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UDL at Scale with Thomas J. Tobin

Welcome to Episode 115 of the Think UDL podcast: UDL at Scale with Tom Tobin. Thomas J. Tobin is a founding member of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Teaching, Learning and Mentoring as well as an author, speaker, and consultant on UDL, evaluating online teaching, copyright, academic integrity, and alt-ac careers (non-traditional and non-faculty career paths). Not only that, Tom is my long standing UDL friend whom I have already once interviewed in episode 3 of the Think UDL podcast. And he is back on the show again to move us far forward from that conversation way back in 2018. In fact, this conversation is about how to systematically implement UDL at scale. Tom has been doing a lot of research and work on how universities and systems can be successful in implementing UDL at large, not just in classrooms or in departments, and he has some sage advice and actual real evidence of what has already worked, and what we all might be able to do to accomplish this goal. It is an incredibly helpful and enlightening conversation based on so many conversations that Tom has had with UDL practitioners around the world! And let me also say now, too, that Tom says by the end of this episode that he wants to hear from you and your strategies and successes in implementing UDL at scale. So please look over the resources for this episode and reach out to Tom, too!


Find Tom Tobin at and reach out to him with YOUR stories and any questions via email at

Listen to Tom and Lillian’s first Think UDL podcast conversation here: Episode 3: Making UDL Work for Everyone with Thomas J. Tobin 

UDL Ubiquity: Going from Principles to Policies Practices & Culture (Tom Tobin’s Presentation at CAST’s UDL Symposium in July 2023)

Tom mentions this book early in the episode: The Instruction Myth by John Tagg

Selected Bibliography:

Ayala, E.C. (2016). Sustaining UDL in higher education: What happens when funding ceases?

Learning Designed.

Bracken, S. & Novak, K., eds. (2019). Transforming Higher Education through Universal Design for Learning. London, UK: Routledge.

Davies, P. L., Schelly, C. L., & Spooner, C. L. (2013). Measuring the effectiveness of universal design for learning intervention in postsecondary education. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 26(3), 195-220.

Fovet, F. (2021). UDL in higher education: A global overview of the landscape and its challenges. In Handbook of Research on Applying Universal Design for Learning Across Disciplines: Concepts, Case Studies, and Practical Implementation. Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 1-21.

Herold, K. M. (2022). Best Practices for Institution Wide Implementation of Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education. Doctoral dissertation. Boston, MA: Northeastern University.

Laist, R., Sheehan, D., & Brewer, N., eds. (2022). UDL University: Designing for Variability across the Postsecondary Curriculum. Wakefield, MA: CAST Publishing.

Manly, C. A. (2022). Utilization and Effect of Multiple Content Modalities in Online Higher Education: Shifting Trajectories toward Success through Universal Design for Learning. Doctoral Dissertation. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Moriarty, A. & Scarffe, P. (2019). Universal design for learning and strategic leadership: a whole university approach to inclusive practice. In Transforming Higher Education through Universal Design for Learning. Bracken, S., Novak, K., eds. London, UK: Routledge. 50-68.

Nave, L. (2019). Whole campus UDL buy-in with Bryan Berrett. ThinkUDL podcast. Ep. 24.

Olaussen, E. J., Heelan, A., & Knarlag, K. A. (2019). Universal design for learning—license to learn: a process for mapping a universal design for learning process onto campus learning. In Transforming Higher Education through Universal Design for Learning. Bracken, S. & Novak, K., eds. London, UK: Routledge. 11-32.

Quirke, M., McGuckin, C., & McCarthy, P. (2024). Adopting a UDL Attitude within Academia: Understanding and Practicing Inclusion across Higher Education. London, UK: Routledge.




udl, students, universal design, instructors, learning, institution, university, learners, people, scale, udl principles, systems, academic freedom, language, college, argument, adopting, practices, support


Lillian Nave, Thomas J. Tobin

Lillian Nave  00:02

Welcome to Think UDL, the Universal Design for Learning podcast where we hear from the people who are designing and implementing strategies with learner variability in mind. I’m your host, Lillian Nave. And I’m interested in not just what you’re teaching, learning, guiding and facilitating, but how you design and implement it and why it even matters. Welcome to Episode 115 of the think UDL podcast UDL at scale with Tom Tobin. Thomas J. Tobin is a founding member of the University of Wisconsin Madison Center for Teaching, Learning and Mentoring, as well as an author, speaker and consultant on UDL, and evaluating online teaching copyright, academic integrity, and alt-ac careers which are non traditional, and non faculty career paths. Not only that, Tom is my long standing UDL friend, whom I have already once interviewed in episode three of the Think UDL podcast, and he is back on the show again to move us far forward from that conversation way back in 2018. In fact, this conversation is about how to systematically implement UDL at scale. Tom has been doing a lot of research and work on how universities and systems can be successful in implementing UDL at large, not just in classrooms or in departments. And he has some sage advice and actual real evidence of what has already worked, and what we all might be able to do to accomplish this goal. It’s an incredibly helpful and enlightening conversation based on so many conversations that Tom has had with UDL practitioners around the world. And let me also say now, too, that Tom says by the end of this episode, that he wants to hear from you and your strategies and successes, in implementing UDL at scale. So please look over the resources for this episode. And reach out to Tom and thank you for listening. Thank you to our sponsor, Texthelp, a global technology company, helping people all over the world to understand and to be understood, it has led the way in creating innovative technology for the workplace and education sectors, including K 12. right through to higher education for the last three decades. Discover their impact at All right. Thank you, Tom, for joining me again on the Think UDL podcast.

