Addressing Evolving Student Needs with Universal Design for Learning: A Practicum Approach


Presented at 8:00am in Mattie Silks on Thursday, November 17, 2022.



  • Jim Stachowiak, Accessible Technology Strategy and Operations Lead, Northwestern University

Session Details

  • Length of Session: 1-hr
  • Format: Lecture
  • Expertise Level: All Levels
  • Type of session: General Conference


The past few years have brought significant change and challenges on college campuses. Students have experienced new barriers to learning along with different impacts of previously existing ones, especially related to mental health. Instructors have had to adjust to changing norms to offer more inclusive, accessible, and flexible learning opportunities. This presentation will explore Northwestern’s unique, multi-unit collaborative practicum approach to educate instructors on practical ways to implement UDL solutions in course design syllabi, course pages, course materials, assessments, and learning experiences to address mental health issues and support all students.


When classes moved from in-person to online due to the pandemic, several units at Northwestern including AccessibleNU, Northwestern IT, the Searle Center for Teaching and Learning, the School of Professional Studies Distance Learning, and the University Library were tasked with developing faculty training to redesign classes for online delivery. This collaboration developed the Foundations of Online Teaching Practicum rooted in universal design for learning principles, which saw over 700 instructor participants. The original practicum’s success led to two other practicums related to timely topics, the Inclusive Teaching Practicum and a UDL practicum with a focus on student mental health. UDL was chosen as a practicum topic based on feedback form prior practicums, and its connection to developing learning environments that could help address the increase of mental health-related issues on campus. The UDL practicum was a campus-wide collaboration that included Counseling and Psychological Services, Academic Support and Learning Advancement, and faculty involved in the planning and delivery process. The three-week practicum’s structure contained weekly core sessions with required attendance, optional session that built on weekly topics, cohort meetings to develop a learning community to carry beyond the practicum, and individual meetings with learning designers to implement topics discussed throughout the week. The structure of the UDL practicum, with its different levels of support, made this significantly more effective than previous UDL professional development efforts. This presentation will focus on the development of the practicum, the collaborations involved, and the structure used to deliver it. Along with what worked, it will also cover roadblocks experienced and lessons learned to provide a model for participants looking to shift a culture around UDL at their institution.


  1. Changing practices and behaviors around accessibility and UDL requires developing strategic collaborations with key stakeholders on campus.
  2. Implementing UDL strategies and solutions in course design can help alleviate some of the mental health related issues that have become more prevalent on campus.
  3. Northwestern’s practicum structure that has improved the impact of campus professional development around UDL.

Disability Areas

All Areas

Topic Areas

Accessible Course Design, Uncategorized

Speaker Bio(s)

Jim Stachowiak

As Director of Assistive Technology and Assistant Director of AccessibleNU, Jim assists students with determining, using, and troubleshooting assistive technology (AT) solutions for reading, writing, computer access, note taking, organization, and other academic needs. He enjoys keeping up to date on the latest AT tools and figuring out how to best implement them in education settings. Jim has also played a key role in Northwestern's digital accessibility initiative, developing the digital accessibility liaisons program and helping develop Northwestern's digital accessibility policy. Prior to Northwestern, Jim was the Associate Director of the Iowa Center for Assistive Technology Education and Research (ICATER) at the University of Iowa where he taught classes on AT and worked to prepare teacher education students to work with AT in their classrooms.

Jim holds a Bachelor's of Science in Engineering degree in Industrial and Operations Engineering and a Master's of Science in Engineering degree in Biomedical Engineering, both from the University of Michigan. He is also a RESNA certified Assistive Technology Professional (ATP).