Embracing Universal Design for Learning: Highlights from the UDL Conference Lightning Talks at the University of Worcester

A key feature of the conference was the series of lightning talks, where speakers presented their work in brief, dynamic sessions. These talks provided a snapshot of various UDL initiatives, each offering unique insights and practical strategies.

Promoting Inclusion for International Students

Raluca Sarbu’s lightning talk highlighted efforts to promote inclusion and a sense of belonging for international students in the Social Worker programme at the University of Worcester. By adopting a relationship-based approach, the programme has created a flexible and adaptable learning environment. Raluca detailed several initiatives, including pre-arrival sessions, individual and group support after arrival, social events, and ‘bring and share’ sessions where students can share aspects of their cultures. These efforts help to foster a welcoming and supportive atmosphere for international students, ensuring they feel valued and included from the outset.

System-Level Inclusive Reforms

Aashna Khurana presented a thought-provoking talk on system-level inclusive reforms, drawing from a project idea from the Boston Schools District. Her scope of enquiry involved shifting the focus of UDL from individual classrooms or schools to entire systems or districts. Aashna emphasised the importance of a mindset change, starting from the top of the organisation, to create inclusive spaces. She advocated for a multi-pronged approach to reform, addressing various areas specific to individual contexts and providing teachers with the flexibility to adopt and adapt UDL principles to meet their needs. This systemic approach aims to integrate UDL into the fabric of educational policy and practice, ensuring widespread and sustainable change.

Countering Faculty Burnout and Isolation

Dr Coridon Laws addressed the pressing issue of faculty burnout and isolation with a talk on inclusive design strategies. She shared her experience of creating asynchronous and synchronous courses based on a UDL-focused book, which helped establish a community of practice among staff. Dr Laws discussed how this community challenged biases, strengthened existing practices, and provided support to persevere through the slow process of change. Her talk highlighted the positive impact on staff, who appreciated the recognition of their roles and the collaborative approach to professional development. By using UDL principles to structure these sessions, Dr Laws demonstrated the effectiveness of inclusive design in fostering a supportive and resilient academic community.

There was an excellent recommendation to read Transform Your Teaching with Universal Design for Learning by Jennifer L. Pusateri.

The first morning of the UDL conference at the University of Worcester showcased a full range of innovative approaches to inclusive education. The lightning talks exemplified the power of sharing diverse perspectives and practical strategies. From promoting inclusion for international students to advocating for system-level reforms and supporting faculty wellbeing, the conference highlighted the transformative potential of UDL. As delegates left with fresh ideas and renewed enthusiasm, the event underscored the importance of ongoing collaboration and innovation in creating educational environments where every learner can succeed.