One challenge in creating online programs is making certain that the courses are accessible. According to the Chronicle article ADA Compliance is a “Major Vulnerability” for Online Programs, many institutions have not established institution-wide policies for ensuring that online courses are accessible.
A corollary challenge is in the use of innovative technologies in the classrooms. As noted in the above-mentioned article, Arizona State was successfully challenged for using Kindles because they are not accessible to the visually impaired.
Universal Design for Learning principles can be used to address some (but not all) of those issues. Just as creating lab partnerships among students can help address some accessibility issues, creating study partnerships can help to make learning more accessible. This is because partners can divide work based on their abilities and no one has to be singled out.
In the lab partnership, the two students can decide between themselves who will conduct the experiment (and that might include opening caps, pouring, reporting visual results) and who will report the results of the experiment. If both students conduct the experiment together, both can benefit.
In the study partnership, if Kindles are to be used, it’s possible that the Kindles and laptops could be employed in the classroom, and students could choose which one they wanted to use. Then the decision could be based on personal preference, as long as the material was identical.
With other innovations, universal design adaptations may be more difficult. I piloted the use of Second Life, a 3D virtual world, in several classes a couple of years ago. All work had to be done in groups of 2 or 3, so students could choose who would actually go onto Second Life and who would write the reports on the legal issues. Although that was not a “perfect” solution, it worked during the pilot.
As much as possible, though, deliberate, institution-wide strategies that employ Universal Design for Learning Principles can help aid making all courses (online and face to face) accessible.