The Ahead Journal


A Review of Inclusive Education
& Employment Practices ISSN 2009-8286

Earn Your UDL Stripes with the Digital Badge for Universal Design in Teaching and Learning

Dara Ryder



About the Author

Implementation of Universal Design principles in Teaching and Learning promotes inclusivity and equity while also ‘future-proofing’ teaching practices. As our classrooms and lecture theatres become increasingly diverse, our practices must also adapt to reflect the changing landscape of further and higher education. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an educational framework based on research in the learning sciences, including cognitive neuroscience, which guides the development of flexible learning environments that can accommodate individual learning differences and cater for the wide range of diversity in our lecture rooms. It provides a clear pathway to a more inclusive and sustainable campus. But if UDL provides the pathway, who provides ‘the map’ to get there? How can we reach as many academics and support staff members as possible and guide them to be better, more inclusive practitioners?

These are questions we have pondered much in AHEAD since incorporating UDL principles in our education system became a key pillar of our strategy back in 2015. In our discussions and consultations, it became clear that professional development would play a key role in the transition to a UDL campus. We knew that we had the expertise to draw ‘the map’ and debated how we could get it into the hands of as many in the third level sector as we could. Then we saw an opportunity.

The Digital Badge Initiative

In 2016, The National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning announced its Digital Badge Initiative. The Forum, having long realised the importance of professional development in the higher education sector, recognised that there was a huge amount of unaccredited ‘micro CPD’ (continuing professional development) ongoing in institutions across the country and that much of this work was being duplicated nationally. Additionally, they saw that there was no validation by the sector for staff who undertook this type of small scale CPD and a lack of recognition of skills acquired when staff sought to move to other institutions.

They found part of the answer to this problem in Digital Badging. For those unfamiliar with the concept, any organisation can issue digital badges as a recognition for work achieved or skills acquired – think of them as the certificate of the future. Unlike ordinary certificates however, digital badges come with a weight of other useful information such as a descriptor of the badge, a set of criteria met in order to receive the badge and in some cases, links to evidence of how the criteria has been met (e.g. an actual course assignment). Digital badges are collected by individuals in a personal digital backpack, which acts as an online record of the person’s learning journey. This backpack can then be displayed on websites, e-portfolios and professional networks such as LinkedIn, giving potential employers a much richer picture of the person’s skills and achievements than a simple few lines on a CV would.

The National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning realised that with the weight of their name behind these bits of micro CPD and the recognition by HR departments that would come with that, they could become more meaningful, valuable and ultimately more desirable. So, they went about identifying common areas of CPD being replicated across the country and placed a call for expert contributors in these areas to design open source learning materials, which would form the basis of their suite of digital badge courses. These courses would then be available for colleges to roll out locally themselves, and all participants undertaking them nationally would receive a relevant National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning digital badge to add to their ‘digital backpack’. All that colleges would require was an interested staff member on campus to act as a course facilitator/administrator and they would receive the relevant learning materials and instructions free of charge.

Creating the Digital Badge

AHEAD, with UDL advocate Lisa Padden of UCD Access & Lifelong Learning as a partner, successfully applied to be the expert creators of the Digital Badge for Universal Design in Teaching and Learning. This gave AHEAD the opportunity to play a key role in drawing ‘the map’ for UDL and to leverage the credibility and recognition of The Forum within the higher education sector to enable us to reach as big an audience as possible.

We set about creating a full set of learning materials for an introductory UDL course and an accompanying facilitator’s pack which lays out the course structure and instructions for those interested in rolling out the course in their institution. After months of hard work, our team produced materials for a blended learning course covering all of the basics of UDL and giving participants a framework to analyse and adapt their own teaching practice. The course begins with an online module introducing the concept of universal design for learning and explaining how you can use the framework to reflect on your own practice. This is followed by a 2 hour group workshop in which participants will examine existing barriers for students and how the application of UDL principles could help to remove them. Finally, participants are tasked with redesigning one aspect of a module they are currently teaching in line with UDL principles and reporting on the results in a case study format.

Figure 1 Screen shot of the online module - part of the digital badge for Universal Design in Teaching & Learning

As well as being a final assessment for the course, documenting the work undertaken to receive the digital badge, these case studies can be shared to encourage others to analyse their own practice and to contribute to sectoral knowledge around UDL. Those who successfully complete all three key aspects of the course receive the Forum’s digital badge for Universal Design in Teaching and Learning

All of the materials produced are open source and freely useable under a creative commons license and the full facilitators pack is available to download from the Forum’s Professional Development Portal (Link available soon – see here for more details:

What next?

The next stage of the process is to identify potential facilitators in institutions from around the sector – individuals working on campus who are prepared to take on the course administration and be UDL champions. We have already run one workshop for interested facilitators outlining how to deliver the course and intend to run another next semester so be sure to join our mailing list to be kept informed of developments. This is your chance to be a real UDL advocate in your institution and make a positive lasting imprint on your campus. We’ll provide the map. Are you ready to lead the way? will be gather in the future and this will assist us in identifying more targeted interventions. Positive psychology has more to contribute and we will watch space this with eager anticipation.

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