Postsecondary chemistry curricula and universal design for learning: planning for variations in learners’ abilities, needs, and interests
Federal legislation requires equitable access to education for all students at all levels, including in the postsecondary setting. While there have been a few studies in the chemistry education research literature base focused on how to support students with specific disabilities, this work seems to exist as a separate stream of research without direct impact on curriculum development and the overall community. This study focused on investigating how well three sets of general chemistry curricular materials support variations in students’ abilities, interests, and needs. To accomplish this, we compared the curricular materials with the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework, which describes steps to account for variations in ability among learners during curriculum development. The UDL framework is organized into three guidelines (multiple means of representation, action and expression, and engagement), further delineated by nine principles and thirty-one finer-grained checkpoints for designing courses. We looked for examples of enactment of the UDL checkpoints in a representative sample of activities. Across all three sets of curricular materials, only four of the thirty-one checkpoints were enacted in at least 75% of the activities, indicating high enactment. On the other hand, eleven of the checkpoints were enacted in less than 25% of the activities, indicating low enactment. Overall, there is much room for improvement in consistently providing support for learner variation within these general chemistry curricular materials. We argue that some of the burden of making curricular materials supportive of all students lies with curriculum developers and provide recommendations for improving support and accessibility.