Do you have much experience with Universal Design? Today we’re thrilled to welcome a guest author who has not only implemented UDL on her own, but is assisting her colleagues in applying the principles in their classrooms as well.

Tianhong Shi, instructional designer with Oregon State Extended Campus, joins WCET Frontiers today to tell us about her journey learning about UDL, applying the concepts in a variety of learning settings, and expanding the design across the OSU campus.

Enjoy the read and enjoy your day,

– Lindsey Downs, WCET

Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a practical tool for guiding course design to ensure that every learner succeeds, based on scientific insights into how humans learn ( There are three main principles of UDL:

  1. multiple means of representations,
  2. multiple means of engagement, and
  3. multiple means of expressions.

UDL has roots in Inclusive pedagogy, which started around 1970s in the United States and as early as 1918 in the United Kingdom.

Graphic representing UL design. Three boxes reside in acircle. Box 1 says

Why UDL?

With the multiple means of presentation, engagement and expressions, UDL strives to make content accessible to all learners, it stimulates interests and motivation for learning and it provides a pathway for every learner to succeed (;

By teaching students according to their individual needs, we make sure that every student succeeds and prepare them for the future (versus preparing for our own past by teaching them how we were taught) (Katie Novak, Why UDL).

“You don’t just get kids in the driver suit of learning; you get expert drivers once you use UDL” (Bill McGrath at UDL-IRN Summit 2018).

My Journey in UDL

In 2017, as part of the ID2ID program (a peer mentoring program for instructional designers organized by EDUCAUSE and Penn State University), my mentee Irene Knokh and I identified UDL as a learning topic. We read books such as Universal Design In Higher Education-Promising Practices, completed a free Canvas UDL training course (designed and taught by Eric Moore), browsed web resources (UDL at glance, UDL Center), and attended a webinar on Implementing UDL by Thomas Tobin.

 A large tree lying over a trial in the woods. The tree has a hole cut through it so you can continue on through the path.
Image from

Designing Courses Using UDL Principles: Removing Barriers

After intensive self-directed learning on UDL for several months, I started to promote UDL among online instructors at Oregon State University. My greatest gratitude goes to Oregon State University (OSU) online instructors Ted Paterson, Victor Hsu, and Yvette Gibson who allowed me to share with them what I learned about UDL and started implementing the principles in their online courses in the Spring 2018 term. There are many applications of UDL design principles in some of OSU’s Spring 2018 online courses.

During my meetings with Ted, Victor, and Yvette, we identified barriers and challenges to learning and designed courses to remove such barriers.

  • For Ted, the biggest challenge is the intensive reading and writing in managing ethics study. So, we added estimated average reading time for each reading assignment and created animated videos to explain complicated yet crucially important writing assignments.Screenshot of a week one of the class. Text reads
  • For Victor, the challenge to his students was the abstractness of biophysics concepts in macromolecular structure study. To overcome this barrier, we designed simulation videos to explain the concepts and used graphics to illustrate other concepts. Students were assigned to use video, graphics, and texts to explain key concepts in meaningful ways.
  • For Yvette, the challenge was how to make learning meaningful and applicable in shrubland ecology study. We used learner-generated content as the main teaching strategy for the course and students were assigned to co-write portions of the textbook and create resources that will be published for public use upon instructor approval.

Examples of class activities in Ted’s Managing Ethics course:

  • Text reading (Chapter 1 of textbook).
  • Listening to podcast (Ponzi Supernova podcast audio from Radio-lab).
  • Watching videos of instructor lectures.
  • Watching animated video explanation of a 7-page instruction for the term writing project.
  • Discussion forums: students post answers to prompts; students reply to peer classmates’ posts.
  • Student developed Personal Ethical Action Plan (instructor provides feedback for students to incorporate prior to final due date).

Examples of class activities in Victor’s Macromolecular Structure course and Yvette’s Shrubland Ecology course:

  • Create a three-dimensional image.
  • Create a video to explain what “reciprocal space” means to the individual student.
  • Complete a literature search and review.
  • Write a letter to a relative to explain why the Fourier transform is so important to NMR spectroscopy.
  • Co-author part of course textbook.

Example of the class rubric. includes the criteria for core values, a tale of two stories exercise, and the edited copy. Next column describes the ratings for each critera/exercise. The last column has the point value for each of the exercises (38 points, 38 points, 4 points).

UDL Implementation Success Tips

Promoting the implementation of UDL is bound to be a rough journey that is full of challenges. Why is it still worthwhile to do it? By adopting UDL principles, you will aid in a student’s efforts to become expert learners.

Consider the following:

  • What challenges am I overcoming?
  • How could UDL add value to the learning design?
  • Implement one thing at a time (suggested by Thomas Tobin).
  • Consider UDL as operating system, not just as a framework (suggested by Bryan Dean) in the days when you feel your UDL pioneering journey is becoming too rough: it is at work without you noticing it!

The College STAR program offers free access to UDL- Based teaching practices for faculty and staff members to implement in their college courses. College STAR also provides Incentive funding for faculty members to join Virtual Learning Communities and submit proposals which will be developed into online modules and case studies. Learn more about College STAR.

Here is a list of some tools that can help instructors implement UDL and several additional UDL resources for you to use and share.

Poll & Reflection Sharing

I would like to end this post with a simple poll (based on Katie Novak‘s presentation at UDL-IRN Summit 18) and a reflective question for us all to ponder:

“In your UDL journey for the next two years, what would you hope to be and how would you achieve that?”

Feel free to share your thoughts and ideas on this padlet wall.


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Tianhong Shi
Instructional Designer
Extended Campus – Oregon State University


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