General universal teaching strategies
Here are basic universal teaching strategies that allow for the inclusion of all the types of learners in a class:
- Face the audience when speaking and repeat the questions that other students ask;
- Notify students as soon as possible of any changes to assessments or a course (e.g.: change of location, surprise tests, etc.);
- When possible, make course documents available to students;
- Offer a choice of assessment methods for a given evaluation (a long written essay or an audio-visual presentation on the same subject);
- Give more time to all students to write an exam. For example, give three hours to the class to write a two-hour exam. Clearly explain this measure to all the students at the beginning of the course;
- Use different types of activities to keep students motivated. For example, include training workshops, classroom discussions, debates or teamwork sessions;
- Subtitle the videos or provide a written transcript of the narrative.
It is essential that students with disabilities be provided with accessible information in order for them to carry out assignments according to academic requirements. Consequently, reference material such as course outlines, course notes, books and texts must possess certain characteristics.
What are the characteristics of an accessible document?
- Access to content (searchable and selectable content)
- Multi-platform (user friendly display and playback on different media)
- Access to the book structure (table of content)
- Access to the pagination
- Logical reading order (can be validated when selecting text)
- Access to alternative text for images, diagrams, etc.
- Searchable and well identified tables, columns and rows (reading order) or alternative text
To best achieve these objectives, professors can pick out from databases information resources that are available in a digital format. For their part, a student can ask the support services office to students with disabilities for advice in order to obtain a version adapted to their needs.
Access to the Internet and online content
For a student with a disability to achieve success, it is important that they have access to online content that possesses the characteristics previously listed. Compliance with web accessibility standards can make it easier for people with a visual, hearing, physical or cognitive disorder or a hearing impairment to navigate the content of a site.
What are the barriers to Web accessibility?
- Colour contrasts too low or font size too small;
- Programming errors on a form where questions are not correctly matched to their answer field;
- A video with no subtitles;
- A site that absolutely requires the use of a mouse;
- Language is too complex or paragraphs are too long.
To find out how to make content accessible to people with disabilities, refer to the W3C Standards for guidelines.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
Universal Design for Learning takes into account individual learning differences by supporting the use of adaptable objectives, methods, material and assessments to meet the diverse needs of the learners.
Principle I: Provide multiple means of representation.
From the outset, no single means of representation will be optimal for all learners. Learners can have a different perception and understanding of the information that is presented to them. For example, a sensory disability or a cultural or linguistic barrier may require the use of different means of representation.
Principle II: Provide multiple means of action and expression.
The ways learners explore a learning environment and express their knowledge become points of differentiation. As a matter of fact, some learners can express themselves by writing, but not verbally, or reversely. It is therefore essential to provide multiple means of action and expression in order to observe the acquisition of knowledge.
Principle III: Provide multiple means of engagement.
Lastly, a learner’s level of engagement can vary depending on the context, on the strategies that are implemented for them to participate actively or on their eagerness to learn. Consequently, a learner’s culture, personal interests, subjectivity and past experiences are factors that can influence individual variation in affect. For example, spontaneity and novelty can awaken the interest of some learners, while others, who prefer a strict routine, might feel some apprehension.