student AgencyIDs: 10; Faculty: 9
UDL traitsIDs: 7; Faculty: 12
General faculty benefitsIDs: 4; Faculty: 14
Course/university level benefitsIDs: 5; Faculty: 5
AttitudesIDs: 3; Faculty: 5
Student mental healthIDs: 3; Faculty: 3
AssessmentIDs: 1; Faculty: 4
CommunityIDs: 2; Faculty: 3
Don’t know any benefitsIDs: 0; Faculty: 5
ChallengesNumber of mentions
Lacking timeIDs: 36; Faculty: 67
Complexity of the frameworkIDs: 22; Faculty: 34
Faculty attitudesIDs: 29; Faculty: 18
Needing trainingIDs: 16; Faculty: 20
Lacking technologyIDs: 11; Faculty: 12
Lacking supports in placeIDs: 14; Faculty: 7
CampusIDs: 7; Faculty: 13
Lacking resources/moneyIDs: 5; Faculty: 11
StudentsIDs: 4; Faculty: 8
OtherIDs: 4; Faculty: 4
UDL not eliminating the need for accommodationsIDs: 2; Faculty: 5
Sustaining implementationIDs: 1; Faculty: 3
Challenge-free environment supports in placeIDs: 14; Faculty: 7

RQ5. How faculty and IDs implement UDL

IDs and faculty also shared which UDL guidelines they used (see Figure 3). Most used one or more guidelines, and several used all nine guidelines. Similarly, participants shared how comfortable they felt in applying the UDL framework (see Figure 4). Many participants felt comfortable applying UDL without assistance (24.1% of IDs; 40.9% of faculty). IDs tended to feel more comfortable training (34.5%) or mentoring others (31.0%) than faculty (10.8% for each). 

Figure 3

UDL Guidelines Used in Teaching or Work



Note. Participants could select multiple guidelines. Bar charts portray participant counts for each guideline.

Figure 4

Comfort Level in Applying the UDL Framework


Extent of UDL Principles Used

Three questions described the ways participants presented information in courses, engaged students, and assessed learning, which corresponded to the three overarching UDL principles. Response choices ranged from more than one way in all units (i.e., modules or weeks), more than one way in most units, more than one way in some units (i.e., different ways used within the same unit sometimes), more than one way in different units (i.e., different ways used in different units), or use one way in all units. Results can be viewed in Table 6.

Table 6

Ways Used to Present, Engage, and Assess in Courses

Ways Used to Present Information in CoursesIDsPercentageFacultyPercentageTotalPercentage
More than one way in all units753.81920.42624.5
More than one way in most units538.53032.33533.0
More than one way in some units17.72729.02826.4
More than one way in different units00.01314.01312.3
Use one way in all units00.044.343.8
Total1393106
Ways Used to Engage Students in CoursesIDsPercentageFacultyPercentageTotalPercentage
More than one way in all units753.81920.42624.5
More than one way in most units538.53032.33533.0
More than one way in some units17.72729.02826.4
More than one way in different units00.01314.01312.3
Use one way in all units00.044.343.8
Total1393106
Ways Used to Assess Learning in CoursesIDsPercentageFacultyPercentageTotalPercentage
More than one way in all units538.51415.11917.9
More than one way in most units538.52830.13331.1
More than one way in some units215.42122.62321.7
More than one way in different units17.71718.31817.0
Use one way in all units00.01314.01312.3
Total1393106


Perceptions of UDL Guideline Importance

Faculty and instructional designers were asked to rank the UDL guidelines in order of importance. Ranks for IDs, faculty, and total participants were determined through the rank function in Excel with the formula of RANK(number,ref,[order]). These rankings are shared in Table 7 for IDs, faculty, and total participants.

Table 7

Participant Rankings of UDL Guidelines

IDs RankFaculty RankTotal Rank
Comprehension211
Perception122
Expression and Communication333
Language and Symbols444
Recruiting Interest555
Executive Function666
Physical Action787
Sustaining Effort and Persistence978
Self-Regulation899

Discussion

This survey was based on one used by Westine et al. (2019) given to faculty teaching online courses at one institution. This study expanded the sample to include faculty at institutions across the United States, Canada, and one in Ireland as well as IDs from those institutions. This study also did not focus specifically on online teaching, but generally on implementing UDL in higher education. Results will be compared between the current study and the study by Westine et al. (2019) when applicable, along with other applicable studies.

How do faculty and IDs learn about UDL?

Westine et al. (2019) found that faculty respondents were interested in learning how to apply UDL guidelines in online courses. Results from this survey share the ways that faculty have previously learned about UDL and suggest training methods that IDs and faculty may want to utilize. The present survey found that faculty and IDs learned about UDL in a variety of ways including webinar, daylong, or multiple session trainings; conference sessions or workshops; and journal articles predominantly. They also learned about UDL through books, internet searches, a course, word of mouth, or other methods. Twenty faculty participants did not know about UDL. 