Thomas J. Tobin  03:02

Thank you, Lillian. And it’s great to be back.

Lillian Nave  03:05

I am so glad to have you. In fact, I’ve been thinking about when the next time we should talk is and I’m glad it’s now because you’ve got some fantastic, really fantastic ideas for so many people to hear that I wanted to talk about your UDL at scale idea. But first, I’ve got another question for you. Because you’ve already answered what makes you a different kind of learner back on episode three, which we’ll link in our resources wanted to ask you, what’s the difference between higher education and learning or as you point out–the provision of instruction, and how students learn?

Thomas J. Tobin  03:47

It’s a wonderful question and one that I’ve been diving in on quite a bit these days. Part of the challenge for adopting teaching frameworks or techniques of any kind, is that our organizational structures in colleges and universities are not actually built around the learning process. They’re built around the teaching process. Yes. And listeners, you can’t see this. But I’m about to hold up a book called The instruction myth by John tag. And we’ll link to that in the show notes. He’s been a researcher for almost 40 years in the field of higher education. And he has done the historical research on why colleges and universities and by the way K 12. Students and lots of other businesses and industries are set up to measure not what people learn, but to measure what we teach them. So they’re not measuring the outcomes and effects so much as they’re measuring. You sat in a seat for three hours a week for 15 weeks, or the instructor told you all these things, and then that counts. So this is one reason why I’m writing that new book. It’s called UDL at scale. And it’s going to be a how to manual for campus presidents, provosts, Chancellors, boards of trustees, and it explains that what UDL is why it’s worth adopting in budgetary and operational terms, and then how to make campus wide UDL stick as an evolution of how we do business as institutions of higher learning. That’s actually a significant request. Because what we value what we put money and people and resources toward, is the classroom environment part of things rather than, Oh, can you actually show what you know?

Lillian Nave  05:43

Yeah, I must say that when you brought this up to my attention, the idea about what colleges pay attention to especially, it makes me think of a accreditation issue. And what happens in my classroom as a first year seminar? Instructor is that we have to have a certain amount of hours to be accredited, right? You have to show up for a two hour final exam, even if your class isn’t structured to have a final exam. Maybe it’s a project, you know, maybe have a Carnegie unit. Yep. Yes, that exactly. And I had started to see the cracks in this foundation, years ago when I thought, well, that doesn’t make sense. Like, why does it matter if we all show up, you know, and so I started making epic finales. And we went on a scavenger hunt, and which was also part of the class and we learned some things. But I thought this doesn’t quite make sense. But it wasn’t until you brought this to my attention that I realized why this wasn’t actually meeting the needs of students. It’s because it’s really not about how students learn. It’s really about what we, as instructors do, and there is a big disconnect there.

Thomas J. Tobin  06:54

Indeed, and one of the one of the things that I’m discovering, when I’ve been working with colleges and universities who want to move beyond just individual instructors making changes to the way they teach or design their learning interactions, and they want to start moving towards scale, what a lot of folks are running into is that they’re discovering that their accreditors kind of don’t care how you get to the state of being compliant with the accreditation goals. And that blows people’s minds. You know, they say things like, Oh, well, we thought that there was only one way to do this, because that’s what the accreditors were asking us for. And then when they dive into the accreditation standards themselves, it turns out that that’s more aspirational language rather than procedural language. That’s actually a really wonderful opening for us to shift our mindset about how we do what we do, and it gives us a little bit of cover gives us a little bit of political capital, with which we can then start to make systemic changes.

Lillian Nave  08:07

Yeah, I just love how you lay all this out, it makes total sense. And it really should, you know, push us towards you know why, and how we can make these changes. So, so why is it that universities have not been very successful in large scale implementation of UDL up to this point?

