Australian Tertiary Education Network on Disability

Pathways15: Keynote: How to Talk to Colleagues about Universal Design for Learning

Dr Thomas Tobin, University of Wisconsin - Madison

As Disability Practitioners and Educators in Vocational Education and Training and Universities, we should advocate for our colleagues around us to design their interactions with students to be as broadly accessible and inclusive as possible, in order to foster greater student agency, autonomy, and satisfaction. In the process, our work to support learners in addressing disability barriers can shift to focus more energy on more challenging concerns.

This advocacy starts with institutional leaders who can direct funds, resources, and time toward inclusive-design efforts. This keynote will share concrete strategies for how to talk with your leaders to get them to see the positive impact of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) on campus operations (and on the budget), especially during times of disruption from fires, displacement, and COVID-19. By attending this keynote presentation, you will be able to

  • frame the principles of UDL within the access needs of all students at your institution;
  • talk with your leadership colleagues about specific campus-wide efforts that lower barriers, reduce costs, and
  • increase student persistence and retention rates; and
  • advocate for inclusive design efforts from your teaching and support-staff colleagues that increase student agency, autonomy, and satisfaction.

Links for Big-Picture Resources: UDL in Higher Education are provided below (for more information see the attached handout).


Photo of Dr Thomas J Tobin

Thomas J. Tobin is the Program Area Director for Distance Teaching & Learning on the Learning Design, Development, & Innovation (LDDI) team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as well as an internationally recognised speaker and author on topics related to quality in technology-enhanced education, especially copyright, evaluation of teaching practice, academic integrity, and accessibility/universal design for learning.

Before joining UW-Madison, Tobin served for five years as the Coordinator of Learning Technologies in the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, and spent seven years in the Learning and Development arm of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois.

Since the advent of online courses in higher education in the late 1990s, Tom’s work has focused on using technology to extend the reach of higher education beyond its traditional audience. He advocates for the educational rights of people with disabilities and people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

He holds a Ph.D. in English literature, a second master’s degree in information science, a professional project management certification, a master online teacher certification, Quality Matters certification, and recently completed his Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies (CPACC) certification (he tells his nieces and nephews that he is in 42nd Grade).

Tom serves on the editorial boards of InSight: A Journal of Scholarly Teaching and the Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration.

His books include:

  • Evaluating Online Teaching: Implementing Best Practices (2015) with Jean Mandernach and Ann H. Taylor.
  • The Copyright Ninja: Rise of the Ninja (2017).
  • Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone: Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education (2018) with Kirsten Behling.
  • Going Alt-Ac: A Guide to Alternative Academic Careers (2020) with Katie Linder and Kevin Kelly.

Tom was also proud to represent the United States on a Spring 2018 Fulbright Scholar fellowship, under which he helped Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary to develop its first faculty-development program, and he provided workshops and training to twelve other colleges, universities, and military programs throughout Hungary.