Universal Design for Learning Overview (Week 1)


Welcome to Week One of the Inclusive Learning Network’s Small Open Online Course on Universal Design for Learning and Apps. This week Mindy Johnson from CAST provides an excellent overview the UDL framework and shares with us how UDL continues to evolve with the latest updates to the UDL Guidelines and Principles. Following the webinar your instuctors Luis Pérez, Kendra Grant and Betsy Dalton Will provide you with some instructions and next steps on how to proceed with the course. Now sit back and enjoy this excellent presentation from Mindy Johnson. Hi I’m Mindy Johnson. I am an Instructional
Designer and Research Associate at CAST. CAST is a non-profit research and development organization
in Wakefield, Mass. CAST coined the phrase Universal Design for Learning over 30 years
ago and today all our focus remains on UDL. I want to begin by telling you a little bit
about my UDL journey. Perhaps you’ll see some similarities in how I came to embrace
Universal Design for Learning. Next, we’ll focus on assumptions and beliefs about teaching,
learners and learning. And, finally we’ll do a high level preview of Universal Design
for Learning. Over the next few weeks you’ll have an opportunity to do a deep dive, so
for today my goal is to do a quick, but thorough overview.
I was a Special Education teacher in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. As you can see, my office
had lots of pictures, materials and books, and hidden in there is also a computer. Before
I even knew about Universal Design for Learning, I was incorporating it into my practice. Many
teachers do. The goal of understanding UDL as a framework, I believe, is to apply the
UDL principles with intent. When I was the Special Education teacher,
I co-taught science, math and history. My role was, in cooperation with the classroom
teacher, to adapt some of the assignments by modifying the task and materials while
maintaining the goals and curriculum standards. Inevitably the teachers would look at the
activities, resources and materials I created and say, “You know this stuff would benefit a
whole bunch of students in my class.” We ended up redesigning a lot of the materials
the teachers traditionally used in the classroom. Those resources were then shared out with the
other teachers in the department. So we had all these wonderfully designed lessons and
learning experiences that all sorts of students could easily access: they were designed with variability
in mind from the start so we didn’t have to go back and modify them later. At the time,
I didn’t know we were actually implementing UDL practices. Eventually I went back to grad school and
got my masters degree in technology in education and now I work at CAST and all I do is Universal
Design for Learning. My desk looks much like it did when I was a teacher but now I have
two computers, multiple screens, an iPod and my phone. I came to teaching with assumptions and beliefs
about learning. I also came to teaching with assumptions and beliefs about my learners.
We all do, whether we recognize them or not. Take a moment to think about your own assumptions
and beliefs about learning and learners. UDL also brings with it assumptions and beliefs
about learning and learners. The UDL assumptions and beliefs are based on neuroscience and
research in the learning sciences. The first we’ll talk about is the belief that learning
is the dynamic interaction of the individual with the environment or context. In other
words, when we think about learning, we also have to think about the environment or context
where that learning is happening. In addition, learner ability or perceived disability is
at that intersection where the individual interacts with the environment or context. Let me give you an example from my own life.
When I was a young girl my mom made me — well, ok she forced me — to take piano lessons. Each week
the teacher would put the sheet music in front of me and I would try to read the notes. I
would finger count or do “Every Good Boy Does Fine”. I put stickers on the keys to
try to remember the notes. I even used flashcards. Nothing helped me. My mom, who was a pianist, used to play my
“homework” at night and I would listen to what she was playing. The next day I would
go down to the piano and play what I had heard the night before. She thought I was getting
much better at reading the notes when actually I was getting much better at listening to
her play and copying that. When I went into competitions I would win if I prepared ahead
of time, but whenever the judges put sheet music in front of me I couldn’t play it. The question is: was I disabled or was I gifted?
I didn’t learn to play the conventional way, yet I could still play extremely well.
Giving me different options or pathways allowed me to demonstrate what I could do — something
to think about as we explore ability, disability and learning.
Another assumption that UDL makes is that learners are varied. In any learning environment
you are always going to get a range of learners: different background knowledge, different
ways of accessing and processing information, different temperaments, different school experiences. If you have a chance, watch the TEDxTalk by
Todd Rose called the Myth of Average. This video and the others I’ll mention are available
in this week’s follow-up resources. In the video, Todd uses the analogy of designing
cockpits for fighter pilots to highlight how designing a physical space using this mythical
“average” actually hinders the pilots from effectively doing their jobs. He then
connects that to how we design instruction and says, “If we design our instruction
for the average learner, we are actually designing for no-one.” That really resonated with
me. “Variability Matters” is another video
by Todd where he uses shoe size rather than fighter planes as an analogy.