Thomas J. Tobin  08:30

Spoiler alert, some of them have been successful in large scale UDL implementations. It’s been because of a confluence of many factors all lining up correctly. The reason that a lot of places start with good intentions to move beyond individual instructors, and an entire department will adopt UDL principles and the design of their curriculum, and their learning experiences and entire school, an entire college and entire university and entire system. The reasons that those projects fail, one, we’ve been marketing, universal design for learning. And this has been true ever since what 1998. We’ve been marketing universal design for learning as an individual grassroots efforts. Here’s what an individual teacher or instructor can do in order to lower barriers for their students. And that was our focus for years because folks weren’t ready for these system wide conversations yet. The systems and affordances weren’t in place at scale. So it was only natural that advocates like the folks at caste and other areas. They focus more on what individual people can do. But that put us into a corner because it meant that only people who were already advocates for inclusive education would adopt. And, you know, when’s the last time you heard a colleague say, yeah, that’s all hand holding. And you know, we’re you’re, you’re dumbing down the curriculum, and you’re reducing the rigor for my class. Because my, you know, when your students get to me, they’re gonna see how the real world actually works. Of course, we have colleagues like that, and getting them on board to talk about what’s a minimum that we do in terms of reducing barriers? Not what’s perfect, what’s beautiful, what’s full on Universal Design for Learning. But what will everyone at the institution agree to do collectively, we haven’t been able to get to that point. Another reason why, at scale universal design for learning efforts aren’t successful is that we put the burden on the shoulders only of instructors. We say, hey, faculty, members and instructors, here’s what you do. So the challenge is, what happens when an instructor says, you know, I’ve kind of want to do the flipped classroom model, and they go to their media services people do the media services, people also say awesome, and we’ll help you chunk up the video into three or four minute segments. And we’ll help you with the captions. That’s just what we do at our college or our university. No, we don’t train our IT people, our media services, people are librarians, our mental health counselors, our academic counselors, all of those support areas, in inclusive design techniques. So when we say to instructors, hey, here’s UDL 31, checkpoints full of stuff that you should be doing, right? What that is, isn’t a wonderful progressive systemic change. It’s an unfunded mandate, because we haven’t put support around them in order to help them make them successful. The same thing is true when it becomes a top down mandate, right? So an administrator goes to a conference and comes back and says, Oh, it was diversity and belonging last year. And it was instructor rigor last year, the before that, and now it’s universal design for learning, and it becomes kind of the flavor of the year. The challenge with Universal Design for Learning is it’s not just a buzzword, it catchy, hey, it’s now having its moment kind of a topic. This is part of the bottom line for colleges and universities. This is how we can help students stay with us better attract students, and how to help them be more satisfied with and feel that they have agency, voice, choice, safety, belonging in our programs. It’s a retention question. So when we think about top down, that’s not championing that’s not being champions for universal design for learning. Because too often, college administrators don’t take any work off of people’s plates. In order for them to focus on a Universal Design for Learning Initiative. It’s just one more thing and people get overloaded. So one of the big challenges for at scale is what do we ignore? And we’re going to have to ignore probably things that are also good to do. So that’s a hard argument to make. The other challenge there is related, that we talked about our policies and procedures, the amount of information that we collectively label as essential if you’ve ever seen your university’s policy manual, huge, yeah, 400 pages at my institution, literally 400 pages, that’s more than any individual person can take in, act on or honor. So if we say, oh, yeah, we’re gonna make UDL a policy, and everyone has to do this. It’s just gonna go on to the big heap of other policies that maybe you know about, and maybe you don’t depending on how you how you are positioned within the hierarchy of your organization. So just making policy, we can make policy until you know, the end of time, and it won’t necessarily translate into action. And what that does is it kind of stretches our brains, right as human beings, we automatically engage in shortcuts and simplifications, and part of our challenge for advocating for UDL is we are asking our colleagues to understand and implement principles that can take a million different forms when you put it into practice. Part of the draw for universal design for learning is that it gives people in the classroom and in learner support engagements. lots of different ways that they could make paths and structure those interactions. But that very flexibility works against what we want to be able to accomplish at scale. Because, you know, there’s no checklist of UDL practices that we can show to the president or a governing board, or the accreditors. But that’s exactly what they’re expecting, of proposed changes to institutional structures, and practices. So those are a lot of different reasons why UDL at scale is challenging or fails, we expect it to be grassroots, we put the burden only on instructors, it’s top down. So it becomes an unfunded mandate. It policy only without taking work off people’s plates to give them time and space to do things. And there’s no checklist version of UDL. So it’s difficult to communicate what we’re actually looking for, when we try to assess the success or failure of our efforts.

