Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Applying Universal Design to Information Literacy: Teaching Students Who Learn Differently at Landmark College

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Applying Universal Design to Information Literacy: Teaching Students Who Learn Differently at Landmark College

Article excerpt

Our classrooms now include an increasing number of students who learn differently, including those that have Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD), dyslexia, or other diagnosed or undiagnosed learning differences. This spectrum of students challenges academic librarians to develop new approaches to delivering information literacy instruction. The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Standards for Proficiencies for Instruction Librarians and Coordinators addresses the needs of diverse learners, and many librarians incorporate active learning methods designed to engage students. Nevertheless, an integrated approach ensuring that information literacy instruction is accessible to all learners is needed. Universal Design for Instruction (UDI), developed to increase access for students with learning disabilities at the postsecondary level, provides a framework that librarians can apply to design inclusive information literacy curricula. The Research Services Librarians at Landmark College, a college for students with learning disabilities or AD/HD, have adapted the principles of UDI to develop an approach to library instruction called Universal Design for Information Literacy (UDIL). This column is based on the presentation "Universal Design for Information Literacy," which we delivered at the 2008 New England Library Instruction Group Annual Program.

STUDENTS WHO LEARN DIFFERENTLY

Most every teaching librarian has a story of the student who is restless and distracted and who acts like the class clown, procrastinates, fails to participate, falls behind, or struggles to skim-read a list of articles. Although librarians generally do not know if these students have learning disabilities or AD/HD, these behaviors are more common and more pronounced among students with those challenges. The number of students with learning disabilities is on the rise. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2004, 11.3 percent of undergraduates reported some type of disability. (1) Among those, 7.5 percent reported a specific learning disability such as dyslexia, and 11 percent reported Attention Deficit Disorder. (2) This represents a 50 percent or more increase since 2000 and shows that, in most classrooms, there are one or more students with a learning disability or AD/HD; though librarians cannot always identify who these students are. (3) It is likely that the number of students with learning disabilities or AD/HD is even higher because students at the postsecondary level must self-identify. Many students choose not to self-identify, possibly for fear of being stigmatized. A 2005 report from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 found that only "40% of postsecondary students with disabilities identify themselves as having a disability and have informed their postsecondary schools of that disability." (4)

The Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA) defines a learning disability as "a neurological condition that interferes with a person's ability to store, process, or produce information." (5) The LDA describes four processes a student with learning disabilities may have challenges with: "getting information into the brain (Input), making sense of this information (Organization), storing and later retrieving this information (Memory), or getting this information back out (Output)." (6) A student with a learning disability may have challenges with more than one process.

It is important to recognize that a learning disability is not related to intelligence, and many students who are not officially diagnosed with a learning disability may have similar learning difficulties. A student with dyslexia may find reading text challenging, but the same material delivered in a different format, audio for example, would be just as comprehensible to a student with dyslexia as the text is to a student without dyslexia. For this reason, many of us at Landmark College use the term "learning differences" rather than learning disabilities. …

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