Universal Design for Learning towards Achieving Inclusive Education in Higher Education (PhD project)
This project is about universal design and access to equal learning opportunities to learners with diversity needs in higher learning institutions. This research proposal describes a possible subproject within the NORHED-project ENABLE: Higher education and multimedia in special needs education and rehabilitation
About the project
The presence of learning barriers deprives students from the opportunity to access knowledge develop skills. The Universal Design for Learning is claimed to be able to identify and remove barriers from teaching methods and curriculum materials (Rose & Meyer, 2002) and it is promoted as a promising approach to inclusion of students. This means that the Universal Design for Learning as a framework aims to improve the students’ opportunities to access skills and knowledge. In my project, I investigated the inclusion of students with visual impairment in higher education based on the principles of Universal Design for Learning.
The study investigated the state of inclusion of students in higher education. Particularly, the study explored the conceptualization of inclusive education and institutional practices which were perceived to enhance the inclusion of students. Furthermore, the study examined how the principles of universal design for learning were used in the teaching pedagogics and the way they influenced the accessibility of skills and knowledge for students with visual impairment.
The study findings can inform the education practitioners about the importance of Universal Design for Learning as a tool to enhance inclusion of students based on their diversities. Also, the results have indicated how inclusive education was conceptualized in higher education and the mechanisms viewed to enhance opportunities to access skills and knowledge. Furthermore, the study indicated when and where the contradictions and tensions developed in the whole process of ensuring inclusion. Therefore, the practitioners in higher education can make use of the tensions reported to enhance equal opportunity to access skills and knowledge.
Universal Design was coined by the architect Ronald Mace who challenged the conversional approach of designing for average users and provided a design foundation for accessible and usable products and environment. Any design of product and environment has to be possibly usable to the greatest extent by people of all ages and abilities, and it should value both diversity and inclusiveness (Story, Mueller & Mace, 1998).
In education, it is the Universal Design for Learning which provides a framework for designing educational products and environments that maximize the range of characteristics of individuals to access the intended instructional objectives. Examples of products and environments that need to apply universal design principles so as to facilitate learning includes; curriculum, educational software, libraries, academic registration systems, websites, instructions, assessments, laboratories, students housing and residential life.
Globally, Education for All, which is zero tolerance on discriminations and exclusions in education, is a call for inclusive education. Several factors have been attributed to justify exclusion in education such as negative attitudes and barriers within educational materials and practices which hamper the implementation of inclusive education. Several challenges have been articulated in relation to inclusion of students with disabilities in a regular education system. It is time worthy to investigate and invest on Universal Design for Learning as an approach to improve and enhance equal opportunities to access skills and knowledge for all students.
NORHED-project ENABLE: Higher education and multimedia in special needs education and rehabilitation