Lillian Nave  15:59

Yeah, it’s, it’s this multitude of flexible opportunities. And so what I appreciate is how your brain works and in making these things usable, and, and being able to scale up taking all of these problems together. And so that’s why the next question is about, well, how do we how can we scale up from, let’s say, an individual instructor who’s implementing UDL strategies in their own classroom, right, that lone cowboy, in move into larger systems, such as those things, you mentioned, departments, division colleges, universities, or even university systems that have 17 campuses across the state are so

Thomas J. Tobin  16:44

the folks at caste are going to like, throw tomatoes, I say this, but this is the absolute truth. We have to simplify what we are asking people to do. So if perfect Universal Design for Learning, if there are, say 20 steps to getting from I don’t know anything about it to I am the UDL Buddha, right? If there’s 20 steps to getting to that enlightened state, what most of us are doing now is bringing 15 or 20 instructors from across campus into a workshop, they volunteer to do it, they’re the early adopters, they’re the true believers. And we get them up to step 18. And nobody else has any idea what it’s about. What we want to do is get the entire campus to step two. And then maybe we start working on steps three and four in our multi year plans. But getting people all to take some simple introductory actions, has a much broader effect than getting a few people to be ninjas at a topic, right? I just I just mix my metaphors terribly there, but no problem. But I’d like to suggest maybe five possible things that help us not to fall into those challenges that we just talked about. So number one is adopting fewer, broader, more strategic goals, we should measure those in terms of overall learner persistence, retention, satisfaction. So persistence rates are something that we track on a daily basis in our institutions, more students are there on day one of the term and they’re still there to take the final examination, or go on your fabulous scavenger hunt, or complete the class in some way. That’s persistence. We also track retention. So more students take a class with me this time, and they come back and take a class with you next term, and they continue on their educational journeys. That’s retention, and satisfaction. More students feel like they are a part of our campuses and culture, rather than a part from them. They feel like they belong. They feel like they have voice choice agency belonging, safety, right? I always count that off five on my hand. Yeah, listeners, you can’t see me doing it, but totally counting him right off. So that first part is adopting more strategic and broader goals. This is the getting to step two part. The second thing we can do collectively is to let individual applications give way to systemic practices. It’s wonderful that you know a lot of people in a department each individually choose different universal design for learning techniques and tactics, and they design their learning interactions accordingly. But instead of making those changes one at a time and then having to repeat them person to person to person, course to course service to service. We can change the structures themselves. So that everyone Here’s adheres to simpler, but broader, inclusive techniques. An example of that is when students are registering for their courses for the following term. Oftentimes, the registrar at my institution has to turn students away because they don’t have the right paperwork, or they haven’t selected things. Or they’re selecting things that cross against each other, or there’s conflicts in the schedule. So one of the things that we’ve done is, we have a lot of students registering for courses online, and we still have a lot of students registering for courses by going to a building and standing in a line and talking to a registration counselor. The people who are in that physical building, at the beginning of the line, there’s an iPad on one of those bank stanchions with the velvet ropes, right. And the iPad says, if you are standing in this line, you are going to need these four things. And I’ve seen students get to the front of the line, read the sign and say, oh, and turn around, and then come back a little while later with the right stuff. So it’s a matter of giving people information, not only where and when they need it. But also changing those systemic requirements or making the systems give people information at the point of need, where they need that information. So that’s too, so we adopt fewer and broader and more strategic goals. And we also talk about systemic practices so that people don’t have to reinvent things individually when they’re applying UDL principles. The third part of the five is we harness the power of defaults. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen colleagues raise a fist and cry, you can’t make me do that I have academic freedom, right? You kind of be surprised how few people do that when everyone just follows the inclusive practice, because that’s the way we’ve designed our systems and services. I’m thinking now in the learning management system, if you want to upload an image file, that it won’t let you do that, until you put in alternative descriptive text for it, or you mark it as decorative, right? Nobody complains about that. And that is that’s technically a another step in the process of designing a webpage, if you want to have a graphic on it, is having alternative text for it. But it’s just a requirement. It’s just Oh, that’s the way the system is designed. We can get to that level when we think about other systems that we employ in our colleges and universities. So fewer broader, more strategic goals, individual applications become systemic practices, and harnessing the power of defaults. Four out of five, we have to focus beyond the classroom and our formal teaching and learning interactions. For so long, universal design for learning was kind of universal design for teaching. And I mean that with love, right, that we talked, we talked to instructors, hey, instructors, here’s what you do. But a significant portion of the learning that happens in colleges and universities, happens beyond the formal spaces, places and times that we have set up. Think about when you’re you’re teaching your own courses, and you ask your students to read an article or look at the textbook, or engage with study questions or sample problems. They’re doing that on their own time, we used to call that homework. And that homework was an opportunity for them to practice, understand where they are strong and where they’re still developing, and then come into the classroom and say, hey, yeah, I didn’t get number four, can we talk about number four? Now, a lot of folks don’t recognize that. That’s where the learning is actually happening. So when we look beyond the classroom and our formal teaching and learning interactions, we start to think of our entire ecosystem of our institution, we can identify where learning is happening during that time away from those spaces. And when they’re working alongside support staffers like when students go to the library, or they’re working with tutors, or academic counselors, or lots of other scenarios like that. If those people who are providing those services are also versed in inclusive design techniques, and principles like UDL, then our students are much more likely to understand those structures to feel like they have ways to get engaged ways to take in information and ways to show what they know the three big principles of UDL. And so the first one was more and broader strategic goals. The second one was strategic excuse me, systemic practices. third power of defaults. The fourth one look beyond just teaching and learning. And the fifth one, the last one here is weighing academic freedom against access and predictability. I don’t think it’s telling a tale out of school to say that I’ve worked with instructors who say academic freedom means I can do whatever I want. And that’s not exactly what academic freedom is about. Part of lowering barriers for learners is not making them have to learn new patterns, new systems, new ways of being when they move from one part of our institution to another. So I think of University of Cincinnati, they started with an electronic accessibility policy that said, on all of our websites, we’re going to have a consistent color scheme, we’re going to have only so many different types of buttons and things to press on our websites. And it’s all going to look and feel roughly the same. So whether you’re on a department website, you’re at the library’s website, or you’re deep inside the registration website, that at the University of Cincinnati, it’s going to have similar look and feel to it. What really moved the needle on this one was they also decided to do that in their learning management system. Huge. Yeah, so so it’s not just the public facing webpages. But it’s also once you’re a student, and you go into the learning management system, you’re already familiar with how things kind of work. Now there’s local control, so people can add new buttons or move different things around in terms of the navigation. And this gets to the heart of a distinction about academic freedom that a lot of us probably shouldn’t be making. It’s the difference between content rigor, and procedural rigor, content, rigor, that’s what we should maintain, we should maintain the materials, the challenge, the the things, the skills, we ask students to learn, maintain that at a high level, college is supposed to be tough, it’s supposed to be where you find information and ideas that you didn’t know, before you’re learning new things. So there should be a significant level of challenge in terms of what you’re learning. What we want to argue for at scale is, it shouldn’t be cognitive load for you, that every time you go into a new course, in the learning management system, it’s laid out differently. And the buttons all say different things. And the syllabus isn’t even in the same folder all the time. So you have to relearn your way around. Now, we actually do this, on our physical campuses, we schedule people in classes in different buildings that were built in different decades that are laid out in different ways. And if you can tell me where Baker Hall 24 f c is, I will pay you five bucks, because I can’t find it on the map. But with our other kinds of electronic data points and touch points, there is no reason for all of those systems to look differently and function differently. And if we can give students a consistent experience of those kinds of systems, this has very little to do with your individual academic freedom. But it goes a long way toward predictability for our students. And the silver lining to that last one, this strategy five, is by focusing some of our time and effort on regularizing. And making things predictable in our systems. We’re actually freeing up cognitive load for students to think about the difficult and challenging topics that our instructors want them to engage with. So five things, fewer broader, more strategic goals, to systemic practices, three power of defaults for think beyond just teaching and learning, and five way academic freedom against predictability and access.

