Making Makerspaces Accessible with UDL

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When it comes to libraries, the term “accessibility” might bring to mind physical and virtual access to library spaces such as ramps, wide aisles, adaptive technologies, and even 508 compliance. But what about learning? How can differently-abled individuals access the kinds of learning opportunities that libraries offer to the public?

That’s where UDL (Universal Design for Learning) comes in. And to illustrate how UDL can be applied to library learning events, I will use makerspaces as an example. In the table below are the three principles of UDL, along with suggestions for application to maker activity design.

UDL Principles

Maker Activity Design Suggestions

Principle I. Provide Multiple Means of Representation To embrace this principle, instructional or informational materials for makerspace activities should be provided in multiple forms (or in multiple ways) to facilitate differences in information processing. For example:

  • Break down instructions into simple, discrete steps
  • Provide instructions in multiple languages if necessary
  • Add simple visuals to enhance comprehension
  • Oral directions can be provided via screencasts, YouTube videos, or audio-enhanced static instruction
  • Hand-over-hand prompting can be useful for individuals with a variety of impairments
Principle II. Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression Learners should be give the freedom to express themselves in a way that is least restrictive to their disabilities. To embrace this principle, offering maker activities through multiple modalities should be a priority. For example:

  • Offer a selection of maker activities to choose from, both digital and physical
  • Provide a variety of materials for physical maker activities, e.g., different widths of yarn and sizes of needles for knitting
  • Adaptive technologies, such as voice-to-text software (e.g., Dragon Dictation) improve accessibility for digitally-based maker activities
  • Devices with touch screen capabilities are easier to interact with for individuals with a variety of impairments
Principle III. Provide Multiple Means of Engagement To embrace this principle, provide choice for level of engagement. For example:

  • Offer a quiet space for individuals with sensory issues to work alone
  • Identify individuals working on the periphery, or who seem to be “left out,” and pair them with partners to promote communication and collaboration
  • Offer maker activities that pique a wide variety of interests, e.g., technology, arts and crafts, science, language and culture
  • Ensure plenty of constructive feedback to motivate learners and foster self-regulation

The beauty of UDL is that it increases accessibility to learning for all individuals. This is especially important for libraries, where equity of access is a vital issue, yet awareness (especially for invisible disabilities) and expertise is often lacking.

Useful sources:

AccessSTEM

Achievement Products

National Center on Universal Design for Learning

 

The Well-Designed Research Assignment

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Librarians often find themselves in the position to give advice to classroom instructors on designing research assignments. So, what elements go into a well-designed research assignment? The chart below lays them out. The left-hand column lists typical elements found in research assignments, and the right-hand column shows you how those elements can be turned into something more learning-centric:

INSTEAD OF THIS… DO THIS… WHY?
A minimum number of sources (e.g., at least 5 sources) A minimum number of citations in most paragraphs (e.g., 2-3 citations in most paragraphs) While requiring a minimum number of sources makes sense for most research papers, setting a minimum number of citations per paragraph requires students to synthesize information.
Source formats (e.g., articles, books) Description of information needed along with suggested types of sources:

  • Background information (e.g., encyclopedias, books, .org web sites)
  • Evidence to support arguments (e.g., research articles, reports)
  • Multiple perspectives (e.g., academic essays, position statements)
This is a form of scaffolded instruction. Students need to learn that research papers require certain informational elements. By providing purpose with source type, students are able to better understand the structural elements of research papers.
A single due date (e.g., final paper) Multiple due dates (e.g., thesis statement, outline, draft, final paper) Chunking up the research assignment into smaller units helps students learn the research process better. It also reduces procrastination. And the final product will be better.
Information about the library databases and librarians ALSO include a required trip to the reference desk (physical or virtual) at a designated point in the research process (e.g., planning) In my experience, the best way to get students to become repeat library users and better researchers is to require them to use the library. This is a behavioral approach that has the secondary benefit of becoming a form of situated learning.
A “researchable” topic Don’t go there…unless they ask There is no better way to alienate a classroom instructor than to tell him or her what kind of topic to assign. Good instructors will figure that out on their own – after all, they have to grade the papers. And it’s really the classroom instructor’s responsibility to guide students in topic selection.  It may be frustrating for librarians, but a bad topic can also be a good learning tool for students.