“The End of Average” is a more recent one by Todd to check out if you have time. Here’s another way to look at it. If you’ve
ever skied, you’ll know there are multiple ways for the skier to get down the hill. The
green circle is the easiest, the blue square is intermediate, the black diamond is advanced,
and the double black diamond is the most challenging path of all. In other words there are all
sorts of ways to get down the hill, to get to the same destination. Now if we design
this experience like we often design classroom learning experiences, there will be only one
way down the hill: an average or middle ability hill. For those starting out this may be too
challenging. It’s embarrassing when you can’t get down the hill without falling.
For those who are average skiers, there is no challenge, no way to grow or develop their
skills. For those who are capable of skiing the black diamond routes, the average route is
too easy. They get quickly down the hill with nothing to do, and helping others down the
hill gets old very quickly. When we design for the average we design for
no one. To resolve this we need to pay attention to the variability of our learners, from the
start, so that we can present them with real learning opportunities with just the right
amount of support and challenge. Universal Design for Learning also makes the
assumption that the purpose of education is to develop expert learners. So what is an
expert learner? UDL asserts that expert learners are:
· Purposeful, motivated learners · Resourceful, knowledgeable learners
· Strategic, goal-directed learners Just like this dog is an expert at self-control,
patiently waiting, the goal of UDL is for every learner to develop expert skills in
learning. Imagine if we let students know about these goals, and then designed learning
to help them reach these goals. Powerful stuff. Universal Design for Learning makes the assumption
that knowledge goals, related to the understanding of concepts, content and facts should, when
possible, be separate from skill goals such as writing an essay, giving a speech, or computation.
Often goals are confounded with double goals, or the means of attaining one goal is linked
with the goal itself. For example, take these two typical learning goals. Both actually represent two
goals each: a skill goal such as writing an essay or delivering a speech, and a concept
goal that includes historical understanding. UDL wants us to separate these goals, or in
other words, separate the means from the goal. If the goal is understanding the importance
of historical events, there are many ways for students to demonstrate their knowledge
that acknowledges learner variability. When we compound goals it’s difficult to
determine whether a student was unsuccessful because of lack of understanding or if they
had difficulty with the means of expressing what they know. Just think back to my piano
playing. I would have been considered a failure if the only way to assess me was through reading
sheet music. Traditionally, we create lessons for the mythical
“average learner” and then modify according to who struggles or needs more help and maybe
provide extra stuff for those who require more challenge. We need to move beyond this.
We need to move beyond retrofitting curriculum and reactionary accommodations. UDL asks us
to address learner variability from the onset in the design of our curriculum with the goal
of becoming an expert learner. This is probably a familiar puzzle to a lot
of you. It’s a Rubik’s cube. We could say this cube is designed for the average
person. Many people can see the colours and manipulate it with their hands…even if they
can’t solve it. But who might this not work for? Perhaps people who are colour-blind would
have trouble distinguishing the red from the green. Or someone who is visually impaired
would be unable to see the colours at all. A traditional response to this problem is
to create different Rubik’s cubes to meet different needs. Here is a very beautiful
brailed Rubik’s cube for those with vision impairments. But what’s the problem with
this one? The brailed cube might not work for someone who is sighted, who really does
respond to the colours on the cube. Or it might not work for someone who can’t read
braille. We also now have two cubes to deal with, and it still doesn’t really address
the needs of someone who is colour-blind. That would require yet a third cube.
Here is a cube that is designed for the widest possible range of users. It uses colour for
those who play it based on colour, but also includes raised symbols for those who may
not be able to read colour or for those who need to feel the information rather than see it.
Ultimately, you could create this in a digital, online form with auditory feedback so someone
who can’t interact with the cube physically can still play the game.
Many of you may be familiar with the book Universal Design for Learning: Teaching Every
Student in the Digital Age written in 2004. This book introduced the term UDL to educators.
In 2008 the UDL guidelines were released. They ask us to think about our learning
environments and provide our learners with the following UDL principles: · Multiple Means of Representation, which
means to provide a variety of ways for learners to access information and learning
· Multiple Means of Action and Expression, which means to provide a variety of ways for
learners to show what they know and understand · Multiple Means of Engagement, which means
to provide a variety of ways to recruit learner interest, motivation and self-regulation In 2014, CAST published a new book called
UDL Theory and Practice in which the representation of the Principles and Guidelines were flipped.