Lillian Nave  29:14

Absolutely. And I’ll even add that that last point you had about freeing up our students to have more rigor, if we have like your last point about having the LMS however, you upload your classes, and there’s a system to that, then I work a lot with our faculty who don’t know where to begin, how am I supposed to organize my class? How am I supposed to put everything on our, you know, our LMS so the students can find it and so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel. If we can, yeah, if we can have that, then they can actually work a lot with their material rather than well, how do I put it up for the students to see

Thomas J. Tobin  29:54

two sentences on that at a former institution which I will not name? The faculty senate When we move from one learning management system to another one happens a lot. Yep, they but not very much at this institution, we’d had the previous one for, like 10 years. So people were really nervous about moving to a completely different system. And the folks from the Faculty Senate said, you know, instructors should have the academic freedom to create their courses the way they want, structure them the way they want, schedule them the way they want, put things in a certain order, you know, on, on certain days, all that. And we said, Great. And we’re going to put a template for courses in everybody’s shells when we create the new semesters, and you have the academic freedom to turn the template off and design it how you want. That goes back to number three power of defaults? Yes, almost no one changed the template. Almost everyone said, Ooh, they’ve done some of my work for me. And here we go. So there’s arguments to be had there. And I think when we come down to the brass tacks, it’s an argument for utility. It’s an argument for does this make this smoother and easier for our learners? Yes. And does this make this smoother and easier for us as instructors? And support staffers and administrators?

Lillian Nave  31:18

Yeah, I mean, to make things easier to change is something I learned from, like Amazon like that Buy Now button, they want to make it really easy to spend money. Right. So making these systems work for everybody involved. Just earlier today, I tried to pay off the orthodontist slash oral surgeon and I had to call four times and I still haven’t, they haven’t called back or figured out how they can just take my money. You know, we need to make these things as easy as possible. So that the work can proceed like that should not be the barrier just Oh, yeah. Our students should not have that barrier.

Thomas J. Tobin  31:57

Yeah, listeners, full disclosure, I may or may not have just bought something on Amazon while we were talking.

Lillian Nave  32:02

Exactly. It’s that easy. It’s that easy. So okay, so if we want to roll out UDL at scale at our college or university, and we whoever we are, whether we’re the lone wolf, or we’re an administrator, or we, we’ve got something to share here, and have the opportunity to discuss with campus leaders. How can we present this idea, Tom?

