Universal Design for Learning — often, referred to as Universal Design because of its origins outside of the classroom — is a pedagogical approach based on the idea that learning is a process that is facilitated (and hindered) by the environment in which one is expected to learn. UDL at its best draws attention to the underlying structural ableism, racism, classism, cisnormativity, and heteronormativity of learning spaces; instead of questioning “what is wrong with this individual that they are not learning in this space?”, the principles of UDL instead pose the question, “what is wrong with the structural environment that is designed for some, but not others? How can the structural environment be improved to create space for multiple styles of learning, particularly those that are undervalued in hegemonic learning spaces?”
Particularly at LaGuardia Community College — as well as CUNY more broadly — UDL has tremendous implications for a largely POC, largely immigrant, largely low-income student population.
In brief, UDL attempts to ensure that each piece of classroom learning can be accessed and manipulated by users in various ways, such that there are:
- multiple, valued forms of representation;
- multiple, valued forms of action and expression;
- multiple, valued forms of engagement.
The valuing of different forms of engagement — for example, actively valuing non-verbal modes of participation in class by assessing quieter students with the same worth as students who speak up more in class — is a crucial component of ensuring that classroom spaces move toward equity rather than perpetuating the privileging of some affects, learning processes, and forms of engagement over all others.
UDL is often critiqued for the problematics of “universality” (which is usually code for whiteness), and it is our goal through DfA at LaGuardia to ensure that our versions of UDL incorporate critical race feminisms and queer of color critique as central facets of course design and research.
For more on UDL and the information presented here, please explore our General Must Reads resource page.