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Universal Design and Academic Freedom

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Aloha, everyone! Sorry to have been so silent for the past few months; I have had several birthdays and am currently in rehearsals for a local theatre production so I have been kept very busy lately. I was just speaking with a college regarding universal design in online learning, and it prompted a few personal points I would like to share.

Currently, I work with several post-secondary institutions within the same province, and every school and every teacher in that school has their own way of building lessons and using their LMS. Sadly, even though web has been around for so long, in academia it appears to be a new unsettled frontier, rife with lawlessness. I have seen uses of LMS that are best not spoken of.

When my team and I suggest a UX oriented design for a course, we hear cries of violations of the academic freedom of the instructors and of course, nothing changes.

Here is how I will explain why universal design is needed, and not something to be feared. Let’s say a person wants to write a book. A paper book. Now a paper book has a cover, a front and a back. Perhaps it has a table of contents, and of course a story and maybe some pictures. Now, look at how many different types of books there are! But they are all still books, and at the end of the day should be easily recognizable as such.

An online course is like the book. Academic freedom is contained in the pages of the book, in its contents. An instructor can add whatever they choose to the book, but it should still be recognizable as a book and as such there are certain things it must have like a cover, a table of contents, etc.

This is a simplified explanation, but usually I find simple is best. Universal design is just trying to bring a bit of order to the world of online education, to perhaps help boost the success rate of our learners. And at the end of the day, isn’t that why we are all in this field?

Mahalo for reading,

Kristy