Thomas J. Tobin  32:28

I’ve seen folks go to their Board of Trustees Meeting, or they are in President’s Council, or they’re at the faculty senate meeting. And they come and they they reel out the chart with the 31 checkpoints of UDL and say we should all do this. And it never works. Now, we eventually get there. But when we talk with our campus leaders about adopting UDL at scale, we can rest our arguments on three strategic pillars. So this is kind of that simplification, we were talking about earlier, access, inclusion, and predictability. Now, let’s talk a little bit about why these are good ways to ask for a UDL approach at scale. And we can use my own University’s vision statement and its expression in our strategic framework documents. The first priority strategically that UDL at scale addresses is access. In the University of Wisconsin Madison’s strategic plan, I found the sort of language that you all can find, quote, and align with your UDL message. For instance, we’re all about providing and expanding and here I quote, access to a world class, affordable educational experience, and quote, it’s right there in our vision statement. Now next in the UW Madison strategic statements is the Wisconsin Idea. This is a thing that goes back to the founding of the university that we should be serving the entire state of Wisconsin with all of our offerings. So inclusion and access, they’ve been part of our university’s goals right from the start. It’s a natural argument for adopting UDL ideas at a broad scale. So here again, the language that we use to describe UDL goals, mirrors that that’s already been adopted by the institution, and it helps us show alignment to the institution’s priorities. And then third, learners benefit from having learn them once systems in place, all of us can devote more energy to the challenges of the subjects we’re studying, rather than learning new systems and tools at every step like we talked about a few minutes ago. Now predictability can be a tricky part of large scale UDL to tie into existing organizational vision and strategy. So you got to look for the language about strengthening financial performance and educational outcomes. That’s code for being more efficient, which means having standardized structures, tools and practices, rather than each silo on campus doing it so One thing. Now, if your campus is like mine, and it’s mostly silo, and hardly all together, this makes the argument for UDL predictability, especially enticing to leadership, and especially fretful for the folks in the departments and the units. By focusing our outcomes, or arguments on outcomes for learners, we’re better positioned to get buy in from all of the stakeholders in the conversation instructors, staff members, and leadership.

Lillian Nave  35:31

Fantastic. It’s a way to really bring everybody on board, I’ve noticed that when I look at other institutional mission statements and visions, exactly what you said, everybody is on board with making sure that all of our students in the state because I’m working with mostly these state institutions, or even the statewide system needs to be bringing in everybody and linking this to like the real ideals of what education is supposed to be. We can’t argue with that. In fact, it is the argument for it, for us to move forward.

Thomas J. Tobin  36:08

There’s also a flip side of the coin argument as well to that. And when we talk about access, we have collectively spent all kinds of money and time trying to find new student populations. So remember, a few years back when it was college completers, do you did you take a few courses, and now you need to complete your degree, everybody went all in on finding the college completers out there, because they were a new audience for us. When otherwise enrollments were stay were static, or they were falling. And we’ve been trying to sort of look outside of our institutions for all of these places where we can find more people to bring in Universal Design for Learning is almost not part of that strategy. It focuses on the learners who are there with us now, our admitted students are enrolled students. But here’s the sobering math. And this is something that your presidents know very well. If we spend $10, in marketing efforts to bring in every new student, whether that’s an adult graduate student, or an 18 year old freshman, if we spend $10, to bring that student in, we probably spend about $2 a year in terms of services, like libraries and counseling and all the other things about $2 a year to keep them. Now, if you have a freshman cliff, like most places do, you bring in 2000 freshmen, and by the time they’re ready to be sophomores, you only have about 1600 of them. Where’d the other 400 Go? The number one reason why students drop out or stop out is financial UDL can’t touch them. The number two reason though, is time. Students who have work responsibilities, caregiving responsibilities, some of them are serving in the military, you name a reason why students are busy and trying to cram education into those busy lives. And it’s out there. So what we talk about with Universal Design for Learning is how do we help students to find even a few more minutes for studying, preparing, keeping up. And that time can be the difference between dropping out and staying in your program and succeeding with your educational goals?

