Universal Design for Learning and Multiple Intelligences Theory and Practice as SoTL Levers

McCarthy, Marian and Butler, Brian (2013) Universal Design for Learning and Multiple Intelligences Theory and Practice as SoTL Levers. In: 10th annual Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL) Conference. Critical Transitions in Teaching and Learning, October 2 – 5, 2013, North Carolina, United States.


The seven principles of Universal Design were originally drawn up by a group of architects, environmental engineers and product designers to promote access to buildings, to the environment, and to everyday products and technology, by the widest number of people at a reasonable cost. The principles would promote a design mentality to address all needs from the design stage, avoiding ‘retrofitting’. Such principles can be used to evaluate existing structures and products, to review the design stage and educate both designer and user. Many third level institutions have looked to the seven principles of universal design in an effort to reach out to the growing diversity of student learning in and beyond the classroom (Yuval et al, 2004; Zeff, 2007; Burgsthaler, 2013). Changing demographics, developments in technology, social attitudes, new equality and disability legislation, as well as up to date pedagogical perspectives, are creating pressures that insist that diversity be addressed in the classroom. The principles of universal design are viewed by many as a key solution to addressing such challenges. This paper draws, however, on the work of the Centre for Applied Special Technology (CAST) at Wakefield, Massachusetts (Meyer and Rose 2000, 2005) which views the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as different to the principles of other domains of universal design. Based on the principles of neuroscience, UDL principles reflect a strong focus on learning and address the dynamic, complex and multi-layered nature of teaching and learning evident in its three indicators: multiple means of representation, of engagement and of expression The paper focuses on the inclusive nature of these three principles for learning and on how these resonate with other contemporary pedagogies that speak to all learners, such as Multiple Intelligences (MI) Theory (Gardner, 1983, 1999a and 1999b; Barrington, 2004; Chen, 2009; Hyland and McCarthy, 2009). MI theory, as defined by Howard Gardner, claims that students learn in different ways, that they bring a variety of intelligence strengths to the learning and that students need to express their learning in different ways through a variety of authentic and ongoing assessment approaches. Both UDL and MI focus on the differentiated classroom, on taking human difference seriously, and reaching out to all students. From the perspective of a SoTL lens (Boyer, 1990) and this conference theme, the paper sees UDL and MI as facilitating the inclusive pedagogy of Teaching for Understanding (TfU) (Perkins, 1993, 1998; Wiske, 1998)and thus acting as critical transitions that invite us to re-examine our teaching practices in the light of student learning. Do we design learning so that all students have access to it? What would it mean if we designed our teaching to include multiple means of representing understanding and multiple ways of engaging students so that multiple ways of student expression are equally valued? This paper contends that the synergies between UDL and MI lead to a pedagogy of understanding and of equal access to learning for all, acting as catalysts for SoTL work in providing us with lenses that make teaching and learning processes visible. The paper will draw on a range of Course Portfolios (Hutchings, 1998) which 21 faculty will present in May 2013, using UDL, MI and TfU lenses to document and review their teaching. It is hoped that this aspect of the paper will stimulate discussion.

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