Universal Design in Education: Teaching Nontraditional Students

By Frank G. Bowe | Go to book overview
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Chapter 5
Principles Three and Four


Definition: Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level. This is a very important principle in education. Whether we are talking about the textbooks we select for student use in a course, or the lectures we present, or the activities we plan for classes, a prime consideration should be that these are understandable to, and easily used by, our students.

Guideline 3a: Eliminate unnecessary complexity.

Teachers well know that every discipline has its own jargon and its own way of "thinking." These words, and these "logical" thought processes, are not, however, intuitive to students encountering the discipline for the first time. To illustrate, when I teach a graduate course on special education law, one of the definitions in the law is that for "specific learning disability." I know that many of my students--being unfamiliar with special education and not knowing yet what all the different disabilities are--will interpret this term to be a term referring to all disabilities. That is, they may think that any disability that affects education is, ipso facto, a "learning disability." Being aware of this, I tell them right away that this term in fact refers only to one particular kind of disability. Williams ( 1998), reviewing the literature on multimedia in education, added this important point: New information should be presented more slowly. As teachers, we know (or should know) what ideas and terms are unfamiliar to our students; Williams urged us to make a conscious effort to introduce that material in a deliberate fashion. By doing these things, we prevent students from making mistakes; we are, that is, eliminating unnecessary complexity.


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