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Instructional Resources


What is Universal Design for Learning?

Many recent principles for designing instruction and instructional environments to address student diversity have been based on the principles of Universal Design (UD).  UD represents a cohesive approach to promoting inclusion, one that considers, on an ongoing basis, how curriculum, instruction, and assessment can be designed to meet the learning needs of the greatest number of students without compromising academic rigor. The concept of universal design offers a more comprehensive approach to good teaching.

From a neurological standpoint, people learn in distinct ways regardless of their backgrounds. People recognize, strategize, and affectively process information using many different strategies, and no two people have the same strengths and weaknesses in their learning styles. In short, people do not have one general learning aptitude, but many learning abilities; thus, a disability or challenge in one area may be compensated for by extraordinary abilities in another.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an instructional method that can address the diverse learning needs in today’s classroom.  The framework of UDL consists of instructional approaches that provide students with choices and alternatives in the materials, content, tools, context, and supports they use.  The three basic principles of UDL are: multiple means of representation and presentation, multiple means of strategic engagement, and multiple means of expression.   Multiple means of representation refers to multi-modal teaching, relying on a mixture of mediums (e.g., lecture, video, group discussions) to relay concepts. Multiple means of strategic engagement refers to maximizing student learning through motivation and relevancy so students have opportunities to interact with and learn the content. Lastly, multiple means of expression allows students to demonstrate their learning through multiple assessment opportunities (e.g., multimedia projects instead of written papers, or three quizzes and a project instead of one final exam).

The UDL framework challenges educators to rethink the structure of their curriculum and empowers them with the flexibility to serve a diverse population of learners.


UDL in HigherEd,

Applications of Universal Design in Postsecondary Education,

When faculty and staff use disability etiquette, students with disabilities feel more welcome and comfortable as a member of the MSU Denver community.

Below is some guidance when interacting with students with disabilities.

  • Just because someone has a disability, don’t assume they need help. If the setting is accessible, people with disabilities can usually get around fine. Students with disabilities want to be treated as independent people. Offer assistance only if the person appears to need it or asks for it.  If the individual does want help, ask how before you act.
  • When talking with an individual with a disability, speak directly to that person rather than through a companion or interpreter.
  • When introduced to a person with a disability, it is appropriate to offer to shake hands. People with limited hand use or who wear an artificial limb can usually shake hands. (Shaking hands with the left hand is an acceptable greeting.)
  • When meeting a person with a visual disability, always identify yourself and others who may be with you. When conversing in a group, remember to identify the person to whom you are speaking.
  • When students with disabilities ask for an approved accommodation from the Access Center, it is not a complaint. It shows they feel comfortable enough in your class to ask for what they need.   If they get a positive response, they will feel welcomed and comfortable in your class.  
  • People with disabilities are the best judge of what they can or cannot do. Don’t make decisions for them about participating in any activity. Depending on the situation, it could be a violation of the ADA to exclude people because of a presumption about their limitations.
  • Use person first language such as "student with a disability" rather than "disabled student".  Also use terms like "accessible parking" instead of "handicapped parking".
  • Listen attentively when you're talking with a person who has difficulty speaking. Be patient and wait for the person to finish, rather than correcting or speaking for the person. If necessary, ask short questions that require short answers, a nod or shake of the head. Never pretend to understand if you are having difficulty doing so. Instead, repeat what you have understood and allow the person to respond. (You may ask them to spell the word if you don't understand them.)
  • When talking to an individual who uses a wheelchair, grab a chair and sit at their level. If that’s not possible, stand at a slight distance, so that they’re not straining their neck to make eye contact with you.
  • If the service counter in your department is too high for a wheelchair user to see over, step around it to provide service.
  • If the person with a visual disability is using a service animal, walk on the side opposite the dog.
  • Avoid the following behavior around a Service Animal or Service Animal in Training
    • Talking, whistling, cooing, or feeding the animal
    • Petting or asking to pet
    • Asking the handler the following questions
      • "What is your disability?"
      • "What is your dog's name?"
      • "Can you show me your dog’s training certification?"
      • "Can you have your dog demonstrate the task he is trained to provide?"
  • Remember that individuals with disabilities have families, jobs, hobbies, likes and dislikes, problems and successes, just like everyone else. While the disability can be an integral part of who they are, it alone does not define them. Don’t make them into disability heroes or victims. Treat them as individuals.