Lillian Nave  38:41

Yeah, our institution where I am now we’ve opened up a whole new campus that I get to be a part of, and it is a totally different student, I spoke with one this morning, who works 50 hours a week and five, yeah, five or six days a week and is still at my class in person, by the way, not, you know, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. And I’m just floored by the persistence of many of our students who are the non traditional students. And that’s one of the reasons why I love Universal Design for Learning. And the flexibility is because it really does meet those students that I have in my classroom. And one more point that you made, which is it is a lot less expensive, which is, you know, kind of sad and cynical for me, you know, for us to talk about that, but a lot less expensive to keep a student than it is to get a new student and and bring them in. And so what are the ways we can keep those students help them persist, it’s going to help the bottom line to the university to and

Thomas J. Tobin  39:41

those are the kinds of arguments that are going to win the day when you’re posing a UDL at scale, project or adoption. It’s probably not going to be the social justice argument. It’s probably going to be the budget argument. Now with whether that’s sad to you or not. That’s a reality of After a certain level in the hierarchy as you go sort of up toward the Presidential C suite, in most colleges and universities, you’ve got academics. And then you’ve got folks who know how to run a business. And then you’ve got business people. And when you’re talking to the business people, you have to make a business argument. And this is one of those necessities that if we know the language that they are already using, we can use that similar language to show and measure the impact and effect that we’re going to have.

Lillian Nave  40:32

Well, and that’s why I need you in my lifetime, because I don’t know that language. And that’s why I have to keep talking to you to say, here’s, even though it is a little cynical, because I want to see all of my students as people and not as those who like cartoon dollar signs in their eyes. But I also want to get paid. So whatever salary at the at the end of the day, I do want to get paid for the job that I do that oh, yes, exactly. So I understand it. So okay, so now what can we do to move from the ideas that you’ve put out here, really good ideas to the boots on the ground work to move UDL at scale,


I’ve got five more specific techniques that we can do. The first technique is to include UDL principles and goals in your institution’s vision and strategic plan name Universal Design for Learning define it. We talked earlier about how mission vision and strategic plans for UW Madison already contained language that was like the UDL principles and checkpoints. So now the next step is to go through the formal process of including UDL itself as a goal for your college or your university. Now, this technique takes the most time so it’s key to start this one. First work with your faculty senate, your shared governance, your Academic Senate, your senior leadership council, whatever structure you have in place, to commit to core UDL Applications to be implemented institution wide, along with milestones for measuring success. Now, at Kennesaw State University, our colleague Jordan Cameron came up with what she calls the basic four. This is not universal design for learning. But it is a set of accessibility actions that everyone has committed to doing. So using alternative text on images. So using semantic structure in your documents, so using the title and Heading One, Heading Two and table headers and those kinds of things, to make those documents more searchable, and more accessible not only for people with screen readers, but folks who are searching for information. The third part of the Big Four was video captions and transcripts ensure that they’re synchronized, equivalent and accessible. And then the fourth part had to do less with instructors and more with the institution’s support staff, choose accessible third party resources. When you’re getting the new version of your learning management system. When you are choosing the language model that your folks in foreign languages are going to use. Make sure that you’re doing accessibility testing of your existing and new systems with learners from across the ability spectrum and include learners on their mobile devices in the testing as well. Don’t buy products that don’t have voluntary product accessibility templates. And because they are voluntary, you should test to see if the claims in those V pads actually reflect the operation of the tool or the product. I want to give a shout out to the folks at EDUCAUSE here, they have a task force that has recently updated the HECVAT (H E C V A T) instrument to include these big four items. So when you’re doing procurement for your institution, there’s actually a process that you can go through that is standardized and regularized for the IT industry. It’s fabulous. Technique number three, get campus leaders to direct funds, time and people toward the development, assessment, growth and maintenance of those core UDL implementations that we talked about in technique number two, this is a formal request for ongoing funding. Don’t call it a pilot call it phase one. This is the only time I talk about pilots is if I’m in an airplane. Pilots can you don’t people don’t care whether pilots are successful or not pilot projects can easily just come and go they don’t set precedent. So make sure that what you’re asking for is something that sets a precedent that is part of the collective bargaining agreement. It’s part of the policies on campus. We talked about how policies alone don’t move the needle but you have to have them in the background in order to underpin and give some gravitas and weight to what you want to do. And make sure that the responsibility for success is distributed It’ll be talked about not putting this just on instructor shoulders, and that it’s funded. Now imagine an administrator in a suit offering you a bundle of cash and an alarm clock, right? This is the two biggest predictors of UDL project success that we have time to be able to focus on these activities. And we have funding that helps us to ensure that it’s not just oh, we’re doing this this year, and maybe next year, we’ll do something different. Get into operationalizing universal design for learning that leads us into four out of five here provide options within and beyond campus wide levels of implementation. Now, this is a mindset shift that kind of seems subtle, but it has profound effects on the adoption rate for UDL. Rather than penalizing people who don’t adopt the inclusive techniques, you have to do this by December 31. Or you won’t get your bonus, you shift the narrative and the funding toward support, saying, This is our collective goal. And we will support everyone to reach it, it’s far more effective than saying you must move from must do to we will support you to do. And then the fifth strategy that we can do immediately, is create faculty development, programming, staff development, programming, it level changes, media services, workflows, all of those things that explicitly adopt UDL principles. This is the level at which we bring back the three principles and the 31 checkpoints. And remember that if inclusion falls only on instructor shoulders, not a systemic change, that’s a new burden. So you can engage all of the service areas of your college or university to understand and implement inclusive practices within the scope of their work. Like we talked about the media services, folks automatically chunking up long video content and doing the captions. Because this type of work requires a learning period before it becomes routine, you’ve got to plan for the added time needed to train for them to practice and internalize in all the different support staff areas. But those are five things that we can start doing tomorrow. And those become our longer term goals and practices.