The reason, I believe is to help us dig deeper into the guidelines, move beyond the “low
lying fruit” and apply UDL with the highest degree of fidelity based on our understanding
of and experience with UDL. Offering a new representation of the UDL Guidelines also
helps us remember that UDL is a “living” thing — it grows and changes as our understandings
about learning evolve and change based on our research.
The most obvious change: Engagement is now first. This comes from a lot of research at
CAST and from neuroscience which tells us that engagement is central to student learning.
Representation comes next in this organizer, followed by Action and Expression. The order
of the guidelines under each of the principles is also reversed. This was done to emphasize
the internal, intrinsic, metacognitive work that students must do if we want them to become:
· Purposeful and motivated, · Resourceful and knowledgeable, and
· Strategic and goal-directed. So lets begin with Engagement with the goal
of purposeful, motivated learners… Provide options for recruiting interest
This is what people usually think about and focus on when we talk about engagement: the
anticipatory set, getting students’ attention, providing choice. Provide options for sustaining effort and
persistence This guideline explores ways to support learners
in becoming more resilient, to persist in the face of difficulty, and give their best
effort in all situations. Provide options for self-regulation
This focuses on helping students learn how to self-monitor and self-assess their motivation,
stress and behaviour as well as their states of mind, and then apply various strategies
to help them redirect or reinforce their behaviours. Next is Representation with the goal of resourceful,
knowledgeable learners… Provide options perception
Such as offering ways to customize the display of information, and including alternatives
for visual and audio information, is relatively easy with the plethora of devices and apps
now available. Provide options for language, mathematical
expressions, and symbols This promotes multiple media, moving away
from text-only instruction. This also ensures that students have not only options to help
them understand text, but also options to understand symbols and mathematical notation.
Provide options for comprehension This focuses on activating background knowledge,
highlighting big ideas and guiding the process of information to help students move beyond
basic recall to conceptual understanding and higher order thinking.
Lastly is Action and Expression with the goal of strategic, goal-directed learners…
Provide options for physical action Many of the technologies such as word prediction,
speech-to-text and screen readers were at one time considered assistive technology.
UDL sees them as just another tool for students to use, another option for expression and
communication. Today this principle encourages the teacher to optimize access to these tools
so that it isn’t onerous or embarrassing to do so. As we’ll discover in this course,
online tools and inexpensive apps provide powerful tools with easy access.
Provide options for expression and communication This encourages teachers to allow the use
of a variety of media for students to meet curricular goals. For example, if the goal
was to demonstrate historical understanding of a series of events, then the student could
make a video, create a website or wiki, send out a series of tweets, design a Facebook
page, or record an online conversation with the author of a book. Of course if the goal
is skill based, to write an essay for example, then we might want to provide options for the topic
focus. We can also offer a variety of tools, both paper-based and digital, to help students
construct and compose the essay such as graphic organizers, sticky notes, sketching, or mind
mapping. Provide options for executive function
This focuses on guiding student goal setting so they don’t aim too high or too low. UDL
isn’t about dumbing down the curriculum; it’s about helping every single student
achieve high standards. Any task that requires planning, organization, memory, time management
and flexible thinking is part of executive functions. Helping students understand, support,
and strengthen these skills is part of any UDL classroom.
If you want to learn more, be sure to check out these resources. These links are also
available in the resource section of the course. Thank you very much for letting me be a part
of your UDL journey, and please feel free to contact me if you have any questions. A big thank you to Mindy for sharing her knowledge and expertise with us as part of this course. Now that you’ve watched this webinar please make sure to click on the UDL overview tab on the course website. at www.SOOC4Learning.com. That’s www S-O-O-C the number 4 Learning dot com for this week’s tasks as well as additional resources that will help you learn more about Universal Design for Learning. And remember that each week we’ll have a Twitter chat as well as Open Office hours. This will be a chance for you to share with your colleagues and have an informal discussion with your instructors. about any of the topics and ideas that have been discussed that week. And if at anytime you have any questions about the course please email us Luis, Betsy or Kendra at [email protected] That’s S-O-O-C, the number 4 Learning @ gmail dot com We’re really excited that you joined us for this course and we’re certainly looking forward to learning from and with you!

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