The Oxford English Dictionary defines “rigour” as “the fact of being careful and paying great attention to detail” and “the fact of being strict or severe.” In universities, I think we often conflate the two definitions, striving for the first but implementing the second instead.
If we want our students to be rigorous — thoughtful, careful, critical, and detailed — in their thinking and in their scholarship, we don’t necessarily need to be strict or severe. Rather, we need to create opportunities for our students to attain, practice, and apply skills in multiple ways so that they are prepared to think deeply and engage critically and ethically in a variety of contexts and conditions. In this sense, flexibility, pedagogical care, and frameworks such as Universal Design for Learning (UDL) can actually expand rigour in a classroom. In fact, UDL practitioners have a term for the kind of rigorous students many of us a seek to develop: expert learners. CAST, the non-profit education organization that created UDL defines expert learners as “resourceful and knowledgeable, strategic and goal-directed, and purposeful and motivated.”
UDL encourages educators to develop expert learners by creating pathways through courses so that students have opportunities to consume, share, and engage with knowledge in multiple ways. In this sense, UDL isn’t about lowering standards; it’s about showing that there are often different ways to meet them. Not only does this approach reduce barriers to learning, it also helps students become self-aware learners who understand that they have a variety of methodologies, tools, and mediums at their disposal to solve problems and share information.
Hardwick’s entire discussion is admirably clear and very helpful.