One implication of these results is that it may be best to offer a variety of professional development opportunities to faculty to help them learn about the UDL framework and implementation. Hills et al. (2022) similarly described a need for UDL training to increase faculty knowledge of UDL, promote UDL on campus, and increase UDL implementation. IDs and faculty that want to help others learn about UDL may succeed by offering a variety of training opportunities, sharing articles or websites with faculty related to UDL, and discussing UDL in course design conversations. This relates to the second research question.

How do IDs train and support faculty in the UDL framework and implementation?

IDs tended to feel more comfortable with UDL and training or mentoring others than faculty, and the majority of IDs have helped faculty learn about or apply the UDL framework. A variety of training methods were utilized by IDs when training faculty in the UDL framework, the most prevalent being discussions and webinars or one-session trainings in UDL. Fewer instructional designers used other methods, including two who offered a book club similar to the reading group offered by Gagné and Grimaldi (2021), five who offered faculty learning groups, and one ID led a multiple day training similar to the one offered by Hromalik et al. (2020). 

The open-ended question regarding IDs support of faculty in applying UDL brought up additional methods that IDs utilized in supporting or training faculty beyond discussions and webinars/one-session trainings, including supporting faculty in applying specific UDL checkpoints, coaching, accessibility support, course design, and modelling the UDL framework by applying UDL themselves. Several IDs described the reasons they did not support faculty UDL application since they did not explicitly discuss UDL, lacked training or knowledge of UDL, lacked time, or dealt with faculty resistance. Some IDs also brought up the difference between recommending that faculty apply UDL and enforcing that faculty apply UDL. Several IDs discussed not having the authority to require faculty to use specific instructional strategies, but they could recommend strategies like the UDL guidelines. Some chose to couch UDL guidelines as best practices rather than explicitly discussing the UDL framework or accessibility. This is an interesting finding that deserves further research about the fine line that IDs walk between recommending UDL versus best practices and which of these is the more effective method for increasing UDL implementation in higher education. The answer may vary by institution and context. This relates to the importance of the partnership between IDs and faculty discussed by Singleton et al. (2019).

Why do faculty and IDs choose to implement UDL?

Generally, this study agrees with much of the previous research about the benefits and challenges of UDL implementation in higher education, which influences why faculty and IDs may choose whether or not to implement UDL. Many of the reasons given for applying UDL included accessibility, it being a best practice, meeting the needs for student variability, diminishing learning barriers, and equity and inclusion, which could all be categorized under an overarching theme of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Many benefits described were previously listed in the literature, including improving accessibility (Al Azawei et al., 2016; Houston, 2018; Rogers & Gronseth, 2021; Yang et al., 2024), giving students more agency in their learning (Evmenova, 2018; Rogers & Gronseth, 2021; Yang et al., 2024), improving student success and achievement (Bradshaw, 2020; Eitzen et al., 2016; Fovet & Mole, 2013; Ok et al., 2016; Schelly et al., 2011), and improving retention (Bastedo et al., 2013; Bradshaw, 2020; Eitzen et al., 2016; Fovet & Mole, 2013; Houston, 2018; Westine et al., 2019). 

Faculty and IDs listed a lack in time and knowledge as the main reasons for not applying UDL. The lack of time is the challenge described in most of the literature on UDL implementation (Hills et al., 2022; Kilpatrick et al., 2021; Rogers & Gronseth, 2021), but the lack of knowledge is also discussed (Cunningham et al., 2017; Smith Canter et al., 2017). The lack in knowledge could be remedied by further training and support from IDs. This finding has the implication that although IDs may not have the authority to enforce UDL implementation, sharing information about UDL and training faculty in UDL in a variety of ways would help faculty overcome the lack of knowledge barrier and improve the level of UDL implementation on college campuses. Another key challenge to implement UDL included being overwhelmed with choice, which could be partially overcome by IDs offering training and support in UDL application. 

There were unexpected responses to challenges to UDL implementation, including the need for additional accommodations after UDL implementation. This is directly related to the benefit of improving accessibility of course materials. Some faculty or IDs may wrongly assume that implementing UDL will remove the need for additional accommodations. Implementing UDL will likely decrease the need for accommodations, but it will not completely eliminate this need, possibly due to the varied implementation techniques utilized and level of implementation. Some students were overwhelmed with choices in UDL implemented courses. While choice can improve student agency and autonomy, too much choice can have the adverse effect of overwhelming students. Finally, a few respondents noted that sustaining UDL implementation over time was a challenge. Further research on UDL implementation efforts over a longer timeframe is recommended.

How do faculty and IDs implement UDL?

Faculty and IDs shared which UDL guidelines they implemented in their teaching or work with most using one or more guidelines and several using all nine of the UDL guidelines. There were only four faculty respondents that did not use any of the guidelines. Comfort levels applying UDL differed between faculty and IDs with most faculty being comfortable applying UDL with or without assistance and one third of IDs being comfortable applying UDL with or without assistance. IDs felt more comfortable training or mentoring others in UDL than faculty were. Though results differed slightly with the use of UDL principles within courses or work for the current research and the study by Westine et al. (2019), comparing the results from Westine et al. (2019) to the current study suggests they may be replicable across a wider sample of faculty and IDs in higher education. 

