Teaching At-Risk Students Using UDL: Cure or Curse?


At-risk students exist in every college classroom. As of 2019, at-risk college student categories in the United States included indigenous (18%), neurodiverse (e.g., students with dyslexia, ADHD, or Autism Spectrum Disorders) (19%), and non-traditional (i.e., significantly older than their peers) (69%) (NCES, 2019; UAS, 2019). The common theme among these groups of students is that they are considered as “the other,” perceived as somehow separate from or less able to succeed than their classmates because their frame of understanding course content differs from their native, neurotypical, and traditional peers.

A person’s sense of belonging within a peer group is an important factor in collegial success. Students in this diverse group often express the feeling of being an outsider, which leads to a negative affect about learning (O’Brien, 2019). Engaging students through inclusive teaching practices fosters a positive emotional environment in the classroom (Cavanaugh, 2016). Furthermore, inclusive environments allow students to form bonds with peers and faculty by nurturing perseverance among students (Tobin & Behling, 2018).

One way to embrace the differences with such diversity among college students is the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approach (CAST, 2018), which allows students to construct meaning within their unique frame of reference. Although UDL approaches cause professors to engage in additional course preparation, the use of UDL fosters collegial success through multi-modal instruction, diverse assessment approaches, and unique learning opportunities. The use of UDL to embrace student differences promotes inclusion and self-efficacy in the classroom and beyond.

Author Information
Jeanette Landin, Landmark College, United States
Paulette Schirmer, University of Alaska Southeast, United States

Paper Information
Conference: ECE2020
Stream: Learning Experiences

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Posted by James Alexander Gordon