Program 2: Classroom Environment Preparation


The key to successful implementation of Universal Design for Learning Principles is preparation. And preparation starts with thinking about the environment you're going to be teaching in and what you can do to Universally Design that environment.

Noel, here we are sitting in your classroom that you're going to be teaching in this summer. How do you plan to Universally Design the classroom environment for the students?

That's a good question Jim and many instructors think that when they are incorporating Universal Design into their classrooms that they have to change a lot of things and do a lot of modifications. Once in a while you may need some of that. But often they can use what they have in their environment to create a class that is student centered and conducive to learning.

What specific things can an instructor look at to make sure that the environment is Universally Designed for the student from a building level, down to the classroom level?

Well instructors need to make sure that their building is accessible. That all students can get in and out with no problems. And if not they can ask for a class to be moved to another building.

When you get to the classroom level, you need to make sure that your classroom, same thing, it's available, it's accessible for students. Accessibility not only means having a wider door, also means that there's nothing, no obstacles in the middle so that all students can get in and out as well.

What about once a student has gotten in to the room itself?

Well there the instructor needs to look for a couple of things. First I would look for light. They need to make sure that the room has good lighting so that all good students can see that you are writing on the blackboard things that you will be projecting to the screen, being you're PowerPoint presentations or movies, things like that. And they need to be able to see all that from whatever position in the classroom as well.

Sound, that will be really important as well. Your standard room will come with you know, speakers from the computer, TV, and what not. When needed, you know, instructors need to request that, you know, amplification systems are placed in the room, so all students can listen to that as well.

Audiovisual equipment, that is often over looked. We think like, yes it is good to have a VCR, a DVD, a TV there. We don't think about the specifics of it. We need to make sure that those equipment have capabilities for closed captions and those are turned on. So that every time you put a movie on it, everybody can see the closed captions as well.

Is there anything you can do with the arrangement of desks or tables in the classroom?

Well as you can see here, there are a lot of little desks. And sometimes it limits interaction with the students. So a technique often used is just to shape the way students will sit in the U-shape or a circle that will bring more connection between the students. Who will be more easier for them to be engaged in discussion and group activities. And also, at the same time, they will be able to see you and follow you without any obstacles in the middle.

Great. Now this is a, this is a fairly small room that we're in. What should somebody who teaches primarily in a large lecture hall be thinking about, be looking into to make sure their environment is Universally Designed?

Same concepts will apply. In a big lecture hall, as an instructor you need to make sure that your building is accessible. You also need to make sure that, that classroom is accessible. You need to make sure that the students have choice in seating. So you need to make sure that you know which areas are accessible for students.

Lighting and sound will be more important in a larger room like that. You need to make sure that you have adequate lighting and sound so everything that you'll be projecting, or making sure that every student can listen to what you're saying, even those sitting in the back.

Also, you know, professors need to make sure that any obstacles or barriers to learning in the environment are addressed, like noises or structural things, like big lamps or whatever it is in that big classroom, you know. Not everything can be addressed by the instructor, like a big lamp, you're not going to move that, but noises around or any other barrier to learning in the, in that environment needs to be addressed by the instructor. So everybody can participate fully in their class.

This is a lot of good info that we've talked about. But it's just still a small part of what you need to look at. Is there something that you know of that's good, that's a good reminder for people as to what they should be looking at and what they should be doing to Universally Design their environments?

Sure. For this summer what I did was that I used a checklist that was developed by the Universal Access group here. And that checklist is developed in a way that will guide the instructors through what are the main considerations in the environment, like lighting, access, sound, classroom arrangement, what not. And it will be really e.., it's a really good tool, really easy to use. It will take the instructor a couple of minutes before the semester starts, just to go and evaluate their classroom setting. And see what do I need to do so that students have a full experience in my class.

So if somebody wants to follow a checklist like this, they checked everything off and found that they had done everything that they were supposed to. Does that mean that they are clear, that the environment's designed the way it needs to be for the entire semester?

No. As an instructor you need to be flexible with things that may not be taken into account while you're setting your classroom. And then you'll move into accommodating your teaching strategies, you're, the things you're going to be doing in that classroom, so you are able to accommodate every students learning style and maybe any students ability or disability levels.

So essentially even with preplanning it's impossible to think of absolutely everything that might come your way.


You have to be able to adjust when need be.


This classroom looks ready to go. It looks like you've done everything you can to Universally Design this environment.

The next step we're going to follow is you prepare the class presentation itself. Then we're going to look at the rest of your preparation before actually implementing this in class.

Thank you

Thanks Noel.

Implementing UDL