Similarly, results for the faculty ranking of the UDL guidelines can be compared between the two studies. Westine et al. (2019) found that faculty ranked comprehension, expression and communication, and perception as the most valued. In this study, faculty ranked comprehension as the most important, followed by perception and expression and communication as the most highly valued principles. The other guidelines rankings varied, but it is interesting to note the similarities between the two studies. These were also the top three ranked guidelines for IDs. These findings suggest that IDs may want to begin training in UDL by focusing on the guidelines most valued by faculty including comprehension, expression and communication, and perception. 

Limitations

One of the main limitations of this study is that most participants are located in the United States with 35 states represented. There were seven participants from Canada and one from Ireland. The sample size of 151 is reasonable for a voluntary survey, though a larger sample size of IDs would be preferable. Additional research is recommended, particularly from an international perspective to explore if these results would be similar in other locations. It would also be beneficial to obtain more in-depth, qualitative responses related to these research questions to further explore UDL implementation in higher education, particularly exploring more deeply the potential similarities or differences in use and ranking of guidelines by novice and experienced faculty and IDs with differing comfort levels with UDL. Additional research on IDs’ role in supporting and recommending UDL implementation, more longitudinal research over time, and investigating the value faculty and IDs place on different UDL guidelines is recommended.

Conclusion

The results from this study have provided new findings in relation to faculty and IDs UDL implementation efforts in higher education. The variety of ways that faculty learned about the UDL framework were examined. Similarly, the open-ended questions attempted to answer why and how faculty choose to implement UDL. Faculty shared how they implemented each of the overarching UDL principles when responding to the questions about the ways they present information, engage students, and assess learning. IDs shared how they support faculty implementation efforts and how they train faculty in UDL. While this study met its purpose in examining UDL implementation in higher education, more research is needed on the topic.

IDs can take the results of this study into consideration when supporting faculty or designing training for faculty in UDL by focusing on the guidelines most frequently used by participants. Similarly, IDs and others supporting faculty in UDL implementation can focus on the guidelines ranked as most valuable by participants. In practice, IDs can recommend that faculty implement UDL because of the benefits described by participants in the current study and support faculty in implementing UDL techniques and overcoming challenges. Faculty and IDs can utilize inclusive instructional practices by implementing the UDL framework in postsecondary education.

References

Al-Azawei, A., Serenelli, F., & Lundqvist, K. (2016). Universal design for learning (UDL): A content analysis of peer-reviewed journal papers from 2012 to 2015. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 16(3), 39-56. https://doi.org/10.14434/josotl.v16i3.19295

Basham, J. D., Gardner, J. E., & Smith, S. J. (2020). Measuring the implementation of UDL in classrooms and schools: Initial field test results. Remedial and Special Education, 41(4), 231-243. https://doi.org/10.1177/0741932520908015

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Appendix

Faculty and Instructional Designer Perspectives on Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Implementation in Higher Education Survey

Demographics

Please select your gender identity. 

Select your ethnicity (please check all that apply). 

Please select your current age range. 

Where do you live? 

Professional Practice

Where do you work? If you work for multiple institutions, please check all that apply. 

Select your broad discipline or academic area. 

What is your institutional status? Please select the option(s) that apply to your current position. 

Are you familiar with the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Framework (with the overarching principles of providing multiple means of engagement, representation, or action and expression)? 

How did you learn about the UDL Framework? Please select all that apply. 

Which of the following UDL guidelines do you use in your teaching or work? You may not have been familiar with the UDL framework, but you may apply aspects of the UDL guidelines in your courses. Please read through the guidelines and examples carefully and select all that apply. 

What is your level of comfort in applying the UDL framework in your teaching or work?  Please select one that best describes your overall level of comfort. 

IDs Only: Have you ever helped faculty learn about or implement UDL techniques in their courses?

IDs Only: Which of the following ways have you trained faculty in the UDL framework or aspects of UDL. Select all that apply.

Which of the following best describes the way you present information in your courses? For example, using more than one way (simultaneously/at the same time) could be a recorded lecture with captions available or providing a visual with a text-based description. 

Which of the following best describes the way you encourage student engagement in your courses? 

Which of the following best describes the way you assess learning in your courses? 

How valuable are each of the UDL guidelines to you? Rank order the nine guidelines (from 1 to 9), with 1 being the most valuable and 9 being the least valuable. 

Short Answer Questions:

IDs Only: How have you supported faculty in applying the UDL framework in their teaching and courses? If you have not supported UDL application, why not?

Why have you applied aspects of the UDL framework? If you have not applied aspects of UDL, why not? 

What are the benefits of implementing UDL? If there are none, please explain why there are none. 

What are the challenges of implementing UDL? If there are no challenges, what supports do you have that create a challenge-free environment? 


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