Sunday, February 17, 2008

Universal Design for Learning Basics

Yesterday I taught a session on Universal Design for Learning as a part of a course on Web 2.o Technologies for graduate students at Johns Hopkins University. This was intended to be just a brief intro to the principles of UDL, however when I walked away from the building at the end of the class, I felt that I had not communicated my message as well as I could have. As sometimes I have a tendency to do, I overcomplicated something that needed to be stated much more simply. I thought about just sending out an email to clarify and summarize the lecture, but decided instead to blog about it, since I figure there are lots of folks out there (some of whom may some day just happen across this blog--who knows, stranger things have happened!) who are looking for a basic explaination of Universal Design for Learning. Soooo....

UDL in a Nutshell

Principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) (summarized from CAST)
1)Multiple Means of Engagement
Stimulating interest and motivation for learning (the "why" of learning)
2)Multiple Means of Representation
Presenting information and content in different ways (the "what" of learning)
3)Multiple Means of Expression
Differentiating the ways that students can express what they know (the "how" of learning)

A key to UDL is how the inherently flexible nature of digital materials allows for these multiple means of engagement, representation, and expression. While UDL does not exclude the use of low tech materials and strategies, it definitely emphasizes the use of technology to achieve differentiation. Additionally, a UDL environment or classroom is frontloaded with these materials and strategies, rather than having to put them in place as a fix to a learning need.

Some ways that technology can be used to create a UDL environment are:
1) The use of multimedia (graphics, video, sound) for presentation or expression of information, such as PowerPoint presentations, Windows Movie Maker, or use of United Streaming video content (there are many more ways, as well)
2) The use of digital text that can easily be manipulated to meet the individual learning needs of students
  • text can be enlarged to meet needs of visually impaired
  • text can be highlighted or color coded to provided organizational cues for students
  • text can be read aloud via text to speech programs for students with poor reading skills
  • text can be easily simplified for students with comprehension/cognitive limitations

3) The choice of multiple means of expression for student work, including the use of

  • video presentations
  • word processing (as opposed to hand written)
  • audio/oral presentations
  • multimedia presentations

While this is far from the be all end of of UDL, this is the essence of what I had hoped to communicate to my students yesterday (and my apologies to you all for not having done what I had set out to do!!)