While the process will no doubt feel unfamiliar and at times possibly frustrating, try as much as possible to be patient. There will always be hiccups, but times of disruption are, by their nature, disruptive, and everyone expects that. Be willing to switch tactics if something isn’t working. Above all, stay focused on making sure the students are comfortable, and keep a close eye on the course learning goals--while you might not be able to teach something exactly the way you imagined, as long as you’re still meeting the learning goals of the course, you’re doing fine.

Below are a few important points for faculty to consider as they transition into online formats. 

Reset expectations for students

You will have to reconsider some of your expectations for students, including participation, communication, and deadlines. As you think through those changes, keep in mind the impact this situation may have on students' ability to meet those expectations, including illness, lacking power or internet connections, or needing to care for family members. Be ready to handle requests for extensions or accommodations equitably.

Ensure course materials and readings are accessible

Some students may rely on access technologies for course materials, and some may only be working from a mobile device with limited network connectivity. For best results, content should be entered into Canvas directly. If attaching additional files is necessary, ensure those files are accessible before uploading them, and consider providing more than one format of the files.

For more information on how to ensure documents are accessible, please visit MSU Denver Ready’s Accessibility page:

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous

Instructors may choose to engage their students synchronously or asynchronously depending on the course content or material that needs to be taught. There are many advantages and disadvantages to asynchronous and synchronous teaching options. Regardless of the selected methods, faculty must ensure that student accommodations continue to be met, including captioning for all video content.

Synchronous teaching: instructors and students gather at the same time and interact in “real time” with a very short or “near-real time” exchange between instructors and students. This method allows for real-time feedback and engagement which can help reinforce concepts for students. However, students may or may not actively participate, and a variety of technical challenges may further inhibit student participation – such as whether or not students have access to the necessary technologies, or if the tools being used create any barriers for students.

Asynchronous teaching: instructors prepare course materials for students in advance of students’ access. Students may access the course materials at a time of their choosing and will interact with each over a longer period of time. Asynchronous teaching provides a greater amount of flexibility for students to receive and engage with materials, and can be easier to access for students with limited network capabilities (e.g. bandwidth requirements for discussion boards are far lower than for live video tools). However, asynchronous teaching lacks the real-time feedback available in synchronous teaching.

The Access Center highly recommends the use of asynchronous tools where possible to provide the highest level of equity possible for all students.


In most cases, accessible exams can be set up directly inside of Canvas. A list of question types that are accessible is available on the MSU Denver Ready site:

Instructions for extending testing time for a specific students can also be found on the MSU Denver Ready site:

Additional Resources

Some of the information on this page was adapted from “Teaching Effectively During Times of Disruption, for SIS and PWR” by Jenae Cohn and Beth Seltzer,, CC BY-NC-SA
Creative Commons License.

The Access Center works closely with the Instructional Accessibility Group (IAG) within the Center for Teaching, Learning and Design (CTLD) to support faculty in creating inclusive courses. The IAG is an excellent source for information and training on creating accessible materials. Their website hosts a wide variety of helpful guides, as well as a calendar of trainings and workshops. 

Visit the IAG website here:

When using audio or video content in your course, captioning provides an alternative mode of access for students. When selecting media for use in your course(s), it is important to keep in mind that the process of creating captions requires extra time to complete as compared to other forms of content. Care should be taken to ensure adequate enough time for captions to be in place by the time the media is used in the course.

Automatic captions

Many video conferencing platforms provide options to add captioning through automated speech recognition (often referred to as ASR or auto-captioning). While ASR has improved greatly in recent years, it still lacks the same level of accuracy as human-generated methods. Because of this, ASR captions are not sufficient enough on their own to satisfy federal captioning requirements.


If you are recording your own media content, you can utilize the YuJa tool to create captions for it. While YuJa does utilze ASR for its initial processing, it also allows you to review and edit those captions to ensure they meet the necessary accuracy requirements.

For additional information on how to use YuJa, consult the Multimedia Accessibility guides from the Instructional Accessibility Group (IAG).

Captioning Pre-recorded media

If you intend to use pre-recorded media in your course, such as a film on DVD, that does not already have captions available, you will need to contact ITS for assitance. You can call the ITS HelpDesk (303-352-7548), or complete the Media Digitization Request form:

Pre-recorded videos from external sites such as YouTube can vary in terms of caption availability and accuracy. For assitance with these cases, contact either ITS or IAG.

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