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Universal Design for Learning (UDL): UDL Syllabus Rubric

Created for a faculty inquiry group project on UDL.

UDL & Your Syllabus

While UDL often focuses on in-process course delivery, assignments, and assessments, it is important to recognize that syllabi can provide a larger content for how and where UDL can strengthen our teaching effectiveness. A well-designed syllabus establishes clear communication between instructor and students and provides the necessary information and resources to promote active, purposeful, and effective learning. Thus, syllabi serve as road maps that define the content and context of learning in our classrooms.

Using the UDL Syllabus Rubric

In order to support faculty on how to frame a course with UDL principles in mind, EnACT~PTD constructed and evaluated a UDL Syllabus Rubric.  This rubric and its elements are based on multiple years of research on UDL and course design and delivery. They have included extensive input from both instructors and students. As a result, the UDL Syllabus Rubric reflects elements that are considered important to all stakeholders. Faculty are encouraged to use the UDL Syllabus Rubric as a way to reflect upon their current syllabus design and move toward adopting strategies that result in a syllabus that better communicates to and supports all learners.

The UDL Syllabus Rubric is a tool that can be implemented as part of a self-discovery related to course design and effectiveness.

Individual Implementation:
One can simply select a course syllabus and analyze it according to the rubric elements and respective rating categories. For each element, there is also a Notes field that serves as a place to record why a particular rating was given on a UDL syllabus element. By doing so, the in-the-moment information is documented. In addition to better retaining the information, prompts can be embedded, which serve as low-stakes self-contracts or reference points for future areas of syllabus refinement.

Group Implementation:
The preferred method for using the UDL Syllabus Rubric is via in-depth, Faculty Learning Community process. This allows for simultaneous self-reflection and peer-input. In addition, the FLC process is often interdisciplinary, which helps reconsider from a different lens how to represent course material, engage students, or assess their expression of learning.

The UDL Syllabus Rubric is often used by one faculty member to evaluate and give input to another. However, it is important to first establish an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust. Once this is done, faculty members are often more open to input by their peers. Once a faculty member receives input via peer-dialog and rubric documentation, that faculty member explores which changes are reasonable and what steps it may take. Often, the changes might be adding additional syllabus information to a specific section or simply reformatting a particular element. Importantly, FLC dialog often leads to further UDL-based course changes and reflections that benefit all participants.

Graphic Representation of Student Learning Outcomes

Articulating student learning outcomes (SLO) is a standard course and syllabus development process.  SLO serve as checks for our course development, as we examine the end result of the course, how it contributes to student learning and development, and how the course contributes to the overall program (e.g., major, GE). Typical fashion is to list the SLO, sometimes called Course Objectives, in verti-linear bullet fashion. These are often glanced over and seldom revisited. In addition, there may be no representation as to how the SLO and student course experiences or requirements relate. Often, this leads to a disconnect, whether perceived or actual, between what the instructor expects and what students understand is expected.

However, a UDL Syllabus strategy for making SLO a more prominent focus, while adding to understanding of how the individual parts of a class constitute the whole (i.e,. the purpose), is to graphically represent them.

Below is an example for an Advanced Composition course.  The three main objectives are represented in the orange boxes, while the modes for demonstrating competency in them fall below.

This next view goes beyond the broad objectives to discrete and measureable student learning outcomes, which are represented in the purple rectangles, followed by their respective modes of student expression.

UDL Syllabus Statement

Institutions of higher education typically recommend that instructors include a statement regarding support for students with disabilities. However, these statements are often written in such a way that simply puts the responsibility on the student and only offers reactive, accommodations-based solutions. Instead, instructors can model UDL by adding the following statement that Grace Hanson uses in her syllabus:

My Desire is to make this a truly welcoming instructional climate and an equal learning opportunity for everyone.  Your success is important to me.  To that end, if you have a need that I can address, please notify me immediately.  I can be reached at (909) 274-5640 or ghanson@mtsac.edu.  Alternatively, you may contact Human Resources about any accommodations needs.  Human Resources can be reached at (909) 274-4225.

The Chronicle of Higher Education ran a related article and discussion on September 9, 2013.

UDL Syllabus Rubric Files

Developed by EnACT~PTD

Visually Enhanced Syllabi

Following is a list of interesting syllabus examples, particularly in terms of creating a visually engaging syllabus. Note: some of these examples still need to address accessibility issues. Some do this by retaining accessible Word version.