Lillian Nave  47:14

And I appreciate the language of support rather than requirement. Because like this goes back to earlier the top down. Part of the the fact that it’s we’re pushing people to do something that they might not want to do if we can turn that language and turn the whole process into, here’s our vision. It matches with we know what we’re here to do, and we’re going to support you in doing it is a far better way at promoting this than kicking and screaming. Or, as you said, you know, you won’t get your bonus. And I want to know where it is that I can get a bonus because I don’t have that in my contract.

Thomas J. Tobin  47:56

Yeah, I mentioned the B word.

Lillian Nave  47:59

Okay. Okay, so it fantastic. So what are the next steps? Somebody has listened to our conversation here and is fired up and wants to do this? What resources are available? What can we do to learn more? And I think you have some ideas.

Thomas J. Tobin  48:20

I hope I do as I’m writing the book. One of my big discoveries is that folks have been talking about scaling up Universal Design for Learning for a long time. I’ll share a series of references in the show notes that go all the way back to I think 2009 And people have been talking about, you know, moving from from one place to another. But here’s what you can do immediately start documenting the work that you’re doing to create institutional change. Most of the colleges and universities who have been successful in adopting UDL principles at scale benefited from having strong leadership sponsors. dedicated project leads funding to support the work and workload shifts that allowed everyone to focus on UDL implementation and assessment. Now, over that past decade we’ve moved from, here’s what we think it would take to do UDL across higher ed to here’s what we actually did to here’s what we know works and here’s the evidence for it. While the number of UDL institutions is still kind of small, there are many examples out there, and many more who are in the pipeline right now, including Aurora University du vil University, Goodwin University, Humber College, Mohawk College, the UDL Academy in the Netherlands, University College, Dublin, the University of British Columbia, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and the University of Nebraska Lincoln, what they all have in common. They got buy in from a cross all of their units. So whether it was departments whether it was schools and colleges, they got everybody to say yes, we will do this for particular reasons. And there’s one other tantalizing development on the horizon, folks. version three of the UDL guidelines is coming soon, we’re on version two dot something now. And the new formulation of the guidelines recognizes intersectional identities among learners and educators as part of the variability for which we should be designing. This supports shifting our efforts from individual work to collective action, so watch for those newer versions of the UDL guidelines to come out within the next few months. Now, we started our conversation, Lillian, by mentioning that I’m writing a book called UDL at scale right now, it should be available from Cass publishing, we hope in fall of 2024. That also means listeners, I’d love to talk with any of you who are doing UDL at scale, at whatever stage of development you’re in right now. So I’d love to hear from you. And I’ll also share a list of readings and resources for listeners who are curious to learn more right now. So William, thank you very much for having me back on the think UDL podcast, it’s been a pleasure to talk with you and your listeners.

Lillian Nave  51:25

Thank you so much, Tom, we will have all of those resources that you’ve already sent to me. They’re fantastic. So there’ll be on the Resources section for this episode of The think UDL podcast. And I’ll have contact information for you. If people want to reach out to you what’s the best way for folks to contact you.

Thomas J. Tobin  51:47

You can find lots of different ways to get in touch by going to my website, which is Thomas J Just my name, and you can reach out to me on social media, my email address is on there as well. So love to hear from your listeners if you have comments about the show, or you’d like to share your experiences and maybe get in the book too. So

Lillian Nave  52:05

awesome. Awesome. Thank you so much, Tom. I really appreciate it.

Thomas J. Tobin  52:09

It’s been a pleasure thanks.

Lillian Nave  52:14

You can follow the Think UDL podcast on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to find out when new episodes will be released. And also see transcripts and additional materials at the think website. Thank you again to our sponsor textile Texthelp is focused on helping all people learn, understand and communicate through the use of digital education and accessibility tools. Texthelp and its people are working towards a world where difference disability and language are no longer barriers to learning and succeeding, with over 50 million users worldwide. The Texthelp suite of products includes Read and Write equates to an orbit note. They work alongside existing platforms such as Microsoft Office and G Suite and enable them to be integrated quickly into any classroom or workspace with ease. Texthelp has changed the lives of millions worldwide and strives to impact the literacy and understanding of 1 billion people by 2030. Visit text dot help forward slash learn more that’s l earn m o r e to unlock unlimited learner potential. The music on the podcast was performed by the Odyssey quartet comprised of Rex Shepard, David Pate, Bill Folwell and Jose Cochez, and I am your host Lillian Nave. Thank you for joining us on The Think UDL podcast

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